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Soarin's Silver Lining pt.4

By blossomanon
Created: 14th November 2020 01:38:32 AM

  1. **** Chapter 11 ****
  2.  
  3. >You are Soarin and you feel like an utter asshole.
  4. "Are you sure -"
  5. >Silver nods.
  6. >It's not the first time a girl has stayed the night, but your parents knew you were dating Cloudy.
  7. >She got to leave through the front door.
  8. >Silver has to sneak out through the window.
  9. "I can distract them or something so -"
  10. >"Soarin."
  11. >She puts a finger to your lips.
  12. >"It's okay."
  13. >It's not, but she's shushed you.
  14. >You should never have taught her that.
  15. >The finger thing is way too effective.
  16. >You can't bring yourself to argue.
  17. >"Besides," she adds, pulling her hand away, "I'll see you soon, right?"
  18. "Yeah, I'll head straight out."
  19. >Through the front door.
  20. >Past your parents.
  21. >Like nothing happened.
  22. >Silver flashes you a smile as you lift her up to the window sill.
  23. >That's the only reason you can bring yourself to do it.
  24. >You're going to marry this girl, aren't you?
  25. >At some point, you'll have to introduce her to your parents.
  26. >At some point.
  27. >Eventually.
  28. >When she's older and this whole thing is easier to explain.
  29. >It all makes sense, but that doesn't stop you from feeling guilty as you lower her to the ground.
  30. >She deserves better.
  31. >You don't keep her waiting, not this time.
  32. >Calling Diamond was stupid, for... for so many reasons.
  33. >*Too* many reasons.
  34. >Last night, for possibly the first and only time ever to have happened to anyone, you really should have been thinking with your dick.
  35. >So you don't hesitate.
  36. >You head straight for the front door, barely stopping to wave to your parents as they eat their breakfast.
  37. >Shit. Bacon.
  38. >It smells nice.
  39. >The scent lingers in your nostrils all the way out to your car, where Silver is crouching.
  40. >It sticks in your mind longer, eats at you as you help her up.
  41. >When was the last time you ate?
  42. >You think it over as you pull your keys out and unlock her door.
  43. >Nothing since that meal at the food court.
  44. >Maybe you can detour past the diner.
  45. >A little breakfast to apologize to Silver for making her go out the window.
  46. >A little extra time with her, before you drop her off at Diamond's place.
  47. >Just a little more, a little something.
  48. >But Silver shakes her head when you ask her.
  49. >"No, thank you," she sighs as she slips into your car. "I'm not hungry."
  50. >Maybe the diner was the wrong place.
  51. >She didn't exactly seem happy there yesterday.
  52. >You can guess why.
  53. >You're about to suggest another spot when her eyes cloud over and she looks away.
  54.  
  55. >You are Silver Spoon and you don't know how much longer you can keep doing this - keep disappointing him.
  56. >Over and over.
  57. >He pretends he's happy with you.
  58. >He wanted you to leave through the front door, but you couldn't. That just wasn't possible.
  59. >He wanted to take you to breakfast, but you thoughtlessly turned him down.
  60. >There's no reason you couldn't go out, but you said no anyway.
  61. >Because you're an idiot. Because you're a disappointment.
  62. >You don't know what he sees in you.
  63. "Actually..."
  64. >"We can get drive thru, if you want?" Soarin asks as he buckles his seatbelt. "I mean..."
  65. "We can go."
  66. >"Where?"
  67. "To... to the diner."
  68. >"You sure? Because -"
  69. >You nod, quickly and eagerly.
  70. >At least quickly.
  71. >The eagerness is forced.
  72. >Honest, but forced.
  73. >You don't want to go there, but you've been greedy.
  74. >Going to the mall, teasing him with Diamond, making him buy you a stupid *knife*, taking - *trying* to take the lead last night...
  75. >You were greedy.
  76. >You put your own desires first.
  77. >It's who you are.
  78. >You were up front with him about that.
  79. >But you have to be careful.
  80. >Think long-term.
  81. >You need to be better for him, more willing to do what he wants.
  82. >Like you were at first.
  83. >Like in the bathroom.
  84. >Like at the diner.
  85. >Or you might lose him entirely.
  86. >You remember the way he looked at that girl.
  87. >That he called Diamond before letting you into his room.
  88. >The look of disappointment on his face as he lowered you out of his window.
  89. >You were too greedy. Too selfish.
  90. >"If you're not hungry, we don't have to."
  91. "I'm... not, but maybe I will be?"
  92. >You will be.
  93. >You're sure of it.
  94. >By the time you reach the diner, you've even convinced your own body that it's true.
  95. >Because it can't be true.
  96. >You're too nervous to *really* be hungry, too much of a wreck to hold anything down.
  97. >Soarin drove in silence.
  98. >He's angry at you.
  99. >You don't want to go to the diner, but you want Soarin to be happy.
  100. >You want him to keep loving you.
  101. >A part of your mind tells you that you're overreacting, that you're being crazy again, repeating the same gentle, comforting lies that you've been telling yourself for weeks.
  102. >It has a point, though.
  103. >No matter how angry you make Soarin, no matter how disappointed he is, he'll never leave you.
  104. >He loves you and he's going to keep loving you and the crazier and more insecure you are, the more he will love you.
  105. >It's who he is.
  106. >You don't want that, though.
  107. >You want to be happy *and* you want him to love you.
  108. >Selfish, yes, but it's who you are.
  109.  
  110. >You are Soarin and you don't know why Silver is being so quiet.
  111. >You could ask her, but she'd never tell you.
  112. >No, she thinks you're perfect.
  113. >She blames herself for everything that goes wrong.
  114. >Probably blaming herself for having to go out the window, even though...
  115. >Well, that's just how things had to be, unless you or she wanted to explain to your parents why you had an underage girl in your room.
  116. >It's no one's fault, even if you were feeling guilty about the same thing.
  117. >You're allowed to feel bad.
  118. >Your girlfriend isn't.
  119. "Hey, Silver?"
  120. >"Hm?"
  121. "Stop it."
  122. >"W-what?"
  123. "Stop being mopey and sad."
  124. >"B-buh-but-what?"
  125. "Sure, it's cute, and I really want to hug you and pat your head and tell you everything is fine, even though I don't know what isn't, but... *driving*, you know?"
  126. >You might go for it anyway.
  127. >If only traffic wasn't such a bitch.
  128. >Always is this late on a Sunday morning.
  129. >"Oh."
  130. "Anyway, do you know what's cuter?"
  131. >"... what...?"
  132. "When you're happy."
  133. >Cheesy? Sure. Cliched? Oh hell yes.
  134. >But it works.
  135. >That's why it's a cliché, because it works.
  136. >Usually.
  137. >Not always. Not now.
  138. >Silver's head drops.
  139. >"Sorry, I..."
  140. >Fuck it.
  141. >You check your mirror.
  142. >Yeah. Fuck it.
  143. >You slam on the breaks.
  144. >Silver screams.
  145. >Your car, too, but it stops.
  146. >No skidding, no spinout, it *stops*, because you take good care of your car.
  147. >Good care of your girlfriends, too.
  148. >Usually.
  149. >You hug her quickly, then floor the accelerator again before you get rear-ended.
  150. >Well, she's not screaming anymore, or staring at the floor.
  151. >Nope. Now she's wide eyed and looks like she just stared down death.
  152. >That's progress.
  153. "So, what's wrong?"
  154. >"A-aside from you trying to get us killed!?"
  155. "Yeah. Aside from that."
  156. >"N-n-nothing! I'm fine! I'm just being crazy!"
  157. "Okay, bullshit. You're getting headpats once we're at the diner. Also, you're not crazy."
  158. >"NO HEADPATS!"
  159. "But -"
  160. >"No! I'm not a pet!"
  161. "I know, but -"
  162. >"If you want to pat someone, you can pat Di!" Silver insists, crossing her arms and looking away like that's the end of the discussion.
  163. >Yeah, no.
  164. "You know you like the attention."
  165. >"I'd rather have hugs and cuddles."
  166. "Right now? I can stop the car again."
  167. >"No! You'll -"
  168. "I'm joking, Silver."
  169. >She risks a glance at you out of the corner of her eye.
  170. "I'll wait until we get to the restaurant."
  171. >She smirks -
  172. >"You owe -"
  173. > - until she notices you looking her way instead of watching the street.
  174. >Silver sighs suddenly and looks back out her window.
  175. >"Um... okay."
  176. "What was that?"
  177. >"I said okay."
  178. >She slumps against the door and sighs.
  179. "Before that?"
  180. >"I was being stupid."
  181. "I swear, I will pull this car over -"
  182. >Yeah, you think that's a convincing impersonation of your dad.
  183. " - and pat your head until you tell me -"
  184. >"I was just being crazy, Soarin!"
  185. "You aren't crazy."
  186. >She shuts down. Stares away. Refuses to acknowledge you.
  187. "You're just worrying, aren't you?"
  188. >Nod.
  189. "About Diamond?"
  190. >She shakes her head.
  191. "About us?"
  192. >Nothing.
  193. >That's a yes.
  194. "Because things have been going well?"
  195. >Nothing.
  196. "We went to the mall and nothing bad happened."
  197. >Nothing.
  198. "We even ran into some people we know, but that turned out okay."
  199. >Nothing.
  200. "And then you spent the night and - I *hope* - everything was...?"
  201. >Hesitant nodding.
  202. "You're not just doing that because you're afraid you'll hurt my feelings if you tell me the truth, are you?"
  203. >Shake.
  204. "You enjoyed yourself, right?"
  205. >Nod.
  206. "Good, because I did, too. And you know what?"
  207. >Shrug.
  208. "When things are good, we're allowed to be happy. We don't have to go looking for stupid stuff to worry about."
  209. >"But what if something goes wrong...?"
  210. "What if nothing goes wrong? Everything is perfect, Silver. Now..."
  211. >She looks up. Her eyes are red, like she wants to cry.
  212. >That's not right.
  213. >You've never made a girl cry and you won't start today.
  214. >(Cloudy doesn't count.)
  215. >You point out the front window.
  216. >Her eyes follow slowly.
  217. "... are you going to get out of the car, or do I need to carry you?"
  218. >"I'll... walk. Being carried isn't dignified."
  219. "What about a princess carry?"
  220. >If she won't stop worrying, you'll make her too embarrassed to worry.
  221.  
  222. >That... backfired.
  223. >Except she's smiling now.
  224. >"Okay, okay, you can set me down."
  225. "You sure?"
  226. >Probably a good idea, but she's smiling. She's *enjoying* this.
  227. >It's a pretty convincing counterargument.
  228. "I think I can get the door -"
  229. >"I'm sure, Soarin," Silver giggles and pats your arm. "This was far enough."
  230. >She's not a heavy girl, but coming from the back parking lot was a bit of a ways to walk.
  231. >You're not ashamed that you put her down, particularly because her smile doesn't fade, even as you lead her around the corner to the front of the restaurant.
  232. >There are folks outside, small groups chatting among themselves while waiting for a seat.
  233. >Not many - it's not *that* late - but enough you're starting to think this wasn't your best idea.
  234. >"Is it always this busy in the mornings?" Silver asks as you - hand-in-hand - slip between the people and make your way to the door.
  235. "Only on the weekend."
  236. >"Think we'll have to wait long?"
  237. "Hopefully not. Want to go somewhere else instead?"
  238. >Silver shakes her head.
  239. >"Then wait right here while I get our names on the -"
  240. >She shakes her head again.
  241. >"I can walk in there with you," your girlfriend giggles.
  242. "Well, yeah, but -"
  243. >She's already reaching for the door.
  244. >Okay then.
  245. >You didn't really want to let go of her hand anyway.
  246. >She might stop smiling.
  247. >Can't have that, now can you?
  248. >Of course not, so you pull Silver along as you push your way through the people waiting inside.
  249. >It's not *that* crowded, they just happen to all be standing in your way.
  250. >Spaced out just enough you can't walk around, too close together for you to walk between.
  251. >Completely oblivious and uncaring to what's happening around them, unless their name is called out.
  252. >You wonder if this is new or if things were always like this, if you only started noticing that no one pays attention to anyone else once it mattered if people were watching you.
  253. >Where you as blind then as they are now?
  254. >You like to think you weren't.
  255. >You like to think you're as observant now as you were then, that you would've noticed the pair of familiar, oversized brea*iiiiight* red hair bundled up in an awkward ponytail that you nearly run into.
  256. >Yep!
  257. >The hair!
  258. >You know that *hair*.
  259. >And the person it belongs to!
  260. >And the person she belongs to!
  261. >Yes!
  262. >Those!
  263. "Hey, Moondancer!"
  264. >You nod to her girlfriend, your best friend, and the person about to slug you.
  265. "Spitfire."
  266. >"Hey, Soarin."
  267. >Ow.
  268. >Not really, but it's a symbolic thing.
  269. >Gotta flinch for show.
  270. >"Watch where you're fucking going, next time."
  271. >Or she'll hit you harder.
  272. "Watch where you're fucking standing."
  273. >And then you'll have to hit back, and you're just not up to that right now.
  274. >"Oh, hey... uh... you," her girlfriend - the *pleasant* one of the two, surprisingly enough - mumbles drowsily.
  275. >Spitfire sighs and rolls her eyes - a surprisingly feminine gesture for a boy.
  276. >"Don't mind her. She's still drunk."
  277. >Moondancer nods, leans forward - or is about to be dragged over by her rack - and stares past you - whoever the fuck you apparently are.
  278. >"Hey, Spoon."
  279. >Okay, so she remembers your girlfriend, but not you.
  280. >That doesn't hurt the ego at all.
  281. >"Oh, hello!"
  282. >Nope.
  283. >Your girlfriend is better, so it's all okay.
  284. >She even sidles past you to attempt an abbreviated curtsey, which is easy for her, because she's tiny and slender and hasn't finished growing. You hope.
  285. >Doesn't let go of your hand, though, because she's a better girlfriend than either of them will ever have.
  286. >Spitfire smirks and better not be thinking lewd thoughts about best girlfriend ever.
  287. >"Pinkie's alive."
  288. >Oh, good, she was thinking about - wait -
  289. "What?"
  290. >"She's alive," Spitfire repeats. "Pretend that phone call never happened."
  291. "Uh... okay...?"
  292. >That's easy to do.
  293. >Mostly because you have no idea what she's talking about, but also because a waitress starts calling Spitfire's name and the table she's standing by is big enough for four.
  294. "Consider it forgotten - *if* you let us piggyback on your table."
  295. >"Done."
  296. >Wait.
  297. >Stupid.
  298. >You probably should have checked with your girlfriend first to see - okay, she's still smiling.
  299. >This was a good idea.
  300. >You and Silver follow the two girls - and get a raised eyebrow from the waitress, but no comment on the party of two suddenly becoming a party of four.
  301. >Hey, you'll all fit at the table and it means a better tip for her, so there's no reason for her to mind.
  302. >Well, mostly fit.
  303. >It's one of those small, rectangular tables that works a lot better for just two people, but there's four chairs - two on each long side - and you don't think Moondancer and Spitfire will have much of a problem snuggling up.
  304. >And Silver is tiny. She doesn't take up much space.
  305. >Moondancer, on the other hand...
  306. >It'd probably be more comfortable for everyone if she and Silver shared a side, but she and Spitfire are already sitting down.
  307. >Silver seats herself a moment later, going for the spot opposite Moondancer.
  308. >That works, too; the other girl kinda... *spills* out onto the table every time she leans forward. Or looks around. Or anything.
  309. >She needs that extra table space that Silver doesn't take up, otherwise this might be a messy breakfast.
  310. >"Something wrong?"
  311. "Huh? Oh. No, Silver."
  312. >You sit down beside her and wave a hand dismissively.
  313. "Just... you know... not the usual table and stuff."
  314. >Your normal table would be comfortably large, but these aren't your normal hours.
  315. >"You didn't really think that would happen," Spitfire laughs. "Really? At this time of day? We're lucky to get a table at all."
  316. "Yeah, yeah. I know."
  317. >"I'll - um -
  318. >Yes!
  319. >Right!
  320. >Waitress!
  321. >She's still here!
  322. >" - just go get two more menus."
  323. >You and Spitfire shake your heads.
  324. "We don't need any."
  325. >"Nope."
  326. "Silver?"
  327. >"No, thank you. I think I know what I want."
  328. >"Moony?"
  329. >"Yes! Of course I need a menu! I've never been here before."
  330. "Oh. That's disappointing."
  331. >"Fuck you all."
  332. >She trails off into slurred mumbling about discrimination against people with M names by people with S names.
  333. >It's... not worth listening to.
  334. >Particularly when you start to feel sad for her.
  335. "Four menus, please."
  336. >Spitfire makes ugly faces, so you kick her shin.
  337. >She kicks back.
  338. >Silver laughs.
  339. >Moondancer grumbles more while she looks over her menu and the rest of you pretend to look at yours.
  340. >It's all very civilized and polite.
  341. >You should get yourself a monocle.
  342. >Maybe then you'll be on Silver's level of classy - or look like a *total* idiot.
  343. >But, hey, she's laughing, and that's what matters.
  344. >It'd be nice if Moondancer was happy, too, but you kinda think she kinda is.
  345. >That girl seems like she enjoys being unhappy.
  346. >It gives her something to be snarky about, and who are you to judge?
  347. >The waitress comes back - eventually - with your drinks.
  348. >Doesn't take your order, though.
  349. >A certain *someone* isn't ready yet.
  350. >You think she's doing this on purpose.
  351. >If she's trying to annoy the rest of you, it isn't working.
  352. >Spitfire and you take turns swapping stories for Silver's benefit - supposedly.
  353. >It's also just fun to talk about that old shit, like when Indigo got knocked on his ass by that cunt from Manehattan.
  354. >You didn't mind taking that card for the team.
  355.  
  356. >You are Silver Spoon and you're not sure if you'd really noticed this side of Soarin before.
  357. >Not him happily chatting with friends; that's nothing new.
  358. >Come to think of it, neither is this.
  359. >The running theme through the stories he and Spitfire are telling is one you've noticed throughout the past few weeks.
  360. >It's one of the reasons you love him.
  361. >Soarin can be overprotective.
  362. >Stupidly so.
  363. >*Violently* so.
  364. >You've seen it - you saw it when Soarin rescued Di from that man - but were you honestly aware of it?
  365. >No, you don't think so, not like this.
  366. >Not so blatantly as now, when he and Spitfire are laughing about him sweeping the legs out of an opposing player and dropping him on his face.
  367. >If he'd do that much for a teammate, how far would he go for his girlfriend?
  368. >His *fiance*?
  369. >You think he'd go as far as he had to, and that's one of the reasons you love him.
  370. >It always has been, hasn't it?
  371. >From the moment he grabbed your wrist and tried to pull you away from Di, to now.
  372. >A loud groan from Moondancer pulls you away from the conversation that barely includes you anyway.
  373. >Soarin and Spitfire seem more engrossed in swapping stories, interrupting each other, and offering 'corrections' to the others' point-of-view than they are in you.
  374. >It's fine.
  375. >Soarin's having fun.
  376. >You're having fun just listening.
  377. >Moondancer, on the other hand...
  378. >"What a pair of idiots," she growls. "I bet they don't need menus because they can't read."
  379. >She can't be serious.
  380. >She isn't serious.
  381. >She can't be talking about Spitfire like that otherwise.
  382. >She's dating her.
  383. >She can't mean it.
  384. >She can't be serious.
  385. "Um..."
  386. >But her face is *so* straight, the delivery *so* deadpan, you just aren't sure.
  387. >She can't talk about Soarin that way, thought.
  388. >You won't let her.
  389. >You won't let anyone.
  390. >Joking or not.
  391. >You shake your head.
  392. "No, I've seen him read."
  393. >"What?" Moondancer scoffs. "Sure, maybe he's *pretended* to -"
  394. >You hold out your hand - your *left* hand - and show her your ring.
  395. "Know what he did the night he gave me this?"
  396. >"Fucked you senseless?"
  397. "N-no! He bought two books -"
  398. >"Yeah, I kinda know about that," she laughs. "I sold them to him."
  399. "And then we spent the rest of the night on a park bench -"
  400. >"Fucking."
  401. "*Reading*. Together."
  402. >"Yeah, yeah," she sighs. "I was just joking. I remember what you said. Sometimes you swap books and shit."
  403. >She sounds...
  404. >... is that...
  405. >Jealous?
  406. >You can accept jealousy.
  407. >Soarin is *yours* and you are *his*.
  408. >You also thought Moondancer could accept Spitfire not sharing her interests.
  409. >So did she, but... she gives her girlfriend an annoyed grimace at a particularly loud laugh from the other girl.
  410. >Apparently not.
  411. >"Really, Spits? You think *that* is funny?"
  412. >"Well, *yeah*!"
  413. >You... don't know what they're talking about.
  414. >Apparently Moondancer had continued listening to the conversation going on beside you, but...
  415. >You don't work that way.
  416. >You don't split your focus like that.
  417. >"But maybe you had to be there," Spitfire continues, still laughing as she speaks. "The look on his face was *priceless*."
  418. >"Was not," Soarin snaps back. "Besides, what look? There wasn't any look."
  419. >Moondancer rolls her eyes and - and - she's annoyed.
  420. >It doesn't matter. She doesn't understand. She doesn't actually love Spitfire.
  421. >They're just dating, or not even that.
  422. >She can't understand what love is really like.
  423. >She won't -
  424. >"Hey, Silver?"
  425. >A hand touches your shoulder.
  426. >"Ready to order?" Soarin asks, nodding his head towards the waitress.
  427. "Oh, right - um - the same thing you got me before."
  428.  
  429. >You are Soarin and you forgot.
  430. >The guy is supposed to order. That’s how it is in the movies.
  431. >The classy ones.
  432. “Right, um, the strawberry pancakes, please, with –“
  433. >”How does she want her eggs?”
  434. >… as if you weren’t just about to say that.
  435. “Scrambled?”
  436. >You look to Silver, but she doesn’t correct you.
  437. >”Does she want sausage or bacon?”
  438. “Bacon…?”
  439. >You’re less sure she wants that, but –
  440. “If you want sausage, you can have mine.”
  441. >- better to get a variety, right?
  442. >Meat is meat; you don’t really care what you have.
  443. >The waitress waits a second, and when Silver doesn’t say anything, jots down the order on her notepad.
  444. >”Anything else?”
  445. “Don’t think so.”
  446. >Spitfire shakes her head.
  447. >Moondancer shrugs.
  448. >Silver sits silently.
  449. “Guess not.”
  450. >”’Kay,” the waitress grunts. “Probably be about 20 minutes.”
  451. >Spitfire watches her leave, waiting – tactfully, for her – until the woman’s out of earshot.
  452. >”Wow, what a bitch.”
  453. “She wasn’t so bad.”
  454. >”Yeah, yeah, of course you’d think that, but if I *didn’t* say it, you would.”
  455. “No, I –“
  456. >Spits rolls her eyes.
  457. “- okay, maybe I would, but –“
  458. >”She didn’t seem so bad,” Moondancer cuts in, trying – failing – not to laugh between every word. “But –“
  459. >”I know we’re dating and all,” Spits chuckles, leaning over until she’s almost resting her head on her girlfriend’s shoulder, “but coming from you, that doesn’t really mean any-”
  460. >She gets a hand to the face for her troubles.
  461. >Not a slap, just Moondancer pushing her away, back into her own seat.
  462. >”Whatever,” the busty girl continues, “BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, did no one else catch that?”
  463. >Her eyes dart between the three of you.
  464. >”Seriously? No one? Is it just me?”
  465. “Just you… what…?”
  466. >”What? Was it not even a joke? Was it just so blatant that –“
  467. “What!?”
  468. >”She can have your sausage?” Moondancer answers with a lewd grin. “Scramble her eggs? Where you not even *trying* to subtle –“
  469. "WHAT. NO. I. NO. WHAT."
  470. >”- because –“
  471. “NOPE!”
  472. >”You sure?”
  473. “YEP.”
  474. >”Oh,” Moondancer sighs and leans back in her chair. “That’s disappointing.”
  475. >Maybe for her, but –
  476. >You don’t know how to interpret Silver’s expression.
  477. >Maybe for her, too.
  478. >Spitfire’s just trying not to crack up.
  479. >Three out of four people at this table need to get asses kicked.
  480. >Her for laughing, you for saying it in the first place, and Moondancer for pointing it out.
  481. >You’re not going to beat your friend’s girlfriend, though, so you’re winding up make do with two sharp kicks to Spitfire’s shin when Silver clears her throat.
  482. >”Um…” she coughs awkwardly, “… so… who is she? The waitress, I mean.”
  483. >You can kick Spitfire later.
  484. “I don’t know.”
  485. >You look meaningfully to Spits, but she shakes her head.
  486. >“No clue.”
  487. >”Oh,” Silver hums. “I thought you knew everyone who worked here.”
  488. “Not the part timers. We… uh…”
  489. >Another look to your friend, but she isn’t paying attention.
  490. “… *I* don’t come here on the weekends much. Don’t know about Spits, though.”
  491. >Honestly a bit surprising she’d come here at all without you.
  492. >Not because it’s your Super Favorite Friend Place, but because… well… it never even occurred to you that she might.
  493. >It’s just not that special.
  494. >Not *date* special.
  495. >You only brought Silver here that first time because you didn’t know where else to go.
  496. >Only brought Blossom here because it was the only place open.
  497. >Only came here this morning because...
  498. >Because it's where you go, you guess.
  499. >Spitfire, too.
  500. >You really should have picked someplace more special.
  501. >Spitfire, too.
  502. >This isn't anything new and exciting, or even private and cozy. Not today, not on a weekend.
  503. >It's just busy and loud and full of people you don't know.
  504. >Your girlfriend looks lost and Moondancer...
  505. >Moondancer looks sad.
  506. >"You people are boring," she sighs.
  507. >"Even me?" Spitfire asks.
  508. >"Right now? Yeah."
  509. >She sighs again, louder this time, and reaches across the table to grab Silver's hands.
  510. >"Let's talk books."
  511. >"But -"
  512. >"They're boring."
  513. >"But that'd be rude," Silver insists.
  514. "Go ahead, it's fine."
  515. >"Yeah," Moondancer says. "Besides, fuck them."
  516. >Silver looks at you.
  517. >Looks at her.
  518. >Looks at you.
  519. >Smiles.
  520. >"Both of them?" she asks. "Right now...? Like... here on the table?"
  521. >Moondancer's eyes shoot open.
  522. >"Wha-aaaaaah, no, yes? No? No. I don't want to go to jail."
  523. >"So that's a maybe?"
  524. >Spitfire shakes her head.
  525. >Yeah. No. Probably.
  526. >She's like a sister.
  527. >And there's all these people around.
  528. >Silver's joking.
  529. >You *hope* she's joking.
  530. >She probably is, but that doesn't mean she wouldn't.
  531.  
  532. >She doesn't.
  533. >Thankfully?
  534. >Yeah, probably.
  535. >Instead she talks books with Moondancer until your food arrives.
  536. >You pass the time chatting with Spitfire.
  537. >About the cleanup after the party and how much pie she had to eat since you didn't, that Pinkie is now on the "NEVER-EVER" list (though she won't say why), eventually down to about your little shopping trip yesterday.
  538. >About how weird Diamond is.
  539. >That's where everything seem to lead.
  540. >The crazy guy at the pet store?
  541. >He was just drunk or something.
  542. >No, the craziest part is Diamond wanting a collar.
  543. >The amazing chocolate shop?
  544. >Not as amazing as not getting your hand bitten off when you patted her head.
  545. >They're just funny stories. Bullshitting.
  546. >Like before, like when you were talking about soccer, only these stories are new to her.
  547. >"You sound almost like you like her now," Spitfire laughs after you tell her about all the plushies Diamond bought. "Change your mind about her?"
  548. "No way. She's still a bitch."
  549. >"The two aren't mutually exclusive, you know."
  550. "Yeah, yeah, you're my best friend and still a bitch, too."
  551. >Still, it gives you pause.
  552. >Makes you think.
  553. "She'd probably make a good pet."
  554. >"Demanding and stuck up? Yeah, that's no worse than a cat."
  555. >You nod in agreement.
  556. "She'd probably even like it."
  557. >"Probably," Silver agrees, turning aside from her conversation with Moondancer. "But don't you dare."
  558. >Ohshit.
  559. >Right.
  560. "I didn't say *my* pet. She can be yours. I mean, she basically already is."
  561. >Silver pauses.
  562. >Nods.
  563. >"I can live with that," she agrees, before returning to her conversation. "So, in the third book -"
  564.  
  565. >You are Silver Spoon and you can't say he's wrong.
  566. >She almost is.
  567. >You have to make sure she eats, dress her, basically take her for walks, even trained her to do tricks.
  568. >Either she's your pet - if poorly disciplined - or your rebellious teenage daughter.
  569. >And since Soarin said no, not until you're older...
  570. >She's your pet.
  571. >And she *would* look nice on the end of a leash.
  572.  
  573. >You are Soarin and you don't like the way Silver's eyes have frosted over.
  574. >She's still carrying on her talk with Moondancer, still responding to everything the other girl says, but it's all automatic.
  575. >Her mind is elsewhere.
  576. >You hope you're not giving her ideas she shouldn't be having.
  577. >At least, not for a few more years.
  578. >You've given her enough of those already.
  579.  
  580. >You are Pinkie Pie and you're not entirely sure why you're here.
  581. >It just kinda happened.
  582. >You're also not sure why your hair is full of twigs and dirt, but hey!
  583. >Must have been one heck of a party!
  584. >But that's not important right now.
  585. >You've got to find your book.
  586. >You're *preeeeeeetty* sure you need to make a few changes to it.
  587. >If only you could remember what.
  588. >Something to do with huge tiddies and fists and petplay?
  589. >Waaaaaait.
  590. >FLUTTERSHY IS INTO FISTING?
  591. >WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN!?
  592. >Rhetorical question
  593. >(Yes, you know what 'rhetorical' means.)
  594. >Obviously it happened last night.
  595. >Must have been one hell of a party.
  596. "Waaaaaaait."
  597. >You *think* that *maybe* you *almost* remember a *little* bit.
  598. >Silver Spoon was there.
  599. >And Moondancer.
  600. >And...
  601. "Soarin...?"
  602. >Naaaaaah, he probably isn't into fisting.
  603. >That would double-kill a girl!
  604.  
  605. >You are Soarin again and your ears burn.
  606. >Not at the thought of Silver domming Diamond, because you are trying very hard not to think of that, but because someone - somewhere - is talking about you.
  607. >Yes.
  608. >That.
  609. >Definitely.
  610. >You've never believed that old-wives tale before and you never will again, but Right Fucking Now?
  611. >Fuck. Yes. You will. You will believe that with all your heart.
  612. >At least Moondancer seems to be in better spirits.
  613. >She's giggling.
  614. >PURELY BECAUSE SHE AND SILVER ARE HAVING FUN TALKING.
  615. >ABOUT BOOKS.
  616. >JUST BOOKS.
  617. >"Wow, looks like *someone* -"
  618. "Spitfire! Not one more word."
  619. >Okay.
  620. >That was stupid.
  621. >"That's a shame," your best friend in the world laughs. "I *really* like playing with other people's pets."
  622. >And you *really* need better friends.
  623. >"After all, I don't have any of my own. Too much work, you know?"
  624. >You wouldn't, but Silver nods.
  625. >BECAUSE OF SOMETHING MOONDANCER SAID.
  626. >YES.
  627. >BOOKS.
  628. "Well, you know..."
  629. >Is this going too far?
  630. >Nah.
  631. "... if you'd talk to Fluttershy for once, I bet she'd hook you up with something low maintanance."
  632. >It's the honest truth.
  633. >You don't know why it makes Spits so angry.
  634. >You know exactly why it makes Spits angry, and you relish the range of expressions that flash across her face before it finally settles into exaggerated nonchalant boredom.
  635. >"I have *no* idea what you're talking about."
  636. >She knows exactly what you're talking about.
  637. >So does Moondancer.
  638. >She looks sad again.
  639. >You're an asshole.
  640. >Nah.
  641. >You're a good guy.
  642. >She probably just wants a pet of her own.
  643. >Maybe something that doesn't shed, because that wouldn't end well since she apparently only owns sweaters.
  644. >Maybe something like that lizard Sunset got.
  645. "Hey, Moondancer, Fluttershy will probably help you -"
  646. >Aaaaaaaand suddenly you're reminded why Spitfire is team captain.
  647. >You're going to be walking out of here with a limp.
  648. >"OH HEY, LOOK," Spits shouts. "OUR FOOD IS HERE."
  649. "That's... good."
  650. >For given values of the term.
  651. >Now you can't flip the table.
  652. >Probably for the best.
  653. >You don't need to get banned from *another* restaurant, particularly not this one.
  654. >So. Yes. Good.
  655. >Ow.
  656. >Shit.
  657. >Fuck.
  658. >Ow.
  659. >Oh.
  660. >Bacon.
  661. >Aaaaaand that plate goes *right* past you.
  662. >Shit. You shoulda gotten bacon.
  663. >Silver could have the - uh - BACON. YES. BACON.
  664. >NOT SAUSAGE.
  665. >BACON FOR EVERYONE.
  666. >Oh, there's your plate.
  667. >And your sausage.
  668. >BUT NOT THAT SAUSAGE.
  669. >You may not be as polite and proper as your girlfriend, but you'd never be *that* crude.
  670. >Not just... *right* *fucking* *there*... just... fucking *flopped* on the table.
  671. >Maybe under the table.
  672. >But you'd never let anyone cook it.
  673. >Ew.
  674. >Oh, hay. Bacon.
  675. >Yay!
  676. >Oh. HAY! SOMEONE'S TAKING -
  677. >Oh, that's okay.
  678. >It's fine.
  679. >Silver can have your sausage.
  680. >She's giggling like a maniac and that makes it sort of weird and you know exactly why that makes it sort of weird and probably she does too and that might be why she starts giggling even harder and everyone else can see what she's doing and why it's funny but it's okay because she hisses at Moondancer when the other girl tries to take your sausage, like literally hissing like an angry cat and you're rambling?
  681. >In your head?
  682. >Yeah, you're rambling.
  683. >But... bacon.
  684. >That's a convincing counterargument, in your opinion at least, and when it comes to the words running through your own head, that's all that really matters, right?
  685. >Sure, it doesn't make sense, but bacon.
  686. >*Always* a convincing counterargument.
  687. >Like how your leg hurts?
  688. >Bacon.
  689. >Yep.
  690. >As convincing as ever.
  691. >Oooooh.
  692. >Strawberry.
  693. >You didn't order strawberry.
  694. >That was Silver's - and she's waiting patiently.
  695. >You take it.
  696. >Spitfire may roll her eyes at Silver feeding you, but she better get used to it.
  697. >This is nice.
  698. >You have a feeling it may happen more in the future.
  699. >It seems likely.
  700. >You don't know why more guys don't let their girlfriends do this.
  701. >Maybe they don't have girlfriends as nice as yours.
  702. >That, too, seems likely.
  703.  
  704. >The bacon.
  705. >It is gone.
  706. >So are the pancakes.
  707. >Silver toys with the last of your sausage, but aside from that the plates are clear.
  708. >Even Moondancer's, and you weren't sure she'd finish that second stack of pancakes.
  709. >Girl can fit a lot inside of her.
  710. >You have a hint of an idea where it all goes, or at least the vast majority.
  711. >"So..." Spitfire starts, before interrupting herself with a belch.
  712. >Mmmmm, bacon.
  713. >"Classy," her girlfriend sighs.
  714. >"Hey, I never claimed to be classy."
  715. "I can vouch for that."
  716. >"*Anyway*, what are you guys doing now? Have any plans, Soarin?"
  717. "Not really...?"
  718. >You glance over at Silver, because... well... maybe you should?
  719. >This is too nice to end.
  720. >She's happy, has a little, contented smile on her face.
  721. "Maybe we could... um... go to the butterfly garden down south? You know, all four of us?"
  722. >Spitfire likes it there - though you have no idea why.
  723. >Seems too girly for her.
  724. >Seems just right for Silver, though.
  725. >She could take out her book and read and watch the butterflies and you could hold her.
  726. >Moondancer, on the other hand...
  727. >Might get too hot for her with that sweater.
  728. >Or just not her thing.
  729. >Or you really should have thought about that a little harder, because does she *seem* like the kind of girl to do that?
  730. >She's already shaking her head and sneering.
  731. "It was just the first thing that came to mind. How about -"
  732. >"Yeah, no!" Spitfire interrupts. "That sounds great! How about it, Moony?"
  733. >"Uh... yeah!"
  734. >That eager expression does *not* match the face she was making just a second ago.
  735. >Well, people never do expect that from Spitfire.
  736. "Okay then. Silver?"
  737. >Her head wobbles.
  738. >She doesn't want to, or can't, but she will anyway.
  739. >She will, if you let her.
  740. >No matter the cost.
  741. >"That sounds nice -"
  742. "If you -
  743. >"- but I can't."
  744. "Oh. Uh. Good."
  745. >"Wait. Good?" Silver giggles. "You didn't really want to go?"
  746. "No, I - uh - it's... good? That you said no?"
  747. >"Probably."
  748. >You and Silver share a little, silent moment before she continues.
  749. >"I should get to Diamond's place before anyone starts to question why I'm not there."
  750. >It's Spitfire and Moondancer's turn to share a knowing look.
  751. >You aren't sure about one of the girls, but for sure the other's done the exact same -
  752. >"So, is your little friend covering for you?" Moondancer asks with a smirk. "Did you tell your parents you were spending the night at her place?"
  753. >Okay, so they both know exactly what's going on.
  754. >Silver hesitates.
  755. >It's close enough to the truth that it basically *is*, but she still hesitates.
  756. >And then nods.
  757. >"But she can only cover for so long," Silver answers. "Eventually someone will find out if we push our luck."
  758. >"Her parents, probably," Spitfire cuts in. "Mrs. Rich is kinda..."
  759. "Shitty?"
  760. >"Creepy."
  761. >You shrug.
  762. "I wouldn't have a clue. Never met the lady. She already knows, though."
  763. >"Huh."
  764. "Yeah, apparently she's cool with it. Turns out she's not as bad as we thought."
  765. >"I guess," Spitfire concedes. "I didn't really know her, so... yeah..."
  766. >Moondancer shrugs.
  767. >"Sounds like she's a good friend," the girl says. "I mean, if even her *mom* is lying for you, then... yeah..."
  768. >True enough.
  769. >"That's going pretty far. I wish some of my friends could convince their parents to do shit like that for me."
  770. >Spitfire leans her head on the other girl's shoulder and glances up at her with the most shiteatingly adoring expression you've ever seen.
  771. >"What."
  772. >"Oh, Moondancer..."
  773. >"WHAT."
  774. >"You *know* you don't have any friends."
  775. >She laughs as the bookworm bites at her spiky hair and tries - ineffectually - to take a swing at her as she backs away.
  776. >So do you, and you don't feel bad about it.
  777. >Meanwhile, Silver is blushing furiously and squirming in her seat.
  778. >"I think -" she blurts out, bringing this latest spat of domestic abuse to a swift and sudden end. "I think it's because she has a crush on me."
  779. >"Your friend or her mom?" Moondancer teases, pausing mid-swing.
  780. >It wouldn't have connected anyway.
  781. >"Di, *obviously*."
  782. "Good."
  783. >"Good?"
  784. "Because it would be really weird if it was her mom."
  785. >"Ew!" Silver squeals, sticking out her tongue. "No! Don't even!"
  786. >Spitfire sighs and leans over towards her girlfriend, reaching behind and slapping her hand on the girl's far shoulder.
  787. >"Guess you're out of luck, Moony. DFC or not, she's not into older women."
  788. >"Not *that* old!" Silver gasps.
  789. >"Nevermind, looks like you still have a shot."
  790. >You didn't think Moondancer was capable of feeling shame, let alone blushing at something that simple.
  791. >But.
  792. >Uh.
  793. >So.
  794. >Uh.
  795. >Okay.
  796. >Good info to have?
  797. >Good info to have.
  798. >The implications have you frozen stiff.
  799. >Silver too, but in a different way.
  800. >Probably.
  801. >Hopefully?
  802. >Slowly, with a tremble, her head turns towards you.
  803. >"Ummmmmmm... Soarin...?"
  804. "Are the horny lesbians scaring you?"
  805. >She nods.
  806. "Yeah, me too."
  807. >"Should we go?"
  808. "Not... yet."
  809. >"Oh."
  810. >Now is not the right time to stand.
  811.  
  812. >You are Silver Spoon and you wave to the girls as you jump into Soarin's car.
  813. >They're weird, but they're his friends.
  814. >Or one is. The other is yours.
  815. >Do *all* of your friends have a crush on you?
  816. >Should you ask Blossom?
  817. >Probably not.
  818. >"So..." Soarin hums as he settles himself in his seat. "... Diamond's place?"
  819. "Yes, please."
  820. >"You sure?"
  821. "It's what's best."
  822. >You'll cave if he asks again.
  823. >You hope he does.
  824. >He doesn't, though.
  825. >Just sighs sadly and starts the car.
  826. >"You're right," he admits, the words nearly drowned out by the rumble of his engine, like he's trying to hide it. "We've pushed our luck enough this weekend."
  827. >He turns to you and adds, louder, "Besides, if we hang out too much, you'll get bored of me, right?"
  828. "Never."
  829. >Soarin stares at you a moment, his expression unreadable.
  830. >Or perhaps you fear what you might find if you tried.
  831. >"I know," he smiles.
  832.  
  833. >Mrs. Rich is standing on the porch.
  834. >You nearly tell Soarin to keep driving, but she already knows. Probably knows everything.
  835. >That seems to be a talent she and Di share, one that she puts to more subtle use than her daughter, you think.
  836. >At least, you haven't seen her grab someone by the neck and threaten to reveal their darkest secrets if he didn't do what she wanted.
  837. >She would never touch you anyway, so does it really matter?
  838. >Yes.
  839. >Soarin.
  840. >You look over at him as he comes to a stop at the curb.
  841. >You're beyond her reach, but him?
  842. >"Should I... uh... walk you up?"
  843. "No."
  844. >You pat his hand and undo your seat belt.
  845. "Thank you, but no."
  846. >Better if she doesn't get a chance to threaten Soarin, however politely it might be.
  847. >You don't know if your family's influence would protect him as well.
  848. >"You sure?"
  849. "Yes. I'll - I'll call you later."
  850. >He knows something is wrong.
  851. >It's in his face, in his voice, in the way he looks lovingly, caringly at you.
  852. >"Okay, Silver."
  853. >He also trusts you. Believes in you. Loves you.
  854. >He's such an idiot.
  855. >You love him.
  856. >You say as much, and lean his way.
  857. >Mrs. Rich already knows everything.
  858. >You don't care if she sees him kissing you.
  859. >Soarin hesitates, but not long.
  860. >He's a good boyfriend.
  861. >"I love you, too," he breathes as his lips part from yours, sooner than you would have wished.
  862. >Mrs. Rich watches as you get out of the car, but her eyes aren't on you.
  863. >She doesn't follow you as you come up the walkway, but Soarin as he drives off.
  864. >"Where were you last night?"
  865. "With... um..."
  866. >"Your parents called, you know."
  867. >You nod.
  868. >They always do.
  869. >"You spent the night with him?"
  870. "We're -"
  871. >No.
  872. " - we - uh, Di and I - we're - um - bullying him. Into giving us rides and... stuff."
  873. >"Uh-huh."
  874. "That's... all?"
  875. >You're not Di. You're not used to lying like this.
  876. >Mrs. Rich isn't buying it.
  877. >Considering how blatant it is, you'd feel embarrassed if she did - more so than you do right now.
  878. >"He isn't doing anything else to you? Just giving you rides?"
  879. "And... and buying us stuff."
  880. >"But you spent the night with him."
  881. >You nod.
  882. >She knows anyway.
  883. >Where else would you have been?
  884. >"And he didn't do anything?"
  885. "N-no!"
  886. >She doesn't know that. She can't. She can assume, but she can't *know*.
  887. "He's - he's a perfect gentleman!"
  888. >"He kissed you in the car."
  889. >She's fishing. Trying to find something to hold over him. Something to turn him into another puppet.
  890. >Maybe to steal him away.
  891. >Maybe.
  892. >It's crazy, and so are you, but maybe.
  893. "I - I made him!"
  894. >She stops. Pauses. Considers.
  895. >"True," she admits, "he did look reluctant."
  896. >He... was.
  897. >"But still -"
  898. >She's going to do something.
  899. "I'm not his type."
  900. >Mrs. Rich falls silent.
  901. "I'm not."
  902. >It's true.
  903. "I've seen the kind of girls he's dated. I've seen him staring."
  904. >"Oh?"
  905. "He likes his women... curvier."
  906. >Not flat as a board.
  907. >Not like you.
  908. >It's true.
  909. >"Really, now?"
  910. >You nod.
  911. >It's true.
  912. >He loves you anyway, but it's true.
  913. >"Interesting. I could almost believe that, if he wasn't a teenage boy."
  914. "It's true."
  915. >It is.
  916. >You saw the way he was staring at that girl at the mall, at Moondancer, the way he looks at Blossom and Cloudy.
  917. >At Di.
  918. >He's never looked at you that way.
  919. >With love and compassion, yes.
  920. >With lust, yes.
  921. >With guilty hunger, not quite, not like that.
  922. >Not like them.
  923. >If you never - if you never grow up, will he still love you?
  924. >How long will he wait?
  925. >He loves you, but for how long?
  926. >Mrs. Rich is staring. *Judging*.
  927. >"He's just using you to get close to my daughter, isn't he?"
  928. >You - you nod.
  929. >He's not.
  930. >He loves you, but if she believes that - maybe she won't do anything.
  931. >Maybe she won't tell your parents.
  932. >Maybe she'll keep lying for you.
  933. >"Well, at least he seems cute enough."
  934. >She steps aside and shoves the door behind her open.
  935. >"Get inside Silver. Diamond is waiting for you. I'll be stepping out for a few hours, so..."
  936. >She shrugs and walks away.
  937. >Like she doesn't care.
  938. >Because she doesn't.
  939. >She's more worried about Soarin dating you than she is about him dating her daughter.
  940. >She doesn't care about Di at all.
  941.  
  942. >You are Soarin and you don't feel like going home.
  943. >There's nothing for you there.
  944. >Dad won't let good bacon go to waste. Or sit around for an hour. Or -
  945. >It was all his the moment you stepped out that door.
  946. >That's... fine.
  947. >You had bacon of your own.
  948. >Ordered for your girlfriend, paid for by your girlfriend, but she fed it to you, so it's better and... whatever.
  949. >You're not hungry, not really.
  950. >Just looking for something to do.
  951. >Moondancer and Spitfire had decided to head down to the butterfly garden by themselves.
  952. >You could join them... if you wanted to be a third wheel.
  953. >If Silver was with you, that'd be a different thing, but yeah, no.
  954. >Not by yourself.
  955. >You almost call up Blossom and see what she's up to, but... oh. Missed Text.
  956. >From Diamond.
  957. >Huh.
  958. >A time. A place.
  959. >O...kay.
  960. >It's not too long from now.
  961. >Not too far from here, either.
  962. >The mall. The fourth floor. A certain little cafe.
  963. >You think you know the one.
  964. >Huh.
  965. >O...kay.
  966. >No threat, no explanation, no answer when you fire back a few question marks in response.
  967. >Well, it's not like you have anything better to do.
  968. >You tell her you'll be there.
  969. >Weird.
  970. >She seemed scared of that place, but there's no telling with that girl.
  971. >Place seemed fancy.
  972. >Maybe they have some of those really tiny pies.
  973. >That would be nice.
  974. >And if you're helping Diamond face her fears or whatever...
  975. >Or maybe she was just tired yesterday...
  976. >Or possibly embarassed to be seen with you or Silver or...
  977. >Fuck it.
  978. >You're just in it for the tiny, fancy pies.
  979. >And because she asked (kind of) nicely (for her).
  980. >That's progress.
  981. >Silver's little pet deserves headpats.
  982.  
  983. >You are Silver Spoon and your best friend is a wreck.
  984. >Again.
  985. >Flopped on her bed, still in pajamas.
  986. >There's splotches of dried milk on the front, the remnants of her breakfast, you assume.
  987. >That's progress.
  988. >She managed to eat on her own today, before crawling back to her bed, probably because you kept her pills with you.
  989. >You sit down beside her and pat her head.
  990. "How are you feeling today?"
  991. >Di groans and rolls onto her side, towards you.
  992. "That good, huh?"
  993. >"Fuck you."
  994. >You'll let that slide.
  995. >Those pale splotches across her clothing almost remind you of something other than milk.
  996. >Almost.
  997. >If you were a pervert.
  998. >If you wanted to imagine the worst about your friend.
  999. >If you thought she would be interested in anyone but you.
  1000. >If you weren't scared she wouldn't be interested in anyone else but Soarin.
  1001. >If you didn't know - from recent experience - the look and smelled of dried cum.
  1002. >Soarin had apologized for what seemed like hours, but it hadn't been hard to get out of your hair.
  1003. >But you aren't a pervert.
  1004. >You won't imagine insane scenarios that make no sense.
  1005. >Not about something as mundane as this.
  1006. >It's just milk.
  1007. >There's even a bit of cereal stuck to one of the spots.
  1008. >She can be *so* messy.
  1009. >Soarin is right: Di basically *is* your pet.
  1010. >Someone has to clean up after her - and clean up *her*, sometimes.
  1011. >Make sure she eats - and properly, at that.
  1012. >Dress her.
  1013. >Her parents certainly don't.
  1014. >"Hey, Sil...?"
  1015. >You stroke Di's hair, pat her gently, comfort her as Soarin would you.
  1016. >You're not so crazy you can't recognize the difference in your actions between this morning and the last.
  1017. >Nor are you so insane as to think it natural.
  1018. >You're nervous.
  1019. >You're insane.
  1020. >She's giving you someone else to worry about, something other than where Soarin might be right now, or with whom.
  1021. >Which of his busty friends he might be spending the rest of the day with.
  1022. >He won't be.
  1023. >And even if he was -
  1024. >"Hey... Sil...?"
  1025. "Yes?"
  1026. >"Where's m'phone?"
  1027. "You broke it, remember?"
  1028. >"Oh."
  1029. >Di pushes herself up with her elbow and looks past you with blurry eyes.
  1030. >"Y'sure?"
  1031. "Yes."
  1032. >"Again?" she sighs and falls back to the bed. "What day's it?"
  1033. "Sunday."
  1034. >"Huh."
  1035.  
  1036. >You are Diamond Tiara and you're pretty sure your mom said she bought you a new phone this morning.
  1037. >It's only... whatever time it is now.
  1038. >You can't have broken it already.
  1039. "Y'sure?"
  1040. >"Yes, Di."
  1041. >You curl in towards the sound, hold the speaker tight, pull her down to your bed.
  1042. >Hug her.
  1043. >It's okay when it's Silver.
  1044. >You don't say anything else.
  1045. >You don't tell her you were going to call Soarin.
  1046. >You don't want her to leave you.
  1047.  
  1048. >You are Soarin and you're early.
  1049. >The little cafe is right where you expected it to be.
  1050. >The name matches the message Diamond sent you, but it's still closed and won't be opening for several hours.
  1051. >You aren't *that* early.
  1052. >It's enough to make you suspicious.
  1053. >Diamond's not beyond just fucking with you for no reason, or perhaps abandoning her with her mother is reason enough.
  1054. >She doesn't respond when you send her another text to confirm the time, but you didn't really expect her to.
  1055. >She's just fucking with you.
  1056. >You look up and down the length of the mall's fourth floor.
  1057. >Just searching for a way to kill the time.
  1058. >Only about 20 minutes, but that's longer than you want to spend sitting here waiting.
  1059. >The majority of the shops on this level are closed on Sundays, and it's still early enough most of the others haven't opened yet.
  1060. >Clothing stores - nothing you have the money for, even if you could judge Silver's size by eye.
  1061. >You could probably get pretty close, but she seemed rather particular about that, about things fitting just right.
  1062. >The stupid nerd store with the shitty knives. Yeah, you can skip that.
  1063. >There's the book store. You could - but no, it's closed.
  1064. >Nevermind.
  1065. >Going back downstairs seems like too much effort.
  1066. >You don't have the cash to do anything anyway.
  1067. >Whatever Diamond has in mind, she better bring some of what she stole from Silver.
  1068. >You almost fire off a text to tell her that, but if she doesn't have it with her, there wouldn't be any time for her to go back to her house.
  1069. >Assuming... wait...
  1070. >How is she even getting here?
  1071. >Probably bullying someone else into giving her a ride.
  1072. >Or she's just fucking with you.
  1073. >Or sent that text to the wrong person and that's why she's not answering when you text her back.
  1074. >Or - she broke her phone yesterday.
  1075. >Huh.
  1076. >O...kaaaaaaay.
  1077. >She must have gotten a new one already.
  1078. >The rich certainly lead a different life.
  1079. >Or...
  1080. >Shit, why did you even come here in the first place?
  1081. >Because you were worried about her?
  1082. >Because -
  1083. >Nope.
  1084. >You aren't going to do this to yourself.
  1085. >Not going to start second-guessing everything.
  1086. >You're a nice guy.
  1087. >You help out friends.
  1088. >And friends of friends.
  1089. >And lost, abandoned puppies.
  1090. >Bitches, too, apparently.
  1091. >That's just who you are.
  1092. >So you sit your ass down at one of the tables outside the cafe and pull out your phone.
  1093. >Not to text her or anything.
  1094. >Just killing time.
  1095. >Looking up sports scores, checking out some of the national news.
  1096. >You've fallen behind on things.
  1097. >Guess that's reasonable, all things considered.
  1098. >There've been more important things going on than which team won the latest bowl.
  1099. >You don't even know who was playing. >To your right, lights flicker on inside the cafe, pulling you away from your phone momentarily.
  1100. >It's still hours before they're supposed to open.
  1101. >Probably the employees starting up the oven.
  1102. >Maybe baking up some of those mini pies.
  1103. >Yeah.
  1104. >That'd be nice.
  1105. >Assuming they're cheap.
  1106. >You let yourself fall back into your phone.
  1107. >There were some interesting international matches matches scheduled.
  1108. >You read about them - and read about the rioting they led to, of course.
  1109. >That's almost a hobby in and of itself.
  1110. >No matter how interesting it is, you keep an eye on the time.
  1111. >Doesn't do you much good, though.
  1112. >Her footsteps are the first thing you notice.
  1113. >Confident. Loud.
  1114. >And too far apart for Diamond, the silence between steps too long for her short legs.
  1115. >Just a random passerby.
  1116. >Still, you glance up - and you think you know why Diamond didn't respond to any of your texts.
  1117. >Shit.
  1118. >"You're Soarin, correct?" the woman asks.
  1119. >The same woman who had watched you drop off Silver.
  1120. >Diamond's mother.
  1121. >Shit.
  1122. "Uh - yeah, I'm -"
  1123. >"Why don't we step inside?"
  1124. >She's already walking past you, ignoring the tables and heading straight for the cafe's door.
  1125. "They aren't open yet."
  1126. >"Exactly."
  1127. "I'm - I'm going to go -"
  1128. >This was a mistake.
  1129. >"No, you're not," she sighs, looking back at you momentarily.
  1130. >You've seen that smirk before.
  1131. >On Diamond's face, when she threatened you.
  1132. >Said she would tell everyone what you did to Silver.
  1133. >Warned you that your life would be over.
  1134. >Her mother doesn't do anything like that, though.
  1135. >She doesn't even wait for you to follow, but walks up to the door and knocks four times.
  1136. "Really, they're... um..."
  1137. >The door shudders slightly as someone inside unlocks it - and swings open for Mrs. Rich.
  1138. >She doesn't threaten you. She doesn't make any demands.
  1139. >She doesn't need to.
  1140. >You follow on your own.
  1141. >Because if you don't, you can assume what will happen.
  1142. >She has confidence where Diamond has bravado.
  1143. >She might follow through where her daughter faltered.
  1144. >A short man locks the door behind you and bows his head towards Mrs. Rich.
  1145. >"I'll be in the kitchen if you need me."
  1146. >"I don't think we will."
  1147. "Wait - uh - are you making those really fancy tiny pies?"
  1148. >"What? No. Why would you even think that?"
  1149. >Mrs. Rich smirks again and reaches into her purse.
  1150. >She pulls something out and tucks it into the man's hand.
  1151. >"Dozen, why don't you go out and get our guest something. I believe there's a little bakery on the third floor..."
  1152. >He pauses for a moment, but nods.
  1153. >"Sure."
  1154. >"Take your time, Dozen."
  1155. >Despite that, The man scurries off quickly, probably out the back door. Into the employee passageways or whatever.
  1156. >"Have a seat."
  1157. >Suuuuure... why not.
  1158. >You're going to get pie.
  1159. >Pie is good.
  1160. >People who give you pie are... presumably(?)... good.
  1161. >You pull back the closest chair and sit down at one of the cafe's little tables.
  1162. >Mrs. Rich sits down opposite you and - waits. Watches.
  1163. "So... uh... why did you want me to come here?"
  1164. >"I wanted to have a little chat."
  1165. "Why...?"
  1166. >You damn well know why.
  1167. >"I need to know if you're worth lying for."
  1168. >Mrs. Rich leans forward in her chair, almost all the way across the small table.
  1169. >You can smell her perfume.
  1170. >It's faint, but familiar.
  1171. >You've smelled it on Diamond before.
  1172. >"I want to know what's in it for me."
  1173. "Are you..."
  1174. >Nah.
  1175. >Yeah?
  1176. >Nah.
  1177. >No. Yeah.
  1178. "... *blackmailing* me?"
  1179. >This shouldn't be a surprise.
  1180. >Diamond had to have learned that behavior from someone.
  1181. >You just... thought adults were above petty shit like that.
  1182. >"Not quite," Mrs. Rich laughs. "I suppose you could see it like that, but no."
  1183. >She leans forward further, giving you a nice view down the low-cut neckline of her skirt.
  1184. >"But if that's how you want things to be, let's start with a 'friendly' warning.
  1185. >"Do *not* touch Silver Spoon. If her parents find out... well... you look like you know the risks."
  1186. >You're not being jittery at all.
  1187. >Nope.
  1188. >Calm and collected and there's no reason for the sly smile she's flashing you.
  1189. >You don't have any tells.
  1190. >Nope.
  1191. >"Her parents aren't as understanding as I am."
  1192. "That's a threat, isn't it?"
  1193. >Mrs. Rich shrugs.
  1194. >"Like I said, a friendly warning."
  1195. "But if I don't do whatever you want me to do, you're going to tell them, aren't you?"
  1196. >"No, but I might not feel inclined to lie for you and your little girlfriend. You're not the only one taking risks, you know."
  1197. "Oh."
  1198. >That makes sense.
  1199. >Still feels like a threat, though.
  1200. >"Besides," she adds with a casual wave of her hand, "I know you aren't really interested in her, anyway."
  1201. "Uh -"
  1202. >"As for my daughter..."
  1203. "- no, Silver and I -"
  1204. >"... if you wanted to sleep with Diamond," she carries on over you, "all you had to do was ask."
  1205. "WHAT!?"
  1206. >"Oh? That's not what you're trying to do?"
  1207. "No!"
  1208. >"Are you sure?" she asks. "You're cute enough. I'm sure we can come to some kind of arrangement."
  1209. "Are you - I - is - no - are you -"
  1210. >Your brain is full of wat.
  1211. >She's crazy.
  1212. "Look, uh..."
  1213. >Okay, okay.
  1214. >Think.
  1215. >Calm down.
  1216. >This isn't exactly the first time.
  1217. >Or maybe it is.
  1218. >You don't think she's trying to seduce you, because nope.
  1219. >You won't even think that.
  1220. >Silver is right.
  1221. >Ew.
  1222. >She's your girlfriend's best friend's mother. And far too old for you, even if she has aged well.
  1223. >Nope.
  1224. >She's trying to get you to date her daughter.
  1225. >Obviously.
  1226. >Uh.
  1227. >Yeah.
  1228. >Obviously.
  1229. >You're a good guy. Athletic. Nice. One of the stars of the soccer team.
  1230. >Not like Flash Fucking Sentry.
  1231. >Not a use-'em-drop-'em scumbag.
  1232. >Parents have dropped a hints before. Sometimes joking, sometimes not.
  1233. >That's fine.
  1234. >Never hurts to have parental approval.
  1235. >Okay, sometimes it does, but those wild girls tend towards the delinquents and troublemakers anyway, not you.
  1236. >You're a nice guy.
  1237. >You try to treat them right.
  1238. >It's no surprise parents don't mind you dating their daughters.
  1239. "Mrs. Rich -"
  1240. >"Call me Spoiled."
  1241. >But it's never this blatant.
  1242. "Mrs. Rich. I'm not interested."
  1243. >Her face tightens up, just like her daughter's.
  1244. >"Really, now."
  1245. "Really. I have no interest in dating Diamond."
  1246. >"I didn't say anything about dating her."
  1247. >You can't even process that.
  1248. >It just doesn't make sense.
  1249. "I'm very happy with Silver and I'm not -"
  1250. >"For how long?"
  1251. "For... ever. We're..."
  1252. >She's blackmailing you. Threatening you.
  1253. >More subtly than her daughter, but you think she actually means it.
  1254. >You're smart enough - barely - to not throw out that you and Silver are engaged.
  1255. >No use giving her more ammo.
  1256. >She takes your hesitation for something else.
  1257. >"She's not going to grow, you know," Mrs. Rich spits. "Have you seen her mother?"
  1258. "No, I -"
  1259. >"Of course not, because if she ever found out you were messing with her plan for their darling daughter, she would have you *crucified*."
  1260. >Mrs. Rich smirks and sits back, stretching to accentuate her own breasts in a way high school girls can only dream of.
  1261. >You may not have a fucking clue what she's doing, but she certainly does.
  1262. >"The poor girl's mother is flat as a board, as his her mother. Not much better on the father's side. What you want out of a girl... it's just not in her genetics, I'm afraid. Unlike *my* family..."
  1263. >This... uh... little show might be more impressive if you hadn't just been hanging out with Moondancer.
  1264. >Or if you weren't so confused.
  1265. >Or angry.
  1266. "I'm... not sure what you're getting at."
  1267. >"You'll never be happy with her and, frankly, any relationship with that girl is doomed to failure thanks to her parents, whereas *my* daughter..."
  1268. >She leaves it hanging.
  1269. >"... well..."
  1270. >Or not.
  1271. >"... it's not as if you have to worry about Diamond's parents finding out you're sleeping with their daughter."
  1272. >Mrs. Rich snorts at the end, but it's not that funny, not unless you're missing something.
  1273. "And if I say no...?"
  1274. >"Planning to stay with your little girlfriend?"
  1275. "Yes."
  1276. >She raises one perfectly groomed eyebrow.
  1277. >"Silver's a smart girl, Soarin. She knows you don't really love her."
  1278. >What's the polite way to call out an adult on their bullshit?
  1279. "Bullshit."
  1280. >Yeah, that's it.
  1281. >"She's seen you staring at other girls. She told me so."
  1282. >Have you been...?
  1283. >Shit.
  1284. "That doesn't mean anything. It's not intentional."
  1285. >"She's a fragile girl, Soarin, and you're already hurting her."
  1286. "No... I..."
  1287. >"And I don't just mean emotionally," Mrs. Rich sighs. "She told me about how rough you were when you took her virginity."
  1288. "She... she said..."
  1289. >No. The woman doesn't know anything.
  1290. >She's fishing for information.
  1291. >Silver wouldn't say anything like that.
  1292. >"Oh, I'm quite sure she told *you* she enjoyed it. She wouldn't want to drive you away."
  1293. >Silver... Silver *would* do that.
  1294. >You've thought it yourself.
  1295. >She would tell you anything, so long as it meant you kept loving her.
  1296. >But she would mean it.
  1297. >She would.
  1298. >But it'd still be a lie.
  1299. >"And then, there was that other time -"
  1300. >Cloudy had cried.
  1301. >How could Silver have not?
  1302. >"You should break things off now," Mrs. Rich says, reaching across the table to touch your hand, "before you end up breaking *her*."
  1303. "... no... I can't."
  1304. >"Seems dangerous," she sighs, squeezing your hand gently, like you do so often when you're trying to reassure Silver, "but... it's your choice."
  1305. >Reassurance or not, that's a threat.
  1306. >No other way to look at it
  1307. >Nah. No.
  1308. >Fuck that.
  1309. >You're tired of being pushed around by this family.
  1310. >Even if she has a point.
  1311. >Even if she's right.
  1312. >This is all going to end in a mad dash for the border and prison time.
  1313. >You know that.
  1314. >You've accepted that.
  1315. >All you can do is enjoy what time you have with Silver.
  1316. >Make things as good for her as you can.
  1317. >You look the woman square in the eyes.
  1318. "What do you really want from me?"
  1319. >Mrs. Rich pretends to be shocked and insulted, but her eyes twinkle.
  1320. >"You seem like a nice boy," she laughs. "If Silver's parents find out exactly what has been going on between you two - well, let's just say it would be better if the police found out first.
  1321. >"I'd rather that not happen to you.
  1322. >"Sure, there are laws that protect children in love, but... I *think* you two are just barely out of that age range?"
  1323. >You nod, because she's right.
  1324. >She knows she's right.
  1325. >Blackmail only works if you've done something wrong, after all.
  1326. >"What happened, Soarin?" Mrs. Rich asks. "Did you get held back a year? I know some less scrupulous school districts will intentionally do that with their more promising athletes."
  1327. "I... don't -"
  1328. >"You don't know?"
  1329. >You shake your head.
  1330. >"Of course not," she smiles, "but you *were* held back, weren't you? And it's just a lucky coincidence that a freshman who happened to be older, larger, and more skilled than those of our rivals drove our soccer team to such a huge victory."
  1331. "Wait -"
  1332. >"That put you on my radar, you know," she smirks. "Keeping track of those kinds of things is my job. I *am* on the school board."
  1333. "What..."
  1334. >You're not sure which of the horrible implications she's actually trying to imply.
  1335. >Maybe all of them.
  1336. >"So when I saw you with Silver today, I just thought... well... all that aside, you've got a promising future ahead of you, if you stay away from that girl.
  1337. >"Who knows where you might go, so long as her parents don't ruin your future before it can begin.
  1338. >"Besides..."
  1339. >She smiles like a snake.
  1340. >A hungry one.
  1341. >You don't actually know how that would really look, just that it would probably make you uncomfortable as fuck.
  1342. >Kinda like she is now.
  1343. >"You and Diamond would look cute together."
  1344. "Uh... huh."
  1345. >"She's been wild lately. For example, that incident at the Entertainment Complex..."
  1346. >Mrs. Rich pauses, like she's suddenly been struck by an epiphany.
  1347. >"You know," she says slowly, drawing out each word, "if I didn't know better, I'd almost think you were being a bad influence on my daughter.
  1348. >"She does spend most of her time with Silver Spoon, after all, and it seems this wild streak of Diamond's started about the same time... well...
  1349. >The woman shakes her head and smiles.
  1350. >"But after having a chat with you, I think I don't have to worry about that, do I?"
  1351. "N-no?"
  1352. >What's the polite way to tell a woman her daughter is a psychotic bitch and always has been?
  1353. >What's the tactful way of saying you've been a calming influence - or have been trying to be - on Diamond without admitting Mrs. Rich has a point?
  1354. >"I'm an excellent judge of character, and I don't believe you're a troublemaker, Soarin."
  1355. "Thanks...?"
  1356. >"I think a nice, stable boyfriend like you would help Diamond through this rough patch. Or... *further*..."
  1357. >You shake your head.
  1358. >Because true or not, you haven't been very effective at making her not a bitch.
  1359. >And true or not, you already have a girlfriend.
  1360. "Uh... thanks, but..."
  1361. >Okay, okay. She made some decent points.
  1362. >But Silver isn't crazy.
  1363. >And Diamond is a bitch.
  1364. >You're not looking at other girls on purpose.
  1365. >Silver understands.
  1366. >Besides, she'll forgive anything you do.
  1367. >You... shouldn't think that's a good thing.
  1368. >Mrs. Rich shrugs and pushes back her chair.
  1369. >"If you aren't interested, you aren't interested," she sighs. "But do try to be careful. If your little high school romance turns bad, you won't just be hurting yourself."
  1370. "I know."
  1371. >She smiles gently and stands.
  1372. "I won't let that happen."
  1373. >"Interesting..."
  1374. >Mrs. Rich stands and turns as the man - Dozen? - comes back into the room, a small box in his hand.
  1375. >"... and here are your pies. Do enjoy them whilst you still can."
  1376. "Is that another..."
  1377. >You were going to ask if it was a threat, but... pie.
  1378. >No reason risking the pie. Or making her angry.
  1379. >Or being impolite when maybe she's just being an overzealous mom of the bitchiest bitch you know.
  1380. >You probably would be a good boyfriend for Diamond, but you like to think you'd be a good boyfriend to anyone.
  1381. >"No."
  1382. >You didn't say it, but she understands anyway.
  1383. >Otherwise she wouldn't look so smug.
  1384. >"Pies aren't too different from puppy love, Soarin. Before you know it, things have grown cold and stale."
  1385. >Joke's on her.
  1386. >You fucking LOVE stale pie.
  1387. >And cold pie.
  1388. >Basically, pie.
  1389. >And Silver.
  1390. >She's wrong.
  1391. >She was lying.
  1392. >You haven't been looking at other girls.
  1393. >Right...?
  1394. >Mrs. Rich bends over the box and writes something on top.
  1395. >"Here's my number," she says, taking the box from the man and putting it in your hands. "If you change your mind about anything..."
  1396. "If I did, wouldn't I talk to... you know... you daughter?"
  1397. >"I'm sure you've noticed she can be argumentative, even when she really wants something."
  1398. >You nod and chuckle.
  1399. "Yeah. She does like to put up a fight."
  1400. >"It's all an act, but still, it would be better if you spoke to me first."
  1401. >That's not going to happen, but...
  1402. >You nod again.
  1403. >"We'd best leave now. I'm sure Dozen wants to finish prepping for the day."
  1404. >"And other things," the man adds. "By the way, thanks for that, Spoiled."
  1405. >"My pleasure."
  1406. >You follow Mrs. Rich out of the cafe.
  1407. >The door locks behind you with a heavy click, followed by a second.
  1408. >You look back at the door.
  1409. >Huh.
  1410. >You thought the door only had one lock...?
  1411. >Meh.
  1412. >Whatever.
  1413. >Guess the guy really doesn't want anyone else barging in on him.
  1414. >Not your problem.
  1415. >You've got pie.
  1416. >So.
  1417. >Since your conversation is over and you don't really see a reason to follow Mrs. Rich down the escalator, and you can't think of anyplace better to go to eat pie, you plop your ass down at one of the tables outside the cafe and pop that box open like a cheerleader's legs.
  1418. >Yeah. Pie time.
  1419. >*Not* time to wonder if Diamond's mother has been manipulating your entire life since you were held back in fourth grade.
  1420. >So.
  1421. >Pie time.
  1422. >Oooooh.
  1423. >There're four little pies in the box.
  1424. >Looks like pecan, cherry, -
  1425. >Ooooooooooh. Cherry.
  1426. >Nope.
  1427. >Your first bite reveals hidden depths.
  1428. >Cherry *and* chocolate.
  1429. >Fuck yeah.
  1430. >Fancy pies!
  1431. >So.
  1432. >Is *that* one buttermilk or...
  1433.  
  1434. >The pies don't last long.
  1435. >They never do.
  1436. >Trying to stretch out the last one - it *is* buttermilk - as long as possible just gives your mind time to wander.
  1437. >Silver is so much smarter than her dumb jock boyfriend.
  1438. >You should start carrying a book with you to keep your mind from going to dark places.
  1439. >Or... good places?
  1440. >Mrs. Rich was definitely trying to threaten you, but maybe she really does care about her daughter.
  1441. >Then again, Soothing Smokes and Silver act like she doesn't.
  1442. >Then again -
  1443. >You've got nothing better to do today.
  1444. >Okay, you've got *lots* better to do today, but that conversation with Diamond's mother has left you with nothing but questions and an empty box you can't throw away because it has her phone number written on... the...
  1445. >Uh...
  1446. >You pull out your phone and add her to your contacts.
  1447. >Shit, you can be dumb sometimes.
  1448. >Still, it's the first time a girl - lady - has given you her number AND pies at the same time and you kind of wish it would start a trend, except that would mean you weren't with Silver anymore, so...
  1449. >Didn't she say she would make you pies?
  1450. >She should make you pies.
  1451. >Yep.
  1452. >Pies.
  1453. >Totally just thinking about pies.
  1454. >That's all.
  1455. >You're a dumb jock pieslut and never think about anything but pies and banging your cute girlfriend.
  1456. >Yep.
  1457. >That's all.
  1458. >Pies. Pies. Pies.
  1459. >Shiiiiit, it's not working.
  1460. >You throw the box into a nearby trash can - perfect shot - and stand up.
  1461. >Pies?
  1462. >No.
  1463. >You sigh on the inside and start shuffling your way along.
  1464. >Maybe Soothing Smokes is open now.
  1465.  
  1466. >You are Silver Spoon and you're waiting for Diamond to get out of the shower.
  1467. >She's taking a long one today.
  1468. >It's been...
  1469. >Well, it's been long enough that you thought maybe she fell asleep, but she yelled at you when you opened the bathroom door to check on her.
  1470. >She doesn't have any call to snap at you when you're just trying to look out for her.
  1471. >Instead, thanks to the power of distractions, the anger keeps itself to a dull simmer and you can skim along through your book and still greet Diamond with a smile when she comes out of the bathroom.
  1472. >She's swaddled head to toe in towels.
  1473. >Huh.
  1474. "Cold?"
  1475. >"Get out," Diamond mumbles. "I want to get dressed."
  1476. "But..."
  1477. >Modesty? Now?
  1478. >You shrug and rise.
  1479. >It's not as if you enjoy seeing Diamond naked.
  1480. >Particularly how curvy she is, or how curvy she's becoming.
  1481. >No, you just want to read your book until your parents pick you up.
  1482. "Fine. I laid your clothes out on your bed."
  1483.  
  1484. >You are Diamond Tiara and you remember... *things*.
  1485. >Fractured memories of things.
  1486. >There's a bruise on your thigh, and you know it should be there.
  1487. >You just don't remember why.
  1488. >Did your mom finally snap?
  1489. >Maybe.
  1490. >You remember some of your conversation with her from last night, before you came upstairs.
  1491. >You remember her coming into your room.
  1492. >Maybe you finally pushed her far enough to hit you.
  1493. >That bruise isn't the only one you have.
  1494. >Everything hurts.
  1495. >Everything is sore.
  1496. >You want your pills.
  1497. >You want to forget and you want to stop hurting.
  1498. >You think...
  1499. >Yeah.
  1500. >Silver has them.
  1501. >That bitch.
  1502. "Hey, Sil -"
  1503. >She's gone.
  1504. >Good.
  1505. >That's good.
  1506. >You'll get dressed, and then you'll get your pills.
  1507. >And then you won't have to care about anything anymore.
  1508.  
  1509. >You are Silver Spoon and you have your book.
  1510. >Everything is okay.
  1511. >You've read it before.
  1512. >Recently.
  1513. >It's the one Soarin got you.
  1514. >He loves you.
  1515. >He does.
  1516. >You shouldn't worry about it.
  1517. >It's a much better distraction than worrying about Di.
  1518. >You think... you think you're tired of that.
  1519. >Tired of her.
  1520. >Because every time your mind starts to wander, every time you start to think about her, you think about Soarin.
  1521. >What you told Mrs. Rich...
  1522. >They say the best lies contain an element of the truth.
  1523. >Those weren't lies.
  1524. >You saw him.
  1525. >He would ever do anything to hurt you, but you saw him.
  1526. >It should be okay.
  1527. >You shouldn't mind him looking at Di.
  1528. >She's your best friend.
  1529. >But -
  1530. >You have a book.
  1531. >You read your book and try not to think.
  1532. >You try so hard, you almost don't notice your phone ringing.
  1533. >Almost.
  1534. "Hi...? Dad? Yes, I'll -"
  1535.  
  1536. >You are Diamond Tiara and you don't know why Silver isn't coming back.
  1537. >Or answering when you yell.
  1538. >Or - or in the house.
  1539. >You've gone downstairs.
  1540. >There's no one here but you.
  1541. >You're alone.
  1542. >Not even your mom is here.
  1543. >Your first reaction is to panic, but...
  1544. >You don't.
  1545. >You should, but you don't, and you don't know why.
  1546. >Why you should panic, because you aren't a child.
  1547. >Why you aren't, because you should be.
  1548. >But it's fine.
  1549. >Really, it is.
  1550. >For some reason, you feeler safer this way.
  1551. >You don't need Silver.
  1552. >You don't care where she went.
  1553. >You don't care what happens to her.
  1554. >It's only once you've fallen back into your bed that you remember why you need her.
  1555. >The *only* reason you need her.
  1556. >She has your pills.
  1557. >Fucking bitch.
  1558.  
  1559. >You are Soarin and you're glad the shop is open.
  1560. >Mr. Smokes greets you with a warm smile and a friendly wave.
  1561. >"Didn't expect to see you back so soon."
  1562. "I... uh... didn't really expect to be."
  1563. >The man chuckles and sets down the box he was working with.
  1564. >"So, don't tell me," he starts, leaning over and resting his elbows on the counter, "you decided to take up smoking?"
  1565. "No, afraid not."
  1566. >"Didn't think so. I'm guessing something is on your mind. Luckily, business isn't exactly booming right now, so..."
  1567. >He pats the counter with his hand.
  1568. >"Come on, tell me what's bothering you."
  1569. >You join him at the counter before continuing, and a stray thought strikes your mind.
  1570. "Not that I've been to any bars -"
  1571. >"Of course you have."
  1572. "Nope! but *from the movies* -"
  1573. >Mr. Smokes laughs and shakes his head.
  1574. >"Sorry I don't have any stools, but feel free to think of me as your friendly bartender."
  1575. >Good, at least he had the same thought you did.
  1576. "We're not too different, are we? I mean, we're both worried about Diamond, right?"
  1577. >"Is that what's eating at you?"
  1578. "More accurately, her mom."
  1579. >Mr. Smokes grunts and his face takes on a sour expression.
  1580. >You kinda expected that.
  1581. "You said some stuff about her yesterday..."
  1582. >"I shouldn't have," he sighs. "Not with Diamond right there."
  1583. "I was just wondering... is Mrs. Rich *trying* to be a good mother and just... you know... sucking at it?"
  1584. >"No."
  1585. >His answer is so flat, so quick, it leaves you stunned.
  1586. "She's... uh... really that bad...?"
  1587. >"Yes."
  1588. >He says it with such finality, without any room to question.
  1589. >"That little girl deserves better."
  1590. "Oh..."
  1591. >"You sound disappointed."
  1592. "I kinda thought maybe she was trying her best. You know, *trying* to be a good mother to Diamond - and being good to Silver by looking out for her and... well... giving her the freedom her parents don't.
  1593. "But just being really, *really* shitty about how she does it."
  1594. >Mr. Smokes shakes his head sadly.
  1595. >"You seem like a nice guy -"
  1596. "I try to be."
  1597. >"- so I'm guessing you try to think the best about everyone."
  1598. >You shrug.
  1599. "Maybe?"
  1600. >Or maybe people aren't as shitty as everyone else seems to think.
  1601. >Except Flash Fucking Sentry.
  1602. >He's an asshole.
  1603. >"Look," Mr. Smokes sighs, "that woman is an irredeemable piece of trash. Have you ever spoken to her?"
  1604. "Yeah, just a bit ago."
  1605. >He raises an eyebrow.
  1606. "Just down the way at... at..."
  1607. >You should probably remember the name of it.
  1608. >"At Dozen's cafe?"
  1609. >Close enough. You nod.
  1610. >"That *bitch*," Mr. Smokes hisses. "What is she up to now?"
  1611. "She... uh..."
  1612. >Okay, wow. He's fucking pissed.
  1613. "... she asked me to... uh..."
  1614. >Is he gonna take a swing at you?
  1615. >Nah, you don't think so.
  1616. "... to date her daughter."
  1617. >Mr. Smokes is trembling in anger. His hands clenching over and over - probably around an imaginary neck.
  1618. >Shit.
  1619. >He seemed like a pretty chill guy, too.
  1620. >Guess he has a temper.
  1621. >Like you.
  1622. >"Date?"
  1623. >You nod.
  1624. >"Or *fuck*?"
  1625. >You... stop nodding.
  1626. >Shit.
  1627. "Both...?"
  1628. >"That *bitch*."
  1629. "What...? One kind of implies the other, doesn't it?"
  1630. >Right?
  1631. >No mother is going to approve of you making her daughter your fuckbuddy.
  1632. >Shit, *you* wouldn't approve of it.
  1633. >Drunken one-night-stands are one thing, but actual formalized friends with benefits (and the friend part being questionable as fuck)?
  1634. >Nah.
  1635. >You aren't Flash Fucking Sentry.
  1636. >You're a good guy.
  1637. >"You'd think that," Mr. Smokes sighs, "but..."
  1638. >He sighs again and looks up at the ceiling.
  1639. >"It's not my place to say, but she used to be such a beautiful little girl. Trusting and outgoing, if a bit... sharp.
  1640. >"And now she cowers behind her best friend's boyfriend."
  1641. "You mean yesterday?"
  1642. >He nods.
  1643. >You shake your head.
  1644. "Nah, she's not usually like that. Usually she's..."
  1645. >His word seems like the most diplomatic option.
  1646. "... sharp."
  1647. >"Really?"
  1648. >Your turn to nod.
  1649. >Mr. Smokes lets himself smile - just a bit - though it's not exactly a happy one.
  1650. >"Good to hear there's at least one part of her that hasn't changed much."
  1651. >*You* wouldn't mind if that part changed.
  1652. >Just a bit.
  1653. >"You should stay away from her," Mr. Smokes advises suddenly. "Spoiled, I mean. Not Diamond."
  1654. >He sighs and looks back to you.
  1655. >"That girl needs someone to look after her."
  1656. "Why not..."
  1657. >Okay, reword that in your head so it's not rude.
  1658. >Okay, no way to do that.
  1659. "... not to be rude or anything, but you care about her, so..."
  1660. >"Why aren't I?"
  1661. "Yeah."
  1662. >"Because of her mother. I mean it when I say you should stay away from her. If she gets even the smallest bit of leverage on you..."
  1663. >Shit.
  1664. >"... you're thinking about your fiance, aren't you?"
  1665. "Yep."
  1666. >Shit.
  1667. >"Don't worry too much. Unless you cross Spoiled, she won't do anything. So... stay away from her. Don't give her a reason to use what she has."
  1668.  
  1669. >You're not so troubled by the conversation that you forget to stop and check the directory.
  1670. >Nope, you remember, because you're so troubled you need to calm down.
  1671. > - and you have no idea where the man at the cafe got those pies.
  1672. >Not only did you throw out the boxes, so you have no idea what the name was, but there's half a dozen bakery and bakery accessory shops on the third floor.
  1673. >And that's just the ones you can pick out by there names! Who knows how many have clever trick names you'll never figure out, or maybe it came from a coffee shop, or -
  1674. >This mall is too big.
  1675. >You could ask that - nope, the cafe is still closed.
  1676. >But there are a few people outside, lounging at the tables.
  1677. >Some even have steaming cups of coffee.
  1678. >So.
  1679. >Not closed?
  1680. >You walk closer and check the hours.
  1681. >Nope. Closed.
  1682. >Wait.
  1683. >Maybe -
  1684. >One of the men at the tables looks up at you and smiles.
  1685. >"Soarin, is it?"
  1686. "Uh..."
  1687. >He knows your name?
  1688. >That's not...
  1689. >That's fucking creepy.
  1690. >"No...? I saw you coming out out Soothing Smokes and assumed - well, nevermind. I had just hoped Soothing and Spoiled were finally burying the hatchet.
  1691. >"They're tearing this community apart."
  1692. "Dude... I... I'm just here to ask about some pies."
  1693. >"I'm afraid Dozen doesn't do pies."
  1694. "No, but he... uh... nevermind."
  1695. >He knows your name.
  1696. >It's not a huge fucking leap to assume he knows that you were here earlier.
  1697. >Maybe even why.
  1698. >Probably?
  1699. >Maybe?
  1700. >But you don't want to confirm anything, because is this what paranoia feels like?
  1701. >"Try Plum's on the third floor," the woman sitting across from the guy suggests. "They have this amazing sampler of four tiny pies."
  1702. "That sounds like the place!"
  1703. >"Their pies are amazing," she giggles. "I know my children love them."
  1704. >Um.
  1705. >She looks too young to have kids?
  1706. >Like... mid twenties? Early thirties?
  1707. >Sure, teen pregnancy is a thing you're very fucking aware of, but...
  1708. >Well.
  1709. >She is dressed nicely.
  1710. >*Expensively* nicely dressed.
  1711. >Like something Silver might wear - if she were slumming.
  1712. >Psssssh.
  1713. >Rich people.
  1714. >She's probably in her forties, but with so much money-stuff that she doesn't look it.
  1715. >Huh.
  1716. >Okay.
  1717. "Cool, then. Thanks."
  1718.  
  1719. >You can't afford this because of course you can't.
  1720. >No matter how long you look at the menu board, that's an immutable fact.
  1721. >Shit.
  1722. >Hell, you can't even afford a burger right now, let alone these fancy-ass richperson pies.
  1723. >Hey, didn't you say something about bringing Silver back again?
  1724. >Coming back to the mall?
  1725. >Maybe next weekend?
  1726. >You think so; you meant to.
  1727. >She had fun, so, probably.
  1728. >But for now...
  1729. >You look at your phone. Think of the numbers you could call. The people you could hang with.
  1730. >It seems better than sitting in your room and worrying about Mrs. Rich's threats.
  1731. >You pick a number at random - totally at random! - and dial.
  1732. >Yep! Random!
  1733. "Hey... Blossom?"
  1734.  
  1735. >You are Silver Spoon and you think about calling Soarin for something like the twentieth time.
  1736. >This hour.
  1737. >But there might as well be an armed guard stationed outside your door.
  1738. >Might even be, but you're not going to check.
  1739. >You sigh and look at your homework. Again.
  1740. >The sooner you get done...
  1741. >The sooner you can go to bed?
  1742. >Read a book?
  1743. >Do something else mundane and boring?
  1744. >There's not much incentive for you to finish it quickly.
  1745. >It's not even much of a distraction, considering how simple it is.
  1746. >You could have finished it tomorrow morning. You had *planned* to.
  1747. >But no.
  1748. >Your father had other plans.
  1749. >He always does.
  1750. >You look out your bedroom window and - no, that would be stupid.
  1751. >You're not sneaking out.
  1752. >Certainly not from an upstairs window.
  1753. >Nor are you going to let yourself be consumed by thoughts of Soarin - of where he is right now, or with whom.
  1754. >You shouldn't have told Di's mom those lies.
  1755. >You should have told her the truth.
  1756. >...
  1757. >You shouldn't have to tell yourself that it wasn't.
  1758. >It *wasn't*.
  1759. >He loves you.
  1760. >He does.
  1761.  
  1762. >You are Diamond Tiara and you're grounded.
  1763. >For what, you don't fucking know!
  1764. >Ever since your mom got back, she's yelled at you if you so much as stepped one foot out of your bedroom!
  1765. >That's fucking BULLSHIT!
  1766. >All there is in here is a stupid TV and a bunch of Silver's shitty books.
  1767. >"Trying to keep you out of trouble" is a fucking pile of shit.
  1768. >She probably just doesn't want you interrupting while she's fucking her new boyfriend.
  1769. >You *heard* her talking to him on the phone when she got home.
  1770. >That's bullshit.
  1771. >If she wants you out of the way, she should just let you leave the house!
  1772. >Go to Sil's or something!
  1773. >You look out your bedroom window and consider it again.
  1774. >There's nothing to climb.
  1775. >You'd have to jump.
  1776. >You just might.
  1777. >You're reaching for the window's latch when your mom knocks on your door.
  1778. >It has to be her, because who else would it be?
  1779. >Your dad? The guy you likes to pretend you don't even exist anymore?
  1780. >Silver? She fucked off without even leaving you a note.
  1781. >Soarin? Here to rescue you?
  1782. >From what?
  1783. >*Boredom*?
  1784. >You wouldn't even mind that right now.
  1785. >Fucking useless white knight.
  1786. >No, it's *her*.
  1787. "What!?"
  1788. >"Don't take that tone with me," she snaps back as she pushes the door open. "I'm here to look after you."
  1789. "I doubt it."
  1790. >"What were you doing?"
  1791. >Shit!
  1792. >You let your arm drop to your side.
  1793. "Nothing. I wasn't doing anything! Just leave me alone."
  1794. >"You were going to sneak out, weren't you?"
  1795. "No!"
  1796. >Your mom sighs, short and angry.
  1797. >"I'll excuse your attitude because you're *clearly* in pain."
  1798. >She strides across the room and grabs your arms.
  1799. "Hey -"
  1800. >And *throws* you onto your bed!
  1801. "Fucking what -!"
  1802. >"Your head hurts, Diamond. Take your pills."
  1803. "I -"
  1804. >"NOW."
  1805. "I -"
  1806. >She's bent over you, one knee on the edge of the bed.
  1807. >Her entire weight has you pinned down.
  1808. "- I..."
  1809. >She's angry. Furious.
  1810. >As soon as she saw you were reaching for the window, she fucking lost it.
  1811. >She hit you last night.
  1812. >You have the bruises to prove it.
  1813. >"Diamond," she hisses, "Take. Your. Pills."
  1814. "... I... I just did."
  1815. >She'll be even worse if she finds out you lost them.
  1816. >You don't want to deal with that bullshit.
  1817. >You don't want her to hit you.
  1818. >Not now. Not without your pills.
  1819. >"Good," your mom sighs. "I need you to calm down."
  1820. >If you had them, it wouldn't matter what she did, because it wouldn't be real.
  1821. >It wouldn't be happening.
  1822. >"Thanks to your little *boyfriend* -"
  1823. >Not without someone to see it.
  1824. >If you had a witness, then it'd all be worth it.
  1825. >"- I owe someone a favor."
  1826. >Where's that fucking worthless piece of shit when you need him?
  1827. "I don't *have* a boyfriend."
  1828. >Your mom laughs - a short, sharp, *bitter* laugh.
  1829. >"No, you *don't*, do you? And probably never will.
  1830. >"Soarin hates you."
  1831. "So?"
  1832. >"'So?'" she parrots back. "That's your question, not how I know about him?"
  1833. >You shrug - or try to.
  1834. >It's hard with her still holding you down.
  1835. "Since when *don't* you know everything that's happening in my life!?"
  1836. >"True," she giggles. "I went out to see him today and we had a little chat. That's why I *know* he thinks you're a bitch."
  1837. >So...?
  1838. >"Maybe if you'd do *something* with your hair or let me put some makeup on you, then *maybe* *someone* -
  1839. "He didn't say that!"
  1840. >He did.
  1841. >To you.
  1842. >To your face.
  1843. >But he's too much of a pussy to say shit like that to her!
  1844. >He wouldn't.
  1845. >"He *did*, Diamond," your mom says, suddenly much softer. "I asked him if he was interested in you. Stop daydreaming, Diamond. He'll *never* want you."
  1846. "That's fine! He's a fucking asshole anyway!"
  1847. >"Oh...?"
  1848. "Give me my phone! You got me a new one, didn't you? So give it to me!"
  1849. >Your mom shakes her head.
  1850. >"You want to call him? Ask him what he said?"
  1851. "N-no..."
  1852. >You don't know what you'd ask him.
  1853. >You don't care what he thinks of you.
  1854. >You just want your phone.
  1855. >You can call Sil.
  1856. >Ask her to come over.
  1857. >Spend the night.
  1858. >"No."
  1859. >She suddenly lets go of your arms and stands up.
  1860. >"You can have it in the morning."
  1861. "I just want to call Sil!"
  1862. >"You can do that in the morning."
  1863.  
  1864. >You are Soarin and -
  1865. >"You did that!?"
  1866. "Yeaaaaaaah."
  1867. >"That was stupid."
  1868. "I didn't know it was her!"
  1869. >"It was still stupid!"
  1870. >Blossom takes a swing at your shoulder - easily dodged, but you still might have to rethink the whole 'letting Cloudy live and/or be friends with your friends' thing.
  1871. >She's clearly a bad influence on the others.
  1872. >"Why would you hang out with Diamond Tiara at all, let alone *without* your girlfriend?"
  1873. "Because... uh... that's a good question?"
  1874. >"That girl is bad news!"
  1875. "I know, I know -"
  1876. >"From *everything* you've said, she's a total, raging b-"
  1877. "There's another side to her, Blossom."
  1878. >You sigh and lean back against the edge of her bed.
  1879. >This room is too small.
  1880. >Needs some chairs.
  1881. "Hey, did you want to go somewhere? Maybe -"
  1882. >Maybe you don't have any damn money, but hanging out with a girl in her bedroom is probably on the long list of things that would make Silver feel sad.
  1883. >"We could go back to the living room and watch tv with my parents," Blossom laughs from above you. "I'm sure some new, stupid thing is -"
  1884. "Uh, yeah, about that?"
  1885. >"Hmm?"
  1886. "Are your parents really okay with some guy they don't really know hanging out with their daughter in her bedroom?"
  1887. >She shrugs - you're facing away from her, but you can see the gesture from her shadow on the wall.
  1888. >"They don't know *everything* about... yeah... *that*... but they know you saved me. So... yeah? I would hope so."
  1889. "Cool... cool..."
  1890. >The bed rocks violently as she throws herself onto her belly, her head peaking over the side of her bed, about level with yours.
  1891. >"You say that, but it really doesn't sound like you mean it."
  1892. "No, it's... fine."
  1893. >"Look, I'm *almost* to the point I can not feel weird around everyone, okay? Don't make this awkward again. Please?"
  1894. >Shit.
  1895. >Yeah.
  1896. >You wince internally.
  1897. "That wasn't what I was trying to do, just..."
  1898. >"What?"
  1899. "So... yeah. I met Mrs. Rich..."
  1900. >"You already told me that part - and that she tricked you by using Diamond's phone."
  1901. >Right, right. Yeah...
  1902. >You nod.
  1903. >"So... why'd she want to talk to you?"
  1904. "She asked me to date her daughter."
  1905. >"Uhhh..."
  1906. "Weird, right?"
  1907. >"Yeah, that's weird. I mean... you're a nice guy and all, but that's a little much."
  1908. "That's what I thought. I mean, I'm a nice guy -"
  1909. >"That's what I just said."
  1910. "- or at least I try to be -"
  1911. >"You are."
  1912. "- so, I mean... parents tend to approve of me...?"
  1913. >"Eh..."
  1914. "Well... Cloudy's dad -"
  1915. >"I don't need to hear this!" Blossom shrieks with laughter. "I believe you!"
  1916. "All I'm saying is -"
  1917. >"I get it, I get it!."
  1918. "But it's still creepy."
  1919. >Blossom nods, her hair bobbing and bouncing with the movement.
  1920. >"Super creepy."
  1921. "Particularly the way she did it."
  1922. >"Definitely."
  1923. "Actually..."
  1924. >"What? Oh, god, don't tell me it gets worse."
  1925. "It gets worse."
  1926. >"Please, no, don't."
  1927. "She kinda asked me to... uh..."
  1928. >"Go on."
  1929. "Didn't you just say -"
  1930. >"Forget what I said."
  1931. "She didn't actually say 'date' until later in the conversation."
  1932. >"Oooooooh?"
  1933. "Yeah, it was more like... uh... so..."
  1934. >What's the polite way of saying she said "STIR UP MY DAUGHTER'S INSIDES UNTIL SHE'S STERILE?"
  1935. >"... well...?"
  1936. "She asked if I wanted to 'sleep' with Diamond."
  1937. >"Oh. Ew. Uh... *EW*."
  1938. >Blossom gags and sticks out her tongue.
  1939. "Yeaaaaah."
  1940. >"Maaaaaaaaybe she was just trying to figure out your intentions or... something...?"
  1941. >You shake your head.
  1942. "I don't *think* so. Then again, I'm just a dumb jock, so I probably read the situation wrong."
  1943. >Blossom shrugs, though it's not really much of a shrug. Not with her head and arms dangling off the side of her bed.
  1944. >"Maybe she was actually hoping you wanted to...?"
  1945. "Why would she even?"
  1946. >"Well, from what I've seen and heard of Diamond Tiara... a good dicking might actually be good for her? Calm her down, you know?"
  1947. "I... uh... that's a real thing for girls?"
  1948. >"I can't say."
  1949. "You... don't *know*...?"
  1950. >"I mean I can't say," she answers with a curious smile.
  1951. >Like she's teasing you, or...
  1952. >Oh.
  1953. >Right.
  1954. >Dumb Soarin.
  1955. >YES, LET'S ASK A RAPE VICTIM IF SEX IS RELAXING.
  1956. >Fucking dumbass.
  1957. "Sorry. Nevermind."
  1958. >Blossom's smile looks weird because she's forcing herself to pretend you're not an asshole.
  1959. >"My fault," she giggles. "I shouldn't have brought it up, even if it *is* the only reason Diamond's mom would say that."
  1960. "She probably didn't."
  1961. >Thinking back, there's no way.
  1962. "I'm just an idiot."
  1963. >Not when there's a more reasonable explanation.
  1964. "She obviously didn't mean what I thought."
  1965. >Blossom's head bobs left, then right, then she makes another attempt at a shrug.
  1966. >"Or maybe she did."
  1967. "Nah."
  1968. >"Or *maybe* she did. You're a nice guy, Soarin. People trust you."
  1969.  
  1970. >You are Diamond Tiara and you're watching the sun go down.
  1971. >There's not much else to do.
  1972. >You wish you had your pills.
  1973. >If you did, that would be enough.
  1974. >All you'd have to do is pop a couple in your mouth and you'd be half-asleep.
  1975. >You could fall asleep right here, in your chair.
  1976. >But would you really?
  1977. >Your head doesn't hurt; you're too angry for it to.
  1978. >Why would you take them if you don't hurt?
  1979. >Why have you been?
  1980. >You don't know, and you don't think you care.
  1981. >No, you think you *should* start taking them more often.
  1982. >Sil thinks you are, so why the fuck not?
  1983. >You should just fucking do it.
  1984. >There's nothing you want to remember anyway.
  1985. >You won't miss this place.
  1986. >You won't miss anyone.
  1987. >Not even... *anyone*.
  1988. >You don't need them.
  1989. >You hug your little plush pony tightly.
  1990. >It's tiny, but you hug it anyway.
  1991. >You should have gotten something bigger, something large enough you could bury your face in its mane and forget everything.
  1992. >Not something practically small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.
  1993. >Something bigger, something more expensive.
  1994. >Something you could return for *serious* money.
  1995. >The thought makes you hug it even tighter.
  1996. >You could return it, but you won't.
  1997. >It wouldn't even cover the cost of a shitty meal, so you'll keep it.
  1998. >Not because you had fun yesterday.
  1999. >*Not* because you like it.
  2000. >Just because there's no point.
  2001. >So you hug it tighter, your arms practically wrapped around yourself.
  2002. >There's no point.
  2003.  
  2004. >You are Silver Spoon and you're toying with your phone.
  2005. >Nudging the screen every few seconds when it tries to go dark on you.
  2006. >Di hasn't responded.
  2007. >Usually it doesn't take her that long to get a new phone.
  2008. >She must be pissed at you for leaving without saying anything.
  2009. >You can live with that.
  2010. >Soarin hasn't responded.
  2011. >He must be pissed at you. Maybe because he wanted to go out somewhere.
  2012. >That you can't live with, but he hasn't responded, no many texts you send.
  2013. >No matter what you send.
  2014. >He's probably busy.
  2015. >Or asleep.
  2016. >He didn't get much sleep last night.
  2017. >Neither did you and you're awake, but you'd probably be in bed if you weren't so nervous.
  2018. >Over nothing.
  2019. >He loves you.
  2020. >He does.
  2021. >You shouldn't have finished your homework so soon.
  2022. >The sun is still up. Barely.
  2023. >There are still a few rays of light shining in through your bedroom windows.
  2024. >It's too early to sleep.
  2025. >Too late to go downstairs and watch some tv.
  2026. >There are books.
  2027. >There are always books.
  2028. >You could crawl into bed and read.
  2029. >But it seems pointless.
  2030. >You should have gotten one of the large plushies you saw today.
  2031. >Something big enough to cuddle up to in bed.
  2032. >Something to hold you.
  2033. >Something to be your big spoon.
  2034. >But you hadn't seen anything large enough.
  2035. >You hadn't thought you would need anything like that.
  2036. >That you would ever *want* anything like that.
  2037. >You had never realized how large and empty your bed is with just you.
  2038. >Not even after all those nights with Di.
  2039. >There's a difference between her and her queen sized bed, and Soarin and his twin.
  2040. >And your king...
  2041. >It's too large. Too empty.
  2042. >You don't want to sleep there tonight.
  2043. >That's the only reason you're putting off going to bed.
  2044. >That's all.
  2045. >Not because you're nervous.
  2046. >Not because you know you'll never get to sleep.
  2047. >Not because you don't know where Soarin is.
  2048. >You don't care.
  2049. >You trust him.
  2050. >You love him.
  2051.  
  2052. >You are Soarin and you shake your head.
  2053. "No, I haven't told Diamond."
  2054. >Blossom sighs and lets gravity pull her head down.
  2055. >She's practically got her nose pushed up against the edge of her mattress, even though...
  2056. >Well, that girl is *flexible*. Enough said.
  2057. >Thought.
  2058. >Whatever.
  2059. >"You probably should," she says.
  2060. "Buuuuuut... you were just saying that it was nothing."
  2061. >"I said you're a nice guy, Soarin, and people trust you. Not that... I don't know what I'm saying. But you should tell her."
  2062. "You almost sound worried."
  2063. >Blossom shrugs again, even more awkwardly now that her neck is bend at a 90 degree angle.
  2064. >"Maybe I am."
  2065. >You laugh, because what else can you do?
  2066. >She can't be serious.
  2067. "Why? I'm probably remembering everything wrong."
  2068. >Another shrug.
  2069. "Mrs. Rich was just looking out for her kid."
  2070. >Blossom... doesn't laugh.
  2071. "She's... she's her *mom*, after all..."
  2072. >Blossom still doesn't laugh.
  2073. >She pulls herself back onto her bed, head and all.
  2074. >"And they were my closest friends."
  2075. "Y-yeah -"
  2076. >Okay.
  2077. >You're an asshole.
  2078. >You don't really know what you did wrong, but you know you did *something*.
  2079. >"You're a good guy, Soarin. You always think the best about everyone, but..."
  2080. "Maybe...?"
  2081. >You sigh.
  2082. >Fuck.
  2083. >Yes.
  2084. "Sometimes."
  2085. >"Usually."
  2086. "Maybe..."
  2087. >You sigh again.
  2088. >She has a point.
  2089. "Maybe I should let her know."
  2090. >"Yeah, you should."
  2091. "Because... I mean... I'm *probably* wrong about everything, but..."
  2092. >"See?" Blossom giggles dully. "You're doing it again."
  2093. "Assuming Mrs. Rich is a decent person?"
  2094. >"No, assuming I'm right about this being weird. You shouldn't listen to me."
  2095. "But... uh..."
  2096. >What.
  2097. >"What do I know, Soarin. You're probably right."
  2098. "Maybe... not."
  2099. >You tilt your head back as far as you can, until you can *almost* see Blossom.
  2100. "Know what's really weird?"
  2101. >"What?"
  2102. "You're not the first person to tell me that today."
  2103. >"What, that you shouldn't listen to me?" Blossom snorts.
  2104. "No, that... shit..."
  2105. >You're not as flexible as her.
  2106. >This hurts.
  2107. >Instead of trying to snap your own neck, you turn around, because this whole "talking to someone you can't even see" thing isn't working out for you.
  2108. >She's sitting cross-legged, under her blankets up to her waist, at the far corner of her bed, but at least you can see her now.
  2109. "... that I'm thinking too much of people."
  2110. >"Oh?"
  2111. "That's not true, though."
  2112. >"Oh...?"
  2113. "I... uh... I did something stupid a few days back."
  2114. >"Besides dating an underage girl from the richest family in town?"
  2115. "Yeah, besides that. There was this guy..."
  2116. >"Please tell me this doesn't end in -"
  2117. "I thought he was trying to hurt Diamond."
  2118. >"Oh," Blossom sighs. "Good. I mean, not him trying to... uh..."
  2119. "He wasn't. Dude's a good guy. I just... I was stupid. I didn't try to figure out what was happening before I acted."
  2120. >"Huh," she grunts, shock and disbelief and awkward, neutral acknowledgment all rolled into one, solitary syllable.
  2121. >Like she's stunned speechless.
  2122. "I thought he was trying to... uh..."
  2123. >You're not dumb enough to tell her what you thought he was trying to do.
  2124. >Just *almost*.
  2125. >"I... hadn't heard anything."
  2126. "He didn't tell anyone. Dude's a good guy."
  2127. >You let your head drop to the edge of Blossom's bed.
  2128. >Yeah, you really cocked that up.
  2129. "Silver wouldn't tell anyone, of course, and Diamond doesn't really remember it...
  2130. "But I still fucked up, because I didn't stop to think.
  2131. "Maybe that's why I'm...
  2132. >You lean to the side and try to pull your phone from your rear pocket.
  2133. >"Overthinking things now?"
  2134. "Yeah."
  2135. >Success.
  2136. >Your phone is free.
  2137. >"You should call her."
  2138. "I know."
  2139. >You wave the phone in front of her.
  2140. "Why do you think I was getting this out?"
  2141. >"I don't know," Blossom giggles, "but I still think it's about fifty-fifty that you'll actually call her."
  2142. "Yeah. Well."
  2143. >You've been challenged.
  2144. >Now you *have* to do it.
  2145. >Except no matter how hard you press the button, tap the screen, or *anything*, the phone remains resolutely fucking *dead*.
  2146. >Shit.
  2147. >You can't remember the last time you charged it.
  2148. >Like... ever. At least not anytime in the past year. Year and a half.
  2149. >Something like that.
  2150. >Shit.
  2151. >Have you ever charged your phone?
  2152. >You had to have. At some point. You've had the same one since... uh...
  2153. >"What's wrong?"
  2154. "It's dead."
  2155. >You're an idiot.
  2156. >"Here," Blossom snorts, reaching out for your phone. "Give it to me and I'll plug it in."
  2157. >You're a double idiot.
  2158. "Nah, it doesn't matter anyway."
  2159. >"Soarin..."
  2160. "No, really. Her mom has her phone. Or... had. Remember?"
  2161. >Blossom pauses.
  2162. >Thinks it over.
  2163. >Rolls her eyes.
  2164. >"Come on, she's given it back by now."
  2165. "I don't know..."
  2166. >Maybe?
  2167. >Probably?
  2168. >If you were her parent, you wouldn't have.
  2169. >Then again, if you were her parent, you'd be rich enough to not care if she tantrum smashes yet another phone.
  2170. >"Either way, I can at least charge it for you, can't I?"
  2171. "I... guess."
  2172. >You reluctantly hand the phone to her.
  2173. >You don't know why.
  2174. >The reluctance, that is.
  2175. >There's nothing on there that you'd be afraid of anyone -
  2176. >Oh.
  2177. >Yes.
  2178. >There is.
  2179. >There are pictures on there no one should ever see.
  2180. >No one else, anyway.
  2181. >But she already knows about that.
  2182. >And she's not the kind of person to -
  2183. >"There, done," Blossom says with a smile, setting the phone down on the bedside table. "We'll just give that a few minutes and you can turn it on and -"
  2184. >She pauses mid sentence, waiting expectantly.
  2185. "- and I'll call her."
  2186. >"You're a good guy, Soarin."
  2187. >You're not sure about that.
  2188. >A good guy wouldn't try to use a dead phone as an excuse to do nothing.
  2189. >There's why.
  2190. >There's the reason for your reluctance.
  2191. >If she charges it, you have to call Diamond.
  2192. >It's the least you could do.
  2193. > - and too late.
  2194. >You should have done something earlier.
  2195. "You might be right about everything, Blossom."
  2196. >"That you're a good guy?"
  2197. "No, right to be worried about Diamond. There's this guy at the mall - Soothing Smokes. He used to be a friend of the family or something..."
  2198. >"... and...?"
  2199. "And he only had bad things to say about Mrs. Rich. The guy *really* hates her."
  2200. >"That... uh... doesn't mean anything...?"
  2201. >Her reassurance is half-hearted, but you can't say it's not appreciated, because you're not sure yourself that it *does* mean anything.
  2202. "He seemed like a good person and he really cares about Diamond, but..."
  2203. >"If her mom's so horrible, why hasn't he done anything?"
  2204. "Yeah."
  2205. >He's would, too.
  2206. >Unless she had something on him.
  2207. >But...
  2208. >Huh.
  2209. >It leaves you lost in thought for a moment.
  2210. >"So..." Blossom hums as she buries herself back under her blankets. "How's Silver doing?"
  2211. "Good. We had breakfast with Spitfire and..."
  2212. >Does she know Moondancer?
  2213. >"... and her current girlfriend?"
  2214. >Close enough.
  2215. "Yeah. And yesterday we went to the mall with Diamond. That was..."
  2216. >"'Interesting'?"
  2217. >That was almost the word you were going to use, but no.
  2218. >You shake your head.
  2219. "Nah, it was honestly fun. Mostly."
  2220. >At times.
  2221. >Kinda.
  2222. >"Oh?"
  2223. >Blossom squiggles around under her blanket while you try to think of a way to respond to that.
  2224. >You think - *think* - she settles on drawing her legs up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them.
  2225. >It's hard to tell, under the blanket.
  2226. "Well. Yeah. Mostly. We ran into -"
  2227. >Whoops.
  2228. >You said you wouldn't tell anyone about Anon.
  2229. "- well. It was fun."
  2230. >Blossom raises an eyebrow at that, but doesn't ask.
  2231. >She's a good friend.
  2232. "We got some chocolate from that one place..."
  2233. >"The one on the bottom floor?" she asks excitedly.
  2234. "Yeah."
  2235. >"It was great, wasn't it!?"
  2236. "Pretty go... yeah, no. It was amazing."
  2237. >Blossom nods.
  2238. "And then... uh..."
  2239. >You should skip over the whole flashing thing, because just thinking about still makes your brain skip a beat.
  2240. >Wait, that's not the brain that does that.
  2241. >Wait again, is it...?
  2242. >"Soarin...?"
  2243. "Sorry, sorry. I think I had a problem with my brain being missing. We uh... basically went doll shopping after that. For Diamond."
  2244. >"Nothing for Silver? I thought you were a better boyfriend than that."
  2245. "No... I... uh... I bought her a knife."
  2246. >"Wait. Wait. No, you *gave* her a knife?"
  2247. "I know, it's weird, but -"
  2248. >"That's *stupid*."
  2249. "- it's what she wanted, Blossom."
  2250. >"No - but, yeah, that's weird, but no! You never give knives as gifts!"
  2251. >O...kay...?
  2252. >You do your best confused Cloudy impersonation, because huh?
  2253. >"Um... you... don't know about that?"
  2254. "No...?"
  2255. >Blossom rolls her eyes and sighs loudly.
  2256. >"Look... it's an old superstition... so... nevermind."
  2257. >She sighs again and looks away.
  2258. >"I bet your phone is charged now."
  2259. "Nah, it's pretty slow -"
  2260. >"Enough to turn on, at least," she talks over you.
  2261. >She grabs it off the table and presses the power button.
  2262. "Uh..."
  2263. >You're smart enough to recognize a forced topic change when you see it.
  2264. >But still, it's your phone.
  2265. "... if it makes you feel better, she doesn't actually have the knife. It's stashed in my room...?"
  2266. >"WOW, THIS PHONE SURE DOES TAKE FOREVER TO POWER ON."
  2267. "Yeaaaaaah..."
  2268. >Cool.
  2269. >It's not your phone anymore.
  2270. >It's a distractional device so Blossom doesn't have to explain what she meant.
  2271. >"OH, HEY! IT'S FINALLY ON!"
  2272. >You can accept this.
  2273. >Whatever she was going on about it's just some silly superstition, like not shaving when you're on a winning streak.
  2274. >"YOU'VE GOT SOMETHING LIKE A MILLION TEXTS FROM SILVER."
  2275. >She thrusts the phone at you, the thing nearly at the limits of the power cord.
  2276. >"YOU SHOULD CALL HER."
  2277. "Uh... "
  2278. >You have to half-crawl onto Blossom's bed to reach the damn thing, let alone read it.
  2279. >And when you do, you wish you hadn't.
  2280. >You wish you'd been smart enough to keep your phone charged in the first place.
  2281. >Silver doesn't need to be put through this.
  2282. >She's worried.
  2283. >Thinks you're ignoring her.
  2284. >Apologizing for what she said to Mrs. Rich, for saying you didn't love her.
  2285. >Scared that she made it come true.
  2286. >Terrified that it was always true.
  2287. >You had thought the woman was lying, but no.
  2288. >You don't wait any longer.
  2289. >You call her.
  2290.  
  2291. >You are Silver Spoon and your phone barely gets the chance to sing out one note before you answer the call.
  2292. >"Soarin! I'm sorry, I'm sorry -"
  2293. >Wait.
  2294. >Was it him?
  2295. >You didn't check.
  2296. >You're stupid.
  2297. >You're so stupid.
  2298. >You just ruined *everything*.
  2299. >"Hey, Silver...?"
  2300. >You nearly collapse as the tension flows out of your body.
  2301. >"What's wrong?" Soarin asks. "You just suddenly stopped talking and... uh..."
  2302. "I'm... fine. I'm sorry."
  2303. >"For what?"
  2304. "For..."
  2305. >For telling her.
  2306. >For lying.
  2307. >For doubting him.
  2308. >For worrying.
  2309. >For being you.
  2310. >for being crazy.
  2311. "... for everything."
  2312. >"Are you okay?"
  2313. >No.
  2314. >You giggle.
  2315. >How could *anything* be okay?
  2316. >You're crazy.
  2317. >"Silver...?"
  2318. "Did I ruin everything?"
  2319. >"No!"
  2320. >He's lying.
  2321. >Again.
  2322. >For you.
  2323. >You don't mind.
  2324. "Then... tell me you love me?"
  2325. >What's one more lie?
  2326. >"Of course I do, Silver."
  2327. >You're greedy.
  2328. >You know it. You told him.
  2329. >That's not enough.
  2330. "Say it, Soarin? Please...?
  2331. >He hesitates.
  2332. >He knows something is wrong.
  2333. >He knows you know.
  2334. >"I love you."
  2335. >He says it with such warmth you can almost believe it, that you can *almost* believe someone *could* love you.
  2336. >It's not true, though.
  2337. >But maybe he believes it is.
  2338. >Maybe -
  2339. "Maybe I'm just being crazy, Soarin -"
  2340. >"You're not crazy."
  2341. "Say it again.
  2342. >"I love you, Silver."
  2343. >You can feel your heart.
  2344. >Is it quickening in excitement?
  2345. >Is it calming down from your initial panic?
  2346. >You can't tell, but you can *feel* it.
  2347. "Again."
  2348. >"I love you."
  2349. >You close your eyes.
  2350. >You listen to his breathing, to the beating of your heart.
  2351. >You breathe in as he does.
  2352. >Hold.
  2353. >Breathe out.
  2354. "Really?"
  2355. >"Really."
  2356. "Even though I spammed your phone for no reason?"
  2357. >"You were worried, Silver. That's a good reason to me."
  2358. "Then..."
  2359. >Do you want to know?
  2360. >Yes.
  2361. >You'll worry if you don't.
  2362. "... why didn't you answer?"
  2363. >"Because your boyfriend is dumb. I forgot to charge my phone."
  2364. "Oh."
  2365. >That's... a good reason.
  2366. >One you choose not to question.
  2367. >One you choose to believe.
  2368. >One that probably is true.
  2369. >Except -
  2370. "You're not dumb, Soarin."
  2371. >"If you say so," he laughs.
  2372. "I do."
  2373. >But it's still true.
  2374. >Soarin wouldn't lie to you.
  2375. >He loves you.
  2376. >He said so.
  2377. "I l-"
  2378. >"Hey, Soarin? Is everything okay?"
  2379. >No.
  2380. >That's not his voice.
  2381. >It's faint. Distant. *Feminine*.
  2382. >"Yeah..." he answers the other girl, "she's just -"
  2383. "Where are you."
  2384.  
  2385. >You are Diamond Tiara and you're considering the window again.
  2386. >It's not that far.
  2387. >Your room is only on the second floor.
  2388. >You can totally make that.
  2389. >It's not far to... well, surely you can find *someone* to give you a ride to somewhere.
  2390. >And pay for some drinks or... *something*.
  2391. >*She* keeps checking on you.
  2392. >It's fucking annoying.
  2393. >You just nod every time you hear your mom's voice.
  2394. >Fuck that bitch.
  2395. >The least she could do is let you get something to eat, but *no*.
  2396. >It'd interfere with the pills or something.
  2397. >You weren't really paying attention.
  2398. >Too angry to.
  2399. >You didn't let her have the satisfaction, though.
  2400. >Fuck that.
  2401. >That window is looking more tempting every second.
  2402. >You don't know where you'd go or what you'd do, but sometimes that's fun too.
  2403. >Even if you couldn't find anyone to bully into paying for everything.
  2404. >You could take some of -
  2405. >No.
  2406. >That's for later.
  2407. >For leaving for good.
  2408. >Still...
  2409. >You can get more from Silver later.
  2410. >Yeah.
  2411. >Just in case.
  2412. >You listen before reaching under your bed, but can't hear anything.
  2413. >The box is right where you left it.
  2414. >You take the smallest roll of money and... you're in your pajamas.
  2415. >She'd insisted, even though you never wear them anyway!
  2416. >Well.
  2417. >You're not sneaking out in your fucking *pajamas*.
  2418. >You need something with pockets, at the very fucking least, but...
  2419. >Fuck.
  2420. >Your closet is a mess.
  2421. >Fucking *Sil*.
  2422. >She fucked everything up.
  2423. >Fuck her.
  2424. >The first thing you find are sweat pants.
  2425. >But they have pockets, and you hear your mom - wait -
  2426. >No.
  2427. >Two sets of footsteps.
  2428. >Huh...?
  2429. >Your worthless excuse of a dad?
  2430. >That fucker?
  2431. >No.
  2432. >He doesn't even live here anymore.
  2433. >Doesn't call. Doesn't drop by to say hello.
  2434. >He once - long ago - told you he loved you.
  2435. >You can remember that clearly.
  2436. >It might be your earliest memory.
  2437. >It's probably also the last time he said that.
  2438. >He'd be happier if you didn't exist.
  2439. >Maybe that's why he's here.
  2440. >You look to the window, but... no...
  2441. >He wouldn't do that.
  2442. >You shouldn't even think it.
  2443. >That's something *Silver* would think.
  2444. >No, he doesn't care about you.
  2445. >It's not your father.
  2446. >Just your mom and her new fuck buddy.
  2447. >She's finally decided to break in her own bed.
  2448. >You're definitely going out the window.
  2449. >You're not going to stay here and listen to that.
  2450. >But -
  2451. >You stay perfectly still.
  2452. >Motionless. Silent.
  2453. >Hoping they pass your room by.
  2454. >They will.
  2455. >There's no reason for her to come in.
  2456. >They'll keep walking.
  2457. >Your body is trembling.
  2458. >Slowly - without making a sound - you start edging towards the window.
  2459. >You should wait.
  2460. >She might hear something.
  2461. >Wait until she's occupied.
  2462. >Go now.
  2463. >Your hand is shaking so much, you nearly drop the roll of money you're holding.
  2464. >You do drop the sweat pants.
  2465. >You need that hand free.
  2466. >The window's latch snaps open with a sharp click.
  2467. >SHIT!
  2468. >She's almost here.
  2469. >Almost -
  2470. >No shouting.
  2471. >No pounding at your door.
  2472. >She didn't hear any-
  2473. >The door flies open.
  2474. >Fuck!
  2475. >"Diamond Tiara!"
  2476. >FUCK!
  2477. >"What are you doing!?"
  2478. "Uhhh..."
  2479. >Fucking *slut* is wearing nothing but her house robe.
  2480. >She could at least *pretend* she's not a whore.
  2481. >"Well, Diamond?" she demands, stepping into *your* room.
  2482. >The man behind her hangs back, just out of sight.
  2483. >*Thankfully*.
  2484. >You don't need to know exactly how little *he* is wearing.
  2485. >Just thinking about it makes you shudder.
  2486. >Some little voice in the back of your head starts screaming.
  2487. >"Did you take your pills? You *said* -"
  2488. >You nod numbly.
  2489. >She's just going to fucking yell at you until you give in.
  2490. >"You're not lying to me, are you?"
  2491. >You shake your head.
  2492. >It brings on a twinge of pain from your scalp, but not much.
  2493. >No, you're too angry to feel anything.
  2494. >Too scared.
  2495. >And too blindingly, furiously angry.
  2496. >It's almost as effective as those fucking pills.
  2497. >You bet you could jump from this floor and not feel a fucking thing.
  2498. >It's all you can do to keep yourself from screaming at her.
  2499. >Or running away.
  2500. >Or...
  2501. >You just keep your eyes down.
  2502. >Mumble softly.
  2503. >Shrug.
  2504. >Anything more, and you don't know what you'd do.
  2505. >You don't know what she'd do to you.
  2506. >Those bruises came from somewhere.
  2507. >And they terrify you.
  2508. >Almost as much as the shadow outside your bedroom door.
  2509. >There's no one here.
  2510. >No one watching.
  2511. >You don't know how far she'd go.
  2512. >You don't want to find out.
  2513. >Not without your pills.
  2514. >Not when it's *real*.
  2515. >Shrug.
  2516. >Nod.
  2517. >Mumble.
  2518. >Ignore her until she goes away.
  2519. >Ignore her until -
  2520. >"Okay, Dozen," she sighs. "You can come in now."
  2521. >Wait.
  2522. >"Wait!" the shadow shouts. "Don't say my name!"
  2523. >What.
  2524. >"It's okay," your mom laughs. "She won't remember anything. You have no idea how hard it was to find just the right medication, but you have *nothing* to worry about."
  2525. >But this is...
  2526. >It was never *your* room.
  2527. >It's her house.
  2528. >Your legs tremble.
  2529. >Nearly give out.
  2530. "Wait... what...?"
  2531. >"Are you sure?"
  2532. >"Of course," that *bitch* laughs as she waves the man in. "How many times do you think I've done this?"
  2533. >"I don't know. This is the first time you've given me a turn with her."
  2534. >"Well..." she laughs, grabbing you by your arm and pulling you towards your bed, "this may be your first time, but it's certainly not ours."
  2535.  
  2536. >You are Soarin and you cocked that up.
  2537. >You even know exactly how you did it.
  2538. >You're *such* a *smart* boy.
  2539. >Fuck.
  2540. >You've been driving around for a while now.
  2541. >Thirty minutes, at least.
  2542. >You'd started towards Silver's place, but...
  2543. >What are you going to do?
  2544. >Knock on the door, tell her parents their daughter needs a hug, and... go to jail?
  2545. >Maybe.
  2546. >You're still considering it, even though you doubt you have enough gas to outrun the cops at this point.
  2547. >Maybe not even enough to get to her house.
  2548. >Your phone has buzzed a few times, but it's just been friends.
  2549. >Spitfire, a few guys from the team.
  2550. >A text from Blossom.
  2551. >An apology, though you still don't think that's deserved.
  2552. >She didn't do anything wrong.
  2553. >You shouldn't have left like that.
  2554. >It gave her the wrong idea.
  2555. >It's not her fault, though you don't think it's yours, either.
  2556. >Not all of it.
  2557. >You don't respond to any of them.
  2558. >They're not Silver.
  2559. >You're keeping the line clear for her.
  2560. >You're not going to miss her next call, her next text.
  2561. >Never again.
  2562. >You look away from the road as your phone buzzes again.
  2563. >Diamond.
  2564. >Yeah... you forgot to call her.
  2565. >You still don't answer.
  2566. >There are more important things to worry about.
  2567. >Silver needs you.
  2568. >You just...
  2569. >You should keep your eyes on the road.
  2570. >You're not driving safe.
  2571. >Too fast.
  2572. >Barely slowing for stop signs.
  2573. >One hand on the wheel.
  2574. >The other holding your phone.
  2575. >Silver would be worried.
  2576. >You've already done that enough for one night.
  2577. >Your phone buzzes again.
  2578. >Voicemail.
  2579. >Why?
  2580. >If you don't want to talk to her, why would she think you'd listen to -
  2581. >Oh, right.
  2582. >Because you might be busy.
  2583. >You kind of are.
  2584. >You'll call her back later.
  2585. >You should call Silver, too.
  2586. >Again.
  2587. >You've already tried.
  2588. >Twice.
  2589. >You're not a pussy, too scared of his own girlfriend to call her when she's feeling down.
  2590. >Particularly when it's your...
  2591. >No, it's not your fault.
  2592. >It's no one's fault.
  2593. >She's just... not *crazy*.
  2594. >Worried.
  2595. >She's easily worried.
  2596. >But she's getting better.
  2597. >You should call Silver.
  2598. >Maybe she's done talking with her father, whatever he wanted with her.
  2599. >That's why she hung up on you the first time.
  2600. >Hopefully why she didn't answer the second.
  2601. >And why you're still trying to remind yourself to slow down.
  2602. >Why you can't go see her.
  2603. >You do stupid things when you're like this.
  2604. >You should -
  2605. >You should go home.
  2606. >You're not doing anyone any good like this.
  2607. >Just working yourself up more.
  2608. >You should go home.
  2609. >Fall into bed.
  2610. >Try to sleep.
  2611. >Charge your fucking phone and wait for her to call or for the alarm to go off, whichever comes first.
  2612. >Weird how your car seems to point itself in the opposite direction.
  2613. >And through a stop sign without any hesitation.
  2614. >Down past the Chinese restaurant you and Silver ate at forever ago.
  2615. >Your phone is still in your hand something like fifteen or twenty minutes - and halfway across town - later.
  2616. >Still speeding.
  2617. >Still shooting through intersections.
  2618. >Still no destination.
  2619. >Maybe you should go to Silver's.
  2620. >Get this over with.
  2621. >You're going to jail eventually, what's the harm in it happening sooner rather than later?
  2622. >You're still trying to answer that when your phone buzzes again.
  2623. >Fucking hell.
  2624. >You're sure popular tonight.
  2625. >You should charge your phone more often.
  2626. >Dad.
  2627. >Huh.
  2628. >And when you don't answer, he calls again.
  2629. >And again.
  2630. >You answer on the fourth call.
  2631. >"Soarin, where the hell are you?" he barks. "Why weren't you answering your phone?"
  2632. "Because..."
  2633. >"Come home. Now."
  2634. "Am I in trouble or something?"
  2635. >It's not that late.
  2636. >You don't have a curfew or anything.
  2637. >They trust you.
  2638. >And you trust them.
  2639. >They're your parents.
  2640. >"I... don't know."
  2641. >They wouldn't call you home if the police were camping out for you.
  2642. >Which is why he's obvious hesitation makes you jerk your car towards your house.
  2643. "Did something happen? Is mom -"
  2644. >"She's fine. We're fine. Just come home."
  2645. "Dad -"
  2646. >"Now."
  2647.  
  2648. >He's waiting for you.
  2649. >Standing just to the side of the driveway, hands in his jean pockets and a worried look on his face.
  2650. >And he's the only one.
  2651. >No cops, no angry mob.
  2652. >No rich girlfriend's father with a monocle and hunting rifle.
  2653. >You knew you could trust him.
  2654. >He's your dad.
  2655. >You just wish you knew why he doesn't even wait for you to get out of the car before walking your way.
  2656. "Where's mom?"
  2657. >"She's with your girlfriend."
  2658. >You brain shits itself.
  2659. >Body too, maybe.
  2660. "Oh. Shit."
  2661. >"Yeah," he chuckles, a break moment of levety that only serves to underscore his otherwise serious tone. "I know you were trying to hide her from us, but..."
  2662. "Sorry... she... uh... she's a little..."
  2663. >Crazy?
  2664. >Clingy?
  2665. >"Young?" he asks as he puts his arm around your shoulders and walks up the lawn with you. "I guess, but that's not really important right now."
  2666. "She's... uh... she's not much younger than Cloudy was."
  2667. >Dad raises an eyebrow.
  2668. >"I guess she's older than she looks."
  2669. >Dad sighs.
  2670. >"But *you*... you *are* older. Quite a bit."
  2671. "Y-yeah."
  2672. >"We'll talk about all that later. Once this has passed."
  2673. "Once *what* has passed?"
  2674. >He frowns and pushes the front door open.
  2675. >"She won't tell us what happened, but your mother is trying to calm her down and get her bandaged up as best she can."
  2676. "Wait. Bandaged? What?"
  2677. >"She... I don't know. She has some cuts on her arm. Pretty nasty looking, but she wouldn't let us take her to a hospital."
  2678. "What!?"
  2679. >"I don't know," he sighs with a shake of his head, "I just don't know. They weren't too deep, though, so... there's that. Don't worry. Your mom says she'll be fine... but..."
  2680. >He pulls you into the living room.
  2681. >You're a bad boyfriend.
  2682. >It should be the other way around.
  2683. >"Huh..."
  2684. >You should be running after Silver - and you recognize that.
  2685. >You're just too stunned to move your feet.
  2686. >They feel like you've got practice weights on them.
  2687. >More than you usually use.
  2688. >More than you *can* use, not and still run - or even walk.
  2689. >"I swear, they were right here in the living room. Maybe she took her to the bathroom to wash up. Let me -"
  2690. >He looks around, craning his head to look down one hallway, then over towards the kitchen.
  2691. >"Hun?" your dad calls out. "Hey?
  2692. >"Over here."
  2693. >A door closes, and a few moments later you can see her coming down the hall.
  2694. >"I put her in Soarin's room - oh, good. You're finally here."
  2695. >She smiles sadly and reaches out for you.
  2696. >Dad lets her pull you over to the sofa.
  2697. >Your body just... goes along with it.
  2698. >You hadn't realized she was strong, to be able to move you so effortlessly when you can't even seem to lift a finger.
  2699. >"Soarin," she says softly, "I don't have any idea what's going on, but we're here to help if you need us."
  2700. "Yeah... I... uh... I'll keep that in mind..."
  2701. >"Okay," she grunts with annoyance, "let me rephrase that. You need help. *She* needs help."
  2702. >You nod.
  2703. >She has that tone.
  2704. >Nodding is all you can do.
  2705. >"I can guess you've been trying to keep this relationship a secret -"
  2706. >Another nod.
  2707. >"I don't know why," dad cuts in. "She's not *that* young."
  2708. >That earns him The Look.
  2709. >"- so -"
  2710. >He keeps his mouth shut.
  2711. >"- it might be difficult to talk to us or other adults about what's going on, but you need to."
  2712. >She reaches out and grabs your hand in hers.
  2713. >"Promise me, Soarin. Right now, you need to be with her, but... we're going to have talk to someone sooner or later."
  2714. >"She wouldn't let me call the police," dad adds.
  2715. >"I said not *yet*," she corrects. "I still think we're going to have to. Those cuts... I mean, considering how she was acting..."
  2716. >Mom sighs and squeezes your hand.
  2717. >"I put her in your room because it's the only one I can think of without anything sharp. At least, I didn't see anything when I looked around."
  2718. "Wait. What... what do you mean?"
  2719. >"I don't know what happened, Soarin, but I know it's not your fault," she sighs. "You're a good boy. You wouldn't hurt anyone, but..."
  2720. >"What your mom's saying is you kind of have a type..."
  2721. >"You like to be the hero, Soarin, and there's nothing wrong with that, but she needs help. I don't *think* she tried to... tried to *do* anything to herself, but..."
  2722. >The knife.
  2723. >Silver's knife.
  2724. >It's in your room.
  2725. >In a box. Under your bed.
  2726. >Locked.
  2727. >That means nothing.
  2728. >She has the key.
  2729. "I have to go."
  2730. >She doesn't try to stop you.
  2731. >Dad doesn't try to stop you.
  2732. >Your own body doesn't feel so heavy anymore.
  2733. >It feels light. It feels ephemeral. Practically non-existent.
  2734. >You don't even remember hurdling over the back of the couch.
  2735. >You more ghost through your bedroom door than do anything so mundane as open it.
  2736. >None of that shit matters.
  2737. >You don't let any of it get in your way.
  2738. >You should have called.
  2739. >You shouldn't have gone to Blossom's.
  2740. >You should have known she'd get like this.
  2741. "Silver! Wait!"
  2742. >You reach for sobbing pile of clothes and bandages tightly crumpled together on your bed.
  2743. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I -"
  2744. >That hair.
  2745. >It's not the right color.
  2746. >Nor the eyes that rise to look up at you.
  2747. "...Diamond ...?
  2748. >No, that's not right.
  2749. "Diamond, where's Silver?"
  2750. >"I don't fucking know!"
  2751. >Fresh tears bubble up from Diamond's eyes, running down her face, dripping onto what looks like a torn and dirtied pajama top.
  2752. >"Why the fuck do you think I'd know that?"
  2753. "I... just..."
  2754. >Uh.
  2755. >Okay.
  2756. >More pressing question.
  2757. "Why are you in my bed...?"
  2758. >If Silver finds out -
  2759. >"Fine!" she screams. "If you want me to leave, I'll - I'll..."
  2760. >She visibly strains to sit up and swing her legs over the edge of your bed.
  2761. "I didn't say that, Diamond! Lay down and try to -"
  2762. >"No! This was a mistake! I was *stupid* to come here. I thought - I thought..."
  2763.  
  2764. >You are Diamond Tiara and you thought he'd care.
  2765. >That he'd protect you. Again.
  2766. >Like he did from that guy.
  2767. >The one who tried to rape you.
  2768. >You thought he'd do it again.
  2769. "Fuck you."
  2770. >You were stupid.
  2771. >He only cares about *her*.
  2772. "I'm leaving."
  2773. >You try to stand.
  2774. >You try not to scream.
  2775. >You don't succeed at either.
  2776. >"Diamond, wait! Wait! What happened to your ankle?"
  2777. >He's on you immediately, pushing you back into his bed. Climbing up -
  2778. >He ignores your fists, your nails.
  2779. >You can't fight back.
  2780. >He's stronger than your mom, but he lets go even quicker than she did.
  2781. >Gives you room.
  2782. >Doesn't mind the scratch on his arm that's freely bleeding.
  2783. >Not like her.
  2784. >"What happened...?"
  2785. "I -"
  2786. >Fuck him.
  2787. >He doesn't care.
  2788. "I didn't land well."
  2789. >"Uh..."
  2790. >Fucker.
  2791. >"And... your arms...?"
  2792. >Gutter. Or the roof tiles.
  2793. >You think.
  2794. >Maybe the fence.
  2795. >You hadn't even noticed until the cuts were being bandaged.
  2796. "Fuck you."
  2797. >Soarin looks down on you.
  2798. >Like he *always* does.
  2799. >Like you're *just* a nuisance.
  2800. >So fucking sad, like he *always* fucking does.
  2801. >"How'd you get here with your ankle like that?"
  2802. "Paid a guy."
  2803. >The first car you could flag down.
  2804. >You don't even know how much you gave him, just that it was everything.
  2805. >All the money you had managed to shove into your sweatpants' pocket.
  2806. >Two hundred? Four hundred?
  2807. >You don't know.
  2808. >Enough he hadn't asked any more questions.
  2809. >Enough he hadn't even counted it.
  2810. >Enough you'd felt safe.
  2811. >With a stranger.
  2812. >In nothing but a pajama top and some sweatpants.
  2813. >With a *stranger*.
  2814. >Because the people you know... your 'friends', your *family*...
  2815. >You're only safe with Silver.
  2816. >Only when she's around.
  2817. >Only her... and...
  2818.  
  2819. >You are Soarin and you lightly touch your hand to Diamond's shoulder.
  2820. "What happened...?"
  2821. >She's shivering. Shaking.
  2822. >Violently.
  2823. >Even here, even away from whatever happened, she's terrified.
  2824. >Scared beyond words.
  2825. "Diamond..."
  2826. >It worked with Silver, so why not with Diamond?
  2827. "I need you to calm down. Take a deep breath, hold it, and -"
  2828. >"Hold me."
  2829. >She falls into your arms.
  2830. >"I'm cold. Hold me."
  2831. >If it was anyone else, you'd think she was begging.
  2832. >But no.
  2833. >It's her.
  2834. >It's Silver's bitch of a friend.
  2835. >But she looks so scared, so sad.
  2836. >"Hold me, Soarin?"
  2837. >She's cold. Clammy.
  2838. >In shock.
  2839. >She needs to keep her body temp up.
  2840. >That's why you do it.
  2841. >That's the only reason why you put your arms around the girl and hold her tight.
  2842. >Stroke her hair.
  2843. >Hold her tight.
  2844. >Reassure her.
  2845. >Keep her safe.
  2846. >Stay with her all night.
  2847. >Tell her what she needs to hear.
  2848.  
  2849. >You are Silver Spoon and you don't know if you slept at all last night.
  2850. >Hating yourself seemed more important.
  2851. >You were too harsh on Soarin last night.
  2852. >He can have female friends. He can.
  2853. >You told him so.
  2854. >But it still hurt.
  2855. >It *still* hurts. And she's your friend.
  2856. >You hate yourself, the way you are, how you let your emotions control you.
  2857. >Everything is ruined.
  2858. >You hadn't even heard your father knock, him calling your name, hadn't noticed his presence at all until he put his hand on your shoulder.
  2859. >Asked if everything was okay.
  2860. >Asked who you were talking to.
  2861. >Told you that you wouldn't be going to school today.
  2862. >That a big storm was coming in.
  2863. >He's keeping you here.
  2864. >Where he can watch you.
  2865. >Because he heard. Because he knows.
  2866. >He acted like he didn't, but he knows.
  2867. >The sky outside your window looks calm and clear.
  2868. >He's just keeping you away from Soarin.
  2869. >You should call him, warn him.
  2870. >Beg him to take you with him as he runs from the law.
  2871. >But he won't answer.
  2872. >You know he won't.
  2873. >You hung up on him.
  2874. >You have to go to school.
  2875. >You have to apologize to Soarin in person, so you can make him forgive you.
  2876. >No matter what you have to do.
  2877. >You can make him love you again, you know you can.
  2878. >You can make this up to him.
  2879. >Let him take you in the bathroom at school.
  2880. >Maybe with Diamond.
  2881. >Maybe... maybe that's what he'd want.
  2882. >She'll do it, too.
  2883. >You can make her.
  2884. >You know how.
  2885. >You - you considered this before.
  2886. >Offered it.
  2887. >Offered *her*.
  2888. >Not long ago.
  2889. >He didn't like it.
  2890. >But he gave you his ring.
  2891. >Got down on one knee and proposed.
  2892. >He loved you more *because* you went crazy.
  2893. >Maybe... maybe...
  2894.  
  2895. >You are Soarin and you don't know if you slept at all last night.
  2896. >Diamond wouldn't say a word.
  2897. >All you could do was hold her until she stopped crying, until she fell asleep, and... try not to wake her now as you reach for your alarm clock.
  2898. >It'll go off any minute now, but she needs her rest.
  2899. >She only fell asleep a few hours ago.
  2900. >It was an... *interesting* night.
  2901. >You stretch - and your fingers brush against your phone.
  2902. >Close enough to pull it closer, until you can finally grasp it in your hand.
  2903. >You turn off the alarm - and begin trying to figure out how to slip free of the Diamond without waking her, but a little light flashes on your phone.
  2904. >Right.
  2905. >Dammit.
  2906. >The voicemail, the one Diamond left.
  2907. >Maybe that'll explain shit. She wouldn't answer the questions you wouldn't ask, just clung to you tightly even as you helped her into clean clothes.
  2908. >An old t-shirt of yours was better than the ruined pajamas you had kicked into a corner of your bedroom.
  2909. >None of your pants would come close to fitting her, but her sweatpants joined her top shortly after.
  2910. >Diamond whines softly and trembles.
  2911. >Probably cold now that her face isn't buried in your chest.
  2912. >You can't ask her what happened, not while she's like this.
  2913. >Diamond's attitude reminds you too much of Blossom's after you found her in the forest.
  2914. >The green light flashes again.
  2915. >You don't have to ask her.
  2916. >A quick tug and the blankets are up around Diamond's shoulders again.
  2917. >Then, and only then, once she's stopped shaking, you hit the play button and hold your phone up to your ear.
  2918. >It's not Diamond's voice you hear.
  2919. >The tone, the threats, the demands... all like her.
  2920. >So like her, you're certain you've heard them before.
  2921. >So like her, you *know* you have.
  2922. >Mrs. Rich is careful with her words, but the threat is clear.
  2923. >She never says what happened, but you can assume it's why Diamond ran off.
  2924. >"If you see her, call me."
  2925. >You won't.
  2926. >"And if you tell anyone, I'll say it was *you*."
  2927. >You... don't know.
  2928. >Someone needs to know.
  2929. >The police... or... *preferably* someone else.
  2930. >Someone *not* the police.
  2931. >Something happened, something serious.
  2932. >You don't think you can handle this on your own.
  2933. >Diamond isn't the kind of girl to do this, to hurt herself or run away from home just for attention.
  2934. >You drop the phone back on your nightstand and... rethink that.
  2935. >Maybe she is.
  2936. >It actually seems like something she'd do.
  2937. >Or more like something Silver might do.
  2938. >Or... *maybe* -
  2939. >Diamond's awake.
  2940. >Listening.
  2941. >Staring.
  2942. >Her little heart beating faster and faster.
  2943. >"Was that... *her*?" she whispers.
  2944. "Your mom?"
  2945. >She shudders.
  2946. >It could almost be taken as a nod.
  2947. "Yes."
  2948. >"Don't tell her I'm here."
  2949. "I won't."
  2950. >"Don't tell *anyone*."
  2951. "I..."
  2952. >No, she's not doing this for attention.
  2953. >She's scared beyond reason.
  2954. >"*Please*."
  2955. "We've got to tell someone about -"
  2956. >Diamond shakes her head violently, driving her hair into a mess of wild tangles even worse than it was before.
  2957. >"No!" she moans. "You can't! I don't know who..."
  2958. "'Who' what?"
  2959. >Diamond shakes her little head and buries her face in your chest.
  2960. >"Nevermind."
  2961. "You can tell me."
  2962. >She hesitates.
  2963. >Nods.
  2964. >"I... no."
  2965. >You... you reach up and pat her head.
  2966. "Diamond, you can trust me. Would I do anything to hurt you?"
  2967. >"Yes."
  2968. "You know that's not true."
  2969. >Not anymore.
  2970. >Not now.
  2971. >Not like this.
  2972. >"My dad... he... he hates my mom and... he pretends I don't exist. Now I think I know why."
  2973. "That's..."
  2974. >Sad? Depressing?
  2975. >Do you dare tell her it's okay?
  2976. >You don't know what she's going through.
  2977. >Your parents are nothing but supportive.
  2978. >"My mom... she... she... My *only* friend just *uses* me -"
  2979. >Your shirt is wet where she has her face pressed against it.
  2980. "Silver... uh..."
  2981. >That's true.
  2982. >Kind of.
  2983. >No.
  2984. >No?
  2985. >No, it's not.
  2986. "She cares about you, Diamond."
  2987. >"She *uses* me! I'm just a toy to her!"
  2988. "No, that's not true."
  2989. >"She... she just... *fucking* *offered* me up to you like... like..."
  2990. >That's true.
  2991. >Kind of.
  2992. "Silver wasn't thinking straight, Diamond."
  2993. >You stroke your hand along her hair, careful not to let your fingers get caught in the tangles and knots.
  2994. "She really does care about you. She loves you. You're her closest friend."
  2995. >"Do... do *you*... care about me?"
  2996. >How can you say no?
  2997. "Of course."
  2998. >It's true.
  2999. >She's your girlfriend's best friend.
  3000. >And she's someone who needs your help.
  3001. >Besides -
  3002. >"Do you love me?"
  3003. "Diamond, I...
  3004. >"No one else does."
  3005. >How can you say no?
  3006.  
  3007. >You force yourself out of bed.
  3008. >Diamond doesn't want you to go, says she doesn't feel safe, but you have to - if only for a minute.
  3009. >She's asleep again, but reaches for you anyway, tries to pull you back.
  3010. >You push your pillow into her grasping arms and she instantly latches on to it, cuddling it like it's her own, personal little spoon.
  3011. >That seems to calm her down
  3012. >Probably wishes that you were still holding her, but you can't.
  3013. >You've learned.
  3014. >Took you a while - took you *too* long - but you did. Eventually.
  3015. >Giving someone what they want isn't always what's best for them.
  3016. >Sometimes... sometimes you have to give them what they *need*.
  3017. >Diamond needs help.
  3018. >You don't think that you're enough.
  3019. >It's early, probably too early, but that doesn't stop you from slipping out into the hallway with your phone.
  3020.  
  3021. >You are Silver Spoon and your fantasies of sneaking over to Soarin's house are short lived.
  3022. >How would you get there?
  3023. >And *if* there *is* a storm...
  3024. >Impossible.
  3025. >That doesn't stop you from reliving them over and over in your mind.
  3026. >Trying to find a way or - eventually - simply enjoying them.
  3027. >Your fantasies seem better than the reality of your situation.
  3028. >In them you aren't crazy.
  3029. >You're happy and with Soarin.
  3030. >Maybe your friends, too.
  3031. >Diamond, Blossom. Maybe Cloudy.
  3032. >Maybe.
  3033. >In them he isn't angry.
  3034. >He loves you and you alone.
  3035. >You watch movies with your friends.
  3036. >Maybe play some games.
  3037. >Or just hang out.
  3038. >In them you aren't a child.
  3039. >You're someone he can find attractive.
  3040. >Not overly endowed, not like some people.
  3041. >Not like you are now.
  3042. >Just right.
  3043. >Just the size he wants.
  3044. >Whatever he wants.
  3045. >Whatever that may be.
  3046. >In them everything is perfect.
  3047. >You're so absorbed with your lies that you almost miss your phone ringing.
  3048. >Almost.
  3049. >You almost let it go.
  3050. >But maybe it's Soarin.
  3051. >Maybe -
  3052. >It is.
  3053. "Y-yes? Soarin?"
  3054. >Is this good?
  3055. >Bad?
  3056. >Is he calling to -
  3057. >"Hey, Silver, I... uh..."
  3058. >- to -
  3059. >"Something happened."
  3060. >- to -
  3061. >"Diamond... uh..."
  3062. >You could die.
  3063. >"... she got hurt. I don't know what happened, but she spent the night here."
  3064. >She should die.
  3065. >"I didn't know what else to do, but she needs our help, Silver."
  3066. >He falls silent.
  3067. >At a loss.
  3068. >He doesn't know what to say.
  3069. >What can he say?
  3070. >Apologize?
  3071. >No!
  3072. >Why!?
  3073. >Why would you even think that!?
  3074. >Because...
  3075. >He should.
  3076. >He *should*.
  3077. "She... um... she spent the night at your house...?"
  3078. >No.
  3079. >This is fine.
  3080. >She's your best friend.
  3081. >"Yeah," Soarin sighs. "I didn't know what else to do. She didn't want me to call you or anything -"
  3082. >She didn't want you to know.
  3083. >"- or anyone, because she's worried her mom might find her and... I don't know, Silver. She's terrified."
  3084. >She... she's only ever slept with you.
  3085. >It was scary for you, too, the first time spending the night in someone else's bed.
  3086. >And exciting.
  3087. >Mostly the later.
  3088. "Where... where is she...? Right now?"
  3089. >"In -"
  3090.  
  3091. >You are Soarin and you stop just in time.
  3092. >Almost too late, but you recognize that tone.
  3093. >The quaver in Silver's voice.
  3094. >The silence, the hesitation.
  3095. >She's overthinking this.
  3096. >Or... not.
  3097. >"Soarin, where is she?"
  3098. >But are you willing to lie to your girlfriend?
  3099. >Didn't you two promise to always be open and honest with each other?
  3100. >To do your best to avoid misunderstandings?
  3101. "She's... safe. She'll be hiding out at my house until this gets figured out."
  3102. >You can't tell her like this.
  3103. >Silver's delicate. Fragile.
  3104. >She needs your arms around her to keep her up, to give her strength.
  3105. "I'll... uh... tell you at school, okay?"
  3106.  
  3107. >You are Silver Spoon and you would do anything to keep him.
  3108. "Yes."
  3109. >Anything to separate them.
  3110. >He'll go to school.
  3111. >She'll stay at his house.
  3112. >Not ideal, but better.
  3113. >Ideal would be being sane.
  3114. >You thought you would be okay with this.
  3115. >You told him so.
  3116. >Tricked her into flashing him.
  3117. >Tried to give her up to him.
  3118. >Didn't you want it?
  3119. >Didn't you want them to get along?
  3120. >You didn't want any of this.
  3121. >You just want him.
  3122. "I'll see you at school, Soarin."
  3123. >You could go to his house.
  3124. >He won't be there.
  3125. >His parents, either.
  3126. >She'll be alone.
  3127. >You have the key to your box in your purse.
  3128. >You could -
  3129. >"I love you, Silver."
  3130. >- go to school.
  3131. >Be with him.
  3132. >Stop thinking crazy.
  3133. "I love you, too, Soarin."
  3134. >He waits.
  3135. >You do, too.
  3136. >Though not for long.
  3137. >Neither of you wants to be the one to hang up, but you have to get ready for school.
  3138. "See you soon."
  3139. >"Y-yeah."
  3140. >You're still in your pajamas, still in bed. Your hair is a mess from twisting and turning sleeplessly all night long.
  3141. >Your clothes - and you - reek of cold sweat.
  3142. >You need a shower.
  3143. >You need to be presentable for Soarin.
  3144.  
  3145. >You are Soarin and you should get ready for school.
  3146. >Diamond is still asleep, still spooning your pillow, so you have no difficulty putting on a fresh t-shirt and swapping your shorts for some jeans.
  3147. >There's probably some homework you forgot to do... but it doesn't seem very important right now.
  3148. >In fact, you nearly forget to stuff everything into your backpack.
  3149. >The only thing on your mind is getting to school and...
  3150. >... no, you should do something about Diamond.
  3151. >She needs you.
  3152. >They both do.
  3153. >You could... take her with you...?
  3154. >To school?
  3155. >You don't have anything she can wear, and she doesn't have her backpack or anything.
  3156. >She can't go, but you can't leave her alone.
  3157. >That would be beyond cruel.
  3158. >More than a simple dick move.
  3159. >It'd be Flash Fucking Sentry tier assholishness.
  3160. >You sit down on the edge of your bed and the next thing you know you've got a pillow in your face and Diamond is screaming like she wants to murder you.
  3161. >It's... startling, but that's about it.
  3162. >Diamond falls silent as soon as you grab her wrist.
  3163. >The way all the blood drains from her face scares you more.
  3164. >The way she looks away quickly is terrifying.
  3165. "You okay?"
  3166. >"Fuck you."
  3167. >Nah.
  3168. >Nope.
  3169. >You've had enough of her attitude.
  3170. "Gee, sorry for showing some -"
  3171. >Diamond shudders.
  3172. >Is she crying?
  3173. >You can't tell.
  3174. >Her hands scrabble wildly.
  3175. >Trying to find a tissue?
  3176. >She's clearly gone through a lot.
  3177. >You shouldn't be mean to her.
  3178. >Not if it makes her -
  3179. >She vomits right on your bed.
  3180. "Uh..."
  3181. >Okay, okay, it's not that bad.
  3182. >Nope.
  3183. >"S-sorry..."
  3184. >Nope.
  3185. "It's... fine."
  3186. >Don't worry about the bed.
  3187. >You can wash that.
  3188. >You can't wash -
  3189. >"What is going on in there?" your mom shouts before your brain can click over to the next thing you're supposed to say in a situation like this. "Everything okay? Soarin, what are you doing to that poor girl? I'm -"
  3190. >Aw. Shit.
  3191. >" - coming in!"
  3192. >Mama went into Mama Bear mode.
  3193. >At least you know where you got that from.
  3194. >Your door flies open moments later, before either you or Diamond can properly begin to panic.
  3195. >She doesn't look like she's even in any state to begin panicking.
  3196. >"I heard screaming," mom shouts as she comes in. "And then - oh."
  3197. >She's half-dressed for work. Mostly dressed. Basically dressed.
  3198. >Okay, she's just missing her shoes.
  3199. >"Soarin."
  3200. >She's standing on the edge between pissed at you and pissed at some nebulous 'other' person.
  3201. "Yeah?"
  3202. >Hopefully not you.
  3203. >"Don't you 'yeah' me. Help me get some clean sheets."
  3204. "Sorry. Yes."
  3205. >You make it three steps before the look comes out.
  3206. >"Get her something clean to wear first!"
  3207. "Right, yes."
  3208. >You grab a clean shirt out of your closet and... uh...
  3209. >Can't exactly lay it out on the bed, can you?
  3210. >And Diamond's hands aren't exactly clean...
  3211. "Um..."
  3212. >"Put it on the nightstand, Soarin."
  3213. "Right, right."
  3214. >But then she walks right in front of you, so... yeah... you *can't*.
  3215. >"Dear," she murmurs softly to Diamond, "if you want to go wash up in the bathroom, Soarin and I are going to step outside for a little bit."
  3216. >The girl nods dimly, but you think she understands.
  3217. >Hopefully.
  3218. >After all, if you're in shock - and you kinda recognize that's a possibility right now, what with the girl you barely know showing up out of nowhere covered in bruises, forcing her way into your bed because she knows you can't turn her away, and then vomiting all over it, yeah, that seems like a reasonable reaction - then you can't imagine how she's doing.
  3219. >Because whatever happened to her probably makes this look like nothing.
  3220. >"Soarin -"
  3221. "Yes, mom."
  3222. >She steps back, giving you room to put the shirt down, and you hurry after her before she decides that the whole thing *is* your fault.
  3223. >You pull the door closed behind you, and none too soon.
  3224. >"Morning sickness!?" mom hisses, impossibly loud. "*Really*!?"
  3225. "What!? No! I mean... I hope not?"
  3226. >Not because of you, anyway.
  3227. >"Because I remember Cloudy -"
  3228. >NOPE.
  3229. "She's not even my girlfriend, mom!"
  3230. >Your mom stops point blank. Blinks.
  3231. >Cocks her head to one side just like Cloudy does when she's thinking about something.
  3232. >She picked up some bad habits from that girl.
  3233. >Dammit.
  3234. >"She's... not?"
  3235. "No!"
  3236. >"So you're just going around sleeping with underage girls?"
  3237. "She's not! She's... she's 15."
  3238. >"Soarin, I love you. I do. I'm your mom, but..."
  3239. >She shakes her head. Sighs.
  3240. >Looks up.
  3241. >Appeals to some higher power to give her the strength.
  3242. "I haven't done anything like that with her. She's... uh..."
  3243. >A friend?
  3244. >Your girlfriend's friend?
  3245. >Just some bitch you felt sorry for?
  3246. >"She needed your help?"
  3247. "Yeah. She needed my help."
  3248. >"Someone she could trust to look out for her."
  3249. >You nod.
  3250. "We're not... well... we're kinda friends?"
  3251. >Aw. Shit.
  3252. >You're about to get the look again.
  3253. "I mean, we are, just not *that* close. I don't think she knew where else to go."
  3254. >Your mom nods vaguely, then shrugs. Then sighs.
  3255. >Then looks you up and down and sighs again.
  3256. >"Those are clean clothes."
  3257. "Um... yeah..."
  3258. >"Don't tell me you were going to run off to school and leave this poor little thing all alone."
  3259. "N-no!"
  3260. >Shit.
  3261. >No.
  3262. >You wouldn't have.
  3263. >You can't.
  3264. >"Maybe that's for the best."
  3265. >Wait.
  3266. "What?"
  3267. >"Do you know what happened to her?"
  3268. >You shake your head.
  3269. "No, she wouldn't tell me anything, but... uh... I did get a voice mail from her mom."
  3270. >Yours raises an eyebrow.
  3271. "She... um... well, basically, she... uh..."
  3272. >Mom waits patiently.
  3273. >Kind of patiently.
  3274. >She's not wearing any shoes, so her foot tapping isn't loud or anything.
  3275. "Okay, long story..."
  3276. >Do you start with Silver?
  3277. >With Diamond blackmailing you?
  3278. "... I don't know. I don't think she knows Diamond is here -"
  3279. >"That's her name?" your mother asks, wincing. "That's Diamond *Tiara*? Oh, not good."
  3280. "You know her...?"
  3281. >Mom shrugs.
  3282. >"Her family. Who doesn't?"
  3283. >True enough.
  3284. >"But her mother has attended a few charity balls and..."
  3285. >She grimaces.
  3286. >Looks like she wants to stamp her feet.
  3287. >Maybe on a certain someone's neck.
  3288. >"I don't like that lady. Does she know her daughter's here?"
  3289. "No. I don't think so?"
  3290. >"But... she knew enough to call you?"
  3291. "She has Diamond's phone."
  3292. >"Ah. Okay..."
  3293. >Mom taps her foot a few more times before spinning away.
  3294. >"I better get mine. I'm going to call in today."
  3295. "Um..."
  3296. >"And *you* are going to school, Soarin."
  3297. "What...? Why?"
  3298. >"Because this is my job."
  3299. "I thought you said you were calling in?"
  3300. >"I am."
  3301. "But..."
  3302. >Oh. Duh.
  3303. >The Social Welfare Agency.
  3304. >This kind of *is* her job. Or was.
  3305. >"I gave her a chance to open up to you last night," mom sighs as she rummages through her purse for her phone. "Now it's my turn and..."
  3306. >She stops, clearly rethinking things.
  3307. "You want me out of the way, don't you?"
  3308. >"Yes," she agrees with a nod. "I'm worried she'll keep hiding behind you and I don't think we have time for that."
  3309. "Um..."
  3310. >Well.
  3311. >This neatly solves the problem of leaving Diamond behind so you can go to school to be with Silver.
  3312. >So why does it make you feel like such a piece of shit?
  3313.  
  3314. >You are Silver Spoon and you finish wrapping a pink hairband around the end of your braid.
  3315. >In your haste, you'd almost forgotten.
  3316. >Maybe you should have.
  3317. >It's been a long time since you've gone out with your hair down.
  3318. >Maybe he -
  3319. >Maybe today isn't the day to experiment.
  3320. >He loves you just the way you are.
  3321. >He does.
  3322. >Your backpack leans up against your leg - homework and everything neatly packed inside.
  3323. >Not long until the bus comes by.
  3324. >You hate to take it, but all things considered you *really* doubt your father is willing to drive you to school.
  3325. >He'll notice you're gone sooner or later, but - hopefully - not *too* soon.
  3326. >Not until you've talked with Soarin.
  3327. >Or done other things with him.
  3328. >Whatever it takes.
  3329. >And when he does find you...
  3330. >You creep slowly down the stairs, trying not to make a sound.
  3331. >You'll put the blame on Di, like usual.
  3332. >It'll the true, or true enough.
  3333. >She's the one who set this whole thing in motion.
  3334. >You make it down the first flight of stairs without being discovered.
  3335. >Not like there's a ton of servants running about this time in the morning.
  3336. >Your father's probably gone to the office already. And your mother...
  3337. >Something.
  3338. >One important cause or another that requires her attention has likely pulled her out of the house.
  3339. >Maybe a fundraiser for starving, baby, African seals with food allergies.
  3340. >That seems to be about the only thing she *hasn't* chaired yet, so it's due for a turn.
  3341. >You're almost to the ground floor when your phone buzzes.
  3342. >Probably Soarin. Maybe Di.
  3343. >Maybe you won't have to ride the bus after all.
  3344. >Maybe -
  3345. >You pull it free to check and keep walking.
  3346. >It's -
  3347. >"Where are you going, Silver?"
  3348. >SHIT!
  3349. >"I thought I told you that you were skipping school today," your father continues, rising from the sofa in the sitting room and walking towards you.
  3350. >He has his phone out, too.
  3351. "I... um..."
  3352. >"They've just issued a tornado watch."
  3353. "Well... they're..."
  3354. >You don't laugh nervously.
  3355. >No.
  3356. >It's... more maniacal than that.
  3357. >Desperate to play this off.
  3358. >To ignore the warning flashing on your phone's screen.
  3359. "I... thought it'd be fine, if... um..."
  3360. >Your father sighs and puts his hand on your shoulder.
  3361. "I want to go."
  3362. >"You'd get yourself killed over this boy?"
  3363.  
  3364. >You are Soarin and you gingerly take the sheets from your mother.
  3365. >"Put them in the washing machine and start it," mom tells you, "then you can go."
  3366. >Diamond's head jerks up.
  3367. >She nearly throws the fresh covers off and leaps out of the bed, but... doesn't.
  3368. >"Go...?" is all she asks. Softly. "You're going...? Where?"
  3369. >"I'm sending him to school, dear, so you and I -"
  3370. >"No! He has to stay with me!"
  3371. "Mom -"
  3372. >She shakes her head.
  3373. >"No, dear, he has to go to school," she tells Diamond. "I'll stay home with you, so -"
  3374. "No!"
  3375. >Mom frowns.
  3376. >"You want him to stay?"
  3377. >"YES!"
  3378. >"Do you feel safe with Soarin here?"
  3379. >"I..."
  3380. >Diamond looks at the bed. At the wall.
  3381. >Everywhere but you.
  3382. >Yeah, you knew it would be too much for her to admit that.
  3383. >"Or is it you don't feel safe with me?"
  3384. >Diamond doesn't answer.
  3385. >That's answer enough for mom.
  3386. >"The door locks," she tells the girl, "if that would make you feel better."
  3387. >That brings a faint nod from Diamond.
  3388. >"You can yell if you need anything. You know, if you get hungry or want to talk."
  3389. >Diamond nods again.
  3390. >"And if you want to - if you *really* want to - you can leave. I won't stop you."
  3391. "Mom!"
  3392. >Nope. Momma's working now.
  3393. >"But I *hope* you'll feel better here than going home."
  3394. >Another tiny nod.
  3395. >"Soarin, shouldn't you be going to school now?"
  3396. "Yeah... just... uh... one thing."
  3397. >You don't *think* Diamond would.
  3398. >You're *sure* she doesn't have the key.
  3399. >But you bend down and reach under your bed for Silver's box.
  3400. >It's awkward, trying to grab it while still holding on to the dirty sheets, but... you can't leave it.
  3401. >You'll worry all day.
  3402. >Unnecessarily, but you'll still worry.
  3403. >Mom raises an eyebrow that promises another serious conversation later.
  3404. >Probably assumes it's drugs.
  3405. >You know it's what you would think if you were in her place.
  3406. "Yeah, mom. Later."
  3407. >You'll tell her everything later.
  3408. >"Okay."
  3409. >She knows you will.
  3410. >This is getting too big. Too serious.
  3411. "Bye, Diamond."
  3412. >The girl mumbles something and shoots you a dirty look.
  3413. >Still pissed that you're leaving, even if she does act like she hates you half the time.
  3414. "Try to relax or... whatever. Mom'll take care of you."
  3415.  
  3416. >You barely make it to school.
  3417. >Your mind is elsewhere.
  3418. >You never drive your best when that happens.
  3419. >Stop signs might as well not exist.
  3420. >You try to focus the second time you let the wind blow your car into the other lane, but that's all it is.
  3421. >An attempt.
  3422. >A successful one, but... you're so focused on staying in those narrow lines that you nearly miss the turn off for student parking.
  3423. >The lot is practically empty, only a handful of other cars.
  3424. >You're earlier than you thought.
  3425. >Maybe it's the weather.
  3426. >Slightest rain and everything goes to hell, so a little wind and... yeah.
  3427. >You can see why folks might be running a little late today.
  3428. >It's not until you're inside and checking your phone to call Silver that you realize you're the late one - and why the halls are so empty.
  3429. >Tornado watch.
  3430. "Gee, thanks mom."
  3431. >She probably wasn't *trying* to get you killed.
  3432. >Though she has made noises in the past about wanting a daughter instead...
  3433. >Nah.
  3434. >She's your mom.
  3435. >She wouldn't do that, even if you *are* a disappointment from time to time.
  3436. >She certainly wouldn't replace you with Diamond.
  3437. >Besides, you would have come to school anyway.
  3438. >With a flick of your thumb, you cancel the warning.
  3439. >There are more important things going on right now than some stupid storm.
  3440. >You pull up your messages.
  3441. >Nothing from Silver.
  3442. >Hopefully she got here safely.
  3443. >But she doesn't respond when you text her.
  3444. >No answer when you call.
  3445. >Doesn't even go to voicemail.
  3446. >Shit.
  3447. >You start jogging up and down the halls.
  3448. >The classrooms are empty, but you pass a few other students.
  3449. >A couple teachers.
  3450. >Some speak to you.
  3451. >There's some kind of assembly somewhere.
  3452. >You probably should have paid attention.
  3453. >Silver might be there.
  3454. >You realize that too late, though.
  3455. >The words have gone in one ear and out the other already, and you've already moved on.
  3456. >Looking through the freshman classrooms.
  3457. >You don't even know what her first period class is, so you check them all.
  3458. >No.
  3459. >Stop.
  3460. >Silver's a smart girl.
  3461. >She wouldn't have wandered off like you are now.
  3462. >She would have gone to the assembly.
  3463. >It would be...
  3464. >Where?
  3465. >Cafeteria.
  3466. >Has to be.
  3467. >Either there or the auditorium.
  3468. >Neither are far from here.
  3469. >The auditorium is empty.
  3470. >The cafeteria isn't.
  3471. >There's a few students.
  3472. >More teachers.
  3473. >Principal Celestia.
  3474. >She tries to greet you with some hot tea and a blanket, but you shake your head.
  3475. >You feel fine.
  3476. >"Soarin, you're *soaked*."
  3477. >You hadn't noticed.
  3478. >It had been raining?
  3479. "I'm fine. Have you seen -"
  3480. >No.
  3481. >You can't ask her.
  3482. >"Who?"
  3483. "Nevermind."
  3484. >There's Cloudy.
  3485. >Chatting with some of the other Wondercolts.
  3486. >She'll know.
  3487. >At the very least, she can help you look.
  3488. >Maybe she can even be discrete about it.
  3489. >Of not, but you don't know who else to turn to.
  3490. >You don't see Spitfire or Blossomforth. Moondancer goes to another school. Pinkie is... probably busy doing Pinkie things.
  3491. >Cloudy's the only one who knows, the only one you can trust.
  3492. >Even if she will tell everyone.
  3493. >She'll help you find Silver.
  3494. >She'll help you protect her.
  3495. >She'll -
  3496. >"Hey, Soarin?" she asks, rising from her seat and coming over to you. "What's wrong?"
  3497. "I... um..."
  3498. >"You looker sadder than normal."
  3499. >She pauses. Looks back at the others.
  3500. >Turns back.
  3501. >Whispers Silver's name.
  3502. >You nod.
  3503. "I can't find her."
  3504. >"She... um... probably didn't come to school today?"
  3505. >You shake your head.
  3506. "She told me she was, just an hour ago. Maybe less."
  3507. >"Shit."
  3508. "Yeah."
  3509. >"You tried calling her?"
  3510. "Do you think I'm an idiot?"
  3511. >"So... you didn't?"
  3512. >She tries to smile, she's trying to make light of things, but both fall flat.
  3513. >She's worried.
  3514. >Not as worried as you, but still...
  3515. >"She's my friend, too, you know," Cloudy sighs and balls up her fist, before lightly punches you in the chest.
  3516. "Yeah, well..."
  3517. >"Want to go look for her?"
  3518. "I did already. Looked all over the school.
  3519. >"What about out there?" she asks, subtly - for her - jerking her head towards... well, towards outside.
  3520. >Towards the screaming wind and thunderous rain.
  3521. >"We could go look. I drove today, so..."
  3522. >You could.
  3523. >You couldn't drag Cloudy out into this.
  3524. >It wouldn't be safe.
  3525. >You shake your head.
  3526. "Let me try calling her again."
  3527. >"Okay, Soarin, but... you say the word and we'll all go. You know that, right?"
  3528. "Yeah, I know."
  3529. >You can't be responsible for that.
  3530. >There's a reason Spitfire's the team captain, not you.
  3531. >You can't risk their lives for Silver, when you don't even know she's in danger.
  3532. >"It wouldn't just be for her," Cloudy says, reading your mind. "I'm sure there's other people who need help. I mean, I'm sure some people got caught on the way here..."
  3533. "Yeah... yeah... I'll... just let me try calling her again."
  3534. >Cloudy gently punches you again.
  3535. >"Okay, Soarin. But..."
  3536. "I've got it."
  3537. >"Good."
  3538. >You wander off from Cloudy and the other Wondercolts.
  3539. >Not far.
  3540. >You don't have to go far.
  3541. >People have their own worries.
  3542. >You could make the call right there and no one would notice.
  3543. >No one would care.
  3544. >You check your phone again.
  3545. >A message from your mother.
  3546. >Probably apologizing for sending you out in this weather.
  3547. >Or checking on you.
  3548. >Trying to make sure you're safe.
  3549. >That she doesn't have to run out to find you.
  3550. >To take care of you.
  3551. >You'll call her back.
  3552. >She wouldn't leave Diamond.
  3553. >That's all, though.
  3554. >Nothing from Silver.
  3555. >You call her.
  3556. >The phone rings.
  3557. >It doesn't go straight to voicemail.
  3558. >It doesn't cut off.
  3559. >It rings.
  3560. >And rings.
  3561. >And -
  3562. >"Soarin -"
  3563. "Sil-"
  3564. >"- I can't talk right now."
  3565. "But -"
  3566. >"I can't talk to you."
  3567.  
  3568. >You are Diamond Tiara and you don't think this is real.
  3569. >It can't be.
  3570. >You heard your mother yelling.
  3571. >An hour ago?
  3572. >Less?
  3573. >You don't know.
  3574. >Now all you can hear is the pounding of your own heart and the hail of rain on the roof.
  3575. >This has to be a trick. A trap. Something.
  3576. >The door is locked.
  3577. >It's not enough.
  3578. >You wish Soarin had left the box with you, that he had left you Silver's knife.
  3579. >Bastard took it with him.
  3580. >He left you alone.
  3581. >That should make you feel safer, but it doesn't.
  3582. >You want her knife.
  3583. >You want him here.
  3584.  
  3585. >You are Soarin and you answer your phone.
  3586. >It's not Silver.
  3587. >She's safe.
  3588. >She's home.
  3589. >She wants nothing to do with you.
  3590. "Yeah...?"
  3591. >"Soarin," your mom immediately jumps in, "something happened."
  3592. >Shit.
  3593. >Silver -
  3594. >No, she doesn't know about Silver.
  3595. >Your house is gone.
  3596. >Or dad is dead.
  3597. >Or -
  3598. >"Everything's fine right now, but Mrs. Rich came to the house a bit ago."
  3599. >Or that.
  3600. >"She must be desperate to find her daughter, going out in weather like this -"
  3601. >So she *did* know!
  3602. "You mean the weather you sent me out in?"
  3603. >"I... sorry. Yes. I didn't know it was going to be this bad."
  3604. >Okay.
  3605. >Good.
  3606. >Mom isn't trying to kill you.
  3607. >And Diamond's is risking her life to find her daughter.
  3608. >"She was hysterical, Soarin. She's really worried."
  3609. >Maybe she *does* care.
  3610. >In her own, shitty way.
  3611. >"I didn't tell her Diamond is here, but..."
  3612. "Do I need to come home?"
  3613. >"In *this* storm!? No! You're safe at the school, aren't you?"
  3614. "I guess?"
  3615. >"Stay there, Soarin. I'll take care of your friend, but maybe we should let her mother know where she is. At least let her know that Diamond is okay."
  3616. "No -"
  3617. >"Not yet," mom sighs, "but... I know how I would feel if you were missing and this was all going on. I can't help but empathize with her."
  3618. "We... we can't tell her. Diamond doesn't want her mother to know where she is."
  3619. >Mom sighs.
  3620. >"I know."
  3621. >Sighs again.
  3622. >"But sometimes what the children I work with want isn't what's best for them. This is serious, Soarin. She's still a minor and technically, this *is* kidnapping."
  3623. "I know, but..."
  3624. >Just one more thing, right?
  3625. >Just one more crime, even if it is for the right reasons.
  3626. >"I've seen how vindictive this woman can be when she wants to hurt someone. I need to ask you something and you HAVE to be sincere with me."
  3627. "W-what?"
  3628. >"Why are you protecting this girl?"
  3629. "Because she needs me to."
  3630. >"Why?"
  3631. "Because... because isn't that enough?"
  3632. >Mom laughs softly. Sadly.
  3633. >"I wish, but I can't go to my boss and give him that excuse."
  3634. "Then... then because..."
  3635. >It *should* be enough.
  3636. "... I don't trust Mrs. Rich."
  3637. >"I know," mom murmurs. "You were going to tell me something earlier...?"
  3638. >You close your eyes.
  3639. >Take a deep breath.
  3640. >Hold it.
  3641. >Let it out slowly.
  3642. "She talked with me yesterday."
  3643. >The breath, and the story with it.
  3644. >"I know."
  3645. "Earlier. Before Diamond went missing. She pretended to be her daughter and told me to meet her at a cafe."
  3646. >"Which one?" mom asks, her voice suddenly as harsh as raw metal. "Do you remember the name?"
  3647. "No. It's at the mall. Fourth floor."
  3648. >Her silence is not a good sign.
  3649. "Why? What -"
  3650. >"What did she want to talk about?"
  3651. "She asked if I... uh..."
  3652. >You're talking to your mom, even if she is suddenly in work mode.
  3653. >How do you tell her that Mrs. Rich asked if you wanted to sleep with her daughter?
  3654. "If I wanted to... um... *date* Diamond."
  3655. >"Date?"
  3656. "Y-yeah. I think... I *think* she's trying to be a good mother. I mean... she and I kind of have been spending a lot of time together, so..."
  3657. >You wait for mom to finish the thought, but she stays silent.
  3658. >Waiting for you to continue.
  3659. >Trying not to influence what you say.
  3660. >Give you an easy answer.
  3661. "She's out looking for her daughter, so she cares, right? I just think she kind of... you know... *sucks* at being a mom. But she's trying... so..."
  3662. >"I get it, Soarin. If she calls you again... don't answer."
  3663. >You should go home.
  3664. >"I have to go."
  3665. "Is everything -"
  3666. >"Yes. Everything is fine. Don't try to come home until the storm is over."
  3667. "O-okay."
  3668. >She can read your mind.
  3669. >"Stay safe, son. And don't wear yourself out doing anything stupid. I might need you to help me hide a body before the end of today."
  3670. "Yeah... you, too."
  3671. >Nothing is fine.
  3672. >Diamond needs you.
  3673. >But mom's with her.
  3674. >She'll... she'll take care of her.
  3675. >Who's with Silver?
  3676. >She's safe - she told you that, but...
  3677. >Did she just not want you to worry?
  3678. >She's all alone.
  3679. >She needs you, too.
  3680. >She's not hurt, not like Diamond.
  3681. >She's safe at home, not hiding at a... a friend's house.
  3682. >But she needs you more.
  3683. >She's never done that before.
  3684. >Never hung up on you.
  3685. >Never told you to leave her alone.
  3686. >Never not *begged* for your attention.
  3687. >Something's wrong.
  3688. >You...
  3689. >... should trust her.
  3690. >She has a reason.
  3691. >Probably.
  3692. >Hopefully.
  3693. >Hopefully it's not you.
  3694. >Not the girl currently holed up in your bedroom.
  3695. >She shouldn't worry.
  3696. >But she will.
  3697. >You know her too well.
  3698. >You should go.
  3699. >Mom will take care of Diamond.
  3700. >She'll be safe.
  3701. >She won't do anything stupid.
  3702. >Silver...
  3703. >You should go.
  3704. >You do.
  3705. >You start walking towards the door.
  3706. >No more hesitation.
  3707. >No more waffling between the two.
  3708. >Silver needs you.
  3709. >She's...
  3710. >Not in danger from anyone but herself.
  3711. >And...
  3712. >A hand grabs your arm.
  3713. >"Hey, Soarin!" Cloudy hisses. "Where are you going? Does she -"
  3714. >Oh.
  3715. >Right.
  3716. "She's safe. At home."
  3717. >Cloudy sighs in relief, but doesn't let go.
  3718. >Doesn't let you go to her.
  3719. >"Then where are you going?" she asks, trying to pull you to the table with your team mates.
  3720. "She needs me."
  3721. >"You just said she was safe."
  3722. >Cloudy's neck bends in a near right angle.
  3723. "Yeah... well..."
  3724. >"Doesn't her house have a super panic room or something like that? She probably won't even *notice* the storm."
  3725. >Probably.
  3726. >Her family is rich enough.
  3727. >Overprotective enough.
  3728. >At the very least, Silver's safe.
  3729. >She said so.
  3730. She wouldn't lie to you.
  3731. >And yet...
  3732. "I can't just... just *sit* around, Cloudy. I've got to go."
  3733. >"Where? And why? And in *this*? And you'll get yourself killed!"
  3734. >Doubtful.
  3735. >Maybe.
  3736. "I don't know, Cloudy."
  3737. >You sigh and shake her arm free.
  3738. "But I have to go. I can't do nothing, not when she -"
  3739. >Which one?
  3740. " - needs me."
  3741. >Cloudy blinks.
  3742. >Once. Twice.
  3743. >Her head flops over onto her other shoulder.
  3744. >"You hesitated?"
  3745. "Yeah, uh... I don't know. I -
  3746. >"There's someone else, isn't there?" Cloudy gasps in horror.
  3747. >Mocking?
  3748. >No.
  3749. >She's serious.
  3750. >She knows you too well.
  3751. >Not that you would ever.
  3752. "No! Not like that! She just... needs help."
  3753. >Which one?
  3754. >"Don't you hurt her."
  3755. "I would never."
  3756. >Either one.
  3757. >Cloudy knows.
  3758. >She knows how loyal you are.
  3759. >How single-minded you can be.
  3760. >Even if... not right now.
  3761. >She sighs.
  3762. >Puts a hand on your shoulder.
  3763. >"You know, it'll hurt her if you go out there and your car flips and you die."
  3764. >You...
  3765. >... have a good excuse.
  3766. >You don't have to choose.
  3767. >You can wait.
  3768. >You can tell yourself you can wait.
  3769. >"Go ahead," Cloudy sighs, letting her hand fall from your shoulder. "I think we all knew that you were going to die in a car accident someday."
  3770.  
  3771. >You are Silver Spoon and you're safe at home.
  3772. >It hurts.
  3773. >He must think you lied to him.
  3774. >That you hate him.
  3775. >That you're jealous.
  3776. >That you did exactly what you did for the reasons that you had.
  3777. >It hurts, knowing what you did.
  3778. >Even if you hadn't meant it.
  3779. >Even if you did intend to go to school. To meet with him.
  3780. >Even if -
  3781.  
  3782. >You are Soarin and you've got the perfect excuse.
  3783. >That doesn't stop you from giving Cloudy a quick hug and leaving.
  3784. >The cafeteria, if not the school.
  3785. >You can't quite bring yourself to go near the exterior doors.
  3786. >She's right.
  3787. >Getting yourself killed won't help either girl.
  3788. >Well...
  3789. >Maybe Silver.
  3790. >She wouldn't have to worry about someone finding out about you.
  3791. >Maybe she'd even get over it.
  3792. >You've helped her so much already.
  3793. >She's come so far, if she can turn you away.
  3794. >Maybe she doesn't need you anymore.
  3795. >Maybe...
  3796. >But Diamond does. She really does.
  3797. >You have the perfect excuse to stay at school. To avoid making a choice.
  3798. >There shouldn't even *be* a choice to make.
  3799. >And even without the storm...
  3800. >Silver's your girlfriend.
  3801. >Diamond is just a bitch.
  3802. >It's no contest.
  3803. >Even without the storm, you...
  3804. >Don't know what you would do.
  3805. >At least you're not juggling three girls like Anon.
  3806. >That guy has his shit together.
  3807. >Funny, you never thought you would ever think that about him.
  3808. >You've fallen far.
  3809. >That stays in your mind as you keep wandering the school.
  3810. >Cloudy is right.
  3811. >Another thing you never thought you would think about someone.
  3812. >You *knew* it wouldn't fit, but...
  3813. >This time, she's right.
  3814. >You can't leave.
  3815. >She's also wrong.
  3816. >You can't stay here.
  3817. >You can't do *nothing*.
  3818. >Nervous pacing is the unhappy compromise you eventually reach with yourself.
  3819. >You don't know how Anon does it.
  3820. >How he balances the needs of Rarity's sister and her two friends.
  3821. >Makes them all happy.
  3822. >Doesn't wear himself out trying to keep them that way.
  3823. >You're not even dating Diamond and... shit.
  3824. >This is hard.
  3825. >You would call him, ask for advice. At least then you'd feel like you were doing something.
  3826. >Impossible.
  3827. >You don't have his number.
  3828. >He and you run in different circles.
  3829. >He's kind of... yeah. And you... well...
  3830. >Yeah.
  3831. >Different circles.
  3832. >You try not to pass judgement.
  3833. >He's doing better than you.
  3834. >Even if he *is* living the life of some kind of Chinese cartoon protagonist.
  3835. >You watch him help up one of his girls and want to laugh.
  3836. >Or cry.
  3837. >Here you were, thinking about him... and... here he is.
  3838. >This kind of coincidental bullshit never happens in real life.
  3839. >Dude's a fucking cartoon character.
  3840. >You watch the two of them share a few words before the young girl dashes off.
  3841. >Anon slumps over to the nearby stairs and sits down.
  3842. >Alone.
  3843. >You're not a particularly superstitious man, but this seems like too good a chance to pass up.
  3844. >It's hard to read his expression - always is - but he looks almost... almost like you probably do. Maybe.
  3845. >And yet every time you've seen him with the girls, he makes it all appear so easy.
  3846. >Dancing with Rarity's sister, looking after her at Flash's party... even when you ran into him at the mall - all things considered, that is.
  3847. >You walk up to him.
  3848. >You have to know how he does it.
  3849. >How he doesn't tear himself apart.
  3850. ”Hey.”
  3851. >Anon looks up quickly.
  3852. >Surprised.
  3853. >Like he didn't even hear you approach, like he was totally lost in thought.
  3854. "Do you mind if I sit down?”
  3855. >He slides to the right, giving you space to sit down on the step beside him.
  3856. >You open your mouth to speak, but -
  3857. >You're lost in thought, too.
  3858. >You look up and down the hallway.
  3859. >You're almost to the point where you don't care who finds out about you and Silver, but him?
  3860. >Anon?
  3861. >You can't go revealing a dude's secrets like that by flapping your damn mouth without making sure no one else is listening.
  3862. >Anon doesn't deserve that.
  3863. >He's a better man than you.
  3864. >That's depressing.
  3865. >You sigh.
  3866. >Nearly stand.
  3867. >Nearly tell him "nevermind."
  3868. >“What's up, Soarin?”
  3869. >That's all that stops you.
  3870. >You look at the man out of the corner of your eye.
  3871. >Remember how happy the girls seemed.
  3872. >How he had no trouble balancing their needs.
  3873. "Anon, do you remember when we ran into each other at the mall?"
  3874. >"Uh-huh."
  3875. >What's the worst that could happen?
  3876. >He could give you some good advice?
  3877. "So, from what I gathered, we're both in a similar situation, aren't we?"
  3878. >Anon hesitates.
  3879. >Yeah, that might be hard for anyone to admit.
  3880. >"Circumstances might be different," he says slowly, "but it may be similar enough."
  3881. >Well.
  3882. >That's not vague at all.
  3883. >You look down at your clasped hands.
  3884. >Yeah, you wouldn't want to admit anything either.
  3885. >You *don't*.
  3886. >And yet...
  3887. "Anon, I have some questions that I'd like to hear some answers for."
  3888. >Maybe you're wrong about everything.
  3889. >Maybe you're wrong about him and the girls.
  3890. >“Alright. What's on your mind, Soarin?”
  3891. >He wouldn't agree so readily if you weren't.
  3892. >You try - maybe - *hopefully* - to act nonchalant.
  3893. >Twiddling your thumbs like this is no big deal.
  3894. >Like you twiddle your thumbs at all.
  3895. "Back at the mall, I saw you with the three girls."
  3896. >You can't be right.
  3897. >He can't be... well...
  3898. "Are you, you know, involved with all of them?"
  3899. >"Not really."
  3900. >You knew it.
  3901. >You *knew* it was impossible for him to be b -
  3902. "So then..."
  3903. >You shouldn't think that.
  3904. "... is it just Sweetie Belle?"
  3905. >"Yes," he answers. "And no."
  3906. >You're not going to get any straight answers from him.
  3907. >It was a waste of time sitting down.
  3908. >You look up from your hands and stare at the boy.
  3909. >Not trying to intimidate him or anything.
  3910. >Just... trying to get a clear answer.
  3911. ”How so?”
  3912. >“Well, yes, I guess you could say Sweetie and I are a thing now. But I haven't even laid a hand on her that way.”
  3913. >That...
  3914. >That wasn't what you were thinking.
  3915. >You had assumed -
  3916. >“Did you think I was going for all of them?”
  3917. >That too.
  3918. ”I didn't know what to think when I saw that.”
  3919. >You didn't think.
  3920. >You just... do what you always do.
  3921. >“Okay, that wasn't my fault. It was Applebloom's.”
  3922. >You can believe that.
  3923. >Almost.
  3924. >Yeah, you can.
  3925. >You know her brother and sister well enough.
  3926. >You smile for the boy.
  3927. "I guess the Apple rumor is true."
  3928. >If it's what the family wants... well...
  3929. >They certainly seem to love each other.
  3930. >Who are you to judge their traditions?
  3931. >"Girl has an appetite like a goat."
  3932. >... or personal preferences.
  3933. "What about Scootaloo?"
  3934. >Anon looks vaguely uncomfortable for a second.
  3935. >"She's an awkward one."
  3936. "The way she always acts around Rainbow Dash, I thought she might've been a second Spitfire."
  3937. >Though with slightly more healthy obsessions.
  3938. >"Reasonable assumption. But no, she's got a craving for dick like a normal chick."
  3939. >Well shit, if you'd known that -
  3940. >No. Nope.
  3941. >She's too -
  3942. >No.
  3943. >You sigh internally.
  3944. >He's probably wrong, anyway.
  3945. >How would he know?
  3946. "Did she try for yours?"
  3947. >"Key word there is 'try'."
  3948. >He sounds so genuine you can't help but laugh.
  3949. >You can imagine the poor girl awkwardly trying to get in his pants.
  3950. >From what you've seen, she has about as much idea how to seduce a guy as Rainbow Dash.
  3951. >Not that her awkwardness would stop someone like Flash Fucking Sentry or even half the dudes in this school.
  3952. >Not many would turn down an easy lay.
  3953. >On the team... maybe... you?
  3954. "Guess that means you really were just after -"
  3955. >Damn, you had it just a second ago.
  3956. >What was her name?
  3957. >You never paid much attention to the underclassmen, not until -
  3958. >Ah! Right.
  3959. "- Sweetie Belle."
  3960. >"I told you."
  3961. >You shrug slightly - and abandon the gesture probably before he notices.
  3962. >What's the point?
  3963. ”Just had to know."
  3964. >You try again, but give up.
  3965. "It's been gnawing at me for weeks."
  3966. >Off and on. This and that.
  3967. >He look confused. Maybe.
  3968. >"We went to the mall a couple days back."
  3969. "I meant the whole Sweetie Belle thing. I saw the two of you back at Flash's party."
  3970. >How well he was taking care of her.
  3971. >"I can't dance," he laughs, either unaware that you saw them later - alone - or trying to play it off.
  3972. >Nah.
  3973. >He's... doing his best, you guess.
  3974. "Well it showed."
  3975. This time you both laugh.
  3976. "I didn't know what you were doing with her back then, though. I thought worst case scenario -"
  3977. >Like you always do.
  3978. >If you even stop to think.
  3979. "- but I guess nothing bad happened between you."
  3980. >So what if he's not involved with all three?
  3981. >"Heh. I guess."
  3982. >At least he's making one happy.
  3983. >That's better than you.
  3984. >No matter how hard you try, no matter how good things are looking, in the end...
  3985. >In the end, Silver is never happy, is she?
  3986. >You take a deep breath.
  3987. >Hold it like you would her.
  3988. >Never let it go - though, eventually, you do. You have to.
  3989. "So, how did it even start?"
  3990. >"...Why exactly are you interested in this?"
  3991. "Like I said, bro, I'm looking for answers."
  3992. >Maybe not the ones you were looking for originally, but...
  3993. >You don't know.
  3994. >You're just killing time.
  3995. >Pretending to do something when you should be out there, driving home.
  3996. >To *her* house, that is.
  3997. >To Di- Silver's.
  3998. >"Just really happened," Anon answers, jolting you out of your self pity. "I was doing a favor for Rarity and watching Sweetie, then I fell in love with the task."
  3999. >You should go.
  4000. >You don't know where, but you should go.
  4001. >"Then I guess that Sweetie eventually fell in love with me."
  4002. >Wait.
  4003. "She chose you, then?"
  4004. >“Yeah, she did. I didn't expect it.”
  4005. ”No doubt.”
  4006. >Who would?
  4007. >But...
  4008. >"But Pinkie Pie got involved and things happened. Now I'm in love with her."
  4009. >He's in love with Ponka...?
  4010. "Pinkie Pie?"
  4011. >"She enjoys being a matchmaker."
  4012. >Oh. Right.
  4013. >You're barely following, same as you were barely following the road just an hour or so earlier.
  4014. >He waits.
  4015. >Expecting some kind of response.
  4016. "Well, shit."
  4017. >“I know, right?”
  4018. >You both fall silent.
  4019. >Time to go.
  4020. >If the conversation has run its course -
  4021. "Did you want to do anything, I mean, before it all began?"
  4022. >Anon gives you an expression that can only be disgust.
  4023. >"...I'm not a creep."
  4024. "Neither am I."
  4025. >Or are you?
  4026. >A decent guy would go to his girlfriend right now.
  4027. >Or a good one...
  4028. "Would you ever consider going back on it?"
  4029. >A good one wouldn't have wound up in this situation to begin with.
  4030. >You only have yourself to blame.
  4031. >"Not if it meant I had to leave behind Sweetie."
  4032. >You can't bring yourself to blame Diamond anymore.
  4033. >It was never really her fault, was it?
  4034. >She's a good girl.
  4035. "You're committed to seeing this through, then?"
  4036. >"Completely."
  4037. >He's a good man.
  4038. >You stare off into the distance.
  4039. >Trying - if you can - to find out which girl needs your help more.
  4040. >"Mind if I ask you something?"
  4041. >Yes.
  4042. >You're busy.
  4043. >You're... you're fucking around.
  4044. >Rambling in your own head.
  4045. >You look over at Anon.
  4046. "Go ahead."
  4047. >Fair is fair.
  4048. >"Okay. So, when I saw you at the mall, you were with Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon, right?"
  4049. "Yep."
  4050. >"As in the two richest students attending?"
  4051. >Not how you would describe them, but..
  4052. "You got it."
  4053. >You're honestly not so sure about that, but Silver is rich enough for them both.
  4054. >"Back then, you said you knew what it was like when you thought...well, we both know what you meant."
  4055. >Getting pulled around by several girls, all of them wanting your attention.
  4056. >All of them wanting...
  4057. >Not what you thought Diamond wanted.
  4058. >Not what she wants right now.
  4059. >But...
  4060. "That I did."
  4061. >"So, you're involved with them?"
  4062. >You're thinking about driving out into this storm for them.
  4063. >You aren't even questioning *that*, just which one to go to.
  4064. "Involved might be too weak a word at this point."
  4065. >Anon rubs the back of his neck and looks up at the ceiling.
  4066. >Yeah, you can guess the next question.
  4067. >You wouldn't be able to make eye contact either.
  4068. >"Do you mean that you went out and-"
  4069. "Yes."
  4070. >Basically.
  4071. "I know, you're shocked, right? But at this point, it doesn't even feel weird to say."
  4072. >Because it doesn't feel real.
  4073. >Trying to decide between your girlfriend and some bitch.
  4074. >It's a fucking joke.
  4075. >A bad one.
  4076. >There shouldn't be any debate.
  4077. >"... was the reason you asked how far I had gone because you actually went ahead with it?"
  4078. >What.
  4079. >You look at him out of the corner of your eye.
  4080. >He didn't just ask what you think he asked.
  4081. >“Did it happen with both of them?”
  4082. >He... you don't know what he's asking.
  4083. >Intentionally.
  4084. >Because you would, wouldn't you?
  4085. >Basically did.
  4086. >She slept in your bed. In your arms.
  4087. >You have a girlfriend, but she needed you.
  4088. >You turn your eyes towards the ceiling, towards whatever power your mother always finds there when she's looking for a way to put up with your shit.
  4089. >Trying to find it for yourself, so you can put up with yourself.
  4090. >Live with yourself.
  4091. >You find nothing.
  4092. >Anon has the same look on his face that you probably do.
  4093. >Confusion. Disgust.
  4094. "Uh, you alright there, bro?"
  4095. >You would have.
  4096. >"Yeah, I just...thoughts."
  4097. >Yeah.
  4098. >No.
  4099. >You can't meet his eyes.
  4100. >You look down quickly.
  4101. "What do you think?"
  4102. >That you're scum.
  4103. >A total piece of shit.
  4104. >Worse than Flash Fucking Sentry.
  4105. >He doesn't pretend to love his girls.
  4106. >He just...
  4107. >You're a monster.
  4108. >"What do you mean by that?"
  4109. "About everything."
  4110. >"Did you hurt anyone?"
  4111. >No.
  4112. >You never would.
  4113. >Silver doesn't' deserve that.
  4114. >And Diamond...
  4115. >You shake your head.
  4116. >"Both Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon went along with it, right?"
  4117. >You hesitate.
  4118. >Diamond... well...
  4119. "Silver did."
  4120. >That's as honest as you can be.
  4121. >Anon pauses a moment.
  4122. >Caught by surprise.
  4123. >"How about Diamond?"
  4124. >Yeah, you should have seen that coming.
  4125. "I don't know what to think of her thoughts anymore."
  4126. >Were you the only person she could trust?
  4127. >Or does she feel *safest* with you?
  4128. >Did she act without thinking?
  4129. >Is she... is this whole thing... just a way to get back at... *someone*?
  4130. >Or are you thinking the worst of her because it makes your choice a simple one?
  4131. >"Well, if they were fine with doing the deed, then you shouldn't be beating yourself up about it."
  4132. >You're a monster.
  4133. >"Had they really been against it, you wouldn't be here, right? You'd be in jail or buried in Filthy Rich's secret corpse patch."
  4134. >You want to laugh.
  4135. >You want to scream at the boy.
  4136. >Diamond's father doesn't concern himself with her.
  4137. >You could... do *anything* to her and he wouldn't ever know, let alone care.
  4138. >If anything, you're more worried about Silver's.
  4139. >You're more worried about Silver.
  4140. >"Doubt's only for those with something to fear. What is it you have to be afraid of now?"
  4141. >Silver.
  4142. >Hurting her.
  4143. >What she might do.
  4144. >"If you care about their best interests, and are doing things for their sake, then move forward with it. I know enough about you to tell you aren't evil."
  4145. >That doesn't mean you're not horrible.
  4146. >Not a monster.
  4147. >"You'll figure things well enough on your own."
  4148. >That you care about Silver.
  4149. >You're supposed to.
  4150. >Diamond is... just her friend.
  4151. >Just some girl who needs help.
  4152. >Not your girlfriend.
  4153. >Not someone you love.
  4154. >No one worth dying for.
  4155. >You hold out your hand.
  4156. "Thanks, Anon. I think I've got some things figured out now."
  4157. >No.
  4158. >Not really.
  4159. >But close enough.
  4160. >He's not juggling three girls.
  4161. >You don't want to juggle two.
  4162. >You don't have to.
  4163. >Just Silver.
  4164. >Only Silver.
  4165. >You don't need to be better.
  4166. >You just need to be there for her.
  4167. >Anon takes your hand and you shake.
  4168. >You're done here.
  4169. >”Hey, Anon,” Scootaloo calls out as she runs up to the pair of you. ”I found some people you might want to see.”
  4170. >Time to fuck off.
  4171. >Stop fucking around.
  4172. >Fucking... fuck.
  4173. "Well, it looks like you're busy. I guess this is where I take my exit."
  4174. >You let his hand fall from yours and reach into your pocket for your phone.
  4175. >Time to make some calls.
  4176. >You walk away, waving as you go.
  4177. >”Anon, come on! Sweetie's dying to see you!”
  4178. >Lucky bastard.
  4179. >He has friends to help him and you...
  4180. >You can't get them involved in this.
  4181. >If it was just Silver, that'd be one thing.
  4182. >You'd be enough.
  4183. >But for Diamond...
  4184. >They aren't involved.
  4185. >They don't know her, not like Rarity's sister and those other girls.
  4186. >You have friends, but they aren't *Diamond's* friends.
  4187. >Mom... it's her job. She does this kind of stuff all the time, dealing with runaways and stuff.
  4188. >Doesn't feel like that's enough.
  4189. >You can't just leave her. Can't just abandon her, even if she's not your problem.
  4190. >Even if you do have Silver.
  4191. >Even if she doesn't want you.
  4192. >Whatever you did, whatever reason she had for hanging up on you, she'll forgive you.
  4193. >She always does.
  4194. >You could do anything to that girl, and she's thank you.
  4195. >But Diamond...
  4196. >No one cares about her.
  4197. >No one, except...
  4198. >It's a long shot.
  4199. >You find the store's number online easily enough, but with this storm, of course it'll be closed.
  4200. >You can call tomorrow.
  4201. >You can... dial.
  4202. >What's the worst that'll happen?
  4203. >You hit the button.
  4204. >Either he doesn't answer or -
  4205. >He answers.
  4206. >"Soothing Smokes Tobacco and Curios, how can I help you today?"
  4207. >He answers.
  4208. "Hey, this is Soarin, the guy -"
  4209. >"Oh, Soarin! Yes, yes, I... uh..."
  4210. >You can tell where his hesitation is going.
  4211. >Why are you calling him?
  4212. >And why did he answer?
  4213. >"I hope you're safe," the man eventually says. "I came in early to take care of some things and got caught by the storm. I truly wasn't expecting anything quite like this..."
  4214. "Yeah... me either..."
  4215. >You both share a laugh at yourselves.
  4216. >Not too different, you and he, are you?
  4217. >"How's Diamond?"
  4218. >How'd he know what you were calling about?
  4219. >"I hear through the grapevine that she ran off and her mother..."
  4220. >Yeah.
  4221. >Of course.
  4222. >He's a family friend.
  4223. >Runs in the same circles.
  4224. >Part of the same community as the Riches.
  4225. >"She's with you, isn't she?
  4226. "Yeah, that's what I'm calling about. She's safe, but..."
  4227. >"That *bitch* found her, didn't she?"
  4228. "Yeah."
  4229. >Mr. Smokes sighs. Angrily.
  4230. >"She used to be such a beautiful child," he murmurs. "And now..."
  4231. >He sighs again.
  4232. >"You're looking for help, aren't you? Is that why you called me?"
  4233. "Yes."
  4234. >"I... can't."
  4235. >He wants to.
  4236. >You can hear it in his voice.
  4237. >He wants to help.
  4238. >Who wouldn't?
  4239. >She's in need.
  4240. "You're the only person I know of who cares about her."
  4241. >"What about her friend?" he asks. "What about Silver Spoon?"
  4242. "I... don't think that would be a good idea."
  4243. >Mr. Smokes harrumphs softly.
  4244. >Sighs.
  4245. >You can almost hear him nodding.
  4246. >"You want to keep her out of it. I can understand that. Your fiancé is such a pretty little thing, it would... well, I don't think that *whore* would make a move on her."
  4247. >He sighs again.
  4248. >"Diamond was so beautiful before her mother ruined her."
  4249. "So..."
  4250. >"I can't help her."
  4251. "What."
  4252. >You can't believe that.
  4253. >You just can't.
  4254. "All I need is a place to hide her until..."
  4255. >Until what?
  4256. >Until mom works some kind of miracle?
  4257. >"I can't."
  4258. "But -"
  4259. >"What do you expect me to do? The last time Spoiled caught me with Diamond, she threatened to shoot me on the spot!"
  4260. >Oh.
  4261. "Surely she -"
  4262. >"She wasn't exaggerating. She had a gun."
  4263. "Oh."
  4264. >Oh.
  4265. >Shit.
  4266. >"I hadn't seen that poor girl in years, not until you brought her into my shop."
  4267. >Another sigh.
  4268. >"If I'd known then what I know now... maybe I would have risked it. Maybe I should have. For a parent to do what she's doing, to her own child, it's..."
  4269. >He drifts off, leaving you hanging.
  4270. "... um..."
  4271. >"... disgusting. I..."
  4272. "... what *is* she doing?"
  4273. >Mr. Smokes mouth snaps shut, the sudden silence as loud as an explosion.
  4274. "Please, Diamond wouldn't tell me what happened!"
  4275. >"You... don't know?"
  4276. "No! She just showed up at my house yesterday with a busted-up ankle, covered in bruises. Her clothes were a mess and... and so was she, but she won't tell me *anything*!"
  4277. >"That's best for you."
  4278. "Please... if you won't tell me, then you have to help her. Just hide her for a few days! She trusts -"
  4279. >Does she?
  4280. >Does she trust Mr. Smokes.
  4281. >She ran to you, not him.
  4282. >"It's been too long," the man sighs, "and she's too old now. I bet she hardly remembers me at all."
  4283. >She *did* spend the entire time in his shop holding on to you - or hiding behind you.
  4284. "But... I don't know what to do with her."
  4285. >"I'm sorry.
  4286. "She needs someone to protect her from her mom and I...
  4287. >"I can't."
  4288. "You know what's going on! You have to do something!"
  4289. >"If I do, she'll kill me. One way or another."
  4290. "Then... go to the police?"
  4291. >"I can't. Even assuming she isn't 'paying' them off -"
  4292. >He's hinting at something.
  4293. >Knowingly or not, he's hinting at *something*.
  4294. >Corruption? Bribery?
  4295. >You expected that.
  4296. "Then find an honest cop."
  4297. >"I can't."
  4298. "*I* can't! Because I don't know what happened! You - you act like you know exactly what's happening, so -"
  4299. >"I feel bad about this, I really do, but I *can't*."
  4300. "Don't you care about her?"
  4301. >"I did."
  4302. >You -
  4303. >Fuck him.
  4304. > - hang up.
  4305. >You want to do more than that.
  4306. >You want to hit him. Hurt him.
  4307. >You want to drive to the mall right now and *hurt* him.
  4308. >You - you're going home.
  4309. >No, you're... no. There was something, but you've forgotten whatever it was.
  4310. >Doesn't seem very important right now.
  4311. >You're going home.
  4312. >Someone has to care about that girl.
  4313.  
  4314. >You are Silver Spoon and you try not to make any noise.
  4315. >The wind and rain outside are doing more than enough for the both of you.
  4316. >For you and your father.
  4317. >He's given up talking to you, and not just because the storm makes it almost impossible to hear each other.
  4318. >Not just because the servants are nearby - huddled at the other end of the windowless room.
  4319. >No, you won't give up Soarin.
  4320. >You *won't*.
  4321. >He may hate you, but you still love him.
  4322. >You hope he can take a hint.
  4323. >Stay away until business concerns pull your father's attention from you.
  4324. >You can... always...
  4325. >... *find* a way to make him love you again.
  4326. >You weren't his first.
  4327. >It... it won't matter if you aren't his...
  4328. >So long as you're his last.
  4329. >You can wait.
  4330. >You can win him back.
  4331. >You just have to be patient.
  4332. >No matter what you have to do.
  4333.  
  4334. >You are Soarin and you're a suicidal idiot.
  4335. >Smart enough to recognize you aren't the safest driver, but dumb enough to go out in this weather.
  4336. >It's a miracle you make it home alive.
  4337. >Cloudy was right, but not today.
  4338. >You make it home alive, without crashing or even running a single stop sign.
  4339. >It's too dangerous to be reckless - or any more than you already are for leaving the school in this weather.
  4340. >That was stupid.
  4341. >Diamond needs you, but she doesn't need you dead.
  4342. >It could have waited.
  4343. >You could have... could have picked a fight with someone.
  4344. >Found some little shit that needed a good beating and worked out your anger at school.
  4345. >Instead...
  4346. >You're home.
  4347. >You half expect mom to throw something at your head as soon as you step inside - she wanted you gone, after all - but you don't even see her.
  4348. >It's the storm.
  4349. >She didn't hear you pull up.
  4350. >Or open the door.
  4351. >Or - apparently - cautiously call out her name.
  4352. >She's here, though.
  4353. >Has to be.
  4354. >Her car was still parked in the driveway.
  4355. >She's probably -
  4356. >No, your room is empty.
  4357. >Umm...
  4358. >Right.
  4359. >Tornado warning.
  4360. >Laundry room.
  4361. >That's where you find them, in the only room in the house without windows or exterior walls.
  4362. >Mom's -
  4363. >"Soarin, *what* are you doing here? I told you to stay at school!"
  4364. >- yeah. That.
  4365. >She's pissed.
  4366. >"You could have gotten yourself killed!"
  4367. >She jumps up from floor and wraps her arms around you in a tackle that nearly throws you off your feet.
  4368. >Forget the storm, you just got a direct hit from Hurricane Mama Bear.
  4369. "It wasn't that bad."
  4370. >"You're soaked!"
  4371. "Well, yeah... it's kinda raining out there."
  4372. >Mom grabs a towel off of a nearby shelf and shoves it into your hands - and tries to scrub you down with it at the same time.
  4373. >It doesn't quite work how you think she thought it would work.
  4374. >That it to say doesn't work at all.
  4375. >Diamond...
  4376. >She's buried under a small fortress of spare linens and towels, sandwiched between the dryer and the now-empty shelves for clean... well, for all the stuff that's piled all around her.
  4377. >Probably put their by your mom to keep her safe.
  4378. >And she's laughing.
  4379. >Almost.
  4380. >She starts to.
  4381. >Maliciously.
  4382. >At you.
  4383. >Her lip starts to curl.
  4384. >Her eyes take on a dark and bitter expression.
  4385. >And then she looks away.
  4386. >Falls silent.
  4387. >Burrows into her little fortress.
  4388. >In between attempted fussings, you break free of the hurricane and step back, though you have to abandon the towel.
  4389. "I see you got her to come out."
  4390. >Mom pauses.
  4391. >You broke her train of thought.
  4392. >Just as planned.
  4393. >She turns back to look at the girl who won't meet her eyes.
  4394. >"Yeah... we... um... let's step outside, Soarin."
  4395. >She doesn't give you much choice.
  4396. >Safest room in the house or not, she pushes you out of it, into the kitchen.
  4397. >She mumbles something to Diamond before stepping out after you and closing the door.
  4398. >"Here," mom says, handing you the towel with a sigh. "Dry yourself off. You're getting water everywhere."
  4399. "Back to work mode?"
  4400. >She sighs again and nods.
  4401. >"We can't keep her here, but... I tried calling my boss at home and..."
  4402. "No answer?"
  4403. >"No, he answered alright," mom scowls, "but the bastard refuses to do anything!"
  4404. >Fucker.
  4405. "Well... with the storm...?"
  4406. >"No, he said Mrs. Rich is a major donor for the agency and I have to give that poor girl to her mother as soon as the storm's over!"
  4407. "Why!?"
  4408. >Mom shakes her head - or is trembling with rage.
  4409. >Hard to tell, sometimes.
  4410. >You think she's gotten good at playing off the later as the former.
  4411. >"He thinks this is all some misunderstanding - or that the girl is trying to cause trouble."
  4412. "He *what*? She's... I mean... just..."
  4413. >"I can *almost* see where he's coming from," mom sighs. "I'm in section 2 so I didn't know, just rumors, but he's had to deal with her... *shenanigans*."
  4414. "Her what?"
  4415. >"His word, not mine."
  4416. "Still -"
  4417. >"She's a bully, Soarin."
  4418. "I... know."
  4419. >That's how this whole fucking thing started.
  4420. >"There have been some... *incidents*. Hazing that went too far. Kids have gotten hurt."
  4421. "So?"
  4422. >"One attempted suicide."
  4423. "So you think -"
  4424. >You get The Look.
  4425. >"I think she needs help. If those idiots in section 1 had passed any of this on to us, maybe we could have done something sooner."
  4426. >She does that little shake of her head again.
  4427. >"People aren't just... like this. There's always a cause."
  4428. "You think...?"
  4429. >You don't know what she thinks.
  4430. >Not the specifics.
  4431. >"Whatever Mrs. Rich is doing, it isn't just hurting her daughter. It's hurting everyone that poor girl deals with...
  4432. >"And unless we can find someone close to the family willing to come forward, it isn't going to stop.
  4433. >"Without someone to testify on Diamond's behalf, my boss is going to assume she's just trying to cause trouble again - or maybe some other kids saw an opportunity to get revenge."
  4434. "That's bullshit."
  4435. >"I know," Mom sighs breathlessly.
  4436. >Her shoulders slump, but not in defeat. Not out of despair.
  4437. >She's so angry, she's worn herself out.
  4438. >"If you know anyone, Soarin... or... if you know anything - if you've *seen* anything I can take to him as evidence she's being abused, I need it."
  4439.  
  4440. >The weather's not as bad as earlier.
  4441. >Still not great.
  4442. >You still shouldn't be driving in this.
  4443. >Mom didn't stop you, though.
  4444. >She trusts you.
  4445. >Believes in you.
  4446. >That didn't stop her, though, not from giving you a tight hug and telling you to be safe.
  4447. >You returned her embrace and now - now you're here.
  4448. >In your car.
  4449. >On the road in one of the worst storms you've ever seen.
  4450. >Headed towards the mall.
  4451. >Your backpack is on the passenger seat beside you.
  4452. >Funny, you thought you had taken it into the house.
  4453. >You certainly don't remember bringing it out with you.
  4454. >It doesn't matter.
  4455. >You're halfway to your destination before you even realized it was here.
  4456. >That you still have Silver's knife with you.
  4457. >Were you planning to carry it around all day?
  4458. >You have to.
  4459. >It meant so much to her that when you have to.
  4460. >You can't leave it sitting in your car.
  4461. >When you pull into the nearly empty parking lot, it's not hard to find a spot close to a door.
  4462. >Looks like the only people here are the ones that got trapped by the storm: night security, folks who showed up too early this morning, some trucks that had been making deliveries.
  4463. >You grab the backpack, lock the car behind you, and sprint.
  4464. >It doesn't help.
  4465. >You still get soaked.
  4466. >Then again, you already were.
  4467. >You don't realize it until you reach for the door handle - but the mall is closed.
  4468. >In this weather, why wouldn't it be?
  4469. >Only a handful of lights are on inside.
  4470. >The doors are probably -
  4471. >Unlocked.
  4472. >Oh.
  4473. >Good.
  4474. >You slip inside, into the interior that's somehow darker than the blackened skies outside.
  4475. >The shops are all locked and shuttered.
  4476. >Only the overhead lights are on, and even then only every third or so.
  4477. >You don't exactly stop to count.
  4478. >The escalators aren't working either.
  4479. >Why would they be?
  4480. >There aren't any shoppers.
  4481. >Just you.
  4482. >You take the steps two at a time.
  4483. >All the way up to the fourth floor.
  4484. >It leaves even you breathless.
  4485. >Soccer is good cardio, but not that good.
  4486. >You have to take a breather by the cafe.
  4487. >Not long; there's no reason to linger.
  4488. >The place is dead and dark, but you're not here for that man anyway.
  4489. >He might know something, but...
  4490. >You don't think he'd ever speak out against Mrs. Rich, even if he did.
  4491. >Once you've caught your breath, you keep going.
  4492. >It's not far to the only light on this level.
  4493. >He's still here.
  4494. >The door is unlocked.
  4495. >Mr. Smokes looks up from the can on the counter and sighs.
  4496. >"Come on in," he mumbles with a wave of his hand. "I was just about to head to the party, but..."
  4497. >Another sigh.
  4498. "Party?"
  4499. >"All the other poor bastards stuck here. They're down on the first floor. Irons opened up his grill for us, but..."
  4500. >Mr. Smokes shrugs.
  4501. >"... I'm not really in the mood."
  4502. >He plays with his can, sliding it across the counter back and forth between his hands.
  4503. >"You're here to convince me to come forward."
  4504. >There's no question, no uncertainty.
  4505. "Yeah."
  4506. >Mr. Smokes nods sadly.
  4507. >"I want to help her, I really do."
  4508. "Then do it."
  4509. >His smile is the second most heartrending thing you've seen today.
  4510. >Doesn't even compare to Diamond.
  4511. >"I can't."
  4512. "Do it anyway."
  4513. >Mr. Smokes stands, though it takes a bit of effort, and raises his can in a weak salute.
  4514. >"I admire your spirit," he laughs - *tries* to laugh. "But you don't know what that woman can do."
  4515. "Like what?"
  4516. >He doesn't respond, but shuffles around the counter.
  4517. >"There's no customers anyway," he slurs as he locks the shop's door. "Let's... have a chat in the back room."
  4518. "... fine."
  4519. >You can hear the wind outside, the occasional creak and groan from the building.
  4520. >The storm doesn't show any signs of letting up... so...
  4521. >You follow the man behind the counter, through the doorway into a slightly larger room.
  4522. >Cartons fill the shelves on one side - and are stack neatly against the wall on the other.
  4523. >The far wall has a small refrigerator and an even smaller table.
  4524. >Two chairs, though.
  4525. >"Want a beer?" Mr. Smokes asks as he carefully settles himself into the seat nearest the refrigerator.
  4526. "No... uh..."
  4527. >"I'm nearly out, but..."
  4528. >You can tell.
  4529. >There are empty cans on the table.
  4530. >Fresh.
  4531. >There's still condensation dripping down their sides.
  4532. >"... you sure?"
  4533. "I'm not old enough."
  4534. >Not that it's ever stopped you before, but...
  4535. >You barely know the guy. He's an adult.
  4536. >There's a difference between this and getting wasted with Spitfire and your other friends.
  4537. >"So?" he asks, pulling open the refrigerator door and grabbing two new cans. "You don't look like the kind of guy to blindly follow the law."
  4538. "Well, no, but..."
  4539. >"It's so... blind. Everything depends on the individual, like with you and your fiancé."
  4540. "What does that mean?"
  4541. >"She's too young for you, right?"
  4542. "She's... uh... she's mature for her age."
  4543. >"Exactly. Everything depends on the individuals. After all, you love her and she loves you back."
  4544. "Y-yeah."
  4545. >And yet here you are.
  4546. >At some shop at the mall, instead of with her.
  4547. >"The law says what you're doing is wrong, but... there's no harm in it. You never hurt her, have you?"
  4548. "Of course not!"
  4549. >Mr. Smokes chuckles briefly and sets one can in front of the empty seat.
  4550. >"Have a drink, Soarin. I sympathize with you, I honestly do, but I want you to try to see things from my point of view - and right now, that's drunk."
  4551. >You...
  4552. >Fuck it.
  4553. >It's been a hell of a day.
  4554. "Thanks, man."
  4555. >You sit and let your backpack slide off your shoulder.
  4556. >It hits the floor with a thud.
  4557. >"You look like you need it."
  4558. "Probably."
  4559. >You grab the can and pop it open.
  4560. >"I know I certain do," Mr. Smokes mumbles into the open mouth of drink. "Between the storm and this whole thing with Spoiled..."
  4561. >He looks like he needs a drink. Another one.
  4562. >"I know, this seems like it's all my fault. Spoiled never looked at her daughter that way until I gave her a reason to."
  4563. "That... uh..."
  4564. >You don't even know how that sounds, just that it doesn't sound good.
  4565. >Dude's drunk.
  4566. >He probably doesn't mean it like that, whatever 'that' is.
  4567. >"But really," he sighs, "she would have sooner or later anyway."
  4568. "Would have what?"
  4569. >"Started hurting Diamond."
  4570. "So... she... what? Beats her?"
  4571. >"Diamond used to be such a beautiful little girl," Mr. Smokes mumbles. "So gentle and loving."
  4572. >He smirks, though the expression is dulled by alcohol and sadness.
  4573. >"A little... headstrong, but... that bitch ruined her."
  4574. >You're never going to get a straight answer from anyone today, that seems like a given, so you drink.
  4575. >Give him time to work out what he's going to say.
  4576. >And if he never gets around to it...
  4577. >You've got options.
  4578. >"But before that... she was quite like that fiancé of yours. So in awe of anything and everything that caught her interest."
  4579. "I... uh..."
  4580. >"Oh, come on," Mr. Smokes chuckles, "I saw the way she looks at you."
  4581. "Yeah, she can get a little focused..."
  4582. >To put it mildly.
  4583. >Shit.
  4584. >What did she find to obsess over today?
  4585. >"I'm surprised you're here instead of with her."
  4586. "Well..."
  4587. >Yeah.
  4588. >You too.
  4589. >Hadn't you decided you needed to be with her?
  4590. >Just... like... an hour ago?
  4591. >Instead here you are.
  4592. >Mr. Smokes takes a sip from his can - and sets it down hard. Probably harder than he intended.
  4593. >He almost looks startled.
  4594. "You -"
  4595. >"Diamond's forgotten how to do that, you know."
  4596. " - okay...? How to what?"
  4597. >"How to love something without hating and hurting it."
  4598. >He sighs deeply.
  4599. >"And it's all my fault."
  4600. "Didn't you just say -"
  4601. >"I know what I said," Mr. Smokes says bluntly, "but maybe I could have stopped it.
  4602. >"I loved Diamond, but when that bitch grabbed Filthy's hunting rifle and threatened to shoot me..."
  4603. >He sighs and wipes at his eyes with the back of his hand.
  4604. >"... maybe if I'd stuck around, this wouldn't be happening."
  4605. "She... what? Threatened to kill you because... *why*? Because you were being nice to Diamond?"
  4606. >"Yes."
  4607. >Fucking crazy bitch.
  4608. >You can believe it, too, judging from Diamond's behavior.
  4609. >The way she tried to sabotage you and Silver, despite everything.
  4610. >What you can't believe is that this man would just take it.
  4611. >He should have done something.
  4612. "Why didn't you tell anyone!?"
  4613. >"I couldn't."
  4614. "Why not!? So what if she was threatening you?"
  4615. >"You don't get it."
  4616. "No, of course not! You could have gone to the police! *She's* the crazy lady with the gun! She'd be the one going to jail, not you!"
  4617. >Mr. Smokes shakes his head slowly and leans forward over the table.
  4618. >"Like I said, I want you to see this from my point of view."
  4619. "I'm trying, but -"
  4620. >"If anything happened to me, think of what that poor girl would have gone through."
  4621. "Couldn't be as bad as what she's going through now."
  4622. >"Maybe," he admits with a slight shrug," or maybe not."
  4623. >He stops. Pauses. Thinks - or tries to.
  4624. >"How would... how would your fiance feel if she lost you forever?"
  4625. >Crushed.
  4626. >Devastated.
  4627. >You hope.
  4628. >No, that's a horrible thing to wish for.
  4629. "I... don't know."
  4630. >"Yes, you do."
  4631. "She'd get over it."
  4632. >You... *want* to hope.
  4633. >"Maybe," Mr. Smokes sighs. "Maybe not. You don't know. And I... I didn't know it would be like this.
  4634. >"I thought... maybe it's for the best. I'd miss Diamond and she'd certainly miss me, but maybe... maybe Spoiled was finally taking an interest in her own child's life.
  4635. >"That's what would have been best for Diamond, I suppose, or at least... that's the thought that let me give her up.
  4636. >"I never thought it would turn out like this."
  4637. >He wipes at his eyes again.
  4638. >"We think we know, but we don't. You assume your fiancé would get over you eventually... but... would she?"
  4639. >Probably not.
  4640. >Then again, she hung up on you.
  4641. >You don't know anymore.
  4642. >"Diamond was such a beautiful little girl... and... I was willing to leave her because I *thought* - for a moment - that her mother actually cared about her.
  4643. >"Mistaken about the whole situation, of course, but that maybe she cared. For once in her fucking life!
  4644. >"But no, that cunt was just jealous!"
  4645. >"I thought I'd woken up her maternal instinct, but I was *wrong*!"
  4646. >Mr. Smokes slams his can into the table, sending empties tumbling.
  4647. >"Do you know what that fucking slut does to Diamond now!?"
  4648. >You shake your head.
  4649. "No. That's why I'm here."
  4650. >You've seen grown men cry.
  4651. >A friend's dad at his wife's funeral.
  4652. >Your coach when you won the championship.
  4653. >Dad, when he stubbed his toe.
  4654. >Never has it made you look away like this.
  4655. >This is just...
  4656. >You want to say it's pathetic, but... would you be any different?
  4657. >You spent *how* long trying to decide if you should go home or go to Silver's?
  4658. >And then you ended up *here*.
  4659. "This is your chance to make a stand."
  4660. >To make the right choice, you want to say, but... would it be?
  4661. >"I can't."
  4662. >Dude has his reasons.
  4663. >Something that's stopping him from doing what he wants to do, that makes him uncertain *what* he wants to do.
  4664. >"I can't help her. What if I make the wrong choice again? What if Spoiled... she *has* rules. If I make her angry, she might *not*."
  4665. "You think she'd... what? Hurt Diamond to punish you?"
  4666. >Mr. Smokes nods.
  4667. >"Isn't that what she's doing right now? Either that or... or she *enjoys* it."
  4668. "Hurting Diamond?"
  4669. >You haven't seen any evidence of that, not from before last night.
  4670. >No evidence of her hurting -
  4671. >No, you have.
  4672. >Those pills.
  4673. >She had them before.
  4674. >She's had them for who knows how long.
  4675. "She's hurting Diamond, isn't she?"
  4676. >Mr. Smokes nods.
  4677. >"She's - she's *whoring* her out to all those lowlifes!"
  4678. >She -
  4679. >No.
  4680. >Wait.
  4681. >He can't -
  4682. >"They don't love her!" Smokes screams. "They just want to fuck a little girl!
  4683. >"What kind of parent would enjoy doing that to her own child? It's *sick*!"
  4684. "She *what*?"
  4685. >You're... going to kill someone.
  4686. >You're pretty sure you're going to kill someone.
  4687. >Probably her.
  4688. >Probably soon.
  4689. >Possibly sooner.
  4690. >Possibly him.
  4691. >He's lying.
  4692. >That can't be true.
  4693. >This is bullshit.
  4694. >You're leaving before you do anything you'll regret.
  4695. >This is FUCKING BULLSHIT.
  4696. >You reach down and grab the strap of your backpack.
  4697. >Even she wouldn't do -
  4698. >"Anyone she wants a favor from!"
  4699. >This is bullshit.
  4700. >This can't be real.
  4701. >"Oh, she has her 'rules' - one at a time, no hurting the poor girl, no -"
  4702. "Stop. Stop it. This -"
  4703. >"Like Dozen!"
  4704. >He waves his beer, gesturing away from his shop.
  4705. >Towards the... towards the cafe.
  4706. >"Because she wanted to meet *you*, he probably got a chance to rape her too!"
  4707. "What...?"
  4708. >No.
  4709. >That's -
  4710. >No. Just no.
  4711. >"*Of course* she want to talk someplace 'safe'! Goddamn bitch is paranoid that anyone will find out what she's up to!
  4712. >"Fucking WHORE like to pretend she's playing nice, but she has leverage over everyone - particularly that FUCKING ASSHOLE!"
  4713. "Everyone...?"
  4714. >Is there... *no one*?
  4715. >No one you can turn to for help?
  4716. >"YES! Fucking EVERYONE!"
  4717. "Even you...?"
  4718. >Even you?
  4719. >"Y-yes," Mr. Smokes sob. "Even us."
  4720. >You...
  4721. "No. I... no. I haven't done anything wrong."
  4722. >Not - not *really*.
  4723. >"How old is your fiance?"
  4724. "She's..."
  4725. >"She's underage."
  4726. "I..."
  4727. >You only did what she wanted.
  4728. >That's all.
  4729. >"Exactly."
  4730. >You shake your head.
  4731. >Tighten your hand around your backpack's strap until it *hurts*.
  4732. "No, I didn't do anything wrong."
  4733. >"Neither did I," Mr. Smokes mumbles. "And yet..."
  4734. >He throws his hands up in surrender, his head back to laugh bitterly.
  4735. >"And *yet* here we fucking are!
  4736. >"Diamond was a good girl! So sweet and innocent and *she* took that from her, not me!"
  4737. "Then..."
  4738. >He didn't do anything wrong.
  4739. >She doesn't have any leverage.
  4740. >She doesn't have anything on him - or on you.
  4741. "... this is your chance. Come forward and -"
  4742. >"And *what*? Go to jail?"
  4743. "But -"
  4744. >"What if you're right? What if Spoiled *does* get what she fucking deserves? Who will be there for Diamond if I'm in jail too?"
  4745. "Why would you go to jail!? She -"
  4746. >"She has *leverage*! She knows things!"
  4747. "Wait, wait, calm down -"
  4748. >He doesn't listen.
  4749. >"It's not fair! I *never* did anything wrong!"
  4750. >Yeah, you didn't think that would work.
  4751. >You're not feeling particularly calm, yourself.
  4752. >"I *never* touched anyone who didn't want me to!"
  4753. "Wait."
  4754. >He - *does*.
  4755. >However you said it, it works.
  4756. >The man's mouth snaps shut.
  4757. >His eyes focus on you, instead of staring off into the distance.
  4758. "*What* did you say?"
  4759. >"I - I -," he stammers, "I never touched anyone who didn't want me to. Diamond - she - she loved me. And I loved her."
  4760. >He looks around wildly, looking for - for... for what?
  4761. >"I didn't do anything wrong. Like... like you and Silver Spoon. It's... it's all about the person, right?
  4762. >"Not the laws. They... they don't mean anything."
  4763. >You would stand up. Leave.
  4764. >You've already got your backpack in your hand - though you can barely feel the strap cutting into your palm anymore.
  4765. >You would.
  4766. >But.
  4767. >"It's no different, Soarin," Smokes says. "It's the same thing. We loved each other."
  4768. "What..."
  4769. >Wait.
  4770. >He.
  4771. >He...
  4772. >Mrs. Rich pulled a gun on him.
  4773. >Threatened to kill him.
  4774. >He...
  4775. "What did you *do*?"
  4776. >"I loved her, Soarin, you have to understand that. I would *never* have done anything to hurt Diamond."
  4777. "*What* did you *do*?"
  4778. >"I - I loved her. Not like... not like *that*! I'm not a *rapist*, Soarin! I *loved* her!"
  4779. >You think he says other things.
  4780. >Diamond was beautiful. Innocent.
  4781. >It's all her mother's fault.
  4782. >The mother who threatened to kill him if he went near her daughter again.
  4783. >It's all her fault.
  4784. >Somehow.
  4785. >You don't believe that.
  4786. >You don't believe *how* that could be true.
  4787. >And yet -
  4788. >He keeps talking.
  4789. >Trying to convince you?
  4790. >Or himself?
  4791. >You probably only catch one word out of every two or three he says.
  4792. >"We're not that different, you and I! We're good people, just -"
  4793. "What did you do to her?"
  4794. >"Nothing she didn't want me to," Smokes answers earnestly. "I *never* would have done anything to her that she didn't want."
  4795. >Was she... trying to escape from her mother?
  4796. >Obviously.
  4797. >To be with him?
  4798. >Is that...?
  4799. >No.
  4800. >She came to *you*.
  4801. >She didn't go to him.
  4802. >She hid behind *you*.
  4803. >Not him.
  4804. >"You have to believe me, Soarin, I only did what was best for -"
  4805. "How old was she?"
  4806. >"Age is just -"
  4807. "How old!?"
  4808.  
  4809. >You've hurt people before.
  4810. >Sometimes accidentally, sometimes on purpose.
  4811. >Some who deserved it, some who didn't.
  4812. >People you thought were hurting your friends.
  4813. >Opponents who got in your way and the wrong time.
  4814. >Guys who just needed to go down so you could win a game.
  4815. >Sometimes it was when you were angry. That felt satisfying.
  4816. >Sometimes it was when they deserved it. That felt righteous.
  4817. >Hurting someone never felt as good as it does right now.
  4818. >And yet you feel hollow.
  4819. >Not guilty, not like you had after hitting Caramel, but *hollow*.
  4820. >He's right.
  4821. >You're not so different, are you?
  4822. >You've never done anything to Silver that she didn't want, right?
  4823. >What's a few years' difference?
  4824. >You throw your backpack into your car - and yourself a second later.
  4825. >It smashes into the far door with a sound that would make you shudder if you weren't already slamming your hands against your steering wheel in frustration and anger.
  4826.  
  4827. >You sigh and reach for the bag, though you already know what you're going to find.
  4828. >*Because* you know what you're going to find.
  4829. >You unzip it and splinters of wood fall out.
  4830. >Just like you expected.
  4831. >Shit.
  4832. >Fucking *shit*.
  4833. >You should have...
  4834. >You don't know.
  4835. >You don't fucking know.
  4836. >It was already broken before you got in the car.
  4837. >You can't make shit any worse than it already is.
  4838. >Not this, anyway.
  4839. >There are plenty of other things you could -
  4840. >No.
  4841. >You throw the backpack into the backseat.
  4842. >Fuck it.
  4843. >There's nothing you can do to fix it.
  4844. >At least the knife itself is fine.
  4845. >Mostly.
  4846. >Silver won't notice.
  4847. >You look back over your shoulder.
  4848. >Turn back forward.
  4849. >Sigh.
  4850. >Let your forehead hit the top of the steering wheel.
  4851. >Sigh again.
  4852. >Deeper, this time.
  4853. >And a third time - you try - *try* to take it in.
  4854. >Hold.
  4855. >It all comes out in a rush.
  4856. >So.
  4857. >You're a criminal.
  4858. >Not just now.
  4859. >That seems... inconsequential.
  4860. >He deserved it.
  4861. >Fucking pedo fucking *deserved* it.
  4862. >And what about you?
  4863. >What do you deserve?
  4864. >Whatever that is, you can't let it happen. Not yet.
  4865. >If you were smart - and you've never fucking claimed to be smart - you would have beaten a confession out of that piece of shit.
  4866. >Maybe it would have been enough, but you won't fucking know, will you!?
  4867. >And it's not like you can go the fuck back inside and fucking do it *now*, can you?
  4868. >You fucked that up.
  4869. >Worse than Caramel.
  4870. >Diamond still needs your help.
  4871. >And Silver...
  4872. >You look back at the bag again.
  4873. >Yeah.
  4874. >You fucked that up, too.
  4875.  
  4876. >You are Silver Spoon and you think - *maybe* - things are getting better.
  4877. >At least... *outside*.
  4878. >In here?
  4879. >You're not so sure.
  4880. >The servants have gone back to their tasks - though none are venturing outside yet.
  4881. >A few seem to be finding quite a lot of work to be done near here.
  4882. >None remain in the room itself.
  4883. >Just you and your father.
  4884. >He's turned the radio down, dull enough not to interrupt his reading.
  4885. >Between them, he's not paying much attention to you.
  4886. >Neither is your mother.
  4887. >She finally joined you two, but is glued to her laptop screen.
  4888. >Things to do, you suppose.
  4889. >Charities to sponsor.
  4890. >Events to plan.
  4891. >Daughters to ignore.
  4892. >You can't bring yourself to feel bitter right now.
  4893. >Your father hasn't brought up the events of this morning, not to you and not to her.
  4894. >They both have their own concerns.
  4895. >On the one hand, that's good. *And* you have your phone back.
  4896. >On the other... this feels like a trap.
  4897. >For you, or Soarin?
  4898. >You've resisted calling or texting, begging him to come rescue you, to reassure you, to love you.
  4899. >He does.
  4900. >He will.
  4901. >You *hope* he will.
  4902. >Tomorrow.
  4903. >Perhaps the day after.
  4904. >As long as you can wait.
  4905. >It would be safer.
  4906.  
  4907. >You are Soarin and you have an idea.
  4908. >A stupid idea.
  4909. >Maybe your stupidest yet - and over your nineteen years, you've had some *very* stupid ideas.
  4910. >Soothing Smokes isn't the only one who knows what's happening to Diamond.
  4911. >He can't be.
  4912. >There's the owner of the cafe, but his shop was dark and you don't know where he lives.
  4913. >He probably wouldn't say anything anyway.
  4914. >His customers?
  4915. >You've finally put it all together.
  4916. >Congratulating you, saying Diamond and Silver were a little old, complaining that Mr. Smokes and Mrs. Rich are tearing their community apart...
  4917. >You don't know who they are.
  4918. >You don't know where to find them.
  4919. >Diamond doesn't have time for you to wait until tomorrow, to try to ambush them at the cafe.
  4920. >Neither do you.
  4921. >The storm is dying down.
  4922. >Soon, you won't be the only idiot out on the roads.
  4923. >Soon mom is going to have to call that bitch and hand over Diamond.
  4924. >There's Mrs. Rich herself.
  4925. >You could...
  4926. >Could what?
  4927. >Wait for her at home?
  4928. >Beat a confession out of her while Diamond watches?
  4929. >Tempting.
  4930. >So very, *very* tempting, but...
  4931. >You're not that stupid.
  4932. >Tomorrow's headlines wouldn't read "Rich Pedo Gets What She Deserves."
  4933. >They'd say something about a high school athlete with temper problems going on a rampage.
  4934. >Smokes isn't going to do anything, but *her*?
  4935. >Yeah.
  4936. >Mom wouldn't let you kill someone, even if they do deserve it.
  4937. >You're smart enough to know that.
  4938. >Also smart enough to know there's one more person who has to know about this, one way or another.
  4939. >Someone close enough to Diamond to testify about... *something*.
  4940. >Parental neglect at the very least.
  4941. >Possible abuse.
  4942. >Maybe...
  4943. >Other things.
  4944. >Maybe Silver will make the connections once she knows what's been happening, like you did.
  4945. >She's smarter than you.
  4946. >It won't take her long.
  4947. >She'll... she'll save Diamond.
  4948. >Somehow.
  4949. >If she wants to.
  4950. >You *aren't* entirely sure she will.
  4951. >Maybe, though.
  4952. >And maybe... maybe you just hope she answers.
  4953. >You lean to one side and pull your phone from your back pocket.
  4954. >Maybe she will.
  4955. >You dial - and wait.
  4956. >No answer.
  4957.  
  4958. >You are Silver Spoon and you just stare at your phone.
  4959. >It buzzes again.
  4960. >"Are you going to answer that?" your father asks.
  4961. >You want to.
  4962. >So very much, you want to.
  4963. "No."
  4964. >It's a trap.
  4965. >It was a mistake to turn it back on - one you fix. Now.
  4966. >Before he can call you again.
  4967. >Next time, you might not be able to stop yourself from answering.
  4968. >What would you tell him?
  4969. >You love him?
  4970. >That your father knows?
  4971. >To run while he can?
  4972. >You don't want him to.
  4973. >You don't want him to leave you.
  4974. >You want - you *need* him to hold you right now.
  4975. >To reassure you that everything is okay, even though it isn't and *never* will be.
  4976. >You thought you could wait.
  4977. >You thought - you thought a great many things, but when it comes down to it... you're insane.
  4978. >Greedy.
  4979. >Childish.
  4980. >You want your cake and to eat it, too, even in the face of reality.
  4981. >Soarin should stay away.
  4982. >That's why you don't turn your phone back on.
  4983. >That's why you find a book and - like always - pretend this all doesn't bother you.
  4984. >Everything is... it's not *fine*, but it doesn't matter.
  4985. >Nothing matters.
  4986. >You know this.
  4987. >Things were never going to go the way you hoped.
  4988. >Your parents have a plan for you and Soarin isn't part of it.
  4989. >Nor Cloudy, or Blossomforth, or...
  4990. >Barely even Diamond. Barely.
  4991. >Without her, without that one piece of freedom... maybe you could give up.
  4992. >You'd stop skipping school. That would make them happy, at least.
  4993. >And your grades have been suffering. Not because of Soarin, of course, but... *her*.
  4994. >You'd just go through the motions until... until what?
  4995. >Until after high school? Until after you get your masters?
  4996. >Would Soarin still want you in ten or fifteen years?
  4997. >Maybe.
  4998. >Maybe you could hope.
  4999. >Maybe you'd be better off without her.
  5000.  
  5001. >You are Soarin and you make another phone call.
  5002. >It's not enough, but you have something for mom.
  5003. >Justification for not letting her go, if not the proof she needs.
  5004. >Or maybe...
  5005. >"Soarin!? Did you find - I mean, you're okay, right?"
  5006. "Yes, I'm fine."
  5007. >You're not the one who took a backpack upside the head.
  5008. >"Good. Did you find -"
  5009. "Mom. Stop. That cafe, the one at the mall... it's... it's what I think it is, isn't it?"
  5010. >"That... um..."
  5011. >There's a moment of near silence, until you can hear a door close.
  5012. >"... that depends on what you think it is."
  5013. >Neutral tone again, trying not to lead you anywhere.
  5014. >Trying not to influence your testimony.
  5015. "Mom, the owner is a pedophile, isn't he?"
  5016. >"That's... possible."
  5017. "The customers, too."
  5018. >She remains quiet.
  5019. "And the smoke shop a few stores down..."
  5020. >"Is... is that where you went?"
  5021. "Yeah. The owner, he... uh... he claimed to be a friend of the family. I thought..."
  5022. >"What?"
  5023. "... well... I..."
  5024. >"What, Soarin?"
  5025. "... I... I thought..."
  5026. >Just say it!"
  5027. "... I never thought her own mother would be whoring her out to every fucking pedophile in town!"
  5028. >To her credit, she doesn't break down like you did. She doesn't disbelieve you, like you had Smokes.
  5029. >She just stays silent for the longest time, until - eventually - she murmurs one, soft word.
  5030. >"Shit."
  5031. "I - I don't know if it's true, but -"
  5032. >"I can't give that poor girl back to her mom."
  5033. "No, you can't."
  5034. >She sighs. Sadly, not angrily.
  5035. >Resigned, not furious.
  5036. "You... uh... I expected you to be madder about... um..."
  5037. >What's the polite way to say your friend was being used by a fucktoy by half the perverts in town - and the other half were just waiting their fucking turn?
  5038. >You're pretty goddamn sure there's no way to say that politely.
  5039. >Like... no fucking way at fucking all.
  5040. >Ever.
  5041. "You forget, Soarin," mom sighs, "this is my job. I wish I could say this was the first time I've seen something like this."
  5042. >She pauses.
  5043. >Yeah, she doesn't mean like this. Not *exactly* like this.
  5044. >You can hear her making the correction in her head before she -
  5045. >"I really wish I could."
  5046. >She... didn't.
  5047. >She didn't correct herself.
  5048. >She...
  5049. >Fuck.
  5050. >You don't know how she does it without killing everyone.
  5051. >"Anyway, this family friend, will he come forward?"
  5052. "He... uh... he can't."
  5053. >That's the breaking point.
  5054. >That's when mom finally loses her temper.
  5055. >You can *hear* her snap, even before she screams "Why the fuck not!?"
  5056. "Because..."
  5057. >Because you fucking slammed his head against the fucking wall?
  5058. >Yeah, that might be a good reason.
  5059. >Not the only reason, though.
  5060. >Certainly not the biggest.
  5061. "He's one of them."
  5062. >*That* reason won't get you yelled at.
  5063. >"Shit!"
  5064. >She's still yelling, but not *at* you.
  5065. "He... um... he wasn't part of the groups Diamond's mom..."
  5066. >Is that even the right term for her?
  5067. "... that *bitch* -"
  5068. >His terminology seems more appropriate.
  5069. "- let... um..."
  5070. >"Rape her?"
  5071. "Yeah."
  5072. >That.
  5073. >It can be surprisingly hard to say.
  5074. >"Can't you -"
  5075. "Make him?"
  5076. >"Yes!" she growls.
  5077. "I don't think so."
  5078. >"Find a way, dammit!"
  5079. "It's too late for that, mom."
  5080. >"Soarin -"
  5081. "I *tried*! It'd be like beating a dead horse at this point."
  5082. >"*Soarin -"
  5083. "It won't work. Besides, I have a better idea, anyway."
  5084. >"What?"
  5085. "Her... her best friend. Silver Spoon."
  5086. >"Wait! Do you think she -"
  5087. "No!"
  5088. >You know what mom's going to ask and you don't even want to think it.
  5089. >Though... she does spend the night at -
  5090. >NO.
  5091. >You're not even going to think that.
  5092. >You just - almost - calmed down.
  5093. >You're not going to think that.
  5094. "No, mom, but she's Diamond's best friend. Everything just fell into place once I found out. I mean, I didn't see the signs, but now it's all so fucking obvious! I think... once Silver knows, then..."
  5095. >"Diamond may not want her to know. If she doesn't already, then..."
  5096. >Yeah.
  5097. >She's thinking the same thing you are.
  5098. >Or did.
  5099. >Right now, you can't really think of anything except *not* thinking of something.
  5100. >Smokes knew who Silver was.
  5101. "I..."
  5102. >Don't think about it.
  5103. "I don't see any other option, mom."
  5104. >She continues to puzzle it over for a second, maybe two.
  5105. >"Fine," she concedes, "but be quick about it."
  5106. "And... mom?"
  5107. >"What?"
  5108. "I... uh... I think you may to have to help me hide a body."
  5109. >That gives her less pause than you would have thought.
  5110. >Mom sighs. And again.
  5111. >Then asks a simple question.
  5112. >"You're not going to kill anyone, are you?"
  5113. >That would solve things, wouldn't it?
  5114. "Maybe."
  5115. >"Try not to, Soarin. I wish I could tell you I haven't had that urge before, but..."
  5116. "Yeah, I know."
  5117. >Just today, in fact.
  5118. >You remember.
  5119. >"Whatever you do, make sure you do it outside, Soarin. Preferably soon, so it can be blamed on the storm and - and I really shouldn't be giving my son this kind of advice."
  5120. >She pauses before quietly adding, "or thinking about it at all, but it's how... nevermind.
  5121. >"I love you, Soarin. Don't do anything you'll regret later."
  5122. >It might be too late for that.
  5123. "Love you, too, mom. I'll call as soon as I can."
  5124.  
  5125. >You are Diamond Tiara and you're scared.
  5126. >She's yelling.
  5127. >Soarin's mother is *yelling* at him.
  5128. >You almost want to get up and lock the door, but that would just make her angrier.
  5129. >Right?
  5130. >That's how you lost the lock to your bedroom.
  5131. >In the end, you stay where you are.
  5132. >You don't even know if this door has a lock and you're not going to check.
  5133. >You're not going to move.
  5134. >You're going to stay huddled beneath blankets and towels, hoping that the silence outside is only because you've gotten used to the storm, tuned it out.
  5135. >Tuned *everything* out.
  5136. >Not because it's coming to an end.
  5137. >You burrow deeper into the pile.
  5138. >It doesn't make you feel any better, any safer.
  5139. >You wish it did.
  5140. >More than that, you wish Silver was here.
  5141. >You were always safe when she was around.
  5142. >Nothing ever happened when she spent the night.
  5143. >Not that you remember - not that you remember *anything*, but it couldn't
  5144. >Your...
  5145. >*She* was too scared of angering Silver's parents.
  5146. >She wouldn't have done anything.
  5147. >Silver kept you safe.
  5148. >Always.
  5149. >If only she were here now.
  5150. >If only she was with you last night.
  5151. >And the night before.
  5152. >And... and always.
  5153. >Nothing ever happened.
  5154. >Not... not like that.
  5155. >Not from your mother and her 'boyfriends'.
  5156. >You...
  5157. >It's different.
  5158. >Silver never stopped you.
  5159. >She never even tried.
  5160. >It's different.
  5161. >She could have run away.
  5162. >Like you did.
  5163. >She could have.
  5164. >There wasn't anything stopping *her*.
  5165. >She should have stayed with you more often.
  5166. >She enjoyed it.
  5167. >And she kept you safe.
  5168. >The door opens.
  5169. >You wish she was here.
  5170. >She -
  5171. >"Oh," Soarin's mother murmurs. "You heard that, didn't you?"
  5172. >You... you nod.
  5173. >For what it's worth, since she probably can't see the gesture under all the blankets.
  5174. >Defiance seems pointless.
  5175. >It always was.
  5176. >You know that now.
  5177. >"I'm sorry. I..."
  5178. >She looks like she wants to say something.
  5179. >Not just say something, but *say something*.
  5180. >"I lost my temper, dear," she compromises, "but not at you or Soarin, so don't worry."
  5181. >She laughs nervously.
  5182. >"The walls here are thinner than at the office. I keep forgetting that."
  5183. >She does.
  5184. >This isn't the first call with Soarin you've overheard.
  5185. >There was never any point to struggling.
  5186. >All you did was make things worse.
  5187. >Those bruises, the arguments, your ankle...
  5188. >There was never any point to any of it.
  5189. >You shouldn't have run away, not if you're just going to be sent back to *her*.
  5190. >She's going to be angry now.
  5191. >Soarin's mother is going to give you up, and then yours...
  5192. >She's going to punish you for this, isn't she?
  5193. >You wish Silver was here.
  5194. >If she was, you'd never let go of her. Never.
  5195. >If not her, then at least Soarin.
  5196. >He protected you once.
  5197. >Twice.
  5198. >He'd do it again.
  5199. >From his mother...?
  5200. >But they...
  5201. >... they don't... *hate* each other.
  5202. >Then again, does yours hate you? Or...
  5203. >You hate her.
  5204. >Now you know why.
  5205. >That's all that matters.
  5206. >Soarin's mother sighs and slumps against the wall, near you.
  5207. >Not beside you, not too close.
  5208. >At the other end of the little laundry room.
  5209. >The storm is dying down," she murmurs softly. "Let's get you out of here and someplace nicer."
  5210. >Maybe if you pretend nothing happened.
  5211. >Maybe if you never forget your pills again.
  5212. >Maybe... maybe nothing *will* happen.
  5213. >If you take your pills... if you don't remember... then did it?
  5214. >Did any of it?
  5215. >She's sending you back.
  5216. >If you pretend you didn't try to run away, then maybe you didn't.
  5217. >Everything can be... made to have never happened, like always.
  5218. "Where... where's Soarin?"
  5219. >He won't let her do anything to you.
  5220. >"He's... somewhere," his mother answers with a resigned shrug. "He..."
  5221. >She looks at you - and looks away.
  5222. >"He'll be back soon. With help."
  5223. >He's not coming back.
  5224. >He won't be in time.
  5225. >It... it doesn't matter.
  5226. >Nothing happened.
  5227. >That's all you can tell yourself.
  5228. >It's all you can hope for.
  5229. >Soarin isn't here.
  5230. >Silver isn't here.
  5231. >All you can do is...
  5232. >"On the other hand," Soarin's mother mumbles to herself, "it *would* make one thing easier if he was arrested."
  5233. >She giggles darkly before looking up.
  5234. >Seeing the confusion that must be clear in your face.
  5235. >"After all, this house isn't that big," she tries to explain, "and you're going to need a bedroom of your own, aren't you?"
  5236. "Huh...?"
  5237. >She smiles.
  5238. >Sadly?
  5239. >Sweetly?
  5240. >"I'm not giving you back to your mother. I can't. I won't let her hurt you again."
  5241. >She doesn't say why she says that.
  5242. >She doesn't say what she knows.
  5243. >She can't know anything.
  5244. >Nothing ever happened.
  5245. >You just... fell off the roof.
  5246. >That's all.
  5247. >That's *all*.
  5248. >But the way she's smiling... with such *pity*...
  5249. >It makes you hate her, but more... it makes you hate yourself.
  5250. >For being so pathetic.
  5251. >So weak.
  5252. >So... so...
  5253. >So *pitiable*, when nothing happened. Nothing ever happened.
  5254. >You aren't even pretending.
  5255. >If you can't remember it, then... then...
  5256. >You can't remember what to say.
  5257. >What do you say at a time like this?
  5258. >What are those words you're looking for?
  5259. >Oh - of course.
  5260. >You remember.
  5261. "... thank you."
  5262.  
  5263. >You are Soarin and you don't park in the street.
  5264. >Make Silver walk all that way?
  5265. >In the *rain*?
  5266. >Nope.
  5267. >You could carry her, and will if you have to, but nope.
  5268. >There's no point in hiding anymore.
  5269. >Besides, nothing happened that she didn't want.
  5270. >That shouldn't be a comforting excuse.
  5271. >It's not, but it's the best you have.
  5272. >The only one you have.
  5273. >You park at the end of the drive and jump out, not even stopping to lock the doors.
  5274. >You only kill the engine and pocket the keys out of reflex.
  5275. >The backpack... you almost go back for the backpack, but Silver's knife is safe here.
  5276. >Safer than in your hands, at least.
  5277. >And if not... she'll forgive you.
  5278. >You'll tell her you love her and she'll forgive you.
  5279. >It's not really very important, is it?
  5280. >You have your phone.
  5281. >Soon you will have Silver.
  5282. >What else matters?
  5283. >With those, Diamond can be saved and you can... you can run for the border with your girlfriend.
  5284. >Assuming you make it out of here alive.
  5285. >Yeah.
  5286. >That might be a problem.
  5287. >You ring the doorbell anyway.
  5288. >There might be a way.
  5289. >You *might* have an idea.
  5290.  
  5291. >You are Silver Spoon and you nearly die when you see him.
  5292. >He can't be here.
  5293. >He can't.
  5294. >You turned your phone off and everything.
  5295. >Why is he here?
  5296. >Is it *because* you turned off you phone!?
  5297. >Was he worried?
  5298. >Maybe -
  5299. >You try to keep a blank face.
  5300. >He barely looks at you.
  5301. >Doesn't even acknowledge you.
  5302. >Certainly doesn't run to your side, pick you up, and dash away before your parents can react.
  5303. >Is he trying to pretend he doesn't know you?
  5304. >Then...
  5305. >But... *why*?
  5306. >You try to keep a blank face.
  5307. >Try.
  5308. >Probably as hard for you as it is for your mother, with his dripping all over the carpet.
  5309. >She must be furious.
  5310. >Probably as angry as you are.
  5311. >The servants that escorted him in nod and - with a glance to your father first - leave.
  5312. >They close the door behind them.
  5313. "I... um..."
  5314. >You should go.
  5315. >He's ignoring you.
  5316. >Probably because you hung up on him.
  5317. >But it was for his own good!
  5318. >He shouldn't be here!
  5319. >Or...
  5320. >Maybe this is for *your* own good...?
  5321. >You should go.
  5322. >Pack.
  5323. >Maybe pack a small suitcase.
  5324. >You're not running across the border wearing only the clothes on your back if you can help it.
  5325. "I'm going to go."
  5326. >"Sit down, Silver," your father snaps. "Do you know this boy?"
  5327. >You -
  5328. >"We go to the same school," Soarin answers quickly. "And I'm kind of the star of the soccer team, so..."
  5329. >You nod.
  5330. >Exactly.
  5331. >He has a plan.
  5332. >He's going to take you away.
  5333. >"Soccer? Oh," your mother gasps. "I recognize you! You're Mrs. Bear's boy!"
  5334. >"Yes -"
  5335. >He winces.
  5336. >"- ma'am. I am."
  5337. >"Come, come!" she says with a smile, waving her hand towards one of the sofas. "Have a seat! Is your mother doing alright?"
  5338. >Soarin nods.
  5339. >"She is, ma'am."
  5340. >He hesitates, then starts to sit, then -
  5341. >"I'm all wet from the rain..."
  5342. >"That's fine, that's fine! Go ahead and have a seat!"
  5343. >He hesitates again, but gingerly seats himself in an empty sofa.
  5344. >"You... um... you know my mother?" he asks.
  5345. >"Of course!" yours laughs. "We work together frequently!"
  5346. >"Work...?"
  5347. >You never told him, did you?
  5348. >Or spoke about your parents at all, really.
  5349. >"Yes," your mother hums happily.
  5350. >She always *does* love going on about her accomplishments.
  5351. >Tries to drag you along.
  5352. >Make you help.
  5353. >It's part of their plan.
  5354. >"We've both worked on a number of fundraisers and charities. That's why you're here, isn't it?"
  5355. >She looks back to her laptop and begins clicking away.
  5356. >"Did something slip my mind? I'm normally so on top of things, but it's been a busy week. Was there an event I missed?
  5357. >"Oh, was it the meeting for the...? No, no, that's tomorrow. I...
  5358. >Your mother looks up from her laptop and shrugs apologetically.
  5359. >"... I don't have *anything* written down for today. I must have completely blanked on it."
  5360. >"Could you remind me, Soarin," she says, flashing him a smile, "why are you here?"
  5361. >"It's for Silver," your father answers him, making your heart leap into your throat. "Isn't it?"
  5362. >"It's... yes, sir," Soarin admits. "It's for your daughter."
  5363. >Oh!
  5364. >Oh.
  5365. >This does not bode well.
  5366. >He's not part of the plan.
  5367. >He -
  5368. >"And... yes. It's for my mother's work."
  5369. >He...
  5370. >What?
  5371. >"Her friend, Diamond Tiara..."
  5372. >He waits, and your mother nods.
  5373. >"Did that girl do *something* again?" your father asks grumpily. "What is she dragging Silver into this time?"
  5374. >"Oh, quiet, Fox, let the boy speak."
  5375. >He should.
  5376. >And quickly.
  5377. >He's not here for you.
  5378. >"It's... it's nothing Diamond is doing," Soarin answers, too slowly.
  5379. >You close your book, but don't set it down.
  5380. >It would take a crowbar to pry it from your hand, it's gripped so tightly.
  5381. >"It's... well... could I speak to Silver privately?"
  5382. >You start to nod -
  5383. >"No."
  5384. > - and you freeze.
  5385. >"Fox..."
  5386. >"I said no, Serving. We don't know this boy."
  5387. >"He's Mrs. Bear's son."
  5388. >"So?" he snaps back, before glaring at Soarin. "Continue."
  5389. >"You've met her," your mother whines gently. "Remember? At the ball last April? Fox..."
  5390. >He shakes his head.
  5391. >"That doesn't matter. I haven't met him."
  5392. >"You're so suspicious..."
  5393. >"Excuse me," Soarin interrupts, "but... I'm not here for myself."
  5394. >Or for you.
  5395. >Bastard.
  5396. >"I'm here for Diamond," he continues. "She needs Silver's help."
  5397. >He looks at you - but you avoid his eyes.
  5398. >You don't want him to see what's lurking behind them.
  5399. >The anger. The frustration.
  5400. >You don't want to hurt him.
  5401. >You don't want to drive Soarin away.
  5402. >Because you'll forgive him.
  5403. >You know you will.
  5404. >And when you do... he has to want to take you back.
  5405. >He *has* to.
  5406. >"She's..."
  5407. >Soarin stops, probably trying to think of a polite way to say whatever it is he's trying to say.
  5408. >That makes it seem serious, and that almost worries you.
  5409. >Almost, if you weren't so angry.
  5410. >So very, irrationally angry.
  5411. >He's throwing everything away - he's throwing *you* away - just to help *her*?
  5412. >WITH WHAT!?
  5413. >"She's with my mother right now."
  5414. >WHY!?
  5415. >"What?" your mother gasps. "Why!?"
  5416. >"Diamond ran away from home."
  5417. >WHO CARES!?
  5418. >"Oh! Oh, dear, that poor girl. What happened?"
  5419. >WHATEVER IT IS, SHE *DESERVED* IT.
  5420. >"I... we... don't *exactly* know, but..."
  5421. >"She probably pulled another stunt," your father growls. "She's either doing this for attention or she's trying to get out of being punished for..."
  5422. >SHE SHOULD BE!
  5423. >He waves his hand around.
  5424. >"... for *whatever* it is *this* time. Must be serious if she's pulling this kind of stunt."
  5425. >OR SHE'S JUST TRYING TO STEAL SOARIN!
  5426. >She's just playing on his need to be the hero!
  5427. >"That's what mom's boss thinks, too," Soarin sighs, "but... she's being abused by Mrs. Rich."
  5428. >"Bullshit."
  5429. >"Fox! Language!"
  5430. >"That's bullshit, Serving, and you know it. Spoiled wouldn't -"
  5431. >"It's true," Soarin insists, stopping your father in his tracks. "But..."
  5432. >He laughs softly.
  5433. >"Yeah, I know, who would believe that? But she showed up at my house yesterday covered in bruises and with torn clothes, so..."
  5434. >"That doesn't mean anything."
  5435. >"I know. That's why I need Silver. She's Diamond's closest friend. If anyone knows anything, she would."
  5436. >He looks to you, but you shake your head.
  5437. >You don't know anything.
  5438. >You refuse.
  5439. >"Silver? Dear?"
  5440. "I don't know about any of that."
  5441. >"See?" your father barks.
  5442. >"Neither did I," Soarin admits, "not until I..."
  5443. >He hesitates again.
  5444. >Rubs the back of his neck with one hand.
  5445. >"Not until I knew. And then it all... came together. It's so obvious, but no one would listen to me. Silver, on the other hand..."
  5446. "I said I don't know anything."
  5447. >Not for her.
  5448. >"You're a smart girl," Soarin says quietly. "Smarter than me. Surely there's been something.
  5449. >"Please... someone has to come forward or mom has to give Diamond back to Mrs. Rich."
  5450. >He looks - vaguely - towards... towards the storm, you think.
  5451. >It's quiet, now.
  5452. >"It's important," he says. "She's running out of time."
  5453. >"Oh. My. Really? Then why didn't you call?" your mother asks. "There wasn't any need to come out in the rain and this whole thing could have been handled quickly."
  5454. >"I tried, but Silver didn't answer."
  5455. >There's a moment where he looks to you, like you're supposed to give him a reason.
  5456. >Like you're supposed to tell him why you turned off your phone.
  5457. >Why you were ignoring him for his own good.
  5458. >That you were trying to save him.
  5459. >And then it hits him - and you.
  5460. >What he said.
  5461. >That he just screwed up.
  5462. >Not with you.
  5463. >Not with someone who will forgive him anything.
  5464. >"So..." your father growls, "you have my daughter's phone number?"
  5465. >There's no reason he would, not one your parents would accept.
  5466. >"I... um..."
  5467. >"Dear," your mother sighs, with a weary little laugh at the end, "*of course* Diamond has Silver's number."
  5468. >"Right, right, *of course*."
  5469. >Plausible.
  5470. >True, if not *the* truth.
  5471. >Doesn't matter. He knows.
  5472. >He caught you last night.
  5473. >When you hung up on Soarin.
  5474. >Called you out on it this morning, when you tried to leave for school.
  5475. >"Right," Soarin laughs. "That's it."
  5476. >Your father doesn't believe it.
  5477. >He doesn't believe any of it.
  5478. "He... um... he called me last night..."
  5479. >Soarin's eyes open wide.
  5480. >He's trying to keep things a secret, but... he's a good man.
  5481. >Honest and straightforward.
  5482. >He doesn't know how to lie.
  5483. >He doesn't know that your father caught you.
  5484. >"Really?" your mother asks, shocked.
  5485. >He must not have told her.
  5486. "... but I... um... I didn't believe it..."
  5487. >"Oh, is *this* what that was about?" your father rumbles.
  5488. >Suspicious, but...
  5489. >Suspicious, that's all.
  5490. >Soarin doesn't know how to lie.
  5491. >He's a good person.
  5492. >You...
  5493. >... well...
  5494. >You nod.
  5495. "... but I didn't believe it. I hung up on him."
  5496. >Soarin starts to understand. You hope.
  5497. >He faintly nods along with you like he understands.
  5498. >Like he's agreeing.
  5499. >Corroborating your story.
  5500. >"And that phone call this morning?"
  5501. >You nod again.
  5502. "... yes... but..."
  5503. >"I didn't get a chance to explain anything," Soarin jumps in. "Please, this is serious. Diamond needs her help."
  5504. >Your father relaxes slightly - *slightly*.
  5505. >"Tell us what's going on."
  5506. >"Well..."
  5507. >"Son, my wife and I are as close to that family as our daughter. If it really will 'come together' once we know enough, then tell us what you think Spoiled is doing to Diamond."
  5508. >Your mother hums an eager "mhm," and Soarin... he looks at you.
  5509. >He...
  5510. >He wants to help.
  5511. >He wants to be the hero.
  5512. >He always does.
  5513. >That's why he loves you.
  5514. >Because... you need him.
  5515. >And... right now... Diamond needs him.
  5516. >And that hurts.
  5517. >But... if she gets help...?
  5518. >Then...?
  5519. >Then she won't need him.
  5520. >Then he'll be all yours.
  5521. >Right?
  5522. "Well...? What's happening...?"
  5523. >Soarin frowns.
  5524. >And he smiles.
  5525. >And you're confused.
  5526. >So is he, you're pretty sure.
  5527. >"Okay," he sighs. "It's... it's not really my place to share, but..."
  5528. >He sighs again.
  5529. >"If it means you'll help her, she can hate me for it later. I mean, she usually acts like she hates everyone anyway, so..."
  5530. >Your father taps one finger against the arm of his chair.
  5531. >It's not loud.
  5532. >It doesn't even make a sound.
  5533. >The arm is upholstered, yet that gesture is enough.
  5534. >"Mrs. Rich is... is pimping out her Diamond," Soarin blurts out. "The man I talked to... he... he's not one of *them*, but..."
  5535. >Soarin's hands are tight fists.
  5536. >He's furious.
  5537. "You *hurt* him, didn't you?"
  5538. >You don't mean to say it.
  5539. >You don't want your father to know.
  5540. >Not about Soarin.
  5541. >Not about his temper.
  5542. >That he's hurt people to protect Diamond before.
  5543. >Why hasn't he ever hurt anyone for you?
  5544. >"That's one reason he can't come forward," Soarin admits. "But there are... others. Apparently he and Mrs. Rich had a... well... a feud."
  5545. >Your father raises an eyebrow and leans forward slightly.
  5546. >"Soothing Smokes?" he asks.
  5547. >"Yes."
  5548. >"I don't know the man, but I know *of* him, and I expected better of him than to make up nonsense about Spoiled," your father growls, rolling his eyes and settling back into his seat, "If he's your 'source', then I suppose this all makes sense.
  5549. >"He's lying, boy, just to get revenge for whatever petty spat started that whole thing between them.
  5550. >He snorts. *Loudly*.
  5551. >"Soothing should have been smarter about it, though. That's not even *remotely* believable."
  5552. >Soarin shakes his head.
  5553. >"It's true. No one admits to... to what Mr. Smokes admitted to without a reason."
  5554. >"WELL -"
  5555. >"Wait, Fox, what if...? I mean, I don't know the man, but..."
  5556. >"It's bullshit," your father rumbles. "If it was true, why hasn't Diamond said anything? She's not the kind of girl to get so much as a scraped knee without threatening to have her father sue everyone in the county. She would have said *something."
  5557. >Soarin shakes his head sadly.
  5558. >"She has," he murmurs. "We just... didn't realize. I don't think she even knew what she meant."
  5559. "She... has...?"
  5560. >Oh.
  5561. >Oh. You are... *blind*.
  5562. >She has.
  5563. >Frequently.
  5564. "Um..."
  5565. >"What, Silver?" your father snaps. "Don't tell me you believe any of this."
  5566. "Diamond has said... often enough... that if... well... if there aren't any witnesses, then nothing actually happen... so..."
  5567. >Your father scoffs. Your mother... waits. Patiently.
  5568. "... well... I mean... maybe..."
  5569. >"Darling," he growls, "that's just some bullshit she says when she's trying to get you to go along with her plans."
  5570. "I... I'm not so sure."
  5571. >"Silver, that girl would have bitched from here to the next city if someone so much as looked at her wrong by *accident*. If she was being *raped*, then why wouldn't she have told *anyone*?"
  5572. >Soarin sighs.
  5573. >Is he doing the thing?
  5574. >Holding the breath?
  5575. >Releasing it slowly?
  5576. >Trying to calm himself, like he calmed you?
  5577. >You can't tell.
  5578. >He doesn't do it again.
  5579. >Instead, he tries to answer.
  5580. >"Because -"
  5581. >That's as far as he gets.
  5582. >"She would have said *something*! To *someone*!"
  5583. >That gets him a sharp glare from Soarin - and your mother.
  5584. >"Fox, don't raise your voice to the boy."
  5585. >Your father frowns sharply, his bearded face twisted almost into a sharp, upside down V.
  5586. >"Because..." Soarin answers hesitantly, like he expects to be cut off again, "... I don't think she knew it was happening."
  5587. >"And *how* would she manage to overlook *that*?" your father snaps back. "I admit, the girl doesn't seem to be the *brightest* bulb in the box, but -"
  5588. >"Mrs. Rich is drugging her."
  5589. >Your mother raises one finger.
  5590. >"That's..."
  5591. >"Ludicrous," your father laughs. "Do you have *any* evidence of this?"
  5592. >Soarin stops.
  5593. >He thinks.
  5594. >Rubs the back of his neck with his hand.
  5595. >Smiles, though not a smile that makes you feel warm inside.
  5596. >It makes you shiver.
  5597. >It makes him look sad.
  5598. >"Yeah, I've got evidence," he says. "The pills. Silver has them."
  5599. >Your father raises an eyebrow.
  5600. >"Really, now?"
  5601. >"Yeah. They're..."
  5602. >He looks at you and you...
  5603. >You don't want to help him.
  5604. >He's admitting too much.
  5605. >How would he know, unless he was too close to you?
  5606. >"... they're in her purse."
  5607. >Your father shoots you a sharp look.
  5608. >Too much.
  5609. >He's going too far.
  5610. >"It's a regular medicine bottle, with Diamond's name on it. Her mom is... I guess... paying off a doctor to prescribe them...?"
  5611. >Soarin's smile grows darker as his head falls.
  5612. >"Shit, I *hope* she's paying him off and he's not in on it."
  5613. >Wait...
  5614. >"Silver," your father barks. "Is this true? Do you have drugs in your purse?"
  5615. "Um..."
  5616. >Are they still there?
  5617. >Which purse?
  5618. >Would it... would it be better if they *weren't*?
  5619. >Then he's lying. Or wrong.
  5620. >Yes, simply wrong.
  5621. >He must have seen you from across the room or something.
  5622. >Didn't understand what was happening.
  5623. >Made some mistakes.
  5624. >You certainly didn't have a conversation about the pills in his car.
  5625. >No.
  5626. >They aren't in your purse.
  5627. >He's wrong.
  5628. >He's wrong and you don't know each other.
  5629. >Yes.
  5630. >That's it.
  5631. >That's better.
  5632. >But he can't be *totally* wrong.
  5633. >No.
  5634. >There has to be something else.
  5635. >Some other way you could help.
  5636. >This is a good excuse.
  5637. >A good way to "meet" him.
  5638. >To become acquainted.
  5639. >For him to be the hero.
  5640. >For your parents to approve of him.
  5641. >Yes.
  5642. >But not like this.
  5643. >Not because he saw.
  5644. >Maybe -
  5645. >"Silver. Are. They. In. Your. Purse?"
  5646. "... well..."
  5647. >Your mind is blanking.
  5648. >What other evidence is there?
  5649. >What else have you seen?
  5650. >You have no doubt he's telling the truth.
  5651. >You never would, even if he told you the sky was pink and water was dry.
  5652. >But you can't think of anything.
  5653. >Soarin wants to be the hero.
  5654. >He wants to be *your* hero, but... also *hers*.
  5655. >He wants to save Diamond.
  5656. >What if you can't think of something?
  5657. >Will he forgive you if you stop him?
  5658. >And even if he does...
  5659. >... will he give up?
  5660. >Will he stop trying to be *anyone's* hero?
  5661. >Will he stop trying to be *yours*?
  5662. >Your reluctance must be clear.
  5663. >"Serving, go with her."
  5664. >Your mother frowns at your father's tone - at his *order*.
  5665. >"Fox, I haven't been one of your maids in sixteen years. Don't think -"
  5666. >"Please, Serving."
  5667. >"That's better," she titters as she sets aside her computer and stands. "Come on, Silver, we shouldn't keep your friend waiting."
  5668. >She's teasing you.
  5669. >About *what*?
  5670. >That's the tone she always uses when she's teasing someone.
  5671. >But... who does she mean?
  5672. >Diamond? Or Soarin?
  5673.  
  5674. >You are Soarin and you don't find this situation UNCOMFORTABLE AT ALL.
  5675. >Your fiancé’s father looks like he wants to kill you.
  5676. >Silver does, too, as she walks out of the room with her mother.
  5677. >This is perfectly normal.
  5678. >You're not banking everything on this.
  5679. >Certainly not hoping you can get through it without losing Silver, because that's not even a possibility, right?
  5680. >And this will save Diamond. Obviously.
  5681. >There's no other way this can turn out.
  5682. >This isn't awkward or stupid at all.
  5683. >Nope.
  5684. >At worst...
  5685. >IT'S CAUSING SOME SLIGHT DISCOMFORT.
  5686. >AT WORST.
  5687. >Mr... Fox? watches his wife and daughter walk out of the room.
  5688. >He waits for the door to close.
  5689. >And the second it does -
  5690. >"What did Soothing admit to?"
  5691. "Well..."
  5692. >"Stop beating around the bush, boy. What did he say? What makes you think he was telling the truth?"
  5693. "He..."
  5694. >"This is a big house, but not *that* big," he rumbles, "Serving and Silver will be back soon."
  5695. >Apparently he doesn't want them to hear.
  5696. >Neither do you.
  5697. >Not Silver.
  5698. "He molested Diamond."
  5699. >The girl deserves some privacy.
  5700. >"When?"
  5701. "When she was younger."
  5702. >"How much younger?"
  5703. "*Younger*."
  5704. >Mr. Fox growls wordlessly.
  5705. >One hand comes up to idly stroke his silvery grey beard.
  5706. >"And Spoiled... what? *Let* him?"
  5707. "No, sir. She stopped him. Pointed her husband’s gun at him and threatened to kill him if he ever went near Diamond again."
  5708. >He looks away, still running his fingers through his beard, and sighs.
  5709. >"So. She protected her daughter. Doesn't that mean she's not doing what you say she is?"
  5710. >You'd thought about that.
  5711. >Long and hard, on the drive over.
  5712. "That... that might be the saddest part of this whole situation."
  5713. >"Oh?"
  5714. "Mrs. Rich used to love her daughter. Enough to, you know, kill for her. And now... I don't know what changed. I don't know the family, just what -"
  5715. >- what Silver's told you.
  5716. "- what I've heard."
  5717. >But not from her.
  5718. >You'll keep her name out of this, as best you can.
  5719. >"What makes you think anything changed?"
  5720. "It sounds like... a while back, elementary or something, that Mrs. Rich... well... I guess Diamond did something that made her pretty angry?"
  5721. >"Hmm, yes," Mr. Fox hums. "I suppose. Things were somewhat *different* after the girl lost that class election."
  5722. >He shrugs.
  5723. >"To be honest, our families weren't exactly on the best terms right about then."
  5724. "Why?"
  5725. >"That's none of your concern," he answers firmly. "It's painful and irrelevant to this situation, so I'd rather not drag... up..."
  5726. >You don't like the way he trails off.
  5727. >Or the fire and anger in his eyes when he looks back to you.
  5728. >"Why would she even do such a thing!?" he barks. "You say Spoiled is *pimping* out her daughter, but *why*? It can't be for the money; the family is well off.
  5729. >"It can't be to punish Diamond for anything, because if the girl doesn't even know it's happening, what would the point be?"
  5730. "For favors."
  5731. >That... doesn't seem right.
  5732. >When you spoke to her, *she* was the one in charge.
  5733. >If she's anything like her daughter, *she* is the one in control.
  5734. >Not the other way around.
  5735. >Like she cares about her daughter, in some form or fashion.
  5736. >Just... wrong.
  5737. >She's doing it wrong.
  5738. "That's what Mr. Smokes thought, anyway."
  5739. >"You have a different idea?"
  5740. >It's not yours, not originally, but the more you think about it, the more it makes sense.
  5741. "What if... what if she enjoys it?"
  5742. >Mr. Fox sneers
  5743. >"Enjoys *what*?"
  5744. "Watching her daughter."
  5745. >What if she still loves her?
  5746. >Just... wrong?
  5747. >Mr. Fox shakes his head.
  5748. >"She stopped soothing," he says... but he doesn't say you're wrong.
  5749. >He doesn't say this is ludicrous or bullshit or a lie.
  5750. "Maybe... it woke something up inside her."
  5751. >He shakes his head again, slowly and resigned.
  5752. >"Filthy would never allow it," he says. "He's a good man at heart."
  5753. "I don't know the family, but..."
  5754. >You know enough.
  5755. "... he doesn't even live with them anymore. He may not know."
  5756. >Silver's father nods absently.
  5757. >"True," he admits, frowning briefly. "They did separate, but...
  5758. >He sighs.
  5759. >"That man always does find a way to 'not know' when it comes to his less ethical business dealings, doesn't he?"
  5760. >He... can't be asking you.
  5761. >But if he is...
  5762. "I wouldn't know, sir."
  5763. >Mr. Fox frowns and begins drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair and... waits.
  5764. >He doesn't say anything more and you know when to stay silent.
  5765. >If he's coming around, there's no need to keep talking.
  5766. >All that you need is the evidence that you're telling the truth, and Silver has it.
  5767. >You just have to wait.
  5768. >It isn't long.
  5769. >Silver comes back in, her eyes down, her hands clasped together. Holding something.
  5770. >Her mother is at her side, looking... distracted? Confused?
  5771. >Mostly worried.
  5772. >"Is that the bottle?" Mr. Fox asks, rising from his seat.
  5773. >You hadn't realized how large he was... and may not be.
  5774. >Not particularly tall, probably no taller than you, and not particularly fat, but enough of both to make him feel larger than life, to allow him to command the room with ease.
  5775. >Or maybe he's your fiancé’s father and the man who holds a life in his hands.
  5776. >Silver mother nods before she does, answers before she does.
  5777. >"Yes, Fox."
  5778. >"Let me see it."
  5779. >Silver holds out her hand, raising up the pills for him to see - and take.
  5780. >He twirls it around between his hands, reading the label.
  5781. >"It's -"
  5782. >"I know what these are, Serving. Silver used to take this."
  5783. >"After -"
  5784. >"I know why," he growls, still looking, still reading. "After her accident, she needed painkillers."
  5785. >He doesn't put any emphasis on 'accident', but... Silver glances your way and blushes.
  5786. >You're pretty sure there wasn't any accident.
  5787. >No, you're pretty certain that was deliberate.
  5788. >Mr. Fox catches Silver's look and stares your way.
  5789. >"It's irrelevant to this situation," he says, "unless... Silver?"
  5790. >"No," she answers meekly, following better than you can, "I took them from Diamond to keep her from... well... I thought she might... you know... by accident."
  5791. >"Silver and I already talked about that, Fox," her mother says, squeezing Silver's shoulder. "She was trying to help her friend."
  5792. >"Good."
  5793. >"I didn't take any," Silver mumbles. "I won't do that again."
  5794. >You're pretty sure you know what 'that' is - she mentioned it before - and you're glad.
  5795. >You don't want Silver to have any reason to kill herself, let alone make the attempt.
  5796. >Her father nods and goes back to reading the bottle.
  5797. >Not just the name they're prescribed to, not just the medication or the dosage.
  5798. >Everything.
  5799. >And what he sees... does not make him happy.
  5800. >"Silver," he rumbles like only an angry parent can, "we're switching family doctors. You aren't going to that man anymore."
  5801. >Her eyes flare open and she looks up.
  5802. >She makes the connection just as you do and her crimson cheeks glow even brighter.
  5803. >She nods quickly. *Eagerly*.
  5804. >"Oh, Fox," her mother gasps. "I didn't even think to look. Do you think -"
  5805. >"I don't know, but I don't see any reason to tempt fate."
  5806. >You feel like you're hearing only half the conversation.
  5807. >Family can be like that, though, can't it?
  5808. >Finishing each other’s thought.
  5809. >Like how you and Silver have hardly spoken to each other at all, but you know you need to find her doctor and hurt him, and not for Diamond.
  5810. >She can't even meet your eyes. Can't even raise her head.
  5811. >You can see her chest rise - and slowly fall, as she tries to keep herself under control.
  5812. >Tries to avoid a panic attack.
  5813. >Mr. Fox looks over to you and sighs.
  5814. >"What do you need?"
  5815. "Silver needs to -"
  5816. >"No," he stops you abruptly. "There's no reason to drag her further into this. What do you need *me* to do?"
  5817. >You... don't know.
  5818. >You hadn't considered that.
  5819. >"We have the pills," his wife says, even as she wraps her arms around Silver and hugs her, "so there's that. It's not enough to prove what exactly Spoiled is doing, but..."
  5820. >"It proves something," Mr. Fox finishes. "Enough to warrant a closer look into this situation."
  5821. >So he doesn't believe you, not yet, not entirely.
  5822. >It's enough.
  5823. >You can't blame a man for being suspicious when it comes to the well being and safety of his family.
  5824. >Silver's mother kisses the top of her head and lets her go.
  5825. >"I'm going to make some calls," she says, reaching for a phone she had left next to her laptop. "Mrs. Bear might not have been able to convince her boss, but... well... "
  5826. >She flashes you a reassuring smile.
  5827. >"That might not be enough," her husband growls, putting Diamond's pills into his pocket. "Spoiled already knows where the girl is, doesn't she?"
  5828. >He doesn't seem like he's asking you, but who else could it be?
  5829. >You nod anyway.
  5830. "Probably, sir. She did come by the house before the storm got really bad."
  5831. >"Then we'd best get there before she comes back."
  5832. >Silver looks up - but only for a second.
  5833. "And... your daughter...?"
  5834. >She wants to come with you.
  5835. >Or she's worried.
  5836. >Or... both.
  5837. >"She's staying here, with Serving."
  5838. "She's Diamond's closest friend, though, and maybe -"
  5839. >"No."
  5840. "But -"
  5841. >"No."
  5842. >You're set to argue more, because... well... because it makes sense, doesn't it?
  5843. >Wouldn't Diamond find her presence comforting?
  5844. >And... and you could read her silent cues.
  5845. >Like you are right now, with her shaking her head while her father's back is turned to her.
  5846. >You nod.
  5847. >To both of them.
  5848. "Okay, sir."
  5849. >What else can you do?
  5850. >Keep arguing even when she tells you to give up?
  5851. >"Good," her father rumbles, turning towards his daughter and giving her shoulder a squeeze. "Just let me get my coat..."
  5852. >That seems like time to leave.
  5853. >You stand and... and don't know.
  5854. "Should I... uh... wait downstairs? You can follow me back to -"
  5855. >"We'll take your car."
  5856. "Wait, what?"
  5857. >"No point taking two out into this," Mr. Fox explains - but that doesn't explain anything, does it!?
  5858. >Silver stays frozen as her father sweeps out the door.
  5859. >You can hear him calling for someone.
  5860. >You?
  5861. >No, not you.
  5862. >Your eyes lock with Silver's.
  5863. >You don't have to speak.
  5864. >You don't even have to do anything but share that expressionless look.
  5865. >This is not good.
  5866. >He seemed more open when the two of you were alone, but there is no way this can end well.
  5867. >Particularly if he sees -
  5868. >No, no, wait, that was Cloudy.
  5869. >Silver hasn't left any clothing in your car, has she?
  5870. >Particularly -
  5871. >No.
  5872. >She hasn't.
  5873. >Couldn't have.
  5874. >You've never done anything like that in the car.
  5875. >Anything else?
  5876. >Anything of hers?
  5877. >Anything he might recognize?
  5878. >No.
  5879. >Well.
  5880. >Just the knife.
  5881. >He doesn't know it's hers.
  5882. >Won't give the best impression, though, will it?
  5883. "I'll... um..."
  5884. >"If you'll follow me, sir," a maid you hadn't noticed says, "I'll lead you back outside. Mr. Fox will join you momentarily."
  5885. >Oh, good.
  5886. >That's what he was yelling.
  5887. >Calling for a servant.
  5888. >Not telling you to do something.
  5889. >Because... you hadn't exactly heard what he was saying.
  5890. >You nod - to the woman. And then, when her back is turned, to Silver.
  5891. >You'd prefer to hug her. Take her with you.
  5892. >But... maybe this is for the best.
  5893. >You can fix the box.
  5894. >Maybe?
  5895. >Maybe.
  5896. >Before she finds out you broke it.
  5897. >Assuming you don't say the wrong thing.
  5898. >Assuming Mr. Fox doesn't kill you.
  5899. >Assuming he doesn't notice the handy murder weapon you've left for him.
  5900.  
  5901. >You are Silver Spoon and you return Soarin's nod.
  5902. >You want to run to him.
  5903. >To stop him.
  5904. >To keep him here with you.
  5905. >To hold him.
  5906. >More importantly, to be *held* by him.
  5907. >Your body takes a step before your mind notices.
  5908. >It keeps moving, even as you scream out silently for it to stop.
  5909. >For everything to just STOP, before you make a final mistake.
  5910. >Before you wrap your arms around his torso.
  5911. >Before it's too late.
  5912. >It's too late.
  5913. >You're hugging him.
  5914. >"Silver - uh -"
  5915.  
  5916. >You are Soarin and you - you - you don't know, okay!?
  5917. >Her mom is fucking watching!
  5918. >A faint smile on her face, but you've seen people smile while they're thinking a lot of fucking things!
  5919. >You're pretty sure you've smiled as you've *done* a lot of things!
  5920. >Like that one kid.
  5921. >He *deserved* to have his legs swept out from under him, to face plant in the grass so hard he split his chin open.
  5922. >And you - you probably deserve whatever Silver's mom is thinking of doing.
  5923. >Shit.
  5924. >She squeezes you tighter.
  5925. >You...
  5926. >Fucking it.
  5927. >You hug her back.
  5928. >Not without hesitation or reluctance, because... because of the fucking OBVIOUS, but you hug her.
  5929. >Because she looks up at you.
  5930. >Hurt.
  5931. >Like a puppy that doesn't know why you won't play with it or pat its head.
  5932. >Like a lost little girl who doesn't know why you won't hug her.
  5933. >So you do it.
  5934. >Because it's too late anyway.
  5935. >"Thank you," she says, and then hesitates too long. Waits too long.
  5936. >The tacked on "for caring about... my friend" comes too late.
  5937. >You both know it.
  5938. >Her mother knows it.
  5939. >She's not smiling anymore.
  5940. >More thoughtful.
  5941. >Like she doesn't know how she's going to kill you, only that she will.
  5942. >"Diamond... um... she... uh..."
  5943. >Silver lets go abruptly and steps back.
  5944. >"... she needs friends... so... um... thank you."
  5945. >She isn't fooling anybody, but appearances matter.
  5946. >Even if everyone can see right through them.
  5947. "It's... uh... yeah. I'll see you at school."
  5948. >Assuming you don't disappear.
  5949. >You...
  5950. >Fuck it.
  5951. >You pat her head.
  5952. >And...
  5953. >Fuck it.
  5954. >Leave.
  5955. >Or you know you won't.
  5956. >You'll stay there.
  5957. >Probably forever.
  5958. >In a shallow grave.
  5959. >No, her parents wouldn't do that.
  5960. >They would have your body disposed of properly.
  5961. >No shallow grave that would be accidentally unearthed.
  5962. >They care about appearances, don't they?
  5963. >That's why Silver doesn't have any scars from when she cut on herself.
  5964. >That's why they never made a big deal of her overdosing on those pain meds.
  5965. >Appearances matter, even if the problem itself... well...
  5966. >No, no one will ever find your body.
  5967. >So if you leave now - go out into the storm...
  5968. >You can't help but recall your mother's advice, but it's calmer now.
  5969. >Surely the police would... *something*. Notice that you hadn't been killed by something blown by a freak gust of wind?
  5970. >Or you could... did you seriously just think of killing your fiance's father *first*?
  5971. >No!
  5972. >Well, yes, but not really.
  5973. >Not *seriously*.
  5974. >Well.
  5975. >Maybe. If he makes the first move.
  5976. >Maybe -
  5977. >The maid is waiting patiently at the end of the hallway.
  5978. >You should hurry.
  5979. >Get to the car first.
  5980. >Hide the knife.
  5981. >Hide everything.
  5982. >But you're too late.
  5983. >He meets you at the doorway.
  5984. >Dismisses the servant.
  5985. >Walks out into the rain without pause.
  5986. >You... unlock your doors and you both get in.
  5987. >He doesn't look in the backseat.
  5988. >Just gets in and stares straight ahead.
  5989. >Good.
  5990. >The silence isn't uncomfortable - it's *tense*.
  5991. >Like the calm before the storm.
  5992. >If that's the case... you don't want to see that, because a sudden gust nearly takes you into the oncoming lane as soon as you leave their drive.
  5993. >If this is the calm, you *really* don't want to see the storm that's coming.
  5994. >You do your best to drive safe.
  5995. >Stop at every light, even the ones that are dead.
  5996. >Stay within your lane.
  5997. >Don't speed. Much.
  5998. >No more than normal.
  5999. >Ignore the text you get.
  6000. >Mr. Fox doesn't - he checks his phone right away, while yours is still buzzing.
  6001. >"Good," he murmurs. "Serving talked with your mother and whatshisname. The head of her agency."
  6002. >That's probably what your text is about.
  6003. >Either that, or... well, it would have been nice to know to avoid this street or that.
  6004. >You have to backtrack twice because of downed trees.
  6005. >"It sure is hell out here," Mr. Fox grumbles as you do a u-turn to avoid the third. "It's respectable that you came out here, put your life on the line.
  6006. "It's... uh..."
  6007. >Is he praising you?
  6008. >You think he's praising you.
  6009. >You don't think of yourself as a particularly humble man; you're too self aware for that.
  6010. >But neither are you particularly prideful.
  6011. "... it's nothing special. Anyone else would have done the same."
  6012. >You almost believe it, too.
  6013. >Maybe not *anyone*, but most people.
  6014. >It was the right thing to do.
  6015. >"Or maybe it's just the foolhardiness of youth," Mr. Fox sighs, "thinking that nothing can hurt you.
  6016. >"Still, it's respectable that you put the needs of Diamond ahead of your own."
  6017. "Thank y-"
  6018. >"That said, you put her needs ahead of my girl's and that doesn't make me too happy."
  6019. >You think you hear a record scratch.
  6020. >It may have just been the brakes.
  6021. >Could have been a little kid screaming as you mowed him down without even trying to slow the car.
  6022. >You don't know.
  6023. >It all seems equally possible.
  6024. "Wait, what!?"
  6025. >Your confusion isn't feigned - how does he know?
  6026. >*WHAT* does he know?
  6027. >"I said I'm not particularly happy about this."
  6028. >That's not the part you're confused about.
  6029. >No, that's been clear since you first met him.
  6030. >The part you're not sure about is you putting Diamond's happiness ahead of Silver's.
  6031. >That sounds like he knows.
  6032. >And that he's okay with things, except for that one bit.
  6033. >Except -
  6034. >Except you shouldn't read into it.
  6035. >You shouldn't get excited.
  6036. >You try to keep a straight face.
  6037. "Oh...?"
  6038. >"She deserves better. Much better."
  6039. >You glance away from the road for a second.
  6040. >He's angry, alright.
  6041. "Your wife told you, didn't she?"
  6042. >Couldn't have!
  6043. >He didn't go back into the room after you left; there wouldn't have been time.
  6044. >The text!
  6045. >That's what it was about!
  6046. >Not just that his wife had made some calls!
  6047. >She told him!
  6048. "Look, Silver just hugged me, that's all. She's happy that I'm helping Diamond, so... I don't know why you'd think I was choosing anyone... or... you're not buying it."
  6049. >At least he doesn't look any angrier.
  6050. >"No. Serving didn't tell me anything of the sort."
  6051. "Shit."
  6052. >You're a dead man.
  6053. >"Though that's good to know."
  6054. >Shit.
  6055. >"I've been suspicious for a while now," he continues. "Silver's not as good at hiding her intentions as she believes. Pull over."
  6056. "We're... uh... we're kind of on a time limit here."
  6057. >"This won't take long. Pull over. I want to look you in the eyes."
  6058. >So.
  6059. >Your choices here seem pretty simple.
  6060. >Crash this car with no survivors or... hope he dies of a heart attack?
  6061. >Because there's no way you're pulling over and -
  6062. >"I can tell when my daughter is hurting, and there's clearly something about you that pains her. I need to know what it is."
  6063. "Is that why you decided to come with me? Because if that's all there is -"
  6064. >"No, her friend needs help. Now are you going to pull over or are we going to have this conversation in front of your parents and who knows who else?"
  6065. >You pull the fuck over.
  6066. >That's right. Appearances are important to these people.
  6067. >Of course he'll give you an out, won't he?
  6068. >He seems... reasonable, right?
  6069. >"Look at me."
  6070. >You do.
  6071. >Better here than... well, in front of all the police you hope are waiting at your house for Mrs. Rich.
  6072. >"What does my daughter want from you?"
  6073. >That's - what?
  6074. "What?"
  6075. >"What does she want from you?" he repeats.
  6076. "She... uh..."
  6077. >"Serving may have been willing to believe you called from Diamond's phone, but she's more trusting that I am."
  6078. >He snorts and rolls his eyes.
  6079. >"You can thank my first wife for that. Fucking Gold Digger."
  6080. "Oh, um..."
  6081. >"So you have my daughter's number. And she's been out late. Skipping school. At first, I thought it was because of her friend, but..."
  6082. >He smiles?
  6083. >Or sneers?
  6084. >The expressions kind of look the same on him.
  6085. >"... like I said, she's not as good at keeping secrets from us as she thinks. What does she want from you?"
  6086. "I think she just wants me to make her happy."
  6087. >That's the truth, isn't it?
  6088. >More than wanting you to love her, make her a mother, or anything else.
  6089. >She wants you to make her happy.
  6090. >"And what do you want from her?"
  6091. "To make her happy."
  6092. >Mr. Fox dips his head slightly, though his eyes never leave yours.
  6093. >"Are the two of you dating?"
  6094. "We're..."
  6095. >Okay.
  6096. >You've fucked up.
  6097. >*Everything*.
  6098. >You could say yes.
  6099. >It wouldn't be a lie.
  6100. >"Or is it more than that?"
  6101. >That would be closer to the truth.
  6102. >"I've seen that new ring of hers. She won't let go of it for anything, because she's like that. She obsesses over the littlest things.
  6103. >"That's why it seemed almost normal - for her anyway - and then you showed up.
  6104. >"She's been spending more than usual, but none of her charges have been from a jewelry store.
  6105. >"You gave it to her, didn't you?"
  6106. >You nod.
  6107. >There's no point in lying, is there?
  6108. "It's my freshman championship ring."
  6109. >That catches him by surprise.
  6110. >Nothing else has seemed to, but that - that makes his eyes go wide.
  6111. >"Why would you give that to her?"
  6112. "Because... she needed it."
  6113. >Mr. Fox frowns sharply.
  6114. >"She hit one of her dark spells, didn't she?"
  6115. >You wish you could say you had no idea what he means.
  6116. >"And..." the trails off, clearly puzzling it over in his mind, "... you proposed to her, didn't you?"
  6117. >You... shit...
  6118. >You nod.
  6119. >It's the truth, after all.
  6120. "She's mature for her age."
  6121. >"No, she's not."
  6122. "Well -"
  6123. >"She's a child, boy, and even if she *was* older, let's be frank here: she's unstable."
  6124. >You can't argue that.
  6125. >You should.
  6126. >You feel you should, that you should rise to her defense.
  6127. >Protect her, even from her own parent.
  6128. >After all, that's what you're trying to do for Diamond, isn't it?
  6129. >But it's true.
  6130. >"Now if all you've done is give her things and spend time with her, I can't find myself being too angry over this, but we both know that's not all you've done."
  6131. >You've never been good at poker.
  6132. >Why would this be any different.
  6133. >Maybe you show something you're trying not to.
  6134. >Maybe he takes your perpetually sad expression as an admission of guild.
  6135. >Maybe he's just assuming, because you're a teenage boy.
  6136. >Whatever it is, he knows. Or thinks he knows.
  6137. >It's the same, isn't it?
  6138. >He gets this look on his face.
  6139. >Sadness and anger and resignation.
  6140. >He closes his eyes, and when he opens them it's gone.
  6141. >Put aside for later.
  6142. >Mr. Fox finally looks away from you.
  6143. >"I'm not going to say you're as bad as the men you say are raping Diamond - after all, I don't know - but how much better do *you* think you really are?"
  6144. "I don't -"
  6145. >"Think about what you want to say before you answer me. For now, drive."
  6146. "She's not *much* younger than I am!"
  6147. >"Young enough," Mr. Fox snaps back, "and unstable."
  6148. "I never did anything to her she didn't want!"
  6149. >It's practically your only defense.
  6150. >The same one Mr. Smokes had.
  6151. >The same one you had for slamming your backpack up against his head.
  6152. >But it's true.
  6153. >"Silver is a child," her father growls. "She doesn't know what she wants, and even when she does, she's not qualified to make that decision! What she wants isn't what's *right* for her!"
  6154. >You don't have a retort for that.
  6155. >It's not the same.
  6156. >You love her.
  6157. >And he... Smokes... he...
  6158. >He said the same thing, didn't he?
  6159. >He did.
  6160. >He said he loved Diamond.
  6161. >And that makes all the difference in the world, doesn't it?
  6162. >Either... either it does and you hit an innocent man, or...
  6163. >"I'm not particularly happy about this, you understand, but I'm willing to put it to the side until later."
  6164. "I don't think anything would make you happy."
  6165. >"Probably not. What's there to be happy about this situation?"
  6166. "Silver has someone who loves her."
  6167. >"She already has that."
  6168. "She doesn't feel like she does, or she wouldn't have needed me."
  6169. >Mr. Fox falls silent.
  6170. >Looks at you.
  6171. >Looks away.
  6172. >Sighs.
  6173. >"Drive. We'll deal with this after Diamond is safe."
  6174. >He's right.
  6175. >You should think about what to say.
  6176. >He's right.
  6177. >You're a monster.
  6178. >But you're one Silver needs.
  6179. >You pull away from the curb and head home.
  6180.  
  6181. >You are Silver Spoon and your mother has the weirdest smile on her face right now.
  6182. >Self-satisfaction over her 'good work', no doubt.
  6183. >She's just gotten off the phone with Soarin’s mother for the second - third? - time.
  6184. >You're trying not to pay attention.
  6185. >Having someone else to worry about is good. It keeps your mind off your own problems.
  6186. >But this? This is too much.
  6187. >Better to escape into a book.
  6188. >To pretend everything is fine.
  6189. >To pretend Soarin isn't alone with your father.
  6190. >To pretend Diamond isn't and never has been in danger.
  6191. >To pretend anything but this.
  6192. >So much better to escape into a book.
  6193. >You're still nervous.
  6194. >Still distracted.
  6195. >Still worried.
  6196. >Still scared.
  6197. >You've read the same page four times now.
  6198. >Your fingers keep forgetting to turn the page.
  6199. >Your eyes forget that this is the exact same line they've gone over so many times already.
  6200. >You don't mind.
  6201. >It's a good page.
  6202. >Nothing happens.
  6203. >That's nice.
  6204. >Nothing happens
  6205. >It become routine.
  6206. >Regular.
  6207. >*Normal*.
  6208. >You look back to the page and read it again.
  6209. >"So... Silver..."
  6210. >FUCK!
  6211. "Y-YES?"
  6212. >"... that boy..."
  6213. "I DON'T KNOW HIM."
  6214. >"... oh? That's a shame. He seemed nice."
  6215. "YE-NO. I GUESS."
  6216. >She *smirks* at you!
  6217. >And then looks away.
  6218. >She sets down her phone and sighs.
  6219. >"I suppose I've done all I can for now," she murmurs to herself.
  6220. >Reassuring herself that she's actually done *something*.
  6221. >"I hope Diamond is okay."
  6222. >You too. You guess.
  6223. >"Did you want to meet up with them? I know where Mrs. Bear lives, so -"
  6224. "NO."
  6225. >You're panicking.
  6226. >Confused.
  6227. >Liable to make mistakes.
  6228. >You just want to sit here and read your book.
  6229. >You can't make things worse just reading a book.
  6230. >"I understand, Silver," your mother sighs. "Those were serious claims he made. I hope they're not true -"
  6231. >But if they aren't, you might never see Soarin again.
  6232. >"- but if they are, you might never see Diamond again. She might go into protection, or get shuffled out of the city to a foster home.
  6233. >"If it comes down to that, I wish we could take her in, but your father's business dealings are too tied up with her family's. It would be a conflict of interests."
  6234. >Your mother stands up, steps away from her laptop and cell phone and her charity works and comes over to where you're sitting.
  6235. >She gently pushes you aside and seats herself next to you. Practically on top of you.
  6236. >Practically pulling you onto her lap.
  6237. >Holding you tight.
  6238. >Your back to her chest.
  6239. >Her arms around you. Around your arms. Pinning you.
  6240. >"I really hoped you would have made other friends by now," she murmurs into your ear. "If you lose her, without ever getting a chance to say goodbye..."
  6241. "I'm not allowed to have other friends."
  6242. >Your mother laughs, short and stunted. More felt than heard.
  6243. >"Part of growing up is rebelling."
  6244. >You stay silent.
  6245. >You don't believe her, what she's trying to pull.
  6246. >"There's no one else at school you talk to?"
  6247. >You don't believe in yourself, what you would say if you spoke.
  6248. >"Is it really just Diamond? No one else? What about your book club?"
  6249. >You shake your head.
  6250. >"No one ever joined?"
  6251. >You shake it again.
  6252. >Your mother sighs and squeezes you tighter.
  6253. >You nearly drop your book.
  6254. >You lose your place on the page.
  6255. >That's fine.
  6256. >A good excuse to start *again*, from the top.
  6257. >"That boy..."
  6258. "I don't know him."
  6259. >"Well, it certainly looked like you want to. He's a... what? Senior, if I'm remembering right?"
  6260. "MAYBE."
  6261. >"So he's three years older than you?"
  6262. "FIVE."
  6263. >SHIT.
  6264. >Her head tilts one way, then another, her entire body - and yours - rocking with the motions.
  6265. >She's thinking it over.
  6266. >Looking at it from all sides.
  6267. >SHIT.
  6268. >YOU DON'T REMEMBER ANY OF THIS.
  6269. >YOU LOST YOUR PAGE.
  6270. >You almost scream in rage.
  6271. >"That's not so bad," your mother mumbles. "I mean, your father is ten years older than I am."
  6272. >You keep your stupid mouth SHUT.
  6273. >You wish she would do the same.
  6274. >You're trying to READ.
  6275. >"Did my little girl get obsessed with a boy?"
  6276. "NO."
  6277. >"Are you sure? Not even a little bit?"
  6278. "NO!"
  6279. >"You aren't stalking him, are you?"
  6280. "OF COURSE NOT!"
  6281. >"So he *gave* you that ring, right? You didn't steal it - or have Diamond steal it for you, did you?"
  6282. "NO."
  6283. >"To which part?"
  6284. "Should - should you even be thinking about that right now!? Diamond -"
  6285. >She hugs you so tight, you nearly get the breath squeezed right out of you.
  6286. "I know," your mother whispers. Whimpers? "I just don't want you to be all alone."
  6287.  
  6288. >You are Soarin and you take the last corner slowly.
  6289. >Good, no limbs down.
  6290. >Doesn't look like there's been much damage down your street.
  6291. >Leaves cover everything, torn from trees and beaten to the ground by the heavy rain, but other than that...
  6292. >There's a police car parked in front of your house.
  6293. >Later, when your heart starts beating again, you're proud of yourself.
  6294. >Your first thought is of your parents, that something happened to them.
  6295. >The second is that they're here for Diamond.
  6296. >Third - a *distant* third, but still pressing - is that they're here for you.
  6297. >That you should keep driving.
  6298. >"That's your house, isn't it?" Mr. Fox says as you come closer. "The one with the police."
  6299. >Of course it is, and he knows it.
  6300. >You don't even have to answer him before he continues.
  6301. >"Keep driving. Park in the street around the corner. We'll walk back."
  6302. >A uniformed officer comes out of your house as you slowly roll past.
  6303. >He looks at you - barely - but doesn't shout. Doesn't pull his gun.
  6304. >When he gets to his car, he doesn't spin around. Doesn't chase after you.
  6305. >He drives the opposite way.
  6306. >Mr. Fox chuckles.
  6307. >"He must have had the same idea," the man says. "Stopping Spoiled is one thing, but if we can catch her by surprise..."
  6308. >He laughs again and glances over at you.
  6309. >"She doesn't deal well when things don't go her way."
  6310. "Yeah, I can imagine."
  6311. >"She might say something she'll regret."
  6312. "Hopefully."
  6313. >He waits until you've taken the corner and killed the engine before looking you right in the eyes.
  6314. >"Remember that, boy. We still need to have that talk, so don't say anything now that will prevent it."
  6315. >His meaning is clear.
  6316. >Don't get arrested. Yet.
  6317. >He wants the pleasure of putting you in the ground himself.
  6318. >You nod.
  6319. >Or he might accept things.
  6320. >That seems... almost possible now.
  6321. >Almost.
  6322. >You don't want to kid yourself.
  6323. >The two of you make it back to the house before the officer, though he's not far behind you.
  6324. >You can see him coming back through the rain as you open the door for Mr. Fox, close enough you linger to hold it open for him.
  6325. The weather's better, but not *that* much better.
  6326. >No one wants to be out in this rain more than they have to.
  6327. >He - no, *she*, you can tell now - must have been expecting you, because all she does is nod and walk in.
  6328. >No questioning who you are or why you're here.
  6329. >The living room is empty, save for the three of you dripping onto the carpet.
  6330. >It's okay.
  6331. >It's had worse.
  6332. >"She'll be right back," the cop says, taking off her coat and - and you should be doing more, shouldn't you?
  6333. >Mom will give you the look.
  6334. >You take her coat - and Mr. Fox's.
  6335. "I'll... uh... I'll put them in..."
  6336. >"The dining room, Soarin," your mother finishes as she comes back. "We don't want Mrs. Rich to see them."
  6337. "Will do."
  6338. >But you don't, not yet.
  6339. >Almost, but not yet.
  6340. >A part of you is curious - too curious - about what happens next, what Mr. Fox is going to tell your mother.
  6341. >Or the police.
  6342. >He steps forward, holds out his hand, and...
  6343. >"I don't remember if we've met before," he says, shaking your mother's hand. "I'm Silver Fox. You know my wife, Serving Spoon."
  6344. >"I think we've met a few times," your mom answers. "Thank you so much for coming. Did you... um..."
  6345. >She's at a loss for words.
  6346. >*While* in work mode.
  6347. >That's a first.
  6348. >"... did you want to see Diamond?"
  6349. >The cop clearly isn't happy with that, but relaxes when Mr. Fox shakes his head.
  6350. >"No... I..."
  6351. >Your mom winces.
  6352. >"Sorry, I should have known better. It... it slipped my mind. Your daughter is the one she -"
  6353. >"It's fine," he sighs. "They're friends again, and I'd rather leave all that in the past, but I don't need -"
  6354. >His tone says 'want'.
  6355. >"- to speak with the girl. I'm sure she's been through enough."
  6356. >Your mom nods.
  6357. >"If you'll - Soarin, you're dripping everywhere. You should -"
  6358. "Right. On it."
  6359. >"And then... do you need to talk to him?" she asks the officer.
  6360. >"No, ma'am, not yet."
  6361. >"Then...
  6362.  
  6363. >You are Diamond Tiara and you want this all to be over.
  6364. >They didn't ask you any questions, but you wouldn't have told them anyway.
  6365. >It only becomes real if others know and you don't want it to be real.
  6366. >You just want to go home.
  6367. >You want to be with Silver.
  6368. >You want to forget everything.
  6369. >It wasn't so bad, not knowing.
  6370. >You went to bed early some nights, that's all.
  6371. >That's *all*.
  6372. >No one was getting hurt.
  6373. >No one.
  6374. >Nothing happened.
  6375. >You made something up, and now you're *here*.
  6376. >In that loser's bed, wearing his clothes.
  6377. >It smells.
  6378. >It smells like him, even though they're fresh sheets.
  6379. >The shirt smells like him, even though it's a clean shirt.
  6380. >Even through the harsh, obnoxious stench of whatever scented detergent they use, it all smells of him, but not enough.
  6381. >Not enough for you to feel safe.
  6382. >Not like last night, not when he was here.
  6383. >He, oddly, smelled less like him than this room does.
  6384. >He smelled like -
  6385. >There's a knock at the door.
  6386. >The police again?
  6387. >His mother?
  6388. >*Yours*?
  6389. >"Diamond?"
  6390. >Him.
  6391. >"Can I come in?"
  6392. >You shrug.
  6393. >He can't see you.
  6394. >The door is closed.
  6395. "It's your room."
  6396. >He can't hear you.
  6397. >Your voice is too soft.
  6398. >"Diamond?"
  6399. "Fine!"
  6400. >You wish he'd leave you alone.
  6401. >You wish everyone would.
  6402. >If you had your pills, you would take them.
  6403. >If you had your pills, you wouldn't care about this anymore.
  6404. >You would fall asleep and the rest wouldn't matter, would it?
  6405. >Would it even happen?
  6406. >No.
  6407. >Because you wouldn't know.
  6408. >You wish Silver was here.
  6409. >She has your pills.
  6410. >Instead, *he* walks in.
  6411. >Soarin.
  6412. >Her *boyfriend*.
  6413. >He *let* her take your pills.
  6414. >He's the one who's making a big deal about it all.
  6415. >You just want to go home.
  6416. >Your mom has more pills.
  6417. >She always has more.
  6418. >You can take them and forget everything.
  6419. >And if that's not enough, you can take more.
  6420. >More than Silver did.
  6421. >More than enough to make you forget everything forever.
  6422. >The door swings open silently.
  6423. >"Diamond, are you..."
  6424. >He's stupid.
  6425. >Of course everything's fine.
  6426. "I just want to go home."
  6427. >He's dripping *everywhere*.
  6428. >Fucking idiot is carrying a coat over each arm and getting water on *everything*.
  6429. >One is the coat the deputy was wearing.
  6430. >The other...
  6431. >The other looks too well made. Expensive.
  6432. >Large.
  6433. >Your father's?
  6434. >You don't know why the idea popped into your head.
  6435. >He wouldn't be here.
  6436. >He cares less about you than your mother does.
  6437. >Compared to him, she practically dotes over you.
  6438. >Compared to him, she's not so bad, is she?
  6439. >You shouldn't be so hard on her.
  6440. >You shouldn't hate her.
  6441. >It's not as if she's ever done anything to hurt you, not that you didn't deserve.
  6442. >Soarin comes over to you, trailing water all along the way.
  6443. >He stops at his desk to throw the coats over the chair.
  6444. >Something falls out.
  6445. >You look away from him.
  6446. >You just want to be left alone.
  6447. >He's going to ruin that chair.
  6448. >"Everything's going to be okay," he says.
  6449. "Everything already *is*.
  6450. >The corners of his mouth twitch.
  6451. >"Yeah, I guess so. We've got the police here and now Mr. Fox, so..."
  6452. >No.
  6453. >Not him.
  6454. >Anyone but him.
  6455. >"He's here to help."
  6456. >Everything's fine!
  6457. >He's not here to help!
  6458. >You don't need help!
  6459. >Your mother doesn't have any reason to hurt you.
  6460. >You don't know why they keep making up lies about this.
  6461. >Nothing. Happened.
  6462. >Is he still trying to get revenge?
  6463. >It's not *your* fault Silver tried to kill herself.
  6464. >Not your fault you didn't want to play with her and she took it wrong.
  6465. >Your mom -
  6466. >It's not your fault.
  6467. >Nothing happened.
  6468. >Silver's still alive, right?
  6469. >So nothing happened.
  6470. >And if nothing happened, it's not your fault.
  6471. >Memories you haven't thought about for years - that you've tried *not* to think about - bubble up.
  6472. >You want them to go away.
  6473. >Because if you don't remember, then it didn't happen.
  6474. >If it didn't happen, it's not your fault.
  6475. >Just like your mother - it's not her fault.
  6476. >Nothing happened.
  6477. >You wish you had your pills.
  6478. >"Diamond..."
  6479. "Go away."
  6480. >"O...kay."
  6481. >You meant the memories, but him too.
  6482. >Everything.
  6483. >Everything should just go away and leave you alone.
  6484. >If you could sleep, you would, but you can't.
  6485. >You *can't*.
  6486. >You've tried, but you can't.
  6487. >Your mind starts racing. Starts remembering.
  6488. >And when you *do* fall asleep...
  6489. >... you have dreams.
  6490. >They're definitely dreams.
  6491. >Pure fantasy.
  6492. >They aren't memories.
  6493. >They can't be.
  6494. >They're just dreams, but you don't want them.
  6495. >You don't *like* them.
  6496. >You don't dream when you've had your pills.
  6497. >You don't think.
  6498. >And if you take enough... everything goes away.
  6499. >All your memories, all your thoughts, all your pain.
  6500. >It all just goes away.
  6501. >"I'll... I'll be back, Diamond."
  6502. >You wish he wouldn't.
  6503. >"I'm just going to go put these coats in the dining room and... do you want anything? Anything to drink?"
  6504. "Sure."
  6505. >"What?"
  6506. "Alcohol."
  6507. >It's not the same. It's not enough.
  6508. >It'll help, though.
  6509. >"I'll... I'll bring you some water."
  6510. >He's fucking worthless.
  6511. >You wish he'd just go away.
  6512. >He's quiet, so quiet you're not sure he leaves.
  6513. >But the coats are gone, and so is he.
  6514. >The door is closed.
  6515. >Your eyes drift down to the floor.
  6516. >You aren't curious.
  6517. >You don't care *what* fell out of that pocket.
  6518. >It doesn't matter.
  6519. >It's just... something to do. Something to look at.
  6520. >Something to -
  6521. >It's a bottle.
  6522. >Small. Brown.
  6523. >It's...
  6524. >You get out of the bed.
  6525. >The air is cold against your bare legs, from the knees down.
  6526. >The parts Soarin's shirt doesn't cover up.
  6527. >It's...
  6528. >Maybe he's not so fucking worthless, after all.
  6529. >Your name is printed on the side.
  6530. >It's your pills.
  6531.  
  6532. >You are Soarin and you don't know what to do, you don't know how to make this all better.
  6533. >You've brought help. She's safe.
  6534. >There's no way her mother is taking her away.
  6535. >And yet... she's not happy.
  6536. >She's not even relieved.
  6537. >She's...
  6538. >She's just like Blossom was.
  6539. >You didn't know what to do then, either, did you?
  6540. >You just sat outside her bedroom door all night.
  6541. >Kept her company as best you could.
  6542. >You're fucking useless, aren't you?
  6543. >If it's not something you can fix with your fists or some small, meaningless gesture...
  6544. >Was giving your championship ring to Silver really such a hollow act?
  6545. >No! No, of course not.
  6546. >But...
  6547. >It's not like you can do that again.
  6548. >And you don't think even that fancy candy store at the mall sells "I'm sorry your mother has been whoring you out to rapists and pedophiles for nearly a decade" chocolates.
  6549. >Maybe you should take her a drink after all.
  6550. >You throw the coats over the back of one of the dining room chairs and head into the kitchen.
  6551. >Something fruity, right?
  6552. >Just a little something to calm her nerves.
  6553. >Definitely not one of dad's beers.
  6554. >Mom has some hard lemonade, though. Maybe...
  6555. >Are you really considering giving a minor alcohol with a *cop* in the house?
  6556. >Yeah, maybe.
  6557. >It wouldn't be the worst thing you've done with a minor.
  6558. >And... she wants it. So...
  6559. >You'll start with the glass of water.
  6560. >Work your way up from there.
  6561. >What she wants... well...
  6562. >That's not really an excuse, is it?
  6563.  
  6564. >You are Silver Spoon and you know everything isn't always about you.
  6565. >You know that, and yet...
  6566. >Everyone is paying attention to *her* right now.
  6567. >Everyone is trying to save *her*.
  6568. >Soarin, your father... even your mother, though she's holding you right now.
  6569. >Any minute now, any second, she's going to push you aside to make a phone call.
  6570. >You remember when it felt like you were the center of everything, when the story of your life was about *you*.
  6571. >Now...?
  6572. >You wish you had never taken Diamond's pills from her, never tried to help her, never been her friend.
  6573. >If she'd just accepted what her mother was doing to her, this wouldn't be happening.
  6574. >Soarin would be fawning over you, or trying to stumble his way through a conversation with your parents.
  6575. >It's not too late.
  6576. >If only she'd just pretend nothing happened. Go home. Accept her life.
  6577. >Or...
  6578. >She had those pills.
  6579. >You're sure she can get more.
  6580. >That would solve things, one way or another.
  6581.  
  6582. >You are Diamond Tiara and you cough violently.
  6583. >Too dry.
  6584. >Your throat is too dry.
  6585. >You look for the pills you had tried to swallow, to see where they went, but...
  6586. >You don't see them.
  6587. >They're lost. Probably somewhere on the blanket.
  6588. >Lost in one wrinkle or another.
  6589. >Whatever.
  6590. >You have more.
  6591. >What you need is something to drink.
  6592. >*Then* you can get these down.
  6593. >*Then* you can forget all about everything.
  6594. >Fuck Soarin.
  6595. >He's taking too long.
  6596. >You sit and you wait and you hate.
  6597. >What's keeping him?
  6598. >He *said* he'd bring you water.
  6599. >You'll forgive him - once you take your pills - because it won't matter anymore.
  6600. >Nothing will.
  6601. >You clutch the little bottle tightly in your hand.
  6602. >No, he might see it.
  6603. >He didn't stop Silver from taking them away.
  6604. >Maybe he *wants* you to be in pain.
  6605. >Maybe he gets off on that, gets some sick satisfaction from letting girls suffer.
  6606. >You'd thought that before.
  6607. >Maybe you were right.
  6608. >He hurt Silver.
  6609. >She was bleeding.
  6610. >He hurt you.
  6611. >You had bruises.
  6612. >He took away your pills.
  6613. >And now all this is happening.
  6614. >He'll take them away again if he finds out you have them.
  6615. >You hide the bottle under the blanket.
  6616. >You won't let him take them away again.
  6617. >You won't let him hurt you again.
  6618. >Or anyone.
  6619. >It doesn't matter what they do to you, as long as you have these.
  6620. >None of it will be real.
  6621. >You wait and you hate, until he knocks on the door again.
  6622. >"Diamond, I brought you -"
  6623. >"*Finally.*"
  6624. >He comes in.
  6625. >Hands you a bottle of water.
  6626. >It's cold.
  6627. >Too cold.
  6628. >It makes your whole body shiver, just touching it with your hand.
  6629. >You... you set it aside.
  6630. >For now.
  6631. >It'll warm up soon enough.
  6632. >Not as fast as you would like, but that won't matter, not in the long run.
  6633. >Not after -
  6634. >"Hey..."
  6635. >You wish he'd go away.
  6636. >"... are you cold? Do you need more blankets?"
  6637. "M'fine."
  6638. >"You sure? It's no problem. Or... uh..."
  6639.  
  6640. >You are Soarin and you are an idiot.
  6641. >You shouldn't have gotten her something from the fridge.
  6642. >She needs something warm to drink.
  6643. "... should I get you... um... tea? Hot tea? I can..."
  6644. >Make tea?
  6645. >Maybe?
  6646. >It can't be that hard.
  6647. >Right?
  6648. >"Everything's fine," Diamond mumbles. "Go away."
  6649. "You sure?"
  6650. >She was shivering. Either she's cold or... or she's not okay.
  6651. >And you really don't know how she could be okay.
  6652. >Or how she was ever okay.
  6653. "Is there *anything* I can get you?"
  6654. >She snorts and looks up at you, a sneer smeared across her face.
  6655. >"Sil, but you can't do that, can you?"
  6656. "I... uh..."
  6657. >You could... what?
  6658. >Ask Mr. Fox again?
  6659. >Maybe he'll allow it if... what?
  6660. >If he can see Diamond now?
  6661. >See how badly she needs his daughter?
  6662. >You could talk to mom, ask her to stay with Diamond while you're gone. Or... the cop? Or...
  6663. >It wouldn't take long. Not *too* long. You know what streets are clear now.
  6664. >"Don't even bother coming up with an excuse," Diamond snarls. "We both know you're just going through the motions so you can pretend you're a nice guy."
  6665. "I'm *trying* -"
  6666. >"Go away."
  6667. "I... can't. I'm supposed to stay with you."
  6668. >But... you should go.
  6669. >She wants you to and there's nothing you can really do for her, right?
  6670. >You can *try* to bring Silver here, but... you don't see that actually happening.
  6671. >So if she would rather be alone... well...
  6672. >You don't know why your mom asked you to stay with her.
  6673. >She doesn't want your company.
  6674. >She doesn't even like you.
  6675. >Why stay?
  6676. >What's there to worry about?
  6677. >It's not like she can hurt herself in here.
  6678. >You took Silver's knife specifically because you were worried about that and it's still in your car.
  6679. >But...
  6680. >You grab the chair from your desk and drag it closer to the bed.
  6681. >It's wet, because of course it is: you put those coats on it earlier.
  6682. >That doesn't stop you from sitting anyway, because it's not as if you're any drier.
  6683. >You should probably change.
  6684. >Later.
  6685. >Mom knows what she's doing.
  6686. >If she wants you to stay with Diamond, she has a reason.
  6687. >Probably a very good one.
  6688. >Or maybe she's just trying to keep you out of the way.
  6689. >On the way back from the kitchen, you detoured through the living room and overhead the adults talking, overheard your mom say Mrs. Rich is on the way.
  6690. >Yeah, mom knows what she's doing.
  6691. >She knows it's a lot harder to hide a body when the police are standing RIGHT THERE.
  6692. >"I *said* go away."
  6693. "Yeah, I know what you said."
  6694. >You can only hope mom remembers where you got your temper from.
  6695. >"Soarin!"
  6696. "If you need anything, sure, I'll get it for you, but aside from that I'm staying with you unless this is all over."
  6697. >"Then..."
  6698. >Diamond looks down, staring at the blanket covering most of her.
  6699. >"... fine. Get me some tea."
  6700.  
  6701. >This is harder than you thought.
  6702. >You can't even find the tea kettle.
  6703. >So...
  6704. >You didn't want to bother her, but you've taken too long already.
  6705. >Mom's busy, but...
  6706. >Yeah.
  6707. >You walk quietly into the living room.
  6708. >Your mother is sitting in a chair - her chair. Mr. Fox is standing, both hands in his pockets. The cop... you don't know where she went.
  6709. >Not important.
  6710. "Hey... mom?"
  6711. >Mr. Fox glances over at you momentarily, but goes back to patting himself down.
  6712. >"I know I put them somewhere..." he mumbles.
  6713. >Your mom gives you a longer look, with an irritated sigh.
  6714. >She's too busy for your shit, though she won't say it.
  6715. "Hey, Diamond asked for some hot tea, but I can't find our tea kettle, and -"
  6716. >"We don't have one, Soarin," she answers brusquely. "Fill a mug three-quarters with water, put a bag in - get that from the cabinet under the silverware drawer - and microwave for one-fifteen."
  6717. "Uh... okay."
  6718. >That seems simple enough.
  6719. >"Oh!" Mr. Fox grunts. "Right. I put it in my coat pocket."
  6720. >"And Soarin," your mother barks, "show our guest to the dining room."
  6721. "Sure... yeah. Right this way."
  6722. >It's on the way to the kitchen.
  6723. >Okay, it's adjacent to the kitchen.
  6724. >Separated by nothing more than a narrow counter.
  6725. >Mr. Fox heads straight for his coat, while you go for the cabinet under the silverware drawer... ah. Cool.
  6726. >Shit.
  6727. >There's something like a million varieties of tea down here.
  6728. >You... uh... grab something.
  6729. >Tea is tea, right?
  6730. >Now... mug. Those are... ummm...
  6731. >Mr. Fox seems to be having about as much luck as you.
  6732. >He's going through is coat's pockets with an increasingly frustrated expression.
  6733. >Well, you find your mug before he finds whatever it is he's looking for.
  6734. >Water... well... *that* you know where to find.
  6735. >Okay, cool.
  6736. >Aside from not knowing your own kitchen, this isn't so hard.
  6737. >You pop the mug into the microwave and get it started just as Mr. Fox throws his coat back onto the chair with an angry sigh.
  6738. "Can't find what you're looking for?"
  6739. >Obviously not.
  6740. >You should keep your damn mouth shut.
  6741. >"No," he groans. "Diamond's drugs. I know I brought them with me to show your mother and the police, but I can't find them anywhere."
  6742. "Maybe they fell out in the car?"
  6743. >He has to think about it a second, but shakes his head.
  6744. >"No, I'm pretty sure I still had them in my pocket when we got inside. I checked. Well, I *think* I checked and just didn't think to take them out of the pocket before I gave my coat to you."
  6745. >That makes him frown.
  6746. >"You don't know what happened to them, do you?"
  6747. "No, sir, I -"
  6748. >Wait.
  6749. >Is he -?
  6750. >"That was our only piece of physical evidence," Mr. Fox grumbles as he starts looking around the dining room floor. "We've got to find them."
  6751. >No, no.
  6752. >He's not accusing you of anything.
  6753. >Not right now. Not of that, anyway.
  6754. >He's just focused.
  6755. >You can understand that.
  6756. >The microwave's alarm goes off.
  6757. "Give me a minute, sir, and I'll help look. I'll take this to Diamond and..."
  6758. >Oh.
  6759. "... oh. Wait. My room."
  6760. >"What?"
  6761. "I went by my room to check on Diamond before bringing the coats here. Maybe they fell out there."
  6762.  
  6763. >You are Diamond Tiara and you open the water bottle.
  6764.  
  6765. >You are Soarin and you carefully pull the mug from the microwave.
  6766. >Shit, that's hot.
  6767. "I'll check and -"
  6768. >"No, I'll come with you."
  6769. "But I thought -"
  6770. >"I don't have to go inside."
  6771. >Oh. Right.
  6772. >You nod and begin walking. Slowly.
  6773. >Hot tea is something you do *not* want spilled all over your hands.
  6774. >With every step you take, the tea threatens to slosh over the side.
  6775. >You might have filled the mug a little too full.
  6776. "So... she - uh - Mrs. Rich is on the way?"
  6777. >"Yes," Silver's father answers. "Serving had the agency give Spoiled a call and let her know her daughter had been found."
  6778. "Cool, cool."
  6779. >"She'll be here soon and Deputy Copper would like to take a look at that bottle before she gets here."
  6780. "Cool..."
  6781. >You're only half listening.
  6782. >Not spilling this tea takes a lot of concentration.
  6783. >Mr. Fox must recognize this, because he doesn't say anything more.
  6784. >He even reaches for the doorknob when he sees you hesitate - trying to figure out how to do anything other than make a mess.
  6785. "Um... she might not be -"
  6786. >"Right, of course," he mumbles.
  6787. >He lets go of the doorknob and knocks instead.
  6788. >Diamond doesn't answer, doesn't yell at you for taking so long or anything, so he knocks again.
  6789. >Silence.
  6790. >The two of you exchange worried looks.
  6791. >You're not sure what he's thinking.
  6792. >Shit, you're not even sure what you're thinking.
  6793. "Diamond?"
  6794. >Nothing.
  6795. "Can I come in?"
  6796. >Nothing.
  6797. >"Should we..."
  6798. "She... might be in the bathroom?"
  6799. >Mr. Fox shrugs.
  6800. >You shrug.
  6801. >You spill tea all over your hands.
  6802. >Shit.
  6803. >Ow.
  6804. >Dammit.
  6805. >You have to set this down.
  6806. "Diamond, I'm coming in!"
  6807. >Mr. Fox tries the doorknob and - and it doesn't open.
  6808. >"Well -"
  6809. >Mom's going to kill you.
  6810. >That wasn't her favorite cup you just dropped, but close enough.
  6811. >She's going to kill you. Later.
  6812. >You hit the door hard.
  6813. "DIAMOND! COME ON, UNLOCK THE DOOR!"
  6814. >She should be screaming by now. Ranting and raving and telling you to go fuck yourself.
  6815. >She doesn't make a sound.
  6816. >Even if she was in the bathroom, she would have heard you.
  6817. >Something's wrong.
  6818. >"Do you have a key, or -"
  6819. >It's easier than it looks in the movies.
  6820. >One kick is all it takes.
  6821. >Diamond looks up at you, up from the spilled water bottle slowly pumping out it's contents, from the drugs scattered across you blanket, and she smiles.
  6822. >Blissfully.
  6823. >Apathetically.
  6824. >Like none of this matters anymore.
  6825. >Mr. Fox beats you to her side.
  6826. >He grabs the girl by her shoulders, maybe to shake her, maybe... maybe just to hold her up.
  6827. >"How many did you take!?"
  6828. >She tries to shrug, to cast aside the question, to...
  6829. >His hands are too heavy for her to even make the attempt.
  6830. >"DIAMOND, HOW MANY -"
  6831. >"Enough," she answers with a sharp frown. "Enough to make everything not true."
  6832. "DIAMOND! COME ON, UNLOCK THE DOOR!"
  6833. >She should be screaming by now. Ranting and raving and telling you to go fuck yourself.
  6834. >She doesn't make a sound.
  6835. >Even if she was in the bathroom, she would have heard you.
  6836. >Something's wrong.
  6837. >"Do you have a key, or -"
  6838. >It's easier than it looks in the movies.
  6839. >One kick is all it takes.
  6840. >Diamond looks up at you, up from the spilled water bottle slowly pumping out its contents, from the drugs scattered across you blanket, and she smiles.
  6841. >Blissfully.
  6842. >Apathetically.
  6843. >Like none of this matters anymore.
  6844. >Mr. Fox beats you to her side.
  6845. >He grabs the girl by her shoulders, maybe to shake her, maybe... maybe just to hold her up.
  6846. >"How many did you take!?"
  6847. >She tries to shrug, to cast aside the question, to...
  6848. >His hands are too heavy for her to even make the attempt.
  6849. >"DIAMOND, HOW MANY -"
  6850. >"Enough," she answers with a sharp frown. "Enough to make everything not true."
  6851. >Smash it into pieces.
  6852. >Pull the same shit Diamond did at the mall.
  6853. >When she didn't want to go home.
  6854. >When she threw it at the floor.
  6855. >When you took her home and - and *left* her there for... *this* to happen.
  6856. >You don't, though.
  6857. >Almost.
  6858. "They can't make it."
  6859. >Almost.
  6860. >It's more tempting every second that passes.
  6861. >All that hesitation, all that uncertainty, it all wants to come out now.
  6862. >"We shouldn't be surprised," Mr. Fox frowns. "They must be swamped with calls right now and -"
  6863. "And with the way the roads are..."
  6864. >You shrug violently.
  6865. >You want to *break* something.
  6866. >"You'll have to take her in your car."
  6867. >*Hurt* someone.
  6868. >Your mother says something. She's coming down the hall.
  6869. >Sprinting.
  6870. >You didn't think she could move that fast.
  6871. >The cop is right behind her.
  6872. >They must have heard you and Mr. Fox yelling.
  6873. "Diamond. She... uh... she..."
  6874. >"What happened?!"
  6875. >She looks like she wants to shake you, the same way Mr. Fox was shaking Diamond, but she doesn't.
  6876. >Just pushes past you.
  6877. >The deputy, too.
  6878. >"No, no, no, this can't be - Soarin! Why - no, this isn't your fault, this isn't. Did you call -"
  6879. >"He called," Mr. Fox answers for you. "They can't get an ambulance to us and the helicopters are still grounded."
  6880. >"We can get her in my car," deputy... uh... uh... what's her name? says. Mr. Fox said her name. You *know* he said her name. "I'll take her to the hospital."
  6881. >Mr. Fox nods.
  6882. >"Even better."
  6883. >She pulls something from... somewhere... and puts... oh, the bottle in it. In a small, plastic bag.
  6884. >Some of the pills, too.
  6885. >Maybe all of them.
  6886. >You don't know.
  6887. >You don't stop to count.
  6888. >"Okay, take care of her," she says, pushing past you again. Leaving, this time. Leaving your room, "and get her to the front door. I'll bring my car up. Won't be but a minute."
  6889. >"Soarin," Mr. Fox grunts, waving you over, "help me get her up."
  6890. "Y-yeah. Sir."
  6891. >Following his example, you wrap Diamond up tightly in your sheets and lift her off the bed.
  6892. >Not with him, no - you don't have anything around to make a proper makeshift stretcher or anything. No poles or whatever.
  6893. >You just pick her up, one arm around her shoulders, the other under her knees.
  6894. >It's not like you have to worry about spinal damage or anything, right?
  6895. >You just need to get her to the hospital.
  6896. >This is fastest.
  6897. >Mom and he watch on with worry, but Diamond has a faint smile on her face.
  6898. >You could almost think she's snuggling into your arms, pushing herself tighter to your chest.
  6899. >Mom pushes past you once you get to the living room, once there's space for her to get by.
  6900. >Of course.
  6901. >She goes for the door.
  6902. >You can't get it when you're carrying S- Diamond like this.
  6903. >She doesn't make it.
  6904. >Her phone rings.
  6905. >"Okay," she mumbles, pulling it free and looking at the ID. "Deputy Copper must be outside, so -"
  6906. >She swipes to answer the call and puts the phone to her ear.
  6907. >She frowns.
  6908. >"Got it," Mom sighs into the phone. "We'll take his car."
  6909. "What -"
  6910. >"The wind picked up," Mom explains, reading your question before you can even ask it. "The tree on the corner, remember it? It finally fell."
  6911. >Shit.
  6912. >"Deputy Copper's car is caught under it."
  6913. >"Give me the girl," Mr. Fox grunts. "Go get your car, boy."
  6914. "Yeah... uh..."
  6915. >Diamond's smiling.
  6916. >She seems so happy.
  6917. >But... yeah.
  6918. "... okay."
  6919. >Mr. Fox grunts slightly as he takes Diamond from you, like the weight is too much for him.
  6920. >Huh.
  6921. >He seemed like a big enough dude, and you hardly felt her weight at all.
  6922. >You check your pocket - yeah. Cool. Keys.
  6923. "I'll be right back."
  6924. >Because if there's a fucking tree on your car, there fucking *won't* be.
  6925. >Deputy was right, though.
  6926. >The wind definitely has picked up again.
  6927. >Not as bad as it was earlier, but still bad enough.
  6928. >It's a bit of a struggle walking into it, but it doesn't take you any longer to get to your car than it did when you and Mr. Fox were walking to the house.
  6929. >Not that you notice, anyway.
  6930. >There's a scattering of leaves plastered across the windshield, but that's all.
  6931. >You fire up the engine and the wipers clear them right off, or good enough.
  6932. >From there, you're pulling into the driveway before you even know it.
  6933. >The cop... um... Deputy Copper is jogging back.
  6934. >Really hustling.
  6935. >Makes it up beside you before you're out of your car, and you're not fucking around wasting time.
  6936. >She's got this embarrassed look on her face.
  6937. >"I should have known better, right?" she laughs. "Not as if the lights and siren would be of any real help since there's no one else out on the road right now."
  6938. >You nod.
  6939. >That makes sense.
  6940. >Right?
  6941. >You don't know.
  6942. >You hear her words, but you aren't really listening.
  6943. >You're getting out and rushing for the door, but Mr. Fox meets you partway.
  6944. >Your mom does, too, but -
  6945. >"Wait, we should stay here," the deputy tells her, "for -"
  6946. >The sound of another engine, of not *your* engine, draws all of your eyes up the road.
  6947. >" - for that," the deputy sighs, reaching into her pocket and pulling out the back she'd put Diamond's bottle into earlier. "Here, the ER'll need this. Get -"
  6948. >The car slams to a stop right in front of the driveway, right behind yours.
  6949. >You don't recognize it, but you know the lady behind the wheel.
  6950. >You wish you didn't.
  6951. >Just seeing her makes you want to punch something.
  6952. >"HEY!" Mrs. Rich screams as she flings open her door and leaps out. "Where do you think you're going with my DAUGHTER!?"
  6953. >She advances up the driveway. It takes Deputy Copper blocking her path to stop the woman, and even then...
  6954. >"We're taking her -"
  6955. >"NO!" Mrs. Rich shouts, cutting off the deputy and waving her hands wildly. "YOU'RE NOT TAKING HER ANYWHERE AND I WANT YOU TO ARREST THESE PEOPLE!"
  6956. >"Now hold on here," the deputy barks, vicious enough that her advance pushes the woman almost back against her car.
  6957. >Leaving the way clear to yours.
  6958. >Mr. Fox and you - you share a look.
  6959. >More than that: an unspoken conversation.
  6960. >You open the back door of your car for him and shove all the junk in the backseat onto the floorboard.
  6961. >He - no, you crawl in and take Diamond's legs, helping him get her in, as comfortably as you two can.
  6962. >You have to go out the door on the other side, but she's in and - after he locks the door and slams it - safe.
  6963. >You do the same.
  6964. >At least her mother can't get to her.
  6965. >"THESE PEOPLE HAVE KIDNAPPED MY DAUGHTER," Mrs. Rich is yelling at the top of her lungs, "THEY HID HER FROM ME AND NOW THAT I'M HERE, THEY'RE TRYING TO TAKE HER AWAY! ARREST THEM!"
  6966. >One hit is all it'd take to shut her up.
  6967. >"That's not happening, ma'am, at least not until I've found out exactly what's going on here."
  6968. >But she's on the other side of your car.
  6969. >Mrs. Rich raises her hands - she's not going to push a *cop*, is she!?
  6970. >Apparently not - she just does this awkward, furious, indignant shrug - but you aren't the only one who thinks that.
  6971. >Deputy Copper takes a step back before the woman lets her hands fall.
  6972. >"You need to calm down, ma'am," she hisses. "And you *need* to move your car."
  6973. >"NO! YOU... you..."
  6974. >Mrs. Rich looks around, past the officer.
  6975. >Looking for someone she can bully, someone she can bribe.
  6976. >Someone she knows.
  6977. >Someone who might help her.
  6978. >Someone who doesn't want to kick her face in.
  6979. >Her eyes slide right over you.
  6980. >You've already turned her down once.
  6981. >There.
  6982. >Her eyes light up.
  6983. >She hadn't recognized him before.
  6984. >Too panicked. Too worried her secret might get out.
  6985. >"Fox," she pleads, "tell this woman to get out of my way."
  6986. >He shakes his head and steps away from your car.
  6987. >Reaches out for her, like a friend would to comfort her.
  6988. >"You need to move your car, Spoiled," he sighs. "I don't really know what's all going on, but... you gave Diamond something, didn't you?"
  6989. >"What!? What do you mean!? Of course -"
  6990. >"She took some, Spoiled. We need to get her to the hospital."
  6991. >"WHAT!?"
  6992.  
  6993. >You are Diamond Tiara and you... you were wrong.
  6994. >You don't want to go home.
  6995. >You don't want to be near her.
  6996. >You just... you don't know.
  6997. >Want everything to be normal?
  6998. >Better?
  6999. >They're yelling.
  7000. >You can hear *her* yelling.
  7001. >Her voice cuts through the pleasant haze.
  7002. >Makes you... remember.
  7003. >You don't want to remember.
  7004. >You think you'd do anything to not have to.
  7005. >*Almost* anything.
  7006.  
  7007. >You are Soarin and it's only been seconds since you got Diamond into your car.
  7008. >Still too long.
  7009. >"What- how many?" Mrs. Rich is crying. "How long ago?"
  7010. >You go around to the driver's door and - and she's coming for you.
  7011. >No, for the back door.
  7012. >For Diamond.
  7013. >She's not trying to stop you.
  7014. >She's trying to get to her daughter.
  7015. >Pushing past the deputy - literally pushing her out of the way.
  7016. >"Is she okay!?"
  7017. >You get in.
  7018. >You try to.
  7019. >"Wait!" she screams. "Let me see my daughter!"
  7020. >You try to get into the seat, to slam the door closed.
  7021. >Slam it shut on her fingers.
  7022. >To *hurt* her, for hurting Diamond.
  7023. >For driving her to try to kill herself.
  7024. >For getting in your way.
  7025. >For trying to be the loving mother she should have been all this time.
  7026. >You can't.
  7027. >She pulls the door open.
  7028. >Despite your best efforts, she pulls it open, and you out.
  7029.  
  7030. >You are Diamond Tiara and you don't want to go home.
  7031. >You just want the noise to stop.
  7032. >They're fighting.
  7033. >Soarin is shouting.
  7034. >Your mother is screaming.
  7035. >Other people... other people you might know... are... being loud.
  7036. >It's unpleasant.
  7037. >They're arguing.
  7038. >You want it all to go away.
  7039. >It won't.
  7040. >You open your eyes.
  7041. >You're in a car.
  7042. >Soarin's car?
  7043. >Maybe.
  7044. >You think you'd do anything to not have to.
  7045. >*Almost* anything.
  7046.  
  7047. >You are Soarin and it's only been seconds since you got Diamond into your car.
  7048. >Still too long.
  7049. >"What- how many?" Mrs. Rich is crying. "How long ago?"
  7050. >You go around to the driver's door and - and she's coming for you.
  7051. >No, for the back door.
  7052. >For Diamond.
  7053. >She's not trying to stop you.
  7054. >She's trying to get to her daughter.
  7055. >Pushing past the deputy - literally pushing her out of the way.
  7056. >"Is she okay!?"
  7057. >You get in.
  7058. >You try to.
  7059. >"Wait!" she screams. "Let me see my daughter!"
  7060. >You try to get into the seat, to slam the door closed.
  7061. >Slam it shut on her fingers.
  7062. >To *hurt* her, for hurting Diamond.
  7063. >For driving her to try to kill herself.
  7064. >For getting in your way.
  7065. >For trying to be the loving mother she should have been all this time.
  7066. >You can't.
  7067. >She pulls the door open.
  7068. >Despite your best efforts, she pulls it open, and you out.
  7069.  
  7070. >You are Diamond Tiara and you don't want to go home.
  7071. >You just want the noise to stop.
  7072. >They're fighting.
  7073. >Soarin is shouting.
  7074. >Your mother is screaming.
  7075. >Other people... other people you might know... are... being loud.
  7076. >It's unpleasant.
  7077. >They're arguing.
  7078. >You want it all to go away.
  7079. >It won't.
  7080. >You open your eyes.
  7081. >You're in a car.
  7082. >Soarin's car?
  7083. >Maybe.
  7084. >You should have taken more.
  7085. >None of this would be happening if you had just taken *more*.
  7086. >Not really.
  7087. >Not in any way that would matter.
  7088. >It wouldn't be real.
  7089. >Not to you.
  7090. >And so... it wouldn't be.
  7091. >Just a dream. Just a fantasy. Just... nothing at all.
  7092. >You try to sit up.
  7093. >To scream at them to shut up.
  7094. >To leave you alone.
  7095. >To let you be in peace.
  7096. >It doesn't work out.
  7097. >Your whole body is numb.
  7098. >Too weak to raise itself, too weak to hold itself up.
  7099. >Too weak to stop you from falling over.
  7100. >Everything spins. Everything.
  7101. >You. The car. The voices in your ear.
  7102. >Everything.
  7103. >And then you're on the floor.
  7104. >There's all kinds of junk down here, all kinds of shit.
  7105. >Even you.
  7106. >Even...
  7107. >A knife?
  7108. >Silver's knife?
  7109. >It's... so very close.
  7110. >Too close.
  7111. >You don't even have to move your hand to reach it.
  7112. >It's pressed up against you.
  7113. >You're... bleeding?
  7114. >Your hands aren't usually red.
  7115. >You don't think.
  7116. >Maybe.
  7117. >Maybe it's not important.
  7118. >It doesn't hurt.
  7119. >Your arm doesn't hurt at all.
  7120. >Nothing does.
  7121. >Just the sounds, just the yelling.
  7122. >They're all that are keeping you here, instead of being... elsewhere.
  7123. >You can make them go away.
  7124. >You wanted a knife like that before, didn't you?
  7125. >There was a reason, right?"
  7126. >You think so.
  7127. >Certainly now.
  7128. >You can make the voices go away.
  7129. >You don't have to go home.
  7130. >You reach for it with hands too weak to hold it, claw at it with fingers too slick with blood to grasp it, and pull it out.
  7131. >The yelling is louder.
  7132. >It's closer.
  7133. >You make it go away.
  7134.  
  7135. >You should have taken more.
  7136. >None of this would be happening if you had just taken *more*.
  7137. >Not really.
  7138. >Not in any way that would matter.
  7139. >It wouldn't be real.
  7140. >Not to you.
  7141. >And so... it wouldn't be.
  7142. >Just a dream. Just a fantasy. Just... nothing at all.
  7143. >You try to sit up.
  7144. >To scream at them to shut up.
  7145. >To leave you alone.
  7146. >To let you be in peace.
  7147. >It doesn't work out.
  7148. >Your whole body is numb.
  7149. >Too weak to raise itself, too weak to hold itself up.
  7150. >Too weak to stop you from falling over.
  7151. >Everything spins. Everything.
  7152. >You. The car. The voices in your ear.
  7153. >Everything.
  7154. >And then you're on the floor.
  7155. >There's all kinds of junk down here, all kinds of shit.
  7156. >Even you.
  7157. >Even...
  7158. >A knife?
  7159. >Silver's knife?
  7160. >It's... so very close.
  7161. >Too close.
  7162. >You don't even have to move your hand to reach it.
  7163. >It's pressed up against you.
  7164. >You're... bleeding?
  7165. >Your hands aren't usually red.
  7166. >You don't think.
  7167. >Maybe.
  7168. >Maybe it's not important.
  7169. >It doesn't hurt.
  7170. >Your arm doesn't hurt at all.
  7171. >Nothing does.
  7172. >Just the sounds, just the yelling.
  7173. >They're all that are keeping you here, instead of being... elsewhere.
  7174. >You can make them go away.
  7175. >You wanted a knife like that before, didn't you?
  7176. >There was a reason, right?"
  7177. >You think so.
  7178. >Certainly now.
  7179. >You can make the voices go away.
  7180. >You don't have to go home.
  7181. >You reach for it with hands too weak to hold it, claw at it with fingers too slick with blood to grasp it, and pull it out.
  7182. >The yelling is louder.
  7183. >It's closer.
  7184. >You make it go away.
  7185.  
  7186. >You are Soarin and you're feeling... hollow.
  7187. >Emotionally drained.
  7188. >You all are.
  7189. >As you look around the ER's waiting room, you can see it in the faces of the others, hear it in their sighs.
  7190. >Even the creaks of the chairs sound tired and their padding feels worn.
  7191. >It's been a... a *shitshow* of a day, for everyone.
  7192. >You wonder if she's going to make it.
  7193. >That's... that's the question right now.
  7194. >At least, the one that's on your mind.
  7195. >Your shirt is covered in dried blood.
  7196. >You should have taken that nurse up on her offer, changed into some spare scrubs or whatever.
  7197. >You hadn't thought.
  7198. >You'd thanked her, but said no, without even thinking.
  7199. >You regret that now.
  7200. >You regret a whole fucking lot, about all of this.
  7201. >It didn't have to happen this way.
  7202. >Deputy Copper and your mom are the only ones talking.
  7203. >Quietly, but you can hear them.
  7204. >Everyone can.
  7205. >"She's technically in custody right now, but... and don't quote me on this," the deputy says, "but... I... I don't *think* she'll be facing any charges. However... she's pissed off a lot of people..."
  7206. >Your mom frowns, but she nods.
  7207. >It's true.
  7208. >"... and someone might try to take the opportunity to push for something."
  7209. >Mom nods again.
  7210. >"Now, I would say there's no way in hell it'd stick, but... that's law for you," the deputy sighs. "Sometimes it's more about the prosecutors pursing some personal vendetta or being pushed to make an example of someone than it is about justice, and if they don't want to..."
  7211. >"Or... if they do," your mother adds with a worried look to Mr. Fox.
  7212. >The man shakes his head.
  7213. >He's been listening, too.
  7214. >"Yeah," Deputy Copper sighs. "They can always find a way to make something go to trial or sweep it under the rug."
  7215. >"But like you said," your mom continues, "over the years, she's... done a lot of things that haven't made people very happy."
  7216. >"She's never been punished for it," the deputy says with a nod, "but that aside... I mean... even if these accusations your son brought up aren't true, they're a prominent family and it's no secret those two didn't get along.
  7217. >"As far as I'm concerned, there's no other way to look at it.
  7218. >"This was self-defense."
  7219. >You're not sure, but the others nod.
  7220. >"The girl was afraid for her life, or at least she thought she was, and that's good enough."
  7221. >She'd wanted a knife, but they don't know that.
  7222. >You're not going to bring it up.
  7223. >Everyone looks up as the ER's sliding door whirrs open.
  7224. >It's a gut reaction, simple instinct.
  7225. >Everyone's too worn out to stop themselves, to think, to -
  7226. >Silver gasps when she sees you.
  7227. >Softly, quietly.
  7228. >She looks away, but her eyes keep darting towards you.
  7229. >Looking.
  7230. >Checking to make sure you're okay.
  7231. >That it's not your blood.
  7232. >That -
  7233. >"Can we... um..." she mumbles, resolutely looking towards no one in particular, least of all you, "... can we see her?"
  7234. >"Diamond?" mom asks.
  7235. >"Yes."
  7236. >"That should be fine, right, Deputy?"
  7237. >The woman shrugs, as kindly as you think she can right now.
  7238. >Which is a hell of a lot better than the rest of you.
  7239. >She may be used to stuff like this, at least more than the rest of you, but you don't envy her one bit.
  7240. >"I suppose," she says, standing up and putting her hat back on. "Follow me."
  7241. >Silver's mother raises an eyebrow.
  7242. >"You can just tell us where she is," she says. "If we can't find our way, I'm sure one of the nurses can show us."
  7243. >The deputy shakes her head.
  7244. >"Sorry, ma'am, but I'll need to accompany that wants to see the girl."
  7245. >"That's really not -"
  7246. >"It's for your daughter's own safety. Her friend is still under the influence and might turn violent again.
  7247. >"The doctor refused to sedate the girl - and he knows better than me - so either I come along or you don't get to see her."
  7248. >Silver's mother hesitates, she squeezes Silver's shoulders, and...
  7249. >Silver nods.
  7250. >So does her mother.
  7251. >The deputy starts walking and Silver goes to follow, but her mother hesitates again.
  7252. >"And... um..." she mumbles, "how is... how is Spoiled?"
  7253. >Deputy Copper's face turns grim.
  7254. >"We're all hoping she'll pull through."
  7255. >All?
  7256. >You're not so sure of that.
  7257. >Maybe.
  7258. >For Diamond's sake, if nothing else.
  7259. >She doesn't need that on her conscience.
  7260. >Then again... maybe you're hoping she doesn't.
  7261. >For Diamond's sake.
  7262.  
  7263. >You are Silver Spoon and you...
  7264. >Leave Soarin.
  7265. >You don't want to.
  7266. >You don't want him to let you.
  7267. >But... you're not so crazy as to run to him, to check him over for the injuries you know aren't there, to have him hold you and stroke your head and tell you everything is okay.
  7268. >Just crazy enough you want to.
  7269. >It's the presence of the deputy that stops you.
  7270. >She's staring, waiting, watching.
  7271. >Soarin isn't in handcuffs.
  7272. >No one has told her anything.
  7273. >But she's watching.
  7274. >For what?
  7275. >She might not recognize you - you *hope* she doesn't* - but you know her.
  7276. >You and Diamond... you've caused her some trouble over the years, haven't you?
  7277. >Would she relish the opportunity to take revenge, now that Diamond's mother can't stop her?
  7278. >You stay away from Soarin.
  7279. >You follow the deputy.
  7280. >It's further than you expected.
  7281. >Diamond's not right through the ER doors, not in the open room with beds full of people injured during the storm.
  7282. >She's in a separate room, out of the way. The door is locked.
  7283. >The deputy knocks.
  7284. >"Who is it?"
  7285. >She's not alone.
  7286. >"It's Copper."
  7287. >The door clicks, and swings open.
  7288. >There's another deputy here, watching Diamond as she sleeps.
  7289. >He smiles as the door opens.
  7290. >"Ready to swap?" he asks. "You know these kinds of cases..."
  7291. >The man stops when he sees you and your mother, but the woman nods.
  7292. >"Sure thing, Flat. I know these creep you out."
  7293. >"Thanks, Copper," he says, nodding his appreciation.
  7294. >The man stands - out of the way - and slips out as quickly as he can once you're all inside.
  7295. >"Drugs?" your mother asks softly.
  7296. >"No, sexual abuse," the woman answers, just as quietly. "The doctors examined her and... while we can't say for sure, it seems like that boy's story is true. There's definite signs of *something*."
  7297. >You look back. Up.
  7298. >At your mother's face looming over you.
  7299. >At her conflicted expression.
  7300. >Hurt. Angry.
  7301. >Sad.
  7302. >Spoiled wasn't just Diamond's mother, she was your mother's friend.
  7303. >Head of the Canterlot ISD school board.
  7304. >An... an advocate for children in need.
  7305. >"It's not possible it was just..."
  7306. >Your mother's at a loss.
  7307. >"... just..."
  7308. >"I was a teenager once, too," Deputy Copper sighs, "I know what you're asking, but we don't think so."
  7309. >Your mother nods sadly.
  7310. >The answer she was expecting.
  7311. >"You shouldn't be telling us," she sighs, "should you?"
  7312. >"That's one reason why I'm not giving you specifics, but... you work with the agency. You know what she's going to be going through after this. The girl needs a support network."
  7313. >You don't care about that, about any of it.
  7314. >You only have eyes for the freshly wrapped bandage around Diamond's wrist.
  7315. >It reminds you of your own.
  7316. >Of the one the doctors had put on you, years ago.
  7317. >It makes you want to cry.
  7318. >To hate yourself.
  7319. >More than normal.
  7320. >More than you always do.
  7321. >Diamond tried to kill herself.
  7322. >Just like you wished she would.
  7323. >How much of that blood on Soarin is hers and how much is her mother's?
  7324. >How much of that blood is on you?
  7325.  
  7326. >You are Diamond Tiara and you made the noise go away.
  7327. >Once.
  7328. >It's back again.
  7329. >There's someone holding -
  7330. >You can feel your hand.
  7331. >You can feel someone holding on to it tightly.
  7332. >You shouldn't be able to feel anything at all.
  7333. >It must be those pills the doctor made you take.
  7334. >You want to make the noise go away, to make everything go away, to slip silently back to sleep, but she won't stop.
  7335. >Silver won't stop saying she's sorry.
  7336. "Fr'wha?"
  7337. >"For wishing you would kill yourself and you tried and I'm so sorry this is all my fault and -"
  7338. >Is she fucking crazy?
  7339. >Of course she's fucking crazy.
  7340. >Always has been.
  7341. "Din't."
  7342. >That shuts her up.
  7343. >For a bit.
  7344. >Fucking shit.
  7345. >"But... your arm..." she whines. "You cut yourself."
  7346. "Caught't onna gutter'r somethin'."
  7347. >You still don't know.
  7348. >Doesn't really matter.
  7349. >"Well... but... you overdosed on -"
  7350. "Din't. Took more'n normal, s'all."
  7351. >The stupid cop lady nods.
  7352. >"We've already run her blood," she says.
  7353. >Huh.
  7354. >When?
  7355. >You hadn't noticed.
  7356. >"She didn't have a lethal dose in her system, so if she says she didn't try to commit suicide, I'll believe her."
  7357. "Just wanted t'forget everything."
  7358. >Suicide?
  7359. >*Really*?
  7360. >You're too selfish to do that to yourself.
  7361. >Or maybe just not brave enough.
  7362. >You push both thoughts away.
  7363. >It's easy to forget them, despite what the doctor gave you.
  7364. >It's easy to forget everything right now.
  7365. >You took enough to make that happen.
  7366. >Was the whole point.
  7367. >"I'm still sorry," Sil says softly, "for wishing you would."
  7368. "S'fine. Won't remember any of this."
  7369. >If you don't remember it, it didn't really happen.
  7370. >Sil's still your friend.
  7371. >You don't want her to leave.
  7372.  
  7373. >You are Soarin and you watch your mother walk away with the male deputy.
  7374. >Something about work, about the Social Welfare Agency and what they were going to do about this situation.
  7375. >That leaves just you and Mr. Fox sitting in the waiting room.
  7376. >He looks away from the pair and stands up.
  7377. >Moves closer.
  7378. >Sits down right opposite you.
  7379. >"Today's been a rough day for you, hasn't it?"
  7380. "That doesn't even begin to cover it."
  7381. >Silver's parents fount out about you.
  7382. >Diamond nearly died.
  7383. >Almost killed her mother.
  7384. >Maybe did. You're not sure yet.
  7385. >And that's just the part that's your fault.
  7386. >"I suppose not," he responds with a sympathetic, if weak, smile, "but you seemed to have come through, if not unscarred, then at least admirably. That was some quick thinking with Spoiled."
  7387. "Yeah... well... I do sports. Physical injuries I'm used to. But Diamond..."
  7388. >"I know. You froze up when we found her, but... I'm not going to hold that against you. It's been one hell of a day."
  7389. >Mr. Fox shrugs - and sighs, his breath flowing out as his shoulders fall.
  7390. >"Sooner or later, anyone's going to hit their limit. What makes him special is if he keeps going anyway and you... you did that. You froze up for a bit, but you didn't let that *stop* you. You didn't give up."
  7391. "I couldn't. Diamond needed to get to the hospital."
  7392. >He nods, but -
  7393. >"Even before that, son, it seems like you've been giving your all to help her. Going out in the storm, like that - hell, *not* handing her over to Spoiled. She could have ruined you, you know. Still might."
  7394. >If she makes it, he means.
  7395. >Or even if she doesn't...
  7396. >You regret everything, but not helping her.
  7397. >Never that.
  7398. >The man shrugs.
  7399. >"It would have been easy to hand Diamond over to Spoiled this morning. You could have called her and told her where she was, put the girl out, any one of a dozen things."
  7400. >You shake your head.
  7401. >"I couldn't do that."
  7402. >"Why not? You didn't know what was happening, not until you spoke to Soothing."
  7403. "Because I... I couldn't. Mom couldn't. We both knew something was wrong."
  7404. >"How could you know that? Spoiled is the girl's mother," he murmurs softly, "and I think she really does love Diamond. She was out in the storm, hunting for her daughter, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't because she was scared for herself."
  7405. "I..."
  7406. >You'd asked it before.
  7407. >What if Mrs. Rich *does* love her daughter? What if she's just... *wrong* about how she does it?
  7408. >"You saw it same as I did," Mr. Fox mumbles, "how she flew into a panic when she heard Diamond had ODed. She was scared for her little girl.
  7409. >"It should have been easy enough for you to dismiss Diamond running away as just another one of her pranks, just another stupid thing she was doing for attention or to hurt someone else.
  7410. >"Everyone else did, so why not you?"
  7411. "Because... because something obviously wasn't right. I had to do something."
  7412. >"Filthy hasn't and he's the girl's *father*."
  7413. "Well, he didn't know."
  7414. >"That's the crux of the issue, isn't it?" Mr. Fox chuckles darkly. "I told you before, he's a man who specializes in not knowing what's happening.
  7415. >"See, a man can know *something* is going on, and so he might not look too close at what that is, might intentionally not notice, but a man learns all the details of a situation like this... well... then he has a choice."
  7416. "I don't believe he does."
  7417. >"No, I guess not," Mr. Fox sighs, "so, you understand my dilemma.
  7418. >"I occasionally - maybe too often - turn a blind eye to what my daughter is doing. We're strict on her, the wife and I, so... Diamond was Serving's way of giving our little girl some freedom.
  7419. >"A friend who'd take her outside of our reach, but not too far. Get her into trouble - but not too much.
  7420. >"You know, let her live life without putting her into too much danger.
  7421. >"I liked not knowing what was happening, not exactly.
  7422. >"Teenagers will be teenagers and all that.
  7423. >"I liked not knowing, but now... now I have to make a choice.
  7424. >"A man is hurting my daughter. Maybe he thinks he loves her."
  7425. >He raises a finger before you can object.
  7426. >"Maybe he even does.
  7427. >"After all, Spoiled does love her daughter, but that doesn't mean -"
  7428. "There's a difference. I haven't *hurt* your daughter."
  7429. >"But you know Silver, don't you? How she obsesses over things. Right now, I think that's you. You *existing* hurts her."
  7430. "But -"
  7431. >"But taking you away would hurt her, too.
  7432. >"So now I have a choice to make, same as you did this morning."
  7433. "Wha -"
  7434. >"I can only hope I approach it with as much bravery as you did."
  7435. >Oh.
  7436. >"I guess... it's time for that talk."
  7437. >Shit.
  7438. "Um... now?"
  7439. >"We're alone, aren't we?" he asks. "And I don't know about you, but I'm too tired for any more bullshit. I want this settled before something happens. Before... shit, son...
  7440. >"I don't - I don't want to end up like Spoiled, getting stabbed by my own daughter."
  7441. "That's -"
  7442. >"Sorry, I'm being dramatic. She's more likely to hurt herself, after all. She's done it before. You know all about that, don't you?"
  7443. >You nod weakly.
  7444. "She... uh... she wouldn't -"
  7445. >Would she?
  7446. >She... *might*.
  7447. "She told me she wouldn't do that again."
  7448. >"I don't think she will," Mr. Fox agrees, "but she's always been unpredictable."
  7449. "But... Diamond... there were *reasons*."
  7450. >"How long before you or I give Silver a reason? How little is it going to take? It... won't take much, if she's in the wrong mood."
  7451. >He chuckles darkly and shakes his head.
  7452. >"We hired on a full time cook years ago, not because we mind making our own meals but so we'd have someone in the kitchen to stop her from taking any of the knives again."
  7453. >Something sparks in his mind, something clicks.
  7454. >"Wait, where did Diamond even get that knife from, anyway? Do you regularly carry stuff like that around in your car all the time?
  7455. >"Just... *right there* where anyone can get it?"
  7456. >Where Silver can, he means.
  7457. "No... it's... um... I didn't want to leave it in my room. I was worried Diamond might hurt herself, so... yeah. I just... yeah."
  7458. >You watch a range of emotions flicker across Mr. Fox's face, but it eventually falls back to pure weariness.
  7459. "It's not mine. I don't own anything like that."
  7460. >"You were 'just holding it for a friend?'"
  7461. "It's..."
  7462. >Should you tell him?
  7463. >Probably not.
  7464. >Are you?
  7465. "It's... Silver's."
  7466. >Yes.
  7467. "She asked me to buy it for her."
  7468. >"That doesn't alleviate any of my concerns one bit."
  7469. "If it helps, it's a really shitty knife. I'm pretty sure it's wrecked."
  7470. >"The police are going to hold it for evidence anyway," Mr. Fox snorts, "probably indefinitely. That's just how these things go."
  7471. >He sighs and his head drops.
  7472. >"Why would Silver even want something like that?"
  7473. "You're thinking... she wanted to hurt herself...?"
  7474. >"Or someone else."
  7475. >You shake your head.
  7476. "I don't think so, but that's why I was keeping it at my place. Just in case."
  7477. >"Then... if she wasn't even going to *have* the damn thing, why would she ask you to buy it for her?"
  7478. "Because she knew you would never let her own it."
  7479. >"It's nothing but a minor act of rebelion?"
  7480. "Yep."
  7481. >He nods.
  7482. >Satisfied?
  7483. >Satisfied, with that at least.
  7484. >"I can accept that from her, but what's your excuse?"
  7485. "For... buying her the knife? She wanted it and -"
  7486. >"For all of this, son."
  7487. >He holds his hands about a foot apart and shrugs.
  7488. >"Well? I've given you time to think and I hope you've come up with something good."
  7489. "Because..."
  7490. >"I'm waiting, son. Who knows when your mother and that nice deputy will be back."
  7491. "... because she wanted it. Silver wanted someone to love her.
  7492. >"And you didn't stop to think that it was wrong?"
  7493. "I did."
  7494. >"But?"
  7495. "I didn't know what else to do. She needed me."
  7496. >"You're saying this is *her* fault?"
  7497. >You laugh.
  7498. >You don't mean to, but you do.
  7499. "No, if anyone's..."
  7500. >"It's yours."
  7501. >You shake your head.
  7502. "Diamond started this. She -"
  7503. >"You're older," Mr. Fox counters. "You're supposed to be smarter - or at least wiser."
  7504. >You shake your head again.
  7505. "I'm an idiot, sir. Just a dumb jock, but I've... I've been trying my best to take care of your daughter. I've screwed up plenty, but I've given it my all."
  7506. >Mr. Fox frowns slightly and sighs.
  7507. >"I've seen that. You've spent all day trying to help Silver's friend, and you spent the entire ride here... well... you seem *incapable* of *not* helping people, even when you shouldn't."
  7508. "Are you saying I should have let Mrs. Rich die?"
  7509. >"I'm saying..."
  7510. >He stops and strokes his beard absentmindedly.
  7511. >"What *am* I saying...?" he mumbles to himself. "I'm saying..."
  7512. >He sits up and squares his shoulders.
  7513. >"I'm saying, what makes them any different from my daughter?"
  7514. >Wha...?
  7515. >"You're helping people. Seems to be what you do. Just how you are.
  7516. >"If you were just helping Silver, then how's that any different than how you were helping Diamond or Spoiled?"
  7517. "There -"
  7518. >There isn't any difference.
  7519. >You helped them. You did the *right* thing. There's nothing wrong with what you did.
  7520. >*Nothing*.
  7521. >You helped Silver and there's nothing wrong with that, either.
  7522. >That's what you want to say.
  7523. >That's what you should say.
  7524. >It's what he's expecting, you think, but it's not true, is it?
  7525. "There's a big difference."
  7526. >"Oh?"
  7527. >One that makes all the difference in the world.
  7528. "The difference is, I love Silver."
  7529. >"Do you really?"
  7530. "Yes."
  7531. >You think so.
  7532. >You *hope* so.
  7533. >You don't let those doubts stop you from saying it with conviction.
  7534. "I love her."
  7535. >"But... why?"
  7536. >If it were any of your friends - shit, if it was *anyone* else - you'd have the perfect answer.
  7537. >You'd ask why they were surprised.
  7538. >Did they think no one would ever love her?
  7539. >That she was *incapable* of being loved?
  7540. >And then they'd stammer out an apology and you'd slug them in the shoulder.
  7541. >Probably they'd punch you back.
  7542. >But Mr. Fox?
  7543. >He means it, and not like that.
  7544. >He's not asking about Silver, but about you.
  7545. "I... want her to be happy."
  7546. >"Is that all? You two don't share any hobbies or interests or anything?"
  7547. >You shrug.
  7548. >And laugh.
  7549. >And against your better judgement, answer.
  7550. "We both want her to be happy."
  7551. >Mr. Fox chuckles softly at that, but shakes his head.
  7552. >"There's nothing else?"
  7553. "Does there have to be?"
  7554. >"That's normally how it works."
  7555. >Maybe.
  7556. >You wouldn't know.
  7557. "I'm happy when I'm with her - when I'm not scared out of my mind - and I think she's happy when she's with me.
  7558. "It doesn't seem to matter what we're doing, if we're out shopping or eating at a restaurant or simply spending an evening sitting on a park bench reading."
  7559. >"I wouldn't have taken you for much of a reader," Mr. Fox scoffs.
  7560. "I'm not, but I can honestly say that was one of the happiest, most content nights of my life."
  7561. >"And you two... *read*? That's it?"
  7562. "Another time we also had ice cream."
  7563. >"Oh, well *ice cream*," he laughs, "that explains everything."
  7564. "It could have been better."
  7565. >You shrug again.
  7566. "Silver asked for vanilla, but I should have gotten her chocolate. I didn't know she normally avoids it because Diamond always steals it."
  7567. >"Diamond was with you?"
  7568. >You shake your head.
  7569. "No, but I guess it's just become habit for Silver. If I'd known... well... I guess it was a good thing I ordered chocolate for myself."
  7570. >Mr. Fox smirks - and then his mouth goes unnaturally flat.
  7571. >He's trying to keep a straight face.
  7572. >"You swapped cones, huh?" he asks, gruffly. Grumpily.
  7573. "Yeah."
  7574. >There's nothing wrong with that.
  7575. >It's not the worst thing the two of you have swapped.
  7576. >"And... she had fun?"
  7577. >You nod.
  7578. "I... I'd like to think I've had a positive impact on her life. We've had some rough moments -"
  7579. >Her begging you to make her a mother comes to mind.
  7580. "- but... overall... I think it's been good for her.
  7581. "She's stronger now than when we first met. At first she was... well, she seemed so scared of making me unhappy."
  7582. >"She can get like that," Mr. Fox admits, staring pure death at you. "You didn't take advantage of it, did you."
  7583. "If... *if* I did..."
  7584. >You did, didn't you?
  7585. "... I didn't mean to. It... it honestly bothered me, once I figured out what was happening. I'm used to girls that... well... ones more likely to take a swing at me than go to a restaurant they don't like.
  7586. "However... Silver doesn't do that as often now. She's more willing to speak her mind instead of doing what she thinks I want."
  7587. >"But not always?"
  7588. "I don't know."
  7589. >You sigh.
  7590. "I'll always worry about that. I don't mean to make her do anything she doesn't want to do, but... I mean... sometimes I just don't know."
  7591. >Mr. Fox nods. Slowly, like he's not quite sure, but he nods.
  7592. >He at least understands what you mean, even if he doesn't believe you.
  7593. "That's not all, though. Silver has friends now, besides Diamond."
  7594. >"Besides you?"
  7595. "Yes, sir, and they're not all *my* friends if that's your next question. There's this girl that goes to Crystal Prep she met at a party -"
  7596. >His eyes pop open.
  7597. "Don't worry."
  7598. >He's worrying.
  7599. "They're not like those parties that Flash Fu... uh... Sentry throws, but like... um..."
  7600. >Shit, are the ones Spitfire hosts much better?
  7601. >*Any* better?
  7602. >... well...
  7603. >Yeah.
  7604. >Blossom wasn't molested at one of *her* parties.
  7605. "... safer. Definitely safer. Plus she has friends that look out for her there.
  7606. "And these friends... some of them are the kind of girl who *will* bury *anyone* in a shallow grave if they think someone is messing with their friend."
  7607. >"You included?"
  7608. "I don't doubt it."
  7609. >"Even the ones that are your friends, too?"
  7610. "*Particularly* those ones."
  7611. >You're pretty damn sure you could successfully fend off Moondancer with no problem, but *Spitfire*?
  7612. >That bitch doesn't fight fair, and you'd know.
  7613. >You've helped her out often enough.
  7614. "Most of the girls I hang out can handle themselves in a fight. And all the ones that've met Silver absolutely adore her."
  7615. >"And... your male friends?"
  7616. >You have to laugh.
  7617. >It's obvious, right?
  7618. "They're jocks. I don't trust them around her."
  7619. >Come to think of it, that applies to half of the girls, too, doesn't it?
  7620. >Shit.
  7621. >Good thing Spitfire has her preferences, but some of the rest...
  7622. >"I wouldn't either trust them either," Mr. Fox laughs, "but you... you're a jock, too, aren't you?"
  7623. >Well.
  7624. >You shrug.
  7625. >It's not exactly something you can deny.
  7626. "I like to think I'm..."
  7627. >"Better?"
  7628. >You shrug again.
  7629. "Different. Nicer, maybe."
  7630. >They have their way of doing things, and you have yours.
  7631. >"You know," Mr. Fox chuckles softly, "between... between Silver and everything you've done today, I had you pegged more as a white knight type of guy, going after damsels in distress. Not..."
  7632. >That's... understandable?
  7633. >You can see how he might think that.
  7634. >Hell, maybe it's even true to an extent, but *only* to an extent.
  7635. "I'm not Flash Fucking Sentry. I don't -"
  7636. >How can you word this politely?
  7637. >Fuck it, you already gave up on polite when you called that fucker by his full name just now.
  7638. "- I don't... prey on the weak. Hell, I..."
  7639. >Come to think of it...
  7640. "... I don't think I've ever even asked a girl out. Never really had to."
  7641. >"Not even my daughter?"
  7642. "I mean... I've asked if she wanted to go out places, but I didn't ask her *out*, not like that. She... uh... she approached me."
  7643. >You tastefully leave out the part where you were blind drunk and she left a message scrawled on your chest in lipstick.
  7644. >And the whole blackmail thing.
  7645. "I was surprised, too."
  7646. >He has no idea, and never will.
  7647. "She didn't look like the kind of girl to do something like that."
  7648. >If Diamond hadn't taken pictures, you wouldn't have believed it.
  7649. "The girls that approach me, they're... I mean, I'm not bad looking, I'm one of the stars of the soccer team. My grades aren't horrible and... well... I like to think I'm a nice guy.
  7650. "Some girls can find all that a little daunting, so... well... the ones I end up with, they... uh... they tend to be pretty fearless."
  7651. >"Including my daughter?"
  7652. "I didn't think so at the time. Honestly, she seemed..."
  7653. >Terrified isn't the right word.
  7654. >It's accurate, but... not the right word. Not the right thing to say.
  7655. >Not now, not ever.
  7656. "... nervous. But now that I know her better? Yeah. She can be fearless when she needs to be."
  7657. >Kinda.
  7658. >Maybe.
  7659. >In a way.
  7660. >In her own way.
  7661. >"I'm surprised she could do something like that," Mr. Fox sighs.
  7662. "She did have Diamond looking out for her."
  7663. >Or forcing her.
  7664. "I didn't know she was a freshman until it was too late."
  7665. >Maybe that wasn't the right thing to say, because his jaw drops and he gets a confused expression you can only interpret as him trying to figure out what the absolute fuck is wrong with you.
  7666. >You've seen it on Cloudy often enough, just without the beard and a lot cuter.
  7667. >"But... she looks like she's *twelve*. If that!"
  7668. >He -
  7669. >Well -
  7670. >Uh -
  7671. >Fuck.
  7672. >You... fucking shrug. Hard.
  7673. "There are girls on the soccer team with about the same build as Silver. Seniors."
  7674. >That's... true.
  7675. >Taller, but basically.
  7676. >Mr. Fox grunts and shakes his head.
  7677. >It's true, right?
  7678. >Some people just look younger.
  7679. >And you didn't know.
  7680. >He must agree, because he shrugs.
  7681. >"I suppose."
  7682. >Good.
  7683. >"She's not pregnant, is she?"
  7684. >Maybe that wasn't the right thing to say, because his jaw drops and he gets a confused expression you can only interpret as him trying to figure out what the absolute fuck is wrong with you.
  7685. >You've seen it on Cloudy often enough, just without the beard and a lot cuter.
  7686. >"But... she looks like she's *twelve*. If that!"
  7687. >He -
  7688. >Well -
  7689. >Uh -
  7690. >Fuck.
  7691. >You... fucking shrug. Hard.
  7692. "There are girls on the soccer team with about the same build as Silver. Seniors."
  7693. >That's... true.
  7694. >Taller, but basically.
  7695. >Mr. Fox grunts and shakes his head.
  7696. >It's true, right?
  7697. >Some people just look younger.
  7698. >And you didn't know.
  7699. >He must agree, because he shrugs.
  7700. >"I suppose."
  7701. >Good.
  7702. >"She's not pregnant, is she?"
  7703. >You can't believe it.
  7704. >Not the part about changing doctors.
  7705. >You remember that.
  7706. >Have to get his name later.
  7707. >No, you can't believe she wasn't on the pill.
  7708. >Didn't she say she was?
  7709. >Or... did you simply assume?
  7710. >Was she lying to you?
  7711. >Or were you lying to yourself?
  7712. >Both seem reasonable.
  7713. >She wouldn't want to drive you away, particularly if she'd heard about your scare with Cloudy.
  7714. >And you... you just... assumed, but you never saw her take anything.
  7715. >Shit, she might have even told you she *wasn't*.
  7716. >You don't remember.
  7717. >You didn't think.
  7718. >"Also because of you, I guess," Mr. Fox murmurs, oblivious to - or politely ignoring - your panic. "It seems more necessary than ever now.
  7719. >"Even if he wasn't misleading us, there are other options Silver could choose to pursue. One of them might work. We... we didn't think she needed anything that extreme."
  7720. >Mr. Fox looks up, his face nearly as grey as his beard.
  7721. >He looks... *old*.
  7722. >Worn.
  7723. >Exhausted.
  7724. >He glances away, past you.
  7725. >"Looks like our talk is over," he sighs.
  7726. >You turn slightly, enough to see your mother and the deputy coming back.
  7727. >They're still at the other end of the room, still talking.
  7728. >Not paying any attention to anyone else.
  7729. "So..."
  7730. >There's something you need to know before they get back.
  7731. "... do I... *pass*?"
  7732. >Mr. Fox snorts once and shakes his head, laughing.
  7733. >"I don't know," he sighs. "I always knew this would happen someday, but I wasn't prepared for it to be so soon. Not that I think I ever *would* be."
  7734. "Her birthday's in a few months. She'll be legal then."
  7735. >"She'll still be my little girl then."
  7736. >He's -
  7737. >Well -
  7738. >You don't even *know* what to worry about.
  7739. >Neither does he.
  7740. "You'll... um... by then, you'll have gotten to know me better, and -"
  7741. >"That could be good or bad for you," Mr. Fox sighs, "and I don't think I will. Are you familiar with the works of Sh-"
  7742. >He shakes his head.
  7743. >"Nevermind. Probably not. Just some Asian philosopher. Anyway, he said... well... what he said, essentially, was you only really see people as they truly are at moments of crisis.
  7744. >"Unless you're an expert actor, I've seen enough. I think you're a decent guy, or at least you're doing your damnedest, but this isn't about you anymore.
  7745. >"It's about me accepting it - or not."
  7746. >He shakes his head again.
  7747. >"No, I'm wrong. This is about Silver and what's best for her. Problem is, I don't know what that would be.
  7748. >"And before you say anything, you don't either. Not really."
  7749. "We could ask her."
  7750. >"That seems reasonable," Mr. Fox agrees, "except... she has even less of a clue than you or I.
  7751. >"She's still a *child*, Soarin."
  7752. >He's right, but she's gotten better.
  7753. >So much better, even if she doesn't always know the right thing to do.
  7754. >Even if she can't always make herself do it.
  7755. "We should still ask her."
  7756. >"What she wants might be unreasonable. It might give her false hope."
  7757. "I know."
  7758. >Mr. Fox glances away from you momentarily and frowns.
  7759. >He leans in towards you.
  7760. >You can hear footsteps coming closer.
  7761. >"One last word of advice, son," he whispers, "don't you dare so much as *touch* her until her birthday."
  7762. "I... I can accept that."
  7763. >"Look, this isn't a threat. Putting aside me being her father, it just isn't smart right now.
  7764. >"After this, after these accusations become public, I have a nasty feeling things are going to turn into a witch hunt around here."
  7765. "I understand."
  7766. >"Not that you two can't spend time together, but make sure you do it in public. As for after her birthday... we'll see. You seem like a decent fellow, but Silver's grades *have* been dropping, and..."
  7767. >You nod.
  7768. >It's reasonable.
  7769. >You don't think you can hope for any more than that.
  7770. >"... so... think you'll make the playoffs this year?"
  7771. >The sudden swap of topic catches you by surprise.
  7772. >In your silence, you can hear footsteps right behind you.
  7773. >Ah.
  7774. >"Heck yeah," the deputy answers while you're still tongue tied. "They've fallen a little behind, but everyone's having a tough time of it this year."
  7775. >"Oh?" your mom hums. "I had no idea you had kids."
  7776. >"I don't, but I still follow the local high school teams. I mean, it's no football, but it's the best we got here. Never miss one of the Wondercolt's games!"
  7777. >His face suddenly falls.
  7778. >"Yeah, but... all things considered, maybe I should stop. Just for now. It'd probably look a little weird, since I don't have kids and all."
  7779. >"On the bright side," Mr. Fox chuckles, "the school might want to hire additional security for the games, just in case. Maybe an off-duty officer or two."
  7780. >That brings a smile to the man's face.
  7781. >"Oh, yeah, you got a point! And nothing beats getting paid to watch a game."
  7782. >You can't believe how easily the all transitioned to this.
  7783. >It just doesn't seem very important.
  7784. >Your mom is the first to take a seat, the deputy shortly after.
  7785. >"I guess I should check on Copper," he mumbles halfheartedly, "but..."
  7786. >But he doesn't.
  7787. >"Yeah, unless you guys lose a couple of players, I can see you making playoffs," he continues. "Maybe even winning the championship."
  7788. "I... uh... I haven't really been paying attention to the other teams. I've had... other things."
  7789. >"Oh, yeah? Oh. Yeah. You're a senior, right? Probably focusing on your college essays and stuff, I get it, but..."
  7790. >You... shrug.
  7791. >If he's going to give you a better excuse than you could come up with on your own, you're not going to turn it down.
  7792. >"Oh, man, there've been some *huge* upsets! You know Trottingham's been going undefeated so far?"
  7793. "Yeah?"
  7794. >"Well not anymore! You guys are only a few games behind them now."
  7795. "Really?"
  7796. >You had no idea.
  7797. >You've been going to practices, but that's about it.
  7798. >There hasn't been a game since you rejoined the team.
  7799. >Though... soon. There's one soon.
  7800. >But...
  7801. "I... don't know. With all this... I don't know if I'll keep playing."
  7802. >It just feels... so *trivial*.
  7803. >Everyone frowns at that.
  7804. >Even Mr. Fox.
  7805. >"What!? No!" the deputy goes off. "This might be your last chance, unless you think some college team is picking you up! You've gotta at least take the shot!"
  7806. >"Hold on, Deputy Donuts," your mother says, raising a hand to stop him, "my son does have a lot on his mind right now. Though... there's at least one thing he can stop worrying about."
  7807. >"Two," the deputy corrects. "Mrs. Rich is going to pull through."
  7808. >Mom makes her 'agree to disagree' face.
  7809. >"More importantly," she states, putting an arm around your shoulders and giving you a hug, "it seems like Diamond won't be facing any charges. The deputy got a call while we were talking and -"
  7810. >"Seems like there's been an investigation in the works for a while," he interrupts. "We've got a whole list of folks the detectives were keeping an eye on."
  7811. "Wait, they *knew* what Mrs. Rich was doing!?"
  7812. >The deputy winces.
  7813. "And they didn't stop her? What the fuck!?"
  7814. >"Soarin," mom sighs, "sometimes the police need more evidence before they can act."
  7815. "She was - she was being *raped*, mom! They didn't even try to help her!"
  7816. >"Actually," Deputy Donuts dares, "Mrs. Rich... uh... she isn't on the list.
  7817. >"You are, though, but... yeah... I'll get you off that."
  7818. >You?
  7819. >You!?
  7820. >Not - *her*!?
  7821. >"You can do that?" Mr. Fox asks cautiously.
  7822. >"Well, not really," the deputy answers, "but I'll make it happen. I mean... he's one of the stars of the Wonderbolts. We don't need a stupid investigation messing up our chances of the playoffs.
  7823. >"Besides, he's innocent, right?"
  7824. >You never did anything to Diamond.
  7825. >It has to be Silver.
  7826. >They already know.
  7827. >You're going to jail.
  7828. >Mr. Fox know it.
  7829. >You know it.
  7830. >Mom - she's only known you for the last nineteen years.
  7831. >She can tell something's wrong.
  7832. >She may not know what you did, but she knows.
  7833. >Everyone but the deputy knows it.
  7834. >You're going to jail.
  7835. >"You're a good kid," he rambles on. "A little rough on the field sometimes - okay, brutal, at times - but you can't say none of them didn't deserve it, right?
  7836. >"But *this*? Nah. This is different. I just can't see it. You don't match the profile of the rest at all.
  7837. >"I mean, you're the one who came forward and busted this open. The detectives, they were thinking this was all just a group of rich perverts swapping pictures!"
  7838. >"But..." mom frowns, "you say my son is on that list?"
  7839. >Mr. Fox isn't looking happy.
  7840. >Mom, either.
  7841. >You can only guess how you look.
  7842. >Terrified, probably.
  7843. >"Uh-huh," Deputy Donuts nods. "You know that little cafe at the mall? The one on the fourth floor?
  7844. >"They've been staking it out from the place across the way and *anyone* who stopped there in the last few months is on the list."
  7845. >They know.
  7846. >If they've been watching, they know. They saw you with Diamond.
  7847. >They saw you with *Silver*.
  7848. >You try to think back, try to remember.
  7849. >What happened, exactly?
  7850. >What did they see?
  7851. >Diamond was holding on to one arm. Silver, the other.
  7852. >That's all, you think.
  7853. >Nothing else. Nothing bad.
  7854. >Nothing incriminating.
  7855. >"Look, kid, don't worry, you shouldn't have been on that list to begin with. I'm sure the detectives made a mistake."
  7856. "No, I... I went there."
  7857. >"My son was meeting with Mrs. Rich."
  7858. "She told to meet her there."
  7859. >"She *tricked* you into going there," your mother adds, before turning to the deputy. "She used Diamond's phone."
  7860. >"Oh. Huh. So... I guess she must have gone in through the service entrance or something, otherwise -"
  7861. "No, through the front door, just ahead of me."
  7862. >"O...kaaaaaaaay," the deputy hums. "That's weird."
  7863. >He looks like he's confused.
  7864. >No, like he's tasted something sour.
  7865. >"Not good," he mumbles to himself. "Aw, shit. Detective Diddler."
  7866. >Something *really* sour.
  7867. >"Detective Diddler...?" Mr. Fox asks.
  7868. >"Nevermind," the deputy sighs. "He's just... one of the detectives. I... uh... I don't like these kinds of cases, and he's always happy to take care of them for me, even if... well...
  7869. >"Don't worry. We'll get this all cleared up, just tell me exactly what happened when you went to the cafe."
  7870.  
  7871. >You are Silver Spoon and you can't stop crying.
  7872. >This is all your fault.
  7873. >You never tried to help her.
  7874. >You never tried to help yourself.
  7875. >You knew what she did wasn't normal.
  7876. >You thought it was the best you could hope for in a friend.
  7877. >Not that... not that she had *reasons*.
  7878. >If you had spoken up, if you had stopped her, if you had said something to someone, then maybe...
  7879. >... maybe...
  7880. >... maybe you wouldn't be here right now.
  7881. >You wouldn't be overhearing your mother and the deputy talking quietly.
  7882. >You wouldn't be hearing what happened to Diamond.
  7883. >What they *think*, anyway.
  7884. >They also think you can't hear them.
  7885. >The truth...
  7886. >You don't want to know the truth.
  7887. >It's probably worse.
  7888. >So much worse.
  7889. >When did you start sharing a bed with her?
  7890. >When did she start touching you?
  7891. >They're saying numbers.
  7892. >You think they're wrong.
  7893. >This didn't start when she started to blossom.
  7894. >Di is asleep again, or they wouldn't be talking business like this.
  7895. >Your mother has too much tact.
  7896. >Same as you.
  7897. >You won't tell her you can hear her.
  7898. >You can't.
  7899. >You would rather pretend you know nothing about any of this.
  7900. >That it isn't your fault for not speaking up.
  7901. >For not stopping her.
  7902. >For not telling her it was wrong.
  7903. >For not protecting her.
  7904. >For wishing she would die.
  7905. "Mother?"
  7906. >"Hmm? Yes, Silver?"
  7907. "May I... may I leave?"
  7908. >You never tried to help her.
  7909. >You never tried to help yourself.
  7910. >You knew what she did wasn't normal.
  7911. >You thought it was the best you could hope for in a friend.
  7912. >Not that... not that she had *reasons*.
  7913. >If you had spoken up, if you had stopped her, if you had said something to someone, then maybe...
  7914. >... maybe...
  7915. >... maybe you wouldn't be here right now.
  7916. >You wouldn't be overhearing your mother and the deputy talking quietly.
  7917. >You wouldn't be hearing what happened to Diamond.
  7918. >What they *think*, anyway.
  7919. >They also think you can't hear them.
  7920. >The truth...
  7921. >You don't want to know the truth.
  7922. >It's probably worse.
  7923. >So much worse.
  7924. >When did you start sharing a bed with her?
  7925. >When did she start touching you?
  7926. >They're saying numbers.
  7927. >You think they're wrong.
  7928. >This didn't start when she started to blossom.
  7929. >Di is asleep again, or they wouldn't be talking business like this.
  7930. >Your mother has too much tact.
  7931. >Same as you.
  7932. >You won't tell her you can hear her.
  7933. >You can't.
  7934. >You would rather pretend you know nothing about any of this.
  7935. >That it isn't your fault for not speaking up.
  7936. >For not stopping her.
  7937. >For not telling her it was wrong.
  7938. >For not protecting her.
  7939. >For wishing she would die.
  7940. "Mother?"
  7941. >"Hmm? Yes, Silver?"
  7942. "May I... may I leave?"
  7943. >You - you need to stop thinking.
  7944. >This isn't your fault.
  7945. >You should have brought a book.
  7946. >You hadn't thought.
  7947. >There are magazines in the waiting room.
  7948. >Those will have to do.
  7949. >You start walking.
  7950. >The halls are dead.
  7951. >Silent. Empty.
  7952. >You follow the signs back to the waiting room.
  7953. >There's no one to ask the way.
  7954. >Everyone is... there were more people around earlier.
  7955. >Doctors, nurses.
  7956. >People calling out in pain.
  7957. >You know you saw them.
  7958. >Car accidents. Fallen debris.
  7959. >Injuries caused by the storm.
  7960. >They were here.
  7961. >You saw them.
  7962. >You see nothing, now.
  7963. >Lost in your own thoughts.
  7964. >Lost in trying *not* to think.
  7965. >To not worry.
  7966. >You've spent the night with Di so many times.
  7967. >Your body operates on its own.
  7968. >Following the signs, putting one foot ahead of the other, pushing open the door...
  7969. >What if Mrs. Rich did something to you?
  7970. >No.
  7971. >... walking into the waiting room.
  7972. >Impossible.
  7973. >Soarin was your first.
  7974. >First and Only.
  7975. >It hurt.
  7976. >Not even Di had done that.
  7977. >"Silver?"
  7978. >You jump.
  7979. >Let out a tiny scream of surprise.
  7980. >"Have a seat, Silver," your father says, motion you over.
  7981. >He points to the space on his left.
  7982. >There's an empty seat beside Soarin.
  7983. >... and there's a deputy watching.
  7984. >The one that swapped places with the woman. The one who guided you to Di's room.
  7985. >He barely looks at you.
  7986. >He doesn't have to.
  7987. >All his attention is on Soarin.
  7988. >"What happened then?" he asks.
  7989. >You...
  7990. >You don't want to ruin Soarin's life, too.
  7991. >You...
  7992. >Grab a magazine.
  7993. >Something.
  7994. >You don't even know what it is.
  7995. >Just the first thing your hands find on the table.
  7996. >It has a blue cover.
  7997. >That's all you can make out.
  7998. >And then... you sit next to your father.
  7999. >Try not to look at Soarin.
  8000. >Try not to listen to what they're saying.
  8001. >Try.
  8002. >*Try*.
  8003. >You open the magazine.
  8004. >Start reading.
  8005. >Start pretending everything is okay.
  8006. >"What's going to happen to Diamond now?" Soarin asks.
  8007. >It's impossible.
  8008. >Everything's blurry, like you're trying to read without your glasses.
  8009. >"... Mr. Rich?"
  8010. >You reach up.
  8011. >Check.
  8012. >"I doubt it. In cases like this..."
  8013. >They're still there.
  8014. >You didn't lose them.
  8015. >"... with relatives, if we can find some. If not..."
  8016. >You can't.
  8017. >"Filthy is an only child."
  8018. >You just can't.
  8019. >"... then she'll... go into the system, I suppose."
  8020. >You'll never see Diamond again.
  8021.  
  8022. >You are Soarin and you -
  8023. >This isn't about you.
  8024. >This has never been about you.
  8025. >Silver is crying.
  8026. >Quietly, but freely, the tears running down her cheek.
  8027. >They follow the gentle curve of her jaw before falling free to join the rest, staining new dark speckles across her grey sweater.
  8028. "We'll take her in, right, mom?"
  8029. >"It's more complicated than that, Soarin," she sighs.
  8030. "I'm moving out soon anyway. Either I'm going to college or I'm getting a job -"
  8031. >Or... or jail.
  8032. >Silver is still crying.
  8033. "- so... I can make do the sofa for the next few months. Or..."
  8034. >Or jail.
  8035. >That seems more likely, every second that passes.
  8036. >Every tear that falls.
  8037. "... I can crash with friends. Come on, mom, I know you always wanted a daughter."
  8038. >This should make her happy.
  8039. >Why isn't it making her happy?
  8040. >Silver doesn't have to worry about her friend.
  8041. >Mom'll take care of her.
  8042. >You'll make sure of it.
  8043. >She should be happy.
  8044. >Happier, anyway.
  8045. >She...
  8046. >You're going to ruin everything.
  8047. "Silver..."
  8048. >You aren't the only one who's noticed.
  8049. >Mr. Fox is stroking her head gently.
  8050. >"... everything's going to be okay, Silver."
  8051. >He says it a heartbeat before you.
  8052. >"Your mother and I will make sure Diamond is taken care of, and nearby, and if that means encouraging a few people to sign off on the right things..."
  8053. >He looks over to your mother, who...
  8054. >"I really should talk it over with my husband," she murmurs, "but yes. If there's no one better to take her in."
  8055. >"I can't think anyone could be," Mr. Fox responds, still stroking Silver's hair, "though my daughter will probably want to come over for time to time. Maybe even spend the night. That will be okay, won't it?"
  8056. >"Of - of course."
  8057. >Does she know you're dating Silver?
  8058. >It's hard to remember. To keep track.
  8059. >Everything's so... so fucking jumbled.
  8060. >Everything from today... yesterday... it's all such a fucking mess in your memory.
  8061. >Did you tell her?
  8062. >Does it matter?
  8063. >You heard her stutter.
  8064. >She knows.
  8065. >She knows someone has been sleeping in your room.
  8066. >She knows it's not Diamond.
  8067. >She's your mom.
  8068. >She knows.
  8069. >She knows from the way you're looking at Silver right now.
  8070. >A mother knows these kinds of things.
  8071. >Mr. Fox clears his throat.
  8072. >She's still crying.
  8073. >The magazine she had been trying to read is crumpled in her hands.
  8074. >"And Soarin -"
  8075. >Mom knows you're going to do it before you do.
  8076. >She slumps slightly, like she's giving up.
  8077. >And she smiles.
  8078. >She doesn't try to stop you.
  8079. >That's the tipping point.
  8080. >She doesn't try to stop you from slipping from your chair, from kneeling down in front of your girlfriend.
  8081. >Nor does Mr. Fox doesn't stop you from pulling the magazine from Silver's hands, from taking them in your own.
  8082. >Whatever he was going to tell you turns into a weary sigh.
  8083. >He knew, before you did, that you were never going to be able to follow his advice.
  8084. >You intended to.
  8085. >You thought you could.
  8086. >Age and experience have their advantages, it appears.
  8087. >Even just one more minute, one more hour, can make the difference between an idiot and a wise man.
  8088. >You know that, now, just as you now know you were never going to make it so much as a week without holding Silver.
  8089. >What a difference a few minutes makes.
  8090. >You pull the crying girl out of her chair, pull her into your arms.
  8091. "Everything is going to be okay."
  8092.  
  8093. >You are Silver Spoon and you never thought you would think this.
  8094. >You hate him.
  8095. >You hate him for lying to you.
  8096. >This will never be okay.
  8097. >"I promise."
  8098. >You thought you could forgive anything, if only he was with you.
  8099. >If only.
  8100. >He's moving away.
  8101. >For *her*.
  8102. >So *she* can sleep in his bed.
  8103. >Not even with him, but that's enough.
  8104. >More than enough.
  8105. >It's too much.
  8106. >You can't forgive him.
  8107. >He wants to help *her*, even if it means... if it means hurting you.
  8108. >*Leaving* you.
  8109. >Going away.
  8110. >If you'd stopped her, if you'd helped her, this wouldn't be happening.
  8111. >Maybe... maybe *none* of it would have happened.
  8112. >Maybe... she wouldn't have teased you.
  8113. >Taken you to that party.
  8114. >You would have never met Soarin.
  8115. >If only you had seen what was happening sooner.
  8116. >If only.
  8117. >Then maybe your heart wouldn't hurt like this.
  8118. >If only.
  8119. >Then there wouldn't be any need for anyone to be forgiven.
  8120. >If you'd helped her, instead of *using* her.
  8121. >Instead of letting her use you.
  8122. >Letting her *use* you.
  8123. >How can she ever forgive you?
  8124. >You told her.
  8125. >You wished she would kill herself.
  8126. >She said she won't remember anything, but she will.
  8127. >She always did.
  8128. >You heard what the deputy said.
  8129. >Those that are abused tend to become abusers.
  8130. >She must have remembered everything that happened, deep down.
  8131. >She must have.
  8132. >And that's why she did those things.
  8133. >... and that is why you made Soarin do them.
  8134. >It must be.
  8135. >How can he ever forgive you?
  8136. >This is all your fault.
  8137. >"Hush," Soarin murmurs into your ear. "None of this is your fault."
  8138. >Did you say it?
  8139. >Did you say anything?
  8140. >Oh.
  8141. >Oh, no.
  8142. >You can't.
  8143. >He'll try to cheer you up.
  8144. >He'll forgive you.
  8145. >You don't deserve it.
  8146. >He doesn't know what you did.
  8147. >That you kept quiet.
  8148. >That you could have *saved* Diamond.
  8149. >You only had to speak up.
  8150. >Just one word.
  8151. >That's all it would have taken.
  8152. >He hugs you tighter.
  8153.  
  8154. >You are Soarin and you wish you could say all your attention was on Silver right now.
  8155. >It should be.
  8156. >It *is*.
  8157. >Except... Deputy Donuts is looking incredibly nervous.
  8158. >"Ex-excuse me," he mumbles. "I... uh... I'm gonna go..."
  8159. >You're going to jail.
  8160. >"I... uh... I got kids of my own, so when I see a girl crying... I just... well, it's a good thing you're here."
  8161. >You're... not going to jail?
  8162. >"Besides, um, someone should tell Copper that girl's not getting charged and... um... yeah."
  8163. >He tips his hat and quickly strides away.
  8164. >You're not going to jail.
  8165. >Yet.
  8166. >You hug Silver tighter.
  8167.  
  8168. >You are Diamond Tiara and you're not entirely sure about that.
  8169. >Relatively certain, but you do have your doubts.
  8170. >Someone - probably you - turns over on her side and - and...
  8171. >Silver's gone.
  8172. >Was she ever here?
  8173. >You don't know.
  8174. >She had to be.
  8175. >You felt safe.
  8176. >You only feel safe when you're with her.
  8177. >Her, or... well, he's not here.
  8178. >Neither of them are.
  8179. >Someone else is, though.
  8180. >You can hear them talking.
  8181. >Not the words.
  8182. >You can't *understand* what they're saying, but you know they are.
  8183. >You - shudder.
  8184. >You don't know who they are.
  8185. >They're in your bedroom.
  8186. >Your mother?
  8187. >And?
  8188. >It sounds like a woman.
  8189. >Maybe.
  8190. >You don't know.
  8191. >It's... possible.
  8192. >It... wouldn't be the first time.
  8193. >You think.
  8194. >Maybe.
  8195. >Where... where is Silver?
  8196. >She was here.
  8197. >Or...
  8198. >Her knife?
  8199. >Did you take her knife?
  8200. >She doesn't need it.
  8201. >It was here.
  8202. >Where is it?
  8203. >You reach around, carefully.
  8204. >Trying not to let them know you're awake.
  8205. >Or... almost awake.
  8206. >Whatever.
  8207. >You can't find it.
  8208. >You need it.
  8209. >There's a man talking now.
  8210. >A man.
  8211. >You know.
  8212. >You don't know who you are, but you know that.
  8213. >The hesitation in his voice.
  8214. >The fear.
  8215. >Just like...
  8216. >You need the knife.
  8217. >You need -
  8218. >A hand touches you.
  8219. >You freeze.
  8220. >They saw.
  8221. >They know.
  8222. >They're -
  8223. >"Diamond, sweetie..."
  8224. >It's -
  8225. >Sweetie...?
  8226. >Your mother never calls you that.
  8227. >Ever.
  8228. >No! She's -
  8229. >"... I have to go now, but Silver -"
  8230. >Sil?
  8231. >" - and I will be back later, okay? We've... um... we've called your father, but..."
  8232. >You're not so out of it that you don't comprehend what she means.
  8233. >You wish you were.
  8234. >You wish... you didn't remember anything, that you didn't understand anything.
  8235. >Wishing isn't enough anymore.
  8236. >It was, for so long it was.
  8237. >That, and some pills, and you could forget anything.
  8238. >Pretend nothing happened.
  8239. >You wish you could go back to those days.
  8240. >The hand squeezes your shoulder.
  8241. >"We'll be back. I promise."
  8242.  
  8243. >You are Pinkie Pie and you're preeeeeeeeeeeetty sure your arm isn't supposed to bend this way.
  8244. >It hurts.
  8245. >Kinda a lot.
  8246. >And yes, you do understand that trying to fly a suuuuuuuuuuuuper big kite in a tornado is a bad idea, just as much as you understand that it was *fun* while it lasted.
  8247. >And then kind of terrifying.
  8248. >And then fun again.
  8249. >And then the two kind of flipflopped for a while.
  8250. >And then it was painful.
  8251. >But until then, it was mostly fun.
  8252. >Too bad other you was busy or it could have been *more* fun.
  8253. >Also, maybe it would have been easier to get to the ER with some help.
  8254. >You're only just *now* making it, and boy are your arms sore!
  8255. >Mostly the one.
  8256. >Oh! Hey!
  8257. >There's Soarin!
  8258. >You'd recognize that butt anywhere!
  8259. >You would wave, but your arm *really* hurts.
  8260. >Also, he's busy trying to strangle - ooooooh, nope!
  8261. >That's a hug.
  8262. >A *really* tight one.
  8263. >Oh, and there's Deputy Donuts!
  8264. >Heh, he's looking as awkward as *ever*!
  8265. >You *would* say hi, but you shouldn't bother him.
  8266. >He's busy talking with some woman.
  8267. >You... don't recognize her.
  8268. >She's not in any of your shipping charts.
  8269. >That *probably* means she's happily married.
  8270. >And monogamous.
  8271. >Because... well... not everyone is. So...
  8272. >Like...
  8273. >Diamond Tiara's mom is in your lists, not that you'd ever *actually* ship *anyone* with *her*.
  8274. >It's just for... you know... (of course you know, you're you!)... completion's sake.
  8275. >Same reason her daughter is listed as one of her possible ships.
  8276. >Even though that's GROSS.
  8277. >It's what the math says!
  8278. >You've been learning some Bad Habits from Twi!
  8279. >Yeah.
  8280. >Oh!
  8281. >And Maud!
  8282. >She's the one who taught you how to make a homemade kite!
  8283. >You're just too darn impressionable, that's your problem.
  8284. >Also this arm.
  8285. >It's kinda flopping around.
  8286. >Oh. Hey.
  8287. >Maybe Soarin *is* strangling someone.
  8288. >That lady looks kind of shocked.
  8289. >Maybe you should -
  8290. >Oh.
  8291. >Wait.
  8292. >Nope.
  8293. >She's smiling.
  8294. >Okay.
  8295. >Coolio.
  8296. >You'll say hi later.
  8297.  
  8298. >You are Soarin and you don't miss the sly glance Mrs. Spoon gives your mom.
  8299. >As she kneels down beside you.
  8300. >Beside her daughter.
  8301. >You're... more than incidental - the gentle smile she gives you means more than that - but not important.
  8302. >Not to her, not right now.
  8303. >"Thank you," she mouths silently, gently pushing you away from her daughter - without even touching you. Without even coming close.
  8304. >Leaving you crouched on the floor nearby, but...
  8305. >This isn't about you.
  8306. >It's never been about you.
  8307. >She wraps her arms around Silver, strokes one hand across your girlfriend's cheek.
  8308. >"It's not your fault," she whispers into Silver's ear.
  8309. >"It is."
  8310. >"No, it's not."
  8311. >"It is!"
  8312. >"It's not, Silver."
  8313. >"I wished she would kill herself!"
  8314. >Mrs. Spoon runs her hand along Silver's braid and settles her forehead against her daughter's.
  8315. >"I know this is sad," she murmurs, "but you can't blame yourself."
  8316. >"But I could have stopped it!"
  8317. >"You didn't know. No one did."
  8318. >"I *did*!"
  8319. >Silver's parents exchange worried looks.
  8320. >"I should have! I -"
  8321. >"Did... did Spoiled..."
  8322. >"No!" Silver shouts, shaking her head while tears stream from her eyes. Tears you couldn't even slow, let alone stop. "But I should have known! It's so obvious, and I'm her best friend and -"
  8323. >She looks up suddenly, looks around.
  8324. >Until she sees Deputy Donuts trying to edge away.
  8325. >Guy does *not* handle this kind of stuff well, does he?
  8326. >"I have to tell you," she says. "I have to tell you everything."
  8327. >Mr. Fox's panicked expression probably has nothing on your own.
  8328. >Everything?
  8329. >About... what?
  8330. >*Did* she do something to Silver?
  8331. >She said no, but -
  8332. >Does she mean about you?
  8333. >Is she going to tell the deputy about you?
  8334. >About...
  8335. >Diamond was involved, that one time.
  8336. >Two times.
  8337. >The first two.
  8338. >Will she -
  8339. >No.
  8340. >You didn't -
  8341. >It wasn't your fault.
  8342. >She wouldn't do that to you.
  8343. >But she's not thinking straight.
  8344. >She's -
  8345. >There's too much.
  8346. >Too much 'everything.'
  8347. >It's not about you.
  8348. >Don't worry about you.
  8349. >Worry about Silver.
  8350. >"Well... uh..." the deputy stammers, "... I'll... um... I'll need a parent present, so..."
  8351. >"I'll do it," Mr. Fox answers quickly.
  8352. >"Are you sure, Fox?"
  8353. >"Yes, dear."
  8354. >He stands and flags down a nurse with the ease of the rich.
  8355. >"Is there a room were the deputy and I can talk privately?"
  8356. >The deputy shudders.
  8357. >"Crap," he sighs while the nurse gives Mr. Fox directions. "Once the Tiara girl is sobered up, I'll have to take a statement from her, too."
  8358. >He shudders again.
  8359. >"Copper can do that one. And, of course, she's a minor... and her mother... even if she *was* in any condition to be there, that... uh..."
  8360. >The deputy chuckles nervously and shrugs.
  8361. >"Well, I guess that's Copper's problem, right?"
  8362. >Your mother laughs sympathetically.
  8363. >"I'll do it," she volunteers with a sigh. "She'll be under our care soon enough."
  8364. >"Thank you," Mrs. Spoon says with another one of those gentle smiles. "It shouldn't be too long. She was starting to come to when I left, though she was trying to hide it.
  8365. >"Oh, Fox!" she calls out to her husband as he starts to lead Silver away. "After you're through, could you take Silver by Diamond's room? If they're not busy..."
  8366. >Both Silver and her father nod.
  8367. >They understand.
  8368. >Everyone does.
  8369. >The two were inseparable for so long.
  8370. >Still are, in a way.
  8371. >They need each other.
  8372. >As much as you hate Diamond - or did - you have to admit that.
  8373. >You don't want to.
  8374. >You want to be Silver's everything, but...
  8375. >She made herself accept your friends. Accept that you *have* friends.
  8376. >You have to do the same.
  8377. >You can't be her everything.
  8378. >It's not good for her.
  8379. >"You haven't been in to see Diamond yet," mom sighs. "If she's awake... well, Soarin, this might be your last chance for a bit. Did you want to..."
  8380. "I..."
  8381. >After what she's been through, you can't believe... can't believe anything these last few days.
  8382. >How could she stand to sleep in your bed?
  8383. >How could she ask you to hold her?
  8384. "... I don't think that would be a good idea."
  8385. >"No, probably not," mom concedes. "But I can't think of the last time that stopped you from doing something."
  8386. >Mrs. Spoon politely covers her mouth with her hand before laughing silently.
  8387. >"Well... there was this time in 6th grade..."
  8388. >Mom laughs, too.
  8389. >Why?
  8390. >You aren't joking.
  8391. >There was this one time in 6th grade.
  8392. >"Okay, so this makes twice," she continues to laugh as she holds her hand out to you. "At least get off the floor and have a seat like a civilized human being."
  8393. >Yeah.
  8394. >Okay.
  8395. >You can do that.
  8396. >You even let her help you up, because you don't know how much strength you have left in your body.
  8397. >Maybe enough to stand up without falling over, maybe not.
  8398. >And then she's gone.
  8399. >Back to work mode.
  8400. >There's a little girl who needs protecting from the big bad system.
  8401. >You would have done the same, if... if you weren't so tired.
  8402. >If you hadn't just let someone pull your girlfriend away and comfort her.
  8403. >If you hadn't seen the futility of that, not that you were doing any better.
  8404. >"Sooooooo," Mrs. Spoon hums.
  8405. >She looks around.
  8406. >So do you, in reflex.
  8407. >Oh. There's Pinkie.
  8408. >You would wave, but she's very firmly staring at the opposite wall while clutching an arm that probably shouldn't be bent that way with one that seems to be working mostly fine.
  8409. >Okay then.
  8410. >She'll come over if she wants to.
  8411. >You're okay sitting here in silence, all alone with -
  8412. >"My daughter seems rather taken by you."
  8413. >You -
  8414. > - got this.
  8415. >You shrug.
  8416. >"Or, I suppose, you're taken by her."
  8417. >You -
  8418. >- uh -
  8419. >- can only panic so many times in one day.
  8420. >It's not a secret, not anymore.
  8421. >Not from family, anyway.
  8422. >You nod.
  8423. >Mrs. Spoon smiles again. That same damn smile.
  8424. >"Good," she whispers. "I was hoping she hadn't stolen that ring from you."
  8425. "What!? No! No, I..."
  8426. >... had a very similar conversation with Mrs. Spoon's husband not long ago.
  8427. >One he'll probably share with her, later.
  8428. >There's no point trying to hide the truth, no point trying to make things seem different than they are.
  8429. >You've just... just been trying to hide everything for so long.
  8430. >It's hard to give that up, to stop.
  8431. >To let the truth be known.
  8432. >You're not ashamed of what you did, not with the ring.
  8433. >Not *that*.
  8434. >Of all the things you've done with Silver, that's the one you're the least ashamed of.
  8435. >The most proud.
  8436. >The one thing that felt the most *right*.
  8437. "... I gave it to her, Mrs. Spoon."
  8438. >"Is it... a... promise ring...?" she asks, tentatively.
  8439. >Because she knows you're going to shake your head.
  8440. >She knows what you're going to say.
  8441. "No."
  8442. >"I didn't think so. Silver can get..."
  8443. >How does she always put it?
  8444. "Obsessive?"
  8445. >"Intense," Mrs. Spoon amends. "Same thing, I suppose."
  8446. >She laughs. She sighs. She shrugs and collapses forward, her wavy hair cascading along in a waterfall, falling in front of her face.
  8447. >"Fox has already had a talk with you -"
  8448. >You nod, though she's not asking.
  8449. >"- and you're still... alive. I suppose you're serious about this"
  8450. "Yes."
  8451. >Mrs. Spoon's head bobs slightly.
  8452. >"She's... you're right. Obsessive. She won't get bored of you, even after she's grown. She won't give you up, even if you get tired of waiting. You know this, don't you?"
  8453. "I do."
  8454. >"And you... you won't hurt her like that, right?"
  8455. "Never."
  8456. >Her head bobs again.
  8457. >"It's too big for her."
  8458. "I... uh..."
  8459. >The responsibility of the situation?
  8460. >The seriousness of it?
  8461. >Your -
  8462. >"The ring."
  8463. >- ring.
  8464. >Of course.
  8465. "I know."
  8466. >"If you need money to buy her a real ring -"
  8467. "I know it's too big for her, to be a proper engagement ring and go on the right finger, but it *is* a real ring. It means more than something I bought. I *earned* that."
  8468. >Mrs. Spoon raises her head for you to see her pained smile.
  8469. >"So is a ring you'd buy. Money doesn't grow on trees. My husband and daughter may have been born into wealth, but I wasn't. I know what it's like to have to earn your way in life.
  8470. >"And Fox... he hasn't ever sat back and let his money do the work for him. He's continued to built his fortune and put effort into that.
  8471. >"The ring he gave me, he bought with money he had earned."
  8472. "It's... not the same. I can always earn more money, buy another ring. But that? That's my championship ring. My *freshman* ring. I'll never have another chance to win another.
  8473. "A senior ring, maybe, but never a freshman ring. That's why it means so much to me."
  8474. >She smiles again.
  8475. >"Of course. But it's still too large, and resizing something like that would be difficult. Not impossible, but..."
  8476. >She laughs and shakes her head.
  8477. >"I don't suppose you could have a new one made, one in her size?"
  8478. "No."
  8479. >You sigh.
  8480. "I can get it resized. They'd just have to... what... cut out part and melt it back together... or...?"
  8481. >"It'd be a touch more complicated than that, but doable."
  8482. "Then I'll do it."
  8483. >Mrs. Spoon shakes her head again.
  8484. >"Did your life peak in your freshman year?" she asks suddenly.
  8485. "Huh?"
  8486. >"When you won that ring, was that the high point? Where are you going with your life?"
  8487.  
  8488. **** EPILOGUE ****
  8489.  
  8490. >You are Soarin and you should focus on the game.
  8491. >But it's only a few days until Silver's birthday.
  8492. >There are so many thoughts running through your head.
  8493. >It's... distracting, to say the least.
  8494. >The jeweler you'd taken her ring to a few weeks ago had laughed at you.
  8495. >Gold plating, over pot metal, he'd said. He could do it, but...
  8496. >You think you understand what Mrs. Spoon was getting at, now.
  8497. >It's taken a few months, but you finally got it.
  8498. >Dumb jock.
  8499. >That's why you need to focus on the game.
  8500. >Not on Silver, sitting in the stands, or the girl beside her.
  8501. >She's finally come home.
  8502. >It's taken longer than you thought, long enough you were scared, but her father doesn't want her.
  8503. >Won't even acknowledge her, not even the way her mother did.
  8504. >That's a blessing.
  8505. >She's home.
  8506. >You don't need to worry about her anymore.
  8507. >That's mom's job, and not just literally now.
  8508. >It was hard, but -
  8509. >"Soarin!" Spitfire snaps at you - and swings at you. "Get your damn head in the game! You should have gotten that pass!"
  8510. "Yeah, sorry."
  8511. >"We beat them and we're at the championship, so stop fucking around."
  8512. "I said I was sorry!"
  8513. >She takes your punch like a fucking champ.
  8514.  
  8515. *****
  8516.  
  8517. >You are Diamond Tiara and you don't want to be here.
  8518. >Fuck is an emotional trauma center anyway?
  8519. >Mrs. B- um - mom -
  8520. >You shudder.
  8521. >You can't call her that, no matter how much she insists.
  8522. >Fuck that.
  8523. >You don't have the best experience with mothers and you hope this turns out better.
  8524. >It only has to last another three years.
  8525. >Then you get your money.
  8526. >But until then...
  8527. >Mrs. Bear thinks you should come here.
  8528. >To this run down old house that's been turned into offices.
  8529. >Silver thinks so, too.
  8530. >She should just leave shit alone and go spend time with her boyfriend.
  8531. >"Anyway," Silver sighs as she opens the door for you, "I know someone who volunteers here."
  8532. "I know. You've told me already. She's the one I'm seeing."
  8533. >You walk into what was probably supposed to be a living room, but now is a lobby.
  8534. >There are a scattering of chairs on your left, a few people in them, and a counter on your right, with a clipboard.
  8535. >"I guess... you just sign in? What time was your appointment for?"
  8536. "Three."
  8537. >"It's two fifty-four now," Silver says, like you can't read the clock mounted on the wall. "Go ahead and write down -"
  8538. >Shit!
  8539. >You're already doing it.
  8540. "And are you going to come in with me, too?"
  8541. >Silver flinches.
  8542. >Shit.
  8543. >You didn't mean...
  8544. >Well, you did, but...
  8545. >You're still pissed.
  8546. >She told them about you.
  8547. >About how she found you some days. About what you did to her some nights.
  8548. >It didn't come up at... it wasn't mentioned.
  8549. >At least *someone* can show *some* discretion.
  8550. >Still, her father knows.
  8551. >You've been back for several weeks and her stupid parents STILL won't let her sleep over!
  8552. >How she thought that would help anything fucking escapes you.
  8553. >Silver sits herself the fuck down and... you sit beside her.
  8554. >You know she has a book with her, but she doesn't pull it out.
  8555. "You're going to wait here?"
  8556. >Silver nods.
  8557. >"Soarin won't be back to pick us up until your appointment is over."
  8558. "So you're going to sit out here and read while I talk to this girl about... what?"
  8559. >"Whatever you want."
  8560. >She still hasn't taken her book out.
  8561. "Are... are you going to come in with me...?"
  8562. >"If you want me to."
  8563. "Yes."
  8564. >Silver grabs your hand and holds it until a girl calls your name.
  8565. >You're on your feet first, ready to get this over with, but Silver doesn't let go.
  8566. >You don't let her.
  8567. >You're safe as long as you're with her.
  8568. >The girl waves as you approach.
  8569. >She's wearing some stupid plaid lumberjack shirt and jeans - so horribly never in style that it can't be -
  8570. >"Hi," she greets you, hand outstretched. "I'm Blossomforth"
  8571. >You can't believe Silver would associate with some stupid girl that can't even dress herself.
  8572. >You don't know why she's still your friend.
  8573. >Or ever was.
  8574. >You don't let go of her hand to shake the girl's.
  8575. >She can go fuck herself.
  8576. >Thinking she can steal Silver from you.
  8577. >Fuck that.
  8578. >"Okay, if you'll just follow me..." she says after a moment, still smiling like she didn't notice, and waves for you to follow her to... to something that probably used to be a bedroom.
  8579. >It's small, smaller than the room you sleep in now.
  8580. >There's a desk pushed against one wall with a chair, a tiny-ass sectional shoved into the opposite corner.
  8581. >You sit as far from her - and the desk - as you can, but then she doesn't fucking sit at the damn desk.
  8582. >She sits herself just on the sectional, just on the other side of Silver.
  8583. >"So..." she starts, "... what brings you here?"
  8584. "Like you don't fucking know."
  8585. >It's not as if you don't recognize her.
  8586. >She goes to the same school you do.
  8587. >Anybody with half a fucking brain could figure out why you're here.
  8588. >They all fucking know what happened, even if your name has been left out of the news.
  8589. >It's not hard, when your mom... when she's her. When people aren't being totally fucking retarded.
  8590. >"Yeah," she says with a sad smile, "I can guess."
  8591. >Fucking patronizing bitch.
  8592. "So you fucking know why I'm here."
  8593. >She nods.
  8594. >"But what, in particular, did you want to talk about? What's troubling you?"
  8595. >What?
  8596. >*What?*
  8597. "What!? You mean like how my mom whored me out to all her pedo friends? Maybe how she kept me drugged pretty much all the time I was home, and how I *liked* it?"
  8598. >Silver squeezes your hand.
  8599. >You're safe.
  8600. >She's with you.
  8601. "Maybe the way people look at me because EVERYONE FUCKING KNOWS NOW? Do you have any idea what this is like?"
  8602. >"No," she admits with a shake of her head. "I... I don't. I never had the courage to speak out against my attackers. And because of that..."
  8603. "No one calls *you* a slut and looks at you like *you're* trash."
  8604. >"... they're still out there. There have been other victims, because I wasn't brave, like you."
  8605.  
  8606. *****
  8607.  
  8608. >You are Silver Spoon and you're scared.
  8609. >On the verge of one of your bad moments.
  8610. >Again.
  8611. >You've had too many this month.
  8612. >Soarin knows.
  8613. >That's why he blew off his friends to take you here, even though he's barely spent any time with them since your birthday.
  8614. >You play with your salad fork as he orders for you.
  8615. >Poor manners, but this restaurant isn't quite as upscale as you're normally used to.
  8616. >It shouldn't be a problem.
  8617. >You need something to distract you.
  8618. >Either that, or a hug.
  8619. >For him to never leave your side.
  8620. >To - to cater to your whims. Again.
  8621. >You should be better than this.
  8622. >After everything all of you have been through, you should be better than this.
  8623. >He finishes up with the waiter and turns back to you with a smile.
  8624. >A sad smile.
  8625. "Have you..."
  8626. >You should be better.
  8627. >You have to be.
  8628. >You told him to do this.
  8629. >That you were okay with it.
  8630. "... found an apartment...?"
  8631. >Soarin shakes his head.
  8632. >"I'm going to live on campus for the first year, at least. In the dorms."
  8633. "O-oh."
  8634. >"Yeah," he sighs and leans forward onto the table's edge. "I didn't know, but it's a rule. All freshmen have to stay in the dorm for the first year.
  8635. >"Plus my financial aid will actually pay for that."
  8636. "I can... um... I can give you the money for an apartment."
  8637. >"It's still a rule, Silver."
  8638. "I can find a way around it."
  8639. >"You're worried about me living in the dorms?"
  8640. >You nod. Quickly.
  8641. >He's a jock. He'll be living with jocks. They'll...
  8642. >"Don't worry," he murmurs and reaches for your hand.
  8643. >You give it to him.
  8644. >You'd give him anything he wanted, if only he would stay.
  8645. >"It's just one town over," Soarin says, "not even a two-hour drive. Going from one end of the city here to another can take that long in bad traffic."
  8646. >You know this.
  8647. >You helped him choose between his offers.
  8648. >You picked this college for that reason.
  8649. >"I'll be back every weekend."
  8650. >You know this.
  8651. >You've already had this discussion.
  8652. >You trust him. You believe him.
  8653. "It would be nice if it was more often than that."
  8654. >You helped him pick his course load, too.
  8655. >Late mornings every day.
  8656. >Mandatory freshman classes didn't help, but maybe next semester...
  8657. >The business classes looked like they're mostly Tuesdays and Thursdays.
  8658. >Four day weekends would be nice.
  8659. >"You know I'll be back as often as I can, even if I do have to sleep on the sofa."
  8660. "Well -"
  8661. >"You shouldn't get me an apartment," Soarin laughs. "That would feel weirder than the sofa."
  8662. "I was thinking my room."
  8663. >He hadn't thought of that.
  8664. >You've been thinking of it all too often.
  8665. >He looks confused.
  8666. >And then he looks happy.
  8667. >Followed by worried.
  8668. >"Would your parents allow that?"
  8669. >You don't know.
  8670. >You hope so.
  8671. >They like him.
  8672. "They would probably be happier with that..."
  8673. >"Than?"
  8674. "Than with me renting an apartment just for the two of us, all alone, with no one around to know what we're doing."
  8675. >You wouldn't even have to furnish it.
  8676. >Just a bed, maybe a sofa. Some clothes.
  8677. >Mostly a bed. You won't really need clothes.
  8678. >Soarin taps his chin.
  8679. >He's thinking the same thing you are.
  8680. >"You *are* making that option sound tempting..."
  8681. >He laughs.
  8682. >You laugh.
  8683. >The waiter smiles as he sets down your appetizers.
  8684. >"Everything good?" he asks.
  8685. >As good as it can be, with you being the way you are.
  8686. >You and Soarin nod.
  8687. >"You're going to ask your parents?" Soarin asks after the man leaves.
  8688. "About the... apartment...?"
  8689. >"If I can stay with you," he snorts. "Probably not on school nights, if I can come back those days, but... weekends...?"
  8690. "I'll..."
  8691. >You could rent an apartment without them knowing. Not under your own name, of course, you're too young.
  8692. >But Soarin's?
  8693. >Diamond gave you back the money she'd been taking from you.
  8694. >You don't know if she meant to - she'd given you a *lot* of her stuff to hold on to.
  8695. >Her new room is so much smaller than her old.
  8696. >There's enough. You could do it.
  8697. >Rent it in cash.
  8698. >Your parents would never have to know.
  8699. "I'll ask them."
  8700. >It's not your money.
  8701. >You're just holding it for her. All of it.
  8702. >From the tiniest pink pony plush to the shoebox full of cash and photos of the two of you together.
  8703. >"That'd probably be for the best," Soarin agrees, nodding his head.
  8704. >It's still tempting.
  8705. >You don't want it to be.
  8706. >It would be so easy.
  8707. >But you shouldn't.
  8708. "How is... um... how's your new little sister taking this?"
  8709. >"The same way she takes everything," Soarin shrugs. "She can't wait for me to get the fuck out and leave her alone, but -"
  8710. "She'll miss you."
  8711. >"I know."
  8712. "I'll miss you, too."
  8713. >"Believe me, I know," he smiles. "And I'll miss you. Her... well... I *guess* it's okay if we let her hang out with us. Sometimes."
  8714. "Maybe."
  8715. >"Maybe."
  8716. "A little."
  8717. >"Just a little bit."
  8718. "Once in a while."
  8719. >"But not too often," he agrees.
  8720. "Possibly to that candy store at the mall."
  8721. >"That works."
  8722. "You know, if she's sulking, we don't even have to take her. We could go by ourselves and pick her up something. Give it to her later."
  8723. >"If she's been nice."
  8724. "Of course.
  8725. >"Did you want to go there after dinner?"
  8726. "Yes, please."
  8727. >Soarin smiles and laughs quietly and squeezes your hand and loves you so very much.
  8728. >He puts up with you.
  8729. >Only someone that truly loves you can do that.
  8730. >Your parents. Diamond. Him.
  8731. >"Oh, um," he hums as he reaches for his fork, "I do have a question. I know I've asked, but..."
  8732. "You want to make sure?"
  8733. >You have an idea what this is.
  8734. >He's asked you three times since the Wondercolts won the championship.
  8735. >Being almost as obsessive and crazy as you are.
  8736. >He loves you so much.
  8737. >Soarin nods.
  8738. >"What's your ring size, again?"
  8739.  
  8740. *****
  8741.  
  8742. >You are Soarin and you read the fine print this time.
  8743. >Yep.
  8744. >It's only gold plated.
  8745. >Still...
  8746. >This kinda feels stupid now that you're actually doing it.
  8747. >Senior Wondercolt championship rings aren't as rare as freshman rings, but you're pretty sure this was what Mrs. Spoon was hinting at.
  8748. >If anyone knows Silver better than you, it would be her parents.
  8749. >And Diamond.
  8750. >Possibly the therapist she's been seeing, though that's a relatively recent development.
  8751. >So.
  8752. >You do it.
  8753. >You write down Silver's ring size and hand the form - and the check - to the lady behind the table.
  8754. >"Wait," she says, looking at the paper, "that can't be right. This is way too small for -"
  8755. "I know."
  8756. >She looks at you, at the paper, then shrugs.
  8757. >"Okay," she mumbles as she files them away. "You'll get your new championship ring in four to six weeks. Congrats, by the way."
  8758. "Thanks."
  8759. >You turn away from the table and let the next guy take your place.
  8760. >There's quite a bit of a line, going all the way back down to the cafeteria.
  8761. >Not all Wondercolts, of course.
  8762. >Most people are just paying for their yearbook.
  8763. >A few hoot your name and wave and... awww, fuck it.
  8764. >You run back down the line, high fiving everyone who puts their hands up.
  8765. >Everyone's still pretty stoked about the victory.
  8766. >"Hey!" a familiar face yells from the line as she slaps your hand and grabs tight.
  8767. "Hey, Cloudy! That was a great kick you made -"
  8768. >"Yeah, yeah, you told me that about a dozen times already," she laughs. "Are you going to Spitfire's graduation party?"
  8769. "Of course. Where else would I be?"
  8770. >"Flash Fucking Sentry's?"
  8771. "Fuck that guy."
  8772. >"I'd rather not," she gags. "Besides the usual million reasons why, I've decided to give the other team a second chance."
  8773. >She jerks her head to the girl behind her and -
  8774. "Oh. Hey, Blossom."
  8775. >"Hey," she laughs.
  8776. "I thought... uh..."
  8777. >Okay... there's no polite way to ask her that.
  8778. >So you elbow Cloudy.
  8779. >You don't have to be polite to her, after all.
  8780. "Damn, Cloudy, I thought you'd decided you preferred dick."
  8781. >"Well..." she shrugs. "Probably? But I wasn't in a good place when I made that call, so..."
  8782. >Blossom shrugs, too.
  8783. >"This is just... you know... for fun," she says.
  8784. >Well.
  8785. >Okay then.
  8786. >You hadn't expected that.
  8787. >But it's not like... well... okay, it is pretty surprising.
  8788. >If it had been guys that night in the forest, then okay, but...
  8789. >Well.
  8790. >Okay.
  8791. >*Not* something you expected, but...
  8792. >Okay.
  8793. >It's...
  8794. >Okay.
  8795. >You shrug.
  8796. "I'll see you two at the party, then."
  8797. >"And Silver?" Cloudy asks.
  8798. "Probably."
  8799. >"What about your new little sister?" Blossom laughs.
  8800. "I think she's banned from Spitfire's parties, but..."
  8801. >Maybe she was just joking?
  8802. "... I'll see if she'll make an exception this time."
  8803. >Diamond's fresh out of impressionable underage friends, after all.
  8804.  
  8805. *****
  8806.  
  8807. >You are Diamond Tiara and you look at the letter in Mrs. Bear's hand.
  8808. >The thought of actually touching it...
  8809. >You shudder.
  8810. >"You don't have to read it if you don't want to," she says. "I can put it away for if you ever do feel like -"
  8811. >Fuck it.
  8812. >You snatch it out of her grasp.
  8813. >You're not scared of your mom anymore.
  8814. >She's going to prison.
  8815. >They all are.
  8816. >Your father, too, if he doesn't play his cards right.
  8817. >You would hope that he doesn't, but you would rather not care.
  8818. >The same as he never cared about you.
  8819. >You're free.
  8820. >Soon.
  8821. >No more disapproving glares.
  8822. >No more threats to cut your allowance.
  8823. >No more...
  8824. >She can't hurt you.
  8825. >It'll be years before she's out.
  8826. >"Would you like some privacy?"
  8827. >You must nod, because she gives you a hug and leaves even though you didn't say anything.
  8828. >You don't *think* you said anything.
  8829. >You don't think you want to open the letter, either.
  8830. >You don't want anything to do with her.
  8831. >Even before you remembered.
  8832. >So you don't.
  8833. >You don't open it.
  8834. >You... you go back to *your* room and slam *your* door and fall onto *your* bed and... and...
  8835.  
  8836. >I know you must be confused.
  8837. >Maybe you even hate me.
  8838. >I forgive you, Diamond.
  8839. >I loved you and I still do. I always will.
  8840. >No matter what happened, I'm your mother.
  8841. >I can understand if you don't believe me.
  8842. >We never did get along, and for that I'm truly sorry.
  8843. >Part of it is my fault, perhaps all of it.
  8844. >You must think you were often a disappointment to me, and that must have caused you so much stress, but that was only because I expected too much of you.
  8845. >You were capable of so much and I tried to push you to be your best, without always thinking about what you wanted.
  8846. >It was always for you, though. Everything was.
  8847. >We argued so much when you were young, I forgot how to be with you without being hated.
  8848. >I wanted to be with you so much, but it was so hard.
  8849. >You were always so angry with me.
  8850. >I couldn't so much as hug you without you screaming and trying to hit me.
  8851. >It hurt, knowing that my own daughter couldn't bear to be with me.
  8852. >I always loved you.
  8853. >I'm sorry.
  8854. >I forgive you, Diamond, and will always love you.
  8855.  
  8856. *****
  8857.  
  8858. >You are Silver Spoon and you're glad Soarin finally got his own apartment.
  8859. >The first year he didn't have a choice, you get that.
  8860. >But the second?
  8861. >Why wouldn't he let you pay for it?
  8862. >You know the answer, and you can understand his reasons - respect them, even - but you still can't stop yourself from asking.
  8863. >You sink into his beaten-up, rescue sofa and wait.
  8864. >Patiently - too patiently - for him to finish showering.
  8865. >Maybe the business courses you'd suggested had been too much for him.
  8866. >Between soccer and class and trying to work, he hadn't had much spare time.
  8867. >He hadn't made it home as often as you'd wanted.
  8868. >Not even every week, not that second year.
  8869. >It was hard.
  8870. >On everybody.
  8871. >Mostly because of you.
  8872. >Because you were so scared and angry and insecure.
  8873. >Still are.
  8874. >Always will be.
  8875. >But now...
  8876. >This year is better.
  8877. >He got better, even if you didn't.
  8878. >Without dropping anything.
  8879. >He's letting you *help* pay for the apartment.
  8880. >A compromise.
  8881. >Compromise is good.
  8882. >It's what relationships are based on.
  8883. >Like now.
  8884. >You have good news to tell him. That's why you drove all the way out here to deliver it in person.
  8885. >He has to shower. He barely made it home from practice before you got here.
  8886. >Like, *barely*. He was just opening the door when you pulled up.
  8887. >But he had to shower.
  8888. >So you waited.
  8889. >And you're... you're not going to wait any longer.
  8890. >See?
  8891. >Compromise.
  8892. >You spring back off the sofa and drop a book you had never opened onto the battered coffee table.
  8893. >Your blouse misses.
  8894. >Oh well.
  8895. >It can stay on the floor.
  8896. >He didn't come back last weekend.
  8897. >He had a game.
  8898. >You hadn't attended, because so did you.
  8899. >Just a hobby.
  8900. >A distraction.
  8901. >You don't plan on going anywhere with it, like Soarin.
  8902. >Your book club never took off.
  8903. >You'd needed something.
  8904. >You should have skipped out on your match.
  8905. >You're not the best player on the team.
  8906. >Quite possibly the worst.
  8907. >But you're still on the team, and you know the look Soarin would have given you if he'd seen you in the stands.
  8908. >He would have smiled.
  8909. >And it would have hurt, because you would have known you didn't deserve it.
  8910. >So you had compromised - with yourself.
  8911. >You had waited.
  8912. >Too long.
  8913. >No longer.
  8914. >You leave a trail of clothes all the way from the sofa to his bathroom.
  8915. >Not that you were wearing much, just the usual, but it's a very small apartment.
  8916. >He only lets you *help* pay for it.
  8917. >You open the door slowly - it creaks, sometimes.
  8918. >Not today.
  8919. >All you hear is the sound of running water.
  8920. >There should be more.
  8921. >Silly jock forgot to turn the fan on again.
  8922. >You carefully take off one last item and set it down on the counter.
  8923. >Your glasses.
  8924. >Unlike the rest, you'll need those. Later.
  8925. >And then you flip a switch.
  8926. >"Huh!?" Soarin grunts as the fan kicks on. "Hey!? Silver?"
  8927. >He didn't used to have a shower curtain - just a liner. A clear plastic liner.
  8928. >You'd fixed that.
  8929. >Now you wish you hadn't.
  8930. >You wouldn't have minded the view.
  8931. >Surely, he wouldn't have objected, either.
  8932. >"Silver, are you -"
  8933. >You tug aside them both and step in.
  8934. >Like the apartment, his shower isn't large.
  8935. >Certainly not large enough to make this practical.
  8936. >You're pressed chest to chest with him as water sprays down from behind.
  8937. >It almost make you wish you hadn't grown, that you were still the small, tiny girl you were when you first met him nearly three years ago.
  8938. >Almost.
  8939. >No, not at all.
  8940. >There's a certain pleasure to this.
  8941. >The birth control pills had played their part, certainly, but...
  8942. >"Um... hey..." Soarin says with his mouth.
  8943. >Other parts give their own greeting.
  8944. "I have good news to tell you."
  8945. >"Better news that my fiancé decided to drive two hours just to shower with me?" he chuckles, squeezing you tightly.
  8946. "Yes."
  8947. >"And it couldn't wait?"
  8948. "Did you... want me to...? I can go and get dressed and -"
  8949. >No, you couldn't.
  8950. >"You're already here. Might as well stay."
  8951. >You were going to anyway.
  8952. >You wrap your arms around him and squeeze back.
  8953. "I got in."
  8954. >"To...?"
  8955. >You would hit him, if there was room to swing.
  8956. >Instead you bite, nip gently at his upper arm.
  8957. >You still can't reach his neck, not standing, not like this.
  8958. >Maybe if you stretched - but he's got you held down too tight, and you *would* hit him if he let go.
  8959. >He laughs.
  8960. >*Laughs!*
  8961. >He's teasing you.
  8962. >In more ways than one.
  8963. >"Well?"
  8964. "To your school."
  8965. >The explanation was unnecessary. He *knew*. He *knows*.
  8966. >"Your father won't be happy."
  8967. "He's not particularly, but he accepted my reasons."
  8968. >"It's not very prestigious school."
  8969. "I know."
  8970. >"You could have gone someplace better."
  8971. "If I did, that would mean someone else couldn't. Let some other girl go to some fancy school. There's no reason for me to take up space there."
  8972. >"Your grades are good enough."
  8973. "But yours aren't."
  8974. >You're teasing him. In more ways than one.
  8975. >It's his turn to bite you, gently nudging your head aside so the water drums on your check, and nibbles at your neck.
  8976. >At your shoulder.
  8977. >His hands cup your body.
  8978. "It doesn't matter."
  8979. >Only he matters.
  8980. "I don't need another notable name on my diploma."
  8981. >"Oh?"
  8982. "Mine will suffice."
  8983. >Soarin snorts.
  8984. >His chest heaves.
  8985. >It rubs against yours.
  8986. >"Diamond is still a bad influence, I see."
  8987. >That's true.
  8988. >You'd heard it from her.
  8989. >Because she *couldn't* get in to a better school.
  8990. >Because she believes in herself so much, or can at least pretend.
  8991. "Well... she *is* my closest friend."
  8992. >You never would have met Soarin, if it weren't for her.
  8993. >You owe her so much.
  8994. >"Not me?"
  8995. >You say something.
  8996. >Maybe it was clever, maybe not.
  8997. >The words fall right out of your mind as Soarin laughs again.
  8998. >This shower is just the right size.
  8999.  
  9000. *****
  9001.  
  9002. >You are Soarin and you think you thought you weren't supposed to see the bride before the wedding.
  9003. >But then again, how does that work?
  9004. >After all, you can't marry a girl you've never seen before, right?
  9005. >You're still too asleep for this.
  9006. >Not like it's today, after all, so...
  9007. >You sit up.
  9008. >Your back hurts.
  9009. >The sofa is too short for you to stretch out, but you weren't going to kick your little sister out of what is still - for the moment - her room.
  9010. >Not that you weren't tempted.
  9011. >It *was* yours first.
  9012. >But Silver was hers first, so...
  9013. >You're far too asleep to try to rationalize why your fiancé slept in Diamond's bed last night.
  9014. >Clearly she had to.
  9015. >The sofa is too small for you alone, so even if she is still tiny that wouldn't have worked.
  9016. >And you couldn't have spent another night at her parents' place.
  9017. >Too much noise, too much chaos.
  9018. >Too much *stuff* going on, getting the grounds ready.
  9019. >Too many guests already in attendance, spending the night in the various guest rooms.
  9020. >Too much of Mrs. Spoon bursting in at every moment to ask if this or that particular color of this or that particular flower was particularly perfect.
  9021. >Too much.
  9022. >Here, it's not like that. Cramped, but comfortable.
  9023. >But... your back hurts.
  9024. >You should get up.
  9025. >It's still early.
  9026. >Your alarm hasn't gone off.
  9027. >Did you set your alarm?
  9028. >You don't remember.
  9029. >Well, you're already up.
  9030. >So is someone else.
  9031. >Probably mom.
  9032. >She took the week off.
  9033. >You let your feet carry you into the kitchen, chasing the glorious scent of bacon.
  9034. >And you find it.
  9035. >And your fiancé.
  9036. >And your mom.
  9037. >And your little sister.
  9038. >One is at the stove.
  9039. >Two are at the table.
  9040. >In the exact order you would have suspected, had you been thinking not sleepily enough to not think exactly.
  9041. >And the bacon is now gone.
  9042. >Diamond grins and wipes her hand on -
  9043. "Is that one of my old t-shirts?"
  9044. >You *loved* that band.
  9045. >That bitch!
  9046. >Silver nods.
  9047. >And smiles.
  9048. >And is also wearing one.
  9049. >Huh.
  9050. >Maybe?
  9051. >You bought one of *that* band's shirts?
  9052. >"You left a lot of your clothes behind when you moved out," Silver giggles. "You didn't know? I thought you did it on purpose."
  9053. "No... um..."
  9054. >"I wear them all the time," Diamond sneers. "Not like it means anything. They're just comfortable."
  9055. >Is this what Moondancer calls tsundere?
  9056. >Do you want to know?
  9057. >Does it matter?
  9058. >Nah.
  9059. >You shrug and plonk your ass down on one of the chairs.
  9060. >"Soarin -"
  9061. >Okay, you stand the fuck up and go help mom.
  9062. >You're a grown ass man about to enter his last year of college, but she's still your mom.
  9063. >And she's probably still strong enough to put you through a wall.
  9064. >She puts a plate in your hands and -
  9065. >Whoa, big breakfast.
  9066. >The counter is covered in... stuff.
  9067. >You don't know.
  9068. >It's stuff. For food.
  9069. >Breakfast food.
  9070. >Like... potatoes?
  9071. >She fills up the plate with freshly cooked bacon and motions for you to sit the hell down.
  9072. >Cool.
  9073. >"There," mom grunts. "That should keep you little sharks away from the real food long enough for me to make breakfast."
  9074. "But... bacon *isn't* breakfast?"
  9075. >"No, I'm making breakfast tacos."
  9076. "Oh. Okay."
  9077. >You sit the hell down.
  9078. >Mmmm. Bacon.
  9079. >Diamond grabs the first piece, of course.
  9080. >That bitch of a little sister.
  9081. >"So, you're sure about this?" she asks with a mouth full of *your* bacon. "I mean, getting married just so Silver doesn't have to stay at the dorms?"
  9082. >Your fiancé sighs. And takes a piece of bacon.
  9083. >"We talked about this last night," she says.
  9084. >Which is weird.
  9085. >Because you don't remember talking about anything of the sort.
  9086. >Oh.
  9087. >Right.
  9088. >"You could have been *my* roommate."
  9089. >Yep.
  9090. >You recognize that expression.
  9091. >They've had this conversation before.
  9092. >Just... probably not with you.
  9093. >"You know that's not how the rooming assignments work," Silver replies.
  9094. >Probably last night after they went to bed.
  9095. >They *are* best friends, after all.
  9096. >"It is if you make them."
  9097. >Silver shrugs.
  9098. >She's not going to win this.
  9099. >"Look, Diamond, this was going to happen sooner or later. Even our parents knew that."
  9100. >Mom nods.
  9101. >Good mom.
  9102. >"It might as well be now."
  9103. >Little sister is not happy.
  9104. >Then again, when is she?
  9105. "Well... fine," she spits. And takes more bacon.
  9106. >Have you had any?
  9107. >You should have some.
  9108. >Before it's all gone.
  9109. >You stick *two* pieces in your mouth.
  9110. >Hah!
  9111. >"Have you heard the news, *Soarin*?" Diamond smiles.
  9112. >Oh, you do *not* like that smile.
  9113. >You nod.
  9114. >Because you don't want her to say whatever it is she wants to say.
  9115. >But then you shake your head, because it might be important and no, you have *not* heard the news.
  9116. >Whatever that news may be.
  9117. >Unless it was something to do with flower arrangements or how many seats or that you had to phone up more friends or business partners because the various wedding parties were looking unbalanced.
  9118. >And honestly, what guy your age has *business partners*?
  9119. >What was Mr. Fox thinking?
  9120. >You barely have enough *friends*!
  9121. >Oh, shit.
  9122. >Was it that last one?
  9123. >Do you have to call *more* people?
  9124. >You don't *know* more people!
  9125. >"You have a new best man now," Diamond says with one of those kitty cat smiles of hers.
  9126. >The kind that make you think that your cat loves you and left a dead rat in your bed *because* it loves you.
  9127. >But the news doesn't sound that bad.
  9128. >And then it does.
  9129. >You're awake now.
  9130. "What."
  9131. >"Yeah," she laughs. "Spitfire beat up Tracer and claimed the position by right of conquest or something stupid like that."
  9132. "Oh. Uh. Okay."
  9133. >Yup.
  9134. >It is.
  9135. >You'd thought about her doing it anyway, but... well...
  9136. >No one can object to a lady doing it now, can they?
  9137. >She claimed the position *by right of conquest*.
  9138. >You shrug.
  9139. >Silver shrugs.
  9140. >Mom shrugs.
  9141. >Diamond pouts.
  9142. >And snaps off a piece of bacon sticking out of your mouth and eats it.
  9143. >That bitch.
  9144. >You would say something, but she's your little sister, right?
  9145. >Technically?
  9146. >Plus she's Silver's best friend.
  9147. >And mom is here - and paying attention, even if she *is* cooking.
  9148. >And - yep, you hear him walking this way.
  9149. >So does mom.
  9150. >"Hun, you're wearing clothes, right?" she calls out before dad can reach the kitchen.
  9151. >Unless it was something to do with flower arrangements or how many seats or that you had to phone up more friends or business partners because the various wedding parties were looking unbalanced.
  9152. >And honestly, what guy your age has *business partners*?
  9153. >What was Mr. Fox thinking?
  9154. >You barely have enough *friends*!
  9155. >Oh, shit.
  9156. >Was it that last one?
  9157. >Do you have to call *more* people?
  9158. >You don't *know* more people!
  9159. >"You have a new best man now," Diamond says with one of those kitty cat smiles of hers.
  9160. >The kind that make you think that your cat loves you and left a dead rat in your bed *because* it loves you.
  9161. >But the news doesn't sound that bad.
  9162. >And then it does.
  9163. >You're awake now.
  9164. "What."
  9165. >"Yeah," she laughs. "Spitfire beat up Tracer and claimed the position by right of conquest or something stupid like that."
  9166. "Oh. Uh. Okay."
  9167. >Yup.
  9168. >It is.
  9169. >You'd thought about her doing it anyway, but... well...
  9170. >No one can object to a lady doing it now, can they?
  9171. >She claimed the position *by right of conquest*.
  9172. >You shrug.
  9173. >Silver shrugs.
  9174. >Mom shrugs.
  9175. >Diamond pouts.
  9176. >And snaps off a piece of bacon sticking out of your mouth and eats it.
  9177. >That bitch.
  9178. >You would say something, but she's your little sister, right?
  9179. >Technically?
  9180. >Plus she's Silver's best friend.
  9181. >And mom is here - and paying attention, even if she *is* cooking.
  9182. >And - yep, you hear him walking this way.
  9183. >So does mom.
  9184. >"Hun, you're wearing clothes, right?" she calls out before dad can reach the kitchen.
  9185.  
  9186. *****
  9187.  
  9188. >You are Diamond Tiara and you're safe.
  9189. >The last of them was caught.
  9190. >Donuts called this morning, while dad was loading your car for you.
  9191. >*Still* just a deputy after all these years.
  9192. >What he did this morning, it was a courtesy.
  9193. >One you appreciate.
  9194. >He thought it'd make you feel better.
  9195. >It did.
  9196. >They've all been caught.
  9197. >Even the ones that ran.
  9198. >The ones that changed their identities.
  9199. >Even him.
  9200. >The one that scared you the most.
  9201. >The only one you really remember.
  9202. >The only one who was innocent - of what your mother claimed.
  9203. >What was it?
  9204. >Spite?
  9205. >Is that why she named him as one of her ring?
  9206. >The first person to ever show you any affection?
  9207. >Was it because they hated each other?
  9208. >Or was it your mother's last gift to you?
  9209. >Letting you feel safe, knowing he's going away for a long, long time.
  9210. >She'd saved you from him once.
  9211. >Once.
  9212. >Long ago.
  9213. >And you'd hated her for it.
  9214. >Her accusations weren't true, not the ones she made when she was arrested, but other things were.
  9215. >Things that weren't hard to find.
  9216. >Everything he said was a lie.
  9217. >He never really loved you.
  9218. >The police assured you they already have enough to put him away forever, long before they caught him.
  9219. >And they did.
  9220. >Finally
  9221. >You couldn't have asked for a better present.
  9222. >Even without Soarin or Silver or mom - your new mom, your *real* mom - you feel safe.
  9223. >Perhaps for the first time in your life that you've felt that way without any of them being there with you.
  9224. >At least, the first time since elementary school.
  9225. >And not just because of *him*.
  9226. >You walk through the hall of the dorm and not a single person looks at you out of the corner of their eye.
  9227. >No one whispers.
  9228. >No one calls you out for what you are.
  9229. >You could almost forget what happened, without everyone throwing it in your face every day.
  9230. >Insulting you.
  9231. >Getting revenge for how you treated them in the past.
  9232. >Seeing someone weak they can pick on.
  9233. >Or showing you kindness.
  9234. >That was worst of all.
  9235. >You know what you are.
  9236. >What happened to you.
  9237. >What your mother turned you in to.
  9238. >People can't think anything worse of you than you do yourself.
  9239. >What you still think of yourself.
  9240. >On your darkest nights.
  9241. >When you're alone.
  9242. >You know what they say and they know they're wrong.
  9243. >You know they're right.
  9244. >That's why it hurts less.
  9245. >But the ones who showed you kindness? Who were always on eggshells around you?
  9246. >They told you that they were wrong.
  9247. >That *you* were wrong.
  9248. >It hurt.
  9249. >It still hurts.
  9250. >But not here.
  9251. >It won't.
  9252. >You won't let it.
  9253. >No one here knows who you are. Your history, your past.
  9254. >No one holds anything over you, not like those last three years of high school.
  9255. >You're safe.
  9256. >Here's your room.
  9257. >A *double*.
  9258. >Just one roommate.
  9259. >You smile.
  9260. >This won't be hard.
  9261. >Just one girl.
  9262. >She doesn't have anything on you.
  9263. >You don't have to play nice.
  9264. >You don't have to be scared of her.
  9265. >You kick open the door.
  9266. >It's already open.
  9267. >She's already here.
  9268. >Already unpacking her things.
  9269. >They're all over her bed.
  9270. >What should have been *your* bed.
  9271. >The one by the window.
  9272. "Hey!"
  9273. >That's *your* bed!
  9274. >You'd looked at the floorplan.
  9275. >You'd made your decision.
  9276. >You knew what room you were assigned and you'd been thinking this over since you realized you couldn't get out of it.
  9277. >You were going to make the *best* of this!
  9278. >That is *your* bed!
  9279. >She drops the crap she's holding on *your* bed and turns and *smiles*!
  9280. >*Smiles*!
  9281. >"Hi!" she answers.
  9282. >That's *your* bed!
  9283. "Hey. I -"
  9284. >"I'm Ocean Sky," the teal-haired bitch says cheerfully as she bounds across the room to meet you. "I hope you don't mind I took the bed by the window. I just *love* watching the clouds and -"
  9285. "*Actually* -"
  9286. >She grabs a suitcase out of your hand.
  9287. >What the fuck!?
  9288. >"Here, let me help you!"
  9289. >You'll -
  9290. >"I can move if you want, but... *please*...?"
  9291. >She doesn't have anything over you.
  9292. >You don't have to be polite.
  9293. >In a few years, you could buy and sell her on a whim.
  9294. >But right now?
  9295. >Right now...?
  9296. >You don't have anything on her, either.
  9297. >No threats you can make.
  9298. >No secrets you can reveal.
  9299. >Your parents have *nothing* to do with this school.
  9300. >*Thankfully*.
  9301. >You have nothing on her.
  9302. >... and she has nothing on you.
  9303. "It's fine."
  9304. >You'll deal with it.
  9305. "I'll take the other bed."
  9306. >It's only for one semester.
  9307. >"I owe you," she says, with a smile.
  9308. >With a *smile*.
  9309. >That's a first.
  9310. >People don't do that when they know they *owe* you.
  9311. >"I hope we'll be good friends."
  9312. "Yeah..."
  9313. >It's just one semester.
  9314. "... me too."
  9315. >You'll get used to it.
  9316.  
  9317. *****
  9318.  
  9319. >You are Silver Spoon and you fall into bed, face up - and drag your husband along with a giggle.
  9320. >*Try* to.
  9321. >"Hold on," he laughs, catching himself with his hands, one on either side of your head, holding himself up over you. "I should shower first. We *both* should, so -"
  9322. "Oh? Really?"
  9323. >He nods.
  9324. >Well.
  9325. >He has a point.
  9326. >But...
  9327. "We're done?"
  9328. >It takes him a minute.
  9329. >"Oh. Well..."
  9330. >It still takes him a minute.
  9331. >It's okay.
  9332. >He's been a good boy.
  9333. >There's only one room of the new apartment that you two haven't broken in yet, and unlike his last, it is *not* a small apartment.
  9334. "... if you say we are..."
  9335. >He stares down at you, with an utterly unreadable poker face.
  9336. >"Well..."
  9337. "Well?"
  9338. >He collapses on you.
  9339. >Squishes you.
  9340. >Driving another drunken giggle out of you.
  9341. >"Yeah," he says. "We're done. And we can wash the sheets tomorrow."
  9342. "That's not very romantic."
  9343. >"I know," Soarin sighs into your ear. "I'm sorry."
  9344. >He grabs you, slides his arms under you, between your bare back and the satin sheets, and rolls.
  9345. >Turns you on top.
  9346. >"If you want to do all the work..."
  9347. >You groan.
  9348. >You don't mean to.
  9349. >You just... kind of ache all over.
  9350. >And particularly in a few places.
  9351. >It's not a small apartment.
  9352. >Which one of you was it that decided every table, counter, or other flat surface deserved it's own christening?
  9353. >Whichever one it was, you hate him or her now.
  9354. "Tomorrow?"
  9355. >"Tomorrow.
  9356. >See?
  9357. >Compromise.
  9358. >It still works.
  9359. >You snuggle up to him as he tries to get under the sheets.
  9360. >It doesn't make things easier, but he doesn't complain.
  9361. >He's a good husband.
  9362. >"Wait, hold up," he groans. "I have to get the lights."
  9363. "I will hate you forever."
  9364. >"No you won't."
  9365. "No. I won't. But -"
  9366. >You push him back down - as best you can a man about twice your size.
  9367. "Lights off."
  9368. >The room goes pitch black, save for the small trickle of light filtering in through the window.
  9369. >Standing up is for poor people.
  9370. >"Oh, right."
  9371. >Soarin laughs.
  9372. >You're too tired to.
  9373. >You let him do it for you.
  9374. >Laugh at himself.
  9375. >He's a good husband.
  9376. >"Tomorrow, you'll have to teach me how to work that thing."
  9377. "Mkay. Tomorrow."
  9378. >"And... what else did you have planned?
  9379. >You shrug.
  9380. >It's more spiritual than physical.
  9381. >You don't even have the strength left to stop yourself from rolling off of him the minute his grip loosens even the slightest.
  9382. >That's okay.
  9383. >You can snuggle in to his side just fine.
  9384. "Sometimes this week, we'll have to actually unpack."
  9385. >"I am not looking forward to that."
  9386. "And we'll have to get our licenses changed."
  9387. >"What?"
  9388. "New address."
  9389. >"Oh, right. Do we have to?"
  9390. >You try to nod.
  9391. >It's a permanent address, after all.
  9392. >You'll be here for a year, at least.
  9393. >"Okay, okay," Soarin sighs. "I'll add that to the list."
  9394. >In the weak light, you can see him pantomime writing something onto an imaginary scrap of paper.
  9395. >His arm falls back to the mattress with a pillowy thud.
  9396. "Mmmm, one more thing. Wash these sheets."
  9397. >They were fresh.
  9398. >*Were*.
  9399. >"Got it, but *after* -"
  9400. "After."
  9401. >"Good. Any more plans for the future I need to know about?"
  9402. "How far out?"
  9403. >"I don't know," he laughs. "I'm too tired to move, but until my heart stops trying to kill me, I don't think I can sleep."
  9404. >Yeah.
  9405. >You understand the feeling.
  9406. "Well..."
  9407. >You're tired.
  9408. >Exhausted.
  9409. >Utterly worn out.
  9410. >Totally in love.
  9411. >Too excited to sleep.
  9412. >To be on your own, with your husband, for the very first time.
  9413. >For real.
  9414. >Your first real apartment together.
  9415. >You're not crazy.
  9416. >Not this time.
  9417. >Not right now.
  9418. "Soarin..."
  9419. >Not right *now*.
  9420. >But sometime.
  9421. >In the future.
  9422. "... did you ever want -"
  9423. >Neither of you fall asleep until long after the sun has risen.
  9424.  
  9425. *****
  9426.  
  9427. >You are Pinkie Pie and you've got SO MUCH TO DO.
  9428. >Not any more than normal, really, but IT'S STILL A LOT.
  9429. >Those ships aren't going to ship themselves, and since TWILIGHT GAVE UP ON THE NOBLE TASK, it's all down to you.
  9430. >Also, all of your stuff too.
  9431. >You're a very busy girl.
  9432. >Too busy for doorknobs!
  9433. >You kick open the kitchen door and dance through with all the grace of a coked up ballerina.
  9434. >It's actually a lot of grace.
  9435. >Doesn't sound like it, but it *really* is.
  9436. >You spin and twirl and the cake in your hands doesn't so much as even wobble more than half a degree from the level plane.
  9437. >Twi was *such* a bad influence on you.
  9438. >Still is, when she's not too busy being Twi and doing Twi things to be with her friends.
  9439. >Like today!
  9440. >"Hardly know them," she said. "They didn't invite me," she said.
  9441. >WELL FINE THEN.
  9442. >IF SHE DOESN'T WANT TO CRASH A LITTLE KID'S BIRTHDAY PARTY, THEN...
  9443. >... WELL...
  9444. >... SOMETHING!
  9445. "Cake's ready!"
  9446. >You have to say it, despite your little performance because, you know, you're really excited about this cake, plus some people aren't really paying attention and are used to crashing and banging and a dancing Pinkie at a kid's birthday party.
  9447. >Like the little guest of honor herself.
  9448. >Tiny little thing.
  9449. >So little.
  9450. >Like her mom.
  9451. >Except waaaaaaaaaaay younger.
  9452. >And a looooooot smaller.
  9453. >Those two things usually go hand in hand, so it's not *really* surprising.
  9454. >So she's not really like her mom except for being small (as in smaller than you) and adorable.
  9455. >Also the glasses.
  9456. >Bad eyesight must run in the family.
  9457. >Maybe that's why she's still looking at her food and not at her... uh... other food - the *better* food.
  9458. >You slam the cake down with enough force to make all of the plates on the table jump and jingle.
  9459. >Silver Spoon groans.
  9460. >Soarin rolls his eyes.
  9461. >The both smile.
  9462. >Mini-Silver does too and shoves aside her plate of spaghetti.
  9463. >Nooooooot an ideal food for a child's birthday (waaaaay too much cleanup and cleanup is a lot less fun that partying), but it's what she reheheheaaaaaally wanted.
  9464. >Auntie Moondancer is leading that poor child down a *dark* path.
  9465. >You notice that *she* doesn't put aside her spagoots.
  9466. >What kind of sick and twisted monster would prefer that over cake?
  9467. >"Cake!" the birthday girl laughs.
  9468. >Louder than you (by volume.)
  9469. >(Size volume, not TV volume.)
  9470. >She still has the light of justice in her heart, despite auntie's corrupting influence!
  9471. >Plus she's well behaved.
  9472. >Doesn't reach for it.
  9473. >If you were the self-conscious, insecure type, you'd worry that you'd made the wrong kind of cake.
  9474. >"Is it the right flavor?" Silver asks, because she *is* that kind, still, but you don't know why she's worrying.
  9475. >You can always make MORE CAKE.
  9476. >"It's perfect," Soarin reassures her.
  9477. >Kiddo nods.
  9478. >Yup.
  9479. >Like you'd ever make a mistake like that.
  9480. >You're a *professional*.
  9481. >*Literally*.
  9482. >By technicality.
  9483. >Silver insisted on paying you, so that makes you a professional.
  9484. >Then again, a real professional probably would have had the candles on the cake already, buuuuuuut you're better than that.
  9485. >You know the value of *showmanship*.
  9486. >You pull one blue and grey striped candle from your apron pocket with a fanciful flourish and light it with a little bit of magic you like to call 'hidden-zippo-in-the-palm-of-your-hand-cadabra.'
  9487. >Someone drops the lights.
  9488. >Oh.
  9489. >Yeah, you should have thought of that!
  9490. >The girl's eyes sparkle with candlelight as you plant it just sliiiightly off-center on the cake.
  9491. >Aaaaand theeeeeen...
  9492. >Wait, where is that little f-
  9493. >Ah!
  9494. >And then a second candle!
  9495. >And then - well, that's it.
  9496. >Just the two candles.
  9497. >You thought they'd have babies as soon as they'd tied the knot, but nope!
  9498. >Apparently not!
  9499. >Despite them being together for... oh, damn, you should know this.
  9500. >You *really* should.
  9501. >You're a professional now!
  9502. >Ten years, give or take?
  9503. >About there.
  9504. >You *guess* you can understand why they held off, what with... well..
  9505. >Not everyone can jump right into life like you did!
  9506. >Some people have issues and stuff and you respect that, even if you do find it very hard to understand.
  9507. >Anyway, she's only two.
  9508. >Unless...
  9509. >Nah, you've been watching too many telenovellas.
  9510. >THERE'S NO WAY THEY HAVE A SECRET KID ABOUT OH TEN YEARS OLD, RIGHT?
  9511. >RIGHT?
  9512. >Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.
  9513. >But you'll pencil that in, just in case.
  9514. >BE PREPARED is the Pinkie motto!
  9515. >That's why you have your strategic cookie reserve.
  9516. >You bend down over the table, between the horde of little kiddies that have started to gather, and - oh, okay, so some of them *really* want cake.
  9517. >Can't really blame them.
  9518. >First of all, it's cake.
  9519. >But it's also a Pinkie cake, so that means it's really good, even if you do say so yourself.
  9520. >So because shoving children out of your way is *generally* considered a bad thing (even though it’s okay for them to shove you out of *their* way so they can get to the table is okay? How is that fair!?), you streeeeetch waaaaaaay over Ocean Sky’s kid – wait? Ocean Sky?
  9521. >Maybe?
  9522. >You glance away.
  9523. >Where?
  9524. >Oh, yeah. There. By the light switch that Diamond Tiara still has her hand on.
  9525. >Yep, that’s Ocean Sky chatting with her.
  9526. >The boy looks just like her.
  9527. >Only except smaller.
  9528. >And way younger.
  9529. >And he probably has a ding-a-ling BUT YOU AREN’T GOING TO CHECK.
  9530. >So he’s probably hers.
  9531. >UNLESS –
  9532. >NO, PINKIE, NO!
  9533. >This is reality, not one of your telenovelas!
  9534. >Only the very tippity tips of your fingers can reach the serving tray now.
  9535. >Just baaaaarely enough for you to push it towards the birthday girl.
  9536. >Soarin nods his thanks and grabs his daughter under the arms to help her stand up and lean forward.
  9537. >It's not really a small table and you couldn’t *reeeeeally* push it close enough unless you were okay with boob-bonking a kid’s head.
  9538. >And while you are in a totally theoretical way, this just isn’t the time or the place and people might think the wrong things and it’s just not *professional*!
  9539. >You wait for Silver to get her camera ready, because you notice those kinds of things - you're a *professional*.
  9540. >(Squeeeeee!)
  9541. >(You're going to get new cards printed!)
  9542. >And then you give it one last little push, to bring the flickering candles into range.
  9543. >"Okay, Silver Lining," Soarin encourages his daughter. "Make a wish and blow out the candles!"
Soarin Silver Spoon Diamond Tiara underage coercion

Soarin's Silver Lining pt.4

by blossomanon

Soarin's Silver Lining pt.3

by blossomanon

Soarin's Silver Lining pt.2

by blossomanon

Soarin's Silver Lining pt.1

by blossomanon