The King & Shy

After a terrible storm sweeps through the Everfree, Fluttershy finds the weakened but still powerful King Sombra on her doorstep. Unable to resist his dark magic, she finds herself trapped by a spell that forces her to aid him, protect him, and heal him until he is strong once more, all while keeping his revival a secret from her friends. Unwilling to risk bringing her friends into the situation and endanger them, Fluttershy decides on a riskier tactic
If she could reform Discord, why not the Tyrant of the Crystal Empire. After all, with his spell keeping her from betraying his presence, it might be her only hope. Can she kill the Dark King with Kindness? Or will the ancient sorcerer once more stretch his shadow across Equestria?
http://www.fimfiction.net/story/328886/the-king-shy

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10. Decisions

Most newcomers to Ponyville are caught off guard by the Ponyville General Hospital. For such a small, relatively rural, village, Ponyville’s medical facilities are surprisingly top notch. A great deal of the credit for that can be laid squarely at the hooves of the town's industrious Mayor; Marelyn Mare routinely put health care at the forefront of her platform and, unlike many politicians, she stuck firmly to her promises. In her own words; 'a healthy populace is both happy and productive, the business of running a town is no business at all if the townsponies are not taken care of'. Her consecutive mayoral terms resulted in one of the finest medical establishments outside of any major city, with a staff of doctors and nurses who possess a level of expertise comparable to Manehattan Medical Center or Canterlot General.

Fluttershy had known all of that on an intellectual level. The Mayor’s health policies were among the big reasons Fluttershy had always been happy to vote for Marelyn on election day. Never before had she had a reason to be so grateful for their Mayor’s foresight, though, except perhaps that time Rainbow crashed mid-stunt. Fluttershy had been waiting outside the ICU alongside Rainbow Dash for the past hour while Twilight had gone in to aid in the examination almost forty-five minutes ago. To no-one’s surprise it turned out that their friend had, among her many earned and honorary degrees, a doctorate in Advanced Medical Arcana. Rainbow Dash had vacillated between being an emotional wreck and catatonic with worry and Fluttershy had been doing her best to comfort her friend. Scootaloo was like family to the cyan Pegasus, though, and the filly’s current condition combined with finding out that she had been orphaned by neglectful parents had hit Rainbow particularly hard since she hadn’t known anything about it. According to Dash, Scootaloo had never mentioned it and the fact that she had hid something so important from the mare who thought of Scootaloo like a little sister had hurt the loyal Pegasus deeply.

The door to the ICU opening cut off Fluttershy’s thoughts as Twilight trotted out wearing a grim expression along with her pale blue scrubs. “Fluttershy, Rainbow, I finished the analysis and-”

“What is it!?” Rainbow shouted, zipping up to Twilight and stopping inches from her face. “Is Scoots gonna be okay? Please tell me she’s gonna be okay!”

Twilight let out a sigh. “I don’t know, Dash. That’s what I was going to say. As far as I can tell whatever is afflicting her is definitely magical in nature but… it’s also physical. The closest I’ve ever seen to this kind of magic is the Poison Joke from the Everfree. It’s like a curse or a hex except it seems to reside in Scootaloo’s bloodstream.”

“So… So she needs blood then right?” Rainbow Dash answered with a desperate edge to her voice. “I can do that! However much you need, take it!”

Stepping back, Twilight put a hoof to Rainbow’s chest and gave her a sorrowful look. “That’s very generous of you, Rainbow, but we already tried that. Something in Scootaloo’s blood is attacking the infused blood even though it shouldn’t. It’s like the magic is defending itself.”

“Could she have wandered into the Everfree and contracted something?” Fluttershy asked softly. She hated the words even as they passed her lips. She knew exactly- well, not exactly but near enough -what had happened to Scootaloo. She felt her heart wrench a little as Twilight nodded.

“That’s the working theory,” Twilight answered, “since so much of the forest is uncharted and so little is known about the plant life. She may have eaten something toxic and only realised it later. Thank Celestia she had the good sense try to make it to the hospital… I don’t even want to imagine what would have happened if she hadn’t.”

“How did she even get out there?” Rainbow asked dejectedly.

The purple alicorn shuffled through some papers that were floating nearby. “According to the Orphanage’s head, Gentle Hearth, Scootaloo has a bad habit of running away from the grounds.” Twilight answered sadly. “She has a lot of marks on her record; problems with authority, mostly. According to her caseworker Scootaloo’s parents essentially ignored her. I suppose after so long of taking care of herself and her adult ‘supervision’ being mostly ineffectual that isn’t so surprising.”

“So… so what’s gonna happen to her?” Rainbow asked, her voice cracking.

Twilight shook her head. “I don’t know, Dash. She’s stable right now, so that’s good, but frankly without knowing the root cause of what’s happening to her I can’t say if that will last.”

Fluttershy could feel the geas tying her tongue any time she thought about telling them the truth. Sombra had said that Scootaloo would be fine but what if he was wrong?

If my friends knew that the master did something to Scootaloo maybe they could help her! It was a moot point, though, Fluttershy knew. Stupid, stupid geas. If something happens to Scootaloo I’ll never forgive him!

“H-hey,” Rainbow said suddenly. She had a look in her eyes like a light had just come on. “What about that new guy? The one staying with you, Flutters?”

Fluttershy’s ears pricked up in a surge of fear. “C-Coal? What about him?”

“Of course!” Twilight nearly shouted, her face lighting up. “Coal said he was here to study the flora and fauna of the Everfree! Maybe his research has something useful! Scootaloo got all the way to Ponyville General so she couldn’t have made it far into the forest, that means she probably encountered whatever did this to here near the verge of the Everfree!”

This is it! This is my chance! “O-oh, well, I don’t know about that.” What am I saying?! I just need to say yes! If I say yes then… then…  “He’s only just started his research, after all. I think he’s only been out a few times.” Then they’ll take him away. They’ll imprison him in stone like Discord was, or worse. “I suppose I can ask him but… I think Zecora would probably be a better choice.”

Twilight tapped her chin with her hoof before nodding, letting out a self-deprecating chuckle. “Yeah, you’re probably right, I should have known better anyway. If anyone knows how long it takes to get actionable results from a long-term study you’d think it would be me. Still, can you ask him to keep an eye on Everfree verge flora and to let us know if he finds anything that might suggest a toxic nature?”

“Of course,” Fluttershy answered with a lightness she far from felt. “I’m sure he’d be happy to help in any way.”

“I’ll go to Zecora’s place!” Rainbow declared. “She’s probably asleep but we’re talking about serious stuff here, we should have thought of her first!”

Without another word Rainbow turned into a prismatic blur, making a beeline for the edge of the forest path leading to Zecora’s hut. Fluttershy felt a weight settle into her gut as she watched Rainbow vanish into the forest.

I’m lying to my friends for him, she realised. I can’t blame this on the geas, either. It was me, I decided to do this. Even though Scootaloo's life might be in danger I… I protected him. What have I done?

++

Sombra tossed and turned restlessly in his new bed. Although he was asleep the dark stallion did not find rest quite so easily. His mind felt fevered as shadows wrapped cloyingly around his mind. Whispers filled his thoughts with visions of black crystals, cyclopean monuments, and dark, cavernous vaults. He knew the shapes and places before him, even in his troubled sleep he knew the locations that his mind was being pulled toward. Why though?

Why am-

 

 

“-I here?” Sombra muttered as he looked down at the sunken temple that his dreams had brought him to. It was a monstrosity of twisting pillars and elegant, sweeping shapes that defied geometry. “This place must have been scoured from the face of Equestria a thousand years ago. The Sisters would not have left even one of these sites standing.”

This was no memory, either. There were none of the dark templar who served as devoted guardians. No priests keeping the black flames endlessly lit. It was empty and yet… not. There was more than just the howling winds winding through the pillars. Scowling, Sombra drifted forward, his astral form moving the dream realm around him hazily. The Temple had been built to exist coterminously in the waking and the dream realms but its destruction should have been equally mirrored. If it was here then that meant…

“Impossible,” Sombra growled, “if this temple had survived I would have been revived much sooner and with much greater strength. That I awoke so far from my Empire means it must have been destroyed.”

That made sense. The logic was there and yet… so was the temple. All logic pointed to the temple being destroyed except for its existence in the dream realm. Sombra hated not knowing what was happening. He especially hated being left in confusion over matters of his own kingdom. Well, former kingdom. As he made his way amidst the pillars and cold firepits Sombra examined the temple grounds. They were just as he remembered them; carved from black crystal and basalt excavated from the mountains and nearby quarries and etched with spells almost as old as the Wendigo. They were almost as much a work of art as of industry. The temple had served as a focal point for Sombra’s growing powers in the past and he had used the geomantic architecture to empower his spells, allowing him to craft impossible works of magic and artifice. It was in the depths of this very temple that the first Shadow Golem had been shaped.

A surge of shadow and wind tore suddenly from the far end of the temple grounds, where the soulforge would have lain, to slap violently into Sombra scattering his thoughts like snow. Amidst the howling gale Sombra could hear whispers of a voice both familiar and alien. His memory tried to dredge up the sound but it was so faint. Then it was gone and the tentative memory left with it. Frustrated, Sombra prowled onward. He was determined to divine the source of this impossible temple. He had crafted it for a purpose and, with his fall and the subsequent coup of the Empire, it no longer had one. If it was not destroyed during the purges that followed his defeat a millennium past then that meant the Sisters must have decided on a use for it. There were few things Sombra hated more than someone doing as they would with his own things. He would shake the temple down to its very foundation stones rather than permit it to be used by that pair of winged fancies that called themselves Princesses or, especially, the last scion of the Cadenza line.

The entrance to the temple was a wide, gaping archway that opened to a set of stairs sized perfectly for Sombra’s immense frame. It gave other, more average-sized ponies, a sense of disproportion not unlike a young colt trying to wear his father’s jacket.

Sombra could feel the presence of a mind deep beneath his hooves. It was old, powerful, and… hateful. It was filled with hatred. Jealousy, rage, and spite, coiled around a heart as black as night. More importantly, though, it was occupying his temple.. Whatever this creature was it-

A sound interrupted the former king’s thoughts. It was coming from far away. Far beyond the walls of sleep and into the waking world. Sombra’s ears flicked back reflexively trying to pinpoint the noise. Turning away from the temple’s maw, Sombra scowled in annoyance. It shouldn’t be possible for a sound from the waking realm to reach him here. In dreams, perhaps, but this was far beyond the simple place of dreams and deep within the winding unmatter of magic. That he accessed this realm via dreams should be of no consequence.

Curious, Sombra focused on the sound in an effort to bring it into clarity. After a moment of concentration he succeeded and the sound became clear as day. It was the sound of somepony crying…. No, not ‘somepony’, that was the mouse’s voice. A surge of panic and anger cracked Sombra’s icy demeanor, splitting his focus in two like a dropped porcelain plate. He cast a brief gaze back at the portal to the dark depths before shaking his head.

The temple and its invading occupant will be here tomorrow evening, Sombra thought as he began the enumerations of dawn, lifting his spirit from the deep places of sleep and back to his body. I will deal with them on the morrow. For now I clearly have more important matters to attend to. Namely whoever made my servant weep.

 

 

Sombra blinked sleep from his eyes as he lifted his head from the pillow a bit grudgingly. Glancing at the clock, Sombra scowled; it was just past two in the morning. Even farmers were not up so early without very good reason. Moments later the feather-soft sounds of crying reached Sombra’s ears in the waking world.

“Ah, yes,” Sombra grumbled, “my reason.”

Lifting himself out of bed, Sombra made his way out of his room and down the hall to his servants bedchambers. He could hear her crying though it was muffled. She was likely trying to keep it to herself and, for some reason, that irked Sombra more than being woken by it had. Pushing her door open he saw Fluttershy curled up on top of her blankets and shaking while every so often another sob would escape, followed by a hiccup and more shaking.

A small sense of relief passed through Sombra’s mind when he saw she was unhurt, physically at least. More anger followed quickly on its heels, however, as he wondered who had brought his servant to such a dismal state. Anger that quickly became a cold, dark fury.

“I would know why you shed so many tears, mouse,” Sombra’s voice was distant thunder caged in a shell of iron. Despite its low volume Fluttershy still started as if she had been shocked. Shadows flickered and writhed around Sombra as his eyes took on a fully green, lambent glow. Lavender flames licked off of the edges of his sclera as his face twisted into a furious mein. “If there is a culprit I would also have their name or names.”

Fluttershy stared at Sombra in shock for a moment before quickly wiping the tears from her face. It did little but muss up her fur which was matted from tears and her eyes were unavoidably red from crying.

“I-I’m s-sorry, master,” Fluttershy hiccuped. Sombra could still hear the tears straining at the edges of her voice. “I d-didn’t mean to wake you. I-I’ll try and be quieter.”

“Did you not hear me, mouse?”

The buttercream mare blinked in surprise. “I-I… it wasn’t a-anypony’s fault, your Majesty. Nopony did this to me.”

The flames and shadows calmed somewhat as Sombra tilted his head in confused irritation. “Then why do you weep as if you were wracked to your very soul?”

Fluttershy swallowed and sniffled a little before answering. “Because I did something terrible and I don’t know what to do. I made a choice and… and now…”

A sigh stifled Fluttershy’s self-recriminatory rant before it could gain steam. “I see,” Sombra said softly. Gone was the looming specter of destruction, replaced with his normal, albeit exceptional, leonine features. “Tell me what it is you think you have done.”

As he spoke, Sombra stepped closer to the bed and sat in front of her. Fluttershy looked pensive for several moments but Sombra knew there was no point in pressing the issue.

She will tell me her troubles, Sombra thought idly to himself. It is in her nature. It is pony nature to rely on others. No matter that I am hardly an ideal candidate.

“W-well…” Fluttershy began, sniffling. “I lied to my friends to… to protect you.”

Sombra crooked an eyebrow in confusion. “That’s all? The geas forces you to protect me, mouse. If you become distraught over every little lie you are forced to-”

“It wasn’t your stupid magic!” Fluttershy yelled, startling Sombra. Fluttershy clapped her hooves to her mouth, horrified at what had just come out of it. “O-oh, I’m so sorry, your Majesty, I didn’t mean to- I just got so… so angry and-”

Sombra silenced her with a raised hoof. “Clarify what you just said to me, mouse,” he said, once she had quieted down. “What do you mean it wasn’t my magic?”

Fluttershy blinked in surprise but nodded. “Twilight and Rainbow were trying to figure out what had happened to Scootaloo when Twilight said that the magic on her resembled something a plant in the Everfree could do. A ‘physical curse’ she called it. Rainbow suggested they talk to y- to Coal, since you’re supposed to be studying Everfree plants. When they asked me if I thought it was a good idea I… I said no.”

If he was being honest, Sombra felt rocked back on his hooves. By pure chance the mouse’s friends had given her an opportunity to betray him fully into the grasp of his enemies without triggering the conditions of the geas. He had been sleeping and his walk had left him weary, and he had only himself to blame for his short-sighted ensorcellment of the young Pegasus. Fate and his own judgment had left him solely in the hooves of the shy mare in front of him and yet… she had protected him.

“I-I told them that your research had barely started and that you wouldn’t have anything useful,” Fluttershy continued. “I promised them I would ask if ‘Coal’ would keep an eye out for any plants that matched the description and… and… and they believed me!”

At this point Fluttershy had broken back down into quiet sobs. Sombra could feel himself becoming more and more frustrated, not with the mouse, not even with her friends. He was getting frustrated with himself. She had protected him for reasons he couldn’t begin to fathom. She had only served him for mere days and she had been given a seemingly golden opportunity to remove herself from under his hoof. She didn’t and now she was berating herself for the actions she had taking instead. This… bothered Sombra. The fact that it bothered him, in turn, frustrated him.

“I took advantage of my f-friends,” Fluttershy croaked out. “I k-know you said that Scootaloo will be alright but I can’t be sure and… and if she isn’t then it will be my fault! I’m a horrible pony!”

“You will forgive me if that complaint rings a bit hollow in present company,” Sombra stated dryly. His borderline-sarcastic tone served to snap Fluttershy out of her wallowing, however, and she looked at him in shock.

Sombra wrinkled his muzzle in annoyance. “You are bound in service to a tyrant, mouse, you are practically sainted in comparison. Besides, you cannot know what would have happened had you agreed to your friend’s request. I may be weak but do not underestimate the damage I am capable of inflicting if threatened. You very likely preserved at least one of your friends’ lives by deterring them from their ill-advised course of action.”

That may have been laying it on a bit thick, Sombra mused as he watched the gears turn in the mouse’s brain. True, I am not precisely defenseless but in my current state I suspect a good maiming is a generous estimate of the damage I could inflict before I would be overpowered.

Regardless of the veracity of his statements, Sombra felt a small sense of relief when some of the grief left the mouse’s features. She was still horrified by her choices, unsurprisingly, but she was no longer inconsolable. Why that mattered to him at all he wasn’t certain. Sombra did know that her crying had an unparalleled quality to it that served to disturb his rest but that was far from the only reason.

Have I truly come to care for this mare? Sombra felt a weariness in him as he asked himself the question. Indulging that impulse is, with utmost certainty, a bad idea of the highest order. Given her status as a Bearer my happening to sneeze within a league of her would be enough to bring down the wrath of the Sisters on my head.

“Your Majesty?” Fluttershy’s voice snapped Sombra out of his thoughts and he felt his heart make a sudden leap for his throat when he realised she had gotten almost uncomfortably close to him, with her muzzle only a foot away at most. “A-are you alright?”

“Yes,” Sombra rumbled as he stood up from where he had come to rest at her bedside and turned his back on her. “I am quite alright. Now, I expect you to sleep now. My geas will keep you dreamless and ensure your rest is undisturbed as I hope mine shall be.”

“O-oh…” Fluttershy answered meekly. “I’m… I’m sorry for waking you.”

Sombra shot a glance over his massive shoulder. “Rest, mouse.”

Surprisingly, Fluttershy didn’t flinch at his tone or his gaze. She just smiled that same radiant smile she always did. It… comforted him to see it.

“As you say, your Majesty,” Fluttershy replied, bowing her head slightly. “And… thank you for trying to cheer me up.”

Sombra refused to dignify those last words with an answer and shut the bedroom door behind him. His mind was clouded and troubled. Moreover he was almost infuriatingly awake. Despite the early hour he felt a certainty bordering on the prophetic that sleep would elude him as he made his way back to his own room. Pushing the door to it open, Sombra glanced down the hall towards the living room and the front door. From somewhere deep in his sorcery-blackened heart he felt something stirring. Something utterly and irrefutably annoying.

I cannot help but wonder if my revival was somehow botched and left me insipid, Sombra thought dryly as he, instead of entering his room, telekinetically pulled out one of the books from his shelf then trotted out to the living room and through the front door as quietly as possible.

 

++

 

Fluttershy woke an hour or two later than she normally would have on a usual morning. Celestia’s sun was high enough in the sky to suggest mid-morning and for the second time in a row Fluttershy felt less than motivated to get out of bed. It wasn’t as bad as the day before but she knew that every day would bring with it fresh challenges for her to, apparently, fail at. Assuming she survived Sombra’s geas she had no idea how she would confess to her friends what she had done. Rainbow Dash would almost certainly never forgive her given how much the little filly meant to the cyan weathermare and Fluttershy wouldn’t blame her at all.

Hopefully the Master is still asleep, Fluttershy thought sullenly as she tipped herself out of bed and onto the cold floor. Shivering, she trotted out into the hallway. He’ll be upset if I made him wait for breakfast.

She felt a measure of hope as she walked past his closed door and into the empty living room. The kitchen likewise showed no signs of the massive, ash-colored stallion. Smiling, Fluttershy began the process of making breakfast. She chose something quick and simple- honeyed oatmeal with fruit -so she could get to her chores faster and make up for lost time. Especially since she wanted to visit the hospital quickly to see if there had been any updates of Scootaloo’s condition. Leaving out a large portion for Sombra sitting covered on the table alongside the condiments in case he woke up before she returned, Fluttershy quickly and gracelessly scarfed down her bowl before leaving to finish her morning duties.

When she returned an hour later to find the bowl untouched and Sombra still nowhere to be seen, Fluttershy felt a small twinge of regret. She had woken him up in the middle of the night. He was probably catching up on sleep. He seemed more energetic at night anyways. Setting up a small warming pad to place under the bowl to keep it at a palatable temperature, Fluttershy penned a short note explaining her absence and left it by the bowl. She only stopped to grab the red scarf hanging on a rack by the door before leaving to make her way to the hospital. She could only hope her decisions hadn’t been paid for by little Scootaloo.

The walk was uneventful and quiet, much as it always was, but this time Fluttershy couldn’t find any peace in the quiet. For the first time she found herself getting frustrated by how far away she was from town. Abandoning her usual order of business Fluttershy spread her wings and kicked off from the well-trodden path and caught a low thermal. She rarely flew but that was more out of preference than lack of skill. She was a competent enough flier and her lithe frame made her especially maneuverable; Fluttershy simply had an Earth Pony’s preference towards keeping her hooves on terra firma. Her speed was far better in the air though, like any pegasus, and within a few minutes Fluttershy made a graceful landing in front of the Ponyville General front entrance. Quickly, she trotted through the doors and up to the front desk.

“Excuse me,” Fluttershy spoke up with unusual strength (for her) to the receptionist. A kind unicorn mare named Verity. “A pegasus filly named Scootaloo was brought into emergency care last night and I was wondering what room she was put in?”

Verity smiled. “Oh yes, I was told we had a sudden arrival. Let me check.” Her voice was pleasantly musical and she lit her horn to bring up a large ledger to consult. After a worrying minute Verity smiled. “There we are, room one-oh-nine. It looks like an outside consultant is currently attending to her and has been for some time, however, so if he asks you to wait outside the room I must ask that you obey him without question, alright Miss Fluttershy?”

“Oh, yes,” Fluttershy agreed readily, mostly relieved to hear that Scootaloo was out of intensive care. “Of course, thank you so much Verity.”

“No problem, I think Rainbow is down there too,” Verity pointed Fluttershy towards a hallway. “First hall on the right.”

Fluttershy nodded and trotted down, following Verity’s directions. Taking the first right she saw Rainbow snoozing on a bench outside of the room where Scootaloo was supposed to be. She tried not to disturb her fellow Pegasus who had probably been there all night but she barely made it up to the bench Rainbow was sleeping on before the athletic, nap-loving mare snapped awake.

“Huhzawah?!” Rainbow Dash looked around for a moment before her brain caught up with her body. “Oh, hey Fluttershy, is it morning?”

Fluttershy nodded, feeling a pang of regret for her friend’s state. “Yes, I was just coming back to check on Scootaloo. How is she doing?”

Thankfully, Rainbow gave her a smile that shone with relief. “She’s gonna be fine. It was touch and go there for a while, but once Coal showed up he was able to give the doctors some pointers on how to deal with it.”

I can't have heard that right. Fluttershy stood stock still at what Rainbow had just said. “C-Coal is here?”

Rainbow Dash crooked an eyebrow. “Uh, yeah. Didn’t you send him over? He said he woke up after you got home and that you had told him what happened to Scoots. He must have headed over here right afterwards.”

“I… suppose so,” Fluttershy agreed, trying to cover her disbelief. “I didn’t realise he had left right away though. I was so exhausted that I must have fallen asleep right after I told him.”

“Well, I’m glad you told him Flutters. The guy turned out to be as reliable as me! I don’t think he’s left her side this whole time. Heck, that’s the only reason I got any shut-eye at all.” Rainbow stretched, her spine making loud popping noises.

“Well… that’s good…” Fluttershy felt a little light-headed and couldn’t keep herself from repeatedly glancing at the closed door to Scootaloo’s room.

“I’m gonna go grab some coffee,” Rainbow continued unimpeded. “I’ll bring some for Coal too. The dude is probably falling asleep on his hooves by now. You want anything?”

“Uhm, no, I’m fine, I’m just going to go check on Coal,” Fluttershy answered, snapping out of her daze.

Rainbow nodded at that. “Yeah, probably a good idea. He’ll probably need some serious R&R after this.”

The words fell on mostly deaf ears as Fluttershy trotted dazedly up to the door and pushed it open. She was half expecting to find him conducting some strange, dark experiment or be surrounded by shadowy coils. She was certainly not expecting to find him wearing a white coat that had been spattered by recent stains, a quill hanging idly out of his mouth that he seemed to be chewing on, and numerous clipboards floating alongside one his grimoires which he seemed to be reading simultaneously.

Glancing back, Fluttershy kicked out with her back hoof to shut the door, making sure she heard it click. Sombra seemed entirely unaware of the noise or her presence as he muttered to himself, absentmindedly chewing on the quill.

“Your Majesty?” Fluttershy said quietly as she approached. He didn’t react, so she tried something a little more... risky. “S-Sombra?”

“Not now, Misty,” Sombra replied distractedly. “This last sequence is giving me the run around. I’ll have it isolated in a moment, though.”

Misty? Oh, that was his… his friend from before, Fluttershy’s heart hurt just a little at Sombra’s reflexive answer. She could tell that, for the moment, he wasn’t in Ponyville General. He was back in the Crystal Empire. It’s strange but he looks so… comfortable like this. He actually reminds me a little of Twilight.

Sombra still hadn’t noticed Fluttershy’s existence. Instead, he floated out the partially chewed quill and noted down a few sweeping lines and equations before smirking. “That’s done it! Got the little bastard.”

The soft squeak that escaped from Fluttershy’s mouth at Sombra’s words drew the disguised king’s attention back to the present and Fluttershy gave a small laugh at his momentarily confused expression before clapping her hooves to her mouth before anything else fell out of it.

“Oh, oh I’m so sorry, your Majesty,” Fluttershy couldn’t keep the slight smile off of her face. “It's just that you looked really… good. You looked happy.”

Sombra snorted at that before turning back to his notes. “The filly will live, as I said. Her life was never in any danger although I did end up catching a few problematic side effects that may have presented themselves before they took root. I suspect they were related to her malnourishment. It is frustrating since I should have foreseen that and I blame my tired mind. I am glad I came out here and oversaw her recovery."

His speech patterns had changed back to his 'kingly' style and Sombra didn’t turn to regard Fluttershy at any point, instead choosing to walk over to Scootaloo silently sleeping form. A small spark of magic lept from Sombra’s horn to Scootaloo’s forehead and settled in.

“There, that should ensure that she awakens in more-or-less the same state as when she fell into her slumber.” Stepping back, Sombra peeled back some of the covers. “The changes are settling in nicely, too, see?”

Fluttershy didn’t bother holding back a gasp. Scootaloo’s wings were the most noticeable change; before they had been small and stunted with little sign of growth in spite of her age, now they were nearly half as big as she was and the feathers growing from them ranged from black to deep indigo before fading back into orange as they moved towards main bones of the wing. There were other, subtler, changes as well, though. Scootaloo had always looked a bit scrawny and lean, but now she looked as though she had been eating three good meals a day for the past year and athletic muscle could be seen along her legs and back.

“What did you do?” Fluttershy murmured, in awe at the transformation that had taken place. “She looks so much healthier now.”

Sombra chuckled. “Of course she does, but I don’t have time for a lengthy explanation. Simply know that I ensured her health, safety, and soundness of body. Before this she would have been a stunted runt for life. Now she can be whatever she wants. That she will feel beholden to me is, of course, a given.”

Fluttershy could hardly hold back the tears that were threatening to fall as she looked over Scootaloo. She had always worried about the little filly, being so scrawny and small. Fluttershy wished she had known about the troubles that Scootaloo had faced at home but now, thanks to Sombra, she had a chance at a normal life. It didn’t matter if that had been his first intention, in fact it probably hadn’t been, but the fact remained that he had given Scootaloo her quality of life back after it had been unfairly taken away from her by neglect and apathy.

“So you see, mouse,” Sombra continued, “you never had anything to worry about.”

His words sent a jolt into Fluttershy’s heart that sent it hammering away. ‘Never had…’ is that why he came out here? Did he- No, that’s… that’s not… Slowly, she turned to face him but his gaze had settled on the sleeping filly in front of the two of them. In that brief moment Fluttershy saw something she had never thought she would ever see on Sombra’s face. Something that, even in her wildest fantasies of redemption, she hadn’t dared to hope for. His features were softened, completely lacking their usual cruel lines but, unlike before when he had been talking to her friends, he wasn’t wearing a mask. No, he looked almost relaxed. The ghost of a smile tugged at the edges of his lips while a warm light had settled in his eyes. There was no other word for it; the way he was looking at Scootaloo was almost… paternal.

Fluttershy opened her mouth but she found a complete lack of words. What she did find was an urge to do something that was some combination of incredibly stupid, brave, and impulsive.

The only words her brain could give her were: Buck it.

“Mouse, are yo-”

Sombra began to turn but didn’t get to finish his sentence before Fluttershy leaned upwards, almost having to lift herself off of the ground to reach him, and pressed her lips against his in a warm, insistent kiss. She felt shock roll through him. His surprise only lasted for a moment though before, to her pleasant surprise, he leaned in and kissed her back, wrapping her lithe form in his forelegs and pulling closer.

She didn’t even try to resist. She didn’t want to. There was so much strength in Sombra and yet, for some reason, Fluttershy didn’t feel even the slightest bit afraid. In fact, for the first time she could remember that wasn’t in the middle of big fight or huge trouble, Fluttershy dared to say that she felt fearless.

 
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