A/N - Another two-parter type of deal going on here, since there's just too much to write on this. I'll be focusing mainly on Armor's good points more (which will become clearer in the next part), and Sterling's slip-ups and bad points along with it. With that, a conclusion to this story is coming later that will be...action-packed, to say the least.
My props to ultimateCCC for the title of this chapter "Operation: Exposing Truth", since I don't normally name them myself.
To say that Princess Cadence was disturbed by the sudden changes in both Sterling Spear's demeanor and behavior, from the night of their dinner date to the present day a week or so later, was an understatement. At first, she loved his new-found sense of attentiveness and the docile way he handled stressful issues, and maybe she was simply caught off-guard in the wonderful moments. Now though, she was suspicious that he was receiving outside help, and not just tips and pointers, but was being fed lines to say to her and stories to tell that were kind of unnatural for the gruff, stern pony.
As she paced around her room in the castle, all covered in her favorite color, pink, she realized that she may have never come to this conclusion if it weren't for one equally unsettling factor, Shining Armor's evasiveness over the past week. While Sterling only became more suave and debonair, Armor became more dodgy, hardly ever speaking to her directly when she visited him, and if he did talk at all, only about how great Sterling was and that she should ask him out again sometime. He wasn't bitter while going about it, per say, but there was some tone in his speech that put a rock in Cadence's stomach whenever she heard it.
Cadence thought that she and Armor were getting along quite nicely, and that he was starting to open up to her more the longer they conversed. Why did he not want to talk with her about anything anymore? Was it because she and Sterling were both an item, Shining Armor just now learned of it, and felt betrayed by her? He didn't seem to express near as much interest in her as she admittedly might have shown for him, so that didn't feel like it was his problem. He was also quick to put Sterling on a pedestal whenever she even uttered a syllable of his name. Cadence figured that soldiers tended to stick together when it came to things like this, but Armor's blatant over-enthusiasm was hardly normal for any occasion, even with that thought in mind.
In her youth, the young princess fantasized about finding a husband who was as mysterious as he was dashing. She wanted somepony who was intriguing, sometimes served as a guessing game. Now that she had met these two stallions, mystery had only proved to be as frustrating as Pony Hell.
"They're always trying to hide something from me..." the princess moaned as she sat down on her bed, tired of the incessant pacing. She didn't want to sound paranoid, but even as Sterling and Armor were terrible liars, and bad at concealing things, they still found a way to keep her in the dark about their true motives. Did they really love her, or didn't they? Did Sterling turn over a new leaf in less than a day, or was he scheming with another pony? Was Armor her friend, or did he not want to be anymore because of Sterling? Was he the culprit who was assisting the pegasus in wooing her? So many questions that would probably be left unanswered until she took matters into her own hooves.
Taking matters unto herself was just what she intended to do. Before she became busy in her own musings, Cadence had summoned her dear aunt to pick her brain about this conspicuous behavior. She hadn't met Sterling personally, that Cadence knew of, yet, but she remembered what Celestia said about her interview with Armor not so long ago, so maybe she'd have some insight on the unicorn at least.
She knew her aunt was busy, but Cadence still couldn't shake her mild impatience at how long the older mare was taking to arrive. It was inevitable that she would not be able to drop everything she was doing to console her most likely over-reacting niece, but the need for information was eating away at her. There just had to be some reason for all of this!
The light knocking on her pink doors didn't come until the alicorn's eyes started to droop in exhaustion, having given up on waiting. At the sound, Cadence perked up immediately and trotted over to greet her much awaited guest.
"Oh, Aunt Celestia, I thought you'd never get here!" Now that she had her supportive aunt in her midst, Cadence felt that she could unload a little.
Celestia just chuckled at her niece's zestful greeting. "I'm sorry for not coming sooner, my dear Cadence, but you know how it is, duty is always calling."
The white princess strode through the double doors and closed them behind her to get some privacy for the two family members. Cadence gestured over toward the bed for her aunt to sit and get comfortable, to which Celestia thanked her and indulged.
"Now then, my little niece, what is this I hear about needing my advice on something?"
The younger princess made herself comfortable on the bed only after making sure Celestia had a chance to do so. "Well, I've been having some...troubles lately with Sterling Spear and Shining Armor that I feel like I need to seek your counsel on. I probably wouldn't even have bothered you at all, and just spoke to them myself, if not for..."
Celestia's brow rose only slightly to show her concern. "If not for what, Cadence?"
The faltering princess thought for a moment about how she would approach the subject with her aunt. "...If not for the fact that both of them have been acting very...strange as of late."
"Acting strange how, dear?"
Cadence took a deep breath before she spilled what she had been thinking about to the attentive princess. "For one thing, have you noticed that Sterling Spear has been acting a whole lot...nicer to everypony when we're together, including me?"
Celestia instinctively raised a wing to her mouth, getting deep in concentration to remember such an instance. "Hmm...I have only talked to Sterling Spear a little bit, one on one, before. He did seem to be rather...short with his responses to some of my questions. I don't think I've actually seen both of you together very much, but I would probably be surprised if he were more congenial than usual too."
For the pink mare, "probably" was hardly enough to base a solid accusation on, but it was good to know she wasn't the only one who gathered that his new friendliness might be weird.
She took a shot at Armor instead, since maybe he had been more open to Celestia in the past. "I wouldn't be so uneasy about it if it weren't for the odd way Armor's been acting around me for about as long as Sterling has."
"You mean, Shining Armor too?" Celestia gave her a perplexed look.
Cadence sighed as she recounted the things he had said. "All I know is that he hasn't been as willing to talk to me lately, at least not unless it's about Sterling. I don't know why, but it feels like Armor's pawning me off on him..."
Now that Cadence had clued her in on what Armor was doing, she did specifically remember what the jittery unicorn had told her when she interviewed him. Celestia put a comforting hoof on her shoulder and gave her a pointed look. After what she was about to tell the young princess, she'd most likely need all of the comfort she could get.
"There was something that Shining Armor told me that you are not going to like, Cadence..."
Having noticed the regal pony was becoming more talkative, Cadence surmised that this would be a good clue into what was happening around her. She waited for the bombshell, her silent stare urging Celestia to continue with her thought.
"...When I last spoke to him, he immediately rejected my offer to become an official husband candidate for you..."
The sun princess' apologetic look was proof enough to Cadence that her own mouth was gaping like a fish caught in a hook. "W...well...I mean, I suppose he never truly expressed the greatest of interest in courtship..."
Rubbing her shoulder lightly for comfort, Celestia was pained to see the beginnings of tears threatening to spill from Cadence's eyes. Hopefully, her next insight would soften the blow a little bit.
"Oh, but Cadence, he did not specify that he was DISINTERESTED in you either!"
Now was the time to lift her spirits, even if the situation was fairly bleak. Cadence made a tiny sniff as she looked back to her aunt's face.
"Shining Armor told me that he did not want to become a suitor because he thinks he would be inadequate as one."
Cadence was confused. Were they talking about the same unicorn here?
"Why in Equestria would somepony as kind, loving, and, let me be frank, quite ruggedly handsome as Armor think for even one moment that he fell short in some way?"
Shifting her gaze around the room, Celestia tried to remember more detailed conversations of that day. "I think Mr. Armor was speaking in purely practical terms, my niece. Knowing that you were a princess, he must have thought that you expected greater...material things than a stallion on his salary could afford. He also mentioned something about being "spineless" and made allusions to being a chronic daydreamer-"
"But that's what I like about Armor!" Cadence interrupted the fellow princess. "He isn't obsessed with money or fame. He wants to help ponykind in any way he can, not just rule over it!"
Cadence started pacing again as she worked herself into a lather over the topic. "It would be nice to have a husband who could be financially stable, and have the fortitude to rule a principality, but that's not ALL I'm looking for here, Aunt Celestia. I want someone who's compassionate and well-read. Armor may not be a practical husband, but I'm sick of chasing and being chased by rock-headed jerks who only love their bits or the fact that I'm a princess, and not me as a pony!"
Her short burst of a tirade over with, Cadence slumped to the ground tiredly, looking up only long enough to catch the grin forming on Celestia's face.
"What's so amusing, auntie?"
"You must really fancy Mr. Armor, don't you, Cadence?"
The smaller alicorn's face turned a darker shade in embarrassment as she lifted herself from the floor. "Don't get me wrong. If Sterling really has changed for the better, he's getting pretty high up there too. Oh...who to choose, who to choose?" She wrung her hooves together in nervousness.
"Well, either way," Celestia began, standing back up to stretch her legs, "with what you've told me about Sterling's change in behavior as well as Shining Armor's, there's a good possibility that the two are meeting in secret...though I will leave that for you to discover. I wouldn't want to get too involved in relationships that are none of my concern."
Celestia moved closer to whisper to her niece. "You can always come to me for advice and...information though, if you need it." She gave Cadence a winking nod to show her support.
"Thanks, Aunt Celestia," Cadence threw her hooves around the mare's neck in an appreciative hug. The other princess just gave her a kind smile in return.
"Though..." the pink alicorn pulled back with a pensive frown on her face, "where exactly would I go to find out about that?"
Her relative's eyebrows scrunched in thought. That was a really good question, as there weren't any other ponies to ask who would probably know if they were fraternizing or not. She did, however, have one other idea that might bear some sort of fruit.
"Why don't you approach Mr. Armor and Mr. Spear about it yourself, Cadence?"
Cadence gawked at the white pony like she was asking her to take a long walk off of a short plank. "Auntie, even if they weren't in on some sort of plan together, I could offend them greatly by accusing them like that!"
Celestia rolled her eyes as her sweet, though naive, little niece completely misread what her idea was from the start. "No, my dear, I mean to catch them off guard, or to make them inadvertently slip on their words, you know, something covert. Sometimes, the most telling evidence can come from what they don't say, or what their body language suggests. You just need to look more closely at the two of them."
"Look closer?" Cadence gave an incredulous look. "How do you mean?"
Her aunt thoughtfully huffed as she fished for ideas. "When talking to them, casually mention the other stallion. Let them know you are onto their plot, without saying it to them outright. I think if they really are scheming together, the truth is bound to come out eventually."
"Okay," Cadence smiled, sort of understanding what Celestia was trying to say. "Thanks for helping me, Aunt Celestia, I'll go over to the barracks right away and see what I can get out of them."
The white princess made her way toward the doors to Cadence's chambers, as she could tell that her niece was satisfied with the advice, and she would be needed elsewhere very shortly.
"I am glad I could help, Cadence. Like I was saying before, feel free to come to me anytime if you need anything else. For now, I have to go back to the throne room and hold court proceedings."
"That's alright. Thanks again, auntie."
They bid each other a nice farewell, leaving Cadence in her rose-colored room to ponder what she would ask or say to the two stallions when she saw them. She decided to think and walk at the same time as she rearranged some pieces of furniture in her room, tidying it a little before she went on her excursion. Content with the appearance of her chambers, she slipped gracefully through her double doors and made her way out of the castle.
Her first destination was clear. She would visit with Shining Armor, because out of the two of them he was the easiest to tell if something was wrong or amiss. Sterling didn't show much emotion half of the time, so he would be second on her short list of ponies to meet with.
Within all of ten minutes, she was out on the trail toward the guard barracks when she crossed paths with the venerable Captain Broadlance. She could tell it was him by his cutie mark, a stainless steel jousting lance pointing at a forty-five degree angle toward his own head, the tip of the lance engulfed in a flash of bright, red light. Age had been unkind to the captain, as she found out that, being closer to him than she probably ever had, the ginger of his mane and tail was becoming a grey-streaked and faded memory.
"Well, good day to you, Captain Broadlance," she addressed him respectfully.
"Ah, Princess Cadence," Broadlance prostrated at the sight of the royal mare. "Is there anything I can do for you today?"
"No, no," the alicorn grimaced at the old pony's grunt of pain as he bowed. "Please, Captain, at ease. I don't want you to harm yourself on my account."
Broadlance did as she asked, standing up on all fours, but countered, "It is no trouble, Your Highness. What kind of stallion would I be if I didn't show the proper respect for the princess of Equestria?
At least now Cadence knew who all of the other ponies got this...annoying habit of debasing themselves for her from...
"You have done quite enough to prove your respect for the crown, my good captain. How have you been today?"
The veteran warrior gave her a face that spoke of confusion and, dare she say, suspicion.
"Actually, Your Highness, I just got done visiting with my son. Of all of the ponies in this land for him to associate with, it surprised me when I noticed that Private Shining Armor was with him."
That was very interesting to the pink princess. So, the two WERE doing something together...
She feigned ignorance at his admission to see if she could prod anything else out of the captain. "Is there something odd about Sterling and Shining Armor being together?"
Broadlance's eyes shifted warily, unsure of whether or not to divulge this kind of information to her. Not only was she dating Sterling, but Cadence had the authority to counsel soldiers who weren't getting along, being at a technical military rank higher than him even. The captain didn't like his son, but he was still family, and Broadlance had been taught throughout his life that family sticks together, no matter what. Even if said family member is a megalomaniac with aggressive tendencies.
He sighed as he told tell her a probably watered-down version of their relationship that he hoped wouldn't set off any alarms. "Let's just say that...Sterling and Armor used to not get along with each other very well."
"Oh, I see..." That was something Cadence had definitely NOT heard from anypony. She pressed into him further. "So these two have only recently become friends then?"
"Well," -he scratched his chin with a hoof- "I'm not exactly sure WHAT they are now. All I could tell is that Armor had a fore-hoof around Sterling's neck and was whispering something in his ear. Then, I came over and greeted the two, which must have interrupted something very important because they got all nervous like I had heard something I shouldn't have."
"Very, very fascinating," the princess soaked in every detail she could, immersed in detective mode.
"Yes, it certainly is," the captain had a disheveled look on his face now. "They've gone from being fairly cold to...a little too close...if you ask me," his voice was low and cautious. "Not that I'm against that kind of relationship, mind you!" He waved his hooves to prove his point. He considered himself very open-minded to many different...lifestyles, and if his son and Armor were THOSE kinds of stallions, he wouldn't object to it. Though, he'd kick Sterling's flank for stringing along a lovely lady like the princess.
Cadence had obviously missed the insinuations Broadlance was making as her brows furrowed in question. "What kind of relationship are you talking about, Captain?"
His face turned a bright shade of red and he coughed loudly. "Um...this isn't the first time I've seen those two together like that, admittedly. There was another time, late at night about two days ago. I was just getting back to my own home from the academy, and I have to cross the barracks to get there. So, there I was, walking along, until I spotted Sterling over near the door to Armor's quarters. I was about to shout to get his attention, but I stopped when I saw him knock on his door. It looked like Sterling didn't want to be noticed, as he was glancing around himself quickly.
"As you can guess, Armor opened the door and stepped out to meet with him. He made a similar gesture to what I just witnessed a few minutes ago, and wrapped a hoof around Sterling's neck, getting close to his ear and telling him something that I couldn't hear from all the way over on the other side of the building. Sterling just nodded at whatever was said and Armor led him into his dorm, never taking his foreleg off of him. I didn't see or hear anything else after the door was shut.
"It was secretive, very chummy, and gave me a weird feeling," Broadlance took another deep breath to get up the courage to make his next statement. "I'm sorry I have to say this, but, Princess Cadence, I think Sterling and Armor are possibly in a...how do I put this...same-sex romantic relationship..."
From what Broadlance could acquire, her jaw had hit the trail floor, that much could be seen. Her pupils had dilated into little beads, he could check that off of the list of things a pony did while going into shock as well. Her tri-toned mane took on a bit of that static fraying effect that one's mane would when they were going bonkers. Understandably, she seemed...upset.
"Princess Cadence?" The captain asked with some trepidation, not wanting to make the blow worse for her.
She couldn't believe the captain could even suggest something like that! Sterling Spear was as hot-blooded of a stallion as any she had ever met before, and by his appearance was straighter than a razor blade. Well, he did show an uncanny disinterest for mares in general, and until a week ago, that included her too. He also showed much more enthusiasm for pursuits in which he would be situated around a bunch of stallions. Coincidence, or intentional? She didn't want to think about that, but the more she did...
Surely Armor wasn't attracted to members of the same gender! Of course not! He was just...awkward around mares, didn't want to get too close to them, seemed...repulsed by them... Now that she thought about it, she was Armor's friend...but he showed no interest in her romantically, and even asked her advice on furnishing and decorating his dorm... Oh Celestia, maybe there was something Broadlance had picked up on that she didn't...
No! She was NOT going to believe one word of it until she found out for herself! They'd have to be literally smooching right in front of her before she'd ever believe something like that!
"Oh, Captain," Cadence refocused on the soldier and giggled dismissively. "I'm sure there has been a misunderstanding here. Sterling and I are dating, and Armor must have SOME filly that he is attracted to but too shy to say it." She was, of course, leaving out the part where she hoped that filly was her.
A bead of sweat dribbled down the captain's forehead as he decided to take his way out and run with it. "...Those are good points, Princess Cadence. Maybe I read too much into things. I guess I just wasn't thinking straight." He smiled and, with a hoof on the back of his head, chuckled in a morose fashion.
"Do not worry, my good stallion, it might have seemed odd at the time. I think nopony would blame you if they had witnessed the same," she laughed along with him.
Cadence watched the black eyes of the captain shine with relief. Hopefully it was because he was glad to hear somepony talk him out of his thoughts of his son being gay, and not because he wanted to stay her wrath and not press the dilemma.
"I probably ought'a get on my way now," Broadlance was eager to leave as quickly as he could to avoid any further complications. "Got an important meeting at the palace in about twenty minutes, and I should get there a little early to prepare for it. Please forgive my senility. My mind isn't what it used to be, and sometimes I misread things."
"That is quite alright, Captain," Cadence felt that she had gotten everything out of the old timer that she could, so she let him get going. "I bet it was just a long night at the academy. It was good conversing with you again."
The two ponies waved each other off, Broadlance bowing a little more urgently than usual, and as Cadence watched him trot down the road, she mused about what he had just told her.
"There's no way those two are...involved with each other," she threw the very thought aside. It was ridiculous. It just had to be bad perception on the part of the captain! She would have to have a good talk with the both of them and clear all of this up.
A mixture of anxiety and determination quickened the pace of her hoof-steps, almost galloping toward the barracks when she thought that nopony was around to see her frantically run.
Another not-so-long while passed before she made her way to the grounds that the motel-like buildings sat upon, and the room of Shining Armor was within a short distance. Now she would get some explanations as to what in Celestia's name was going on here.
Before she could take ten steps in that direction, however, an unfamiliar, chartreuse earth pony with dark brown eyes and a deep magenta mane and tail stopped her in her tracks.
"Princess Cadence? Your Highness honors us with her presence!" He appropriately genuflected, earning an uneasy grin from the princess with his polite, yet archaic, greeting.
"Please, good sir, I am only here on official business and do not wish to draw attention to myself." Such was the life of royalty, unfortunately.
He must have been another soldier judging by his battle-ready physique, Cadence had surmised. He daftly scratched his scalp with a hoof at the mention of 'official business'. "If I may, what business would you happen to be in the middle of, fair Princess?"
"Ah," Cadence began, immediately forgetting that she didn't have an excuse lined up. She decided to be as close to the point as possible. "I have been asked to evaluate a Private Shining Armor to determine his training progress since he left the academy."
She didn't like the sudden shoulder tense the young stallion made.
"With all due respect, Princess, I wouldn't bother Shining Armor at the moment. He's in there with Lieutenant Sterling Spear, and it looks like there's something serious going on in that room."
Could he have been any more vague?
"What is going on in there that even royalty is disallowed to enter his quarters?" Although she had told herself she wouldn't entertain any other thoughts of the private and lieutenant being together in an intimate way, this day only proved that possibility more and more.
The yellow-green earth pony stole a look toward the barracks before addressing Cadence's question. "Who knows, but the lieutenant seemed awfully annoyed with everypony when they crowded around him and Armor just a minute or so ago. You see, Armor and the lieutenant used to not be the best of buddies, if you know what I mean, so it was weird to see them hanging out with one another. In such a cozy community as we have here, word gets around very quickly, and some ponies claimed they've seen those two getting very...touchy-feely with each other. Well, we wanted to know what all of the fuss was about, so we were about to ask them ourselves. That's when the lieutenant screamed to everyone: 'Back off, cretins! This is between me and Armor! If I catch anypony trying to spy on us, I'll cut each and every one of your throats!'"
Typical Sterling... Cadence wasn't surprised by that one bit. What WAS making her fur crawl was the fact that all of the pieces of this puzzle were falling into place. Armor and Sterling's disinterest in her, the frequency of which they've been spotted together lately, and the secretive embarrassment they were exhibiting were all signs that pointed to the unthinkable.
"Thank you for the wealth of information, loyal subject. I suppose I will rearrange to visit with the private another time." She lied through her teeth. She was getting to the bottom of this RIGHT NOW.
"Anything for the princess of Equestria, my lady," the slightly eccentric pony bowed before taking his leave.
Cadence waited until he, and everypony else, was well away from that side of the barracks before she angrily huffed, practically tromping over to Armor's door, intent on chewing one or both of their ears off with the mega rant she had stored up for just a similar occasion. She reeled her fore-hoof back when she stepped in front of the portal, about to give the door a good whack.
The muffled voices and noises from inside the room kept her from following through. Curiosity took over and drove her to instead lean against the door expectantly. She strained her ears, pushing them against it, but she couldn't quite hear what they were saying to each other. No problem, being an alicorn, she could cast a convenient spell to make the garbled voices clearer, though not perfectly so, especially if they were speaking softly. Magic wasn't ALWAYS a fail-safe remedy for life's problems, though it helped from time to time.
After a minute of charging up her energy, channeling it into the door and her ears, she picked up on Armor's voice first, and with Cadence's paranoia turned up at full blast, she took in their exchange with a bit of a dirty mind.
"My, my, Sterling," Armor was indeed tweaking his voice to a very low level, "even with all of the experience you have in dating, you're still so awkward about this."
Sterling replied in the same quiet way with a brisk snarl in his tone. "Who asked you? It's been a long time, alright?"
"Relax, Sterling," Armor chuckled. It was almost as if he was instructing the pegasus to do so. "Just let me go slip into the get-up, and then the fun can really begin."
What get-up? What kind of sick, perverted things were those two planning to do today anyway?
"Ugh," Sterling sounded mortified, "this is so embarrassing, Armor! I can't believe I'm about to do this with you! Though...I suppose it'll make me more comfortable...maybe..."
Cadence mumbled to herself desperately. "This isn't happening! Please, tell me this isn't happening!"
She waited with rapt attention as a few minutes passed in silence. Sterling was most likely waiting for the unicorn to get into...whatever the heck it was he was putting on.
The silence was finally broken by a closet door opening, hoof-falls sounding on the wooden floorboards. When Armor spoke next, Cadence was convinced that something very tawdry was transpiring on the other side.
"Well, hello there, Sterling." The princess' face turned up in horrified distaste as Armor's slightly deep, even voice was replaced by a freakishly feminine lisp, trying to sound sultry to his, now affirmed, coltfriend. "What's a dashing, young stallion like you doing in my room, of all places?"
Sterling sounded like he was groaning. "Sweet Celestia, Armor, if Princess Cadence knew we we're doing this, she'd have both of our heads for sure."
"I think she would too." At that, Armor laughed as loud as he dared, to which Sterling only cackled once or twice to join in on the joke at her expense.
Cadence was furious. How dare those two have an affair behind her back and then laugh at the trouble they would cause should word of it reach her! The princess had heard quite enough of this injustice, powering down the spell and leaving herself deaf to anything else they might say. That was all the proof she needed anyway. When she exposed them for the...lovers they were, she would have vengeance on the both of them!
She tried to repress the few stray tears that had escaped down her face, clenching her teeth like a vice. She couldn't rip them apart just yet. They would deny having any affair with each other, and until she could pry it out of them, she wouldn't be able to punish them for it. Instead, she'd play it straight, biding her time until she caught them in the act. Hopefully, that time would be right now, as she knocked on the door, eliciting resounding thuds in her rage.
MEANWHILE, INSIDE ARMOR'S QUARTERS AFTER CADENCE QUIT LISTENING IN
"Armor...you look absolutely ridiculous," Sterling eyed the unicorn up and down.
The outfit Armor had on truly was terrible. He had attached a pair of fake, pink wings with a purple tint to his body where they would approximately have been on a pegasus. The ghastly dresser was also adorned in a gold crown, a gold necklace, and matching golden slippers, all fit for a princess. Well, Princess Cadence, more specifically...
"I don't know, Sterling," Armor admired his posterior, having been boosted up by the slippers made for a mare. "I think I could pull this look off pretty well."
Sterling snorted with a snide grin on his face. "Tch, maybe if you lost a hundred pounds..."
Armor pouted in Sterling's direction comically, using his 'sexy' mare voice again. "Are you calling your princess FAT, Sterling?"
"Armor, you have a really horrendous excuse for a mare voice-"
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK
Both stallions gasped sharply as they heard the harsh knocks on Armor's door.
"Oh no, I've gotta get out of this stuff!" Armor panicked, fumbling back into the closet as fast as he could.
"Drat! I told those heathens to get lo-"
Just as Sterling was about to finish his sentence, he immediately clammed up as the voice of none other than the princess tore through the door. "Shining Armor, Sterling Spear, I know you two are in there!"
"Oh no," Sterling thought. "How did she find out that Armor and I were collaborating?"
"Quick, Sterling!" Armor undressed as he spoke through the closet door. "Hide under my art desk and I'll try to get her out of here!"
Sterling all but dived under the desk as they heard the door open. Looks like the princess didn't want to wait for Armor to let her in after all.
Cadence slipped into the semi-spacious dorm, covered in a wide array of plant life, but no Armor or Sterling to be seen.
"Hello, anypony here? Come on out!"
A muffled voice came from the closet. It seemed to be Shining Armor. "Oh, hi Cadence! Just one moment, if you please. I just got back from a party and I need to get out of my suit."
"Okay, hurry it up in there, please. We have some things to talk about." Cadence's tone was quite annoyed. Her eyes scoured the dwelling for any sign of Sterling. That philanderer just had to be around here someplace!
Within moments, Armor rocketed out of his closet and shut the door behind him, giving Cadence a toothy grin. "So, uh...what was it that you...wanted to talk about, Cadence, heh heh?"
The royal mare made a scrutinizing look in his direction. Armor's guilt, rolling off of him in waves, was palpable, and it made Cadence livid to know that he was still reaching for pathetic attempts to hide it.
"Oh, nothing," she turned toward his old, ratty couch with an unappealing, green flannel design coldly. "I was just informed that Sterling Spear had been in the area, and thought I might meet up with him today. Imagine my surprise when I found out that he has been...hanging out with you lately. You must think pretty highly of him, wanting me to go out with him more, and now THIS."
Armor's lips scrunched in nervousness. "Who, ME? Cadence, I think those guys have been feeding you some misinformation. Of course Sterling and I haven't been hanging out."
"...and why not?" Cadence faced Armor with a raised brow, literally grilling him with her glare. "Don't you regard him as a friend, Armor?"
She knew something was going on, alright. Armor's forehead started to sweat. "Well, um...yes...I do-"
"Then why are you so keen on denying that you've been seeing each other?"
Armor's lip started to quiver while he passed a foreleg over his head. "I...uh..." The pained, wobbly smile was incriminating enough for Cadence. Just as she had surmised, Armor wasn't a very good liar. The only thing she needed to do now was scope out the captain's son.
"I know he's in here, Armor!" Her features took on a darker shade as she whipped around, frantically trying to locate that cheating pegasus. She ran over and checked under and around the couch, but there was no Sterling to be seen.
The unicorn knew he couldn't do anything but let her turn the quarters over in her rampage, or else he'd risk seeming even more guilty by making her stop. The smile had degraded into worried fear, hoping that Sterling would be able to escape out from under the art desk when the time came for her to check under it.
Playing his own part, he was as nonchalant as he could be. "I don't know what you're looking for, Cadence, but I don't think you're going to find Sterling, if that's who it is."
"Oh, really?" Cadence turned and grinned at him evilly. "Then how about...behind the refrigerator!"
"Okay then..." she pouted in concentration. "Maybe...behind the Pony David statue!"
Nothing...though the statue itself, with its suggestive pose and rippling male physique just made her more suspicious of Armor's...tastes.
"EEEERRRRGH!" She stamped a hoof in near-defeat, until she saw something shift from under the art desk.
"A HA! Sorry, Sterling, but I've got you now!"
Armor gasped inaudibly, terrified at the thought of Cadence finding him.
Cadence lifted the cloth that was covering the bottom of the art desk triumphantly. "Nopony makes a fool out of Princess Mi Amore-"
"...Cadenza..." Closing her eyes and sucking a breath through her teeth, she admitted her defeat at the hooves of the two "friends" who were willfully betraying her.
Little did she know, Sterling had jumped from under the desk over to the same, nearby couch that she had already inspected with thorough precision, guaranteeing his safety. He was certainly a fast wit, if nothing else.
"As you can see," Armor masked his abject relief, "I have not been hiding anypony from you, Cadence." He shuffled over to her, still down near the art desk with a scowl on her pretty face, and put a hoof on her shoulder as a hopefully comforting gesture. "You should probably get some rest at home. You seem a little...tense right now. Relax, and enjoy the rest of the day while the day's still young. That's what I always do."
Cadence, while hardly in the mood to cater to anything Armor said right now, begrudgingly lifted herself off of the hard-wood floor, making her way over to the door.
"I look forward to seeing you again. Maybe tomorrow?" Armor tried not to sound too happy at the turn of events.
"Yeah...tomorrow..." Cadence didn't even look him in the eyes. She felt like she had been deceived, tricked, and worst of all, embarrassed that the stallions she had been in love with all of this time just HAD to be gay. She'd never hear the end of this once word got out about Sterling's homoerotic love affair! Ponies would be raving about it for months, if not the rest of her life!
"Bye bye, Cadence, and I hope you get better soon," Armor suspiciously slid the door shut with a speed unbecoming of him.
Alone again on the front steps to Armor's room, tears of humiliation crept along Cadence's cheeks. She wiped them away with a foreleg harshly, a look of fury replacing them.
"I'll expose the both of you for this if it's the last thing I do..."