It might be said that Rarity was not an especially frequent visitor to Sugar Cube Corner. It wasn't that she disliked Pinkie Pie, although to be sure she'd had daydreams of putting a comb through that poofy mane of hers. It was more the fact that she lacked the ability of, say, Fluttershy-- glorious, graceful Fluttershy-- to eat whatever she wanted and never gain a pound. She also lacked Twilight's ability to convert any weight she gained into supple curves that suited her figure. No, Rarity had long accepted that if she let even so much as a single cookie pass her lips, she would be sliding down the slippery slope to becoming a pudgy little pony. Not only that, but since the Cake babies had arrived there seemed to be more havoc around the place than even Pinkie could supply single-hoofed. For all her good points, Rarity did not excel at dealing with foals. She kept wanting to hold them up to her own high standards, which she realised was terribly unfair on the poor things. Better, then, to avoid them as much as propriety allowed.
Nevertheless, she was familiar enough with the inner workings of the Corner to remain unfazed when she walked in to find Pinkie Pie draped upside down over a table, talking animatedly to Rainbow Dash. She sometimes wondered why Rainbow bothered to pay rent on her house, since the pegasus barely ever seemed to be inside it. She was forever having sleepovers with Pinkie, or lending some night-time reassurance to Fluttershy, or leaving feathers in the branches of Applejack's trees. Rarity had even heard tales of her nesting in Twilight's rafters, quite at home with Owloysius and a good book. Privately, the unicorn wondered how long it would be before her home, too, would be invaded by a snoozing weather pony. It was, after all, only fair.
"Ah! Hello, girls! Rainbow Dash, I was told you were looking for me?" Rarity began as an opening gambit.
Rainbow Dash looked at her blankly, the gears in her head whirring as she struggled to switch from translating unrefined Pinkie Babble to understanding coherent speech. Eventually, her tongue took up the slack her brain couldn't handle, and greeted Rarity with a toneless "Huh?"
"Well, from what I understand, you were looking for advice of a romantic persuasion. Something to do with a certain book, I think," Rarity hinted without success. "Applejack told me-"
Dash's ears pricked and her eyes lit up as her mind finally switched back into action mode. "AJ? You've seen her? I've been looking for her all day! Where is she?"
"Well, she was enjoying a luncheon with yours truly, but we had a small disagreement and parted ways. She's probably back at the farm by now-"
"Awesome! I can be there in five minutes flat. I need to go and yell at her," Dash said, launching herself from her chair and becoming a hive of nervous energy that neither hell nor hurricane could hope to restrain. She galloped five steps towards the door before abruptly turning and rushing back towards Rarity. "Also, go and see Twilight. She needs to yell at you. In fact, Sergeant Pie?"
Pinkie rolled off the table and sprang to attention with an admirable salute. Inexplicably, she had somehow acquired an army helmet. "Yes, Colonel Dashie?"
"Escort Private Rarity to see General Sparkle once I leave. That's an order!" Dash barked, before cracking her tail. "As for me, I'm off to see Major Applejack. Charge!"
As Dash bolted from the building, Rarity was left with no better option than to scratch her head in puzzlement. Unwisely, she looked to Pinkie Pie for answers. "She is aware that General is higher than Colonel? That she has placed Twilight higher than herself?"
"Colonel sounds cooler," Pinkie said, as if this was all the explanation that was needed. It probably was. "Fluttershy's the chaplain," she added helpfully.
"And I'm a mere private, not even an officer? The cheek of her! You wouldn't imagine the horrors I could visit upon a pony with a sufficiently strong bolt of silk," Rarity sniffed, having quite forgotten the reason she had even begun her visit.
"Wait. If Dashie's yelling at AJ, and Twilight's yelling at you, does that mean I'm going to get yelled at by Fluttershy? That's awful! I mean, I'm her aunt, for cryin' out loud!" Pinkie frowned, for all the world seeming to be honestly distressed by the whole ridiculous thought.
"Perhaps it means you are to yell at Fluttershy?" Rarity suggested, before realising she was just fuelling an already out-of-control fire.
"That's even worse! I super-duper-loop-de-LOOPER don't wanna yell at Fluttershy! What kind of aunt would I be?" the party pony gasped.
"You are aware, darling, that Fluttershy is a year older than you?"
"So? I was elected her aunt! Ponies voted! Seven concerned citizens can't be wrong!"
"Were they concerned when you asked them?"
"They looked concerned!"
"I can't help but wonder why, dear," Rarity replied absently. She was sure there was a reason she was in Sugar Cube Corner, but it wasn't at all apparent. Pinkie Pie took the practice of derailing a conversation and made it an art form. But eventually the objective floated back into her mind, as it always did. When Rarity had a job in front of her, she did it directly.
"Pinkie Pie, dear," Rarity said, honeying her words and fluttering her eyelashes, "before you march me to Twilight -"
"-That's General Sparkle, Private!" Pinkie barked, before falling back into fits of giggles. Sergeant Nasty, she was not.
"- General Twilight, I had something I wanted to discuss with you. You see, I know of a pony in need of your particular talents."
Pinkie's army helmet fell off and rattled to a stop on the floor. It seemed to have done so of its own volition, with no particular input from the laws of physics. Pinkie tilted her head to the side like a curious puppy, eyes wide and gleaming.
"It occurred to me, darling, that somepony we know could do with a bit of cheering up. She's a pony with whom we're both familiar, who loves fun and jokes but sadly does not seem to happen upon them with nearly enough regularity. A pony who loves to laugh but is rarely seen doing so," Rarity continued, her sales pitch well underway. Something in Pinkie's eyes hardened, as if it were a crime that this had been allowed to continue. Her tail twitched.
"Who is it? I don't know anypony like that in Ponyville," the baker said levelly.
"Well, she doesn't hail from our fair town, although I understand she's quite fond of it. I just think it's such a shame, is all, that the poor dear has to put up with this affront," Rarity sniffed theatrically.
Pinkie was now visibly quivering, like a bottle of ginger beer that had been shaken up by a tumble dryer. Such a good-natured pony, Rarity thought, and promised silently to make her a brand-new flame retardant apron as reparation for manipulating her so. Trying desperately to keep a note of triumph from her voice, she finally delivered her master stroke. "Mind you, I can see why the situation has gone on for as long as it has. I mean, really, darling, did you realise that our dear Princess Luna has not had a proper birthday party in one thousand years?"
To say that Pinkamena Diane Pie exploded would be a gross and unjustifiable misrepresentation. But property was damaged, chairs were upended and a suspicious amount of marzipan was relocated from the baking trays to the ceiling. When Rarity's senses had recovered enough to construct a coherent picture of the world, she found herself being circled by a pink blur that was talking approximately three times as fast as Rainbow Dash could fly.
"Darling, please calm down! I can't understand you when you chatter so," she called. After a few more revolutions, the blur slowed to a halt and became Pinkie Pie again, who stood panting with her tongue out, like a dog after a long run.
"A thousand years, Rarity! One triple-oh exclamation mark years! I can't even go a thousand weeks without a party! Or a thousand days! I'm not sure about a thousand hours, though, but I'm pretty sure I could go a thousand minutes if I really, really tried, and we have to do something otherwise she'll probably never ever get a birthday party ever and why didn't you tell me this sooner?" Pinkie asked, eyes wide and staring.
"I only just realised it myself, darling, and I thought, 'if anypony can throw a party that will make up for one thousand missed birthdays in a single extravaganza, that pony is my friend Pinkie Pie'. But, darling, if you'll accept a suggestion from a lesser social butterfly," Rarity replied, all sweetness and light, "cast your mind back a little. As I recall hearing Twilight say, our princess enjoyed the costumed merriment of Nightmare Night. Perhaps, then, a masked ball would be in order...?"
"Wow, I would never have thought of that! Okay, so I sorta did think of that, pretty much as soon as you said it was Princess Luna, but great minds think alike! Let's see, we'll need streamers, cake, ribbons, decorations, cake, invitations, costumes, a venue -"
"About the venue, darling. If we're to throw a party for a princess, we should find a location suitable, should we not? Luckily, I happen to know a pony who may well be able to procure us one of the halls of Canterlot Castle for the event. A pony with a direct line to the princess, and whose brother recently became connected with the royal set in a rather large way," Rarity said with undisguised satisfaction. The first part of her plan was falling smoothly into place. A masked ball, at which she could manoeuvre her pegasus friend into romantic situations without ever revealing her own hoof in the matter...it was just as perfect a set-up as the novels portrayed it to be. Not forgetting, of course, that the chance to attend another Canterlot ball would be a splendid bonus. "Ah, yes. Let's go and see our dear General Sparkle, shall we?"
Twilight Sparkle was not aware she had been made a general. She wasn't aware that she was even included in Ponyville's dream army. In fact, she was only barely aware that something, somewhere in her house, was on fire. What she was aware of was that somepony had taken all the books whose author's names began with 'Q' and then distributed them randomly across the other shelves of the library. There were exactly sixteen such books in her possession, and to find them she would have to search through the literally hundreds of books she owned. If she didn't, the books would remain in The Wrong Place, and she'd never be able to sleep at night knowing that. It was sick. It was wrong.
It was probably Rainbow Dash.
With unconscious and practised ease, she snuffed out the flames that were busy at work consuming her experimentation table. That was a real tragedy, right there. Princess Celestia had often wryly remarked that when Twilight Sparkle heeded the call to scholarship, Equestria had lost one of its finest firemares. Twilight herself didn't consider her firefighting skill to even be a talent; it was just a natural side effect of living with a dragon in a house full of wood. To her, anything smaller than a medium-sized inferno didn't even count.
Her small incendiary problem dealt with, she returned her attention to the vast, looming shelves that made up her library. All she'd wanted was to look up the treatise on frog dancing by Professor Quirk the Addlepated, and instead she now had hours upon hours of pointless, menial work to do. Without that information, she couldn't continue her (now smouldering) experiment. She fought the urge to cry.
Her impending mental breakdown was interrupted by Rarity walking (or, 'flouncing' as Applejack now called it, after some of Rainbow Dash's new and improved egghead vocabulary had rubbed off on her) through her door, with Pinkie Pie in tow.
"Hello, darling! So nice to se-" Rarity began, before sniffing. "What, pray tell, is that burning smell?"
"Oh, just the table. Nothing important. Nice to see you, girls!" Twilight said, with a nod to Pinkie.
"Tell me, how did you find that perfume I gave you to try?" Rarity asked, eyelashes fluttering away. Not many knew it, but Twilight habitually went through large quantities of perfume. Without it, she tended to smell faintly of any number of miscellaneous and probably toxic compounds, a scent that could roughly be described as 'eau de science'. It was certainly an industrious smell, but not by any means an alluring one.
"Highly flammable," Twilight deadpanned. "Spike had a cold. Um, Pinkie, what is the matter with you?"
Pinkamena Diane Pie had hitherto remained silent, which usually heralded very interesting things in the immediate future. With the clarity and swiftness of a pony who actually believed charades was fun, she mimed zipping her mouth closed, throwing away a key, then pointed towards the sign Twilight had recently installed, which bore the commandment, 'Please be quiet in the library.'
"Oh, no. Can't you just...I don't know, whisper it?" Twilight moaned. Pinkie shook her head, which, whilst usually being a hilarious sight because it sent masses of fluffy curls flying hither and thither, was not quite so amusing when the party pony had real tears welling at the corners of her eyes.
"You're really going to make me do that?" the librarian asked, sounding exhausted just at the thought.
"Do what, dear?" Rarity asked.
"This. I'd stand back if I were you," Twilight warned. Rarity took the obligatory five paces backwards that was standard for any situation dealing with Pinkie, then another two to account for dealing with Twilight. Usually any interactions between the two were best viewed from behind six solid inches of sheet steel, but such things were difficult to carry and install in public libraries.
Once Rarity had reached the desired distance, Twilight very slowly and solemnly placed her hoof on Pinkie Pie's nose, and said, in a very strange and quiet voice:
"-Princess Luna hasn't had a birthday party in a thousand years and she must be super-duper sad and we want to throw her a party and we need streamers and cake and you need to write a letter to Princess Celestia so we can all go to Canterlot and we're having a masked party so you need to get a costume and ooh maybe you could be a ninja or a robot or a mad scientist and-" Pinkie paused to take a gasp of air, at which point Twilight- who was sprawled on the floor having been figuratively and literally blown away by the sudden explosion of noise- leapt to her feet and gave her friend a brisk tap on the nose.
"Honk, Pinkie, honk! Ugh, I think I just had a heart attack," the librarian said faintly, as Pinkie went from shouting to making truly heart-rending puppy-dog whines almost seamlessly.
"Wh...What just happened, darling?" Rarity asked. She had wisely decided to take refuge under the table.
Twilight huffed. "I got that new sign saying to be quiet in the library. Since it's not really fair to expect Pinkie to be quiet all the time, I agreed to give her a secret signal when it was okay for her to be loud. She picked the signal."
"I...see," Rarity said, not understanding in the slightest but fully sympathising with her friend's tone of voice. "Well, Pinkie's business with you today happens to be largely the same as mine, so I suppose I can offer a quick recap at normal volumes. But first, I was informed by Rainbow Dash that you wished to, ahem, yell at me?"
"Speak to you. I know for a fact that Rainbow Dash listens to me and understands how to use verbs properly, but sometimes I feel like she does her best just to prove me wrong," Twilight grumbled.
"Wow, I bet nopony's ever felt that impulse before," came Spike's voice from the top of the stairs.
The little dragon, industrious as he was, was moving a stack of scrolls, parchments, papers, vellums and other assorted academia that was almost as large as he was tall. Despite this, he had the misfortune of being able to peek over it and catch sight of Rarity. Upon doing this, a few chain reactions took place in his body, the first being that his legs turned to jelly, and the second being that he immediately lost interest in descending the stairs in a safe manner and become quite interested in throwing himself down them as fast as possible, the better to reach his lady fair.
There was a crash, and some rustling, and a little groaning, and then Twilight lifted a dazed Spike out of a veritable mountain of paper.
"Oh, Spikey-Wikey! So glad to see you, darling. I have a few peridots that I've no use for back at the shop, and if you and Twilight would like to visit me in the week I shall be most glad to prepare them for you," Rarity said, before adding, "but you mustn't endanger yourself like that, dear, no matter how excited you are by my visit."
"Yeah, Spikey-Wikey. What am I going to do if my number one assistant gets a concussion?" Twilight asked, changing tone from 'sarcastic friend' to 'concerned mother' halfway through. In Twilight's case this wasn't really a huge change, but it was there.
"D...Do the filing yourself?" Spike retorted, before muttering something about peridots tasting of broccoli. With a sigh, Twilight lowered him to the floor and told him to run to the store and get an ice pack, before pushing a few bits into his claws with the certain knowledge that he would creatively misinterpret the words 'ice pack' to mean 'double chocolate fudge sundae'. Obligingly, she had made sure he had enough money for both.
Once her number one assistant had staggered out of the library in search of the town's number one ice cream parlour, Twilight quickly informed Rarity of the possible incoming Doozie that had come to their attention. She looked very tired as she spoke, but then she usually did. Spending all her time taking care of a baby dragon, a library and a town full of lunatics left her barely any time to take care of herself. It was a crime, Rarity thought, and made a note to ask Fluttershy if they could perhaps drag Twilight along on their next spa date.
"...and that's the size of it. We're checking all leads on what it could possibly be, and so far, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Pinkie and I have come up with nothing. Are you planning anything that could possibly be Doozie-related?" Twilight asked. Pinkie, upon hearing her name, ceased looking over the bookshelf she had wandered over to and resumed making puppy-dog noises.
"Of course not! All I have planned is a little evening party, which is in fact the matter Pinkie and I came to discuss with you," Rarity said, skipping over Twilight's warning and warming up those eyelashes of hers for some serious fluttering. As she explained the situation, Twilight's face shifted from interest, to exasperation, to desperation, and finally to outright head-on-desk frustration.
"So, what you're saying, Rarity," Twilight said, her voice high and strained, "is that you want to throw a party in the country's most sensitive centre of government, with members of the royal family in attendance, where everypony is masked, when we have full knowledge that there is a truly massive Doozie on the way, and you somehow think this is not a huge security issue?"
Ah. This is a problem, Rarity thought, tossing her mane a little out of nervousness. She hadn't been aware how seriously Twilight was taking the Doozie situation. She almost blamed Pinkie for not telling her about it directly, but then again, she hadn't asked, had she, she'd just launched straight into birthday parties for Luna...
"W-Well, I can't help but think it'll be safe, darling. After all, the princesses will be there-- the most powerful ponies in all Equestria! Along with a full regiment of the royal guard, no doubt. I don't think there'll be any danger."
Twilight Sparkle opened her mouth, then closed it again and began to chew her lip. She made a few false starts, sometimes angry, sometimes sad, never getting past the first three words or so without rethinking it. She scrabbled desperately for words that would let her express how she felt without being a jerk to her friend, words that no dictionary in the world would ever help her find.
"Did you forget what happened when the Changelings attacked?" she said finally, voice heavy, ears low.
Rarity didn't respond. To do so wouldn't have been audacious, or shown confidence, or anything of the sort. It would merely have been crass. In the wake of her brother's wedding, Twilight had found out the hard way that the mind forgets its joys quickly, and its trials less so. She had told her friends of her concerns over the fake Cadence's behaviour, and the very ponies she trusted most refused to believe her; she had tried to fix the problem herself by confronting the imposter, and failed spectacularly. Then she had been shown, in the worst possible way, that Princess Celestia, the mentor whose approval she craved so very much, was not perfect, was not infallible, could be hurt. Rarity dreaded to imagine how broken that particular pedestal might now be.
"I'm sorry, Rarity, but I can't help you. Wait until this whole thing with the Doozie has blown over, and then we'll see," Twilight sighed. "It probably won't take more than a week or two."
And in a week or two, my window of opportunity to introduce Rainbow Dash to romance will have completely disappeared, Rarity thought. She could find no way out of it, though. It would be indelicate to push the matter further with Twilight, and outright insulting to draft a letter to Princess Celestia without the librarian's knowledge. It had all been going so well, too.
It was at that point that Pinkie Pie trotted over. Trotted, Rarity noted. Not skipped. Worse, though, was that she wasn't smiling.
Twilight Sparkle was a pony used to strange things. After all, the reason she refused to drink was not because she feared she might go on a destructive rampage, as everypony else thought, but more because of her concern that she would do something weird, like travel back in time and make out with herself 'for the sake of science'. Here, then, was a pony who had fought dragons, changelings and trickster gods, and whose worst nightmare was still waking up in the morning to find herself from next Tuesday looking at her with come-hither eyes. But even with her exposure to the weird, she still couldn't help feeling that a universe in which Pinkie Pie wasn't smiling was a universe that was doing things wrong.
"Twilight? I know I can be annoying sometimes, and noisy. I mean, there's some guy up there who keeps comparing me to a puppy for some reason, and that's gotta mean something, right? But I really, really, really think this is important. Princess Luna was all lonely and sad when we saw her on Nightmare Night, but then we all made friends with her and had a bunch of fun and she was happy. And I'm sure she's got friends at the castle, but we're her friends too, and nopony knows how to have fun as well as we do! So we should go and throw her a party, because we're her friends and that's the right thing to do."
Rarity watched as Twilight tried to process the argument. The problem was that the unicorn and the earth pony thought in completely different ways. Twilight saw debates as calmly rational and logical things, where one point flowed into another and led to a justified conclusion. Pinkie, however, had the innate talent of constructing an argument wherein none of the points actually related to each other and didn't actually justify anything, yet when taken holistically, was still a powerful argument in a common-sense way.
"But, Pinkie, it isn't safe," the unicorn tried.
"What's the point of being safe if you can't have fun?" Pinkie asked, flopping down one ear.
Twilight ummm'd and aahh'd a few seconds. She knew how to deal with Rarity, and she was pretty good at dealing with Spike. Hay, she was even making headway on being able to handle Rainbow Dash. But she had no idea how to handle Pinkie Pie. Logic just wouldn't work. So, the obvious choice was to be illogical. Trust her intuition. It couldn't be that hard. After all, she was Twilight Sparkle, Princess Celestia's faithful student, the place where the sun and the moon met -- and all-round sucker for a compromise.
"Okay, okay. As soon as Spike gets back, I'll start drafting a letter to the Princess," Twilight said, before looking pointedly over at Rarity. "But I'm telling her about the Doozie, and about my concerns. If she says no, then that's it -- I'm not asking again. Capiche?"
"Capiche? Darling, you really have been spending too much time around Rainbow Dash lately," Rarity tittered. Thankfully, the tension in the room disappeared.
"Ooh, ooh, ooh! Speaking of Colonel Dashie, did you ever figure out the riddle with the shuffled books?" Pinkie asked, ears springing up and smile firmly in place. She was a little louder than was really acceptable in a library, but Twilight decided to let it slide.
"No," the librarian replied, ears flopped down and tail limp, a firm contrast to her excitable friend.
"Wow! It's been a whole week, and you still haven't figured it out? Dashie put all the books back upside down," Pinkie babbled, casually sweeping away a dozen potential hours of menial work without even a second thought.
"Really?! Wow! If you girls will excuse me, I have re-shelving to do!" Twilight said, grinning in a very faintly unhinged way. "...wait. Colonel Dashie? Since when is Rainbow a colonel?"
"Hmph," Rarity sniffed theatrically. "What kind of general doesn't know the state of her own army? I've half a mind to stage a coup."
"General? I'm a general? Rarity, please, stop. You're the one who's supposed to make sense," Twilight groaned, her eye twitching.
"I know, right? I thought coups were against governments, not generals. Or maybe they're against chickens? Either one, really," Pinkie said conspiratorially.
"...darling, how could you mix up coup and coop? They're pronounced completely differently," Rarity protested.
"Well, you spell it kinda like coop. I just figured you forgot to not pronounce the silent p."
"How could you know how I spell it? I said it, as opposed to writing it down. And how, pray tell, does one pronounce a silent letter?"
Twilight took two sharp steps towards Pinkie and tapped her on the nose. "Pinkie, honk. Rarity, take Pinkie and go. All this...this, is giving me a headache. You know how hard it can be to control your magic when you have a headache. I'd hate to accidentally teleport somepony into the river again."
"Nopony wants that. Ugh! Applejack was trailing algae for weeks," Rarity sniffed. "Very well. I suppose we shall be leaving. Do make sure to write that letter, won't you?"
"As if you'd let me forget," Twilight replied, rolling her eyes.
"Excellent, darling. Well, Pinkie, shall we go?" Rarity asked, opening the door. Pinkie followed in her wake, puppy noises in full swing. "Now, tell me dear, do you think Mr. Cake would consider making a batch of low fat brownies at this hour? I feel the urge for something sweet..."
The door shut and the conversation trailed off as the two walked away. Twilight sighed. Sometimes the greatest of friends were the greatest of trouble. By her reckoning, it would take at least half an hour before Spike waddled in with a full belly and the pretence of having 'lost' exactly enough money to buy his weight in ice cream. That would give her time to compose her letter, double-check it, and then go back to thinking of less ominous things, like re-shelving her books. With that in mind, she trotted over to her desk and, with the distinct feeling that she was doing something stupid, began to write.
A/N: My greatest thanks to Starfall for pre-reading this. As always, I was surprised by just how many little derp moments I let slip through.