Sweetie Belle sighed, taking a few more steps off the train and glancing around the view from the platform. It was clear that, despite the encroachment of technology in some of the more cosmopolitan centers of Equestria, Ponyville was still as rustic and old-fashioned as it had been all those years ago when she had left as a filly. She magically opened her saddlebags and pulled a small photograph out of the side. It was a picture that she had treasured for a long time, the three Cutie Mark Crusaders joined together just before their separation, no amount of fear or trepidation apparent on their faces. She smiled at the carefree looks that she and her friends had shared that morning, and silently wished that things could have stayed like that forever.
“They never do,” she whispered to herself, gently tucking the photograph back into her saddlebag. She had no sooner done so then a beige and brown blur came darting towards her. “HEADS UP!” the pegasus shouted, only to inevitably crash into Sweetie Belle, sending both of them tumbling over in a heap. Sweetie Belle shook her head, her eyes spinning round for a few seconds from the sudden surprise before glancing at her sudden assailant. He was a pegasus stallion of lanky build and rich brown eyes. Sweetie Belle thought that he looked vaguely familiar, but couldn't place him.
“Heh...sorry miss,” the pegasus said, having enough sense to look sheepish. “I just got a little carried away with what I was doing. Here, let me help you with your bags.” The pegasus lifted Sweetie Belle's things and placed them back in her saddle bag, while Sweetie Belle herself was still a little dazed and confused from the sudden hit. “Let me make this hassle up to you. If your hungry, just drop by my bakery later and I'll get you something for free. Sugarcube Corner is the best place for any kind of delectable treat.” The moment he mentioned Sugarcube Corner, recognition dawned on Sweetie Belle's face.
“Pound Cake?” she asked inquisitively, raising an eyebrow at the young pony.
“Uh...yeah,” Pound Cake replied, considering the slightly older mare for a moment. He certainly didn't recognize her from around here. “Do I know you?”
“You wouldn't,” Sweetie Belle explained, smiling. “I actually used to live in Ponyville when I was just a filly. You were still a baby when I left here.” Pound Cake nodded, shaking hooves with this new acquaintance. “My name is Sweetie Belle.” Pound Cake suddenly froze, his smile growing ever wider.
“Really?” he nearly shouted, “That's wonderful! My sister would love to meet you!” Sweetie Belle nervously smiled, looking back and forth on the platform. She knew she was at least somewhat famous...at least within the musical circles of Equestria, but she had hoped that her fame had not been so widespread as to attract attention in the relative obscurity of her hometown.
“Y-you've heard of me,” she asked, pretending to be flattered and surprised.
“Everypony has heard of you,” Pound Cake explained, his smile not faltering even as sweat began to fall from Sweetie Belle's face. “My sister even has a poster of you on her wall. ...Not that I pay attention or anything. I mean, it's nice music and stuff but...not really my kind of thing you know.” Pound Cake nervously laughed, now apparently eager to change the subject.
“Well, I'd love to meet her and everything, but I don't want to keep my company waiting.” Sweetie Belle slowly edged her way over to the stairs off the platform, not wanting to be around for anyone else to recognize her. “Thanks for the offer of the cakes! Bye!” On that note, she quickly dashed away, leaving a trail of dust in her wake.
Pound Cake watched her go, blinking as he did. “Was it something I said?” he asked himself, before closing his eyes and smiling. “Sis is gonna freak when she finds out about this.” He suddenly stroked his muzzle in thought. “I wonder if Aunt Pinkie knew Sweetie Belle when she was a filly?” At this thought, he took flight and dashed off towards the bakery to ask a few questions.
/ - / - / - /
Sweetie Belle's gallop slowly tapered off as she took cover behind a nearby building. Taking deep breaths, she glanced around the corner to see if anypony had followed her. That was close...too close...
Sweetie Belle shook her head, coming to the realization of what she was doing. “Get a hold of yourself,” she said to herself, trying to calm her nerves. “You came here to get away from all that...to get away from that persona and everything.” Sighing, she slowly trudged forward, before glancing up at the building in front of her. She couldn't help but feel both relief and joy at arriving at her destination, as she stared at the visage of Carousel Boutique. The building might have been a bit more run down than it was in its heyday, but it still stood shining in the early light of Celestia's sun. Sweetie Belle's smile grew wider as she approached the door, marveling at the designs of the dresses within. Without hesitation she knocked her hoof on the door. After a few moments of silence, she repeated the gesture, hearing a grumbling voice shout back “Coming,” through the door. The complaining voice got louder, muttering under its breath as Sweetie Belle took two steps back when the door swung open.
“Honestly, why would anypony disturb me at such an early hour. Don't you realize that...” Rarity stopped midsentence when she realized who the pony standing in front of her was. Sweetie Belle simply smiled with a mixture of humor and joy at her sister's antics. Time had certainly been kind to the unicorn in the intervening years, she thought to herself. Though she had seen Rarity on many occasions since leaving Ponyville, it had been a couple of months since the last time she saw her sister. “Sweetie Belle!” Rarity suddenly shouted, embracing the younger unicorn, “What a pleasant surprise! You should have told me you were coming! Come in...come in...” she ushered her sister into the boutique, fretting over her arriving at such an early hour.
Sweetie Belle set her things over to the side and took stock of the store level of the boutique. Nothing much had changed on the inside, it still resembled a mass of organized chaos that she remembered well from her foalhood. The business had expanded over the years, due to her connections with Fancypants in Canterlot and several high-profile events and weddings that Rarity had been the designer for. Carousel Boutique was now as much a franchise throughout Equestria, with stores in Manehattan, Fillydelphia, Canterlot and St. Lusitano just to name a few. Rarity allowed well-trusted ponies run the business side of things, while she herself handled all of the designs for the main fashion lines and ran the main location in Ponyville. Throughout it all, she had never found time to start a family of her own, though that didn't seem to bother her. She acted as honorary aunt for the various foals that her friends had.
The two unicorn sisters sat down in a small breakfast nook on the backside of the store, Rarity pouring from a pot of tea for both of them. “I really wish you had told me you were coming Sweetie Belle. I've been so busy with designing and you've been so busy with recording that we hardly ever get to see each other anymore.”
“I hope to change that,” Sweetie Belle confessed, taking her herbal tea when it was offered. “I'm taking a break from recording for a while. Just till I can find some inspiration for songs.” Rarity nodded, though a frown filtered over her face. Sweetie Belle didn't continue the topic, instead asking, “So how is everypony. I haven't kept up with everyone as much as I would have liked.”
“Well, you remember that Twilight got married a year and a half ago.” Sweetie Belle nodded. The ceremony had been huge news in Manehattan, considering Twilight's adopted place within the royal court both by marriage and her connection to the princess. “She was awfully disappointed you couldn't make it...”
“I told her why,” Sweetie Belle said defensively, though only in a half-hearted manner. “I really did want to come.”
“Oh she and Northstar understood why,” Rarity quickly explained, “But they were still disappointed. In any event, she just announced a few days ago that they are expecting!”
“That's wonderful news!” Sweetie Belle replied, a genuine happy smile crossing her face for the third or fourth time that day, the most she had done in recent history. “Do they know if it's a colt or a filly yet?”
“Not yet, but in a few months I think they will. Twilight was very excited, until she read about the accidental magical bursts that pregnant unicorns are prone to have.” The two sisters giggled before silence overtook them again. “I missed this,” Rarity confessed. “I missed having my baby sister to talk to.”
“It didn't used to be that way,” Sweetie Belle mentioned, remembering the times when her sister was too busy for her.
“Oh that's ancient history and you know it,” Rarity dismissively said, waving her hoof in said fashion. Rarity's gaze turned up to the wall above her nook, where the framed picture of her and Sweetie Belle that her sister had drawn all those years ago hung sparkling in the early morning sunlight. “I remember how busy I was back then, much like I am now, and I wonder if I missed out on something great like having family.”
Sweetie Belle nodded as Rarity continued to reflect, “With Twilight pregnant, it seems like everypony has had foals of their own now. Fluttershy and Big Mac have two....Applejack has one, even Rainbow Dash to our surprise has quite a brood of her own.”
“I knew that a lot of them had married,” Sweetie Belle confessed, staring down at the floor, “But I didn't know I had missed out on so much. I kept writing with Apple Bloom when I could find the time, and no one could ever get a hold of Scootaloo what with all the racing she does.” Rarity nodded, thinking back to the professional racer she had known when she was a filly who couldn't even fly.
“Well, you should spend some time with them while you're here,” Rarity said chipperly, only to stop when Sweetie Belle seemed to clam up in response. “You don't want to see them, do you?”
“What?” Sweetie Belle questioned, defensively. “What made you say that?”
“The fact that you always get clammy and sweaty whenever I suggest something that makes you feel uncomfortable?” Sweetie Belle sighed and hung her head in defeat, before sheepishly looking up at her sister.
“That obvious?” At Rarity's stern nod, Sweetie Belle sighed once more. “It's not that I don't want to see them, I just want to lie low here for a couple of days while some stuff gets taken care of. As soon as that's over, I can visit everypony. Just...not right now.”
“Sweetie Belle,” Rarity answered back, placing her hoof over her sisters. “Whatever the trouble is we can help.” Sweetie Belle was about to say there was no trouble when Rarity placed her other hoof over her mouth. “You don't have to speak about it right now. But when you're ready to talk, we'll all be here.” Sweetie Belle offered a smile to this and nodded her head. The two of them stood up, heading for the main room of the Boutique. “In the meantime, I'll head to the marketplace incognito for a few things while you're staying here. I don't usually keep enough food for more than one.” The two of them were about to take Sweetie Belle's things upstairs when the door to the boutique was kicked in. Both unicorns were shocked when they saw a heavily breathing yellow earth pony standing in the doorway, a toolbelt draped around her flank.
“Sweetie Belle!” Apple Bloom cried out, “Y'all have a lot o' nerve showin up like this!”
/ - / - / - /
A/N: The dreaded cliffhanger. If it's any consolation, ending on a cliffhanger usually motivates my creative juices to churn out a new chapter faster.