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As she gracefully strolled down the sun-dappled avenues of Canterlot, Rarity turned her head to beam at the finely-attired stallion walking beside her. “It was so kind of Fleur de Lis to allow me to take her place as your date for the afternoon. Please do give her my thanks.”
“Of course, my dear Rarity!” Fancy Pants chuckled in reply. “Fleur de Lis was all too happy to oblige once she found out why you wanted to attend today’s little get-together. She’s quite upset about all of the headlines, you know.” He leaned towards Rarity and, with a sly wink, added, “Just between the two of us, Fleur is rather infatuated with Lady Pinkamena--I do believe she would have flirted quite shamelessly with the mare if your interest in her hadn’t been so apparent.”
Rarity couldn’t quite decide on an appropriate response to that--surprise and bemusement ranked fairly high on the list of emotions she was suddenly feeling--and ended up spluttering, in a semi-coherent fashion, “But I thought she … and that you …”
The stallion waved a hoof in the air. “Oh, no, no, no. We dated for the briefest moment, but that was ages ago. We’re just good friends now.”
“Ah. I see,” she replied absently, as she wrestled with the sudden tightness in her chest, the sick feeling in her stomach, the burst of adrenaline flooding her vein--all from finding out Fleur de Lis had eyes for her mare. Well, not Rarity’s mare, actually. Not really, anyway … surely one date wasn’t enough to establish much of anything … and yet …
Jealousy, she realized with a start. She was feeling jealousy. It was not an emotion to which a pony as dazzling and admirable as she was accustomed to feeling. In fact, the last time she’d felt any jealousy even approaching the kind she felt now was years ago, back when Fluttershy temporarily became the darling of the modeling world.
She decided she didn’t much care for jealousy. Jealousy, as a concept and as an emotion, did not have much to recommend it. Rarity resolved to herself that she would try to feel jealousy as little as possible in the future.
She blinked at the sound of her name and, as her attention snapped back into focus, found that she was standing directly in front of the large, ostentatious mansion that belonged to the Duchess of Hoofington. A well-manicured lawn laid spread out before the house, with a towering water fountain directly in the center. She had no idea exactly how long they’d been standing here.
Turning towards the stallion beside her, she said in an apologetic tone, “I’m terribly sorry, Fancy Pants. I was … somewhat lost in thought.”
He gave her a warm smile. “No apologies are necessary, my dear. Are you ready to enter?”
Rarity took the opportunity to give herself one last look-over. She’d chosen a dress that was something between a sundress and a proper gown, pale yellow in color and simple in details. Casual but elegant, the dress was, perfectly suited to an outdoor event taking place on a crisp autumn afternoon. Rarity felt her confidence bolstered as she reflected on how fabulous she looked--a well-chosen ensemble always did that for her.
She’d tried once, years and years ago, to share this little secret with her friends, but they hadn’t seemed to comprehend the restorative powers of an appropriately glamorous outfit. Rainbow Dash had come closest to understanding, though her tastes ran more towards what the pegasus deemed “cool” and “radical” and usually involved body armor, while Applejack had openly scoffed at the very idea that the clothes could make the mare. “Like putting lipstick on a pig,” she’d called it. But then, of course, that blasted farmer would say such a thing.
Pinkie had never really given an opinion, as she’d been busy at the time with pouring punch for Fluttershy. Rarity wondered what answer Pinkie might give, if she were to ask for the pink earth pony’s opinion in the present day, and she decided to ask Pinkie Pie about it at the next available opportunity. But all that could wait until later, because right now, she had a garden party that desperately required her attendance.
Looking back up at Fancy Pants, Rarity finally returned the stallion’s smile. “Yes, darling, I believe I’m quite ready. Let’s do go in--after all, it would be terribly rude to keep the duchess waiting.”
Rarity stood by the long table of refreshments that was filled with countless platters of tiny little sandwiches and took occasional, distracted sips from her glass of punch. She was used to being the center of attention at just about any and every affair, but right now, all of the ponies milling and chatting in the garden were very studiously avoiding her. It wasn’t a proper, thorough snubbing--there were no sideways glares or upturned noses--but it made things awkward nonetheless.
She’d anticipated this, of course. The Duchess of Hoofington would be displeased to see her, and all her little minions would naturally take up the duchess’ side of things. On the other hoof, none of them would dare be openly nasty to the very good friend of a pony such as Fancy Pants. That left very few options available, and almost all of those gathered chose to simply pretend that they didn’t see Rarity standing there.
Again, all very predictable, very foreseeable. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t maddening all the same.
Just then, coming from seemingly nowhere, Fancy Pants appeared by her side, wearing a small, gentle smile. “Are you certain you’re doing all right?” he asked quietly, his tone solicitous.
“Oh, yes, quite.” Rarity forced out a light little laugh. “Please don’t feel as though you must hang around the refreshments table simply to keep me company.”
“Ah, but I rather enjoy your company, my dear Rarity! Besides, a true gentlepony never abandons his companion for the evening.”
Rarity reached out and laid her hoof along his shoulder. “I appreciate the sentiment--I appreciate it very much, I assure you--but it simply wouldn’t be right to drag your name through the mud along with my own. I won’t do that to you, Fancy Pants.”
The stallion turned to thoughtfully gaze out at the expanse of lawn before them. The gardens at the Hoofington manor really were lovely and lush--even Rarity had to admit that. After a moment, he replied, “I have been, and always shall be, your friend. Please remember that.”
“And the same is true for I, as well.”
Fancy Pants gave a brief nod. “Well, then! I suppose I’ll absent myself and perhaps ask Lady Seabreeze about her petunias. She does love talking about those petunias.” He glanced over to the mare beside him. “Proceed with caution, Rarity … and, as the saying goes, mind that you don’t become what you hate.”
“I’ll do my best, darling.”
With that settled, Fancy Pants trotted off and melted back into the crowds of ponies. Rarity sighed once he’d gone, and she took another sip of punch. She suddenly wished she could have some sarsaparilla instead. Sarsaparilla was terribly inelegant and completely ill-suited for a soiree such as this, of course, but the drink wasn’t without its merits. Sarsaparilla tasted like parties at Sugarcube Corner and late nights at Twilight's library and Iron Pony competitions out at Sweet Apple Acres. Sarsaparilla tasted like a hundred different memories, most of them happy and all of them filled with the faces of five ponies who were the very best friends any mare could hope to have.
But mostly? Mostly, sarsaparilla tasted like home.
“Lady Rarity! It is so good of you to come to my little get-together!”
Rarity’s head snapped around, and it took all of her willpower not to gasp aloud. The Duchess of Hoofington herself was heading directly towards her, a thin, predatory smile stretched across her face. Immediately, all conversations in the garden went dead, and silence hung in the air like an ominous thundercloud.
Rarity took a deep breath and returned the duchess’ smile. “Thank you for having me, Duchess.”
“Of course, of course. It wouldn’t be a party, after all, without Canterlot’s favorite fashion designer.” The duchess’ eyes were dark, glittering, dangerous. “Though I must admit I was a bit surprised to see that you came with Mr. Fancy Pants. He’s a charming stallion, to be sure, but I’d thought your attentions were claimed by another?”
“Indeed, they are,” returned Rarity, while keeping her smile perfectly in place. “Unfortunately, Lady Pinkamena is otherwise engaged for the afternoon and was unable to accompany me.”
At hearing Pinkie’s name, the duchess’ face twisted, and the other unicorn said in a tone just shy of a snarl, “Are you actually in love with that mare?”
The question was a sneer, a slur, a challenge. Rarity could instantly feel every eye in the vicinity directly upon her, the other ponies' gazes intense, waiting. A few scandalized titters spread through the crowd. Instinctively, she knew she had a very important decision she had to make, right now and right here, and that making the wrong decision would cost her dearly.
The truth of the matter was that Rarity wasn’t in love with Pinkie. She loved her dearly as a friend, as family, to be sure. And certainly things had changed between the two of them since Pinkie had first set hoof in Canterlot. But it was still too new and too soon to call it romantic love.
Be that as it may, though Rarity knew she wasn’t in love with Pinkie Pie, she also knew that someday she could be. Perhaps even would be. At any rate, she knew that the idea of falling in love with Pinkie Pie, as strange as it had first seemed, was an idea that intrigued her greatly.
So it was that Rarity lifted her chin ever so slightly and replied in a quiet, firm voice, “I am not sure I understand how that is any of your concern. However, what if I were in love with her? What of it?”
Immediately the snickering from the other ponies faded away.
But the Duchess of Hoofington only seemed to grow more enraged. “What of it? Do you really pretend not to know? That pony is utterly ridiculous! The laughingstock of all of Canterlot!”
Rarity set her jaw. “That pony is a very dear friend of mine, and I will thank you to not speak of her in such a way.”
“Surely you see it, too,” the duchess continued, as if Rarity hadn’t said anything at all. “Surely even being love struck hasn’t blinded you to the truth. She has the manners of a mule and the intelligence of a simpleton. It’s couldn’t be more obvious that she was born and raised on a rock farm.”
“Lady Pinka--” Rarity stopped herself and reconsidered. “Pinkie is a generous and kind-hearted mare, with nothing but love and tolerance for every pony she meets, and with no greater desire than to bring a smile to those without laughter in their hearts.” She allowed the phrase “such as you” to remain implied, to hang in the air silently and accusingly.
“She is a--”
But Rarity wasn't finished. Far from it. “Did you know that Pinkie single-hoofedly removed an entire parasprite infestation from the town of Ponyville? Not only that, but she helped save the world not once but twice from the forces of chaos and darkness. In addition, she has composed more music than any other pony of my acquaintance, including an entire concerto for accordion and slide whistle.” Rarity’s voice had grown louder and louder during this entire speech, but it dropped to little more than a whisper as she finished. “But most importantly, my dear Duchess? Pinkamena Diane Pie is ten times the pony that you ever have been or ever will be.”
The Duchess of Hoofington just stood there, speechless, her jaw hanging open.
And with that, Rarity carefully set down her punch glass, whirled on her heels, and began walking away with her head held high and proud. She ignored the looks and whispers that followed in her wake, keeping her eyes trained on the gate to the garden. She could feel her heart beat wildly in her chest with every step she took. Then, at last she reached the edge of the lawn and passed through the gate, out of the Duchess of Hoofington’s mansion and into the sweet freedom of the street beyond.
But the unicorn’s relief didn’t last long. She hadn’t taken more than a dozen steps before she was met by an all-too-familiar pair of large blue eyes, which shimmered like ocean waves as a complex mixture of emotions roiled beneath the deceptively calm surface.
“You … you heard?”
Pinkie Pie simply nodded.
Rarity swallowed. She could still feel her heart pounding away. “You heard.”
“Yeah,” the earth pony whispered. “You … you really shouldn’t have yelled at her like that, Rarity.”
“I wasn’t yelling.”
“You kinda were, by the end. And the things you said were pretty mean.”
Rarity had to look away from those terrible blue eyes. “She has … she’s done unforgivable things, Pinkie. To you. To both of us. You might not have seen today’s newspapers but--”
“Um, I did, actually. Snips showed me the papers after I asked where you went.”
“Then surely you must understand.”
Pinkie let out a sniffle, and Rarity glanced back over in confusion.
Shaking her head, Pinkie sadly replied, “It’s my fault, Rarity. All of this. It’s my fault.”
That gave the unicorn pause. She wasn’t sure what she’d been expecting from this conversation, but this certainly wasn’t it. “Don’t be silly, darling. You’ve done absolutely nothing wrong here.”
“But I did!” Pinkie’s eyes were huge, pleading. “Do you know why the Duchess of Hoofington gave you my business card? It’s because she wanted me to … to see if I could get you to agree to go on a date with her. ‘Cause me and you have been friends for so long, y’know?”
Rarity could only gape in astonishment. Definitely not what she’d been expecting.
Pinkie flinched but bravely pushed onward. “And I didn’t make any promises that I would--I would never break a Pinkie promise, you know I wouldn't--but I kinda sorta said I’d see if I could help. But then you started taking me places, and it felt really nice, and I was so happy just being with you. And I already liked you lots as a friend so it wasn’t hard to start liking you as more than a friend …”
The pink mare sniffled again and looked as miserable as Rarity imagined she must have looked as a little filly out on the Pie family’s barren rock farm. “And now she’s mad at me, and I ruined your chance to go out with a duchess, which isn’t as good as a prince but is still pretty good, so you’re gonna be mad at me too, and everything’s all my fault!”
It was … a lot to take in. Perhaps too much to take in. So instead of trying to process it all, Rarity chose to ignore the larger picture for the time being and focus on one single element: Pinkie was crying. Pinkie was crying, and that was simply an unacceptable state of affairs.
The unicorn stepped forward and gave the other mare a nuzzle, pressing their cheeks together and feeling the warmth of Pinkie’s tears against her face. “Shhh,” Rarity whispered, softly, tenderly. “It’s all right, darling. Nothing is ruined. I promise you.”
“But … but …”
“I do wish you’d informed me that you were in town with, ah, ulterior motives, shall we say? But what’s done is done.” She drew back a bit so that she could look into Pinkie’s eyes. “And even had I known of the Duchess of Hoofington’s intentions ... I would have told her no. I would have chosen you.”
Pinkie smiled. It was small and trembling, utterly unlike her usual broad, beaming grins, but it was a smile.
“I have not the slightest regret, Pinkie, and I hope you don’t have any regrets either--at least, not any regrets regarding what happened last night. In fact, I was hoping that you would--”
Whatever else Rarity might have been about to say was lost forever, as Pinkie chose that moment to lunge forward and kiss the unicorn hard on the mouth. The kiss was fierce, passionate, devouring. Overwhelming to all thoughts and senses. When the pink pony finally pulled back, Rarity could only gasp desperately for air and wonder if this was what it felt like to get hit by a runaway train.
“We should go eat!” chirped Pinkie, back to her normal state of cheeriness. “I found a great diner earlier today that has the bestest hay burgers and fries. You wanna go?”
Without waiting for a reply, the earth pony began hopping down the street, presumably in the direction of the aforementioned restaurant. Rarity felt as though she had no choice but to stumble along after Pinkie in a pleasantly befuddled daze. Once she caught up the bouncy mare, Pinkie Pie glanced over to her with laughing eyes.
“And after we eat,” Pinkie rambled on happily, as though there had never been a break in the conversation, “we should totally plan a ‘We’re Sorry For Making You Sad, Duchess of Hoofington!’ party for the duchess.”
Rarity opened her mouth to ask if Pinkie was serious about that, but then she thought better of it. Of course Pinkie was serious. Pinkie was always deadly serious when it came to the subject of parties. With a sigh, Rarity replied, “I am not at all certain that the duchess would appreciate such a party.”
Pinkie frowned a bit. “You were pretty mean to the duchess, Rarity. I kinda think you owe her at least one party. Maybe just a little one? With just a few itty, bitty streamers?”
“I will … consider it.” Rarity resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “That’s all I can promise.”
Pinkie Pie appeared to think this over carefully, before finally giving a brisk nod. “Okie dokie lokie! Good enough for me!”
Rarity smiled. She was glad that was settled, and she was even gladder that she and Pinkie seemed to still be on good terms with one another and that their romance remained on track--well, as on track as any romance involving Pinkie Pie reasonably could be. It didn’t hurt that she’d be spending another evening in the bubbly pony’s company, either. In fact, she was quite looking forward to going out with Pinkie to the--
“Darling, wait! You’re taking us to a diner?”
Author’s Notes: Hey, didja know that there are, in fact, SIX bearers of the Elements of Harmony? Who knew, right? What say we go visit the other four next chapter and see what they’ve been up to?