A groovy mystery, gang.
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(4) The Rare
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"Really? Nopony else wants to come?" Rarity asked, her gathered friends finding various excuses to stare or pick at their breakfast. The weather had been faintly overcast for a few days, which was just as well, since the ship was between stops and cruising slowly over the ocean. It had taken more than a little effort just to get everpony up and down to the rear commissary for a late breakfast/early brunch.
"Oh. Oh, um. Sorry..." Fluttershy speared her grapefruit with a teeny tiny fork. Teal eyes meekly glanced up at the fashionista and then back down at her plate. "I'm not... much of a dancer..." And down went her ears, producing a look far too sweet and meek to argue with. “And those crowds...!"
Rainbow Dash bit into her croissant, chewing even as she said, "I don't mind dancing at a night club or something, but... yeah. Ballroom stuff? I'll pass."
"What about you, Twilight?" Rarity asked, eyes brightening. "You could wear that lovely violet dress!"
"I don't know," the other unicorn dithered, hiding behind her glass of orange juice. "I kind of had plans for tonight."
"Skygazing again?" Pinkie Pie asked, eyes narrowing as her neck stretched, inching her closer and closer to Twilight until they were almost nose-to-nose.
"Yes, again. And other things!" Twilight Sparkle pushed Pinkie back, hoof to forehead.
Rarity sighed at the lack of turnout. "What about you, Pinkie? Applejack?"
"Sorry! I've got a date!" Pinkie declared with an over-large grin.
"What!!" A chorus of mares cried, all at once.
"Same here, actually," Applejack admitted, to the less gobstruck stares of her friends. "But Rarity, ah totally know somepony who'd love to come with ya ta this ballroom tango thing!"
Pinkie Pie and Applejack had dates? To top it off, even Fluttershy and Twilight seemed to be acting strangely the last few nights. If she, Rarity, didn't know any better, it was almost suspect. It very nearly called for an elaborate plan to unmask who her friends were sneaking off to be with. Even Twilight. There was no way anypony, even a fanatic bookworm, would want to spend every night at the observatory. The mystery definitely called for a little snoo-ping.
Later tonight, perhaps!
Easing open the door to the ballroom with a gentle push of magic, Rarity tried to put the potential dalliances of her friends out of her mind. Hard as that was. She had a glorious and devastatingly sexy red dress that she had brought along just for such a night and she intended to use it on the dance floor. Cascading ruffles ran along the skirt, split at the left leg, ending in an embellished chainette fringe, while bell sleeves opened just below her shoulders. The black satin heels were a bit indulgent, but she felt confident about dancing in them.
Now, she just had to see if the supposed date Applejack had set her up with panned out. Eyes scanning the couples already waiting in and around the ballroom, Rarity sighed inwardly. So many beautiful ponies were out there, the ladies in fine dresses (a few she even took note of for later) and the stallions in suits and tuxedoes.
Slowly making her way over to the sign up table to wait, she was surprised as a pony she didn't recognize approached her. He was a trim young stallion, maize yellow in color under a black tuxedo and white shirt. A bright green narrow string-tie around his collar matched eyes of the same color, but it was the cut and slightly curled mane, tangerine orange, that touched her memory.
"Miss Rarity!" he said, waving a hoof and ruining his dignified image with a goofy grin. "Howdy!"
"Braeburn?" Rarity could hardly believe how, well, how well he cleaned up. Somepony must've tied him down and worked him over like her life depended on it. "My word, I hardly recognized you!"
"Ah don't get'ta dress up like this very often, but ah'm here representin' Appleoosa-" And thankfully, he said the town name without too much aplomb. "-so I gotta look the part, ya know? Big city folks don't invest much if ya show up lookin' like ya just plowed a field."
"Of course, one must keep up appearances."
"Sure 'nuff," Braeburn agreed, and gestured with his head over to the sign up table. "Shall we?"
He led her over and, smartly wiping the pen with a napkin from his shirt pocket, signed his name onto the roster. He then dropped it from his mouth, cleaned it off, and handed it over. Though more than capable of signing her name with magic alone, Rarity thought to do so with an earth pony partner was a little impolite. Like a true gentlepony, he had cleaned the pen, so she delicately nipped it from his hoof and signed her name next to his.
"Miss Rarity," he said, as they walked together over to where the couples were assembling. "You'll pardon me fer bein' so forward, but boy-howdy, do you look pretty in that dress. It wouldn't be one'a yer designs, now would it?"
She couldn't help but blush at the compliment, batting her eyes. "As a matter of fact it is. You like it?"
"Ah sure do."
"Alright, everypony!" The dance coordinator, a pretty young mare in a black dance dress called out. "We've got eight out of ten signups! Let's start up."
A guitar and bandoneón piece began playing from the room's gramophone, with the upbeat tempo of the tango. It had a strong two-four rhythm, and as the eight couples took to the ballroom dancefloor, Rarity inhaled, swallowing some well veiled anxiety. Standing in place for a moment as Braeburn walked past her, to get some distance, she met his eyes. He seemed comfortable, but... well, the last time she had seen him dance had been Appleoosa's hoedown with the Buffalos.
"Ready?" he asked, holding up left hoof.
She nodded, and held up hers as well as she trotted up to him. As the music played, their hooves met and touched. He began to lead, right away, lifting her up so they could both stand. His free leg wrapped around her waist, and he wrapped hers over and then across, her elbow over his and her hoof to the back of his shoulder. A close embrace.
One, two steps and then a quarter turn, he led them back and then around in a quick spin. It wasn't anything too difficult, not to start with, as they moved around the room, getting their pacing and rhythm. Occasionally they broke routine from pausing or twirling at the four beat and stepping at the two, to moving across the dance floor on the four beat, right after a two, and then into another energetic two step. Near the end of the first dance, Rarity playfully lifted one leg, letting him hold her up as she leaned back, her slippered hoof stretching out before gracefully returning to the floor.
"You're quite good!" Rarity exclaimed, but then blushed a bit at how surprised she sounded. "Not that... well..."
"Aw, shucks. Don't worry none." Braeburn didn't seem to be offended by the implication. "Ah didn't think anypony knew this kinda dancin' up in Ponyville. I thought ya'll would be into Canterlot's brand'a stuff."
"The tango is quite the rage, even in Canterlot."
"Well, ah'll be!"
Smiling, he winked, giving her a little forewarning before spinning her around, holding her out hoof-to-hoof and letting her hang back on one leg. Then he reeled her back in, held her close and resumed the tempo of the dance.
"I simply have to ask: wherever did you learn to dance like this?"
"Back before ah settled down ta help found Appleoosa, ah worked as a cowpony on a estancia down south." He grinned and leaned closer to whisper, "The ladies wouldn't dance ta much else."
Around they went again, by now comfortable with their partner.
"Ah can see you've done this before, too."
"My own instruction was much more mundane than yours, I'm afraid," Rarity replied, their hooves stepping in time to the music. "I simply hired an instructor."
"Still, I reckon this is a lot easier fer me than it is you; hard 'nuff balancin' on two legs all the time without havin' ta do it in them heels."
"I'm sure by the end of the night, my ankles will feel like putty."
"Maybe Ah'll have ta carry ya around then?"
"Ahhh. Miss Rarity? Remind me again, why we're doing this?"
"To satisfy our curiosity, of course!" Rarity tip-hoofed up the flight of carpeted stairs with all the stealthy prowess of her pet cat. Then again, Opalescence being Opalescence, maybe she was better compared to an actually stealthy pet... like Gummy.
"Besides," she whispered, peeking around the corner of the hall from behind a potted snake plant. "Twilight's up to something. Something she doesn't want us knowing about."
"Yes. But..." Braeburn peeked out right above her. "That still doesn't explain..."
"Oh, Braeburn, darling, you'll simply have to trust me on this. A juicy secret is like a perfect apple hanging from a tree... yes, you can admire it from afar, but sooner or later you have to pick it before it splits open or gets old."
The apple farmer, still in his tuxedo, raised an eyebrow.
"That... actually made sense, somehow."
Rarity zipped across the hall to the opposite side with surprising speed - it wasn't exactly easy for a pony to run around in high heels. Braeburn followed at a more relaxed pace, putting only a token effort into trying to keep out of sight. Rarity speared him with an upset moue for not playing along, but her attention was quickly distracted by the sight of Twilight Sparkle heading up another flight of steps.
One thing was clear: she wasn't headed for the observatory or the library.
"I knew something was up!" Rarity declared. ...Quietly.
On the next floor, the pair soon found a Twilight's destination: a small casual restaurant on the upper decks. It was one of the self-serve establishments lining both port and starboard sides of the ship's central castle. The smell of sautéed and barbequed food elicited a grumble from one of the dance partners turned spies.
"Oh. Terribly sorry." Rarity momentarily forgot her quarry and blushed at the rumbling of her stomach. "I do believe all that dancing has worked up an appetite."
Her blue eyes drifted back to the lobby of the restaurant.
"And since I'm quite certain Twilight had a coltfriend waiting for her in there, why not jump two steeples in one bound?" She was about to head over when Braeburn coughed.
"Miss Rarity," he said, and she paused to look back at him. "Ah don't think we should."
"Whatever do you mean?" the fashionable unicorn put on her best, most doe-eyed look. "All I want is a little peek...!"
Braeburn shook his head. "Ah'm not keen on spyin' on one of mah friends. Well... she's more yer friend than mine, but the principle's the same. If she's here ta meet some feller, she'll tell ya about him when she feels comfortable 'nuff about it. Till then, ya'll should respect her privacy."
"But...!" Rarity protested, her shoulders slumping. "Oh, you're right, of course. I'm just so frustratingly curious what she's up to and who she's meeting! I forgot myself."
"Why don't you and me find another restaurant, Miss Rarity?" Braeburn finally walked back up to her side and offered his front leg. "Since we're all dressed up already, ah reckon we should find the fanciest place on the ship and just enjoy ourselves."
Rarity was already in agreement, and was about to say as much, when Braeburn added, "My treat, of course."
"I do suppose I will have to let this mystery lie; how can I resist such an offer from such a gentlecolt?" Rarity held up her hoof and let him lead her back to the stairs. "Lead away."
They were halfway back to the stairs, when -
"You... do know where this restaurant is, yes?"
"Actually, ah'm not sure," Braeburn admitted with a sheepish grin. "Deck four maybe?"
Rarity sighed but rested her head on his shoulder. "I can wait."
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(5) The Jack
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