There was a chill in the air when Rarity woke.
She yawned and stretched, aware of what a mess she was. Her mane was still straight and unstyled except where Rainbow Dash had mangled it in her well-intentioned attempts at grooming. She smiled at the memory and rolled over to say hello.
Aside from herself, the bed was empty.
That's odd. She's usually the late sleeper. Unfazed, she rolled off the bed. The room was filled with the stale scent of old sex, and she grimaced as she sniffed at herself. Definitely time for a bath.
A half-hour later, Rarity emerged from the bedroom feeling fresher than she had in days. The sun was well above the horizon, and the frost had melted from the window panes. She nudged the window open with a bit of magic. Hopefully the room would air itself out.
Sweetie Belle was already waiting for her downstairs, of course. She had another lavish breakfast spread prepared on the table: melons, strawberries, apple slices drizzled with caramel, and a steaming pot of herbal tea. She watched silently with a grin as Rarity took a seat at the table and poured a cup of tea. Some sort of fruity chai mate. She gave it a sniff, then a tiny sip. Not bad.
Still nothing from her sister. She gave Sweetie a glance, then shrugged and set a few fruit slices on her plate. She had just bitten into a soft wedge of melon when Sweetie spoke.
“So, how was your night?”
Rarity finished the piece of melon, then bit into another one while she thought. “Fine,” she said, once her mouth was clear.
Sweetie raised an eyebrow. “Ah, fine. That's good.”
They returned to breakfast, each polishing off a few more bits of the fruit. Rarity waited for the other horseshoe to drop.
She didn't have to wait long. “I'm glad to hear that. I was a little worried – I heard the oddest sounds last night. Almost like you two were fighting.”
Celestia, why do you punish us with little sisters? Rarity's eyes narrowed over her cup. The grin on Sweetie's face turned into a smirk.
“You shouldn't eavesdrop, dear. It's not polite.”
“Eavesdrop!” Sweetie held a hoof to her chest and gasped. “Why, Rarity! How could you ever think such a thing of me? I did everything I could not to hear those sounds. But no matter how many pillows I held over my ears, those sounds, those... moans and gasps... they were everywhere!”
Rarity felt her face growing warm. “Yes, well, about that. We were talking, and had a bit of a breakthrough. With Dash's emotional issues, that is.”
“With her emotional issues.”
“Indeed. It was very heartwarming.”
Sweetie nodded. “I'm glad to hear that.”
“Yes, we all are.” Rarity took another sip from her tea. This wasn't going so badly after all. Her sister almost never passed up an opportunity to tease.
“It's amazing how all your breakthroughs with her happen at night.”
And there it was. Rarity pursed her lips. “Well, we're at our most vulnerable at night, dear.”
“Yes, most vulnerable. So, should I set out some new sheets?”
Rarity coughed into her cup, spilling a few droplets of hot tea on her lap. She brushed them away, then scowled at her sister. “Sweetie!”
Sweetie grinned and leaned forward to place a light peck on Rarity's cheek. “I'm sorry, sis. I really am happy to see you happy, though.” A pause. “You are happy, right?”
Was she? Rarity tried to gauge her emotions and came up short. Her night with Dash wasn't like her usual dates with stallions who bore an uncanny resemblance to her dreamt-of prince. Dash was a friend, a dear one, and now she might be more. Rarity popped a strawberry in her mouth and thought while she chewed.
“I am, darling. I think I am.”
“Wow.” Sweetie's grin turned into a goofy smile. “You and Dash? That's, uh, not something I'd expect. But hey! That's life, right?”
Sweetie was a very smart young mare. Rarity smiled at her, but in her mind she still turned over that question. Am I happy? Was she ready to give up her prince?
“Anyway,” Sweetie said, “should we go wake Dash up? This breakfast won't last forever.”
Rarity blinked at her sister. “What do you mean? Didn't she already come down?”
Sweetie glanced around in confusion. “Down here? I don't think so. I've been up for hours and I haven't seen her. I assumed she was still in bed.”
Her sister's words were like a bucket of ice water dumped down Rarity's back. She froze, her mind tumbling over the incompatible points of view, and came to the only conclusion possible.
Dash was gone. Dash had snuck away.
She was a fool for not seeing it earlier, of course. How many stallion's beds had she snuck away from, desperate not to wake them and provoke uneasy questions? Questions about when they would see her again, questions about what she was doing next week, questions about what they meant to her. Questions that were much easier to avoid than answer.
Questions Dash apparently preferred to avoid as well.
Sweetie was still staring at her. Rarity shook herself from her stunned reverie and put on a fake smile.
“Oh, she must've gotten up early. Now that I think about it, she mentioned something about meeting the weather team,” she lied. She had plenty of practice lying – mostly with herself, but it was all the same.
“Anyway, I've got a few errands to run,” she continued before Sweetie could break in. “Thank you for the breakfast, dear. I'll be back in a bit. Taa!”
She couldn't get out the door fast enough.
The world's surface was like a map.
From ten thousand feet in the air, rivers were sparkling blue lines. Forests were a mix of colors depending on the dominant tree species: scarlet and orange for maples, butter for ashes and birch, brown for the dour oaks. Only the mountains, havens for pines and cedars, kept their green mantle this deep into autumn. Roads were like grids, growing denser the closer they approached to the cities. Clouds cast dark shadows on the map, stains where an errant god had spilled her ink.
How many months had it been since Rainbow Dash had looked down at the world from this height? Most of a year, at least. She hadn't stopped flying right away; it had been a gradual thing coupled with the slow realization that flying reminded her of him. And for a while, he was the last thing she wanted on her mind.
So she hadn't flown, and she hoped the dreams and memories would leave her be. Alas, they hadn't.
Didn't stop you from fucking her.
She closed her eyes. A burst of wind tried to knock her off path, but her wings adjusted automatically, dozens of muscles pitching her feathers at just the right angle to stay on course. Even after six months, she was still a natural flyer. The best in the world, they'd once called her.
You're an idiot, you know that? First you betray him, and now you're betraying her. She was really hurting, and instead of helping her you took advantage of her.
That wasn't true. She had tried to help Rarity. Things just got a little out of hoof after that. Then they got a little further out of hoof. A tight stomach met perfectly curved legs, and between them a pair of dainty, perfect lips waited for her. They had started to part as her inner lips swelled, and Dash could see the faint glisten of moisture between them. She felt herself—
Another gust of wind caught her, and she tumbled in the air, too distracted to respond correctly. She scowled and dove a few thousand feet, searching for a less turbulent zone.
She found calmer air. She couldn't find peace of mind.
Twilight Sparkle opened the Library door after the second set of knocks. Her mane was frazzled from sleep, and the bags under her eyes suggested she had just woken up.
“Rarity,” she said. Rasped, really, but who was counting. “Come in, come in. I've got some coffee brewing.”
“I'm sorry, dear. Did I wake you?” Rarity forced the nervous quiver from her voice. She wasn't nervous at all, in fact. She was just fine. Everything was fine.
“It was time to get up anyway,” Twilight said as they trotted to the kitchen. In other words, yes. “Gimme a moment.”
Rarity took a seat at the table, watching as Twilight did the only thing she could in the kitchen without burning the place down: brew coffee. Within minutes the rich, roasted scent filled the tree, and Twilight trotted to the table, an enormous mug of steaming coffee floating by her side. She sat, took a long gulp from the drink, and let out a contented sigh.
“Yes, much.” Twilight's voice was almost normal. “Now, what brings you by so early?”
Rarity glanced at the clock over the stove. It was nearly ten in the morning. “Didn't you say you had to go to bed early last night?”
“Er, uh, sometimes I stay up reading for a few minutes.” She took another sip. “Or hours. Anyway! How are you?”
“Oh, good, good.” More lies. It was easy with anypony except Applejack. “You haven't seen Rainbow Dash around, have you?”
“Like, while I was sleeping?”
Oh, hm. Rarity frowned. “I suppose not. I apologize, Twilight. I've woken you up, and now I'm bothering you with silly questions.”
Twilight chuckled. “It's okay, Rarity. Like I said, time to get up anyway. And now I have coffee, so everything is fine.”
Ah, would that all of life's problems could be solved by coffee. Rarity sighed wistfully. “Actually, dear, as long as I've got you... do you mind if I ask another question?”
“Not at all.” Twilight set the mug down, looking interested. “What would you like to know?”
“Well, it's about your coltfriend, Dr. Hooves...” Rarity trailed off, trying to order her thoughts.
“Oh, I was thinking about that last night, actually,” Twilight said. “I checked the literature, and the standard for measuring penis length is from the tip of the glans while erect to the base of the scrotum. You're supposed to use a special measuring tape, but I have a length of string that should work just as—”
“Actually, darling, I had a different question.” Though, to be honest, that did sound very interesting and might deserve further consideration at some point. “When did you two fall in love?”
Twilight blinked, her mouth still open. She tilted her head and bit her lip, her eyes turned upward as she thought.
“You know... I'm really not sure. We met at a conference on temporal physics, where he was presenting a theory on the nonlinear nature of time.” She paused to take another sip of coffee. “Which is stupid, by the way. Time flows in one direction. Anyway, we got to arguing over some of his equations, and then we got kicked out of the conference, so we had to go to a coffee shop to keep arguing. Then we agreed to meet for dinner to argue some more. At some point we stopped arguing, and just enjoyed talking with each other, and... heh, you know, I don't really know when I fell in love with him. I just kind of realized it one day. How weird is that?”
Rarity sighed. “Not so weird, I think. Dash said the same thing about her and Soarin.”
Twilight nodded. “Love at first sight is for fairy tales. Real life is messier.”
Much messier. “She said he made her feel like a princess. Rainbow Dash, a princess!”
“Aww...” Twilight smiled down at her cup. “She's right, though. The Doctor makes me feel the same way. Special, you know? Like I'm the most important pony in the world.”
Rarity stiffened. The same flash of anger she had felt when Dash used those words bubbled back to the surface, before just as quickly being suppressed. “Well, not really like a princess, right darling? A real princess would...” Would what? What would a real princess feel like?
Twilight chuckled. “It's just a saying, Rarity. Every filly wants to be a princess, right? Well, I've known a few princesses. It's not all it's cracked up to be. Being in love, though... well, that's amazing.”
That's amazing. Rarity stared at Twilight, lost in thought. Eventually the librarian began to fidget.
“Er, Rarity? You there?”
Rarity started back to reality. “Yes, darling. Sorry, just... something you said there. If you'll excuse me.” She stood, feeling a bit light headed, and trotted out the library. She could vaguely hear Twilight calling something behind her.
A real prince would sweep her off her hooves and make her the most important pony in the world. But she'd met a real prince, and that certainly hadn't happened. And ever since, she'd waited for another prince, a pony who could love her and make her feel like a princess...
But they were all gone. She had kicked out every one. And now the one pony who had seen her pain and loved her anyway was gone. Flown away.
She started galloping.
The air was calmer a mile above the mountains. As smooth as cream. Dash soared across the sky on still wings, riding from thermal to thermal with the effortless grace that first drew Soarin's eye.
You're an idiot, you know?
Yeah, she knew. It was about the only thing she knew at that moment. Everything else was a confused jumble. She was abandoning her friends to be loyal to a ghost.
“Love is not a coin that you spend once and lose forever.” Rarity's words, dimly remembered, rattled around her mind. Of course, Rarity didn't know anything about love. She'd said so herself a few hours later.
Right before you fucked her.
What would Soarin say? Easy question. He'd want her to be happy. He'd be horrified to see her now, tormenting herself over his memory. He'd beg her to find somepony else to love.
She knew those facts, just as she knew that the air she soared through was a collection of colorless gases whose density depended on the altitude, temperature and humidity. Dry facts that she ignored completely while flying. Instinct and feeling were what made her The Rainbow Dash.
Facts were useless.
“I can't betray you,” she whispered. “I'm sorry, I can't.”
How would he answer that? A week ago, she wouldn't have been sure. Now, after Rarity and her friends had rescued her, would his answer be different? She imagined him flying beside her, just as they used to. It was so easy she didn't even have to close her eyes.
“Silly filly. You don't want to betray our love, so you stop loving all together. But love is never betrayal. You can still love me, even as you find another. Love is not bits to spend. It is far more valuable, and far more abundant.”
“You’re just saying that because you want me to be happy.”
“That’s all I ever wanted, love.”
Huh. Dash wheeled in the air. She was alone again, a blue dot in the middle of the vast blue sky. She was alone again, but she didn't have to stay that way.
She dove toward the earth, racing back to Ponyville.
Rarity had nowhere in particular to run. The town flashed by, blurred by her tears. Ponies yelped and jumped clear of her path.
Eventually she grew tired, then exhausted. Her gallop became a trot, then a walk, and finally she stumbled to a halt. She gasped for air and raised her head.
She was back in the clearing they had visited yesterday. The grass was still unruly from the storm Dash had generated with her flight. Branches and leaves stripped from the nearby trees littered the field.
She was alone again.
What are you doing? Of course she doesn't want you. She saw what you were last night. Once she gets over her issues, there are thousands of better ponies for her than you.
“Dash?” She raised her voice, crying out to the wind. “Dash, if you're out there, if you can hear me... you... you were right about Soarin.” She sniffled, blinking away tears.
“He really was... he really was your prince.”
Well, you finally get it. It's not bits or fame or royal breeding that make you a prince or princess. It's love. It's love, and you've spent your whole life tossing love away.
“It's love...” she mumbled. Her eyes closed, and she sat in the muddy grass. Her body felt hollow, like all its organs had simply walked away. A hollow pony. Just a shell.
She lay down and wept.
Eventually, she had to stand. She couldn't live the rest of her life in the field. There were still things to do. She brushed the mud from her coat as best she could and began the long walk back to town.
She avoided the busy streets, sticking to the side roads and alleyways. Years ago there had been no such thing, but now that Ponyville was a true city, there were plenty of streets to get lost on. She stuck to those as she wound her way back to the Boutique.
Studio. It's the Studio now. It belonged to Sweetie. Tomorrow she would leave, head back to Fillydelphia and try to pick up the pieces of her life. She pushed open the door and walked in.
“Sweetie, I'm back. I'll be in the bath if you...” She nearly stumbled. Sweetie was sitting at the table, munching on the remains of a sandwich.
That wasn't what stopped her. Seated across from Sweetie was a nervous Rainbow Dash. The pegasus licked her lips and stood.
“Hey sis, welcome back.” Sweetie's eyes roved over her muddy coat and windblown mane. “I'll just leave you two for a moment and get that bath started, hm?”
Rarity didn't answer. She couldn't answer. Sweetie waited another moment, then chuckled and trotted up the stairs.
Silence. From upstairs came the sound of running water. Dash coughed into her hoof, and broke first.
“Hey, uh... okay, first, I'm sorry about this morning. It was not cool to bail on you like that, especially after all we talked about last night. I'm really, really sorry.”
She waited. Rarity gave her a tiny nod.
“Whew, okay, good,” Dash continued. “Second, I was doing some thinking, and you're right. Love isn't some coin that you just spend once. Love isn't like money at all. You can have as much as you want. I can still love Soarin. I can love Soarin, and maybe love somepony else...” Her voice grew faint, almost inaudible as she finished.
Rarity bobbed her head. The lump in her throat refused to budge, and she swallowed several times before she could speak.
“That's... that's very good to hear, darling. I did some thinking too, about love, and how Soarin made you feel like a princess... well, it made me realize how silly I was to wait for a prince, when there are better ponies. Better ponies, right... right here.”
Dash stepped toward her, until their muzzles were just inches away. “Okay... just so we're clear, when you say 'right here,' you mean, like, in this room?”
Rarity chuckled, and her tears threatened to return. “Yes, Dash. Right here, in this room.” She leaned forward and pressed her lips against Dash's for a long, gentle kiss.
“Wow, okay, yeah,” Dash said sometime later. “You and me, though... We're a bit different. Can it really work?”
Rarity tilted her head. “You said it took awhile for you and Soarin to realize you were in love, right?” When Dash nodded, she continued. “Well, I'm willing to give it a try, if you are.”
And they did.