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Liars and lovers
We’re going to make a scene
The Bitterest Pill
“Man, things are weird at the moment...” Spike muttered to himself, as he traipsed down Ponyville high street. He had realized that Dash and Twilight would probably appreciate a little time alone together in the library, so he had come out for a walk. He had hoped to get some peace and quiet, so he would be able to get his head in order somewhat, after an eventful few weeks.
That had been the plan, at any rate.
“Oh my gosh, this is gonna be so amazing, I can’t wait to go to Cloudsdale again!” Pinkie Pie was keeping up a consistent stream of excited babbling, as she had been doing ever since she had spotted the young dragon, and decided to walk (or perhaps bounce) with him for a while. Suddenly, she halted on the spot, skidding for a couple of feet and looking at Spike, with an expression of keen interest. “Say, do you reckon there’ll be a second Sonic Rainboom when she goes at twice the speed of sound?”
Spike scratched his head, caught off guard by the question. In truth, this had not occurred to him. “Uh, I don’t think so,” he replied, uncertainly.
“Aww,” Pinkie looked momentarily dejected, then almost instantaneously perked up again, continuing down the high street, Spike keeping up with some difficulty. “At least I get to do the after-record party!”
Spike grinned at this news. “That’s gonna be one good party,” he muttered.
“You have no idea,” Pinkie said, conspiratorially. “I guess Dashie’s been up to her ears in fan mail lately, huh?”
“She’s had quite a bit,” agreed Spike. “I think it was six or seven things this morning. There’s some weird stuff, though.”
“How weird’s weird?” asked Pinkie, with interest.
“Well, somepony sent her some feathers. Apparently it’s a good luck thing for pegasi.”
Pinkie looked thoughtful, halting mid-bounce with utter disregard for gravity. “You know, I think I’ve heard of that. I guess that’s nice of somepony to send some of their feathers.”
“Well, it would be. Problem is, we all think they’re chicken feathers, painted green.”
“Oh.” Pinkie raised an eyebrow. “Well, that’s probably not lucky at all. Unless they were from a lucky chicken.”
Spike blinked, momentarily wondering exactly how the conversation had arrived at lucky chickens. Fortunately, a distraction arrived in the form of Rarity, who had evidently spotted the two of them passing from the window of her boutique.
“Hello, Pinkie. Ah, Spike! I’ve been meaning to speak to you,” she greeted him with a warm smile.
“Hey, Rarity,” grinned Pinkie. “Anyway, I’d better get back to the bakery, after all, if I don’t I’ll just end up hanging around being a socially oblivious third wheel, while you two both awkwardly talk about the weather and wait for me to go away, so Rarity can bring up the slightly personal topic she came here to talk to you about. It’ll be so much easier for everypony if we just skip that bit.”
Whistling happily, the flamboyant pony made her departure, waving cheerily back to them over her shoulder, and leaving a resounding silence in her wake.
“Do you think she actually plans these things?” Rarity asked, sounding almost impressed.
“I think we should give her more credit…” Spike replied, shaking his head in bemusement. “Anyway, you wanted to talk to me?”
Rarity nodded. “Yes, Spike. Actually… I wanted to thank you.”
“Thank me? For what?” Spike was taken aback. He had not seen Rarity since her visit to the library, and had naturally assumed she had not made a move regarding Fluttershy, not having heard any news.
“I visited Fluttershy a couple of days ago.” Rarity seemed to take a deep breath. “I admitted everything, Spike. I told her how I feel. It’s such a relief to have got it off my chest.”
Spike’s eyes widened. “Seriously? What’d she say?”
“She said no, of course,” Rarity’s tone was one of quiet resignation, “but at least she still wants to be friends. She let me down gently, at any rate, and I suppose that’s the most I can ask for.”
“You don’t mind then?”
Rarity sighed. “I know the answer I wanted, but I think I always knew the answer I was going to get. It’s no great surprise, and I suppose that makes it easier to cope with. As I say, it’s an enormous weight off my mind.” She shook her head. “Anyway, how’s Rainbow Dash’s training getting along?”
Spike shrugged. “Not bad, as far as I can tell. She shouldn’t have any problems this weekend, anyway.”
“Well, we’ll all be cheering for her,” smiled Rarity.
“So,” said Spike, curiously, “are you going to see Fluttershy again before the record?”
“Certainly,” Rarity nodded. “We’ve got our weekly get-together at the spa coming up, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I have no intention of letting this drive a wedge between myself and such a good friend.”
Spike wondered why he did not feel the pangs of jealousy that he might have expected, when talking to Rarity about her attraction to Fluttershy. He still felt his heart-rate accelerate when the unicorn was around him, but he felt that he could talk to her as a friend. He had finally recognized her as the unattainable that she was, but doing so had rendered them equals, rather than widening the gulf between them.
“Did you ever see Blueblood again, by the way?” Spike asked, with interest.
“Him? Oh goodness no,” replied Rarity, as if scandalized at the very thought. “I believe I may have run into him a couple of times during my stint in Canterlot, but suffice it to say that we had very little to say to one another. I think he probably resented my up-and-coming status at the time.”
Spike laughed. “I guess he kept well out of cake-flinging range while he was around you, this time.”
“Certainly he did,” Rarity gave a faux-dignified snort, then burst out laughing too. After a few moments, her laughter petered out, and she looked back in the direction of the library. “Strange, really,” she added. Her mood seemed to be different now; she sounded a little wistful. “The way things change. I can’t really put my hoof on what it is, but it feels like everything’s… slipping away.”
“Slipping?” Spike replied, inquisitively, not quite sure what Rarity meant.
“Yes,” Rarity nodded. “Everything feels as if it’s on a timer. I’ve seen Twilight and Dash walking around town together. The way Twilight looks at her… It’s like she’s afraid she’ll vanish any moment. You must have seen her. Then what you said about Fluttershy… You told me she was in danger.” Suddenly, she looked at Spike, and her eyes were almost imploring. “I don’t expect you to tell me what happened, Spike… But please, just to set my mind at rest. Is Fluttershy in harm’s way? Might something happen to her?”
Spike shook his head. “She’s fine,” he said, reassuringly. “It’s got to be up to Twilight and Dash to tell you all the details, but I can promise you Fluttershy’s safe. I’m sorry I can’t tell you more, I really would like to, but I’ve made that mistake once, and I’m not making it a second time.”
Rarity nodded. “I understand. Thankyou, Spike.” She smiled, weakly. “I couldn’t stand idly by knowing that she was at risk. It’s such a messy thing, isn’t it? I just worry about her so much…”
“So,” Spike began, his voice a little dejected on Rarity’s behalf. “Don’t you think you’ll be able to move on from Fluttershy?”
“I hope so,” sighed Rarity. “I’ve got to keep telling myself she’s one pony out of millions. But honestly? I’ve felt crushes before, but when I look at Fluttershy, I just want to... protect her. I know how nervous everypony makes her, and I just want to make it so that she doesn’t have to be afraid anymore.”
“I guess…” replied Spike. “It’s always hard, trying to be sensible in times like this. You know there’s no such thing as fate, but you can’t quite convince yourself. Do you think it’s something to do with the Elements that draws you together?”
“It could be,” mused Rarity. “First I fall for Fluttershy, then Twilight and Dash end up together. Considering there are only six of us, that does seem somewhat improbable.”
“Well, Twilight told me it was like the Elements chose you guys, but I think she was wrong,” Spike said, dropping his voice. “It’s more like you guys are the Elements, like it’s specifically what you were born to be. Maybe this is just how that connection shows itself?”
“Maybe,” Rarity raised an eyebrow, uncertainly. “Hopefully we’ll all have more time to think about it, after…” She gulped slightly, the action seemingly almost involuntary. “After the record,” she finished, a little lamely.
“It’s really bugging you, huh?” Spike asked, sympathetically.
Rarity stomped a hoof in frustration. “There’s more to this whole situation, I just know it!” She shook her head. “I don’t know, Spikey. In the past, things always felt… safe. My friends and I… we’d mess around, we’d fall out, but everything would always work out in the end.”
“Nopony knows how this is going to end, Rarity,” Spike said, almost in consolation. “Even Twilight and Dash don’t.”
“Even so, I feel so useless!” Rarity narrowed her eyes in inwardly-directed annoyance. “I know perfectly well that Twilight and Dash aren’t telling us something, and I know it’s for our own good that we don’t know. I’ve promised myself I won’t pry; it’s got to be up to them to tell us.”
“The more you know, the more risk that puts you at,” said Spike, keeping his voice level, trying not to let his own fear on Twilight’s behalf creep into his words. “Like I said, you’ll all know in good time.”
“Time,” muttered Rarity, spitting the word out like the name of a bitter enemy. “Why do I feel as if we’re running out?”
The library was dimly-lit and airy, the curtains drawn across the windows, turning the midday sun to amber dusk-light. Twilight and Dash lay, entwined lazily together on the bed upstairs, savouring the time they had alone with each other.
Dash nuzzled into the fur of Twilight’s collarbone, slowly trailing a row of kisses up her neck, and smiling to herself as Twilight gave an involuntary twitch, pulling the pegasus closer. Dash had been with Twilight long enough now to know exactly what made the unicorn melt, and she did not hesitate to press this advantage. Pulling herself up a little, she began working her way along Twilight’s jaw, gently nipping with her teeth from time to time, each time rewarded by a sharp gasp from the unicorn.
She wondered what it was about this intimacy that made it so strange, and yet at the same time so beautifully rewarding.
Suddenly, Twilight interrupted her progress by turning her head to face Dash, staring for a moment into her widened eyes, and then determinedly planting her lips upon Dash’s. The pegasus made a muffled sound of surprise, but did not struggle in the least against her situation, instead letting the lead be taken smoothly by Twilight. Momentarily, the pleasant laziness that had permeated the air around them was gone, and Dash recognized the hunger and the need behind Twilight’s kiss. She pushed back with just as much enthusiasm, feeling something almost akin to desperation in Twilight, as she willingly parted her lips to allow the unicorn’s tongue entry.
Eventually, Twilight pulled back, their mouths momentarily linked by a thin strand of saliva, which swiftly broke and vanished. To her surprise and concern, Dash saw that Twilight’s eyes were a little wet, a single tear trailing a reflective path down her cheek.
“Twi’? Are you okay?”
Closing her eyes, Twilight pulled her into another tight embrace. “I’m… I’m scared for you,” she admitted, her voice choked. “I never want anything to happen to you. I… I’m sorry.”
“Hey,” said Dash, stroking Twilight’s mane with her hoof, her voice warm and reassuring. “I’m not going anywhere.” She could feel warm tears mingling into the fur on her chest. “I’m not going anywhere,” she repeated gently. Leaning down, she licked away the trails of Twilight’s tears, feeling the salt on her tongue as the unicorn looked fearfully into her eyes.
“I just want you to know,” whispered Twilight, “whatever happens with your mother, no matter what… I’ll be here for you, just as long as you want me to be.”
Dash hugged her in return, knowing that she would not be able to realistically put into words what that meant to her. “You’re my family now, Twi’,” she murmured. “You’re my family more than she ever was.”
The room’s walls were white-tiled, and devoid of the marble usually associated with Canterlot. Medical diagrams were pinned to the walls, and pride of place in the centre of the floor stood a shoulder-height metal table. A desk stood in the corner, lives and histories and deaths marked out and pinned down in neat black type on the many sheets of paper littering the surface. This was a sterile, lifeless place, kept well out of sight and mind.
“There was nothing we could do, he was too far gone.” The unicorn doctor bowed his head, knowing the disappointment that this news would bring. “I’m sorry, your highness. I’m afraid he’s dead.”
Celestia sighed. Her face betrayed little emotion, although for the fleetest of seconds it was as if an expression of something close to grief flared in her eyes, a passing sorrow for the pony she had worked with and dueled against for so long. The pony who had, in the end, defeated her. She took a moment to master herself, staring at the thin-faced russet stallion as if not really seeing him. “Do you know what the cause of death was?”
“There are no outwardly visible marks on the body,” replied the doctor. “We’ll have to take blood samples, but as best we can tell it was poison. We suspect a suicide pill.”
The Princess shook her head, with an air of sharp finality. “I knew Dusk Tempest. That’s not his style; he would never kill himself. Somepony did this to him. Where were the guards, anyway? Why had he not been found?”
The doctor walked around to the other side of the table, magically picking up a clipboard listing patrol times and glancing down it. He nodded quietly to himself, as if the information he read merely confirmed what he already knew.
“It was simply bad luck that you were the one to discover him, your highness. When you reached his cell and called the guards, he had barely been dead for ten minutes. When they brought him up here from the theatre, he was practically still warm.”
“I see.” Celestia’s eyes were suddenly angry, and she snorted, pawing at the tiled floor with a golden-shod hoof at the valuable information held within Dusk’s head, all lost now beyond any possible retrieval. “Sunset,” she growled. “This was a revenge attack for their imprisonment. They must have traced the betrayal back to him.”
“But as you say, they’re all imprisoned,” noted the doctor. “I’m sorry, your highness, I know it’s not my place, but how could they murder another pony from a prison cell?”
“They must still have some influence. Perhaps a plant in the guards, to do their work, or perhaps to pass messages to an external contact. That would have been a worthwhile precaution for them to take before their arrest, after all, arrest is always a possibility for any criminal group, so a dungeon guard in their employ would doubtless be useful to them.”
“You think it was one of the guards who killed him, then?”
“A slow-acting poison in one of his meals, perhaps. I don’t see what other line of attack they could have.” Celestia nodded. “The point is, if they still have that degree of influence from their cells, if they can still establish links with their contacts outside prison, then that is… problematic.”
“Very problematic indeed.”
You need to speak to Twilight and Rainbow Dash again. Personally. You know how much this changes things.
She turned to leave the medical wing of the dungeon, with the intention of seeking out Captain Gladius. It was imperative that she immediately rotate all the current prison guards. That way, if one or more of them were in the employ of Sunset then he would be taken out of their reach. Surely their only means of communication in and out of prison was messages delivered by the guards themselves. It was something she had to put a stop to, and fast.
At the last moment, she turned back to the doctor, who bowed. “One last thing,” she added, almost as an afterthought, “take another blood sample. Check for the presence of the Draught of Forgetfulness in his blood.”
“Very well, your highness. Do you think it will yield results?”
“I have a hunch,” murmured Celestia, her voice expressionless, turning again to leave.
Although the doctor had no intention of mentioning it to anypony, he could have sworn that he saw tears glinting in the corners of the god-princess’s eyes, the moment before the door swung shut behind her.