The sun rose over the hills of eastern Equestria, sending a wave of warmth and light over Ponyville. The glow reached the open windows of Carousel Boutique and lit the face of the mare inside, her hair in curlers and her eyes shut in sleep. She rolled over and blinked herself awake.
With a wide yawn, Rarity slipped out of bed, stretching out her body in a wave from flank to head. “Ah, what a glorious morning.” She hummed to herself as she trotted up to her vanity mirror, pulled up a stool, and sat down. She clicked on the overhead light and began her work.
Every object on the table had been carefully selected to achieve the optimal results. The mascara, a brand to give her lashes the thickness she desired and didn’t run too much if she should feel the need to cry. Her eyeshadow, the perfect shade to accentuate coat, mane, and eye all at once. She applied both with the careful precision of a craftsmare, before turning attention to her hair.
One by one the curlers were unrolled and stacked on the table, allowing her luxurious purple mane to flow freely. It held the style perfectly thanks to a strict regimen of hair care products, but there was still a small bit of maintenance to do. Rarity picked up a hair brush – wire bristles, for optimal performance at dealing with knots and tangles – and began to brush. Satisfied with her work, she moved the brush to the other side of her mane.
The brush passed by her eyes, catching her gaze for just a moment.
“Rarity?” Twilight knocked thrice on the door of Carousel Boutique. “Are you awake? I need that book on ancient earth pony ceremonial wear back.” No answer.
“She should be awake by now,” Spike said.
“I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if we let ourselves in.” Twilight undid the lock with her magic and padded inside. “Rarity?” The lights were all off, the curtains of the shop drawn shut. Twilight and Spike approached the stairs and ascended to the second floor. Here they heard the muffle sounds of whimpers and sobs. Twilight ran up to Rarity’s door and pushed it open.
Rarity lay on the floor of her bedroom, clutching her hind hooves to her stomach and rocking back and forth. Her eyes stared blankly, twitching madly.
“Rarity!” Spike ran up to her. “What’s wrong?”
“Spike…” Rarity stopped and moved her head to look at him. Her lip quivered. “Oh, my dear, darling little Spikey-Wikey… tell me I’m beautiful, please?”
Spike scrunched his face. “Uh… is this a trick question?”
“I KNEW IT!” Rarity burst into a fresh fit of sobs and fell back on the floor, her hooves spread. “Even Spike can’t stand to look at me anymore!”
“I didn’t say that!” Spike shook his head. “You’re beautiful, you’re fabulous, you’re gorgeous!”
“Don’t mock me!” Rarity snapped. “The writing is all on the wall, in permanent ink! Don’t try and spare my feelings, Spike, I won’t fall for such false flattery!”
“What are you talking about?” Twilight asked.
“You would patronize me, too, Twilight?” Rarity sniffed and climbed to her hooves. “Very well. I see now what our friendship is worth, that you two can’t even look me in the eye and tell me the truth!”
Spike and Twilight shared a look of confusion and annoyance. “What truth?” Spike asked.
“That I’m ugly!” Rarity gasped out. She buried her head on the edge of her bed, clutching the blankets around her. “I’m hideous, I’m repulsive! I’m…” She lifted her head, shaking as she struggled to get the word out. “I’m… o-o-o-oooooold!” She wailed the word and let her head fall back down.
“That’s absurd!” Spike laughed, giving her a gentle pat on the leg. “You’re not old at all, you’re not even into middle age.”
“Oh really?” Rarity whirled around to glare. “Then how do you explain this!?”
A thin white object surrounded in an aura of blue magic floated up from Rarity’s hair brush and in front of Spike. He took it in his claw and looked down at it.
“A grey hair!” Rarity trilled, her hoof to her forehead. “Nay, not even grey, but white! I’m so old I’m passing grey and going all the way to whi-i-i-ite…” she trailed off into tears and slid to the floor, her face in her hooves.
Twilight took the hair in her magic to look at it. “Rarity, I think you’re making a big deal out of nothing.”
Spike gaped at her as if she had just grown a second head that proclaimed loyalty to Emperor Discord.
“Nothing?” Rarity hissed, lifting her head. “Are you truly so naïve, Twilight, that the implications are lost on you? I have a white hair!”
“I’m getting old!”
“Not really.” Twilight shook her head. “Grey hairs can begin as early as middle age, depending on genetics. It doesn’t mean you’re old, just that you’re… getting older.”
“Older…” Rarity sniffed. “Alas that my friend would resort to such euphemisms to make me feel better about my predicament. But you needn’t treat me as some delicate flower who cannot stand up to the cruelties of the real world.” Spike and Twilight gave each other a bemused glance that Rarity didn’t notice. “This is a sign. My time is drawing close. I’m over the hill, past my prime, an expired product.” She whimpered and clenched her eyes, more tears falling from them. “I knew this day would come. I just hoped it wouldn’t come for another forty years!”
Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Forty years?”
“A mare can dream, Twilight!” Rarity insisted. “Not all of us are so content with ourselves to age like you!”
“I’d hoped to age gracefully. Like a fine wine or a supple vinegar. Not like some past-due milk that’s been left in the heat!” Rarity sighed. “I suppose I’ll have to get married soon. I’d intended to wait and marry for love, but once my looks start to go it’ll be harder to find a stallion willing to have me. I can’t be choosy about this anymore.”
“When did we get talking about marriage?”
“Do you want me to die an ugly old spinster cuddling her cat as her only companion?”
“Rarity, do you really think that’s going to happen?”
“Not if I find somepony quickly enough!” Rarity bit her lip. “I wonder how much time I have left. Do you see any wrinkles, sags, or spots?” She ran up in front of Twilight and Spike and turned her head about for their inspection.
Spike scoffed. “Rarity, you’re just as beautiful as you ever were!”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“N-not what you think it means!”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “Rarity, do you really think finding a husband should be your biggest priority now?”
“…Yes, yes, of course, Twilight, thank you.” Rarity took a breath. “There are my final wishes to put in order.”
“Of course, I’ll likely be leaving everything to Sweetie Belle, divide up the business assets between Coco and Sassy. I should start saving up for the funeral, too. I can’t saddle Sweetie Belle with that kind of debt and planning in the midst of her grief. Do you think a pine coffin or oak?”
“Rarity, there are other options, you know,” Spike said.
“Er, for your hair?” Spike jabbed a claw at her mane. “Why not just dye it?”
Rarity’s jaw dropped. “Do you think me some vain, pompous social twit who has to resort to products to make herself look good?”
“That one is a trick question and I’m gonna say no.”
“She’s overreacting in general!” Twilight said to Spike. She turned her attention to her other friend. “Rarity, you’re not going to die for many more decades and you’re not going to lose your looks for years to come. Grey hairs just happen as a fact of life. It isn’t always age, sometimes stress causes it. They mean nothing.”
“Stress?” Rarity perked up. “Stress can cause grey hairs? What about white?”
“Um, yes to both.” Twilight smiled, both at the pep in her friend’s mood and at finding a way to spur it to happen. “Stress can cause hair to go grey prematurely. I’ve gotten my share over tests.”
Rarity nodded. “That makes sense. I have been worried about finding a location for a fourth expansion to the boutique in the Crystal Empire. Sassy and Coco have had their hooves full at their stores. Perhaps this is all getting to be a bit much for me.”
“Maybe a vacation?” Spike suggested. “If you wanna find a location in the Crystal Empire, you could make a trip of it. Tour the north, see some sites, visit Cadance and Shining Armor.”
“A marvelous idea.” Rarity hugged the two tightly. “Oh, thank you so much for your advice, my dear, darling friends. I almost overreacted there.”
“Almost?” Twilight muttered. Spike shushed her.
“I’m going to go make a few calls and see about arranging lodgings. You can stay for a chat if you like or see yourselves out.” Rarity left the room, a new spring in her step.
Spike let out a long breath and wiped his brow. “Well, that was something.”
“I’ll say.” Twilight rolled her eyes. “I’d hate to be there when she finds a second one.”
The door to the room pushed open and Sweetie Belle poked her head inside. “Is she gone?”
Spike nodded. “Yeah.”
“Good.” Sweetie Belle approached Rarity’s table and gathered up a few hair curlers, setting them in a saddle bag on her side.
“What are you doing with those?” Twilight asked.
“Starlight and Trixie have been teaching me a few magic tricks using improvised props.” Sweetie Belle picked up a small hand mirror and put it in her bag.
Spike frowned. “Um, say, did you happen to use Rarity’s hair brush for one of those tricks?”
“Did Trixie use that hair brush to brush her mane?”
“I think so?” Sweetie Belle shrugged. “I gotta go, I’m gonna get some breakfast on the way over to Trixie’s cart.” She trotted out of the room, her bag jostling.
Spike and Twilight looked at each other. Twilight spoke first.
“She just took a bunch of Rarity’s hair curlers, right?”
“And said she was taking them to Trixie.”
“…Want to help Rarity pack so she can leave today?”