Where We Belong

by BlazzingInferno

Fine Dining

“And that’s why Ponyville cider is the best in Equestria.” Rainbow Dash finished her story with a small belch, eliciting laugher.

The ‘chef’s table’ proved to be a banquet hall in miniature. High stone archways enclosed the square room, setting it apart from the kitchen space that bordered it on three sides. Waning sunlight entered through windows on the one true wall, a disconcerting reminder that the sun was indeed going to set again soon, albeit for a few hours instead of years.

A single, square table dominated the room and offered enough space for twenty ponies at least, although the castle staff had secreted away all but the required seven chairs. Rarity sat on one end of the little encampment of friends gathered round the table’s most sunlit corner, stirring the remains of her potato soup. Her stuffed bell pepper and freshly baked roll lay untouched. The meal was far from lavish or heavy by Canterlot standards, but the soup alone had filled her to the brim.

You should be eating more, she told herself. Her gaunt figure wasn’t going to improve if she never made it past the first course.

Spike tapped her on the shoulder. “Um, Rarity?”

“Yes, Spike?” she’d barely looked at him since the meal started, partly to stay engaged in the other’s merry conversation, and partly to avoid staring at his own near-empty bowl. Nothing could hide the sound of his eating, unfortunately. The unmistakable crunch of gem after gem after gem held none of the outright reverence for them he’d observed in The Pit, when untold days would pass between him even mentioning the small number he still possessed, let alone daring to consume one.

“Could you… uh… Are you going eat that roll?”

Sighing, she pushed her plate toward him. Forget getting taller; at this rate he’d be twice as wide within a month. “Have it.”

“Are you okay? You’re not eating much.”

At last she looked at him, right as he shoved an amethyst into the roll in lieu of butter. “That’s hardly a crime, is it?”

Defiling artisan bread with a gemstone should be, in her estimation.

His contented smile faltered. “No, but… Sorry.”

Pinkie gasped. “Oh, ooh, can I try one?”

She zipped across the table, crouched in front of Spike’s bowl of gems, and gave the contents a sniff. “Mmm, it smells just like home.”

Spike raised an eyebrow. “Were you raised by dragons or something?”

Pinkie grinned and patted his forehead. “No, silly. I grew up on a rock farm! Most of our rocks tasted pretty bland, but—” she took an unsettlingly deep whiff “—these beauties are probably amazing!”

Rarity raised a hoof in protest. “Pinkie, darling, please get off the table. And I don’t believe ponies can digest gems. Or rocks, for that mater.”

“Not the super-hard ones, but where do you think rock candy comes from?”

Pinkie was back in her seat before Rarity could fathom a response.

Twilight cleared her throat. “So… is anypony else getting worried about our big meeting tomorrow?”

Fluttershy gasped and nearly dropped her cup. “B-big meeting?”

“You know, with Princess Celestia? She said she wanted to talk with each of us in the morning.”

“What? What did I do wrong? It was okay to eat the little mint on the pillow, right?”

Rainbow groaned. “Relax, Fluttershy. Did you ever think that maybe you did a bunch of things right, like saving the Princesses’ sister? Maybe she wants to give us each a big reward.”

“Wow, do you think Princess Luna will be there too?” Twilight replied. “She's got to have some amazing insights on the progress of civilization. I wonder if she’d let me interview her for a research paper.”

Pinkie leaped onto the table again, or rather she came within six inches of doing so before the force of Rarity’s glare nudged her back over her chair. “If we get to pick rewards, I’m asking to lead a ginormous parade through Ponyville!”

“Pfft.” Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Didn’t you already used to do that like two times a week? All you’ve gotta do is start singing.”

Three times in a good week. But this would be way better because Princess Celestia would be there, and the Wonderbolts would do a bunch of fly overs—”

“Now you’re talking!”

“Um—” with the tiniest sound, Fluttershy quieted the room “—are you sure the Princesses would want to do something like that? I don’t think any of us even know them that well.”

At last Rarity had something to contribute. “Spike happens to know Princess Celestia quite well, actually. I’m sure the two of them will have a great deal to discuss tomorrow.”

Spike’s half-finished gem roll landed on the table. Rarity could almost smell his fear as everypony turned to him. “I… um… I know her and stuff, but I wouldn't want to take up a bunch of her time. I'll just wait outside or something.”

Rarity snorted. “Don’t tell me you’re not going to speak to the pony you’ve talked fondly of nearly every day of our time together. I expect you to be first in line tomorrow.”

Twilight leaned toward Spike until her the tip of her mane landed in her soup bowl. “Do you think she could pull some strings at the School for Gifted Unicorns so I could re-take the entrance exam? I-I know I could ace it this time, really!”

Spike clasped his roll and wrung it in his hands like a favorite stuffed animal. “No. I mean yes. I don’t know, okay? I haven’t really talked to Celestia in ages, and… and I’m not starting tomorrow.”

Rarity gave a seconds-long gasp, and her soup spoon clattered to the table. “Excuse me? Reticence is one thing, but you can’t blatantly refuse a royal summons! Not from Princess Celestia, not after all we've suffered and lost just to be seated here! I won’t stand for it!”

Spike shook his head and tossed the roll aside. “It’s my choice, Rarity! If you don’t like it… then I guess you don’t like it.”

Silence hung in the air, particularly between Rarity and the dragon next to her. So this is what she had to look forward to: dealing with their burgeoning relationship problems in public as well as private. What if this had been a dinner with the well-to-do, as opposed to a simple meal amongst friends? Convincing the world to accept the kind and sweet Spike she used to know would've been hard enough.

She gave a huff and returned to her soup. “I suppose it is your choice, Spike.”

Perhaps she was being unfair. Or perhaps she was finally thinking clearly. Postponing their inevitable parting, and it did indeed look inevitable now, would only make it worse.

“Excuse me, everypony. It’s been a long day, and I for one would like to get a proper night’s sleep before meeting with Princess Celestia. Good night.”

That same silence chased her from the room, the sound of an ever-widening gulf between her and whom she’d once called a life partner. So much for consorting with dragons. So much for happy endings.