Biting her tongue Smoke reached a hoof into the bag and made a good show of feeling around for a token. She hadn’t exactly made the helper fair, afterall there was only one member of the court that she really wanted to get a present for and she’d made sure that no creature else would pick Kindle’s token. Trixie Lunamoon wasn’t the only illusionist who knew a bit of slight of hoof after all. She’d already held a copy of Kindle’s cutie mark in her hoof when she had put it in the bag so it was easy to pull it out again with a flourish hoping that no one noticed the deception. She glanced around but they all seemed to be caught up in their own planning, they didn’t give her a second glance, as usual.
Passing off the bag to the next member of the court she stepped away and patiently waited for the Helper to conclude before heading back to her quarters. She had already planned what gift she would get Kindle but needed to pick it up from Hope’s Hollow. She quickly grabbed her saddlebags and a bit pouch, if nothing else her new job paid well given the lair had once contained a dragon's horde. As she was about to head towards the teleport circle she stopped outside of Kindle’s room. Should she ask him to join her? She was sure she could keep his present secret and It would be nice to spend some time together away from work.
She knocked on the door but there was no answer. She waited for a moment then gently pushed the door open, maybe he had already left? No he was standing by his mirror apparently deep in thought. Maybe he was going to get her a gift? If so she was sure she could drop a few hints as to what she’d like. Maybe a nice warm scarf, perhaps big enough for two to wear at once? It was chilly outside at the moment. “Kindle, do you have a minute?” she asked.
The stallion gave a started cry and almost took off, she tried not to giggle “Is there something you need?” he asked after a moment.
“I was wondering if you were planning to go to Hope’s Hollow to look for a gift, and maybe we could go, um... together?” she asked a little nervously.
“While I appreciate the offer, Smoke, I ended up drawing the proverbial short lot this time,” he said showing her the dragon token she’d produced to represent Solrath, “I’m presently debating exactly what I can get that rude, arrogant, disrespectful wyrm that he doesn’t already have, or wouldn’t care to own.”
“Solrath?” she grimaced, poor Kindle, he’d definitely picked the short straw. “Um... yikes, I can see how he’d be difficult to shop for.”
“Hmph, impossible would be the word I’d choose, but I am the Voice of the Sun. For the honor of my Queen, I will simply have to find a way to turn the word ‘impossible’ into merely ‘done’. Still, I don’t think there will be anything in a humble settlement like Hope’s Hollow that would impress a dragon.”
Smoke grinned, she was glad Kindle was taking his troubles in his stride, she was sure he’d sort something out. “True, but, uh, maybe looking around there will at least spark some ideas? We do have nearly two days, so it can’t hurt to at least try, and see what happens.”
“Hmm,” Kindle rubbed his chin, “I suppose I can’t fault your logic, as usual, Smoke. Ah, so be it. We can go to the village together if it suits you, but I’ll go my own way once we’re there. I’ll need the space to think, and I’d hate to distract you from your own gift shopping.”
“Oh, well, that will be fine,” she said, it was a shame they couldn’t spend the day together but some time was better than none. “Then let’s go, if you’re ready?”
“Yes, just give me a moment to throw on a scarf. You have one too, don’t you?” he asked. It was like he’d read her mind about the present she wanted! “I’ll let you borrow one of mine,” he said generously, “Really, Smoke, just because we have fur doesn’t mean we can’t catch colds during winter. Do try to take care of yourself. You cannot serve our Queen with the sniffles,” he joked giving her a caring smile which made her heart beat faster.
He tossed her a white scarf from his cupboard. She quickly wrapped it around her neck a few times before sniffing it smelling his musk on it. Kindle then threw on his own bright, sun yellow scarf and politely held the door open for her as they headed towards the teleport room.
With a sigh Smoke closed the door to her quarters before trotting over to her bed and allowing herself to collapse onto it. That hadn’t gone quite as well as she’d wanted but at least she’d gotten some time with Kindle. She gently peeled the scarf from her neck and felt the heat starting to work back into her hooves. That was an advantage of living inside a volcano, it was never cold.
Like most of the lair her room was carved out of solid rock by Corona’s magic and despite its relative simplicity compared to some of the more ornate parts of the palace it was by far the largest place she’d ever lived in. Far bigger than the room she’d shared with her twin, Mirrors, as a foal, and dozens of times larger than the cupboard like space that she’d been forced to live in when she’d first moved to Manehatten. Sometimes she missed her old apartment, she’d had to abandon it when she and Kindle left to find the Queen but as Kindle had said, sacrifices had to be made. She’d tried to make it a bit more homely with some personal touches her and there. A shelf for the books the queen had bid her to study, a photograph of her family, herself just about visible amongst the crowd of her siblings and a few other personal effects, but it was still fairly spartan.
She almost couldn’t believe everything that had happened to her in the last year. If somepony had told her the old her that she’d be living in a repurposed dragon lair with a mix of creatures from all over the world and taking lessons from Corona she’d have fled from the obviously crazy pony as fast as her hooves would carry her! It was all like some strange dream and she wasn’t sure if she was ever going to wake up again. If it wasn’t for Kindle she’d never have found herself in this situation, she smiled, without him she’d probably be back on her parents farm right now.
5 years earlier
Smoke galloped into the theatre as quickly as her hooves could carry her. Her coat thick with snow which was now rapidly starting to melt and soak her to the skin. She shivered miserably and tried to hold back a sneeze. She felt terrible, with too little sleep and too much cold she was sure she was coming down with something. If only she’d had time to check the weather schedule she would have at least worn a coat. The only one she owned was patched and not well padded, but it would have helped a little. She sighed and wiped her snout with a hoof as she tried to calm down. She was here now and on time, she glanced up at the clock on the wall, only a little late. Maybe if she made her way backstage now nopony would notice, they normally didn’t, except for...
“Miss Smoke!” came a booming voice seemingly from just next to her ear, “What time do you call this!”
“I’m sorry Mr Stein,” she started, trying to cringe away from the expansive earth pony stallion. “I slept through my alarm,” she explained, “my flat mates were having a party last night, I asked them not to but...”
“I don’t want to hear it girl!” snapped Wine Stein barging his bulk past Smoke’s much smaller form and almost knocking her off her hooves. “I don’t have time for anypony who can’t bring their A game to any production I produce! I knew I shouldn’t have hired a nobody like you for my play but your sister recommended you and I’m something of a sentimentalist at heart...” he began as he marched towards the stage.
Smoke had to trot to keep up and tried to keep her eyes from rolling. She knew just why Wine had hired her, she was as cheap as they came. His last few productions had bombed and he needed this Hearth’s Warming pageant to be a hit to pay off his creditors. Even if it meant cutting as many corners as possible, calling in all his favours to get most of the cast to appear for a fraction of their normal wage and hiring a crew with practically no experience.
“I’ve seen hundreds like you my girl,” he continued, “noponies from some little podunk village in the middle of nowhere who come to Bridleway to make their fortune, most of them leave again on the first train when they find they might actually have to put a little effort into it! In my day we...”
Smokes ears drooped as she noticed almost the entire cast and crew arranged on the stage all staring at her humiliation. Even her sister, Mirrors, was there gossiping to several other actors and shooting her the occasional disapproving glance. She’d left home several years earlier and had managed to build a somewhat successful career before Smoke had finally worked up the courage to follow in her hoofsteps. Wine was right of course, she wasn’t suited for this, maybe she should just go back home a failure, it was what she deserved.
Canter Zoom, the director loudly cleared his throat. “Mr Stein,” he said finally breaking through the producer’s rant, “I think we’re almost ready to start the rehearsal.”
“Well girl!” exclaimed Wine Stein, “get to your place! And for arriving late, don’t expect to get paid today, I don’t reward slackers!”
Grimacing Smoke scampered into the backstage area feeling as if the entire theatre’s eyes were on her. Her dull grey coat normally meant that she blended into the background but right now she felt like she was covered with yellow polka dots. The rest of the crew gave her a wide berth hoping to avoid any of the directors ire spreading to them.
“Right, so,” began Canter in a quiet voice than still managed to fill the entire theatre. He was a thin pegasus in his late middle age with a graying mane, a contrast to the larger and more flamboyant producer, “Act 3, scene 2 the founders are trapped in the cave and their bickering has drawn the attention of the Windigo who have started encasing them in ice.”
Smoke stepped forwards, careful to keep out of sight of the seating while still able to get a good view of the entire stage and took a deep breath. This was another reason why she hadn’t gotten much sleep last night, she’d been practicing for hours, it wasn’t easy to create the illusion of not just ice slowly growing over half a dozen ponies but also several free moving Windigo as well, normally it would require a team of two or three special effect ponies but Wine Stein had only employed her. She carefully manipulated the light produced by the large gas lights dotting the theatre to give the impression of semi translucent shapes moving past just out of sight while at the same time slowly starting to layer slabs of illusionary ice onto the actors paying particular attention to the rather hunky red coated stallion playing Commander Hurricane.
In the stands Canter nodded at the cast and they began to struggle against their illusionary confinement. “This is all the earth ponies fault!” bellowed the actor playing Hurricane with quite impressive projection. “If they hadn’t hoarded the food we would never have come to this princess forsaken place!”
“Our fault!” exclaimed the mare playing Smart Cookie. “What about the unicorns? This seems like freaky magic to me!” She made a play of trying to free her hooves from the encroaching ice. Smoke had to concentrate even harder to make it look like the ice was bulging and cracking at her efforts.
“You Pegasi are supposed to be able to control the weather!” cried the actress playing Princess Platinum. “Help me Clover! Free me!” she begged.
“I’m sorry your majesty, I can’t,” called Mirrors a little flatly, or so Smoke thought.
“To think it all ends like this!” exclaimed Hurricane as the illusionary ice crept up his form. “Oh, I’m dying, Pansy! This cold is overpowering me. I will not live to see the sun rise over Pegalopasis again. Promise me girl, promise that you will rise me over my city one last time, promise me,” he turned dramatically to the audience. Struck by inspiration Smoke made it appear that the tear in his eyes had crystalised. “Oh,” he sighed, “the rest is silence. Oh, oh, oh, oh.”
Carefully Smoke moved the figments making up the Windigo lower keeping them just at the edge of the audiences line of sight and rapidly changing their shape while still keeping a roughly equine outline, it was hard work and her horn began to spark.
“That’s it?” bellowed Wine from the back of the theatre. “I’m paying you to produce Windigo girl! Not flashing lights! Get up here now!”
Distracted Smokes illusions all dissipated like her namesake. Unwillingly her hooves carried her onto the stage, the bright lights almost blinding her. “But, but I thought...” she stuttered.
“That’s your problem girl, I don’t pay you to think! I pay you to do! If you can’t perform I can find a dozen just like you on any corner of Bridleway. In fact I will! You’re fired! Get out!” Wine cried as he stamped down the aisle towards the stage. “You’ll never work in this town again!”
Smoke staggered back as if she’s been struck, tears filling her eyes. This was really happening, this was the end, she never should have thought she could make it in the big city like her sister.
“You can’t even give me a single decent Windigo! Even a foal could manage better than you!”
“Actually,” said the red stallion playing Hurricane striding forwards to the front of the stage, “I happen to be of the opinion that less can be more in this sort of thing. As you say any foal can create an image of a pony made of ice, but to really create something the audience is going to remember for that you need to suggest, and let their imaginations do the rest, that takes real talent.” She glanced down at Smoke and gave her a wide smile making her heart soar.
Wine stopped in his tracks. “This isn’t your business Kindle,” he said rather more quietly.
“I guess it isn’t Mr Producer,” said the stallion with a somewhat ironic bow. “Still I’m not the only one with this opinion. I’m due to have dinner with Harsh Critic tomorrow, he works for the Manehatten Times, you know, and I think he might agree with me.”
“You’re going to do this to me? Now? Over her?” exclaimed Wine pointing towards Smoke who just wanted the ground to open up and swallow her. “She’s a nopony?”
“Weren't we all once?” asked Kindle making an expansive gesture at the cast and crew. “We didn’t all inherit our role Mr Producer. Many of us were attracted here by the bring lights of the city of dreams, by our love of the limelight, the roar of the crowd!” He seemed to swell, his wings spreading as he got into his speech. “We sweat blood for our art, give our all and we have done it as a cast! As a family! United by our beliefs! Just as the three tribes were brought together by the fire of friendship, so we are brought together by our craft! And if one of us is fired,” he leaned forwards, “then we all are!” There was a chorus of cheers of agreement from behind him as others were caught up in the moment.
There was a tense moment as Wine glared up at Kindle’s smiling face. Then he ground his teeth together. “Fine!” he finally spat, “she can stay! But one more mess up...” he left the threat hanging in the air as he turned on his heels and stomped away from the stage.
“Well I’m glad he’s gone,” said Kindle turning to Smoke. She glanced up into his smiling face and felt her legs go weak. “Are you alright Miss...”
Her eyes widened as for a moment she realised she couldn’t remember her own name before her brain rebooted. “Smoke,” she finally managed, “I mean Smoke.”
“Oh, Mirrors is your sister right?” Smoke nodded. “Nice to meet you Smoke. Take no notice of the old wind bag, that was some impressive work there, some of the best I’ve seen and I’ve been in some high quality performances.”
“Thanks,” muttered Smoke looking down shyly as her hoof doodled in the dust.
“Don’t worry,” said Kindle gently lifting her head with a hoof giving her a wink which threatened to make her spontaneously combust. “We bright sparks need to stick together.”
Smiling at the recollection she pulled her thoughts back to the present. There wasn’t any problem getting a present for Kindle, she’d bought it months ago. Getting it here had been a little tricky, it wasn’t like she could put Corona’s lair as her address but she had a post office box in Hope’s Hollow where she had arranged for it to be delivered and then picked it up today. She’d sent presents to her family in much the same way having some of Kindle’s associates send them anonymously from various parts of Equestria as they passed through.
It was surprising how well she was taking to this spy stuff really, she’d never thought of herself as much more than a slightly above average illusionist but all this planning seemed to come easily as well. Celestia’s lessons helped as well, she was a demanding teacher but always full of tales from her long, long life. She’d learnt so much over the last year, not just about magic, but history, organisation, politics, stealth and even some self defence. Early on in their relationship there had been times when she’d feared her teachers mood swings might result in her death but she’d stabilized over the last few months.
She hadn’t received any lessons on present wrapping through, but she’d probably manage to muddle through. She smiled to herself as she trotted over to her bags and carefully removed the black disk in it. She ran an eye over the record to make sure it wasn’t scratched before reading the title, ‘An evening with Kindling Wind, a Collection of his greatest Monologues’. Gently she hugged the record to her chest as she thought back to when it was recorded.
3 years ago
“So I just perform here as normal and this thing will record it?” asked Kindle gesturing to a tangle of mechanical parts covering the table in front of him and the large funnel connected to them.
“Yes, Mr Wind,” said the long legged earth pony mare standing next to the equipment. “It’s my latest invention, no need for expensive recording studios any more, and we get to use the acoustics of places like this.” She gestured around the mostly empty theatre.
“Please call me Kindle,” he said giving a grin. “I’ll take your word for it that everything is working fine then, Miss Hackwrench.”
“Call me Gadget,” replied the mare giving her mane a flip, “Nothing will go wrong, afterall I have the mark for it.” She gave her gramophone symbol covered flanks a rather more vigorous shake than Smoke thought was really necessary.
“So I see,” purred Kindle. “You know it seems to me that this sort of thing might put me out of a job one of these days, why come to the theatre to see a show when you can listen to the same thing in the comfort of your own home?”
“Well I for one see certain benefits to seeing actors in the flesh,” said Gadget running her eyes over Kindle and giving a girlish giggle.
From her vantage point in the rigging above the stage Smoke scowled and tried not to gag at the nag’s flirting. Kindle seemed to have a weakness for her type, he was often surrounded by a gaggle of besotted fan fillies. She knew that none of them actually meant anything to him, they were just one of the ways he worked off the stress of his job but she knew that he could do so much better! Somepony who would really care for him, not just want him for his toned flanks, wide gleaming pinions and eyes like flickering flames that you could lose yourself in...
“You up here sis?” came Mirrors from along the gantry. Smoke turned to her sister and held a hoof to her mouth for silence. Mirrors rolled her eyes and cautiously made her way over to her sister.
“Shouldn’t you be rehearsing over at the Majestic?” Smoke hissed.
“We got a long lunch so I thought I’d catch up with you. How’s things going?” replied her sister in a whisper.
“Good, we’ve got another two weeks of ‘The Hearth’s Warming Tale’ still to go. I just wanted to check up on the safety wires for the flying scenes.” She glanced down at Kindle below, he’d started on his performance as the spirit of Hearth’s Warming future lamenting the poor choices that Snowfall Frost had made which had led to the destruction of all Equestria.
“And after that?” asked Mirrors.
Smoke shrugged noncommittally. “Kindle’s moving on to play the lead in Pegasus on the Roof over at Longacre. I’m sure they’ll need a stagehoof.”
“A stagehoof? Sis, you’re one of the best young special effects ponies in Bridleway, you can do better than that! I’ve heard that the crew boss for Kirin of the Opera might be on the outs, I put in a good word for you and the interviews next week. You’ll be a shoe in!”
Smoke tried to keep in a groan of frustration. “Why are you always trying to run my life for me?” she complained, “There’s no way I’m going to get a crew boss position.”
“Don’t put yourself down so much, I’ve seen you do the work of a whole crew by yourself and you stepped up when Fizz Bang hurt her horn.”
“That was a one off thing, only a few weeks while she recovered.”
“It’ll be enough of a pay rise that you could finally move out of that fire trap you’re living it.”
“It’s not that bad,” said Smoke defensively, “I only moved in last year, and it’s big enough for me.” Actually it was a dump, but it was all she could afford, at least it was quite close to Bridleway. “I can’t leave Kindle, I owe him everything,” she stared down at the stage.
“Hey, I’m the one who got you your first job remember!” exclaimed Mirrors.
“And he’s the one who actually stood up for me when I almost lost it! Where were you?”
Mirrors looked aside obviously embarrassed. “Look the offers still there, for a while at least. Think about it ok. I’m worried about all the time you spend with Kindle anyway, he’s nice I guess, but he always seemed a bit off, a bit intense. I’ve heard a few rumours about him you know, about that club he’s part of.”
“You shouldn’t listen to gossip,” said Smoke icily. “I’m sure Mom and Dad wouldn’t want to know some of the things I’ve heard about you. About how you got that role in Chicagcolt, what happened at the end of run party!”
“Whatever!” growled Mirrors shaking her head and making her way back to the ladder down to the backstage. “I try to do you a favour,” she grumbled.
Smoke’s ears drooped, she hadn’t meant to say that but sometimes Mirrors just got her so angry. She was always trying to run her life for her just because she was older, by all of ten minutes. She turned her attention back to the stage, Kindle had moved on to Rhomeo and Fillyet “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Fillyet is the sun!,” he cried his voice seeming to fill the theatre. She was sure he was looking up at her as he performed. “Arise, fair sun,” he continued, “and kill the envious moon, Who is already sick and pale with grief.” She sighed, despite their rather poor taste the bards words had power, particularly when Kindle was saying them, she closed her eyes and let them flow over her.
“You must be working too hard,” came Kindle’s voice from nearby. Her eyes flicked open, she must have fallen asleep! The pegasus was hovering just in front of her amongst the scaffolding.
“Sorry I was just checking the safety equipment.”
“My performance couldn’t have been that great if you could sleep through it all,” he said, his eyes sparkling.
“No it was great, spectacular,” she protested, “I was just tired, it’s been a long week.”
“No problem,” said said waving away her concerns. “Did I see your sister earlier?”
“She was visiting, we talked about a new job, I don’t think it’s suitable.”
“Don’t worry,” said Kindle reaching out to take her hoof in his, “as long as I’ve got a job, you do.”
“Really?” she asked feeling her heart skip a beat.
“Yeah, who else can make me look as good as you do?” he asked with a smile.
“Right,” she gave a rather wan smile, “I better get down from here, the doors will be opening soon.” She turned towards the ladder.
“Let me,” said Kindle wrapping his front legs around her and lifting her into the air. Her heart surged as she felt his body held against hers and his breath on her mane then all to soon the moment was over and he deposited her on the stage with a bump. She was sure if she could see herself she’d have a silly smile on her face. It was probably just as well Kindle had turned away and was walking towards the dressing rooms. “Remind me to pick up some flowers after the show, I’ve got a date with Gadget and we might want a snack first.” Her face fell.
Looking down at the record again she tried to push away the worst part of the memory. She was sure he’d love the gift. Although they hadn’t sold all that well, the sound quality of Gadget’s equipment hadn’t been as good as she’d claimed. Still Kindle hed treasured the free copy he’d gotten and Smoke had bought her own as soon as she could. They’d both been forced to leave them behind when they’d left to seek out Celestia. She knew that Kindle had a gramophone in his room on which to play it as well. He’d gotten a special model which could be used to record as well as playback, he used it to record speeches which could be sent to the ponies he referred to as ‘the faithful’ in other cities. She wasn’t all that technically minded but she had considered the possibility of altering the recordings in some way, slowing them down or playing them backwards to be able to send secret messages, it might be less likely to be noticed than traditional magical encryption.
Carefully unfolding a roll of red wrapping paper she folded it over the record before tying it up with a length of silk made into a bow. She turned the package over a few times to make sure everything was perfect before adding a tag with Kindle’s cutie mark on it. All done and she still had all evening to herself.
She would probably have to dress up for the formal feast tomorrow. It wasn’t like she had a lot of choice, she only had one good dress in her closet along with what she considered her ‘sneaking suit’. It was based on a the outfits used by the puppeteers of Shooma. She liked it, it made her feel nicely anonymous but it wasn’t the sort of thing you wore to a feast. Her more formal attire was yellow and took ages to put on properly, but it was apparently required for her role as Celestia’s student. She thought it made her look like some sort of mutant flower, she’d never been much at dressing up.
Now that Celestia had decided to formally celebrate the holiday she should probably try and decorate the whole of the lair. She was sure some of Celestia’s other Cul..., Followers, would help. Maybe even some of the other courtiers as well, if they weren't busy with they shopping. Yangin certainly would if she could find her but the jinn would probably need to have the celebration explained to her, likewise Zecora was friendly enough if a little, well off, some of the time. Even Terror Wing might help out, he could occasionally be friendly if a bit dramatic, but she’d known many like that in the theatre and knew how to deal with their egos. As for Solrathicharnon, no, she would not ask the dragon with help decorating, she never wanted to have to be in the same room as that creature without Celestia present, he was terrifying!
Trying to put thoughts of the dragon aside she picked up the remaining decorations and carried them out into the corridor beyond. She glanced over at Kindle’s door next to hers and considered asking him to help, but she was sure he was busy. Lifting the lonely sprig of mistletoe in her aura she affixed it to the ceiling and thought once again of earlier times.
2 years ago
“And I would like to thank you all for your help in this sell out run!” exclaimed Kindle raising a goblet of wine to the sky in an unsteady hoof. “Without all of you both on and behind the stage I wouldn’t have looked half as good,” a cheer went up from the ponies that filled the crowded room, “well maybe sixty-seventy percent as good!” He laughed before tossing the drink into his mouth, most of it missed but luckily his red coat didn’t show stains.
Smoke joined in the cheering somewhat half heartedly, and picked at her dress. She’d wanted to look, well pretty tonight. It was a simple black number, the salesmare had said she looked good in it but it felt too tight and the shoes made her feel like she was on stilts. She couldn’t help but think that everypony was laughing at her behind her back. Look at her, trying to be better than she should be! In addition such rawkus celebrations were not exactly her cup of tea, but the rest of the company were certainly enjoying their Hearth’s Warming party. Maybe she wasn’t quite as drunk as most of them, but she’d certainly had a few more than she was used to, Cavallian courage as they called it.
She’d thought about it for a long time, too long really but she knew she had to tell Kindle how she felt about him. Or did she? Whispered another part of her mind, things weren't all that bad now were they? They were friends, quite close friends, they talked during and after work, wasn’t they enough for her?
She shook her head, no she couldn’t keep things the way they were, they might spend time together now and again, but when they talked to was mostly about work and every night she went home to her cold and lonely apartment, she wanted more! She looked up to see Kindle laughing with a few of the other stage ponies and took a step towards him. What was the worst that could happen?
Her hooves felt like they were chained to the ground as her anxieties ran free again. He could tell her that he only wanted to be friends, or that he didn’t feel anything about her at all, or that she disgusted him. That she was nothing but a dull grey blob of a mare in an ill fitting dress that nopony could ever love and who would spend her whole life in the shadow of her prettier, more talented sister. She tried to slow her breathing and grabbed another drink from a nearby table before throwing it down her throat. She didn’t even know what she was drinking.
“Ah Smoke,” came Kindle’s voice. She looked up, eyes wide, when had he moved so close? “I wanted to talk to you,” he said, his voice a little slurred.
“Um, well I wanted to talk to you too,” she squeaked.
“Oh, you first then,” he said in surprise.
“No, no,” Coward! She chastised herself, “you first.”
“Right, ok, yes,” he paused for a moment his eyes unfocusing a little. “Well all that I said back then, about being nothing without the backstage help, well that was mostly about you. Don’t think that I haven't noticed you for all those years. You’re a hugely skilled illusionist but you always work your very best on me don’t you, always going that extra mile.” Smoke’s heart felt like it was beating hard enough to escape from her chest, her vision seemed to focus only on Kindle’s face. “Like when you help me learn my lines, and you always have time for me if I need a hoof.” He looked aside for a moment, it was hard to tell given his coat colour but she thought he was blushing. “I think you’re my best friend. I, well, I’ve told you almost everything about me but there’s something well, something that...” he paused and his eyes seemed to focus on her horn for a moment or maybe something over her head. “Well I guess it’s the season and everything...”
Then suddenly his mouth covered hers. It was such a surprise that it was several seconds before she could react, all she could taste was the alcohol on his breath and his tongue flopping around in her mouth dominating her own. Then she collapsed against him, feeling his flesh against hers. This was what she wanted, this was all that she wanted, ever! All to suddenly it stopped leaving her stunned and panting.
“Are you ok?” he asked. She nodded unable to use her words. “Good I wondered if I took it a bit far, but you know.” He nodded towards the ceiling, “mistletoe and it’s the season and all that.”
She looked up at the greenery with the small white berries on it her brain both running a thousand miles and hour and unable to process a single thought at once.
“Anyway,” he continued seeming not to notice her reaction. “What I mean is that I really appreciate what you do for me and if there is anything I can ever do in return you only need to ask, right?”
“Right, yes, everythings fine,” said a voice coming from her mouth which she was sure she wasn’t controlling, it was lying for a start.
“Good, Good,” he said as he staggered off, “Hey Leading Light, look mistletoe!”
She turned away trying to blink away the tears, all around her everypony else seemed to be having such a great time and nopony even noticed her. She slumped into a nearby seat and once again grabbed another drink to try and make the misery stop.
Smoke tried to blink away the memory and looked at the mistletoe again. Of course it wasn’t a good idea, that year had been a disaster, he’d been drunk, she’d been drunk. Looking back with hindsight she realised he’d intended to tell her that he followed Corona, that was how much he thought of her, that he’d tell her a secret only he and a few others in his group knew. He’d even said that she was his best friend, that was a good thing wasn’t it? It was a place to start. If he didn’t really care he wouldn’t have brought her with him, wouldn’t have introduced her to such a strange and dangerous life.
There would be other times to talk about things, not right now because trying to take over a country took a lot of time. She tried not to giggle at the absurdity of her own thoughts. For the moment she would put up the decorations, prepare for the party and give him his present then they could spend some time together.
Her ears pricked up as she heard some faint noises from the wall that connected her room to Kindle’s. He didn’t sound happy, buying a gift for the dragon couldn’t have gone well. Maybe he needed somepony else to help him, a best friend, at least for now.