Not My Rescuer (but not bad either)

by HapHazred

Cloudsdale Date

Hello darling. It’s me again. I hope you haven’t missed me too much; I know that the Captain can be a little dry at times. Oh, she can use vocabulary, paint a picture with words if she wants to, but given complete freedom to say what she wants, she’d rather leave it to a short quip, a brief instruction, or sly comeback.

Today, I was standing amongst the glorious pillars and arches of Cloudsdale, bathing in the majesty of the skies. Beneath me the world opened up like an ocean, waiting for me to fall inside… which was a feeling I have already been unpleasantly acquainted with. I had told my Captain that whilst I was more than happy to stay with her during my sojourn to the grand halls of the ancient Dashington Estate, I would insist most firmly on her having a sturdy set of railings for my own peace of mind.

Even standing on firm, polished cloudstone with ample floor space around me in every direction, I felt nervous. Anxiety was ever gnawing at the very edges of my mind. If I was going to fall, I would at least prefer to do it with Rainbow Dash around… not to criticise my Captain, but Rainbow had a stronger track record of saving me. Were I still single I also wouldn’t overly mind another rescue in Thunderlane’s hooves, as a distant third choice.

The Wonderbolt Branch in Cloudsdale was not far from where I was standing… supposedly. I had never been before, and even if I had, the complex streets of the pegasus city were not designed for the ground-bound tribes below. They twisted and turned and rose and fell in all dimensions at once, with bridges connecting the distant blocks. Some were impossible to reach aside from one specific direction, and some were entirely inaccessible. Cloudsdale had only recently renovated to allow for other tribes to visit easily, and not every block had moved with the times.

I struggled to use my magic to drag my luggage with me. Spitfire had told me she only had a small amount of space in her apartment, and to only bring the essentials, and I had done so. I only had a selection of two dozen dresses and hats for the three most crucial occasions (those being an emergency wedding, an emergency coronation, and if El Fabuloso the Grand had been sighted within twenty miles), my bare-bones cosmetics kit, a set of horseshoes, a replacement set of horseshoes, and an alternative replacement set of horseshoes in case the winds of fashion changed abruptly, and only the mist minimalistic of entertainment options, that being six books I was in the process of reading. Oh, and a bottle of wine for the Captain. Magnum bottle, obviously, since Rainbow Dash was somewhere on this hemisphere and you can never be too careful.

The temperature this high up was somewhat frigid. I felt able to acknowledge this without feeling its effects, since I was exerting myself carrying my things. I hoped Spitfire had plenty of blankets.

“Excuse me!” I exclaimed, trying to attract the attention of a passer-by. “I’m looking for the Wonderbolts Headquarters in Cloudsdale?”

A tall, somewhat stubbly pegasus gestured roughly north. “Follow this path and then go through the casino… that’s through the casino, not around… and then there’s a bridge that’ll lead you to Wonder Square. Take the stairs down…”

Down? Ah yes. Three dimensions. Of course, how could I forget.

I did my best to commit the directions to memory, and carried on. The novelty of the grandiose city was beginning to get lost on me. I had already been suitably amazed for half an hour since I arrived by balloon… why they couldn’t take me directly to the Headquarters was beyond me.

I winced as my suitcase got caught on a small crack in the cloudstone slabs.

“Oh, by Celestia’s shiny…”

“Miss Rarity?”

The voice triggered some memories inside my head. It was soft and somewhat plain. I turned and looked up. “Mister Soarin?”

The Wonderbolt swooped down and landed next to me. I had been saved. The universe had, in my time of greatest need, sent me a strong stallion to carry my bags, just as I knew it would if. The universe was, I always said, a gentlecolt, but only if you treated it right.

“I’m glad you’re here!” I told him. “I’m trying to get to Wonderbolts Headquarters.”

Soarin glanced at me, and then at my bags. “Um, yeah. I actually work there.”

“Really?” I said, trying my best to be nice and polite, but accidentally slipping down into the rabbit-hole of sarcasm. “I would appreciate some directions.”

“Do you… need a helping hoof?” Soarin asked.

“Oh, what a gentlecolt!” I said, and levitated the handle of my luggage to Soarin. “Such a darling. Lead on!”

It was probably for the best that I had bumped into Soarin; the way to Spitfire’s office was long and winding, with stairs to follow. It took ten minutes at a brisk trot before we saw the elaborate statues of ancient Wonderbolts displaying the large, monolithic structure ahead as being the centre of all Wonderbolt activity in Cloudsdale and beyond.

“You know, you’re kind of not what I expected,” Soarin said as we approached the grand double-doors. “When the Captain said she had found a partner.”

“Oh?” I asked, curious.

“Yeah. You seem, uh…” Soarin stopped, pondering his choice of words. “I want to say, ‘classy’, but that sounds mean to the Captain…”

“Well, you’re not wrong,” I replied. “Perhaps you thought she might be more interested in somepony more down-to-earth?”

I instantly regretted my choice of words. Just mentioning the term ‘down-to-earth’ brought to mind mental scenarios of Applejack somehow coming between me and yet another romantic interest. I reminded myself that Applejack would never do something like that to me... but the old embarrassment never truly left me. I dispelled the old insecurities. Besides, I was fairly sure Applejack was straight.

“Down-to-earth isn’t really what I’d describe either…” Soarin went on.

“Well, there must be a suitable adjective somewhere in the thesaurus,” I commented. “When you find out what it is, be sure to let me know.”

Soarin chuckled to himself. “Yeah, will do, ma’am.”

I rolled my eyes. “Not you too,” I groaned. “Please, a lady should only suffer to be called ma’am if she is either in a uniform, or over the age of forty five, and I am neither.” I snorted. “I’m convinced Spitfire does it just to get on my nerves.”

“She would do that, too,” Soarin said. He put my luggage down by the door. “We can leave this here. The Captain should be, uh, introducing the new recruits to their roles.”

“Is Rainbow Dash here?”

“Flying a routine. She’s working late because Spitfire caught her napping.”

“Oh, well, I shan’t disturb her then.” 

As much as I would have liked to butt in and say hello to my friend, Spitfire would moan about it for hours if I did.

I trotted through the corridors, several of the Wonderbolt staff nodding to me as I went. I felt a little like a celebrity of sorts… everypony seemed to know who I was instinctively. I confess I enjoyed the attention. I see gossip was alive and well amongst the Wonderbolts.

“...And if I see any of your sorry flanks slacking, I’ll introduce you to Rainbow Dash! You can help her practice her routine until nightfall!”

Spitfire’s lungs were as healthy as ever, I heard. Despite having been in a relationship with her for close to a year now, I hadn’t ever really heard her at work. I resolved to creep closer so I could watch her without distracting her.

Spitfire was outside, where there was a large open space. A single landing strip separated the wide space, upon which a dozen pegasi, all wearing sleek uniforms were standing. One of them was wearing a pair of delightful shades… perpetually out of season, but always appropriate for the outdoors. The uniform, I admit, does not do as much for me as perhaps the elegant, sleek, tight-fitting flying uniforms that a Wonderbolt wears during exercises, but there is an air of authority inherent to the folds and dark navy blue of a commander’s uniform. Of course I refer to Captain Spitfire herself, who was standing separate from the other pegasi, pacing back and forth in front of them.

“Get in the air!” she shouted.

At once, the other pegasi all lurched upwards. I detected a certain lack of elegance in their movements, something just a little in need of refining. Perhaps I had spent too long alongside Rainbow Dash and Spitfire to not expect the same level of fluid, seamless motion.

“Joyride! You’re stiff!” Spitfire bellowed. I found myself tensing up without thinking. I had never been around Spitfire when she was this commanding, and I was surprised.

I waited a while for Spitfire to finish her exercise. After ten or so minutes which I spent leaning against the low wall over the runway, Spitfire’s eye was cast in my direction. Even from this distance I detected a flash of brighter red across her cheeks. She was embarrassed.

“G-get down here!” she ordered, a delightful, cute stammer butchering her otherwise authoritative statement. I giggled knowing that I was the cause, although I really oughtn’t have. I trotted towards my partner, sensing she was just wrapping up.

“Joyride, you need to limber up more before you fly. You were falling through the clouds like a plank of wood,” Spitfire grumbled. “And Gale…”

I stopped just on the runway, a small distance away. Spitfire harrumphed, flustered. 

“...just hit the showers.”

The trainee Wonderbolts trotted… or, in the case of one unfortunate pegasus, staggered… past me. One of the girls looked at Spitfire, and then myself, and let out a low whistle. I put on a show of ignoring it.

“Hey there, Rarity,” Spitfire said, walking up towards me. “You’re early.”

“A lady is always punctual,” I countered, and pecked Spitfire on the cheek before leaning in conspiratorially. “You never told me you could shout like that.”

Spitfire tensed, going redder by the second. “I… yeah, well, you know, shouting and blowing my whistle is sort of, uh, the job…”

“Have you been hiding this talent from me?” I asked coyly. “Rainbow always said you were strict but I had assumed she was exaggerating.”

“I’m not strict. I’m just… firm.”

“I’ll say. You must show me later.”

Spitfire spluttered. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea…”

I leaned in towards her ear. “I insist,” I whispered with a smile. I do so enjoy it when Captain Spitfire gets flustered. Before Spitfire could transition from a healthy orange to a bright tomato red, I leaned away and clapped my hooves together. “So then! This is Cloudsdale!”

“Yes,” Spitfire said, and coughed, resuming her usual composure. “I hope you’ve enjoyed it so far?”

“It’s been appalling! Non-pegasus access is ridiculous, darling, and the streets are in dire need of improved signage. It is, however, an absolute work of art, if I say so myself.”

“Cloudsdale has been trying to be more open,” Spitfire said. She sighed, and looked out towards the horizon. “Today’s been a day. I’m in pretty dire need of getting rescued, honestly. Shall we get going?”

I wrapped my hoof around Spitfire’s. “About time, I’d say. You know, I have invitations to Lady Dashington’s Extravagant Extraordinaire, and I’m sure the guests would be enthralled to see the Captain of the most famous flying team in Equestria attend.”

Spitfire smirked. “Making connections as usual, then?”

“I intend to do some modest mingling,” I replied. “I hear that we’re leaving Rainbow Dash behind?”

“Yup. Lazy piece of work has got to get her routine finished before dawn.”

“Shall we at least let her know where we’re headed in case she gets it memorized early?”

Spitfire groaned. “I’m not really sure…”

“Oh, please. I brought a magnum bottle expecting her to be there. I can’t possibly drink it all myself.”

Spitfire groaned louder. “I told you to only bring the essentials!”

“I did. You’ll see, you’ll be proud of how utterly unequipped I am,” I promised. 

We reached the exit to the building, and I gestured towards my luggage. It was tiny, I swear, only twice the size of Spitfire herself. I’ve no idea why she was complaining.

“Rarity…” she began.

A pegasus approached Spitfire from behind. He was tall, muscular, and had a very charismatic moustache. I'd say somewhere around his forties? “Captain… Fire Streak has left some of his things behind. Do you have his address in Fillydelphia so we can send them to him?” The stallion then glanced my way. “Oh, apologies. Didn’t realise you were with the lady.”

Spitfire grumbled. “Y-yes, this is Rarity. She’s my… um, lady, as you say.”

“A pleasure,” I began, offering my hoof to the stallion. “I insist you take good care of my Captain, darling.”

“Will do, miss. I’m Tight Ship.” He shook my hoof.

Spitfire sighed. I don’t know why I derived such perverse pleasure from putting her on the spot. Spitfire typically oozed confidence in an… intoxicating manner. It made the moments when she seemed unsure all the sweeter.

“Right, right, yes.” Spitfire scratched her head. “I know his address, sure. Just… I’ll give it to you tomorrow, okay? It’s written in my office and I need to take care of Rarity.”

“Oh don’t feel the need to hurry on my account,” I said, basking in the attention the other pegasi were offering me. “You do what you need to do.”

Spitfire hung her head for a moment before stiffening, resigned to taking charge. “Right. Wait here, Rarity. Tight Ship, I’ll be back shortly.” Spitfire flashed me a sinister glare as she walked away. “Don’t… don’t do anything I wouldn’t.”

I waved at Spitfire as she left, smiling broadly. Tight Ship glanced my way. 

“Does the Captain not trust you or something?”

I chuckled. “Oh, certainly not.” I turned towards Tight Ship. “You must tell me everything about Spitfire, quickly. Before she gets back!” I danced a little on the spot. “I must hear all the gossip.”

Tight Ship gave me a cautious look. “Um… there’s not much to say?”

“Ha! I don’t believe that for a second.”

“Ma’am, if I gossip about the captain behind her back, she’ll tan my hide.” Tight Ship stood up straight. “I can’t…”

“I can!” Soarin trotted down the corridor. “I know lots of stuff about Spitfire! And she’ll never get rid of me. I'm a crucial element of the team.”

“Only because you’re like a fungus, Soarin!” Tight countered. “You grow on people! And stick!”

“Yup.” Soarin smiled. “Truth be told, though, the Captain usually keeps a tight lid on rumours. Ever since the magazine Fashion Foals posted an article about you and her, she’s been kinda lying low.”

“Does she not like the attention?”

“No, she’s fine with attention. I just don’t think she likes other ponies knowing she has, you know. Interests. In ponies.”

Tight Ship grumbled. “It don’t help that there are some elements in Cloudsdale that don’t all approve of that sort of thing.”

Soarin glanced at Tight Ship, his expression darkening for a second. Tight Ship sighed. 

“I weren’t supposed to say that, was I?”

“No. We don’t talk about that,” Soarin muttered. He gloomily clicked his tongue, resigned to having to explain it to me anyway.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Traditionalists. Some of them think that a flyer like Spitfire should be, uh… with a pegasus. You know, strengthen the old bloodline and stuff like that. Old-fashioned silly stuff.” Soarin shrugged apologetically. “Sorry. Cloudsdale is pretty isolated from a lot of progress that happens down on the ground, and the old guard like to keep it that way. But Spitfire has it handled.”

“I had no idea that I was… controversial,” I said. “I’d feel a little excited if I wasn’t, well, a little concerned for Spitfire. Will she be all right?”

“Like I said, the Captain has it handled. It’s not her I’m worried about…”

“Who’s worrying?” Spitfire asked.

All three of us jumped. Spitfire looked between us, and exhaled. “You’re all trying my patience. Especially you, ma’am.” 

No-o-o, don’t call me that!” I whined as Spitfire dragged me away like a misbehaving toddler. “You know I hate it! It makes me sound old!” I let my partner pull me away from the other pegasi. "A whole year I've put up with this barbarism!"

Spitfire grabbed my luggage in one hoof, threw a note to Tight Ship with the other, and wrapped her wing around me, pulling me away. “You are old. An old, devious trickster!” She turned back to Soarin and Tight Ship. “Don’t listen to her honeyed words! She’ll convince you of anything!”

“Convinced you all right, Captain,” Soarin quipped.

“I’ll have you do laps tomorrow, Soarin, mark my words…”

Some of the onlookers giggled. Spitfire rolled her eyes and escorted me out of the building.

“They didn’t say anything… too compromising, I hope.”

“Only some gossip about you and myself,” I replied. We stepped out into the outside, the sun beginning to hang low in the horizon. “They said you had it under control, though.”

“Right. Yeah, I do. Nothing else?”

“No. Why?”

“Nothing to do with a skipping rope, my admittance to the Wonderbolts party, and a bucket of cider?”

“Definitely not, but I wish I heard that story.”

“If I have my way, you never will.”

I groaned. “You’re so boring sometimes, darling.”

“You wouldn’t say that if you knew the story!” Spitfire quipped. She tugged at the heavy luggage. “I’m not sure I have enough space in my flat for this.”

“Well, it only has to last long enough for me to finish my business here and then return off to Ponyville. You’d like that? Then you can come visit again like you used to.” I pouted. “It’s been lonely over there recently. You’ve been busy.”

“Sorry about that. Fire Streak quit.”

“Is that a big deal?”

“Kinda. He was my teacher. And… well, it was kind of my fault he’s gone, so it’s my mess to clean up.”

“Oh.” I sensed I had trodden on a rare nerve that I didn’t want to prod. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine.”

“You’re always fine,” I retorted. “I want to know if you’re all right.”

Spitfire looked around at the crowd of pegasi milling about, minding their own business. A few looked her way… taking in the athletic, beautiful pegasus athlete in full Wonderbolt uniform. She shook her head.

“I’ll tell you later. I just want to get home with you right now.” Spitfire smiled at me and leaned closer.

“Am I even allowed to kiss you in public?” I asked, toying with her. “I hear I’m something of a controversial partner for the leader of the Wonderbolts.”

“I have it under control. Nopony owns me but you.”

“Oh, that was a cheesy one,” I said, and let Spitfire kiss me on the nose. 

“I practiced that line in front of the mirror all week. Hope you liked it.”

“I do. Come on, I want to see what a Wonderbolt Captain’s apartment looks like.”

“It’s barren!”

Spitfire stood in her modest studio apartment, looking around herself. There was a small space for cooking… only room for a measly two pans. A sink that could barely contain a single mug at a time, and a cupboard that, if I wasn’t mistaken, only contained two plates, two bowls, and one clear glass cup. 

The desk was the only thing in the room that held anything resembling decoration, but unfortunately said decoration was a blanket of papers, diagrams, and flying routines. I had seen some of them before when Spitfire brought them over to the Boutique. A year later and she still had the nerve to work before, after, and on one occasion I was not happy about, during our romantic meetings.

“What’s wrong with my place?” 

“Well, I knew you were a very practical mare, it’s just… well, there aren’t even any pictures!” I strode throughout the room, which was difficult considering the lack of space. “This won’t do. I’ll have decorations sent within the month.”

Spitfire rubbed her forehead. “It’s fine, I’m used to it being pretty empty…”

“Only because you never have anypony over!” I pointed at the bed. “What is this?”

“It’s my bed.”

“It is a single bed. For single ponies. Where am I supposed to go?”

“I thought we could cuddle?”

“We’ll practically be inside one another if we sleep together in that. Which… well we certainly wouldn’t be able to keep that up all night.”

“We could try.”

“All week? I’m as enthusiastic as you are, but let’s be realistic.”

“... I told you there wasn’t a lot of space. I can’t get a double bed because then I wouldn’t have room to do my stretches and morning workout…”

“Why insist on living in a tiny flat, then?”

“It’s close to work. And also to my favourite bar.” Spitfire took me by the hoof. “And also this.”

She drew back the curtains and pulled me to the window. My breath escaped me. 

There were two sides to Cloudsdale; skyside and earthside. One would often assume that skyside was the more coveted of the two, but this was a wrong assumption. There wasn’t much in the sky. Just a lot of blue. No clouds, either; those were all beneath you.

Earthside was the true treasure. Mountains and fields and cities, all lying in the multicoloured shadow of rainbows and clouds and snowflakes. A kaleidoscope of rays danced through the air, showering the ever-changing landscape below in a myriad of hues.

“I always wanted an earthside view,” Spitfire said. “It’s one of the only precious things about this district.”

“It’s magnificent.”

“Yes, it is. It never really gets old.” Spitfire smiled, peering through the window and down at Equestria. “I grew up skyside.”

“So did Rainbow Dash, I think.”

“Only early on. Her family live in an earthside place now. It’s even got a little farm.” Spitfire breathed out. “Skysiders often never leave the factories. Even the middle districts have job mobility.”

“What about your family?”

“Mother left Cloudsdale for a place with more opportunity. I send her money now and then.” The pegasus captain adjusted herself to be more comfortable, leaning her weight against the handle of the window. “It’s another barrier to me getting a better place, but it’s fine. I’ve got all I need.”

I tore my eyes away from the opulent view and towards my partner. She seemed pensive. Of course, she always seemed a little pensive… like there was always something she was focussing on behind her eyes.

“You mentioned trouble with Fire Streak?”

“Not trouble-trouble,” Spitfire explained, going to sit on her bed. “He’s getting old and decided to go teach aerobatics in Fillydelphia. He might have made captain if I hadn’t tore my way through the ranks, so that already makes me feel a bit guilty. Still, he’d have stayed if I had made different calls.”

“Which calls?” I asked, sitting down next to Spitfire.

“I’ve been trying to retrain the Bolts to be more… rescue oriented. You know this; I think I told you way back when, when we first started going out.”

“I recall.”

“It’s not been easy. The Wonderbolts have already transitioned from being elite scouts and messengers for the EUP to being a mostly sports and competition team. Now I want to change it again. Fire Streak said he was too old to learn new tricks, and said he was leaving.” Spitfire, in a rare moment of vulnerability, rested her head against my shoulder. “I didn’t expect that I’d drive my Bolts away.”

“You’ve not talked to the other Wonderbolts about this?”

“No.” Spitfire breathed out onto my side. “I just want to make the right calls. What if more of them quit? Or can’t transition? Just because I wanted to make a difference.”

I nuzzled my partner’s mane. “You should talk to Rainbow Dash.”

“Dash? You sure she’s ready for this kind of stuff?”

“She’s got a way with ponies. She’ll help you inspire them when you can’t, I’m sure of it.”

“I’ll… bring it up, I guess. She has been doing good work… when she puts the effort in. She’s reckless, though. And sometimes doesn’t think.”

“I think that you think too much, darling.” I flashed Spitfire a smile. “You’ll be an unstoppable team, I promise.”

For a moment Spitfire rested her head on me, and I adjusted myself to support her better. Spitfire looked… tired. I had seen her tired before, late at night or after a long trip, but at that moment she seemed exhausted. Her eyes were slightly open, and as she relaxed I could see lines begin to appear around her eyes. I sucked in air through my teeth, unhappy. She had been pushing herself too hard. I had seen similar symptoms in Applejack whenever she tried doing something she was unable to do.

“Do you want a rest before we head to the Extravagant Extraordinaire? A nap, perhaps?”

Spitfire nodded. “Sounds good.”

“Shall I make some food?” It wasn’t a question. I moved to go and examine what passed for a kitchen in this small apartment. 

“Aw, but I wanted to sleep next to you,” Spitfire whined. I detected that she was being coy. 

“We need to have something to eat before we leave. And for once, I’m here to take care of you.” I opened her cupboard. “Well, at least you’re well stocked.”

“Got to eat well to be a ‘Bolt.”

“Tell that to Rainbow,” I muttered. I glanced down at the cooking… apparatus. It was different from what I was used to. It looked more like a series of wires than a fire cooker. “How does this work?”

“Electricity. We use a power plant.” Spitfire rolled to her hooves. “Here, let me show you…”

“No, no, you’re having a rest. You look like a zombie.” I gave Spitfire a small shove back towards the bed. “If you go to the Extraordinaire like that you’ll give poor lady Dashington a heart attack.”

Spitfire tilted her head and examined me with an exasperated air. “Flick the switch, and hold that knob down. Once you see lightning, stop, and put the pan on the top.”

I followed her instructions. It worked! “Excellent. Oh, and for the Extraordinaire… would you prefer to wear blue, azure, sapphire, or sky?”

“To Dashington’s Extraordinaire? Sapphire.”

“Good choice.” I waved my hoof around. “I have a selection of dresses for you to try on.”

“...I told you, only the essentials.”

“This is essential! It’s the Extraordinaire, darling!”

“Just put them on me whilst I sleep…”

“Perfect. I do like a compliant mannequin.” I cracked an egg over the counter. “An omelette will do, I hope?”

I didn’t hear a response. I turned back to look at Spitfire, who was lying in much the same position I had last seen her, except noticeably quieter, and with softer breathing. Thoroughly asleep. 

I poured the contents of the egg I had cracked into a bowl, and moved over to Spitfire. I ran a hoof through her mane gently so as not to disturb her. She was usually hard and stiff when awake, but now felt soft and limp.

“My big silly Wonderbolt,” I muttered, and went back to cooking. I had around three hours before the Extraordinaire started. Plenty of time for Spitfire to get her rest, for me to get some well-earned dinner, and for both of us to get ready for our latest date.

Mingling is an art that, like all things ponies get wrong, needs to be practiced. The point of these sorts of events are connections, and as a mare who now owns a few boutiques throughout Equestria, connections are important. I want to know where the opportunities are, what the interest is, and where the pitfalls lie.

It can be hard to mingle amongst the upper crust of Equestria with my usual gaggle of friends. Even Twilight, who one would hope would have gotten a bit better at it after her ascension to Princessdom, is still prone to bouts of awkwardness and faux-pas. Not so when I’m with my Captain.

Spitfire is, if anything, better at it than me. I am the sort that gets what I want through selective flattery, cajoling and diplomacy. Spitfire seems to achieve the same thing through confidence, magnetism, and a cavalier attitude.

I had spent twenty minutes fixing her up to be appropriately gorgeous for the soiree. It hadn’t been hard. She is svelte and athletic, and most things look good on her. I knew already that she’d need a blue to complement her fiery colours, something rich and eye-catching. The sapphire dress, adorned with tasteful jewels around the shoulder area was perfect. I flattened her mane a bit as well, and it draped across her right eye like a curtain peeling away from a stage.

“You look pretty good,” she said to me, her wing gingerly carrying me forwards through the crowd so as not to upset my own dress. “You know, attracting attention at these things has never been easier now you’re around.”

“That’s what happens when you get an artist to handle your appearance, darling,” I said. “If ponies are interested in my expertise in fashion, then you can be my finest advertisement.”

“An advertisement, am I?” Spitfire commented with a humorous tone of voice. “I suppose I am pretty attractive.”

Myself and Spitfire gazed out into the main hall. Dozens of exquisitely dressed pegasi and a small handful of foreign races milled about on the ornate, jeweled floor of the Dashington Estate.

“See anyone important, darling?” I asked.

Spitfire nodded. “That's Gerald. Griffon flyer, manages a pretty impressive long-distance team. I’ve been trying to arrange a meeting with him for months.” She then gestured to the left, towards the buffet. “Bullet Point. Paparazzi. I don’t like him, but he writes good articles. Wins awards, even. It’d be a big deal if I managed to get him to write about the Wonderbolts reforming.”

“Very interesting. I have a few as well.” I gestured towards a gaggle of mares by a massive pillar. “See the mare with the, ah, adventurous mane accessories?”

“That’s a mane?”

“It was at one point. That’s Madame Magnifique. She owns a series of declining emporiums in Cloudsdale and Las Pegasus. Not surprising, considering her backwards taste…”

“Ouch. I’m glad she didn’t hear that one.”

“Well, what do you want me to say? Her mane looks like a stuffed goose. It’s practically griffonian cuisine.” I shook my head. “Anyway. Lady Dashington, of course, is also very important, and I could use her favour to ease my way into the Cloudsdale sphere, but I hear she's somewhat stern, and I'd consider it a long shot.”

“I see.” Spitfire looked around the room. “Want to switch things up?”

“You take Madame Magnifique, I deal with Bullet Point?” I asked. We had performed this manoeuvre before, in Canterlot.

“Works for me. Scout out the buffet for me.”

“Very well. Just make sure you butter the Madame up properly before the dance. This is still a date, darling.”

Spitfire gave me a kiss on the cheek and trotted away towards Madame Magnifique, flashing me a cocky smile on her way. “It’s a promise.”

I took a moment to watch her leave. The view was always nice, but having worked on it myself this evening, it was especially exquisite this time around. I know, gazing luridly at another pony is very unladylike, but please. If one’s romantic partner can’t be the object of a lurid gaze now and then, what even is the point of them?

I trotted over to Bullet Point, who was observing the ball as if it were the scene in a play, and he were the critic. I stepped towards him with an affable air.

“I’m sorry, but you are the journalist Bullet Point, correct?” I asked.

The stallion turned to me and nodded. “That’s right. You’re Miss Rarity of Ponyville. A pleasure. Your reputation precedes you.”

“I hope not too much!” I levitated a miniature soufflé from the table. “Are you here on business or pleasure?”

“Mostly business, but the canapes are pleasure,” Bullet said. “Yourself?”

“Pleasure, but talking to my peers in the fashion industry is always business,” I quipped. “I’m actually here with my partner, Spitfire, but I seem to have been separated.” I made a show of peering through the crowd. “Oh, there she is. I see she’s found Madame Magnifique.”

“Business partner?” Bullet asked.

“No, not like that,” I corrected. I was sure that Bullet already knew that me and Spitfire were an item, but that he didn’t want to seem indiscreet. I would allow him this illusion. “I need to get her out of the flying arena now and then or she’ll go mad. She takes it all very seriously.” I put my hoof on my chest. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t go showing my marefriend off to everyone I meet.”

“No, please go on. It’s interesting to get a perspective on the mysterious Captain of the Wonderbolts that isn’t from athletes and paying sponsors.”

Good, so he was listening.

The manoeuvre was a good one. Obviously one doesn’t want to seem blunt when inserting oneself into a discussion, so instead it’s an easy strategy to deploy the marefriend or coltfriend in advance, draw the target’s attention that way, and then show them off a bit. Nothing too serious, just enough to get a good conversation flowing naturally.

“She’s been trying… very hard, I might add… to reform the Wonderbolts from being a purely competitive team into something that benefits all of Equestria. It’s quite admirable, but I wish she spent more time taking care of herself sometimes.”

Bullet took a sip of wine. “I heard. I don’t want to seem rude, but I doubt she’ll succeed.” He gestured around him. “There are a lot of old families in Cloudsdale. The Dashingtons are one of them, in fact. It’s important to them for Cloudsale to seem independent and powerful, and they won’t want to give up their greatest symbol of power just so she can play rescuer.” He glanced at me, peering at me with a somewhat playful look in his eyes. “They wouldn’t like you.”

I sensed in Bullet a kindred spirit, one addicted to the thrill of gossip and conjecture. “Ooh, really?” I leaned against the table. “Sounds like gossip I’m interested in.”

“You sure? It might not be pleasant.”

“Please. I’m a little tougher than my well-kept appearance might suggest.”

Bullet Point smiled. “Suit yourself.” He breathed in. “Don’t get me wrong, they won’t disapprove of you personally. You’re distinguished, ambitious, and refined. They don’t even disapprove of your interest in mares, or that you’re a unicorn.” He sighed. “They just don’t want to lose Captain Spitfire, or the bloodline that made her. They can be very protective of bloodlines, these old families. It probably stings that somepony as intensely successful as Spitfire is, in their mind, throwing all that talk of bloodlines to be with a unicorn and a mare. No little Spitfire junior to wow the future generations, and even if there was one, chances are they wouldn’t be in Cloudsdale.” He smiled. “I’m afraid you’re the worst possible pony for Spitfire to fall for.” 

“You seem rather relaxed about it all, though,” I noted.

“Sure. I think it’s a good story, you and Spitfire. Romantic. Two ambitious mares finding each other, and so on. I love a good story. And I’ve never liked the old guard, repeating the same old stories from generations ago.”

“Know anything about the Dashingtons? Any, ah, how would Applejack say this… ‘dirt’?”

Bullet shrugged. “A little. They’re somewhat secretive. Had a scandal a while ago when I was still an intern. Her third son eloped with a skysider.” Bullet took a sip of wine. “Tame stuff by today’s standards, but I remember it causing a fuss amongst the old guard back in the day. I hated reporting back then. All tabloid scandals about the big old names in Cloudsdale.”

“Well, you seem to have risen above it quite well, if the rumours are to be believed.”

“No thanks to the Dashingtons.” Bullet rolled his eyes. “Sorry, sorry. I shouldn’t be whining about our host. It’s just frustrating seeing the old families hold Cloudsdale back.”

“It’s a shame, isn’t it?” I said, switching tactics. “Especially as Equestria is opening its borders more and more.”

Bullet Point acquiesced. “That’s true enough, madam. Times are changing. Ponies are already talking about the newest Princess, and what she’s been doing for Equestria. Old Cloudsdale isolationism might well be a thing of the past.”

“Well, I don’t know about all that,” I lied. “You’d have to talk to Spitfire about it. She’s so much more knowledgeable than me about this sort of thing…” I waved my hoof over at Spitfire. “Darling? Could I borrow you for a second?”

Spitfire held her hoof up and made a gesture with her wing. I turned back to Bullet. “Looks like I need to take over talking to the Madame. I’ll swap with Spitfire; you’ll have a lot to talk about, I’m sure.”

Both myself and Spitfire switched places. On our way past one another, Spitfire winked.

“She’s pretty keen to get a modern view on fashion,” Spitfire said.

“I should hope so. Thank you for your hard work, darling.”

“Likewise, ma’am.”

I approached the gaggle of mares, smiling broadly. “I hope my partner hasn’t been telling stories about me?” I joked.

As ponies began to converge on the centre of the room, I reunited with Spitfire. I leaned in to whisper in her ear as mares and stallions partnered up.

“Any luck?”

“Some. Maybe I was wrong about Bullet. He seems pretty okay when he’s not criticising Wonderbolt policy.” Spitfire turned to me. “Yourself?”

“Not as fortunate as I wanted. Madame Magnifique wanted me to join her own emporium as a consultant. At least I know I can probably oust at least one of her little shops, though.”

“Brutal as always, I see.”

“Well, honestly. Somepony needs to fix that disaster.”

Spitfire chuckled as ponies all gathered in a circle. She glanced around. We were the only mare and mare duo in the room currently. We were also the only pegasus and non-pegasus pairing. I glanced towards the mare overseeing the event from an indoor balcony. Lady Dashington. She seemed ancient, but just as authoritative, if not more so, as Spitfire herself. She eyed me with mild distaste.

“Something wrong?” Spitfire asked me.

We began to circle one another, hooves on each other’s backs. I let Spitfire lead. I’m all for switching up gender stereotypes, but personally I prefer to be treated as a lady.

“Perhaps all this talk of ‘old Cloudsdale’ and things has me a little on edge,” I admitted. “Are you sure I’m not… a problem? We are the only two mares dancing.”

Spitfire twirled me around, and I felt the folds of my dress billow around me. “We’re hardly the only non-standard ponies here. Pretty sure Lady Cumulus is gay. I have a feeling about Bullet, as well.”

I recalled my blunder with Fancy Pants, before I had started going out with Spitfire. “I wish I could tell as easily,” I said.

Spitfire giggled. “That’s why it’s called a gaydar, not a bidar, Rarity.” She pushed into me, and I leaned back in response, all in time to the elegant music in the background. “I’m fine. Trust me, I’ve got everything under control. Dashington doesn’t scare me.”

“She scares me a little. Look at that scowl.”

Spitfire’s wings caught me as I let myself fall off-balance. “Let’s not talk about the Dashingtons.”

I sighed, recalling how tired Spitfire had been earlier. “I’m only trying to be practical for you, darling. I know how much your work means to you…”

“Practical is for Wonderbolts business. You’re not a part of that.” Spitfire smiled. “If the Dashingtons, or the Cumulos, or the Hurricanes want to take on the Wonderbolts, they’re free to give it a shot, but they can’t stop me from loving you.”

I nearly tripped, my footing out of time. My heart, certainly, had skipped more than a few beats, and my dancing tempo had become similarly haphazard.

“You what?” I gasped, off-balance. “Oh!”

I would have toppled, had Spitfire not reached out a wing to stop me from falling. 

“Finally caught you.” She grinned, and I felt her hot breath caress my cheek as she pulled me closer. “Took me years, but I’ve finally done it.”

I spluttered, still reeling from Spitfire’s admission. I noted her sly smirk and gleaming eyes, and narrowed my own. 

“You did that on purpose,” I accused.

“Maybe, but it’s also true.” Spitfire brushed against my nose as the dance ended. “Is that a problem?”

“Of course not! But honestly! Taking me by surprise like that. I nearly fell!” I gave her a playful shove. “You could have embarrassed me in front of everypony.”

“Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.” Spitfire rested her lips against my forehead gingerly. “You’re very cute when you’re flustered.”

We held each other for a moment or two. I began to splutter.

“Oh, sorry!” I exclaimed. “I forgot to say I love you too.” I pulled away quickly. “I mean, I meant to have flowers or wine or… something for this, but you put me on the spot and—”

“I know I did.”

“I could have had a violin quartet or something prepared. Or octet! I had plans and… things.” I felt myself soften. “They were very good plans too, which is why I was waiting to say I love you. So much, in fact.” I rubbed my forehead, feeling a little light-headed. "I've made a mess of things."

“It’ll all be fine.” She gestured subtly towards a small crowd that was watching us. “Looks like we’ve drawn a crowd.”

I glanced at the admiring expressions of our fellow dancers, and the pursed lips of Lady Dashington. “It looks like we have.” I sighed. “I suppose I won’t be getting Dashington’s support this evening.”

“Probably not, no. Sorry about that.”

“No need to apologise. This is the happiest I’ve been in years!” I pulled Spitfire away from the dance floor. “I don’t think my legs will carry me much longer. They feel all wobbly.”

“Hah, looks like it.”

We stepped away from the crowd, falling away from the centre of attention. I tried to gather my bearings, and regain some lost authority. Spitfire had completely destabilised me, thrown me off, and flustered my every sense.

“I… we should still work on you getting a chat with that griffon. Gerald, you said he was called.” I levitated a glass of wine from a tray and downed it. I refused to act like an embarrassing schoolfilly swooning in proximity of her crush. I was more dignified than that. “We have work to do.”

“Possibly,” Spitfire said. “Shall we get to it?”

The long walk home was made bearable by having a strong wing wrap around my middle. Spitfire caught me shivering due to the icy temperatures of high altitude and tutted.

“All those ‘essentials’ and you didn’t bring a scarf.”

“It’s not scarf season.”

We rounded a corner in the darkness, the streets lit up by electric lights glowing a pale green. From the shadows emerged a familiar small figure, wings flared.

“I finished your dumb routine,” Rainbow Dash grumbled, and glanced towards me. “Had fun at the, uh… was this a gala, a soiree, or a party?”

“An Extraordinare at the Dashington estate, actually.”

“Hmm? Pfft, just as well I couldn’t go then.” Rainbow flicked her mane as she joined us in walking towards Spitfire’s flat. “They wouldn’t like me.”

Spitfire grinned. “They barely like me.” She nudged me in the side. “They were quite taken with this one, though.”

“Oh, stop. I’m in dire need of wine and all this talk is slowing us down.” I sighed. “And I have meetings tomorrow, the day after, and the day after that. It’ll be nightmarish.”

“You should go easy on the wine then,” Rainbow said. “You know, I could take it off your hooves…”

“I bet you could,” Spitfire retorted. “I have a feeling that won’t happen, though.”

“Shame.” Rainbow trotted ahead, wings flaring. “Come on, slowpokes. I expected at least Spitfire to be faster than this. If it were just me and AJ we’d be home already.”

The corners of Spitfire’s mouth raised a little as Rainbow danced ahead of them. “She talks about Applejack a lot, doesn’t she?”

“Hmm? Well, they are rather close,” I said.

“Closer than you think, I reckon.”

I glanced at Rainbow, and then back at Spitfire. “Don’t be silly. Applejack isn’t interested.”

Spitfire spluttered like an engine failing to start, then laughed. Her voice was rich and pleasant, vastly different from how tired she had seemed earlier that day, or when talking about Fire Streak. She sounded like gold. “Wow, you really are bad at telling, aren’t you?”

“I am… what? I’m not bad at anything!” I stuck my nose in the air. “You’re being silly. I’ve known Applejack for years.”

“Sure you have. I bet you’ve seen her with tons of stallions.”

“Well, no, but I don’t want to pry.” I eyes Spitfire out the corner of my eye, and pouted. “Oh, you and your silly ‘gaydar’. I don’t believe it; you’ve just made it up to tease me.”

Spitfire nuzzled me in the neck as she pushed me forwards. “Come on. If we take that much longer Rainbow will finish the entire bottle without us.”