Tux was having a fairly carefree day today. His toast hadn't burned, his alarm clock hadn't broken, and there was a high probability that he wouldn't need to go to work after all. But he still needed to stop by the Boutique to get confirmation from Rarity.
He had a great day planned. He was going to lunch with Rainbow Dash and dinner with Fluttershy. After that, the two of them were going to go to open mic night at the Livery Yard, the premier coffee house in Ponyville. He planned on reciting some of his poetry, or maybe giving a stand-up comedy routine. One of these days, he planned on singing a duet with Fluttershy.
But the first sign that something was not right came when he happened upon Fluttershy on her way to the market. "Good morning," he said with a smile. "Excited for our date tonight."
A frown crossed her face, and she hung her head. "I'm so sorry, Tux, but I'm going to have to cancel. Angel is sick, and I need to go get him some medicine."
"Aw, that's too bad," he sighed. "Hey, I'll tell you what. If I can get out of work today, I'll come help you. Check at the boutique on your way back home."
"Okay," she said, her expression brightening a little bit. "I really appreciate the help."
"My pleasure," he replied. "I'd rather spend time with you than do Rarity's books all day. I get feather cramps just thinking about it."
"I'd better be off to the market now," she sighed. She put her head on his withers, and he returned the gesture. Normally he wasn't one for hugs, but whenever his best friend hugged him, it made him feel like a million bits.
Best friend. He hadn't had one in years, and now that he did, he didn't think he could be happier. Especially because his crush on Twilight had finally, inexplicably, flickered and gone out. He was done with mares, probably for good. He didn't want anything more than friendship.
He continued on to the boutique, and when he went in, he called, "Rarity, I'm just stopping by to make sure you don't have anything for me to do. If not, I'll be on my way."
"Not so fast," she called back. "I have something very important that absolutely, positively must be done today. Come see me in the Inspiration Room."
He walked somewhat cautiously to the room where she got her most of her inspiration. It was a disaster area, and she always called it "organized chaos". It was something that Discord would have been proud of....
No sooner had he crossed the threshold than she assaulted him with a tape measure. He figured that she wasn't trying to strangle him, but with the way she measured the girth of his neck, she may as well have been. "Um, it's a little tight," he protested.
"Oh, darling, I know," she apologized. "I just have to be quick about this. Don't you worry yourself grey; I've been doing this for years. All your measurements will come out absolutely perfect."
"But why are you measuring me?"
"Oh, that's obvious, isn't it? You're going to model for me."
"I'm what, now?" he gasped. "Rarity, with all due respect, you hired me to be an accountant. I don't think this is a part of my job description."
"Oh, pish posh. The employment contract that you signed includes the words 'and any other responsibilities that the Employer assigns.' You can go back and read it if you don't believe me."
"But I have things to do today," he protested again as she stretched out his wing and measured it.
"Other than working for me? Banish the thought."
"I promised Fluttershy I'd help take care of Angel."
"Oh, I think she's got it fairly well in hoof. Besides, if Angel hadn't gotten sick, this wouldn't have been so fortuitous! There's a silver lining to every cloud, you see."
"Ow!" he said as she measured his other wing. "Not so hard, please."
"Oh, I'm terribly sorry. But this idea came to me literally five minutes before you walked through the door. You see, when Fluttershy came by yesterday to cancel today's modeling gig, I simply had to find a replacement. And I think you'll be quite pleased with my choice."
"No, darling," she laughed. "You'll see when she gets here. But for now, I need you to stand still. I have to measure your hind inseam."
"Oh no you don't," he said, sitting down. "Not even if you were a stallion."
"Please, Tux. This has a higher purpose." She lifted his rump off the ground and stretched out his leg. "I promise I won't get anywhere near making you uncomfortable." He gritted his teeth until she was done, and she finished up by taking his front inseam measurement.
"I'm not wearing pants," he groused.
"You most certainly are. You'll change your tune when you see the absolutely smashing, debonair ensemble that I have planned for you." She giggled giddily. "Ooh, this is my best idea yet! You two will look so adorable together!"
"Is there anything else you need from me, Miss Woodhouse?"
"Oh, please, I'm not trying to play matchmaker...though I do admire the Mane Austen reference. I'm just trying to test out a new design."
"What is it?"
"I've already told you. It's a secret. Now, for this, you're going to have to be shod, so go to the spa and get a hooficure. Then have the farrier fit you with some temporaries. Thence, to the barber for a mane cut. That mop is..." She shuddered, grimacing. "...simply dreadful."
"What about my partner?"
"Oh, she'll be barefoot. Besides, she had a hooficure a couple of days ago. Be on your way, now." She ushered him out the door with a telekinetic spell, and the door practically slammed behind him. He heard faint traces of an almost maniacal laughter from deep within the boutique, and he swallowed hard.
Since he probably wouldn't be back to the boutique by the time Fluttershy came through, he decided to go find her at the market before heading to the spa. It was on the way, anyway. But sadly, when he got there, she was nowhere to be found. "Dang," he huffed. "I'll have to go find her after work. It couldn't possibly take all day.
He made his way to the spa and pushed the door open, feeling rather self-conscious. He'd always taken care of himself. No regular coiffing, no regular hoof care, nothing but regular checkups with the doctor, and an odd trip to the farrier when his hooves began getting too long.
The waiting area was very plush, and the desk clerk smiled at him. "And what can I get for you today, sir?"
"Um, I have orders for a hooficure...."
"Very good," she replied. "It'll be a short wait, but we'll see you very soon."
He thanked her and took a seat on one of the cushioned chairs. All of the magazines on the tables were mare-magazines. Ponies, Equestria Weekly, and cheap tabloids like the Celestial Enquirer. Tux had no interest in what colt was dating what filly in Manehattan. Where was Carriage and Puller Magazine? What about Stallion's Health? Bass Player? Guns n Ammo? He was definitely out of his element here.
"Tux n Tails," called the clerk at last. How she knew his name was beyond him. He was led back to a room, and he lay on a cot, wanting to flop about like the fish-out-of-water he was. Two mares came and trimmed and dressed his hooves. They were very good at plying their craft, and they worked to relax him as they went.
But before long, they practically pushed him off the cot and out the door, and the clerk assured him that payment was unnecessary, since the whole thing was going on Rarity's tab. He thanked her and made his way to the farrier a couple of doors down.
It had been a long time since he'd been to a farrier, and he seemed to recall Applejack removing his old shoes for some reason. When he walked into the lobby, the farrier greeted him. He was an older, cream colored unicorn sporting a set of salt-and-pepper friendly mutton chops, which matched his mane and tail. "I've already gotten word from Rarity," he said. "I had to bump an appointment, but this won't take long at all, especially since you've already gotten your tootsies prettied up."
"I resent that remark," Tux grumbled. "These are ranch hooves. They're supposed to be dirty and scuffed."
"I'm just giving you a hard time," the farrier laughed. He had Tux lie back in what looked like a dentist's chair, and he went to work. "Now, normally I'd be nailing these on, but they're made of acrylic. Far too soft for long-term use. So I'll be gluing them. So try not to throw one."
"When do I get them off?"
"Come back tomorrow," the farrier replied, gluing the first shoe onto Tux's hoof. "I really wish I'd been able to fit you beforehand, but these will have to do." As he glued the second shoe on, he asked, "Who took your last shoes off?"
The farrier frowned. "Hmm...she did a decent job. But she chewed up your hooves cutting those clinches. They'll grow out, but they won't look pretty."
"I hope Rarity will be fine with it."
"She should be. They already did a pretty good job of dressing at the salon." By now, the fourth shoe was fitted, and Tux made an appointment for their removal. From there, he was off to the barber.
When he arrived at the barbershop, the pony inside was shouting rapidly in Italian, and Tux could make out the general gist of what he was saying. It was something about a lazy, incompetent intern forgetting to order a new supply of disinfectant for the scissors. When the intern protested rather disrespectfully, the barber bid him to take a trip to Naples, which Tux knew was slang for a trip to Tartarus.
He stepped into the shop and sat down. The barber noticed him immediately and said in a rather thick accent, "Buon giorno, signor. I am Barberino, il barbiere. Rarity has already given me instructions to do what I think is-a best for you, so have a seat in this-a chair and watch Barberino work his-a magic."
The unicorn barber picked Tux up with a spell and plunked him down in the chair. "Please don't take too much off," he pleaded.
"Shush," Barberino said, going to work. "I should take it all off. What a disgrace."
Tux watched as his mane fell away one lock at a time. By the end of it, he had something that more closely resembled the Doctor's mane-do than did Big Macintosh's, as it used to. "I guess it looks good," he shrugged.
"Tu sei impazzo!" Barberino scoffed. "This-a work is-a perfetto! A piece of art. Barberino always-a does what is best. Now go. I have other customers." He picked Tux up again and set him down just outside the shop.
"That was...interesting," Tux commented.
He didn't care for his new mane at first, but as made his way back through town, he received many a compliment, which put his spirits up, if only a little bit. He still didn't know what Fluttershy would think of it, not that it should matter to her. He made his way back to the boutique, and when he passed by the town hall, he noticed that only two and a half hours had gone by. "Whatever it is, she can't be done by now," he thought aloud. "I still have time to stop by Fluttershy's." He took to the skies to save a little bit of time, and he started west toward the Everfree Forest.
Along the way, Rainbow Dash caught up to him. "Hey, Mr. Lone Wolf," she greeted.
"I'm kinda busy, Rainbow," he replied. "I need to get to Fluttershy's and then back to Rarity's before she starts looking for me."
"I like your new do. It's kinda rebel. Not as rebel as Thunderlane's, but...."
"Are we still on for lunch today?"
"No guarantees. I don't really know how long Rarity will be keeping me locked up. I hear tales of what happens to her models, how sometimes they aren't heard from for days at a time."
"You're modeling?" She guffawed at the notion. "How did you get roped into that?"
"I showed up," he sighed. "Something tells me I should have just called in sick."
"Well, if you don't show up at the café, I'll take it as a sign that you're being held against your will."
"How'd your date with Soarin' go last night?"
"We broke up," she shrugged.
"What do you mean? I thought you two were doing great!"
She shrugged again. "We just weren't right for each other. I don't know. I'll tell you more about it over lunch, if we get there. I should probably let you go."
"Hey, if you want to talk about it, I'm here."
"What is there to talk about?" She banked off and returned to Ponyville, and Tux saw that he had almost overflown his destination.
He dropped into a dive, and when he got to the appropriate altitude, he opened his wings and let his feathers fill with air, flapping slightly to slow down as he came to rest on Fluttershy's porch.
"Fluttershy, are you in? Rarity has me modeling today, so I won't be able to help you out with Angel." When he heard no response, he pushed open the door. "Fluttershy?"
Angel shuffled up to him and shook his head, pointing eastward and miming drinking a bottle of medicine. Either that or he said she was getting drunk at the bar, but there was no bar in Ponyville, unlike Hoofton, which had a bar on virtually every block. "She's still looking for your medicine?" Tux asked.
Angel nodded and went into a coughing fit that made it seem like he would surrender a lung. "She'll be back," Tux assured. "Could you tell her that Rarity has me modeling for her, and I won't be able to help out today?" Again, Angel nodded.
He sighed and turned around, walking out the door. He flapped lazily back to Ponyville, keeping an eye out for Fluttershy as he went. But the path was still empty. He saw Rainbow off in the distance practicing her gliding, and he wished he could take a detour and do it with her, but Rarity wasn't paying him to dawdle.
He came in for a landing at the boutique's doorstep, and Rarity was lying in wait for him. She tried to smother him with a blindfold, and once it was fitted, she shoved him along until they got to the back room. "What's this for?" he asked. "Is it done? Is my partner here?"
"Oh, you just missed her. But yes, your ensemble is finished!" She untied the blindfold and whipped it away. "Ta-da!"
He smiled at what he saw. Sitting on the mannequin in front of him was a white silk tuxedo with a black tie. The coat had tails extended almost to the dock of the mannequin's tail, and the pants were cut in a way that would expose his cutie mark, if he were to ever get one. "It looks great, Rarity," he complimented.
"And it's enchanted, to boot. I would have given you two of them, a black one and a white one, for special occasions, but I had a special silk that I was saving for a special outfit. You can change the color with magic!"
"Um...in case you didn't notice, I'm a pegasus."
"Oh, darling, I know. That's why I had Twilight enchant the silk itself. All you have to do is say the magic words. I heard you were a big fan of language study, so I gave you special cufflinks so that you would never forget them."
He examined the cufflinks, and saw that they were words written in a stylized Ancient Ponese script. One of them meant "to color black", and the other meant "to color white". He smiled again and said, "Chián tsei." The jacket, pants, and tie inverted in color. "Wow, Rarity...."
"Oh, don't mention it. It was the least I could do for a friend like you."
"You said that this idea popped into your head only a couple of hours ago?"
"It's the fastest I've ever worked. But I think it turned out quite well, don't you?"
"It's absolutely perfect."
"Just wait until you see what I have planned for the photoshoot." She stifled another maniacal laugh.
"Are you sure you aren't trying to fix me up with somepony?"
"Yes, I'm quite sure," she dismissed. "You'll want that to be white for the shoot. Chián bai." The outfit reverted to its original state.
"Why, will I be getting married?" he bantered. She just walked out of the room. "Rarity?"
"Hopefully, everything will be ready to go after lunch. Your mystery mare should be back from the errands I have her running. I'll also have her ensemble done by then. But you're free for a while. Come back at one-thirty, and not a moment later."
"Um, okay." He turned and walked out the front door, then to the café where he was supposed to meet Rainbow Dash. She wasn't there, so he bumbled around the market until the clock in Town Square struck noon, their original agreed-upon meeting time. When he returned to the café, the cyan pony was sitting restlessly at a table waiting for him. Sitting still was often hard for her, but especially so when she was expected to conform to standard table manners.
"I have until about one-thirty," Tux said, sitting down. "You should come by and see if you can sit in on the shoot this afternoon."
"Bleh, no thanks," she said, stinking out her tongue and grimacing. "No offense, but that kind of thing bores me to tears."
"I totally understand. If I wasn't getting paid, I probably wouldn't be doing this." The waiter stopped by and took their orders. Once he left, Tux asked, "So what's this I hear about you breaking up with Soarin' last night?"
"It's no big deal," she sighed. "It just wasn't going to work out."
"Come on, RD. Tell me the truth. Please."
She sighed. "Don't tell anypony. I don't want to seem like a sap."
"Rainbow, you're not a sap. You'll always be ten times more awesome than anypony else I know."
"Thanks. We were dating for like a week, and it just died. I loved it when he treated me like a princess, but I didn't return his affection. I treated him like a friend. The only reason I was really keeping it up was that he idolized me. That, and I loved the idea of dating a celebrity. So I did what was right and passed the baton."
"You passed it?"
"To the pony who really cared about him."
"Spitfire," he assumed. She nodded. "You don't seem very happy about it. Are you sure you were dating him only because he wanted it? Or did you abdicate because you felt selfish when you saw Spitfire's care?"
In the intervening silence, the waiter brought their food, and Rainbow picked idly at her apple and clover sandwich. He didn't press her for an answer, but at long last, she opened her mouth. "Maybe."
"It's really nice of you to put others first. You probably even felt you were being...disloyal by cutting him loose." She looked surprised at his allusion for a moment, but then she nodded sadly. "If you want somepony to sweep you off your feet, he'll come."
"You're one to talk," she scoffed.
"Hey," he chided, trying not to snap at her. "If you want to go to somepony else for romantic advice, then fine. Just try not to rub my failings in my face." He munched on his salad, trying to encourage her to eat. "So how has your gliding today?"
"It was pretty good," she said, nibbling her sandwich. "I think I'm starting to get the hang of it."
"I think I can start you on some more intensive feather dexterity exercises. Maybe teach you to play the piano."
"No," she coughed, nearly choking on her sandwich. "I can barely even sing!"
"Okay, then maybe something else. There's always advanced gliding aerobatics. I have it on good authority that Firestreak got his spot on the 'Bolts by flying an obstacle course without flapping once. He used only inertia from his initial dive."
"What if I don't want to be on the 'Bolts anymore?"
Tux paused with a few hay fries poised at his open mouth. He knew what this meant. "Rainbow, this has been your dream ever since you were a filly. Why abandon it now? Is it about Soarin' and Spitfire?" Rainbow just shrugged. "I think you're having an identity crisis."
"What are you, some kind of shrink?"
"I almost went into that profession," he replied. "I know from experience that you'll have to sort this out on your own. I'm here for support if you need it, but only you can find what you seek. I...I can't imagine what it's like post-cutie mark."
"I should probably cut this short," she said, clearing her throat. "It's getting kinda awkward."
"Nah, it's no biggie. I'll see ya later." She stuffed the rest of the sandwich into her mouth and flapped away.
"Yeah," he sighed. "Later."
The clock told him that he had another hour to hoof around before he had to report back to the boutique, so he made his way to the library to check out a book or two. There was a new Daring Do due out, and he'd secured a signed advance copy for the shelves, as well as one for Rainbow's upcoming birthday. He had the gift sitting under his bed, but he knew better than to crack it open, especially since it had been hoof-wrapped by the author. Hopefully, Twilight would be done with it by now and willing to loan it out.
He knocked on the door, expecting to be greeted by the violet mare, but the tree seemed deserted. "Twilight, are you here?" he called.
"Who?" came the reply.
"Oh, hi, Owlowiscious," Tux greeted. "Is Twilight around?"
"She actually went to the boutique," Spike said as he came out of the back room with a cart of books. He'd grown at least a few inches since they'd met some months before in Canterlot. "She's running errands for Rarity, who promised to send me back some gemstones."
"What every growing dragon needs," Tux commented. "I'm modeling for her, for some reason, so maybe I'll see Twilight when I get back to work."
"What a coincidence," Spike smiled. "Twi--"
"Who!" Owlowiscious interrupted.
"What? She didn't tell me that."
"Figures. Always out of the loop."
"What coincidence?" Tux asked quizzically.
There were only a handful of coincidences that Spike could have been referring to, and only one of them was likely. Still, he played naïve as he thanked the two of them and left. He decided to get it over with and go straight to the boutique. Rarity would have more time to make sure the suit fit him that way.
When he arrived, Rarity was locked in a back room, with Sweetie Belle standing guard. "Aren't you supposed to be in school?" Tux asked, squinting at her.
"Half-day today because of parent-teacher conferences," the filly replied. "You can't go in there."
"And why not?"
"Because Rarity said so. Only two ponies are allowed past: Rarity and your partner."
"Why all this secrecy?" Tux groaned. "Is it Twilight?"
"I don't know. Rarity didn't give me a name, and she had me go in the other room when your partner got here."
"You're not even going to tell a fellow Crusader?"
Sweetie Belle was not amused, and she made this plain on her face. "She didn't give me a name. For a reason."
"She didn't give me the reason."
"Rarity, you're killing me!" he shouted at the door.
"Oh, I'm sorry, darling," was the muffled reply. "Go ahead and try that suit on, will you? I know it will fit, but one can never be too sure."
He sighed with a shrug and shuffled off to the room where his ensemble was waiting. Normally, dressing oneself was a chore without the aid of magic; that was why most ponies didn't wear much, if anything. But Tux was used to the task, and he quickly pulled on all the pieces of the tuxedo.
They fit him perfectly: neither too loose, nor too tight, with plenty of breathing room for a full opera breath. His wings had room to move, which was tough for most pegasi wearing non-tailored garments. And the very best part of the whole thing was that it was quite versatile. He tried using specific color words from ancient Ponese, and the enchanted fabric responded accordingly. The outfit didn't look very good in cyan or fire-engine red, but at least Tux knew he had options. The entire spectrum of greys was available, too, which was very relieving; sometimes, pure black or white weren't the best choices.
On a hunch, he tried telling only the tie to change color. It took him a while to find the right words, but it was possible. He made sure to reset the color to white with a black tie, for the sake of the shoot. He was sure he would forget if he didn't do it now.
He waited for what seemed like an eternity for Rarity to come and check the tuxedo's fit and finish, and she seemed pleased. So pleased, in fact, that that maniacal laugh once again escaped her lips. "Who is this mystery mare?" Tux pressed. "I know she's here. When will I meet her?"
"Oh, you'll meet her on set. And she's almost ready; she's just getting fitted for her dress. It won't be long now."
"Please tell me why all this secrecy," he pleaded. "I've been getting nothing but dismissive answers and partial leads all day long. I have to know."
"Mum's the word."
"Ugh," he groaned. "How much longer, then?"
"Just a few minutes. Go ahead and take a look at the set. I think you'll like it."
He left the dressing room and made his way down the hall to the boutique's recently added photo studio. When it wasn't decorated for a specific shoot, it was an ugly, plain matte black from floor to ceiling. Rarity would often have a local model or two come in to demo her latest fashions for the Canterlot crowd. Sometimes she would bring in ponies from Manehattan or Fillydelphia, but she preferred not to; she said that most of the east-coast ponies were mules in more than just attitude.
When he opened the door to the studio, he was greeted with a sight that made his heart stop. A white trellis covered in red climbing-roses, an ornate heart standing in for the arch's keystone. A table with a cake covered in white rolled fondant, with red buttercream roses and white piping dotting the edges of its five, tiered layers. Atop the cake was no topper; that would have given away the surprise identity of his partner. "How did you throw all of this together in just a day?" he marveled.
Rarity's voice came in behind him. "Oh, the wedding theme has been months in the making; that's my latest line. You were a last-minute addition, of course, when I found a replacement for Fluttershy. As I said before, if she hadn't called to cancel so that she could care for poor Angel, this plan never would have existed. Go ahead and stand at the altar, and I'll send in your bride."
He walked slowly up onto the stage and stood in the groom's customary spot. Rarity left the room, and several minutes later, she returned, levitating an expensive-looking camera in front of her. His modeling partner came out into the hallway, and he couldn't really discern her identity while she was in the shadows. His heart beat faster and faster in anticipation as she approached the light of the studio. But it again stopped when she crossed the threshold.
There stood a beautiful, violet pony, her tresses done up in complex plaits, a look of unease on her face. She wore a sparkling, white dress adorned with milky pearls and elegant lace. Though a gossamer veil covered her face, he could easily see past it. Never before had Twilight Sparkle looked this stunning.
"Hi, Tux," she said, a sheepish grin on her face. "I had no idea what I was getting myself into, I guess."
"No idea," he repeated. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of Sweetie Belle gesturing for him to close his mouth.
"Well, what do you think?" Rarity asked. "Go on, be honest."
"She's beautiful," he gaped. Twilight blushed.
"Oh, you two will make such a cute couple!" Rarity laughed again, and Tux's heart sank. He had just recently shut out his feelings for Twilight, just recently let them die. And now, seeing her like this, they were back in full force. His heart burned, ached, wishing this was something more real than a photoshoot. In some ways, he resented Rarity for being so conniving as to set him up with the one pony he'd liked. But in other ways, he was thankful that she was considerate enough of him to try playing matchmaker.
"Couple?" he laughed nervously. "Nah, we're just friends. You know that." Twilight looked somewhat relieved.
"But consider the possibilities!" Rarity rejoiced.
Behind Rarity, Sweetie Belle was burying her face in her hooves. At least somepony else thought this was madness; she knew firsthand what could become of playing matchmaker.
Rarity raised the camera to take a shot, but a look of exasperation came over her face. "Oh, road apples, this camera.... I'll be right back. The battery is dead." She trotted out of the room, leaving Tux and Twilight with enough privacy to feel alone.
"Let's do her a favor," Tux said quietly. "It's only a photoshoot, so let's play it up. It shouldn't be too bad; she's got ethics after all."
Twilight smiled. "Yeah, you're right. I mean, it's not often that I get to dress up like this. At least she chose somepony I know. If she'd chosen some stranger, I don't think I'd be able to do this."
"Tell me about it," he chuckled.
About that time, Rarity returned with a working camera, and she began to bark orders like any good photographer. The only thing was that Tux had never actually worked with a photographer, unlike Rarity's original modeling choice, who had posed and modeled for Photo Finish.
"All right, I want a shot of you two standing at the altar." She levitated a bouquet to Twilight. "Oh, this won't do at all. Look happy! This is supposed to be the best day of your lives!" They each forced smiles, and after a few shots, Rarity said, "That will have to do for now. Maybe we'll come back.
"Now go over to the cake. I had Pinkie bake it special for this shoot. Black raspberry and white mulberry, with a cheesecake filling." This brought a genuine smile to Twilight's face, but Tux suddenly felt very self-conscious. Normally, he would take pride in eating such a confection, but around Twilight it made him feel piggish.
As she walked toward the cake, he steeled himself, whispering words of encouragement. "She's just like Rainbow. Or Fluttershy. You wouldn't be embarrassed to pig out in front of Pinkie, would you? And what about Applejack, when she beat you in the fritter eating contest? Yeah, it's just like that."
He walked over and joined Twilight, and they cut the cake together. He did his best to grip the serving knife with his wing, while she used her magic. Rarity praised them, saying that folks in Canterlot and abroad would love them.
As the shoot went on, Tux felt more comfortable acting naturally with Twilight, and he could tell that she did, as well. "I think the worst is over," he chuckled while Rarity switched memory cards in her camera.
"Yeah, I think the storm has blown over for good," Twilight added with a smile. "I'm actually having fun like this. I mean, stuffing cake in your face was a blast. But why didn't you do it to me?"
"I would never stuff cake in your face, Twilight. Especially if this was a real wedding." He silently cursed himself for his adoring tone, but she didn't seem to take any notice of it. And for that, he was more than thankful.
The next half hour was spent adopting various poses. There were several shots of Tux carrying Twilight on his back, and even some of her levitating him with ease. Rarity got her revisit of the shots under the trellis, but she still didn't seem quite happy with them. "You're not gazing deeply, longingly into each other's eyes," she chided. "I want love here, not lackluster lookings about."
"Well, it's still kinda awkward to pretend to be in love," Twilight shrugged.
"Well, then, get past it."
"Try to study my iris," he suggested. "Or count the blood vessels. Or picture a crossword puzzle on my pupil."
She laughed, and Rarity's camera shutter clicked wildly. "Perfect!" she shouted. "That was the shot I needed! Now kiss!"
"What?!" Tux choked.
"What's a wedding album without a nice, romantic kiss?"
He looked over at Twilight, who was now beet red and seemed like she wanted to disappear, to say nothing of how he himself felt. "You saw how awkward it was to gaze into each other's eyes!"
"Pretty please?" Rarity pouted like a puppy dog.
"We have to draw the line somewhere."
"But Tux, I need this shot. Just try it."
"I've never kissed a filly. It'll look awkward!"
"Oh, please. I know lots of couples who shared their first kiss at the altar. You'll look just fine. And it's not like it's going to be real. I mean, every time you go out to see a play or an opera, you get the actors kissing, and it's nothing to them."
"Still too awkward," Twilight said through clenched teeth, grinning nervously.
Rarity groaned in exasperation. "All right, we'll do this the hard way. I'm not letting you two leave this studio without giving me that shot, so we'll resort to something my acting coach taught me. Touch noses and stare forward. Hold it for five whole minutes."
"Are you sure this will work?" Twilight asked.
Tux was about to outright refuse to do it, but he knew that Rarity could also refuse to pay him. You're getting twenty bits for all this trouble, he told himself. Might as well earn it. He walked up close to Twilight, and they faced each other, touching noses. Her lips were almost touching his. Her eyes were like black holes, trying to swallow him up. His heart raced as every memory and every fantasy he'd ever had about her flashed through his mind. Time seemed to stand still; the five minutes seemed like five hours. The more his feelings renewed themselves, the more time seemed to slow, until finally, he heard new orders from his employer.
"Now each of you turn your head slightly to the right and close the gap. Once it looks real, I'll start taking photos. And I'll tell you when to stop."
He swallowed hard as he felt Twilight's head tilt. Almost out of instinct, he did the same. He took one step forward, and their lips met. At first it was awkward and forced, like a devious little filly forcing her two dolls to kiss. But soon he found his eyes closed, his heart racing, a warmth filling him from deep within his chest. Their heads were tilted at just the right angle. Her lips parted slightly, and the two ponies fit together like two pieces of a puzzle.
The shutter stopped clicking, but Twilight didn't break away immediately. It was a very long moment indeed before they finally pulled apart.
"Now that was a shot," Rarity gaped. She set the camera down and said, "I think it's safe to say that you're both free to go."
Twilight smiled graciously but forcedly as Rarity thanked her, and she left the room. Once he was sure Twilight was out of earshot, Tux said, "Rarity, I need to have a word with you. Privately."
Rarity nodded and excused Sweetie Belle from the room. "Before you start," she began, "you and Twilight have real chemistry."
"Based on a one-time kiss?" he scoffed. "Rarity, I know that your intentions were good. You know that I've been lonely, and you know that I've had a crush on Twilight. But no doubt you noticed how awkward it all was."
"I fixed it, didn't I?"
"That's not my point. I did have a crush on Twilight, but not anymore. I spent so much time and worked so hard on letting it go, on letting it burn out. And then, two weeks ago, it finally did. I was content with being single, but you might have inadvertently brought back the feelings that I didn't want."
"Do you want me to throw out the shoot?" she asked sadly.
"No," he replied. "You worked hard for it, so publish it. Just make me a promise and don't try to fix me up with anypony unless I ask you. But I do trust you; you know me well."
"I promise," she sighed. "What's next for you two?"
"Damage control, I guess," he replied plaintively. "I don't know how to interpret it, so I'll have to confront her about it. We'll see."
Tux was grateful that Twilight had agreed to meet him for dinner the next evening. He had solicited the meeting as one between friends, and he suspected that his being explicit about this contributed to her approval. Nevertheless, she thought that it would be a good idea to dress up. Not wanting to wear his new tuxedo, Tux commissioned a simple, black suit from Rarity, and she gladly obliged. He wore it with a cravat as he walked up to the door of the Library.
Twilight was there waiting for him, wearing a crimson satin dress accented with ruffles and satin roses. "You look very nice tonight," he smiled. She was also wearing a hint of perfume, which made him slightly embarrassed that he hadn't worn a fragrance of his own.
"Thank you," she replied. "You're looking pretty dashing yourself. Did I tell you that I like your new mane cut?"
"Where are we going?" she asked.
"The Spade," he replied. It was an expensive restaurant on the outskirts of Ponyville. It was fairly new, the proprietors having moved recently from Canterlot, and Rarity was dying to patronize the eatery. Tux had thought about taking her, but in all honesty, he would rather take Twilight.
The carriage ride to the restaurant was silent as ever, and it wasn't until they were seated that either pony finally spoke. And it was Twilight who broke the silence.
"Thank you for taking me to dinner," she said.
"My pleasure," he smiled. "To be honest, I can't be happier that you actually said yes. I've had my share of rejection in the past, and it created an overwhelming fear inside me." At this point, he didn't care if she knew about his past failings.
"That wasn't because of you," she said with a small smile. "It's a wonder that you're still single."
The waiter interrupted them to take their orders, and when he was gone, Tux replied, "Well, all this time, I've been trying to cobble together the courage I needed to ask you out."
"And Rarity gave you an extra boost."
"Well, to be honest, in recent days I've seen you as just a friend. I mean, I had the biggest crush ever when I first met you, but after time, the infatuation went away and I finally saw straight."
"I probably would have said yes, but only after a few weeks of getting to know you first." She chuckled. "If you'd asked me when we first met, I would have turned you down for sure."
"I'm glad I waited, then," he smiled.
"Good things come to those who wait."
"Well, I hope we don't have to wait too long for our salads."
After a bit more dead-air silence, she asked, "So, did you ask me to dinner tonight to apologize for the whole debacle, or is there something else? Because, honestly, I'm fine with kissing you for a photoshoot as long as it won't affect our friendship."
"I asked you to dinner to apologize," he replied. "But ultimately, that kiss rekindled my feelings, and I wanted you to know that."
"So you don't expect anything from me?"
"Nothing at all," he replied. "As long as we can still be friends without it being awkward."
"Of course," she nodded. "And really, if you want to try this, I'm willing to try it as well."
He was floored. He'd expected her to be the happy-single type like Pinkie Pie or maybe Rainbow Dash. But she seemed to actually like him. He was excited to start dating Twilight, but at the same time, he was afraid it would affect their friendship negatively. And as they say, love conquered all. "Yeah," he said, nodding. "Maybe so. Tonight could be our first date."
"Tonight always was our first date," she shrugged. "But you didn't really have to go so fancy."
"No," he said, "I did. I want tonight to be special. Maybe a turning point in our friendship, whatever turning point that might be."
"Well, if this is a date, we should probably be getting to know each other better. You've told me about yourself, so let's turn it around."
She went on to recount the stories of how she got her cutie mark and became Celestia's protégée, how she and her friends defeated Nightmare Moon and Discord, and how others' teamwork saved Equestria from Chrysalis, and the Crystal Empire from King Sombra. Then she told him that she had suspected his feelings for quite a while.
"Really?" he sighed.
"You did a pretty good job of hiding them," she replied. "But I still saw through you, especially when I saw your reaction to me in a wedding dress. It was like you flashed forward."
"I...kinda did," he said sheepishly, blushing.
"Well, as long as you don't set anything in stone, I think we'll do fine. I'm really not looking for anything super serious right now. I mean, I was content being single, so this is an adventure for me."
"I understand completely," he replied. "And who better to go on an adventure with than a close friend?"
He actually enjoyed himself for the rest of the evening. For the most part, they kept on talking about music, politics, history, and language. He taught her some basic phrases in Ponese, and she taught him a basic history of modern magic. Then they discussed their favorite composers from the Renaissance to the modern era.
The conversation got a bit more awkward, though, as they discussed the current Equestrian political climate, especially in light of what they'd learned on their visit to Canterlot. Twilight still trusted Celestia implicitly, especially being her personal student. But Tux was suspicious, especially because of what Celestia had elected to hide about Discord, the prison spell, and Tux's unique traits. Eventually she conceded that it wasn't right to bury crucial information.
"But I still trust Princess Celestia's judgment," she defended. "Even if she has her flaws, she's still good at heart. She's brought Equestria this far, and we've got to give her that much."
"Oh, I don't doubt it," he replied. "And she probably has her reasons for being so secretive. I mean, if everypony knew everything about how she worked, then there would be no security. And we know how important that is."
"It's been that way ever since the beginning," she added. "Princess Celestia has always protected sensitive information. Like, for instance, the Mare in the Moon. When I approached her to say that Nightmare Moon was returning, she virtually brushed me off. Of course, if she'd never done that, I would never have become who I am today, holder of the Element of Magic."
"What?" she asked confusedly.
"The seventh Element," he replied, as if she should know this.
"There is no seventh Element, Tux," she replied, wrinkling her nose and tilting her head. "Where did you hear of that?"
"I..." He didn't seem to remember. It was something far and away, yet he knew it was there. It was almost like somepony had deliberately blocked access to the memories. "I don't know," he said, frowning.
"Well, if you can find it, let me know. I'd love to get my hooves on that source for the library."
"Will do," he nodded determinedly. "I seem to recall something about the Archives. It must be a book there. But I've never been to the Archives."
"Well, that's gonna change. I'll do you a solid." She grinned and winked at him.
As their date drew to a close, Tux walked her back to the Golden Oak Library, and along the way they talked about nothing in particular. They spent most of their time speculating about character development in the Daring Do book series. Somehow, Tux found himself promising to ask the author to make a trip to Ponyville for a book signing. Then Twilight thanked him again for getting her a signed copy of the latest novel. "It's one of the best gifts you could have given me," she smiled.
"Well, I'm glad I did something right."
"You've really done a lot of stuff right, Tux," she chided as they arrived at the library. "The whole time I've known you, you've been pretty hard on yourself. There's a difference between humility and self-deprecation."
"Yeah," he sighed. "I think it's a relic of personality from my younger days and my troubled past."
"I'd recommend getting rid of it. There's nothing wrong with patting yourself on the withers. I know that you're in no danger of becoming a narcissist."
"Like Prince Blueblood," he commented, alluding to an earlier conversation they'd had about the Grand Galloping Gala.
"Eeyup," she replied. "I'm glad she smashed that slipper. Ugh."
"Would you rather see Rarity with somepony specific?"
"No pony specifically. But...well, you know how much of a crush Spike has on her. I think it goes beyond that, at least on his end. She, though...."
"I know that feel."
"Uh...it's kind of an allusion to an internet meme."
"Oh. I think I get it," she nodded. "Whoever she winds up with, I hope he's as great as you." She smiled demurely and batted her eyelashes, blushing. His heart fluttered as she took a step forward, stopping just in front of him. Inviting him.
He had imagined this moment for years. And now that the mare of his dreams was inviting him to kiss her, this time with complete sobriety, his nerves had gotten the better of him. He stood motionless as his opportunity slipped away. "That's okay," she said softly. She rested her head on his withers for a moment, then pulled away and turned toward the front door of the library.
"Wait," he called, stretching out a wing reflexively.
She stopped and closed the door again. "Yes?"
"I...know it's not the same, but--"
"Shh." She placed a spell on his lips, stopping his words. This time, she didn't wait for him to act; she closed the gap completely, and they kissed. Soon, too soon, she pulled away, leaving him weak in the knees. "Good night, Tux," she said with a smile, opening the library door and going inside.
"Good night, Twilight," he whispered in reply.