With her eyes shut and the warm embrace of the hot tub to distract her, the only evidence Photo had that she was still at Spitfire’s party was the sounds of chatter and music, just audible over the thrum of the tub itself. Despite that, she could still tell Spitfire was beside her, and it felt amazing. Sharing a quiet moment in the middle of a rather large party was nice.
The gentle clink of a martini glass on the outer wall of the hot tub heralded Rarity approaching the seat opposite Photo, “Do you mind if I join you two?”
Photo opened her eyes, catching Spitfire hastily turning to face Rarity, and offered, “I have no objections.”
With a shrug from Spitfire, Rarity slipped into the water with a stifled groan of satisfaction. Lifting the glass that held what little remained of her drink, Rarity took a sip before announcing, “I always forget just how nice this feels.”
“I take it you’ve been here before?” Photo asked absent mindedly.
“Um…” Rarity snuck a glance over to Spitfire, who seemed tense despite the warm water, “A few times, yes.”
Don’t think too hard about it, just enjoy the night. Photo rested her head on the back of her seat and muttered, “Lucky you.”
A silence that bordered on awkward lingered after the exchange, with Spitfire looking between Rarity and Photo a few times before finally asking, “Can I clear something up real quick?”
Rarity and Photo both snapped out of their thoughts to listen.
“Does she, uh…” Spitfire danced around the question directed at Photo, “You know, I honestly have no idea if it’s a secret or if you just don’t bother telling anypony.”
Eventually deducing the implied question, Photo explained, “Oh, ja, zat. It’s come up.”
“Oh, okay,” Spitfire replied, calming down, “That makes things easier.”
Rarity looked up from her freshly emptied martini, the gears of the conversation not quite catching in her mind, “Know what? What are we talking about?”
Spitfire sat more upright in her seat, stretching her hooves above her head and flaring out her wings, before settling back down again. With a short nod toward Photo, she just hoped Rarity could follow the message.
“Wings?” Rarity uttered like a fool before putting it together, “Ah. Yes. I still say that’s ridiculous.”
Spitfire couldn’t quite follow the seeming non sequitur, “What is?”
“Keeping it a secret,” Rarity continued, turning to Photo, “You should not.”
“Rarity, how many drinks have you had?” Spitfire deadpanned.
“Not nearly enough,” came Rarity’s reply, “and this one’s empty.”
Spitfire just pressed her hoof to her face, shaking her head.
“Jou’re right, jou know,” Photo asserted to Rarity.
Rarity looked at her empty glass like it was obvious before replying, “Oh, about the secret. Yes, I know, that’s why I said it.”
Spitfire looked surprised, “What made you change your mind? Just a few days ago you seemed so self conscious.”
Photo struggled to put it to words, “Jou know, I hadn’t thought about it in years. It vas just… Who I vas. How I led my life. Zhen you made me question it.”
Spitfire slowly filled with a certain satisfaction, clearly happy to have helped. Photo’s thankful smile was enough for her.
“Did my rousing speech help, too?” Rarity tipplishly interrupted, “I thought it was a good one.”
Photo couldn’t help but laugh at the way she put it, “Ja, it vas. And to be completely honest, ze damn tabloids probably affected me somevhat, but I don’t vant to give them any credit.”
“Don’t,” Rarity commanded, “they’re bottom feeders, they don’t deserve it.”
“Says the one who buys zhere vork,” Photo teased.
Rarity’s face turned flush, “Well, I don’t have to always read the best there is. There’s something to be said about trashy work.”
Spitfire, who had been struggling to follow the conversation, eventually gave up, “You know, I’m lost, I think I’m gonna go grab a drink.”
Rarity floated her empty glass over to Spitfire, looking her in the eye with a pleading pout.
Spitfire grudgingly took the glass before turning to Photo, “You need another?”
“Sure,” Photo replied with a shrug.
As Spitfire walked off, a silence hung over the pair that remained. A strange tension was in the air, and it seemed like neither of them could quite identify it. Photo quietly slipped down into the water, observing Rarity from the space between the surface and her bangs.
“Sorry I’m being so ridiculous tonight,” Rarity offered forward, “I know I’m not exactly leaving the best impression.”
Photo sat upright once more, “No, no. Zis is a night for relaxing. I needed ze time to unwind.”
Rarity appeared satisfied, “Well, this is a good place for it. I’m just falling into how I usually act here.”
After some hesitation, Photo steadily asked, “So how did jou meet Spitfire?”
“Well,” Rarity stalled, flustered by the suddenness of the question, “You see, it all started when I almost got us both killed.”
“...Vhat?” Photo ejected, “Take a few more steps back, please.”
Through the haze of Rarity’s inebriated explanation a story slowly emerged, and it started off with a familiar scene. It all started back at the Best Young Flyer competition, that whole mess of an affair that ended with Rarity plummeting from the sky and cleanly knocking out the three wonderbolts who dove to save her. Rainbow remembered the day for countless reasons, between managing to catch them all, winning the competition, and it being the first time she met Spitfire. Her thoughts always seized when confronted with what would have happened if she hadn’t caught them in time.
Rarity reached for her glass with her magic, but as it wasn’t there, she only formed a luminescent glow a few inches above the edge of the hot tub, “A while after that, Spitfire came to check on me, just to be sure I was okay. After spending much of an afternoon apologising to her for what happened, we finally settled in and started talking. One thing led to another and we-”
After a pause, Photo prodded, “And jou..?”
“I’m sorry, I just noticed I’d been reaching for my glass and it wasn’t there,” Rarity transparently lied, a rosy tinge filling her cheeks, “Also, it’s quite warm in here, I wonder if it’s getting to my head.”
Photo’s mind was awhirl with the implications of what Rarity had just let slip. The trouble was, it made sense to her. Spitfire and Rarity had been acting oddly with each other. Had it been affection? It fit. Even if it was just in her head, it would be a hard thought to shake.
The sudden heavy feeling of two hooves on her shoulders made Photo jump and spout a string of foreign profanities. Spinning around to see who was behind her, she was greeted by an amused Sapphire Shores.
Still chuckling to herself, Sapphire apologised, “Sorry, boo, couldn’t resist.”
“Do not call me ‘boo,’” Photo weakly objected as she calmed down, “I am not jour ‘boo.’”
Sapphire stepped over and dropped down into the corner of the hot tub to Photo’s left, “Aw, come on, you know I’m playin’.”
Grumbling, Photo sank back into the water up to the eyes, doing her best alligator impression.
“So, Sapphire, enjoying yourself?” Rarity asked casually.
“Sugar, you think I ever stop enjoying myself?” Sapphire joked back, “It’s always good to catch up and calm down after a long tour.”
“Well, you know you’re always welcome here,” Rarity said with a tone of authority.
Photo began to fit that piece of information into the puzzle, but was interrupted by the gentle clatter of a tray of drinks approaching. Spitfire had finally made it back, carrying three drinks on a platter in her mouth. Before she even had time to set it down, the martini drifted off towards Rarity.
“Thank you for the drink, darling,” Rarity thought to say only after she’d already snatched it up.
Setting the tray between herself and Photo, Spitfire slipped back into the hot tub with everypony, “Oh, heya, Sapphire. How’s things?”
Sapphire Shores simply shrugged and offered about the same answer, “Doing well, feels nice to relax.”
“Well hey, good to have you,” Spitfire offered before taking a sip of her drink and sliding down deeper into the water, still lounging with her body facing Photo.
There was a sudden shock through Photo’s body as something brushed her flank. Suddenly sitting upright, she snapped her head around to face Spitfire, who had also been startled by the contact and pulled her hooves back abruptly. Spitfire’s face was all wracked up in apologetic embarrassment, and Photo couldn’t help but be amused with it. They said nothing to each other, but could both clearly tell the accident was forgiven. Spitfire settled back down, this time facing her hooves away from Photo.
“Well, let’s try to make this night a calm one, then,” Rarity replied to Sapphire while taking a sip of her drink, apparently missing the entire exchange between the tub’s two other occupants, “I could use the time to relax as well, I… oh dear heavens, I can taste the vermouth.”
The conversation quickly drifted down a predictable path of catching up and frivolity, but Photo was far more interested in observing. It was easy enough to tell that these three had plenty of history, given how they acted. Whatever the weirdness was between Rarity and Spitfire, it wasn’t peeking its head when Sapphire was around to keep the conversation moving. With both the drinks and the conversation flowing, time rocketed by. It was an enjoyable time chatting, and immensely relaxing, but the heat seemed to be getting to them.
Rarity was the first to stand, “If you all would excuse me, I think I might have been in this for a bit long. I feel quite… light headed.”
“I’m sure the martinis have nothing to do with it,” Sapphire teased.
Rarity blew a short raspberry, “Nothing of the sort, it’s just the heat.”
Heat. That reminded Photo, so she immediately checked the locket. It was warm, but then again it had been submerged in warm water. She honestly couldn’t tell if it was warmer than the water or not, which quickly got her worried. She needed to know, and the only way would be to get out of the water and let it cool down.
With a deep, labored breath, Photo stood as well, “I suppose I must agree vith her. Ve shouldn’t stay in here for too long.”
Spitfire looked among those assembled like she needed a cue before settling on Sapphire with a stare that read of need for advice. Rarity had already begun to sway her way toward the bar again and Photo just stood there waiting to see what was going on here. Sapphire made an expression of confusion at Spitfire’s stare, clearly not understanding the implied question.
Spitfire groaned as she hauled herself from the water and turned toward Rarity, “I suppose I’ll go make sure she doesn’t get alcohol poisoning.”
Photo let out a light chuckle, “Ja, somepony has to.”
As suddenly as they had all assembled in the hot tub, they all scattered again. Photo quickly grabbed up one of the towels nearby and dried herself as best she could, shaking off what remained afterwards. She wasn’t really sure what to do now, but she was noticing that a few ponies were staring at her. Her wings. Grumbling to herself about forgetting again, she made her way toward the edge of the room, knowing full well that the rumors would be properly set in come morning. Then again, that was okay. Her magazine would come out before the tabloids had another chance. It was still her move.
“Greetings, Miss Finish,” called a voice from beside her.
Lost in her thoughts, Photo had somehow not noticed Hoity Toity walking up to her, “Ah, ja. Hello, Hoit.”
Hoity Toity let out a groan, “You’re not going to stop calling me that, are you?”
“Nein,” came her plain reply.
Rolling his eyes behind the sunglasses he was still wearing after sundown, Hoity Toity said what he’d been intending to, “Well, I was surprised to see you here. Knowing your history with Rarity, I didn’t think you’d be responding to her invitation.”
“Wh… Rarity’s invitation?” Photo struggled, “Spitfire invited me. Isn’t zis her party?”
Hoity Toity gestured aloofly, “Well, they usually sort of co-host the parties, given… whatever it is they have going between them, and Spitfire usually leaves the invitations to Rarity.”
There were some things in there she hadn’t wanted to hear, but she felt the need to know more, “Between them?”
Hoity Toity simply gestured over toward Spitfire at the bar with Rarity, holding her. No, trying to help her stand. Hopefully.
“So those two are…” Photo hesitantly led.
“I would say they’re together, but…” Hoity Toity paused, “at the same time I don’t think they are. They certainly aren’t obvious about it in public. I think there’s something, though.”
Photo watched as Spitfire guided Rarity to the couch that she’d slept on a few nights prior, relieved to see she was in fact just helping a drunk Rarity not injure herself. Still, something about Hoit seeing the same signs she had was both vindicating and troubling. At the same time, knowing that a pony who apparently attended these parties without fail still had no idea was its own confusing fact on the pile.
Faking disinterest, Photo looked back to Hoity Toity, “Ja, vell, I’ll be back to mingling then.”
“Also, yes, since when did you have wings?” Hoity Toity interjected.
“Since…” Photo hesitated, “Always?”
Hoity Toity just let out a light “huh” and went on his way. Photo had expected him to shrug it off, but not quite that easily. Hoit’s aloofness knew no bounds.
Sticking to the edge of the room to draw less attention to herself and her wings, Photo decided she’d waited long enough to check the locket again. Flipping the small piece of silver into her lips once more, she found it to be a good deal cooler than when she was in the hot tub, but warmer than the air around it. That was… probably fine? Twilight hadn’t really told her enough for her to judge if this was a bad sign or just normal function. She was pretty sure a lot of magic things were supposed to be a little warm, and Twilight only said hot was a problem. Still…
Photo snuck off to the bathroom to double check the mirror. Looking herself over, it still seemed everything was okay. Mane and tail were still their normal flat white, and she knew to check her cutie mark now, confirming it was still Twilight’s for whatever reason. She seemed fine. Things would be fine.
With some fraction of her confidence restored, Photo adjusted her mane and stepped out into the party once more. Quickly comparing how many drinks she’d had to how long she’d been here, she decided another would be okay and moved toward the bar. Waving the bartender over for another, she leaned on the bar itself for a moment, watching the drips fall from her still damp mane.
“Yup, Rarity’s cut off,” came Spitfire’s familiar voice from beside her.
Photo looked up just in time to catch the mare behind the bar nodding in acknowledgement, “Ah, Spitfire. How’s she looking?”
Spitfire shook her head in disappointment, “Based on what she was mumbling about, I think she’s stressed out that you’re here.”
Photo reared back in shock, “Vhat?”
“She wants to impress you,” Spitfire explained, “Makes her nervous, so she drinks. She drinks, she gets embarrassed about it, she gets more stressed.”
For just a flash, Rainbow smirked at how much that sounded like a Rarity thing to do.
“Do jou think there’s anything I could do to make it easier for her?” Photo asked.
Spitfire thought it over, “Eh, nothing I’d ask you to do. I mean, if I come up with something, I’ll say, but...”
There was a quiet pause, the air filled with only the background noise of the party, before Photo decided to just confront her problem head-on, “Jou really seem to care about her.”
“Yeah, she-” Spitifre started to reply in a soft tone before halting, her voice flaring into a barely hidden panic, “She’s a friend, she’s my guest, and she looks like she’s gonna hurt herself without somepony paying attention.”
Photo Finish knew stonewalling when she saw it. She could press for more information, but… She looked around at the crowds of ponies who might overhear whatever would be said. Whatever was going on, Spitfire was playing it so close to her chest that not even her friends seemed to know. She wasn’t going to let anything meaningful slip in a public scene like this.
“Vell, take care of her, then,” Photo forced herself to say, before admitting, “Jou’re not ze only one worried about her velfare.”
Clearly a little caught off guard by the second half of Photo’s reply, Spitfire just nodded, “I was about to go grab her something to light to eat, I think it’d help.”
Photo agreed, “That should work.”
Spitfire flashed a quick smile of thanks as she trotted off towards her kitchen, leaving Photo at the bar. She wanted, needed to know what was going on between Rarity and Spitfire, but at the same time one of her best friends was apparently stumbling drunk and in need of attention. There was a pang of guilt as Spitfire’s words from before hit home. Even though she knew it was Rarity’s dumb decision to drink so much, she felt bad that she’d been the cause. She turned to look over to the couch, maybe she should check-
“Hi,” Rarity said, inches from Photo’s face.
Sputtering to hold back another stream of curses, Photo took a few steps backwards, “Rar- Shouldn’t jou be sitting down?”
“I can tell-” Rarity announced.
“That jou should be sitting down,” Photo completed for her.
“N- don’t,” Rarity huffed, “Stop it.”
“When jou sit down,” Photo insisted.
Grumpily planting herself on a barstool, Rarity blurted out, “I can tell you’re flirting with Spitfire.”
Photo’s ears flattened against her head, immediately afraid of where this was going, “Vell…”
“And I just have to say,” Rarity continued, prodding a hoof into Photo’s chest before stopping to stare at roughly where she’d poked.
Photo looked down at the spot Rarity was staring at, her view mostly obscured by her own muzzle, “Vhat, ist something there?”
“That is a very pretty locket,” Rarity said, her horn lighting up as she grabbed it with her magic to get a closer look.
Photo froze, the locket’s chain digging into the back of her neck as the pendant was manhandled. Keep away from magic. She immediately flew into a panic, seeing Rarity’s magic sparking against the etching in the silver.
“Stop,” Rainbow said, unable to raise her voice from fear, “Drop it.”
“What?” Rarity mumbled through her inebriation, not loosening her grasp on the necklace.
As the slightest stream of smoke began to rise from the gap between the two halves of the locket, Rainbow knew she had no time left. She had to do something. Her mind raced for options. She didn’t have time to convince Rarity to let go, something told her the pictures inside the locket were starting to burn. She could try to wrestle it from Rarity’s grasp, but it was magic, she couldn’t pull it out of her reach. So…
Before Rainbow had fully registered her plan, the sound of the slap had caught the attention of everypony nearby. The shock of a hoof against her cheek shattered Rarity’s attention, her magic immediately dissipating and the locket falling from her grasp. The hot metal dropped down against Rainbow’s chest, singeing the fur and making her wince in pain. Rarity just sat there, completely stupefied.
Photo froze as well, her hoof still in the air from the follow-through. Everypony was looking at her. The locket smouldering slightly against her chest, she was more afraid than she’d ever been. She slowly turned her head to face the mirror behind the bar. Her reflection stared back at her.
It was fine. The illusion was holding. Her mane was still white. She felt an immense sense of relief.
Behind her, a plate shattered against the ground. Photo immediately twisted around to see what had happened. Standing there was Spitfire, shards of ceramic and scattered crackers at her hooves, with an expression on her face that was an impossible mix of fear, anger, sadness, and shock. Everypony present was so still that it seemed time itself had frozen, if not for the music in the distance continuing unabated.
Photo quivered as she barely managed to choke out three words.
“I can explain.”