• Published 22nd Jul 2015
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The Diamond in the Stars - Distaff Pope



After a devastating year, Rarity decides to get away from it all and spend some time with her friend Twilight. As their friendship deepens, the two turn to rely on each other with problems both internal and external.

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3. The Nature and Philosophy of Dance

I stared up at Twilight’s cavernous, vaulted ceiling, the design for a dress swirling in my head. It was a green thing, inspired by nature, but not afraid to use bold lines. Minimalist, with a starburst of massive green blades of grass shooting out of it that sat on blades of grass of lighter green. Obviously, it wouldn’t utilize real blades of grass; the design was just supposed to evoke them. I closed my eyes and focused as the design clicked into focus. I needed to have three different shades of green, each lighter than the layer of grass above it. It would perfectly complement somepony with Fluttershy’s coloring, but… yes, it would go with enough coat and mane combinations to be a part of my spring line.

The green dress warped and twisted into an image of Twilight Sparkle. She needed regalia, didn’t she? What color should it be? Blue would look rather nice, but Princess Cadance’s regalia already made extensive use of the color. Was silver alright? Princess Luna’s shoes and torque made some use of the color, but the dominant color was black. Oh, dusky blue and silver would look so wonderful on Twilight, although her crown was already gold and purple, making it more in line Celestia’s torque. No, that wouldn’t do at all. She’d need a new crown, then. Silver with sapphire gems? It was all academic, of course – she’d never let me make her some appropriate regalia; in fact, she was doing everything she could to hide from the responsibility of her station. Probably why we’d been getting along so well the last few days.

“Hey,” Twilight said, her head jutting into my view and shattering my vision of her. “The two of us should get out of the house tonight. What do you think about dinner?”

“It sounds delightful,” I said, rolling over and pushing myself off the couch. “But are you sure? I wouldn’t want to take you away from your work.”

She laughed at that and took a step back as I got up. “It’s fine. I do most of my reports while you’re sleeping, and I’ve already read four of your romances today. They’re… I’m really enjoying evaluating them through the critical lens you gave me. I can’t believe I didn’t see the similarities until you pointed them out to me.”

“Well, I’m glad I’ve given you something to think about,” I said, trotting to the door. “Are you sure you want the two of us to eat out tonight? We’ll be meeting the rest of the girls in a few days, and with only Pinkie being in town right now…” It was amazing how Applejack and Rainbow Dash conveniently had business crop up at the same time. While I appreciated the effort to spare my feelings, it would also be nice not to be treated like a phenomenal idiot for once. Was constructing an elaborate deception really that hard?

“No, it’s fine,” Twilight said, following after me. “We can… I thought it would be nice to eat at one of the fancier restaurants that’ve been opening up in Ponyville lately. You know, we both kind of like that stuff, and the rest of the girls would probably be bored out of their minds there.” No, Twilight, I kind of like that stuff. You created a small scandal when the paparazzi photographed you devouring the entire menu of a Burger Princess. Heightened alicorn metabolism, my hoof.

“That sounds delightful,” I said, smiling at her. “Do you have a particular location in mind?”

“Gustaf’s is pretty good,” she said, nodding. Yes, in much the same way the sun was kind of bright, his restaurants were good. They were the standard to which culinary excellence was compared. His entrées usually ran around four-hundred bits, and a full-course meal could cost upwards of a thousand bits. “Plus…” She looked at the ground. “Promise you won’t get mad about this?”

I took a deep breath. “Of course not. Just tell me what’s on your mind.” Really, why would ponies even ask that question? And who can promise not to get angry before they know the news? It’s an invitation to lie, really.

“I have a private dining room in Gustaf’s reserved for when Spike’s away,” Twilight said. “Well, technically, it’s not reserved since it’s complimentary. It’s nice having a place I can eat without everypony gawking at me.”

My eye twitched. “So… just so I’m perfectly clear, you have complimentary dining at Gustaf’s? As in you can eat for free. Anytime you want.”

She nodded. “Yeah, sorry, I would’ve told you sooner, but his Ponyville restaurant only opened in the last few weeks, and then you were spending all your time in the Boutique, and that didn’t feel like the right time to mention it, and–”

I put my hoof in her mouth and leaned in close. “Twilight, it’s fine. I understand, and I’m willing to chalk your neglecting to tell me as a part of your anxiety about your friends treating you differently, as misguided as it was. I just have one question for you: Are we eating at Gustaf’s tonight?”

“Of course,” she said as I pulled my hoof away. “I mean, if you want to, I just thought it might be the type of restaurant you’d like eating at. If you’d rather…”

“No, no, Gustaf’s is fine,” I said, struggling to contain the pure unadulterated glee bubbling up in my chest as she resumed trotting toward the palace’s grand stairway down to the anteroom. “In fact, I think I have to insist upon it. Assuming you’re paying, of course.”

“Of course!” she said, turning around to look at me with those wide all-wondering eyes of hers. “What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t share the perks of being a princess with you? Oh! You are hungry, right? I probably should have asked you that first.”

I smiled at her as we descended down the stairs. “I’m positively famished.”

♦♦♦

“Welcome to Gustaf’s,” the bored griffon maitre d’ said, looking at his ledger. “How may I–” He stopped, looking up and seeing just who he was talking to. “Ah, Princess Twilight Sparkle, I’m so glad to see you’re joining us for dining today. Your little dragon helper is away?”

She laughed. “No, Spike’s home, I just wanted to eat out with my friend. Rarity, this is Gaston. Gaston, this is Rarity.” He looked at me, the arithmetic of power running through his head. Unknown mare, woefully underdressed for the venue (oh, why didn’t I think to change into something more suitable before we left?), but also a personal friend of the princess.

He gave me a curt nod. “Welcome, Miss Rarity.” And no noble title. Either a slight, or a test to gauge my social station.

I smiled at him and extended a hoof. “A pleasure, Gaston.” Was there any way I could artfully work in the fact that I’d helped save Equestria at least four times? Probably not.

He shook my hoof his talon. “Yes. Let me show you to your dining room, Princess Twilight. Gustaf is here tonight, and I imagine he’ll be up to pay his respects as soon as he hears you’re eating with us this evening.” He turned to take us through the main dining room, composed mostly of empty tables – for now. Once the nobles had all settled in, this place would be as packed as its Canterlot counterpart. Maybe we could talk about Twilight’s preparations for them tonight. The first manors were nearing completion, and it wouldn’t be too much longer until the nobility arrived in swarms, demanding an audience with her royal excellency. When they did, Gustaf would be there to feed them at Princess Twilight’s favorite restaurant, while his competitors were still scrambling to get building permits. Clever old bird, Gustaf.

We reached our dining room, a lavishly ornate thing filled with rich mahogany panelling, gold trim, and enough paintings to form a small museum. A large dining table sat in the middle of the room, with a small stage off to a corner. “The violinist will be in shortly, Princess Twilight,” Gaston said, placing the menus down. “Please enjoy your meal.”

“Violinist?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

She laughed nervously and took a seat at the head of the table, while I sat to the right, allowing both of us an ideal view of the stage. “Yeah, they… whenever I eat here, they take their regular musician and have her play for me.” Utterly brilliant. Is the musician not in tonight? Then Twilight must be eating in her private room. Better let your friends know so they can stage a ‘chance’ meeting with the princess. How utterly devious.

“So,” I said, floating the menu towards me and cracking it open. “What do you generally enjoy?”

“Oh, his braised portobello mushroom steak, definitely,” she said, flipping to the drink menu. “I don’t know what seasonings he uses, but it doesn’t taste like anything I’ve had in this world.” Was that a figure of speech, or did it taste like something she actually had in… wherever was on the other side of that mirror portal? The place with the hairless monkeys.

“Really?” I said, finding the item on the menu. Seasoned to perfection. Yes, well, I suppose when you’re the premiere chef in all of Equestria, you don’t really need to tell your customers just what’s in the food they’re eating. It’s enough to say it’s done to perfection. “It certainly sounds delicious.” I put the menu down. “So, Twilight what’s on your mind?”

“What?” she asked, ears perking up. “I… nothing’s on my mind. I mean, a lot of things are on my mind, obviously, but there was nothing I wanted to specifically talk with you about.”

I tried not to roll my eyes. I might have failed. “Twilight, you invited me to a restaurant you knew I’d love for a special occasion, and when I asked you the most basic of conversation starters, you tried to deny that there was a conspiracy on your part. If I hadn’t suspected ulterior motives before, I do now.”

“It’s nothing, really,” she said, tracing a hoof around the edge of her empty wineglass. “I’m just… I wanted to ask you something, but it can wait until after dinner. Do you want wine?”

“I’ll keep you from drinking alone,” I said, smiling at her. “And this thing you wish to talk with me about, it’s not important, is it? No more major revelations on your part?”

She shook her head. “No, nothing like that, just… I’m curious about something, and I thought a fancy dinner would make it go down easier.” Oh, Twilight, given time, you could be a master at playing the nobility’s games – but then, why would anypony ever want that? Her radiant innocence was far more precious a gem than a scheming mind. Still, she needed some help if she didn’t want to get devoured by the nobles. A line must be found, I suppose, between keeping what makes her so wonderful, and keeping her whole.

“The nobles are coming,” I blurted out. I don’t know why I did. There had to be a better way of breaching the subject, but instead, I charged in like a bull seeing red. “I’m sorry, I’m sure you know. You can see the houses building up around your castle just as clearly as I can, and you have to know that–”

“I know,” she said, running her hoof through her mane. “And I’m really trying not to think about that, so if we could just… You know what they’re like, and I don’t know why Celestia is so insistent that I hold court, but she is, and I’m going to have to start dealing with them, but I really just don’t want to. I know, it’s not very princess-ey of me, but give me the choice of going up against Discord or Tirek with you girls, or talking with ponies like Blueblood, and I know which one I’d pick in a heartbeat.”

“Me too,” I said, smiling at her as the waiter came in.

“May I take your order?” he asked. A few paces behind him, the violinist trotted in and took her place. I wonder if Octavia knew her. She hadn’t performed in an orchestra in a few years, but she must still have some connections. How esteemed a violinist was tonight’s musical accompaniment? I couldn’t imagine Gustaf skimping on any aspect of his newest restaurant.

“Yes, we’ll have the Nectar des Étoiles, and I’ll have the portobello steak,” Twilight said, not even bothering to look at her menu. Did she really just order a bottle of Nectar? That cost more than my pricier dresses, and she just said it like she was ordering something off the value menu at Burger Princess. But then, if it’s free, what’s the difference?

There was a lull as I realized everypony was looking at me. “Oh, yes, I’ll…” I glanced quickly at the menu. “I’ll try the sauteed scallion salad. That rolls off the tongue quite nicely, doesn’t it?”

The waiter, a brown stallion in a tuxedo, nodded his head. He wasn’t from here. “An excellent choice, madame. Is there anything else I can provide the two of you?”

“That will be all for me,” I said, smiling as the music started playing. “Twilight?”

“Oh, yes, I’m fine, thank you,” she said, looking at the waiter. He gave us one more nod before trotting to the door.

“Strange,” I said as the door clicked shut. “I thought Gustaf only hired griffons.”

“Nope,” Twilight said, shaking her head. “He uses ponies as waiters because griffons put us on edge too much. It doesn’t make for the ‘perfect culinary experience,’” she said, doing her best to impersonate his Prench accent. If he sounded anything like his brother Gustave, her impression was uncanny. Twilight glanced at the musician and dropped her voice to a hush. “I always feel so awkward, though. I’ve tried getting her to talk with me a few times, but she never says anything.”

“Yes, Octavia did tell me the nobility can be rather demanding with their musicians. Whenever she played for a noble house, she wasn’t allowed to speak at all. It ‘interrupted their ambiance’. I would imagine a restaurant that caters exclusively to the nobility would have similar policies,” I said, sparing the violinist a sympathetic glance. “Dear, if you’re ever out near Carousel Boutique and I’m around, feel free to come in and say hello. I’d be delighted to have you over for tea.” I caught the slightest of nods from the mare.

“Why didn’t you get the mushroom steak, anyways?” she said, focusing her attention back on me. “I told you it was good, but instead you ordered the scallion salad, which is… also probably really good.”

I laughed. “Because you already ordered the mushroom steak. You can’t order the same thing somepony else in your party ordered, unless you’re part of a very large party. It’s not a major faux pas, but it’s still one I’d prefer not to commit.”

“Huh,” she said, looking down at her empty plate as our waiter reappeared, bringing bread and our bottle of wine. “Rarity, why do you care so much about all this nobility stuff? I just… my family’s noble, and I don’t know a fraction of the stuff you do. Well, I do, but it’s a very small fraction.”

“That’s half the problem, I suppose,” I said, smiling as she grabbed the bottle with her magic and opened it. “Your station was already so prestigious, there was no need for you to advance it further. It’s harder to rise higher than protégé to a princess.” But you succeeded.

“But I never wanted to win prestige, or anything like that. I just wanted to study magic,” she said, pouring my glass of wine.

“And I’m sure there are plenty of nobles that have their own pursuits, that don’t dedicate themselves to playing the game of Canterlot politics – but you’re not very likely to run into them, are you?” When the light caught the falling wine just right, it was a delightful shade of ruby red.

“Probably not,” Twilight said, moving to her own glass. “I wish I would, though. I’m not really looking forward to ponies just parroting back everything I say.”

“Well, that’s what we’re for, dear. I’m more than willing to disagree with you about all manner of things. For instance,” I said as she brought her glass of wine up to her lips, “you’re supposed to let your wine aerate before drinking.”

“Really?” she asked, lowering her glass. “Are you sure? I never heard that before.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“What? I don’t know everything. I don’t even know a lot of things, really. I can tell you a lot about magical theory, though. Do you want to hear about magical theory?” she asked, tilting her head.

“I generally prefer lighter dinner conversation,” I said, a smile playing on my lips. “I can’t believe you didn’t learn these things in Princess Celestia’s court.”

“Well, I didn’t spend a lot of time there,” she said, glancing between me and her glass of wine. “I kind of thought it was boring and pointless; I spent most of my time either in lessons with her, or in the library. If I wasn’t doing one of those, I was probably visiting my family, or being forced to talk with other students in the Academy... or as I called them, dum-dums.” There was a pause in our conversation. “I wasn’t super social before I met you girls. Anyways, you still haven’t told me why you care so much about all the nobility’s rules – and don’t say it’s for your career, because according to your business records, most of your clients in the past few years have been non-nobles.”

I stared at her, my face asking the question of just how she got my business records without me needing to say a word.

“It’s not a great story,” she said, looking away. “Mostly it involves me being curious while I was trying to familiarize myself with the ERS archives.”

“I see,” I said, biting my cheek. “You didn’t start poking around my birth certificates while you were snooping, did you?”

She shook her head. “No, should I have?”

I glared at her.

“Right, sorry, not funny. Anyways, I just saw all your business receipts, and I noticed most of the ponies you sold dresses to didn’t belong to a noble house, so–”

“Wait,” I said, shaking my head. “You know who belongs to what noble house?”

“If they’re three years younger than me or older, then yes,” she said, nodding. “It was one of the last projects I got into before I really started studying magic. My parents kept talking about how our family was related to this family or that family, so I pulled up Dad’s genealogy books and started reading who was who in our family. That eventually turned into me reading about every noble family and their living descendents.”

“And you remember all that?” I asked, my eyebrow lifting of its own accord.

“Mostly, I’ve forgotten a few names, but I think my parents kept those noble family trees I made. Maybe we can see them the next time we’re in Canterlot,” she said.

“We most certainly will,” I said, laughing. And while we’re there, I might make detailed copies of them to transport back to the Boutique – or wherever I’m staying at the time – for future reference. “But I still haven’t answered your question, have I?”

She shook her head. “You know how I wanted to be a princess,” I said. “I so badly dreamed of it, and I thought the best way for that to happen was by gaining status with the nobility. If I could catch the eye of a prince or princess… Well, what happened after that wasn’t important. What was important was that validation of status, to show that I was better than my ancestry would indicate. So I studied their games, and learned how to interact in their world. Mostly, I read books on the nobility – but I read them religiously, Twilight, and when I’d travel to Canterlot, I’d dress in the finery of the season, and see if I could pass myself off as somepony worth knowing…” I trailed off, searching for some way to properly end my tale. “Does that answer your question?” I could have done better.

“It does,” she said, smiling at me and floating a bread roll towards her. “And you’re somepony worth knowing, Rarity.”

“I know,” I said, closing my eyes and sighing. “But I wanted to be known by them. I wanted to be the kind of pony everypony should know. If I could do that, I was convinced I could become a princess. If I could wow either a prince or princess with my social graces and charm, they’d take me up as their consort, and then, how much further away could I get from... “ I trailed off.

“It was selfish of me, obviously,” I said. “I don’t really dream of that life anymore, and am more than happy to focus on my dressmaking and taking care of… I’m more than happy to focus on my dressmaking now. But for a while, ascending the ranks of the nobility was my monomaniacal obsession. You know, I even cultivated an accent to fit in better.”

“Really?” Twilight asked, leaning in closer, a bite of bread shoved aside to one of her cheeks. “Your… that’s not your real accent?”

“Does anypony in Ponyville sound like me?” I asked, tilting my head at her.

“No,” she said, wiping her mouth with one hoof and shaking her head. “But neither do the Apples, and they founded Ponyvile, so…”

I burst out laughing. “Yes, I suppose you’re right. I asked Applejack about that once, but she proved rather evasive on the topic. Maybe you can recruit Rainbow Dash to get the truth out of her. Anyways, no, this isn’t my real accent. It’s just an affectation, but I’ve been doing it so long, I can’t seem to shake it. If you want to hear what I used to sound like, try talking to my mother, if she’s ever around.” So, not likely to happen.

“Anyways,” I said, putting a piece of bread on my plate and starting to butter it, “I think that sums up why I’m so deeply fascinated with the lives of the nobility. Is that what you wanted to ask me about?”

Twilight shook her head. “Actually, it isn’t, it’s… good to know though. So, since you know so much, do you have any tips for me when I start hosting court?”

I tilted my head in thought. “I suppose I could be persuaded to share some of my wisdom. It might as well help somepony out. Here’s a tip I never got to use, since it required me to be a princess: Everypony is there for you. You are the sun and they’re all dancing around you. Grace one with a smile and her position climbs; yawn at somepony else’s story and their position falls. Do your best not to interfere directly with their political maneuvering and they should handle themselves. Be stingy with everything, and they’ll keep fighting amongst themselves for your favor. At least, that’s how it works in Canterlot.”

“But I don’t want it to work like that,” Twilight said, shaking her head. “I want… I don’t know, the nobility has all this power, but they don’t do anything with it. No, not even that; they waste it on stupid things. I’m sorry, but have you seen the Valiant? You know, that one airship? It’s insane how many bits were spent on it, and if it wasn’t for Princess Celestia turning it into a cruise ship, hardly anypony would get to see it. That doesn’t help ponies. That doesn’t make Equestria better. It just wastes money so somepony can show off to all their friends how rich they are.”

Twilight made an exaggerated gag. “Sorry, I… the nobility’s kind of a sore topic for me. The Dusk family, we’ve always taken the idea of noblesse oblige to heart. I want my court to reflect that idea somehow, not just export the biggest problem in Canterlot over to Ponyville.”

I floated the wine glass up to me and stirred it gently to help it aerate, a smile creeping into my lips. “A noble goal, Twilight. Do you have a plan on how to accomplish it yet?”

She shook her head. “I’ve been thinking about it. If I just had to hold court, it wouldn’t be a problem; I’d let common ponies air their grievances and try to help them. But you’re right, the nobles are going to want to take it over, and I’m not sure how to take care of it without upsetting ponies. You don’t have any ideas, do you?”

“Unfortunately, no,” I said, taking a sip of my wine and trying to keep my legs from buckling out from under me. It was as if I’d sipped Elysium, condensed into a bottle. The room swam around me, and a girlish giggle escaped my lips. “Twilight, this is wonderful. How could you keep yourself from guzzling the entire bottle when you opened it?”

“You told me to wait,” she said, smiling at me as she took a gulp from her own glass. Yes, gulping wine was horribly uncouth, but in this case, I could make an exception. Following the princess’s lead, I took a gulp from my own glass. “Plus, if you said aerating made the wine better, I figured it was at least worth a shot. It couldn’t make it worse, right?”

I shook my head and poured another glass for myself. Control yourself, Rarity. You don’t need to act like a ruffian just because drops of heaven are still on your lips. “No, it can’t make it worse. Twilight, how can you not drink this every day? I think you’ve ruined me for regular wine now.”

She laughed and took a sip of her wine. Yes, sips, Rarity. Wine should be savored, not greedily devoured. I tried to take a tiny sip from my second glass of wine and mostly succeeded. Give or take three sips. “You should see the castle’s wine cellar, then,” Twilight said, laughing and giving me a whiff of her wine-tinged breath. Could it be any more intoxicating? “I didn’t even have to buy anything, the castle came with a fully-stocked wine cellar. That’s… I don’t even know how it could do that. Either it ‘stole’ wine from other places in Equestria, or it just created duplicates. I hope it just created duplicates... Either way, I have an entire room full of wine, if you want to put those words to the test. Have you ever had Discordian-Era wine? It still carries traces of his chaos magic; take one sip and, it’s like nothing you’ve ever tasted. Take another sip, and it’s like everything you’ve ever tasted.”

“And you didn’t tell me about your secret wine cellar sooner because…” I trailed off, doing everything in my power not to pick up the glass of wine. I was not about to engage in the same kind of selfish hedonism that… I wasn’t going to make a fool of myself, even if nopony was around to see it.

She shrugged. “The subject just never came up, I guess. You’re the only pony in the group who really drinks wine... heck, I didn’t even drink wine until I suddenly wound up with a cellar full of the stuff, which kind of makes me wonder why the Tree of Harmony thought I needed a wine cellar. Not that I’m complaining, of course,” Twilight said, glancing from the bottle of wine to me. “Harmony works in mysterious ways, you know.”

I laughed until I snorted. “Twilight, you’re getting drunk after just a single bottle – a single glass of wine. Honestly, I thought alicorns were supposed to have a heightened metabolism. That’s what you told us all when you ate enough cake to make Pinkie Pie blush.”

“It’s... complicated,” Twilight said, rolling her eyes and pouring herself another glass. “I guess the shortest answer would be that for alicorns, fueling all three kinds of pony magic at once takes a lot of calories. But that doesn’t mean we metabolize everything faster than ‘normal’ ponies. I can get drunk just as easily as you can.”

“Still, we shouldn’t be getting tipsy from wine that’s…” I floated the bottle nearer to me, trying to keep it from wobbling in my magic. “Twenty-two percent alcohol?!” I yelled, slamming the bottle back down. “That’s…" I smiled and regained control of myself. "Rather a bit more than I'm used to.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s why it costs three thousand bits a bottle,” she said, bringing the bottle back to the center of our table. “If it was any cheaper, nopony’d ever be sober.”

“No, I suppose not,” I said, staring down at my hateful half-full glass. Drink it and risk the headache in the morning? Or abstain, and possibly have wine left over by the end of the night? I took another sip of wine.

The door behind me opened. “Ah, hello, your royal highness, it’s so good to have you with us tonight.” I looked back, and saw an aging griffon with a white head and silver body walking towards us, a tray of food balanced on one wing. “And we have the Lady Rarity as well, thrice savior of Equestria and Bearer of Generosity. A pleasure to have such distinguished ponies in my restaurant tonight. You know what the true mark of excellence is, yes?”

I smiled at him. “The company we keep, of course – and with the two of you around, I feel very distinguished indeed.”

He laughed and grabbed one plate with his claw, setting it in front of Twilight. “With a tongue as sharp as your eye, Lady Rarity, it is I who should be feeling distinguished. Not only do I have the pleasure of serving her royal highness tonight, but I get to match wits with the mare who took the Canterlot nobility by storm. Between the two of you, I’m nothing; just a humble artisan, plying his craft for giants.” Self-deprecating, flattering, charming, and very possibly sincere. I could see why the nobility loved his restaurant. “Oh, and I apologize for the disrespect my maitre d’ paid you. He is young, and full of fire; he wishes to be a part of the Griffonstone revival, instead of helping his papa run a restaurant. Children: so much love, but also so much frustration and heartache.”

“Very true,” I said, raising a glass. “And when they’re teenagers, it’s all the worse, I hear. Certainly, my Sweetie has proven that for me.”

“Oh,” he said, eyes going wide as he put my scallion salad down in front of me. It looked more like a noodle dish than a salad, with its strings of green and white, but… I took a deep breath and savored the panoply of competing smells. Was there anything better than seeing the creations of a master? “You speak like a mother, I did not realize–”

“I’m not,” I said before he could finish the thought. “No, I just spent the last few years raising my sister. A mother in all but name, I suppose.”

“Ah, I see,” he said, looking at me like I was an ingredient to be used in his dish. “Well, I know what it’s like to take care of a younger brother, too.”

“Oh, yes, how is the dessert business treating Gustave? I haven’t seen him since that train ride we took a few years ago. His éclairs were certainly a delight,” I said, steering the conversation back away from me and taking another sip of my wine. It wasn’t as exceptional as that first sip was, but then, how could it be? It was still completely marvelous.

Gustaf made an exaggerated spitting noise while taking great pains to not actually spit. “The dessert game is for children who care only about the sweet things in life. A true chef uses all tastes to distill the essence of life in his dish. Still, as desserts go, his are the best.”

I nodded, focusing on the glass of wine in front of me. “I agree with the sentiment, Gustaf. I know I can’t speak as a chef, but as a designer and dressmaker, I’ve always found myself drawn to more… unconventional design choices. I’m sure you remember that season the nobility were dressing themselves from head to hoof in hotel accessories.”

He laughed and patted me on the back, careful not to have his talons rake my coat. “Indeed, I do. You have my compliments for creating haute couture out of hotel keys and lampshades. Makes me think of that time I served boiled boot soup to a particularly grating customer. He walked away calling me the Neighcasso of Prench cuisine.”

“And I’m sure your boiled boot soup was a delight to taste, but I think I’ll stick with my scallion salad tonight. Maybe next time,” I said, winking at him. Was I so tipsy that I was winking at ponies now? That did not bode well for the rest of my night.

Gustaf took a step closer to Twilight. “Your highness, you have been quiet – did Gustaf do something wrong? If so, I shall make amends.”

She shook her head, a smile heavy on her muzzle. “No, you’re fine, I was just… enjoying the two of you bantering. Trying to make sure I understand the basics before the nobles start arriving.”

He nodded and looked at me. “Listen to this one, and she’ll give you a first-class education. The nobility, they will not be prepared for the two of you together. It would be like catching fish in a barrel.” He shook his head and looked to the door. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go back to the kitchen to prepare for our other customers this evening.” Other clients? The restaurant was almost completely empty. As he trotted out the door, he gave a conspiratorial wink that only I could see. Wait, did he think this was–

“Oh, this is so good, Rarity,” Twilight said, shoving a slice of portobello steak in her mouth. “You want a bite?”

I smiled and floated my silverware over to her steak. “How can I say no?”

♦♦♦

I cleaned the corners of my lips with my napkin, and stared down at the empty plate. “Perfect” was too weak a word to describe what I’d just tasted. It was as if I had eaten an hour spent dancing in a Neighponese cherry festival. Indescribable bliss.

“How was your steak?” I asked, my whole body feeling slack. How could food be so good? I think there were actually tears in my eyes as I swallowed that last bite. Of course, I knew what the answer to my question was, I was just being polite.

“It was great,” Twilight said, a dream playing across her eyes. “I really… I know I don’t like a lot of the stuff the nobility does, but eating at Gustaf’s… I can see why they do that.”

“You see?” I said, pouring the last few drops of wine into my glass. “It’s not all bad, although I agree that most of it is. Still, what do they say about broken clocks?”

“Yeah,” she said, taking a sip of her wine and reaching for something under the table. “So, now that dinner’s over…” She pulled a notebook and pen out from under the table.

“Twilight, did you store that here in advance?” I asked. Why did I even ask? Of course she did. She probably had notebooks stashed all over town.

“I came over this afternoon,” she said. “I know I could probably remember everything you tell me just fine without taking notes, but I didn’t want to risk anything. Anyway, is it okay if I ask my first question?”

“First question?” I raised an eyebrow. “You said you wanted to ask me a question earlier. One, as in singular.”

“Well, I might have misspoken,” Twilight said, already starting her note taking. “I meant I had one thing I wanted to ask you about, but probably had a lot of questions related to that one thing. Is that still okay?”

“Fine, What did you want to ask me about?” I asked, using a dab of bread crust to mop up the residual dressing from my salad.

“Love,” Twilight said, and I stifled a cough. “Well, not just love, but also relationships, and I figured that out of all my friends, you probably had the most relationship experience.” For a certain definition of ‘relationship’, that was almost certainly true. However, if you were looking for actual relationships as opposed to just three-day flings, my relationship pool shrank down to just Applejack.

“I’ll answer whatever questions I can, but I’m not the expert you think I am,” I said, regaining my composure.

“But you read all those romance novels,” Twilight said. “Plus, you’ve had a couple of actual relationships, right?”

“So did you,” I said, tapping my hoof on the table. Knock. Knock knock knock. Knock. Knock knock. “Or did I hallucinate Brad from Humanland? Actually, you never did take me through the portal to meet him; are the two of you still–?”

Twilight shook her head. “You mean Flash? He decided he’d rather date my human counterpart since she was, you know, around. Not that I was completely blameless, I was focusing so much on my new responsibilities and I just didn’t make time for him.”

“That’s still no excuse for him to leave you for your counterpart. That must’ve been humiliating,” I rested my hoof on hers. “If you want to talk about it at all, you’ll always have my ear.”

“It’s fine,” Twilight said, shaking her head. “It was never anything more than a crush, really. Honestly, I feel kind of bad for not giving you the opportunity to vent about your relationship with Applejack ending. I know it’s been a year, but…”

A faint smile formed on my lips. “I’ll admit, it hasn’t been the best year for me, but it’s been looking better lately. Besides, at this point, I think there’s very little I could say about Applejack without repeating myself.”

“But it still hurts?” Twilight asked with all the subtlety of a surgeon wielding a sledgehammer.

“Yes, Twilight, it still hurts. Every separation leaves a wound, and some wounds run deeper than others. When I think about the good times we had together, it stings, knowing those times are over. It stings even more knowing she found somepony else who makes her happy the way I used to, even though I’m also happy she found somepony else,” I said, sighing and shaking my head, trying to think of a better way to describe my feelings. “I used to be the mare she came to talk about everything with, the mare she spent her nights with, the mare she shared her dreams with... and now, I’m not. Now, she’s found somepony else to do all those things with her, and yes, that hurts, even though I’m nothing but happy for her.” There really needed to be a better word in the Equestrian language, one that perfectly summed up that feeling of being happy for somepony but not at all happy yourself.

“Got it,” Twilight said, jotting my words down in her notebook. “Uhmm… thank you for sharing all this with me. So, next question–”

“No,” I said. “I’m happy to be your little science experiment, Twilight, but you have to tell me what piqued your sudden interest in romance and relationships. I’m almost positive I know the answer, but I want to hear it straight from your mouth.”

“It’s… All those books I’ve been reading made me realize how little I knew about a fundamental aspect of pony life. The closest I’ve ever been to a relationship was a little transdimensional crush... but you? You practically breathe romance. Even your speech has a romantic flourish to it. You’re probably the second-best pony I could ask about the subject, but Cadance is so far away, so... I thought I could do most of my preliminary research with you,” she said, pulling her eyes away from her notebook to look at me.

“Well, Twilight, the best way to understand love is to actually experience it. I could write a book of my experiences for you, but it wouldn’t be anywhere near as helpful as having a relationship of your own. You learn a lot about yourself when you share your life with another pony,” I said, smiling at her.

“Right,” she said. “Okay, experience a relationship myself, but… how do you know when you want to date somepony? For Flash, it was just this giggle of hormones that shot through my body, but your books describe something more. Is it like…” She trailed off in thought for a few seconds. “There’s this pit in you that’s always drawn towards wherever they are? Like a whole section of your mind’s been dedicated to them? Do you stay up at night trying to tease out every interaction you had with them during the day to see if they feel the same way you do about them? Does the thought of just getting to spend time alone with them make you feel giddy?”

I laughed. “You know, Twilight, I don’t think you really need me to answer that question for you. But in the interest of furthering your education,” I said, giving her a teasing grin, “there is one other aspect you neglected to mention, probably because it so frequently fails to appear in my usual books.” I closed my eyes and summoned those first heady days with Applejack to mind. “When an existing friendship turns into a relationship, there’s something else – it happens in regular romances too, just usually much later – there’s this feeling like something’s slotted into place. You don’t just feel the usual elation of infatuation; there’s also this dull, aching contentment, like they met a need you never knew you had. I’d experience it with Applejack for a few fleeting moments at a time, when our dueling passions reached some level of equilibrium. In that small little valley between lust and loathing, I think love sat. Of course, for us, it never lasted long, but I think it’s important in a relationship.”

She nodded and looked up from her notebook. “No, that… I think you put your hoof on the thing I couldn’t describe in some of your books. Yes, that makes sense. Okay, so what do you do when you have a crush on somepony?”

“That’s the ten-million-bit question, isn’t it?” I asked, giving her a tiny laugh. “In the past, I’ve played the part of seductress when I wanted a particular stallion to ask me out, but I haven’t done that in years. I suppose the last time I tried that routine was during the Grand Galloping Gala, and we all remember how lovely that was. After that, there was Applejack, and the time between us realizing we had feelings for each other and us acting on those feelings was negligible – so if you have any ideas, I’m all ears.”

“Yeah, it’s tough,” Twilight said, flipping the page in her notebook. “I mean, it sounds tough. In the books, there’s a lot of complaining, and then a big romantic gesture, and then the story just ends. Sometimes they get together earlier, but then they break up for contrived reasons, and then they get back together after another big romantic gesture. They don’t feel very instructional.”

“Well, they aren’t meant to be instructional, Twilight. They’re meant to entertain, and most ponies, myself included, would much rather read about the fiery, tumultuous beginnings of a deeply-flawed relationship than an actual healthy romance,” I said, draining the last few drops of wine from my glass.

“But isn’t that bad?” Twilight asked. “If all you read about are unhealthy passionate relationships, then won’t you kind of think relationships should be passionate, fiery, and tumultuous? You can see that model reflected in your relationship with Applejack, and–”

“I don’t know,” I said, putting the wine glass down as I mentally ran through my long list of past ‘relationships.’ “I’ve had those thoughts before, but I wasn’t intentionally modelling my relationship with Applejack on my books. Still, I suppose it’s possible. There’s certainly a strong parallel between the relationships in my books and my past relationships, and… yes, I remember thinking of each relationship in the terms of a romance book at some point. Blueblood was supposed to be a courtly romance, and Applejack was the all-consuming passion. I might not have intentionally styled them after my books, but I did borrow their language.”

Twilight’s eyes lit up as she scribbled. “Fascinating, so… what if there were more books written about healthy relationships? Maybe I should try writing one. No, that wouldn’t be fair, that would be ‘exploiting my position.’ Okay, last question, how do you keep relationships going after the initial commencement? Most of the books end before they get to that point, and I already wrote Mom and Cadance, but I thought it wouldn’t hurt if I increased my sample size.”

“Yes, well, I suppose to me, a relationship is like a dance. You can’t just have things your way all the time, and even when you’re leading, you still need to read your partner’s body language. It’s the give and take. Of course, none of my relationships ever actually played out like that – but a mare can dream,” I said, shrugging my shoulders.

“I don’t really see how that ties in with dancing at all, though,” Twilight said, frowning. “Dancing is just something you do when you hear music.” Yes, I suppose that was a poor choice of metaphor on my part. Twilight knew dancing like I knew advanced theoretical magic. The last time she danced in public, a doctor asked us if she had a history of epilepsy.

“Your dancing is another thing we’ll have to work on, I suppose,” I said, sighing. “And sooner would be better.”

“Why? I’m a great dancer,” Twilight said, with the confidence of the completely inexperienced and deluded.

“No. No, you aren’t, Twilight,” I said, shaking my head. “Please understand, I say this with as much love as I can, but your dancing could cause a diplomatic incident. At the very least, it would be the top story in all the papers. Here, allow me to demonstrate what you look like when you dance.”

I moved to the large empty space between the table and the stage and flailed my arms out to the side wildly, doing my best to imitate the jerky seizures that Twilight thought passed for dancing. “Not pretty, is it?” I asked, the mortified look on her face providing all the answer I needed.

“It’s not that bad, is it?” Twilight asked.

“Twilight, it couldn’t possibly be worse. Even if you weren’t a princess, I’d say you desperately need a dance instructor,” I said, trotting over to her and feeling lightheaded after my ‘dancing’ demonstration. Well, half a bottle of wine would do that to you. “But since you are, lessons need to start immediately.” And luckily for us, the violinist was playing something we could dance to.

“Come on,” I said, extending my hoof to her. “You’ll be fine, you don’t need to go home and read every book on dancing you can. Just follow my lead until you get the hang of things, dear.”

“Alright,” she said, taking my hoof as I pulled her away from our table. “And how did you know what I was thinking?”

I rolled my eyes as I wrapped my forehooves around her neck and barrel. “Because I know you, Twilight. Now, wrap your hooves around me like I did with you. If we’re dancing together, our back legs are going to have to support each other’s weight, and it helps if we have a good grip on each other.”

“Right,” she said, mirroring my movement. “So… uhmm… we’re pretty close, aren’t we?”

“If you’re going to learn to dance, it’s best that you start with a dancing partner. That way, you have someone whose lead you can follow,” I said, pulling the two of us to step to the side in time with the music.

“Wait... so I’m just supposed to do what you say? I thought you said this was supposed to be all about compromises?” she said, half a step behind me.

“Very true,” I said, as we moved back together. “But something interesting happens when you dance with somepony long enough. After a while, you can predict the other pony’s movements so well that nopony is clearly leading. Instead, the both of you are moving as the music wills you, perfectly in harmony.”

I nudged her to my left as I rotated around to the right. Instead of rotating, she sidestepped and brought the two of us to the ground in a tangle of limbs. I groaned and stared up at the ceiling. “In the future, I suppose that instead of talking about the nature and philosophy of dance, I should just tell you how to move,” I said, trying to push Twilight off me.

“Sorry,” she said, slipping her forehoof out of my mane. “I guess I’m really not as good a dancer as I thought.”

“No,” I said, looping my foreleg out from under her back leg. How did that even happen? “But you know how to get to Carneighgie Hall, correct?”

She smiled at me as we both got to our hooves. “I think I do, and thanks for answering all my questions, Rarity. I really didn’t expect such thorough answers from you. I know some of those questions weren’t the easiest for you to answer, so... what do you say I make it up to you with another bottle of wine?”

I really shouldn’t say yes. I was already tipsy – but on the other hoof, how often do you have the opportunity to try twelve-thousand-bit wine? Especially with such good company. “Well, one more glass of wine wouldn’t hurt, I suppose.”

♦♦♦

“A true true friend helps a friend in need,” Twilight and I yelled, two bottles of wine later, as we slammed the door to her castle open. “A friend will be there to help you see. A true true friend helps a friend in need to see the light…”

“See the light!” Twilight yelled as we staggered up the stairs.

“That shines!” I said, twirling at the top of the stairs and sprinting off to her study.

“From a true,” Twilight sang, sprinting after me.

“True true frieeeeeeend!” we sang in unison, drunkenly stumbling into her study and collapsing on my chaise. I really did need to get to my own room, but…

“Twilightey, is it okay if I just… rest my eyes here for a moment?” I asked, stretching myself out.

“Shure, it’s your couch, anyways,” she said, flopping on top of me. “But it’s my castle, sho I get to sleep here too.”

“But you have a bed in your other room, and… I’m not sleeping here, just wanna rest my eyes. You can sleep on that couch,” I said, trying to push her off me.

“You’re sho comfy, though, like a giant marshmallow,” Twilight said, still clutching on to me despite my best attempts to get her off me.

“Get off,” I said, pushing at her. She clung on tighter. “Why can’t I get you off? It’s not fair.”

“Because I don’t want you to get–” She finally rolled off the edge but brought me down with her. Luckily for me, a certain alicorn princess/best friend was there to break my fall.

“Not so fun now, is it?” I said from on top of her. “What will you do to get me off you?”

“Well, I could just teleport you away, or teleport you into your bed, but… I’m good, actually. Like, you’re a big nice comfy blanket that smells like Rarity. G’night,” she said, closing her eyes and resting her head on the big carpet that took up most of her room.

“Wait, Twilight, that’s not how this is… Hmph! Fine then, be that way,” I said, doing my best to make myself comfortable and nuzzling into the crook of Twilight’s wing. If she was going to be difficult, then I’d show her. I’d sleep here all night long, just to prove my point, which was… Whatever it was, it needed to be proven, and I wasn’t going to rest until it was. I yawned. Or more accurately, I was going to rest until I’d proven my point. I smiled, pleased with my inestimable wit as I sank deeper into the twilight of unconsciousness.

Author's Note:

This is... well, I really liked how this chapter turned out. Rarilight are at their best when they're having long conversations, in my opinion.

Next chapter should be out around Saturday. See you in the comment section.

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