• Published 28th Oct 2017
  • 5,605 Views, 188 Comments

The Last Train Home - Monochromatic



Life is like a train ride, don't you think, dearest? Destinations will change, trains will be caught and missed, but there will always be somepony willing to journey with you—so long as you let them.

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I - IV

Author's Note:

Special thanks to shortskirtsandexplosions for suggesting the writing style, and special thanks to my dear friend Jyki who told me 'for f*ck's sake, mono, if you want to write fluff, just goddamn write fluff instead of agonizing over whether fluff is good literature or not, who the hell even cares'.


If you find any typos, please let me know (preferably via PM). Thank you!

The Last Train Home
by Monochromatic


[Set in season 1 and written under the assumption that the Grand Galloping Gala took place three or so months after the S1 premiere
/
Complete and ground-up rewrite of Last Call, originally published in 2015 ]


“Rarity?”

“My darling?”

“Remember our trips to Canterlot? Right after our first Grand Galloping Gala, for that job with Princess Celestia?”

“Of course. How can I not? I remember it as though it were yesterday.”

“Hm. You know, you’ve never told me your side of it.”

“I haven’t? Well! I don’t see why I can’t tell you now. It’s a long ride back home, after all.”


I. The Princess’s Request


You were an enigma, Twilight Sparkle.

The very first time I saw you, I thought I knew exactly who you were. In fact, I believe I said as much when I dragged you into my boutique to...improve your interesting manestyle. You were Twilight Sparkle, Princess Celestia’s prized student and no doubt a model example of Canterlot’s grand sophistication and glamour.

But, as I said before, I was wrong about you, of course. Ponies are not always what they seem, what they say, what they claim to be. I certainly don’t enjoy being wrong, but mistakes pave the way to success, do they not?

It started with a request from the Princess—you delivered the scroll personally, do you remember?— asking if I might be available to work on a few commissions for her while her tailor was on vacation.

Apparently, she’d been thoroughly impressed by the dresses I designed for the Gala.

I think I nearly toppled you over when I threw myself at you in exhilaration at the news. Swung you in my arms as though you were my hopes and dreams themselves, and in retrospect, I wish I had taken the time to truly notice the effect it had on you. How you stumbled back, face flushed, unsure of how to act. I thought it to be natural. We’d only been friends for, hmm, about three or four months? And you weren’t exactly a social butterfly, so I pegged your stammering and embarrassment on the fact that you were socially anxious, to put it kindly.

I was too thrilled to think otherwise. Even despite the sour taste the Gala had left in my mouth, I couldn’t deny I was still taken by our capital city, and the opportunities to be found within.


II. The Train Station

   

You were an early riser.

It had been a particularly cold morning when it all began. The winter months had yet to arrive, but the cold had come early as it tends to do. It chilled me to my drowsy bones with its unfettered access to the lone platform that made up Ponyville’s train station. If only the weather indulged in being fashionably late. Yet I couldn’t complain. Winter fashion has always been much more elegant than the fashions of other seasons, and I was certain Princess Celestia would approve of my timely ensembles.

The train station was nearly empty. I was hardly surprised. I covered a yawn with my hoof, and my weary eyes traveled towards the clock hanging on a nearby wall. Quarter to five, it said. What an ungodly hour to be awake! But I was expected at the castle at nine o’clock sharp, and the train ride would take about three and a half hours.

I tightened my scarf—a blue cashmere wonder I’d purchased at a market a few years ago, as stylish as it was heavenly—and swept my eyes across the station. The one or two suitcases I brou—What? Oh, fine!

The six small and necessary suitcases I brought with me lay in a pile besides me. A pegasus stallion stood on the other side of the platform, his head bobbing up and down as he desperately tried to remain awake. A unicorn mare sat on a bench behind him, the morning newspaper and a cup of coffee floating before her.

I looked away, stifling another yawn. I wished I’d brought coffee along with me. I am, as you know very well, a lover of tea, but I think only a shot of espresso could rouse me from the Sandpony’s lingering embrace.

I closed my eyes and breathed in the morning air. In a few hours, I would be in Canterlot Castle. In a few hours, a silly dream would become reality. In a few hours… My heart hammered in my chest, and I opened my eyes, setting them on the empty track before me. My throat felt dry suddenly, and my stomach twisted with the fear of the unknown.

I was going to be working for Princess Celestia.

Princess Celestia!

Granted, it was only going to be a three-month-or-so-long assignment, and I would only be going to Canterlot three or four times a week, but still!

Or, rather, I’d be traveling to Canterlot if the train even arrived in the first place. I glared at the empty tracks, as if my irritation could summon it forth. I didn’t want to be late for my first day! Honestly, couldn’t the conductor have been a bit more considerate? I was a hero of the nation, for pony’s sake! Saved it from Nightmare Moon! What had the world come to, I ask of you. One spends her entire life devoted to improving one’s kingdom and—pardon me, but designing clothes is an improvement to the nation!

Where was I?

Ah, yes!

One spends her entire life devoted to bettering the kingdom’s image, later saves it from a terrible evil, and yet it can’t deign itself with having the train arrive early?! It’s simply rude, is what it is.

I trotted towards the ticket booth and addressed the half-asleep stallion, one of my lone companions in what felt like an eternal morning. “Excuse me, sir,” I said, rousing him from his nap. “Do you happen to know if the train will be on time?”

He blinked at me once, twice, thrice, and then slowly—agonizingly slowly, I tell you—glanced at the watch on his wrist. “The train should get here just fine, ma’am,” he said, looking back at me and yawning right in my face.

How insolent! And not only insolent but rude, too! He called me ma’am! Do I look like an old mare! I’m a miss! Or, was. Am, still.

Regardless, I made my way back to my spot and closed my eyes again, trying to keep my cool. The attitude one, not the physical one. I wish I had thought to bring a coat. I breathed in again, and my tension ebbed away as the most wonderful scent filled the air. It reminded me of the almond cappuccino I sometimes treat myself to at Sugarcube Corner whenever they’re out of my favorite vanilla and lavender tea.

In fact.

In fact, it smelled exactly like the almond cappuccino from the pastry shop, and I opened my eyes to find that’s exactly what it was. A large cup of coffee floated before me, enveloped in a familiar raspberry magic, the steam tenderly caressing my face.

“Wha…?”

I turned around and who did I see but you.

There you stood, Twilight Sparkle, the unicorn who’d saved Equestria.

The newest addition to my social circle, and at the time, and even now, by far the most interesting. Fluttershy, ever my partner in crime, was my dearest friend; Rainbow wasn’t one to share my interests, but I enjoyed her company; Applejack was certainly the most mature, but also my diametric opposite in many obvious ways; Pinkie was, well, Pinkie; but you…

You were interesting.

Very, very interesting.

“Good morning, Rarity!” you said with much more life and excitement than such an early morning warranted. You were wearing a rather fetching blue scarf—interesting and fashionable! What a lethal combination!—and the cutest pair of earmuffs. I would have said as much did I not feel like death.

“Twilight!” I exclaimed, your surprise appearance certainly succeeding in waking me somewhat. Granted, I hardly knew you at the time, but I think I’d have known if you were in the habit of wandering Ponyville before dawn. “Goodness, Twilight, it’s five in the morning! What are you doing here?”

You flinched. Very subtly, somepony less detail-oriented might not have noticed, but you flinched.

“Uhh… Well, going to Canterlot, I hope!” you exclaimed in a hurry, offering a nervous smile. “Is that okay?”

I frowned, confused.

“Is that okay?” I repeated. You ask the oddest of questions, I swear. “Why in Equestria wouldn’t it be?”

You blinked at me, and your cheeks turned red as you awkwardly tugged on your scarf. It was most endearing. If we’d been closer friends, I’d have pinched your cheeks. “Uhm…” The cup of coffee floated closer to me. “Coffee? Pinkie told me this one’s your favorite.”

I was polite enough to indulge your obvious attempt to change the topic, and gratefully took the coffee in my magic after thanking you. It smelled wonderful and tasted as much. The nervousness that had plagued me seemed to melt away with the warmth filling my body.

Or, it might have been your very presence. Your pleased smile as I hummed in delight, as though my very soul knew even then that something would grow between us. Like our very own cutie marks, destiny had interwoven our fates together so we may face hardships and fig—What?

No, I am not getting sidetracked. This is incredibly vital! It’s hardly my fault you lack any showmareship whatsoever.

Do you want to tell the story then? That’s what I thought.

Yes, perhaps, even then, our decisions had led us to this fate, for destiny truly does rule—yes, it does. Twilight, be serious! What! Look at us! Look at our society! You think ponies’ cutie marks coincidentally happen to match the random name their parents gave them? Please.

See! Now I don’t remember where I left off…

Let’s see. You arrived with coffee, with your fetching scarf, your fetching face, and then…oh, yes!

“I hadn’t the faintest idea you were going to Canterlot!” I exclaimed.

“Oh! Uhm. Yes,” you said with all the eloquence of a well-read pony. You smiled sheepishly, because...sheep are embarrassed when they smile? Appa—no, I don’t want the etymology! I was being—! Twilight Sparkle, I’ll put a silence spell on you! I will!

There.

“I thought I told you,” you said, smiling apologetically. “I still have assignments to do for Princess Celestia back in Canterlot, and since you’d be coming, she decided to have me come on the same days you would.”

“Did she now? I suppose it makes sense.” I hummed thoughtfully. “And she’s making you take the 5 AM train?”

You nodded. “Yes. I have to be there at…” You paused briefly. “Nine o’clock.”

A smile formed on my lips. “Oh! Just like me! I would have thought she’d go easier on you, you being her student and all! Do you at least get to go home early?”

You shook your head.

“No. That’s why Spike is staying at the library to help customers. Because I’ll have to go home on the late-night train,” you said, and yet you didn’t look so dismayed by the news. I didn’t think much of it, admittedly.

“Oh dear, long days await you then, I fear,” I said, trying to sound sympathetic for your plight. “I’m quite sorry, Twilight.”

Ha! What a laugh! I was delighted the Princess had stuck you onto my schedule! Not because of any joy derived from your situation, mind, but because it meant I would get to spend the long commute in the company of my newest and most interesting friend.

I don’t quite remember what we talked about afterward. It was cold, and early, and though I had my coffee, I was still half-asleep. The train arrived on time, I think; I took one of my suitcases, and you kindly took the others.

The train was empty, as expected considering the time, so we were able to have a private cabin all for ourselves. Do you remember the number? Cabin 3-C. Small for parties of six, but big enough for a party of two and their six suitcases. I sat next to the window, and you sat on the opposite side.

I thought nothing of it, at the time.

We were just friends, you and I. Two friends going to Canterlot.


III. The Shape of Your Smiles

I don’t think I’d ever really truly noticed you before. I thought you were interesting, yes, but not somepony to completely devote myself to.

Don’t look so cross! I’m noticing you now, aren’t I? I notice you all the time nowadays, my eyes constantly drawn to you, my ears swiveling towards your voice, my entire self focused on you, but back then…

It wasn’t that you were shy. Quite the contrary, you were a presence by the mere fact you were torn between being and not being one. You were a walking paradox, and in many ways still are. Torn between shunning others and involving them, not out of ill-will but simple inexperience. You would get miffed at me if I dared interrupt your reading, but ah, how’d you talk if I asked what the book was about.

You’d brought one along for the ride, do you remember? What was it? Winter's Winds? No? Ah, yes, you’re right! The Otherworldly Archives by Single Shade. I’d fallen asleep somewhere along the ride, dreamt of the Princess and my future at the Castle, and when I woke, I found you enraptured in your book. Your eyes flicked from left to right, your ears raising and lowering with every paragraph, and your attention wholly dedicated to the words before you.

At that moment, you reminded me of myself. It made me smile. We’d yet to really talk, really get to know each other, but I didn’t need to know you to see you were devoted. I’d seen as much when I first met you, how relentless you were in your pursuit for Nightmare Moon. I don’t believe that I’d found it attractive so early on, but I appreciated it.

I remember wishing somepony would be as enraptured by me as you were by books.

I fell asleep soon after, and I woke not to the sound of the conductor’s voice or the train’s whistle, but to the sound of your voice and a gentle shake of my shoulders. My eyes fluttered open, a yawn left my lips, and I remember your smile. Goodness, that sounds so corny when I say it like that, but it’s true. I always remember your smiles because they were… they are…

What’s the word I’m looking for? It’s not that they were genuine, for Pinkie has very genuine smiles that are nothing like yours. You smiled… so earnestly. I think that’s the word I’m looking for. You were earnest in your smiles, as you were in everything else you did.

You were smiling earnestly at me.

“Twilight?” I asked, momentarily forgetting where I was or what was going on.

“We’re here!” you exclaimed, stamping your hooves against the floor.

“We’re here?” I asked, confused. My gaze landed on the window, and I saw our kingdom’s beautiful capital city beyond it. I also saw the time on the clocktower in the distance. “Horrors! We’re here, and it’s nearly nine!”

No, I did not panic. I was simply… concerned, is all. I only threw the little luggage at your face in my attempt to rush out! It could have been worse. I could have thrown the large one! Well, yes, throwing luggage at and asking your new friend to carry your bags isn’t truly proper etiquette, but you still graciously did it and this is why you’re wonderful, darling.

Yes, I am sweet-talking myself out of culpability, and you’re being awfully dramatic over something that happened so long ago. Only I can do that, thank you very much.

Running through the city wasn't really how I'd expected my first day to be like. I had planned on taking my time, seeing the sights, window shopping a bit, maybe buying a few trinkets, and instead I was running a marathon. I was terrified! What if I was late? What would the Princess say?

And yet, when I turned back to you, you looked entertained. You were laughing at my misery, Twilight! Yes, you were! Giggling and rolling your eyes at me! Of course you knew the Princess wouldn't expel me to the moon for being late, but I am not you! My career was at stake! My reputation! My entire life!

"Twilight, please," I whined, coming to a halt on the castle path, stamping my hooves against the ground. I fell onto my haunches, my chest heaving. I was more out of shape than I expected. The unfortunate consequences of indulging in one too many of Pinkie's pastries. "It's almost nine, and the castle is miles away!"

You frowned in that way you do when you think I'm being dramatic. Which is always. The frowning I mean, not me being dramatic.

"Rarity." You pointed towards the gate, which, as I said, was miles away. "The gate isn't even two-hundred feet away."

You were always bad at math.

"It's ruined, I tell you!" I exclaimed, as it—In retrospect, I will concede that I was being a little dramatic. I got up, turned around and made my way down the path because clearly I was not ready, and I could always come back in a few years, and it was all simply ruined. "I can't show my face ever again in the—eep! Twilight Sparkle!"

As though I were an object myself, I found myself being levitated amongst my suitcases. It was scandalous! And the worst part is you always do that! You’re objectifying me!

"Twilight, put me down!" I protested, glaring down at your innocent smile. "Put me down right now!"

You giggled as if giggling adorably would absolve you of your insolence, and walked towards the castle. "You don't have to be nervous, Rarity."

I harrumphed. "I am not nervous!"

I was ridiculously nervous.

We reached the gates, and you had the gall to engage in small talk with the guards while I was still floating about upside down! Rightside-up! Diagonally! Yes, horizontally and vertically too! Finally, after the longest minute of my entire Celestia-forsaken life, you continued towards the castle and dropped me—alright, you didn't drop me, you gently put me down and then giggled again! Karmic revenge for me taking pleasure out of you having to wake up at ungodly hours with me!

"We're here, see," you said, and then gestured towards a nearby tower clock. "Fifteen minutes early."

"Well! Well! It seems we are, but I knew we would be." I giggled. "And you were worried we’d be late, Twilight! Really, you mustn't fret so much over every little thing, you know? It's not healthy. "

"No," you said, tilting your head ever so slightly and raising your eyebrow. "No, it's not. I'm so glad you're here to set a better example."

I grinned. "Aren't you just."

And then you smiled.

You know, I'm telling you this, and I think I finally realize why authors spend so much time describing smiles in stories. There was amusement in your grin, certainly, but…but it shone with affection. That should have been my first sign. I pride myself on having absolute attention to detail, with having perfected reading in-between the lines to an art form, yet I didn't see what was clear before me.

I would eventually learn that that particular smile was reserved only for me, but back then, I thought nothing of it but the fact that it made me feel like, perhaps, there truly was no reason to be nervous.

With a renewed sense of purpose, I returned your smile and marched forward into what promised to be an interesting new chapter in the story of my life.

Unfortunately, we didn’t stay together much longer once we entered the castle. A few ponies were trotting about, and from what you told me, my destination was somewhere in the west wing while yours was in the east wing.

I asked you about my predecessor, remember?

“Perfect Stitch can be difficult,” you said, referring to the castle’s elderly tailor. You bit down on your lip, hesitant, and then added with a frown, “She’s a perfectionist. And she’s not afraid to speak her mind.”

Really? I could hardly tell by her name!” I replied, and I stuck out my tongue when you rolled your eyes. Not a very ladylike behavior, I admit, but it made you laugh, and that was good enough for me. Afterward, I tossed my mane back and fluttered my eyelashes. “Not to worry, darling! I’ll be sure to dazzle her! After she’s met me, she’ll want to cancel her vacation just so she can see me work my magic!”

You laughed, and I felt an odd sort of thrill by the fact. I aim to please, and it seemed that my magic was at least working on you.

“I… I don’t know, Rarity,” you warned. “She didn’t get her reputation from out of thin air. She used to be very severe with me, and I think even Princess Celestia is a bit afraid of her. I once saw her scold the Princess when I was a filly.”

“Twilight, really. She’s an old mare! She’s mellowed out, I’m sure,” I said, brushing you off. You were probably exaggerating! And let’s face it, you don’t usually have the best taste in outfits, so it wasn’t hard to imagine she was put off by whatever ensembles you wore as a foal.

“Come on,” you said, moving along towards the west wing. “We don’t want to be late.”

“But, Twilight,” I said, nodding towards the staircase leading to the east wing, “Princess Celestia’s office is over that way. Don’t you have to meet with her in ten minutes?”

You gave me an owlish stare. “What? I do?” you asked. Your eyes widened, and your ears straightened. “O-Oh! Right! I do! I forgot.” A streak of red colored your cheeks, and you let out a nervous laugh, again pulling on your scarf. “Sorry.”

“Twilight... Are you feeling well?” I asked, and felt tempted to raise my hoof to check your temperature. “It isn’t like you to forget a meeting with Princess Celestia.” A devious smirk pushed itself onto my lips. “My, my, my! It seems that I am not the only one who’s nervous around here!”

“I’m not nervous!” you protested, and to prove the fact, you stomped away in a huff for the incredible length of five full steps before unceremoniously stopping and turning around. “Uhm. See you later?”

I smiled. “But of course. Lunch should do, and if not, we’ll meet up at the gates tonight? I should be off by seven-thirty, I expect.”

“Seven-thirty,” you repeated, as if engraving it in a mental calendar. You smiled at me one last time. “All right! Good luck!”

I watched you leave, and it wasn’t until you were gone that an ache nestled itself in my heart. I was well and truly alone now, with no choice but to fend for myself! I looked around, at the castle that had previously filled me with awe and yet now filled me with…

Bleh.

Yes, bleh! It is in fact an emotion, I’ll have you know! Sad to see it's lacking from your dictionary. It means to feel restless towards the forthcoming challenges of life. I came up with it just now. Because I’m clever that way.

I felt very bleh, until I thought of you.

I remembered your smile, your wish of good luck, so I took a deep breath, trying to steady my mind and nerves. I couldn’t allow my anxieties to win! My new friend believed in me, so it was imperative I made sure her belief was well placed. I didn’t want to spend the train ride back home being miserable, after all. Do you even know how much ice cream costs in Canterlot?

Besides, I was Rarity! The paragon of fabulosity in Equestria! The most beautiful, the most radiant, the most—Pardon me, but I am a model example of humility!

I humbly made my way towards Perfect Stitch’s workshop, determined to show her what I was made of, and show you that you were wrong about how difficult she was.

IV. Tea for Two

I hate it when you’re right.

On one hoof, I’m delighted you’re so clever, but on the other hoof, your cleverness always seems to come at the cost of my dignity and pride.

Perfect Stitch wasn’t difficult. She was whatever comes after that, multiplied by a thousand. And here I thought I was a stickler for details! You'd think she was military personnel making sure I was up to the task of defending Equestria from crimes against fabulosity.

Which, granted, I was, but still!

She asked to see all my designs, make sure they were up to par. If only I could have traveled in time and brought back my portfolio with the designs I made for Sapphire Shores! She tested me on a wide array of skills, as well, ranging from my hoof-eye coordination and dexterity to my attention to detail. I also had to engage with one of her clients—Duchess Windhigh, specifically; you remember her, don't you?—and I was to make sure she left convinced her dress would be fantastic.

I thought of you as lunchtime approached, but my charms had finally done their magic, and Perfect Stitch treated me to lunch at a restaurant in the Moon District. The Princess's Guard, if I remember correctly. No, you wouldn't have heard of it, dearest. In any case, there wasn't a single pony there that didn't look the part of aristocrats. Everything they did, they did with grace and finesse.

Now you see why you've never been there.

After lunch—are you done pouting, dearest? I was mostly kidding—we returned, and I finished a few designs, just so she could take her vacation without reservations. She even let me leave early! She must have been pleased with my results, and frankly, so was I.

I had hoped to meet with the Princess, as well, but it seemed she was otherwise occupied. I found myself at a loss for what to do. I still had about an hour left before we were supposed to meet, and I had no one to humbly share my success with. Eventually, I walked around the castle area, and that's when I discovered Lavender's Tea Time. It drew me with its delicious aroma and affordable prices. I spent about an hour trying to decide what tea to buy out of the shop’s wide selection, and as our meeting time approached, I settled with buying the first two teas out of many to come.

Nutmeg Delight for me, and Rosepetal Wonders for you.

When I came back, I found you pacing by the gate. You seemed preoccupied and kept glancing towards the castle. Had your assignments gone badly? The joy I felt dissipated at the thought, and I did my best to mask it away. As much as my success delighted me, I didn't want to flaunt it in your face if you weren't feeling well.

You didn't notice me approaching and instead sat on your haunches, closing your eyes and taking several deep breaths. A coy smile shaped my lips. When I was close enough, I did as you earlier had and levitated the tea right under your nose, a trail of steam rising and caressing your face.

Your nose twitched, and your eyes fluttered open.

"Huh?" you asked, and when you finally noticed me, your entire disposition changed. Your worry vanished almost instantly, and your eyes sparkled in the twilight. Yes, that was completely intentional. "Oh! Rarity! How did it go?!" You blinked. "Wait, you went for tea? You finished early?!" The worry returned tenfold, and you stepped back. "It… Did it not go well…?"

You were so concerned! It was endearing, and had I been bolder, I'd have tapped your nose with my hoof.

I sighed, looking away into the distant setting sun. "No, it did not go well. It went..."

I paused for effect.

...

...

...


"Well?" you pressed, just like you did right now.

"Well..." I murmured, and finally, I offered you a dazzling grin. "It went splendidly! She loved my designs, as I knew she would, and she was so impressed by my methods, she decided I could leave early! I am officially the castle’s tailor until further notice!"

“Rarity! That’s wonderful!” you exclaimed, and rushed forward to joyfully embrace me. “I knew you could do it!”

That was my first sign, I think. The first time something struck me as odd, out-of-place. Personally, I wouldn’t have thought much of you hugging me, as I myself was quite invested in physical affection, platonic or romantic. If you had pulled away and carried on with a bright smile, I wouldn’t have suspected a single thing.

But you didn’t.

The hug didn’t last even a second too long before you suddenly pulled away, cheeks flushed. “Oh, uhm, sorry,” you blurted out, apparently embarrassed by your actions.

And, you know, Twilight, all things considered, I should have pegged it on your social inexperience. I should have attributed your fluster to a clear desire not to offend a new friend with potentially undesired physical intimacy.

I could have, and I would later on, but for a moment...

For a brief moment, with a furrowed brow and searching eyes, I wondered if something else was hidden in the air between you and me.

What was it that led me to wonder that? Even now I’m still not entirely sure. Wishful thinking? I don’t think, not that early, at least. Maybe it was just the grand scheme of it all; my professional aspirations had literally just come to fruition in the city of my dreams, so my brain decided that some sort of romantic event had to happen for the dream to be entirely complete.

But, rather than dwell on it, I waved your concerns away and took a sip of tea.

“Shall we go?” I asked. “The first of many long rides await us.”

You smiled. “But at least we’ll be together, right?” you offered tentatively.

“Twilight, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”


“ Love is a game
of tic-tac-toe,
constantly waiting
for the next x or o. ”

~ Lang Leav, Love & Misadventures