• Published 5th Sep 2018
  • 1,356 Views, 38 Comments

Neither Rhyme, Nor Reason - Posh



When Sunset Shimmer gets a letter from a not-so-secret admirer, she thinks it's just a bump in the road. She doesn't know it's all about to end. But Cheerilee knows. She's always known.

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Turn of the Season

Author's Note:

ROSALIND
But are you so much in love as your rhymes speak?

ORLANDO
Neither rhyme nor reason can express how much.

"As You Like It"
Act III, Scene II

Sunset Shimmer looks upon her work: a pyramid of stacked, Styrofoam dipping sauce cups, soaring to chin height, the fruit of three hours' labor. Elegance befitting a pharaoh. She deems it good, and gives silent thanks to Super Sushi for financing her newfound passion for architecture.

Now, what worldly goods should Sunsetkhamen bury herself with? The year of my life I've sunk into this sushi cart that I'll never get back? Nah, maybe something more tangible. Like a cat!

She holds in her fingertips, sticky with sauce, the cup that will become the tomb's tip. Leaning forward, she positions it over the pyramid, and slowly lowers it into place.

Gently... gently...

"You look super bored."

Sunset's fingertips squeeze reflexively, popping the lid from the cup. Her left hand shoots out and catches the cup before it can strike one of the other precariously balanced cups, knock over the structure, and cause a spillage emergency that takes approximately as long to clean as the pyramid did to make.

Phew.

She hears gentle clapping, straightens, and peers over the counter at a grinning Sweetie Belle. From the enthusiasm she's putting into it, Sunset suspects a complete lack of irony in the gesture. Her spirits lift, and her lips curl into a smile. "Irasshaimase?"

Sweetie Belle laughs – with her, Sunset trusts. It's then that she notices just how heavily Sweetie's applied her make-up. Her face is sickly pale, even considering her usual pallor, though her cheeks are a vivid scarlet and her lips burgundy.

Sunset's about to say something when she loses her grip on the sauce cup.

"Son of a—"

She flails to grab the cup, misses, and the cup drops to the counter, spilling its contents all over the grimy surface. Sauce pools around the Tomb of Sunsetkhamen's Wasted Time.

Sunset, blushing, looks again at Sweetie Belle. "You forget you saw this."

Grinning wider, Sweetie says, "My lips are sealed."

The word "lips" drips with significance. Sunset glances at Sweetie again, and inwardly cringes. She’s seen that shade of lipstick on Rarity before – Cheerilee wears it, too. On Cheerilee, it looks professional and classy; on Rarity, it accentuates her firm, full lips. On Sweetie, it's a haphazard splash of color.

"You're staring at me awfully hard." Sweetie runs her hand through her hair, giving it a toss – a Rarity-esque move that looks awkward coming from her. "Notice anything different?"

It's impossible not to, Sunset thinks, eying the layers of foundation and blush, the caked-on mascara, and the garish lipstick. She snaps her fingers in a feigned eureka moment.

"It's the make-up, right?"

Sweetie beams. "Yeah! I'm experimenting this summer. Does it look good? Be honest." The request ends with a nervous little giggle.

Sunset sucks a breath through her teeth. "Well, it's..."

Sweetie seems to read meaning into Sunset's hesitation, deflating. "You hate it."

"No! No, not at all. Just, um..." Sunset fumbles for purchase. "That lipstick's Rarity's right?"

"She said I could borrow it," Sweetie blurts.

Sunset would find that suspect even if Sweetie didn't say it too quickly – Rarity would know better than to lend her sister make-up that suited her so poorly. "Maybe you should use a different shade than that. Try asking her for help when she gets back from her Bridleway thing."

Sweetie links her hands behind her back, fidgeting. "And the rest?"

"It's..." Sunset fails to blink for several seconds – her mind is too busy trying to come up with something even vaguely complimentary. "Not bad, but a bit much for a casual trip to the mall."

Perhaps to compensate for Sunset's failure to blink, Sweetie Belle flutters her overdone eyelashes. "Maybe I'm trying to get someone's attention."

"Well, you've certainly accomplished that much, Sweetie." Sunset grabs a rag to wipe up the mess. "You didn't just drop by for feedback though. What brings you out here?"

"Allowance. And an empty stomach. And too much free time." Sweetie reaches into her purse and produces a few crinkled dollars and way too many coins. "Plus, I haven't actually been here before. This is my first time seeing you in a yutaka. You look good."

"Is that what you call this get-up?" Sunset looks down at her work attire, lifts the hem of her top with her least sauce-sticky hand, and lets it fall. "I've been calling it a kimono in my head for the last year."

"Nope. Yutaka." Sweetie shrugs. "I think."

"Learned something new. Lookit that." Sunset sets to work on the spilled sauce, wiping in wide circles. "Lemme get your order while I mop this up. What're you having?"

Sweetie grins again. "Takoyaki, onnagashemas!"

Sunset chuckles. "See, this one, I've got over you – it's 'onegaishimasu.' Not that I'm an expert in the language, or anything; it's just a bit of lingo they make us memorize here. That, and irasshai..."

She trails off, and looks skeptically at Sweetie.

"...You want takoyaki?"

"Internet says you're the only place in town that makes it."

"'Makes' is too generous. It comes prepackaged and frozen." Sunset raises an eyebrow. "Have you had takoyaki before?"

"Nah. But, like I said, I'm experimenting this summer. Or... experimenting with experimenting. Experimentally experimenting?" Sweetie sticks her tongue out. "Bleh. That sounds dumb."

"Nah, I know what you mean. Far be it for me to stand in the way of self-discovery. Just gonna warn you, though. Set your expectations low."

Sunset tosses her soiled rag into a nearby sink. She scrubs as much stickiness off her hands as she can, reaches into the freezer, and plucks out six frost-encrusted balls of octopus. She glances at Sweetie. "No turning back now."

Sweetie clicks her heels together, standing straight, her face resolute.

Sunset snorts. She tosses the takoyaki into the microwave, punches in a memorized combination, and steps away. The machine nukes Sweetie's food as Sunset puts her payment in the till. Then she places her elbows on the counter and rests her cheek on her palm.

"You remember last Christmas, when Rarity was in the ER? It's 'cuz she ate our takoyaki." Sunset smirks. "She took one bite and checked herself in."

"Is that supposed to scare me off?" Sweetie plants her hands on her hips and leans forward. "There wasn't even anything wrong with her. She wasn't sick; she's just a drama llama."

"Just 'cuz it didn't kill her doesn't mean it isn't bad." Sunset drums her fingers against her cheek. "How're you holding up, Sweetie? You still doing that summer theater program, right?"

"Yeah. We're doing a kabuki show right now. My idea – we had a bunch of 'em, took a vote..."

"So you've got a Japanese theme in your life right now, do ya?" Sunset gestures at the menu of 'Japanese' cuisine. "You must be in heaven."

Sweetie looks away, rubbing one of her arms awkwardly. "More like purgatory," she mutters.

Sunset frowns. "Well, you can't not explain what that means."

Sweetie's already reddened cheeks get just a bit redder. Or maybe that's Sunset's imagination. "I don't wanna complain."

"Why not? You're Rarity's sister; it's in your blood."

That gets a giggle out of her. "I don't wanna, because it's not bad – it can be a lot of fun, actually. Just, it's the kind of thing I wish I could share with my friends. But Apple Bloom's on the road with her family..."

"...And Rainbow Dash dragged Scootaloo on her road trip, too."

"'Dragged' isn't right at all. Like she'd ever pass up a chance to hold Rainbow's jock." Sweetie Belle huffs. "This isn't the kind of summer I thought I'd be having."

"Me neither." A pang strikes in Sunset's chest. "It sucks being alone."

"You're not, though. Not like I am. Are you?" Sweetie's voice cracks, turning her question into a girlish squeak. "Did something happen between you and... you and your girlfriend?"

She's dancing around Cheerilee's name. CHS students and alum tend to with Sunset whenever the subject comes up. Sunset takes it as a slight, normally, but she's inclined to cut Sweetie Belle some slack.

"No, we're fine," Sunset amends. "We're just busy. She's got work, and I've got, uh, work. But tomorrow's our anniversary, so we'll be seeing a lot of each other."

Sweetie's silent for a moment. "That's good," she says, quietly.

The microwave's chirping interrupts the turn the conversation has taken. "Order up," Sunset says, winking at Sweetie.

The takoyaki smells deceptively good as Sunset pulls it from the microwave. She drops the food onto a paper plate and squeezes a zig-zag of sweet, brown sauce over it. Sweetie doesn't say anything – Sunset suspects she still feels awkward after bringing up Cheerilee.

"Just remember, I tried to warn you." Sunset slides the plate to Sweetie. The younger girl's gaze is downcast, her face pensive. "You gonna be okay at school?"

Sweetie half-smiles and shrugs. "I guess. Thanks for the food – it smells yummy."

"So do scented candles. You're still not supposed to eat them." She bites her lip. "Hey, before you go."

Sunset reaches into the freezer again, and fishes around for a few hard lumps of mochi ice cream. She pulls a paper cup from under the counter and drops the mochi in, digging a tiny plastic spoon into the pile. "On the house."

"Seriously?" Sweetie's eyes widen. She shifts the takoyaki to her left hand, and accepts the dessert with her right. "Is this gonna come out of your paycheck?"

"Totally! But that's my problem, not yours."

Sweetie eyes the ice cream guiltily. "Sunset..."

"Oh, c'mon, take it. This is the only frozen thing we serve that I can guarantee doesn't taste like ass. Besides, we're practically family; it'd be irresponsible not to give you free food."

"Uh... right. Thanks, Sunset." Sweetie pivots to leave, only to hesitate, and linger. She glances down at her free ice cream, and squeezes her eyes shut for a second.

"You know... Rarity's gonna be gone all summer, so maybe you could help with my make-up instead? I mean, you're prettier than she is, anyway."

Sunset laughs nervously at the compliment. She writes off her unease – she gets weird remarks from customers all the time. Her mind's probably just in defense mode.

"Thanks, but Rarity would probably take it personally. You know how she is – she'd see it as 'depriving her of a chance to bond with her little sister.' Or something. She'd probably say 'darling' at least once, too."

"...Oh. Okay." Sweetie's shoulders sag, but she smiles back anyway. "Thanks for the food, Sunset."

"Anytime, kid!"

Sunset swears she sees Sweetie Belle shudder.


Cheerilee has done her best to make her one bedroom apartment clean and comfortable. It's one reason why Sunset prefers to be there, and not at home in her loft. Junk has a way of piling up in the corners of Sunset's place, and old paperwork lines the floorboards like cheap shag carpeting. But Cheerilee's place is tidy, and intimate, and feels more like home than anywhere else that Sunset's been.

Still, Sunset's been around Cheerilee long enough to know that her home isn't free of clutter. She merely shoves hers into closets and drawers instead of leaving it in the open. She doesn't criticize, though – that's necessary to accommodate the belongings that Sunset habitually leaves over. Clothes, toothbrush, a riding crop. Bare essentials, naturally.

When Sunset lets herself in that evening, she's greeted by a familiar sight. Cheerilee, seated on her sofa, hunched over her coffee table, with two stacks of papers in front of her. Naturally, one is considerably taller than the other. A worn leather purse rests beside her on the couch, the tip of a purple pen dangles from her lips, and her favorite piano melody tinkles through the air.

The sound of the door makes Cheerilee looks up. She spots the bag hanging from Sunset's arm, and smiles tiredly. "Oh... I thought you were working tonight."

"Got off early; decided to surprise you." Sunset pecks Cheerilee on the cheek. "I knew you needed me. You always forget to eat when you grade."

She finds a spot on the coffee table that isn't piled with essays and sets the bag down. Cheerilee pulls the contents from the bag, retrieving a bento box with a plastic lid.

"There's wood chopsticks in there, too," says Sunset. She taps the lacquered ones holding up her hairdo. "I thought about giving you these, but I figured you'd want a fresh set."

"Is this from Super Sushi?" Cheerilee's smiling, but her words are clipped, her voice strained.

"It's not their prepackaged crap, don't worry. I made it fresh! Used my own ingredients and everything. 'Course, I made it on company equipment, but I doubt that's enough to kill ya." Sunset watches Cheerilee with anticipation. "I figured you were tired of salami and mozzarella. Hope you're not sick of Japanese, too."

It's a frequent enough dinner for them that Sunset wouldn't be surprised.

Cheerilee takes the chopsticks in hand and undoes the lid. The food inside is sparse, but it looks, smells, and hopefully tastes delicious: sushi rice cooked with vinegar, pickled veggies, and a pork cutlet with egg. It's an assortment of Cheerilee's favorites.

Yet Cheerilee doesn't dig in.

Sunset slumps. "You are sick of Japanese, aren't you?"

Cheerilee shakes her head. "I just haven't had an appetite today. I'll eat it tonight, I promise."

Sunset bites the inside of her cheek. She secures the lid on the box, and lifts it. "I'll put it in the fridge, then. You can eat it whenever."

With her back to Cheerilee, Sunset lets her mask slip, mouthing words of frustration as she moves into the kitchen. She contemplates saying something out loud...

...I shouldn't guilt her into eating it.

"How was work?" Cheerilee calls. "You make anything fun today?"

"A pyramid. Didn't get to finish. Spillage emergency." Sunset finds the fridge more than empty enough to accommodate the bento: there's some milk, condiments, a half-empty bottle of wine, and not much else. That's not abnormal for Cheerilee, but she's gotten better at keeping food in the house since she and Sunset got together.

We might wanna go shopping soon.

"Don't spills come out of your paycheck?" Cheerilee's voice is distant, distracted.

"Seventy-eight cents down the drain. I'm really gonna feel that one." Sunset pulls the lacquered chopsticks from her hair and lets her tresses fall naturally before rejoining Cheerilee. "What about you? Anything interesting happen?"

"It's summer school. So, as a rule, no." Cheerilee scribbles something in flowing cursive on the paper in front of her, places it onto the smaller of her two stacks, and pulls a fresh one from the larger stack.

She hasn't looked up from her work in a while – and she hasn't looked Sunset in the eye yet. Sunset bites down on her thumb.

"Cheers, what's up?"

Cheerilee puts pen to paper, pauses, then scribbles a quick check mark. "Nothing. Sorry, I'm not trying to ignore you. I really wasn't expecting you tonight."

"Nobody expects the Sunset Inquisition," Sunset says weakly. "Don't worry, I wasn't planning to stay the night. I'll get out of your hair in a few."

"Mm." Cheerilee skims the paper in silence. Then she sets her pen down and looks up, smiling. "It's not that I'm unhappy to see you... or ungrateful for the food. But I'm trying to get all my grading out of the way now so that you can have my undivided attention tomorrow night."

Sunset's not sure she believes her – she's gotten used to deflection from her girlfriend. But she grins at Cheerilee's implication. "So we're still on for dinner?"

"Are you kidding me? I've wanted a romantic meal at La Bouche de Cheval since I was a starry-eyed grad student. I'm still amazed you could get reservations." Cheerilee picks up her pen and jabs it at Sunset. "How can someone who gives away so much free food – and spills so much dipping sauce – at a job that pays just over minimum, even afford their menu?"

"Super Sushi is a front for an illegal fugu trafficking business run by the Dazzlings. Adagio kicks five percent of their profits my way to keep me quiet." Sunset holds a finger to her lips. "Don't tell anyone, or I'll be disemboweled."

Cheerilee smirks. "I always thought there was something fishy about that place."

"Yeah, well, it pays my rent." Sunset rests her elbows on the counter, and her chin upon her palms. "Not that I really need to pay rent, given how often I sleep here. I haven't even cleaned my place in, like, a month."

Cheerilee flips her paper over, and scans her eyes across the page. "Perhaps I'll have to sneak over one of these nights and dust the place for you."

"I appreciate the offer, but nah. Dusting, I can do myself. 'Course, by now, I'll probably need a couple dozen cans of compressed air just to get it all off." Sunset snaps her fingers. "I'll swing by Twilight's lab – she's got a whole closet full of Dust-Off."

"I didn't know Twilight was back from her hike."

"She's not. She and Timber won't be home for at least another two weeks." Sunset reaches into her purse and fingers her keyring. "I got my own key, though. She won't mind me slipping inside."

Cheerilee looks up, startled. "Twilight gave you a key? To her house?"

"Well, her workshop. But it opens everything else. The house, the poolhouse, the doghouse..."

Cheerilee's eyebrow arches.

Sunset shifts awkwardly. "What, you can give me a key, but Twilight can't?"

"You're not sleeping with Twilight," Cheerilee says, narrowing her eyes.

Sunset folds her arms and smirks. "Not as far as you know."

Cheerilee's lips draw into a thin line. She sniffs primly, and returns to her work.

Sunset's heart skips – she lowers her arms to her sides. "Babe, it was a joke."

"Sure." Cheerilee's pen slashes across the bottom of her paper; she discards it in the smaller pile, and pulls a new one from the larger. "And it was hilarious."

Sunset sucks her teeth. She steps out from behind the counter, and stands in front of the coffee table. Cheerilee doesn't look up from her work.

"That was insensitive of me." Sunset waits, but no response comes. "I'm sorry."

Cheerilee scribbles a note in the margin of the paper, the motion of her pen slowly tapering off. She finally sets it down and pinches the bridge of her nose. "Forget it. I'm... a little out of it, I suppose."

Sunset crosses the table and sits on the couch's armrest. "Cheers, you've been acting funny all night. Spill."

She reaches out, and rubs Cheerilee's back tenderly. It takes a moment for Cheerilee to lean into the touch.

"I wasn't sure if I should say anything. I guess I don't really have a choice anymore." Cheerilee scoots to the side on the couch, making enough room for Sunset to slide in beside her. "I wasn't entirely truthful before. Something did happen at work today. Something unusual."

Sunset takes Cheerilee's hand, nodding for her to continue.

"...I found an envelope in my purse."

Sunset's eyes widen in momentary surprise. Then a sly grin crosses her face. "Wish I'd had the guts to slip you a love letter back in the day. What do you think? Should I be worried?"

"You don't understand." Cheerilee reaches into her purse, withdraws the envelope, and places it on Sunset's lap, face-down. Sunset flips it over – a label, typed and printed, is pasted to the front.

For Sunset Shimmer

Sunset's lips form words she can't give voice to.

"You see, if it were addressed to me... I mean, I feel like I know how to handle something like that. But this?" Cheerilee shakes her head. "Part of me just wanted to get rid of it, pretend it wasn't even there. If I shredded it, or burned it, who would know, right?"

"You'd do that without telling me?"

"Thought about it." Cheerilee squeezes Sunset's thigh. "Better angels prevailed over me, I guess."

Sunset's hand finds hers, and she holds it, contemplating silently.

There's always been a certain level of awkwardness about parading their relationship in public. Cheerilee's always played it off – "it's only weird if we make it weird" – but Sunset knows how self-conscious she is. Nothing would make Cheerilee more uncomfortable than being used as a middleman for an anonymous letter to her girlfriend – her former student – by another student, at work. Having their relationship thrown in her face so casually... Sunset wouldn't have blamed Cheerilee for destroying the letter.

And now that the wheels in her head are turning, drawing connections between points that Sunset would never have thought of as connected, a part of Sunset wishes she had.

Because Cheerilee wasn't the only one who had something unusual happen at work.

"Rarity's gonna be gone all summer... so maybe you could help with my make-up instead? I mean, you're prettier than she is, anyway."

Sunset's throat is dry, and her voice raspier than normal. "Do you know who gave this to you?"

Cheerilee's hand leaves Sunset's. "I don't even know if it was one of my kids who did it – I left my purse unattended while I used the bathroom this afternoon. Anyone could have done it while I was gone."

Sunset runs her finger along the intact seal, and shakes the envelope, once – the contents feel light. If it's a love letter, it isn't particularly long. "Why didn't you open it?"

"I didn't even want to acknowledge it was there, Sunset, much less read it." She laughs joylessly. "Which the administration is going to do, anyway, when they get their hands on it."

"You're just gonna hand it over to them?" Sunset says. "Ten minutes ago, you were willing to pretend it never happened."

"Ten minutes ago, I was the only one who knew it existed – besides the author, naturally. Now that you know, it's harder for me to justify ignoring it."

"Doesn't mean you gotta give it to Celestia and Luna, either." Sunset twirls the envelope between her fingers before setting it aside. "Lemme open it first."

Cheerilee piques an eyebrow. "What."

"It's my mail, isn't it?" Sunset runs her finger beneath the label "Look, it's even got my name on it."

"It was in my purse!" Cheerilee snatches the envelope from Sunset. "This isn't a joke, Sunset!"

"Not saying it is," Sunset says placatingly, holding her hands up in surrender. "But, look, we don't even know what's in here, right? It could be nothing – could be a prank, or a gift—"

"Or a love letter. Or a threat." Cheerilee's eyes narrow. "It's some kind of statement, at least, if I'm being used to deliver it to you, and I doubt the sentiment is positive."

Sunset drops her hands to her thighs. "Okay, yeah, granted. Maybe it's on the up-and-up, and maybe it's not. Only way to find out is to open it, right? And if you don't wanna, then—"

"The administration can, and will."

"Babe. Think about it." Sunset leans forward, inching a hand toward Cheerilee; it gradually comes to rest on her shoulder. "That's gonna mean mixing me up with them, too. You really want that?"

Cheerilee's lips purse. She shakes Sunset's hand from her shoulder, crosses her arms, and looks away. "I'm sure you didn't mean for that to be as manipulative as it sounded."

"I'm thinking of you, here, babe. I'm sorry if I sounded selfish." Sunset sighs. "I'm not saying we don't pass it off to Luna and Celestia, but that doesn't have to be option number one. Gimme a chance to read it. We'll figure out what to do after that."

Cheerilee turns to shoot Sunset a look. "You're taking an awfully personal interest in this."

"It's the first bit of mail I've gotten in weeks that hasn't been junk. Or a bill. Although, who knows, maybe it actually is, and the collection agencies are trying to be cute."

"Still making jokes, I see."

Sunset frowns, then reaches for Cheerilee's shoulder again – she's relieved when Cheerilee doesn't pull away.

"I'm serious now: If someone's trying to intimidate you, then I want the chance to talk with them personally. You turn this in, and we pass up that chance." Sunset squeezes. "And I wanna make it clear to whoever sent this that nobody messes with my girl."

She means it comfortingly, encouragingly. All it gets from Cheerilee is a snort, and an eyeroll. But she passes the envelope back, dropping it onto Sunset's lap.

"This is conditional," Cheerilee says evenly. "You read it at your place. I don't want it here – I'm going to be grading all night, and the more I know about that... thing... the less focused I'll be. You tell me what it says tomorrow. Face to face. And if it's something we need to report, then we report it. Deal?"

Sunset looks down at the envelope again. Balances it, weighs it, in her palm. It somehow feels heavier.

"Deal."

Cheerilee takes a moment to respond. "Thank you."

"No problem." Sunset tucks the envelope down the front of her work outfit, and rises from the couch. "I'll take off. Let'cha finish up your grading. We have a big night tomorrow, after all. Don't we?"

The light in Cheerilee's eyes is a bit dimmer, and her smile, though warm and loving, doesn't quite reach them. "I wouldn't miss it for the world."


"Sunset, darling, I can't stress enough how gratifying it is to hear you!" Rarity trills delightedly. "How long has it been – weeks? Months? Years?"

Sunset finishes tugging on her pajama pants and drops her butt onto her bed. "You called three days ago, Rarity."

"But it feels so much longer than that. The sheer distance between us magnifies the time; every second feels an eternity. Woe be unto the lonely fashionista, who, without her most grossly incandescent of friends, toils alone in the glitz and glamor of Manehattan."

"Are you on a fainting couch right now?"

"...Perhaps."

Her friend's theatrics force a smile onto Sunset's face. She almost forgets why she's called; a glance down at the envelope reminds her. "Bridleway's treating you well?"

"And then some, Sunset. I admit I had doubts about costuming for a musical, but Vignette has been nothing but welcoming, and the whole experience has been unforgettable! And the show – you've never seen such a spectacle in your life!"

"I think you and I have seen more spectacular sights in our time, Rarity."

"So jaded. I suppose you have to see it to appreciate it, though. Oh, how I wish you and the girls were here..."

Sunset shifts the phone to her other hand. "You and me both."

"They're all still gone, then?"

"Yeah. Pinkie's still off with the Apples, Twilight and Timber are still hiking, Fluttershy's doing that thing at the wildlife park..."

"...And Rainbow Dash is being feted by a dozen universities across the state. Yes, I've seen her feed." There's a pause on the other end. "How are things with you and your beau? You're both looking forward to tomorrow's festivities?"

"We are. Things're..." A heartbeat skips by. "They're good. I actually called about that – I wanted to thank you again for hooking us up with that reservation."

"No thanks are necessary. The owner owed me a favor that I'm unlikely to cash in myself anytime soon. Someone should benefit from it. That someone is you." She titters. "And Miss Cheerilee, as well."

Sunset's smile deepens. "Still. Fancy dinner at a place like La Bouche. It's quite a sacrifice."

"Not at all, dear. I'm on the cusp of fame and fortune as the world's premier fashionista, poised to take Manehattan! There are plenty of fancy dinners in my future – in both our futures, needless to say."

Sunset's eyes are unaccountably blurry. She wipes them with the back of her free hand. "I miss you, Rarity."

"And I, you." There's a sniffle on the other end of the phone. "I'm afraid I've little time to talk – my input is needed on a terribly under-sequined chorus outfit. Has anything else come up of late? Oh – are you still keeping up with krav mare-ga?"

"I am kicking ass at krav mare-ga. Literally. I should register my legs as lethal weapons. It's not the same without you, though."

"So few things are, dear. We'll spar when I return, fret not."

"Looking forward to it." Sunset hesitates before continuing. "Hey, uh, before you go... your sister stopped by my work today."

Rarity squeals. "Sweetie Belle! How did she seem to you?"

"A little off, actually." Fishing for information this way feels dishonest. Rarity deserves better than half-truths and misdirection. "I don't know if she's firing on all cylinders. Know what I mean?"

"All too well, I'm afraid. That stands to reason, given what she's going through."

Sunset frowns. "You mean in that theater program?"

"Nnnnot as such... perhaps by extension, but..." Rarity draws a hissing breath. "Oh dear. I really shouldn't be saying too much about this..."

"Too much about what?" A weight settles on Sunset's chest. "What's up with Sweetie?"

"...Well. No harm telling you, I suppose." Rarity's voice drops to a whisper – as if anyone could possibly be listening in. "I'm fairly certain Cupid's gone and shot my sister through the heart."

"She's got a crush, huh?" The weight thickens. "Why do you think that?"

"She's been blowing up my phone lately with questions all themed around romance. 'When is a good time to kiss someone on a date?' 'Will you proofread my explicitly romantic haiku?' 'Can I borrow your lipstick?' The last one's not inherently romantic, granted, but in context with the others—"

"Lipstick?"

"You know that shade of burgundy I wore to Twilight's soiree last Christmas? Sweetie wanted to borrow it – wouldn't say why. I, of course, told her no."

Sunset's head begins to throb. "Huh. Fancy that."

"Indeed. Not that I'm opposed to sharing my make-up with my sister, but that shade was not meant for someone with her complexion." Rarity pauses, and continues, sounding guilty. "You know, now that we're on the subject... there's something I should probably apologize for."

"What's that?"

"I... may have told Sweetie about your plans tomorrow evening."

Fingers digging into the mattress, Sunset barely resists the urge to scream into a pillow. "How could that possibly have come up?"

"Sweetie asked me if I knew any good dating ideas, and I mentioned that nobody would ever turn down dinner at an upscale restaurant. She asked if the owner of La Bouche still owed me that favor, and I told her that I'd already cashed it in—"

"For me and Cheerilee." Sunset's hand travels to her mouth so she can bite down on her knuckle.

"You're upset with me."

Sunset's teeth clench briefly against her skin. "No, I'm not."

"You're certain? I know it wasn't my place to blab about your plans."

It isn't her place to blab about Sweetie Belle's crush, either. All things considered, Sunset can't hold it against Rarity – she was just following her nature. "There's no harm in telling her."

"As I thought. At the time." Something on Rarity's end shifts; she goes silent for a second. "Sunset, I have to go. I'm sorry to cut this short—"

"It's okay. They need you over there." Sunset sighs. Despite present circumstances, it's good to hear Rarity's voice. She hates cutting it short. "We'll talk again soon, okay?"

"I'll hold you to that, darling." Rarity mwahs into the phone. "Nighty-night, Sunset Shimmer."

"Night, Rarity."

The phone goes silent. Sunset drops the phone on the bed and lifts the envelope. Her eyes drift over the label on the front, again and again. She'd hoped to eliminate Sweetie as a possibility before opening the letter, and called Rarity out of a sense of denial. If anything, she feels worse now.

"It might still be a coincidence," she murmurs. "Only one way to find out."

Sunset rips open the seal, reaches inside, and draws out a folded note. She unwraps it – it's typed on plain paper. A reasonable precaution.

Beneath sakura
At the stroke of six o'clock
I will my love confess

"It's a haiku. And it's explicitly romantic. And it uses the word 'sakura.' And it sucks. Well, son of a bitch." Sunset groans and flops backward onto her bed. "I gotta break Sweetie Belle's heart on my anniversary."

Out loud, it sounds callous. Sunset regrets giving voice to the thought. Am I really that self-centered? She closes her eyes, and takes a deep breath.

A flurry of dust tickles her nose. She sneezes.

I really need to clean up in here.

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