• Published 15th Jan 2013
  • 9,108 Views, 171 Comments

The Combinatorics Project - Ringcaat

In this story spanning five parallel universes, the Mane Six get shipped in every possible way. That's fifteen combinations! It's not just romance, though - there's actual substance and story behind these pairings.

  • ...

Chapter 1: Sky, Earth and Beyond


Six ponies. Takes two to tango.

{6|2} = 6!/(2!*((6-2)!)

= 720/(2*4!)

= 360/24

= 15

Fifteen pairings. Five alternate universes.

Let's get this ship sailing.

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#1: DR—Celebrity Couple

In Equestria, anything was possible.

It was possible for a young artist with the tincture of success of her soul to find big city fame, despite never having lived in the big city. And it was possible for a unicorn to make a home for herself in Cloudsdale—thanks to enchanted boots, the magic of a powerful friend, and the aid of the royal magisters guild. It was even possible for her to win respect there after having made a vain fool of herself on her first visit.

It was possible, too, to find true love in a form superficially different from oneself. To see past uncouth speech and rampant informality in order to discover a soul with surprising similarities to one's own: A passion for pushing the limits. A drive to be known, to be exceptional, to be famous. A penchant for inimitable flash and radiant beauty.

Perhaps most remarkably, it was not only possible, but downright common, for one to resemble one's love in another way: To share their sex.

The grand and ancient realm of Equestria prospered for many reasons, chief among which was the fact that its populace never wanted for natural resources, making poverty a rarity. A major reason for this was its low natural birthrate, which in turn owed to the ubiquity of homosexuality. Same-sex relations were every bit as common in Equestria as their opposite-sex counterparts, and in some places where mares composed over two thirds of the population, they were more common still.

It was therefore no surprise to Rarity, celebrity fashion designer in the clouds, that the dear friends she had left behind in Ponyville three years ago had all found love in the embrace of other mares. What did startle her somewhat was the fact that they'd decided to pair up with each other!

Enough was enough! Rarity had been away from the town she still thought of as home for far too long. She had projects coming up, yes, but there were always projects. First there'd been the Sapphire Shores tour, then the Fillydelphia exhibition, the Wonderbolts Pan-Equestria tour and the design and release of her Rainboom fashion line. Now there were follow-up interviews to schedule, the kerfuffle over the AirTrain patent to attend to, an upcoming series of photoshoots for Modern Mare—there was no end to it. Time would simply have to be carved out. Her manager and her publicist would need cajoling, as would her agent.

Still. At least there was one person in her life who would understand.

Rarity took pleasure in tapping on the window with a pebble. This was partly because the glass windows had been her own idea, an architectural feature not normally combined with clouds, and it had been so difficult to build them that she took pride in every pane. But her pleasure stemmed mainly from getting to turn about the game Rainbow liked to play with her so often. Many was the evening or lunchtime break when she'd had her work interrupted by an unmistakable cadence, a rat-a-tat-tat at the window or door that couldn't possibly be a reporter, but only her love.

That patternless pattern was present throughout their life together. The dew on the windows on a cloudy day; the athletic equipment strewn lazily across the gym; the arrangement of bottles and bars of soap in the shower. No one could leave dishes scattered all over the sink like Rainbow could. No one could leave Rarity's workshop in quite the same state of disarray. No one could make their bed quite as beautifully, quite as imperfectly, as Rainbow Dash.

That was why they drew the line where they did—why they still made their own beds and did their own washing. Skies above, all Equestria knew they could afford to hire servants or live in a posh hotel. But where would the intimacy in that be? What was the point of being a celebrity couple if they couldn't harbor secrets with which to tease the populace? What was the point of indulging the paparazzi if they couldn't later stir the pot again during their precious private hours?

So it was Rainbow herself, and not a servant, who came to the 'basement' window. She was wearing only a violet headband Rarity had given her to match her eyes…and oh, those eyes, and their delectably irritated expression!

"What's the big idea?" asked Rainbow, her voice muffled by the glass until Rarity used her magic to swing it open. "I was doing laps in the gym."

"I've had a letter from Applejack," Rarity reported. "Did you know that she's transformed her family farm into a commune?"

Rainbow's expression grew puzzled. "That sounds kinda familiar…"

"…And that she's taken up with Fluttershy?"

Now those beautiful violet eyes became wide and round. "Really? Fluttershy and Applejack?"

Rarity drew back with a flushed smile. "So she writes! And she mentioned in passing that Pinkie Pie has moved in with Twilight, if you can believe it."

"Holy buckets! When did that happen?"

"Sometime in the last year, I gather. Darling? We really should visit. It's been far and away too long."

Now Rainbow was pained, which it pained Rarity in turn to see. "We can't! There's a Wonderbolt show in Stalliongrad next week, and we've got that whole series of photo shoots to plan, not to mention our day in patent court…"

"I know, I know," Rarity was already saying. "And Cloudsdale isn't even close to Ponyville these days. But look at it this way, dearest. We've just wrapped up the last showing of the Rainboom line. By next year, they'll expect me to have another fashion line well underway, and that means I'll need to begin in a matter of months! But right now, no one is expecting me to do any designing. It's time for a vacation! We can reschedule the meetings with Photo Finish's people, and have our lawyers speak for us in court."


"I'm sorry, Rainbow, but this is what free time looks like these days! We have to seize it when it comes along!"

"But the show!"

Rarity winced. "Ah, right. Yes, the show. We can't exactly pull you out of the first Stalliongrad show in ages. Maybe after?"

"But there's the afterparty, and the interviews, and then on the twentieth I'm booked for the Sugar Bowl halftime show. And I've got to keep up with my training…"

Rarity shook her head in resignation. "You're right, of course. The busy life spurs you on! But would it be all right if I were to go? I miss our old haunts, Dash. The cheery voices of dear friends…"

"Sure, knock yourself out. I'll be out of town for the show anyway—no point in you going lonely. Think you can shake the paparazzi?"

Rarity chuckled and tossed her curls. "I should hope to have learned a thing or two from you by now. I expect I'll manage it."

"In that case, why don'tcha go tomorrow? I'll be meeting with the team, so you may as well not hang around."

Rarity smirked and leaned down through the tilted window. "Do you think it's that easy to be rid of me, Rainbow Dash?"

She could hear the beating of those wonderful wings as they raised Rainbow to her level. "No. If you were easy, you wouldn't be mine."

There wasn't time for Rarity to think before the kiss was upon her. She could only hug back.


#2: AF—Earth Mothers

The reporters had been refreshingly easy to slip past. For all they knew, Rarity was currently enjoying a nice, long bubble bath at home, and if anyone tried to spy through the tinted windows, they'd only end up waiting in consternation for her to leave the bathroom and thinking her appetite for bathing knew no bounds. This thought amused her as she strolled along the familiar road to Sweet Apple Acres. It was a beautiful day, and no one—not even those she was bound to visit—knew where she was. Privacy was a beautiful thing in those rare moments when it could be enjoyed under the sun.

It wasn't long before her first surprise: Where once had lain undeveloped meadow, there were now plentiful textured fields of many colors. Though Rarity couldn't tell what was growing there, it was clear the Apples had expanded their operations to far more than just apples.

Another few furlongs, and there was a sign—nothing more than a broad, attractive board, buried deep in the earth. SWEET SEED COMMUNE, it read. Below was a detailed map showing the regions associated with various crops, crisscrossed with lines and notations showing who was in charge of which sections, according to a rotating schedule. Rarity noticed a green region marked "Animal Preserve" on the northwest edge of the property, not too far from the farmhouse.

It wasn't long before she came to the first workers. Their crop appeared to be yellow squash, but their own nature was harder to discern. They were a green mare and a mango-orange stallion, both wearing elaborate wide-brimmed hats that would have amazed the clothing designer if they hadn't clashed so violently with their surroundings.

"Good morning!" greeted Rarity. She was used to being polite unless aggrieved, and the idea of startling these random farmers with the presence of a celebrity, should they happen to recognize her, amused her.

The two rose and removed their hats, lifting their heads merrily. "Good morning!" they said in turn. Rarity could quite put names to their vaguely familiar faces, but what surprised her more was that the female worker was a unicorn—distinctly uncommon in the farming class, especially in Ponyville.

Rarity smiled. "Might either of you know where I could find Miss Applejack, the proprietor?"

"Didja see a sign on the way here?" asked the green unicorn in a surprisingly downhomey voice. "Should have the full schedule."

"Oh, of course. I should have checked it when I passed it. How silly of me."

"Not at all!" said the equally cheerful earth pony. "Or you could ask Miss Fluttershy over there." He pointed to a slowly sinking speck of graceful yellow near the horizon. "She'd know, I expect!"

Rarity let out a dry chortle. "Yes, she would, wouldn't she? Thank you very much." As she passed the two workers by, they scooped up their gaudy hats and were back to their tasks with admirable speed.

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Rarity hurried toward the yellow speck, peripherally taking in the sight of new crops, along with a few small buildings she didn't recognize dotting the fields here and there. Dwellings, she supposed? There were other ponies at work as well, but Rarity honed in on what did in fact turn out to be Fluttershy, wiggling about at the orchard's edge with her head under a fallen apple tree.

"Darling!! What on earth has you so captivated under there?"

Fluttershy froze, her wings rigid and half extended. She slowly pulled her forebody free and looked up in amazement. "Rarity?"

"In the flesh! Surprised to see me?"

The yellow pegasus pony's cheeks flushed pinker than her mane. "I'm so glad you're here! Oh, Rarity, I've missed you so much. Have you moved back to town?"

Rarity gave her head a reluctant shake. "I'm only here for the day. But I simply couldn't stay away when I learned what Applejack had done with this place! But then again…it wasn't just her, was it?"

Slowly, Fluttershy brought her delighted blush under control. "It's amazing how many ponies have decided to join us out here. We had no idea the commune would grow so quickly! We just wanted to share a little piece of our happiness."

Things were beginning to come clear. "So the relationship came first, and the commune came after?"

"That's right," Fluttershy agreed. "Once we'd both found what we wanted, it seemed like it would be selfish to keep it to ourselves."

Rarity looked around, eventually spotting the original Apple family farmhouse. "Is Applejack in today?"

"Oh, she's in the field. I think she's breaking ground for the string bean crop. We're starting to grow so many new things, Rarity! It's so exciting!" With this, Fluttershy lifted her face to the sky and hovered in exultation.

Rarity found numerous questions occurring to her. But they could wait. She wanted to speak to her friends together—to see their newfound happiness firsthoof. "Darling? Would you be willing to show me to the beanfield?"

"Oh, yes! Just give me a minute." Fluttershy dropped silently to the earth and resumed digging under the treetrunk before her.

"What are you doing under there, if I may ask?"

As the pegasus gave one final tug, a length of wild tree root came flying out, spraying dirt everywhere. Rarity gasped, shaking it from her coat and mane as well as she could.

"Oh! I'm sorry, Rarity. But this tree just happened to fall right over a prairie dog burrow, and the poor things were getting tangled in its roots trying to dig their way out." Sure enough, a gaggle of prairie dogs emerged from the newly cleared hole, rushing for cleaner pastures. A couple of them paused to give affectionate facerubs to Fluttershy's leg.

Rarity laughed, ignoring the dirt as well as she could. "It's grand to see you haven't given up on animals entirely! I was beginning to worry you'd transferred all your affections to plants!"

"Oh, no," said the yellow pony, leading her friend toward the string bean field. "I've still got all my original affections. I just have so much more, these days."

Rarity slyly observed her companion's secret smile as they walked.

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Hats were everywhere, bobbing on the heads of workers. Straw hats, burlap hats, ridged paper…practically no two in the same shape or style! Apparently they were a rule, spoken or unspoken, of the commune. Yet there was only one Stetson, and it thankfully confirmed the identity of the well-toned carrot orange earth pony beneath it.

"Why, if it ain't Rarity! Where've you been, sugarcube?"

It was so reassuring to hear that familiar greeting. "You mean you don't already know my every movement?" asked Rarity, feigning amazement.

"Huh? Why would I?" asked Applejack. "Oh, you mean on account o' tabloids and such? Naw, we don't have much time for pleasure readin' around here."

"Thank you for meeting the joke halfway," Rarity teased, offering a nuzzle that Applejack happily accepted. "It's quite all right, believe me. Being trailed everywhere by reporters and photographers gets quite tiresome. You needn't worry, though—I've given them the slip."

"Good fer you!" replied the farmer. "So, you've come to see what we've done with the place?"

"More or less! I must admit, I was surprised by the sign. 'Sweet Seed Commune'?"

There was a subtle sigh as Applejack unhooked herself from her harness. "It's true. Sweet Apple Acres is no more."

"Oh, but it's so much more!" interrupted Fluttershy.

"Heh heh. That it is." Applejack took a moment to duck her nose under Fluttershy's mane, evoking an almost inaudible squeal.

"I've only got a few hours," said Rarity, hiding her reaction, "but I'm dying to hear how this commune came to be!"

"Well, come on up to the house an' we'll fix ya somethin'," suggested Applejack. "How do y'feel about…Waldorf salads?"

"Waldorf? Oh my! Are you sure, Applejack? That's only around 25% apple! I remember the days when anything under 50% on this farmstead would be a scandal!"

"Well, times change," quipped the orange pony. "Come on in and make yourself comfy."

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Granny Smith was cordial to Rarity as she entered the redecorated home, though Rarity got the impression that the ailing matron didn’t quite remember who she was. Just how long had it been since she'd been a guest here? She couldn't recall.

Moving past her into the kitchen, Rarity admired the newly painted upper walls. "Oh, I love the butterfly motif!"

"Of course you would notice that," said Fluttershy. "You've always been so observant."

"Well, and yet!" Rarity took a seat at the table. "Somehow I seem to have missed the signs between the two of you!"

Applejack chuckled, setting her hat on a rack sporting half a dozen different pieces of headgear. "Well, I think it took us a piece by surprise, too. Danged if ah don't owe it all to worms."

"Worms?" That was not what Rarity had expected.

"That's right," Fluttershy confirmed. "Applejack had a worm infestation last year, and it was ruining her harvest. She tried everything."

"Ah was at mah wits' end," said Applejack. "Last thing ah could think of was bringin' in Fluttershy here. She's always been a wiz with animals, after all…and worms are animals, even if they are squirmy little ones."

"I'd never really thought much about worms," revealed Fluttershy. "But once I started looking at the tunnels they made in the apples here, I was fascinated. I wanted to spend all my time here!"

"The worms brought us together," continued Applejack. "Ah saw how tender she was with 'em…and when she managed to draw 'em all to one grove, and saved mah crop…well, I suppose ah was just plain won over!"

"We went on a vacation to celebrate," said Fluttershy. "Have you ever been to Watershine Glade, Rarity? It's heavenly."

"I can't say I have," said Rarity softly, "but I've seen pictures. "The waterfalls looked endless."

"Oh, they were," Fluttershy whispered. She fell into a hush as her mate started making the salad.

"Well, I'll just say this for waterfalls," contributed Applejack. "They're good at makin' you scrabble fer places to huddle. An' while we were there, we did a whole lotta huddlin'."

"Oh, yes," confirmed Fluttershy. "AJ is a very nice huddler."

"And so there you were!" surmised Rarity.

"There we were!" continued Fluttershy. "And I decided I'd simply have to move in here. Which of course meant that my animals—at least the most tender, vulnerable ones—would have to move, too."

"So we carved out a space over yonder," said Applejack, whipping up a dressing with a front hoof while pointing with a rear one. "An' she still spends a mod'rate amount o' time with her critters. But ah was surprised how quickly she took to plants!"

"It's true! I knew that I couldn't be truly happy on a farm with only one kind of crop, any more than I could be happy caring for just one kind of animal. So…I suggested that we diversify."

"And you went along with it, Applejack?"

The earth pony finished the dressing and mixed in cups of raisins, walnuts and celery. The apple slices came last. "Oh, I wasn't too happy about cuttin' back the orchards. Those trees mean a lot to me, ya know."

Rarity nodded as Fluttershy said, "Oh, I know."

"But it had to be done," Applejack continued. "So we culled back the least fruitful apple trees, and added zucchini, an' then potatoes…corn…grapes…"

"Soon," said Fluttershy merrily, "I could walk in a straight line and come across apples, carrots, celery stalks..."

"Colorful flowers too," added Applejack.

"Oh yes, very colorful flowers. You were so good to me!"

"Well, you were no slouch, yerself! But even so, it was clear we weren't gonna be able to handle so many different crops on our own." Applejack spooned a healthy serving of salad into Rarity's bowl. "Warn't no choice but t'invite folks in!"

"And thus Sweet Seed Commune was born?" summarized Rarity.

"That's how it happened," said Fluttershy. "And now there are so many wonderful diverse things around us! Plants…animals…ponies…"

"Hats," added Applejack. "Kinda became a tradition."

"So I see!" said Rarity. She took a bite, finding the Waldorf salad deliciously zesty.

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The three of them strolled later through the still sizable apple orchard, the trees adorned by beautiful white spring blossoms.

"So how's life with mah old nemesis?" asked Applejack, cracking a mischievous grin.

"It's quite a thrill, I assure you. Our schedules are packed! And while we each might be famous on our own, we're doubly so as a unit."

"You can't tell me that doesn't please ya."

"Well, one doesn't butter one's bread with fame," ruminated Rarity, glancing at the blossoms overhead. "Even though one might wish to."

"An' they call you two 'Rarebow' these days, don't they? What kind of a name is that?"

"A rather embarrassing one, I admit. Still, it shows that the public cares!"

Fluttershy, who was enjoying the surrounding scents and sounds, spoke up softly. "It's good to be cared for."

"True enough," said Rarity. "And I'm sure the other members of your commune hold you both in high esteem."

"Yes," said Fluttershy, "but they aren't the ones who matter most." She locked eyes with her lover.

Applejack paused beneath a low-hanging branch. "Ah take a whiff of my girl," she mused, "and it's like I'm inhalin' the true essence at the core o' life."

"Why Applejack, you must really be infatuated!" exclaimed Rarity. "I've never known you to wax poetic."

This confused the farmer. "Wax? Rarity, all mah apples are wax free, guaranteed. Always have been."

The unicorn laughed and found Fluttershy laughing with her. "Oh, Applejack," said Fluttershy, her yellow coat practically glowing in the bright sun. "I think she means your words have a sheen to them that they never had before." She put her head up against her paramour and faced Rarity. "And it's true! There's so much beauty on the inside of this mare we hardly ever get to see!" They exchanged a fond look. "But I intend to free it."

Applejack let out a nervous laugh, not breaking eye contact. Her lover's yellow nose caressed the underside of her orange chin, easing that laughter into a happy sigh. Together, they gazed at the trees.

Rarity waited some moments before speaking. "It's been a lovely visit," she whispered. "But I think it's time for me to head on to the library. I'm hoping to be home before dark."

Fluttershy gave the fashionista an all-encompassing hug. "Don't be a stranger!"

"I'll endeavor not to be. And of course, I wish you two the very best." Rarity smiled at Applejack. "Good luck with the commune!"

"Don't need luck," said Applejack with a glance. "All ah need is my trees, and mah beautiful muse." She turned her eyes back to Fluttershy, who was on the verge of floating with joy.

"I'll be seeing you," whispered Rarity as she slipped quietly away. When she looked back from the trail leading to town, the two commune farmers were still admiring the apple blossoms together.


#3: PT—Seekers of Arcane Knowledge

How the Ponyville library had changed! Rarity paused to compose a sketch as she gazed from the road at the mind-boggling structure. Built into a tree, the building had always featured numerous wings—rooms upon haphazard rooms without much structure beyond multiplicity and chaos. But now it was supplemented with chambers, cupolas, promontories…it had the air of a temple of the occult. Most notable was the large chamber in the heart of the foliage built out of smooth light purple wood, with a constantly turning panel in its center. On one side was painted a huge, stylized question mark; the other featured a glimmering pyramid made from pink and silver blocks, a single blue balloon at its heart and a gleaming star of magic emerging from its apex.

The familiar sign before the library still bore the icon of a book, but now its pages shone with light and were printed with tiny pink script. When Rarity looked closely, she found that the script consisted of tiny, wiggly question marks and exclamation points. She wanted to chuckle, but her sense of wonder was even greater. With some trepidation, she strode into the library.

There were other patrons perusing the collection, which was even larger than it had been, but it was Spike who greeted Rarity from the central desk. "Rarity! You're back!!" The dragon dashed around the desk to give her a hug; rather than force him to squeeze her legs, she bowed and let him throw his stubby arms around her neck. "I can't believe you're back! I missed you so much!"

Rarity was touched by the young dragon's affection. "Yes, Spike, I'm back. It's been too long."

The purple reptile closed his eyes and squeezed harder. "You can say that again! All those days without you!"

This was going a bit far. Suddenly remembering his crush of yesteryear, Rarity drew gently away from Spike's embrace and tried to strike a merciful tone. "I'm glad to see you again too, Spike…but surely you know I'm with Dash now."

His face fell, as did his spines. "Oh yeah." He seemed to be trying to think of something else to say.

Rarity spared him the pain. "I'm sorry, dear. I know you were fond of me." She offered him a nuzzle, which he accepted on his belly. "If it hadn't been for the accident of our respective ages...and species...well, who knows!" She smiled at him, and he beamed with an overwhelmed sigh.

"Who knows," he gushed. "Yeah, it's too bad we'll never end up together." He shook his head and abruptly started to stare into the distance. Rarity hoped he wasn't thinking of the relatively long lifespans of dragons and unicorns compared to pegasi—that would be entirely too morbid.

"In any case, I'm only here for the afternoon," said Rarity. "I was hoping to visit with Twilight...and, ah...with Pinkie." The idea of them as a couple still unsettled her—she wasn't sure if it was because such a pairing felt wrong, or because she was frightened of what it would entail. "Are they in?"

Spike's mind resettled in the present. "Yeah, they're upstairs. Uh..." He glanced up the spiral staircase, a little nervously. "You may want to knock first."

"Right." Rarity's trepidation returned as she followed his gaze. "Well...no time like the present!" She swallowed the lump in her throat and ascended. Spike remained before the desk, watching her from below. Well, let him. This was something of a significant reunion.

Sure enough, set directly in the middle of the junction of causeways leading to various wings of the tree sat an enclosed room bearing a sparkling question mark on its door. Based on the lavender paint job, it was probably the very chamber Rarity had seen from the outside—the nervous system of the Ponyville Library, so to speak. Certainly it made Rarity nervous. She knocked a hoof delicately three times against the door....

Where there had before been silence, now stifled laughter was audible from the thickly walled room. Rarity stepped back, embarrassed. She wondered whether she'd had the misfortune to catch her old friends in something…improper.

With a click, the door swung open more easily than she'd thought it could, and Pinkie's face was right in hers, looking young as ever, if not younger. Her blue eyes instantly went wide and her muzzle parted in a gasp. In the second before Pinkie could speak, Rarity noticed that a billowing green-yellow gas was escaping from the doorway above her, and it smelled…not nearly as bad as she would have guessed. Almost stimulating.

"RARITY!!! Sparky, look! It's the rare part of Rarebow! And she is rare, too,' cause there's only one of her and she hasn't been here in ages!!" Rarity was getting ready to respond, but before she could, the pink mare leapt upon her and hugged tight. Rarity stumbled back, letting out a squeal. She collapsed onto the wooden floor, and while she couldn't disentangle herself enough to return the hug, she did manage a weak nuzzle.

"Pinkie, please!"

"Oh, sorry! I was just so happy to see you! How have you been, Rarity? How are the paparazzi treating you? Is it true that you and Rainbow are gonna do a photoshoot together? An erotic photo shoot? Because that's what I heard! And is it true that 'erotic' means 'in an environment lacking oxygen'? Because that sounds like you'd have to hold your breaths a long time!!"


"But we might be able to help! We've been working on that kind of thing, haven't we, Sparks?"

"Yes…yes, we have." Twilight was there at the door now, and despite Pinkie blocking most of her vision, Rarity noticed something different about the academic. A streak of sparkling silver in her mane?

"Twilight, it's so good to see you," Rarity croaked. "Do you think you could…manage to call your…lover off?"

Pinkie stood back and gasped, not realizing how aggressive she'd been. Rarity stumbled to her feet and shook her mane into place. The green and yellow gas was beginning to get heady.

"I wasn't expecting you, Rarity!" said Twilight, hurrying to shut off a Bunsen burner. "Did you send a note? Or maybe let the mayor know you were coming?"

"On the contrary, I thought I might give you a pleasant surprise!" Rarity coughed, finding the cloying gas too much for her. "But instead, I find myself surpr…what is this strange miasma?!"

"Oh, that's just balloon gas," said Pinkie. "Watch!" She stood firm in the hallway and sucked up a lungful of the stuff from the upper air. To Rarity's amazement, the earth pony's coat acquired a tinge of green, her body expanded, her eyes bulged, and her tail started to float! Soon, Pinkie was thrice her former girth, and her skin was beginning to become translucent. Rarity was afraid to look beneath the surface, but thought she could make out organs being pressed against the edges of Pinkie's equine anatomy. She seemed lighter as well, and thoroughly bulbous. Eventually, she let out her breath and the entire effect went racing out of her in a stream of gas, yellow, green and pink, and Pinkie was her extraordinary self again.

"But—incredible!!" exclaimed Rarity. "That was—that was absolutely revolting, Pinkie! And yet…fascinating! Surely it was magic!"

"Thaaaaaat's right! Sort of. Kind of! More or less!"

"Magically enhanced chemistry," explained Twilight. The billows were finally dissipating, but Rarity could now see that this 'balloon gas' had filled practically the whole room.

"I see," she murmured. "Twilight—Pinkie—what in the world were you two doing in there?!"

"Juuuust having a little fun!" chimed Pinkie, striking a playful stance.

"Well," said Twilight, "that and trying to develop a way to float using our stomachs as bladders. Now that we've worked out how to use our large intestines as long-term storage, that is."

Rarity felt unease rising in her own stomach. "You've…what?! But that sounds simply disgusting!"

"Disgusting and fun!!" shouted the pink pony, doing a backflip that shuddered the floor.

Twilight grinned bashfully. "I prefer to think of it as…arcane study."

"Misusing your stomachs?" replied a stunned Rarity. "Bucking the natural order? You know there isn't a flight spell for a reason, Twilight! Only pegasus ponies are meant to fly!"

"Yyyyep!" agreed Pinkie Pie. "Along with birds, bats, insects, griffons, specks of dust, parasprites, flying pigs, dragons, alicorns, harpies, hippogriffs, microorganisms, pterosaurs, winged salamanders, gorgons, anyone with a hot air balloon or a pedal-powered dirigible, and now US!"

"Does Princess Celestia know about this?"

"Actually," said Twilight, "Celestia pulled the strings to get us our latest grant. She's as interested in arcane studies as anyone. It's very avant garde!"

"…Aaaaand romantic!" added Pinkie, striking an ominous bipedal stance. "We're unlocking doors that we were never even meant to discover! Seeking out knowledge that PONIES WERE NOT MEANT TO KNOW!!" She waved her forehooves about in a flurry.

"And that's…romantic?" echoed Rarity.

"Oh, very!" said a blushing Twilight. Rarity could now see that her coat and mane were definitely flecked with sparkling silver. "Pinkie's helped me figure out so many things I never would have thought to try on my own! Who would have thought that properly tempered sauerkraut would let you inhale and exhale at the same time??"

"That's how it's always worked for me!" said a shrugging Pinkie.

"So now," continued Twilight, "we're working on a technique for long-term breath holding that anyone can use! Without magic!"

"Except for the inherent magic of sauerkraut!" added Pinkie. "Maybe that'll help you with your erotic photoshoot."

"I think the word you're thinking of is 'anaerobic'," Twilight suggested.

"What? EWWW! No!"

Rarity grimaced, wondering what Pinkie thought that meant. "The rumors concerning that particular project are rather exaggerated, I'm afraid. Although I confess you have given me a new idea or two. But this research! I would never have thought it in your line, Twilight!"

"Why not? I've always been a scientist at heart."

"But you wrote papers! This is so…physical!"

"Oh, Sparks loves to get physical, dontcha?" Pinkie gyrated a hip against her lover's flank. "She just needs a little inspiration now and then." With that, Pinkie blew a raspberry with her tongue—except that a swirl of glitter and confetti came out.

"How did you—"

"Sparkle sack," explained Pinkie. "Sits right next to the saliva gland! And you refill it by eating construction paper!"

Twilight stood enthusiastically beside her lover, their coats brushing as they both faced Rarity. "In any case, I've never had a problem with being physical," she explained. "I've always been interested in applied research! It's intimacy that I have issues with."

"But not with mee-eee!" crooned Pinkie, kicking up to stand on her forehooves.

"Pinkie has…a certain way of taking the pressure off," whispered Twilight.

Rarity only stared, taking it all in. "Might I ask how your relationship began?"

"Oh, sure," said Pinkie. "Sparks had juuust got to town, and I walked up and gave her time for some framing dialogue with Spike, and then she said 'Hello!' and I leapt in the air and gaaaasped because she was new and I—"

"No, no! Not the first time you met! Your relationship!"

"Isn't that the beginning of a relationship?" asked Twilight. "When you first meet?"

"I mean your personal connection!" pressed Rarity. "When—how—when did you fall in love?"

The two of them exchanged glances, blinking and pondering. "Huh. Do you remember, Pinkie?"

"I think maybe it was after the scent cannon, but before the sauerkraut."

"That late? I'd be more likely to place it a little bit after you started coming over in the evenings and interfering with my research."

"Interfering?! I was helping!"

"You were making elaborate sculptures out of books, reading over my shoulder, and singing about nothing in particular."

"But you have to admit, it gave you new focus!"

Twilight smirked. "Yes…after a while, I suppose it did." She turned to Rarity. "I started using her as a test subject, instead of Spike."

"You should see me with a mustache!" chirped Pinkie.

"And she gave a lot more suggestions than Spike ever did. Some of them…maybe one of out of a hundred…were actually good!"

"You put out enough volume," exclaimed Pinkie, "and you're sure to strike a few gold nuggets!"

Rarity nodded with a sigh. "I think I can piece it together from there. But what about the bakery, Pinkie? Don't they miss you?"

"Eh, the Cakes got by without me before, and they're doing fine now. I mean, it's not like I've given up sweets!" She demonstrated her point by planting her face into Twilight's withers and inhaling at length.

"And I teach lessons on Fridays," explained Twilight, doing her best to ignore Pinkie. "One class for all ages and one for adults. But we've got to keep researching if we're going to have anything to teach!"

Rarity tried to picture it. "Please tell me Sweetie Belle isn't—"

"The best sparkle spewer in her claa-aass!" singsonged Pinkie.

"Good grief. Well, I suppose that so long as the princess knows…this isn't too much of a crime against nature and civilization."

"Research isn't a crime!" insisted Twilight.

"You gotta keep pushing those borders!" chimed Pinkie.

"Indeed. But…balloon gas? Really?"

Twilight glanced at the beaker that still stood half full on the burner. "It does have other uses," she allowed.

"The way I see it," explained Pinkie, "anything that can make ponies more like latex is aaaallll good!"

"Yes. Well." Rarity backed away from the mysterious room, whose contents she was just as glad not to encounter. "It was a delight seeing you both again."

"Awww, you mean you have to go already?!" exclaimed Pinkie. "But we haven't even played any games yet!"

"And we've got so many prototypes you could help us test!" added Twilight

"Yes, well. It is getting dark, after all, and I mustn't put my professional stalkers out of a job! Duty calls, as duty always must."

Twilight looked accepting, if disappointed, and Pinkie sighed deeply. "Well, when you see Rainbow, give her a kiss for me. Make it a big kiss, like this!" She proceeded to demonstrate by giving Twilight a long, intense smooch, her legs tangled up around her neck.

"I'll do my best," promised Rarity. Best wishes to you…and keep up the good work."

"You too!" called Twilight, her voice muffled. She managed to give Rarity a wink before Pinkie's advances covered her face entirely. Now just what was that supposed to mean?

[+] [+] [+] [+] [+]

Somewhat shaken, Rarity stopped on her way out to speak again with Spike. "Well…that was interesting, to say the least."

"How'd you like the balloon gas?" he asked.

"I was…unprepared. For all of it. Spike, how did all this happen?"

He shrugged and shelved a book. "Chemistry, I guess. Something I wouldn't know anything about."

Rarity felt sympathetic to her admirer's position, perhaps more than ever before. "Tell me…how has it been for you, Spike? So much change…I can only imagine it's been terribly hard on you."

"Eyyaaah. It's not as bad as when Twilight was in her mold culture phase." He stuck out his tongue. "Honestly, I'll get by. Sure, maybe Pinkie does sometimes use half-eaten lollipops as bookmarks…and maybe the weird moans and giggles can get a little annoying. But hey! At least they keep each other busy."

"So they do," admitted Rarity. "And thank Celestia for that!"

She and the dragon shared a brief laugh before she went on her way. It was true, Rarity reflected as she donned her winged boots and let them carry her heavenward. Everypony needs someone to keep them busy. And a busy life was nothing to be ashamed of.

Author's Note:

I originally wrote this five-part novella before and during Season Two. I posted it on fanfiction.net and Equestria Daily, and I figured it was high time I put it on fimfiction, especially since I have an image for it now, courtesy of WhyteShado.

Not much happens in this first chapter, which is just about showcasing the various couples. For better or for worse, I got more into the plot aspect as time went on, so each successive chapter is longer than the last. Things will pick up from here!

Oh, and check it out--I predicted Pinkie getting a mustache!