Friends who play together, stay together. That was the philosophy Rarity had in mind when she suggested she and Pinkie play a game of chess every week. Unfortunately for Rarity, however, she finds out that Pinkie is playing more than just one game.
Friends who play together, stay together. That was the philosophy Rarity had in mind when she suggested she and Pinkie play a game of chess every week. Unfortunately for Rarity, however, Pinkie has a habit of changing the rules.
Tea, especially the simple chamomile kind that Rarity drank near constantly, was perfect for helping her relax and reign in some of her more dramatic tendencies. At least, it was supposed to. No matter how much of the stuff she drank, it couldn’t get rid of the tense feeling that settled in her stomach like a knot while playing chess. Not when she was determined to win.
Gingerly, she moved her rook to the other side of the field, double checking to make sure it was still protected by her arch-mage. Her opponent made the mistake of moving a pegasus back in order to protect her princess, which was exactly the opportunity Rarity had been looking for. With a flick of her horn, she made her own pegasus do its little L-jump amidst the opponent’s pieces and sprang the trap.
Rarity let out a deep breath and swore she could feel the tension slide from her shoulders. “Checkmate,” she said smiling at her latest victory.
Pinkie Pie, who hadn’t seemed as bothered by the entire match, or even completely invested in it, beamed back at her. “Yay!” She got up and hugged Rarity as she always did after one of their games, regardless of the outcome. “Gratsies, Rarity.”
The rush of victory faded quickly, and Rarity began cleaning up the evidence of their latest gaming session together. A pair of teacups floated back into the kitchen. The two kettles—for it had taken two kettles full to see Rarity through the three matches they had played—followed suit. And last but not least, she packed away the chess-set so that Pinkie could take it with her, but not before sneaking the last of the chocolate-covered biscuits she had put out for the occasion. She would probably feel guilty about it later, but right now still counted as relaxation time with Pinkie, so it was allowed.
She was a good ways into putting the pieces back into the box before she realised that she was doing so all on her own. Normally, Pinkie jumped at the chance to help her clean up. She considered it fun, apparently, as much as or more so than the game itself. But today, she simply sat at the table, staring off into space and wearing the vacant sort of smile that always worried Rarity a little. “Pinkie, darling? Are you alright?”
The lights were on, but nopony was home, it seemed, and it took a few moments before Pinkie blinked and turned to Rarity with a smile. It was a guilty one this time around. “Sorry, Rarity. I was just... thinking.”
“About what, darling? Is something amiss?”
“Nope! I just, um...” Pinkie glanced around furtively. “I just remembered I need to get back to work. Mr. and Mrs. Cake wanted to go to the park with the twins, and I promised I’d take care of the store.”
Rarity swept the last of the chess pieces into their box, closed the lid, and floated it over to her friend. “Well then, I guess you shouldn't keep them waiting.” She stretched and glanced around the room. “I should get back to work as well. Sapphire Shores is working on a new song and she wanted me to design the outfits for all of her background dancers!” She sighed in contentment and let her mind wander over some of the half-formed designs that she had pushed to the back of her mind in order to focus on the games of chess. “It’s going to take weeks to get it all ready, but everything for the sake of art, right?”
Pinkie’s ever-present smile faded just a smidge. “So... no best of four-hundred-and-seventy-one next week?” she asked dolefully.
It was so like her to be upset about not seeing her friends, even if it was only for a short while. “Not to worry, darling. I wouldn’t miss our weekly games for the world. We might not be able to take as long as we did today, but you have my word that we will play at least one game next week.”
Pinkie’s smile returned, and she hugged Rarity again, absorbing the chess set into her tail before bouncing to the door. “Oki-doki-loki. See you next week, Rarity!”
Rarity waved. “Ta-ta.”
After Pinkie left the boutique, Rarity’s cleaning efforts petered out, and she simply stared out the window. They had begun playing games weekly after the party mare had complained that Rarity spent time with everypony but her, and for a time, everything had been very pleasant. But lately Pinkie had seemed... distracted. It made her wonder if Pinkie still had problems with the arrangement they had come to.
Bringing Pinkie along to the spa with Fluttershy and herself should have worked wonderfully, as Pinkie wasn’t as opposed to primping as Rainbow Dash and Applejack were. Rarity shivered as she remembered the disaster that had followed. Worse than either of the two tomboys nagging was Pinkie's tendency to liven things up if she thought things were becoming too restful, or as she put it: boring.
What was supposed to have been two hours of relaxation in the mud baths had turned into some hideous amalgamation of a bubble bath and splash-fight. After that, Pinkie had turned seaweed wraps into party snacks, and the massage tables into makeshift defenses for a somewhat hazardous rendition of 'pin the tail on the pony.' She was glad that Fluttershy had come up with the idea of a weekly game instead; the spa sisters—or her own nerves for that matter—likely wouldn't have survived another one of Pinkie’s visits.
Chess hadn’t exactly been the first choice. Pinkie brought a whole slew of games to the table, most of which Rarity couldn’t stand to play even once. When they had finally gotten to chess, however, she had almost immediately agreed. It wasn’t that she was good at the game, or even knew anything about it, other than that fact that it was a well-liked game by the higher echelons in Canterlot’s upper crust. That had been enough.
Pinkie didn’t much care which game they played as long as they were both having fun; however, she was much better at it than Rarity would have thought possible. For months on end, Pinkie had won every game bar none, much to Rarity’s chargin. It had gotten to the point where she had thrown the entire board across the room in a fit, and had to console a dismayed Pinkie afterwards; lying through her teeth about having had fun and promising that she would love it if her friend wanted to play a game again the next week.
Rarity let out a sigh and continued with her cleaning.
She had gotten better eventually, thanks in no small part to the little tips and tricks that Twilight had given her—along with a book on the basics of chess. But lately, her victories often came too easily. She got the sense that Pinkie often didn’t pay attention, or if she did, she played in such a way that all but ensured that Rarity would win.
What if the poor dear is upset about losing? She couldn’t get the thought to stay in her head without wanting to laugh. The overwhelming evidence to the contrary made it seem silly to even consider. She considered a much more worrying scenario: Pinkie was much more sensitive to the opinions of others than most ponies knew… and Rarity had yelled at her; but that too felt out of place. You’re starting to sound like Twilight. She’s been perfectly happy since. You’re just having a hard time figuring out why you’re winning.
The high pitch ring of her store bell pulled her out of her thoughts. “Hello? Rarity? Anypony home?”
Rarity looked around in bewilderment. Drat, she’s early. She hadn’t gotten nearly as far with cleaning up as she would have liked, and when she looked into the cupboard, she found that she’d run out of tea, as well. “Just a minute, Twilight!” she called out, snatching the kettle from the kitchen counter and filling it up with water. After that, each and every one of her cupboards was opened, looked through, and closed again in quick succession. There had to be something she could use as a replacement.
She found the answer in a glass jar tucked away in the back of the last cupboard she checked. It was filled with pearlescent globes—a gift from Princess Celestia herself— which she had put away as soon as she got home. Supposedly they made for some of the greatest tea ever, but she had liked the thought of keeping a gift from the Princess just so much more than some good tea. Still, this was an emergency.
She grabbed a couple of the globes and dropped them into the kettle. The plate with snacks was hastily filled, after which Rarity hurried back into the living room. Twilight had already made herself comfortable and smiled when Rarity walked back in. “Tea’s coming,” Rarity said by way of greeting. She put down the plate and smiled back. “I have to say, I wasn’t expecting you until after dinner.”
Twilight’s smile turned uncertain. “Sorry, my research paper wasn’t as long as I expected it would be, so I thought I’d drop by earlier. Should I come back later?” She made a move to get up but Rarity waved her back down.
“It’s no trouble at all, darling,” she said, taking a seat across from the alicorn.
“So... what did you want to talk to me about? Problems with the book?” Twilight asked, relaxing and fluffing her wings before sitting back down.
“Not this time,” Rarity replied immediately. It was no secret that she fell behind on her reading at times, but she could still feel the rush of embarrassment in her cheeks. “Though the story does drag on a fair bit.” Twilight’s question wasn’t so much idle conversation as it was an attempt at gauging how good Rarity had been at keeping her promise from the week before.
Spending some time with each of her friends was important to Rarity, and she had thought to have found an easy solution where it concerned Twilight and Rainbow Dash. The two had, along with Cheerilee, founded a small book club, which convened every week to talk about the latest book they’d read. For Rarity, it had been somewhat of a mistake. Between her own design work and commissions, she often couldn’t find the time to read as much as the two bibliophiles and the lazy speedster did. Still, they did let her pick a romance novel every once in a while, so it wasn't all bad.
“Hmmm.” Twilight nodded thoughtfully. “I have to agree with you on that one. Hemingneigh is a great writer, but he sometimes lets the story get away from him.”
Rarity nodded in agreement. “Yes...”
“The book wasn’t exactly why I wanted to talk to you.”
Twilight leaned forward, curious, but unsurprised. “What did you want to talk about then? Is there a problem with your summer designs? Do you need somepony to model for you?” She paused for a moment and smirked. “More chess tips?”
Rarity's flush remained, though the reason for it had changed. “Something like that,” she said at length, twisting her ears back when the kettle began to scream in the kitchen. “Tea?”
While levitation on an object in another room could be problematic, plucking the kettle from the stove with her magic was something Rarity was accustomed to doing. As such, it took but a moment before it came floating into the room, and with it came a wonderful aroma of vanilla and lavender.
“That smells really good.” Twilight took a deep whiff and smiled. “Reminds me of teatime with Princess Celestia.”
“Really?” Rarity’s ears perked up. “I had no idea you did anything other than study,” she said with a giggle.
Twilight made a face. “Har har,” she said mockingly before laughing as well.
“What I wanted to talk to about is...” Rarity paused, taking a sip of her own tea. It tasted as good as it smelled and better than she had expected; with a delicate and subtle blend of vanilla and notes of cinnamon, it was unlike any tea she’d ever had. “Oh my, this tea is delicious.” They each sipped their tea in silence for a while, Rarity enjoying the new taste, and Twilight reminiscing about old times. Eventually, however, Rarity shook off her reverie and cleared her throat. “Twilight, forgive me if this seems like an odd question, but have you ever played a game of chess with Pinkie Pie?”
Twilight looked up from her teacup. “We play every once in a while. Why do you ask?”
Rarity meticulously put down her cup, taking a deep breath before asking: “Is she any good?”
“She is,” Twilight said. “Very good, in fact. Why do you ask?"
Rarity shrugged. “I was curious.” She leaned forward a little, setting her own cup aside and sneakily grabbing another confectionary from the plate. “And if you had to compare me to her... How much of a chance do you think I would have to win?”
Twilight's answer was out of her mouth in an instant. “Impossibly small,” said her lips before she hid them behind a set of hooves.
Rarity frowned at her friend and crossed her forelegs. “You do me a disservice, I think. I'll have you know that I've gotten much better in the last couple of weeks.”
Twilight sighed and shook her head. “Sorry, Rarity. I didn't mean to imply that you're terrible at the game. Just…” She sighed again and looked around the room as if the words she was looking for had hidden themselves among the shelves of Rarity's boutique. “Well... you are still terrible at the game. You've still only just begun playing. Statistically speaking, there is no way for you to be good enough to beat Pinkie.”
Rarity's frown graduated to a full-on glare, the full force of which she turned on Twilight. “And I suppose you would know all about that, wouldn't you?” she snapped, getting up and stalking over to an end table.
“Shush. You said she was good, and you know the game. I’ve beaten Pinkie fairly, and if you don’t believe me then I will simply have to show you how much better I’ve become.”
The first game didn’t go well for Rarity, losing in only eight moves. Worse still, while she usually took less than a minute for each move—a big improvement from the five it had taken when she started— Twilight’s responses were nigh instantaneous. It was like Twilight knew which moves she was going to make before she made them. Infuriating.
“I’m just a little... tense,” she said after Twilight had declared check-mate. “Which I’m sure you can understand, being the cause of it.”
She reset the board and moved the pawn protecting her princess forward, only for Twilight to move one of her pegasi and say: “Mate in seven moves.”
Rarity gave her friend a perplexed look and then scrutinised the board, trying to see how in Equestria such a thing could be accomplished. She saw no way. Trying to get into my head, hmm? I’m certain that you won’t beat me that easily, darling.
A few minutes, and seven moves later, she was forced to concede, much to her chagrin. Two games turned into five, five games turned into ten. And even though she was tenacious, after fifteen games—all of which she lost— Rarity was forced to admit that she wasn’t quite as good as she had believed herself to be.
After twenty-five games, she had to conclude that she had a lot to learn.
At the fiftieth loss, she not only had to admit she had next to no idea of how to play chess, but she also was going to need a new chess board, and a new vase.
“That was very childish of me, and I am sorry you had to see it.” Rarity said, huffing and puffing while she tried to calm herself.
Twilight frowned in sympathy. “Do you want me to get a broom—”
“No... no... I made this mess. I should be the one to clean it up.” Rarity began picking through the various shards of chess board and vase alike, relieved to find that the solid crystal chess pieces had survived her tantrum, unlike the glass chess board, which would have to be replaced.
“Sorry, maybe I was a little too—”
“No, you did what you had to do. I wouldn’t want you to let me win just to make me feel better.”
“For what it’s worth, you have gotten a lot better at the game since last time I saw you play.” A few of the chess pieces that Rarity had carefully set aside glowed with Twilight’s distinctive purple aura and floated back over to the table. “You even got the pegasus’ movement right this time.”
Though she knew Twilight was trying to cheer her up, the words were accomplishing the opposite. “Wonderful,” she groused while picking up the remaining debris and sending it off to the small pile of refuse she would get rid of later. “Now I know how my little sister feels each time she fails to get her cutie mark.” With a long suffering sigh she looked over at the pile. “Almost made as much of a mess of it as well.”
“I told you from the start that it’s not an easy game to master.”
“I know, I know.”
“Though I guess that Pinkie’s playstyle is a little more erratic than most ponies you might find playing this game...” Twilight continued thoughtfully. “Don’t get me wrong, I think Pinkie might have been playing the game for longer than most ponies I know, but she never... how do I put this?”
“Never seems to think ahead?” Rarity got a few paper towels which she used to bundle the refuse up in, it was so much easier than trying to lift the entire pile individually.
“No, actually. She does think ahead, it’s just... not in the way most ponies do.” Even from the kitchen, Rarity could picture the thoughtful expression that accompanied a loud ‘slurp’ from a teacup. “She’s very good at thinking in unusual ways, and sometimes sees opportunities a few moves ahead, which is really quite a feat.”
“More tea, darling?” she called out. Might as well make her trip to the kitchen be useful for more than just cleaning up the pieces of her dignity.
“That is exactly what I wanted to ask you,” she said while walking back into the living room. “I’ve never gotten the sense that Pinkie lost to me intentionally, but she seems... distracted when we play. To the point where I can’t recall the last time I lost to her.”
Twilight shrugged after she’d sat down again. “I wouldn’t know,” she said. “She never really does that whenever we play chess.” She cocked her head and hummed softly. “Though I guess it sometimes happens when she’s trying to read a book? I always thought that it meant she was bored...”
“I could be wrong, though,” Twilight said quickly when she noticed Rarity’s expression. “It’s hard to even imagine Pinkie being bored.”
“She would have to be humoring a particularly unskilled opponent for that, wouldn’t she?” Rarity muttered.
Twilight remained quiet for a time. She drank her tea, apparently no longer feeling any of the satisfaction that had accompanied the action before. “For what it’s worth, you had some very inventive moves,” she said at length. “I mean, around game thirty I was actually impressed by that pawn to Princess’ four. You just need more practice and—”
“Don’t. Just... don’t,” Rarity replied with a sour look. “I don’t need coddling. I want to know what’s changed.”
Twilight coughed uncomfortably. “Maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with chess?”
“So just how good is she?” Rarity demanded. “Could Pinkie have bested you?”
Twilight sighed and shrugged. “She wins about forty percent of the games we play, which is a lot more than I’d expected her to.”
Twilight’s admission was like a blow to the gut for Rarity. Not only was Pinkie much better than she let on, she also played chess with ponies besides Rarity. That in turn lead her to wonder why it bothered her; she had her own things with her other friends, after all, and there was nothing stopping Pinkie from doing something similar. If she knew Pinkie at all, the dear probably made a lot more time for her friends than Rarity herself did, so it was little wonder that she would play chess with other ponies.
“When do you play chess?”
Twilight shrugged and took another sip from her tea. “We play at least once a week on friday, though she’ll sometimes barge in, demanding to play a game. Why?”
She’s never done that with me. The realisation stung. She had been under the impression that her friendship with Pinkie was flourishing, and yet it seemed as though it was little more than a placating gesture on Pinkie’s part; one she was apparently tiring of. Or she’s simply being respectful of your time. Stars know you’re always telling her how busy you are. “Do you think Pinkie would play below her skill level on purpose?”
“I doubt it, but you know what she’s like: always trying to get other ponies to smile.”
Rarity nodded, her mind abuzz with questions she didn't have answers to. Is Pinkie just humoring me? Should I ask her about it? She found herself shaking her head. She answered Twilight's concerned expression with a smile. “Thank you for the candor, darling.”
“You're welcome?” Twilight replied while Rarity all but shoved her to the door. “Was that all you wanted to talk about?”
“Heavens no, darling. I would love to talk more. However…” She made a gesture to the window where the sun had since set. “It is getting to be rather late, and I'm already behind with my latest designs.”
Twilight stood outside the door for a moment before shrugging. “You'll tell us if you need any help, right?”
“Of course, darling. But for now, you should get back. Spike must be wondering where you've been, and I can handle myself for a few days.”
“Okay then.” Twilight finally smiled and waved before turning down the path that lead to the library. “Goodnight, Rarity.”
Rarity watched her alicorn friend for a moment longer before closing the door. If there is a problem with Pinkie, there's no sense in worrying about it now. “Which means I should work on those dresses for a while and then have a nice, long, beauty sleep.” She began humming a tune while making her way to the design room. Pinkie's problems would be dealt with later; right now she had her own obligations to deal with.
The morning sun found a haggard Rarity half dead on her work bench. Despite trying her darndest not to let her thoughts run away with her, the worries about Pinkie had kept her up all night. She hadn't been able to focus on her designs for long; half an hour at best. Worse, the few scraped-together minutes of sleep she had gotten had been fitful and restless. It felt like she had been co-opted into a Wonderbolts Derby without any training and, at the end of it, participated in a running of the leaves for good measure.
She rubbed her bloodshot eyes with an angry huff and stretched. Today, she decided, I am going to stay home and relax. It was a promise to herself, one that she broke immediately after looking at the clock. Today was the day of her weekly spa date with Fluttershy, and even if she called it ‘fashionably late’, she was supposed to have been at the spa two minutes ago.
Scrambling up to her hooves and then up the stairs for a swift rendition of what was supposed to be her morning routine, Rarity was out the door in less time than she would have thought possible previously. Her trip to the spa was accomplished in less time still, although she couldn’t believe she would feel fully rested ever again by the end of it.
Fluttershy sat in the waiting room, smiling serenely while reading through a wild-life magazine as though she hadn’t been waiting there for over ten minutes. Rarity was never more grateful to see her best friend.
“Darling!” she said, terrifying herself with the raspy croak that was her voice. She pressed on regardless. “You wouldn’t believe the morning I’ve had.”
Fluttershy looked up, and the serene smile faded. It was replaced by an expression of alarm and—Rarity imagined—a good deal of horror. “Rarity!” the pegasus exclaimed, vacating her seat and swiftly moving to stand beside her friend. “What happened?”
Rarity gratefully leaned against Fluttershy. It seemed as though her legs had turned into noodles and she had a hard time remaining upright on her own power. “I’ll tell you all about it once we get settled,” she croaked, finding a smile somewhere underneath the pile of exhaustion that was her state of being.
The best thing about the spa was that there was little for Rarity to do but relax. Letting herself be pampered was always a treat, but today it was especially wonderful. The twins—apparently as concerned as Fluttershy was—even took extra steps to ensure Rarity was taken care of, which translated into brewing her some relaxing tea (chamomile, of course; they knew her so well) and even some cucumber sandwiches. She and Fluttershy spent the sauna and the cold bath that followed it in silence. Only when they’d settled into the mud baths did Fluttershy’s patience run out.
“So... uhm... what happened?”
Rarity shifted uncomfortably. The mud baths weren’t nearly as comfortable as they normally were. “I’m not quite certain,” she replied. “It’s just that...” she took a deep breath. The more she thought about it, the more it sounded silly in her head. “I’ve told you about the games of chess I play with Pinkie Pie, yes?”
“Well, of late, I’ve been winning more and more of them.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?” Fluttershy asked, smiling faintly.
Rarity shook her head. “No. At least... I don’t think so. Pinkie seems distracted when we play, and according to Twilight she only looks like that—” she made a gesture with a hoof and pretended a dreamy look “—Whenever she’s bored of something.”
“So you’re afraid that playing chess with you is what’s boring her?”
Much as she didn’t want to admit it, Rarity found herself nodding. “I... yes.”
Fluttershy nodded in return, before asking: “Are… uhm... are you going to ask her about it?”
“And risk her taking what I say the wrong way? Heavens no.” Rarity shook her head softly. “No, I need to be certain that something has actually changed before I say anything.”
“How are you going to do that?”
Rarity sighed and hung her head. “I don’t know.”
“Maybe...” Fluttershy began before falling silent.
One of Rarity’s ears perked and swiveled in her friend’s direction. “Maybe what, darling?”
“Maybe it has nothing to do with you? Have you seen if Pinkie has the same problems when she’s doing something else?”
That made Rarity pause. Could it be that I’m making this out to be more than it is? The thought sounded sensible enough, attractive even, if only because it would imply that she wasn’t causing Pinkie any unpleasantness. “No, I haven’t,” she said finally. “Though perhaps I should.”
“Are you going to right now?”
It was only after Fluttershy asked the question that Rarity realised she was halfway to the door already, mud trailing behind her like a less edible version of cookie crumbs. She laughed sheepishly and made her way back. “Terribly sorry, darling. I guess I got a little ahead of myself." She settled back into the mud and made an effort to banish the thoughts about Pinkie from her head, choosing to focus on the pony next to her instead. “Tell me, how was your week?”
Fluttershy smiled back. “Well, I think Angel is finally ready to accept salads without all the fussing about the particulars, and—”
In the hours that followed, Rarity and the inside of the spa were treated to a side of Fluttershy not many ponies even knew existed. A happy, carefree, side that could talk about her animals and daily life for any length of time, complete with subdued squeals of elation. Rarity, ever the socialite, smiled and nodded when appropriate, and even asked for clarification now and then. But despite all that, she found it hard to really give Fluttershy the attention she deserved. Her mind was full of pink, chess, and questions.
After bidding Fluttershy a good day and stepping out of the spa, Rarity made her way over to the library. She needed more information on Pinkie’s behaviour when bored, and the best place to get it was from the pony who told her about it in the first place. The trip took longer than she would have wanted, and yet she kept stopping herself from breaking into a canter. A lady doesn’t rush for anypony; she takes it easy and arrives at her own pace, she thought to herself, ignoring the fact that her own body wanted her pace to be ever faster.
When the library finally came into view, she did speed up a little bit, careful to keep herself to a brisk trot. The door was open so she could walk right in, but when she did, it put her in front of a most curious situation.
“F4 to E5,” Twilight said before taking a bite from a cupcake she held in her magic.
“Awh poo. I liked my pegasus there.” Pinkie pouted and blew a strand of mane out of her face. “A1 to A6, check.”
Twilight smiled. “C8 to A6. Mate in six moves.”
Rarity’s ears perked up. Twilight and Pinkie were playing chess! Perhaps she could observe Pinkie in a game with somepony else to see how she normally played, and determine if it really had something to do with her lack of skill.
She very carefully peeked around the corner, wondering just how well Pinkie was doing.
Rarity saw two mares, seated across from one another with only a table and a plate of snacks between them. What she didn’t see, however, was a chess set. She looked around the room in confusion. While she didn’t consider herself an expert by any means, she recognised the letters as being things Twilight had called out while playing with her the other day. It had seemed rather pointless at the time, but now she realized that the numbers and letters were locations on the board.
They’re playing... in their heads. They really are in another league.
It suddenly made Pinkie’s behaviour a whole lot more sensible. If she and Twilight could play the game without even needing a board to remind them where all the pieces were, there was no way that Rarity could provide her with an interesting challenge. It was a sobering thought, but for reasons she couldn’t explain, it didn’t quite seem to fit with what she had seen from Pinkie.
Perhaps I need to observe her in different settings. See if it really is boredom or something else altogether.
She did not move immediately, waiting for the match to play itself out before she made her presence known. Twilight did indeed win in the predicted six moves, or at least Rarity assumed she did from the way Pinkie congratulated her; though there was no hugging involved. She stepped back into the doorjamb and smiled. “Bravo, Twilight.”
Both mares looked up, startled, though Twilight quickly recovered and smiled. “Thanks, Rarity.”
Pinkie wasn’t as graceful and very nearly fell out of her chair, flailing her forelegs around in an attempt to keep herself balanced. When she did finally find it, she smiled, red-faced. “Hiya, Rarity.”
Rarity didn’t beat around the bush now that she had decided that she needed more information. “Twilight?” she said innocently. “I was wondering if I could borrow Pinkie for the rest of the afternoon?”
Pinkie’s eyes bulged out, and she somehow got even more flushed. “Oh, no! Were we supposed to do something together? I’m sorry, I forgot we had a—”
“Calm down, darling,” Rarity interrupted her, holding up a hoof. “You didn’t do anything wrong. I was just...” Her sentence faltered for a moment. While the idea was a good one, she hadn’t quite thought it through. As such, she had no real idea of where or what she could do to glean more information. “Wondering if you would like to join me for lunch?” She finished the sentence with a smile, mentally patting herself on the back. Smooth recovery, if I do say so myself.
Pinkie Pie was already nodding before she had finished the sentence, but stopped right after, glancing at Twilight before giving Rarity a soulful look. “I’m sorry, Rarity,” she said. “I would love to, but I promised Twilight we’d play more games.”
“Pinkie...” Twilight sighed and let out a short laugh. “We’ve already played fifteen games today. You don’t have to stay here just because you promised.” She got up and walked to the other side of the table, giving Pinkie a friendly nuzzle and pushing her forward with a wing. “Go on, we’ll play those games some other time.” The entire room was silent while Pinkie’s eyes darted between Rarity and Twilight, but before she could say anything, Twilight shook her head and said, “I promise.”
Pinkie’s smile was as wide as it ever got and she grabbed Twilight in a bear hug. “You’re the bestest friend ever, Twilight!”
Rarity couldn’t suppress her own smile while the alicorn was all but crushed by Pinkie. It was rather brilliant; by making a different promise about the games they were supposed to play, Twilight had absolved Pinkie of her own.
“Alright, alright. You can let go now, Pinkie.” Twilight disentangled herself from the hug and gently pushed Pinkie towards Rarity. “Have fun, and good luck.”
It was a bit of a weird statement, given that they would just be taking lunch together, but Rarity didn’t get the chance to ponder as Pinkie grabbed one of her forelegs and bodily dragged her in the direction of Sugarcube Corner.
“This is going to be so much fun! Mr. Cake just made a batch of cinnamon cookie rolls with extra powdered sugar!” Pinkie licked her lips and began bouncing with anticipatory glee; something Rarity wasn’t altogether happy with.
“Darling?” she said, looking around for something to brace herself against. Despite the fact that she did not consider herself a slouch in the least, she was no match for Pinkie’s strength—whether that was earth pony heritage or something uniquely Pinkie’s own, she didn’t know, but it meant that she couldn’t simply hold her ground. “Darling, please hold on a moment.”
It took three more tries and two more streets before Pinkie actually slowed down and another for her to stop. She finally let go of Rarity's foreleg and looked back at her with a puzzled frown. “What's wrong, Rarity? I thought you wanted to—”
“I do, darling. I do,” Rarity interrupted her, aiming to preempt any thought in her friends head about wanting to back out. “It's just that I was thinking of something other than sweets. It does get tedious after a time, doesn't it?”
Pinkie looked at her incredulously. “No?”
Inwardly Rarity let out a long-suffering sigh. Of course you wouldn't think so. Outwardly, however, she let out a short laugh. “Regardless, I really must watch what I eat, especially after those cookies you brought to our last game.”
That seemed to break Pinkie out of her funk and her smile returned. “Oki-doki-loki. So where are we going?”
It was another question Rarity didn’t have an immediate answer for, and she silently cursed herself for not planning ahead. On the other hoof, taking Pinkie to so fancy a restaurant probably isn’t the best of ideas anyway. She ran through other options in her mind, forcing herself not to wince with what came to mind; each name was worse than the last. “Well,” she said, finally. “I had wanted to keep things simple, so let’s go The Lilted Lily?”
“Oki.” Pinkie nodded and, in a rare display of restraint, allowed Rarity to lead the way.
The Lilted Lily wasn’t the same restaurant she had recommended to Twilight when the then unicorn first came to town. There had been a change in management and the new manager knew next to nothing about atmosphere; nor about good food, as far as Rarity was concerned. It was, however, still a step up from most of the dining opportunities around Ponyville. Rarity reasoned that she at least wouldn’t be run out of town by the rumor mill for being seen there, and that would have to be enough.
With a small smile, she made a further allowance because her company. Pinkie happily greeted most anypony in the establishment by name, and quickly found a spot near the windows. With the weather ponies being as wily as they were, Rarity didn’t want to risk eating outside, and it could be a golden opportunity to find out about Pinkie in a not quite familiar setting.
A pegasus mare with a soiled-white coat made her way over to them almost as soon as they'd sat down. “Heya, what can I getcha?” she asked in a cheery voice.
“Three hayburgers, two helpings of tomato slices, and a hayshake, light,” Pinkie rattled off in an equally cheery voice.
Rarity gaped at her friend at the extravagant order, which the pegasus skillfully wrote down on a notepad. Both of them looked at Rarity expectantly. She felt a little put on the spot, and wasn't quite sure if the restaurant still served the mozarella cheese salad with croutons that was her favorite. She certainly didn't remember them serving hayburgers. The seconds dragged on and she finally let out a sigh. “I’ll take a daffodil sandwich, if you don't mind.”
“Not at all!” The pegasus singsonged, putting her order on the pad and snapping off a quick salute to the both of them. “Be right back with your orders. Don't go anywhere!”
After the waitress was gone, Rarity took a good look at Pinkie. Her friend, while comfortable, obviously hadn't been here a lot judging by the way she looked around, trying to take everything in. Not that there was a lot to see, as far as Rarity was concerned. The inside of the restaurant still had the familiar elegant decorations that had put it on the map of Canterlot's high and mighty, although it perhaps wasn't as clean as it used to be. Contrary to her initial estimation of the new manager’s abilities—or perhaps in spite of them—the smell that drifted from the kitchen was pleasant and mouthwatering. And perhaps most important of all, ponies still respected each other enough to eat in relative silence.
“So, darling, how has your day been?” she asked after Pinkie'd had her fill of the surroundings.
“Great! Me and Twilight played a few games and read from a silly book for a while, and now I'm having lunch with you!” She fell silent for a moment, her face scrunching up in that absolutely adorable way that only she ever seemed to manage. “Although, I forgot to eat breakfast, so maybe it’s both breakfast and lunch? Breakunch? Brunch? Crunch?” Pinkie giggled softly which made Rarity smile as well.
“Yes, I saw your last game, and I have to say, I'm impressed. Playing without a board to remind you of where the pieces are can't be easy.”
Pinkie nodded animatedly. “It was very hard at first, especially with how fast Twilight makes her moves. It’s like she knows how the entire game is going to go just from which piece I move first, and she sometimes gets annoyed when I take a long time to decide what to do next.”
“I can imagine. The speed at which the two of you play is staggering. By comparison, playing against me must be quite boring.” Rarity felt a heaviness settle in her stomach but refused to acknowledge it; she was going to keep the conversation light. “I wouldn't be surprised if you got bored of it at times.”
Pinkie looked at her like she had just proclaimed that the moon didn't really shine, but only reflected the light of the sun. “Why'd you think that? I love playing games with you! You're always patient with me, and you don't mind when I get a little…” Pinkie twirled a hoof next to her head.
“Well, yes,” Rarity replied, taken aback by the conviction in Pinkie's voice. “But I’ve gotten angry and disappointed, even thrown away the entire board after…” She fell silent, too ashamed of her own outbursts to continue.
“That's not important, silly. Everypony gets upset sometimes,” Pinkie said with a small smile. “What's important is that you keep trying. That's another thing I lo— like about you.”
Pinkie passed over her slip-up in a fraction of a second, masking it further with a bright smile that disguised any hint of a blush as an expression of happiness. It was quick enough that most ponies wouldn't have thought twice about it.
Rarity was not most ponies.
She shifted into a more comfortable position and kept her breathing steadily. Pinkie often remarked that she loved things about ponies and had, in the past said the similar things about Rarity. It was accepted as the way Pinkie expressed herself, and as such wasn't unsettling or unusual in the slightest... which made it all the more telling that she hadn't. The implications were far reaching. The sort that could potentially end in disaster and heartbreak if not handled with care. Fortunately, the dilemma wasn't urgent. Pinkie's infatuation was obviously a recent development and Rarity's reply needn’t be immediate.
It shone a new light on everything that had baffled her before. Pinkie’s apparent distractible demeanour during their games; Twilight's wishes of good luck… Rarity hid a grimace. Twilight knew about it, and she didn't say anything. In any other instance, she would have been proud of her friend for keeping a secret—especially one that was romantic in nature—so well. As it was, she silently cursed the alicorn for not giving her a little heads up.
“Yes, darling?” she replied automatically before her attention returned from its journey inward.
Pinkie, still seated across the table looked at her worriedly, one and a half hayburger and a precious few tomato slices spread out in front of her. “Is everything okay? You haven't even touched your sandwich.”
Affecting a smile was easy when one trained for it, and Rarity had. “Forgive me, darling. I was simply lost in thought.”
“What were you thinking about?”
Rarity tittered and waved a hoof. “Nothing of note. Merely that I may have used too many sequins on my latest designs for Sapphire Shores, and of ways to fix that particular mistake.” It was a lie, on top of a lie. The first of many, she thought with a sigh, masking it by taking a bite of the sandwich that had appeared in front of her at some point. If she was going to let Pinkie down gently and preserve their friendship, however, it couldn't be helped. She took a moment to appreciate the taste of the sandwich, which was better than she would have expected, and then focused her attention on Pinkie once more.
Pinkie Pie had already worked her way through most of her second hayburger and showed no signs of slowing down, leading Rarity to idly wonder where she kept it all. It was like Pinkie had a bottomless pit where her stomach was supposed to be, which in turn lead Rarity to think about her friend's figure. Pinkie was perhaps the most… generously sized mare in their little group, but she was by no means ‘overweight’. The slight pudge in her flanks and cheeks endeared more than they distracted, and she looked absolutely marvelous in a dress. But then, most ponies managed that in a dress of Rarity's design.
“So, darling, how are the twins doing?” Rarity took another dainty bite from her sandwich and watched Pinkie's face light up.
“Oh they’re great! Pumpkin hardly cries at all anymore, and whenever Mrs. Cake is baking, she wants to try it as well. She's not very good at getting the batter mixture right; she always pours in every bit of sugar and salt she can get her hoofsies on, and if I make the batter she tries to eat it all, but she’s just the greatest with a rolling pin.” She giggled. “I think she would be rolling around the house with it, if we didn't stop her.”
Rarity nodded with a soft smile of her own. It was good to see Pinkie relax a little, and despite the situation, she was genuinely interested in hearing how the twins, and Pinkie by extension, were doing. “What about Pound?” she asked, digging up her last conversation with Pinkie from the depths of her mind for context. “Is he still wetting the bed?”
“Sometimes.” Pinkie shrugged and took a long drink from her hayshake. “It only happened once last week, so he's doing much better… but he's not interested in baking anymore. Not like Pumpkin anyway.”
“Oh?” Rarity would have thought that Pinkie would have been a little saddened by the news, given her own love for the art.
Instead, Pinkie leaned forward conspiratorially, eyeing the other patrons at the restaurant before gleefully whispering: “I found him waddling around my party supplies yesterday. I think he wants to become a party planner as well!” Her brow furrowed when she sat back. “Although I should probably keep him from crawling into the party cannon in the future. Mrs. Cake was so worried she almost fainted!”
Can't imagine why, Rarity thought sarcastically, and then immediately admonished herself. Pinkie would never allow either of the twins to come to harm anymore than the Cakes themselves. Still, she could relate to the sentiment and so said: “That is probably for the best.”
“What about you, Rarity? Whatcha been up to? Anything fun?”
There was an entire laundry list. From the fact that she had seen Rainbow Dash sneak into Fluttershy's cottage after both of them had disavowed the possibility of a relationship, to the rather 'intimate' letters between Twilight and her mentor, which she had heard about from Spike. It was, however, an entire laundry list centered about the theme of romance, and though she normally loved to gossip about such things, right now, she didn't want to do anything that could stoke the fire. It left her with precious little to talk about. She needed another angle.
“Always, darling,” she said with an air of confidence. “But I do very much feel that I'm doing most of the talking whenever we get together.”
“That's okay, though! I like listening…”
I don't doubt it, darling, but now that I know why, perhaps it's best that we didn't. Rarity smiled purposely. “Regardless, I want to hear more about how you've been doing. For instance... How is your family doing?”
Pinkie waved to the waitress and motioned to her empty hayshake, setting it down only after the waitress had nodded. “They're doing okay. Limestone visited me wednesday and—”
“Your sister visited you, and you didn't tell us?”
Pinkie's smile faded and she drooped a little. “I’m sorry, Rarity. Limestone only came over to tell me how much they missed me since I left the farm, and she doesn't really feel comfortable around ponies she doesn't know.”
Rarity smiled softly. “I forgive you, on one condition: Next time one of your sisters visits, you introduce all of us.”
With an enthusiastic nod, Pinkie agreed. “I promise.”
Rarity nodded curtly and then leaned forward. “So tell me, what did the two of you do?”
The waitress returned with a second hayshake and shared a smile with Pinkie, who thanked her for the drink. Pinkie then wrapped her lips around the straw and emptied half of the cup in one pull. There was absolutely nothing sensual about it, and the only reason Rarity watched her do it was that she was waiting for an answer.
“First we talked about the farm. Marble and Ma actually miss having me around,” Pinkie said eventually, smiling softly. “After that I had to work, but we talked about Da a little.” She giggled again. “After I gave her some cookies to try, she didn't want to leave. I had to promise to send her yummies every week to get her out the door.”
Rarity couldn't stifle a giggle herself, the mental image was too much. After it had run its course she sighed wistfully. “I wish my family was as enamoured with my work. I’ve tried talking about my newest line with them before; their eyes just sort of glazed over until I stopped, and then all they could talk about was how much they were looking forward to their next trip out of town. And Sweetie Belle only ever wants to talk about either her cutie mark, or ways to get it.”
“Could I see them?”
Rarity blinked away the mental image of her little sister with leather wings and a pair of devil horns to look at Pinkie. “Sorry, what did you say?”
“Could I see the dresses you've been working on?” Pinkie repeated softly. All of a sudden Rarity could feel the hammering of her heart in her ears. Had she misread Pinkie’s infatuation?
She couldn’t possibly be thinking—
Images of an awkward but heartfelt confession, followed by an attempt at a kiss flashed in front of her mind. She wouldn’t know what to say, and her unresponsiveness would leave Pinkie heartbroken.
No, it mustn’t happen that way!
She shook her head violently, rattling the thoughts loose before they could take hold. Don’t be absurd, Rarity. Pinkie might be spontaneous enough, but there’s no way she’s going to something as brazen as that. And yet, as she watched Pinkie’s ears pin themselves to her skull, and heard the sad “Oh,” from Pinkie’s lips, she couldn’t help but think back to scenes in the books that littered her nightstand. It took another minute before she realised that Pinkie had taken her shaking her head as a refusal.
“Sorry, darling,” she said, trying to mend the situation. “It’s just that... the dresses I was talking about were shipped out weeks ago, before my parents went on their trip. And, well...” she let out a humorless laugh. “You know how much of a mess my work space is at the best of times. I haven’t had a chance to clean up yet, and all I have now are sketches, not terribly interesting.”
Pinkie nodded, but it was clear that she only half believed what Rarity had said.
It was nearly an hour later when Rarity finally made her way up the path to Fluttershy’s cottage. Putting an end to her time with Pinkie without making it seem as though she was brushing her off had taken longer than she would have liked, and she needed to talk to somepony about her current dilemma.
She knocked on the door insistently. “Fluttershy? Darling, are you in there?”
The door opened a few moments later, revealing that Fluttershy was indeed at home, even though Angel was the one handling the door. The pegasus was busy fussing over an owl that had one of its wings in a sling and waddled about the room, hooting non-stop.
“No, no, no! Stripey, you’re not supposed to try and fly off with a hurt wing. You’ll make everything worse!” Fluttershy admonished the creature loudly. Or at least, loudly for Fluttershy’s doing.
The owl didn’t seem to care, and while it was amusing—and perhaps somewhat endearing—to watch her friend chase after an owl, Rarity had more pressing issues that needed to be resolved. She lit up her horn and held the owl in place.
Fluttershy almost tripped over the suddenly stationary creature and quickly gathered it up in a viselike hug. The creature hooted frantically, but Fluttershy shushed it. “There, there. Don’t worry, you just need a few days of rest. I’m sure your boyfriend can wait that long.”
It felt as though the whole world was out to remind of her of her problems. Not that there was anything she could do about it, but would a little subtlety have been too much to ask? She cleared her throat to try and get Fluttershy’s attention, but the pegasus seemed too absorbed in her task, and while the temptation to simply fling herself forwards was there, Rarity liked to think that she had a little more control than that.
Her patience was rewarded a few minutes later, when Fluttershy finally got the owl to stay put and then tensed when she turned around and found a pony in her doorway. Rarity thought it was quite the improvement; the first few times it had happened, she’d had to search the entire cottage for a trace of a pink tail.
“Good afternoon, darling,” she began. “Terribly sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
Fluttershy offered her a thin, shaky smile. “T-that’s okay.” She turned around and began sweeping up some of the mess her mad chase had created. “How did things go? Did you find out what was bothering Pinkie?”
“Did you know?” Rarity asked in turn, ignoring the questions directed at her.
“Know what?” Fluttershy asked, barely paying attention while she got out a broom and swept several feathers of varying coloration and size into a corner.
Rarity sighed. “Nothing, darling.” Jumping to conclusions never helps anypony. Just because Twilight knew about it doesn’t mean that Fluttershy does. “Just wondering aloud if it could have been any worse of a disaster.”
That earned her Fluttershy’s attention. The pegasus put aside her cleaning implement and sat down on the couch next to her. “What happened? Is everything alright?”
Rarity fought to keep a frown from her face. It was a battle that she had lost before it had even really begun. “No,” she replied sourly. “I daresay that everything is not alright.”
Fluttershy waited expectantly, but when no more information was given, she instead ushered Rarity to the couch. “Come here. Sit down. I’ll make us some tea, and then... then you can tell me all about it... Okay?”
One of the wonderful things about having a best friend was that they knew what you liked, and would provide it without any additional questions needing to be asked. It also meant that you could confide in them with just about anything, and right now, Rarity craved that more than she craved tea. Fluttershy was most assuredly her best friend; even if she had known about Pinkie in advance, there would have been a good reason for her to remain silent. Something like a Pinkie Promise, for example, Rarity thought sourly, then chided herself for thinking it. Promises were important, even if they were inconvenient at times.
She promised herself that she wouldn’t hold it against Fluttershy if a promise had indeed been involved. Now that she knew how Pinkie felt, such promises should be rendered moot regardless.
Fluttershy returned swiftly, carrying a tray that held not only two steaming hot mugs of tea, but a plate filled with scones as well. Rarity gratefully bit into one and let the sugar soothe the worst of her worries.
“Feeling better?” Fluttershy asked as she added a few sugarcubes to her own tea.
Rarity wanted to shake her head, but eventually nodded. “A little,” she admitted. Sweet, decadent things always helped her mood, even if they did not help her waistline one bit. Still, the problem loomed over her and she decided that it was best to just come out with it. “It was horrid, Fluttershy,” she said, taking another scone and relieving it of its existence just as quickly as the first. “The restaurant, the food… all of it.”
“I’m sure it can’t have been that bad,” Fluttershy replied, gently rebuking her friend. “Pinkie’s been very good about spontaneous musical numbers lately, and I can’t even remember the last time she made me cry.”
“That’s not what I mean. Pinkie was fine, but I was right! Something is bothering Pinkie!”
“Oh?” Fluttershy asked, looking slightly more worried. “Did you find out what it was?”
Rarity nodded. “Yes I did.” She lunged forward and latched herself onto Fluttershy, drawing a squeak from her friend as she squeezed. “She’s in love with me,” Rarity continued, the emotionless tone of her voice belying the look on her face, clinging to Fluttershy as though she was drowning. “Whatever am I going to do, Fluttershy? It is the worst. Possible. Thing!”
Fluttershy didn’t answer for a time, finally electing to pry Rarity loose so she could look her in the eye. “Why is that so bad? Ponies have had crushes on you before. We talked about those. Spike has had a crush on you since forever. You’ve never been this worried about it before.”
“That’s different,” Rarity groused. “Spike is too young to understand what true love really means, and those other ponies weren’t close friends. They were just little boys that thought I was attractive. You had quite a few that were fawning over you as well, as you’ll recall.”
Fluttershy stared at her disapprovingly, “Do you think about Pinkie that way?”.
Another deep suffering sigh escaped Rarity and she looked down at the floor. “Of course not. She’s my friend and I want what’s best for her, but...”
“I don’t know what to do!” she said, looking up at Fluttershy pleadingly. “This is so much worse than any of my own crushes were! Don’t you see? I don’t feel the same way, but if I reject her, she’ll be heartbroken. And sad, and… and... I don’t want to hurt her...”
“Well, I’m glad to hear you don’t think less of her for having a crush on you,” Fluttershy said, smiling. “Now, of course it will be sad for her, but you cannot lie about your feelings. Just approach her about it very gently, and tell her that you don’t feel the same.”
Rarity nodded, quickly. “I suppose that’s best. I just hate the idea of turning her down. It feels so... heartless. I really do value her as a friend, I just... I don’t know if it could even work out between us. We have so few things in common—”
“That’s not true. Both of you love to make ponies happy, and both of you like to make things look pretty.” Fluttershy giggled softly. “Even if she does it with rooms instead of ponies.”
“She likes taking baths as much as I do,” Rarity continued with a small smile. “She loves her sisters... probably even more than I do Sweetie Belle, and she likes reading romance novels.”
“Yes! I couldn’t believe my ears when she first told me.”
“Well,” Fluttershy said with a smile, “doesn’t that mean that you have more in common than you were giving yourself credit for?”
“I suppose... But in all seriousness, what am I to do?”
Fluttershy handed her her mug and picked up her own. “What do you want to do? She hasn’t told you about it herself, has she?”
“Well, no... but...”
“Well, if she hasn’t told you, you don’t actually have to tell her no. Maybe just... let her have her crush? Would that be so bad?”
“Yes!” Rarity replied immediately before taking a big gulp of her scalding tea. She then proceeded to cough for a minute straight, the tea burning her tongue. “A crush can be... all-consuming,” she said, after cooling down a little. “I should know; I’ve had my fair share and none of them worked out well.”
“Rarity, we said we wouldn’t talk about the love shrines again—”
“Exactly!” Rarity yelled. “What if somewhere in Sugarcube Corner, Pinkie has one for me?!” She shivered at the thought. Put into perspective, the practice seemed more than a little creepy.
“Well, that would be very sweet, and only a little bit crazy, just like when you made one.”
Rarity nodded. “And if I don’t do anything, she’ll still get hurt eventually.” She emptied her mug as quickly as she dared and got up. “Thank you for your help, darling.”
“What are you going to tell her?”
Rarity pressed her lips into a thin line. “I am going to tell her the truth.” And with that she waved goodbye and headed back towards the boutique. There was a lot of preparation to do, and she still had to contend with her work orders; no matter how much she would have wished otherwise, life did not put itself on hold simply because she had a problem of a romantic nature.
For an aspiring fashionista and socialité, every week was a flurry of activity in the form of dress design, work orders, and the occasional schmoozing of potential customers. This week, however, was even more hectic than usual. Rarity mostly succeeded in her attempt to juggle work, her social life, and the preparations for the next time Pinkie came over, but it left her feeling exhausted more often than not.
Such was her exhaustion that the first notice she got that Pinkie was coming over was the wonderfully soft feeling of a comforter being draped over her shoulders. She didn’t remember falling asleep at her design table, but the familiar pain in her back affirmed that she had indeed.
It took a moment for her sleep-addled mind to register that duvets did not appear out of nowhere, and when she realised that, she groggily she lifted her head to scan the room for the potential source. She just barely caught a glimpse of two pink hind legs disappearing around the corner followed by a poofy tail.
“Pinkie!” she croaked, voice still heavy with sleep.
The tail too disappeared, but was swiftly replaced with the smiling face of Pinkie Pie. “Hiya, Rarity. I thought you were all sleep-deepy, so I was just going to go. Glad you’re awake!”
Rarity shook her head, clearing the cobwebs of sleep from her system, and blinked against the sunlight that hadn’t been there when she’d last had her eyes open. “Forgive me, darling. I shouldn't have been asleep in the first place.” She leaned back and stretched, grimacing when her back popped. Pinkie was still standing in the doorway, which wouldn't do at all. “Please, sit down. Sit down. Can I get you anything? A warm cup of chocolate milk, and specially made sweets, perhaps?”
From the way Pinkie’s smile grew, Rarity knew that she had made the right decision. It had been difficult baking in a kitchen that lacked the specialised tools found in Sugarcube Corner, especially with her little sister around to complicate matters further, but she had pulled it off somehow.
Upon seeing the counter when she stepped into the kitchen, she remembered shreds of the previous evening; worries stacked on top of worries with a dash of desperation here and there. Was everything going to be okay? Would she and Pinkie still be friends after she said what she had to say? What if, what if, what if... she thought with a frown, before shaking her head again, dispelling the gloomy thoughts. Enough, Rarity. Just grab what you need and get this over with.
The chocolate fudge brownies need only be extracted from the foil she had wrapped them in to keep them fresh, but reheating the chocolate milk would take some time. When Rarity stepped back into the living room, Pinkie had long since finished setting up the chessboard, and was making silly faces while tapping two of the pieces together. She stopped when she noticed Rarity, but couldn’t hide the blush that shone through on her cheeks.
“Here you are, darling,” Rarity said, ignoring both the display and the blush. She set down the treats in front of Pinkie and took her own seat, debating whether or not she could afford to beat around the bush a little. The look of Pinkie enjoying herself made the decision for her. Taking away the happiness of a pony that looked so wonderfully blissful would be a crime. Besides, she had several hours, there was no need to rush the inevitable.
Several hours passed quickly, while they talked about their respective weeks and played chess. Soon enough, ‘several hours’ had been reduced to ‘just half of one’ and Rarity was quickly coming to realise that she was avoiding the issue. It had been on her mind every few minutes, but she had pushed it away each time, telling herself that there was still more than enough time left. Now... now there wasn’t any time left at all.
“Pinkie,” Rarity said earnestly after their fourth game of chess ended. “We need to talk.”
Pinkie giggled while she put the pieces back to their starting positions. “We’ve been talking for hours, silly.” Her giggling stopped when she looked up and saw Rarity’s expression. She stopped moving the pieces and clamped her ears to her skull as though she knew what was coming next.
“Pinkie, I feel as if you’ve been a little... distracted during our games lately. I’m ashamed to admit I mistook this as me simply getting better at chess.”
“You have been!” Pinkie said, her eyes lighting up as her smile got even larger. “Like, super-better!”
Rarity rolled her eyes. “Darling, don’t make fun, I’m being serious. The fact is I think your distraction might be because of your feelings for me having changed.”
“Changed? Nuh-uh, we’re still the bestest of friends, Rarity.”
“No, darling.” Rarity sighed. “I meant to say that I know how you feel about me—”
“Well sure! You’re my friend! Everyone knows how I feel about my friends!” Pinkie interrupted her, smiling almost manically.
Rarity shook her head slowly, regretfully, and lit up her horn. “Pinkamena Diane Pie, I know that you have a crush on me, and trying to prevent me from saying that isn’t going to change the fact that I know. You understand that, right?”
Pinkie nodded sadly, her mouth zippered shut by magic. “I Uo ooOo.”
Rarity let out another sigh and released her magic. The conversation was turning out as bad as she had feared.
Pinkie’s hair deflated along with the rest of her and she rested her head on the chessboard, knocking aside several of the pieces while her hair obscured her features. “You weren’t supposed to know,” she whispered in a small voice.
“I know, darling,” Rarity said soothingly. Her hoof hovered over Pinkie’s head while she wondered if stroking Pinkie’s hair would help, or if it would only make matters worse. “But—”
The choice was taken from her when Pinkie looked up, eyes wet with unshed tears. “It won’t be a problem!” Pinkie whispered, smiling through her tears. “We’ll just pretend that it’s still a secret! I’ll try my super duper hardest and you’ll never see anything that makes you suspicious ever again! You wouldn’t even have to do anything!” Her eyes shimmered, and combined with a pouting lower lip, assaulted Rarity’s defenses. “Please, don’t say no?”
Rarity swallowed with some difficulty. She understood Pinkie, perhaps better than she would like. But she couldn’t just let it go. She did not want to let one of her best friends subsist in a delusion; have her cling to false hope that one day Rarity might return her feelings. It had to end right here.
“I’m sorry, darling,” she said with a bleeding heart when Pinkie Pie cringed. “But...” She rolled her tongue around in her mouth, trying to taste the right words for what she was about to say. Pinkie kept shaking her head slowly, trying to deny whatever Rarity was about to tell her. “I can’t... say that I wouldn’t ever be interested in you romantically. I just... I need some time to think.”
What? Rarity’s head spun. Had she really just done the exact thing she had sworn to herself she wouldn’t do? Judging by Pinkie’s equally confused expression, she had. Or perhaps she should look at it from the other side; she hadn’t been able to tell her friend ‘no’.
“Really?” Pinkie swallowed heavily, wiped away the tears with a hoof, and smiled at her. “O-okay! You can take as long as you need and I’ll wait for you.” She hopped off of her chair and rattled off a familiar series of motions. “Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.”
“One more thing, Pinkie,” Rarity said quickly. “No matter what I decide, you are a wonderful friend, do you hear? I just don’t want you to hide this anymore. I’m... very flattered, actually. So no more tears, all right?”
“Okie dokie.” Pinkie replied, her hair still limp and lifeless.
That won’t do.
Rarity crossed the distance between then, enveloping Pinkie in a completely platonic hug. “No more of that, darling. Everything is going to be fine.”
Pinkie’s mane re-inflated like a balloon, another property of hers that raised more questions than it answered. “We should go on a date!” she chirped, dancing around the room like a ballerina filled with giddiness—and, like her mane, possibly with helium.
The only response Rarity had for her friend’s shift in demeanour was a stern look, which at the very least managed to bring Pinkie back down to earth; if not dim her exuberance significantly.
“Or... not.” It came out with a sigh, but even after she’d said it Pinkie was still smiling. Hope, was apparently all she needed.
“Dating is definitely a little too far, Pinkie. But I think we should go have some fun—” At Pinkie’s loud squee, Rarity was quick to add: “As friends, for the moment. Friends can have fun without it being romantic. Understand?” We might even be lucky enough to find somepony else you like while we’re out...
Their first outing happened that same evening, even if Rarity had some reservations about the venue Pinkie had chosen. The fairgrounds at the base of Canterlot mountain should have made finding somepony that Pinkie liked easier, were it not for the fact that it was hard to distinguish Pinkie’s platonic ‘like’ from her romantic one. First and foremost on Rarity’s list of priorities was figuring out what had attracted Pinkie to her in the first place, but so far all she’d found out that it wasn’t a shared taste in fairground rides.
“Come on, Rarity! This one is great!” Pinkie yelled enthusiastically, dragging her along to the third in a series of rides that threatened to make her regurgitate the brownies from earlier in the day. At least this one only spun horizontally.
Once they were strapped in, she turned to her friend, trying to glean what insight she could before the ride forced her to focus all of her attention on keeping her lunch on the inside of her stomach once more. “Well, darling?” she asked curiously. “What is it about me that you like so much?”
Much as she had done the first time, Pinkie merely shrugged. “I already told you... I don’t know! You’re just... you’re always kind, and pretty, and you never say no when I ask you to help decorate for a new party... and lots of other things!”
Rarity groaned softly. A groan that swiftly turned into a shriek when the magical machine set itself in motion and the beam she and Pinkie were strapped to left the ground. She had been wrong; the machine did make vertical loops as well.
A few minutes later, when they were released from the restraints that had secured them to the infernal contraption, all Rarity could think about was finding the nearest bathroom so as to not make a mess of herself.
“Are you okay?”
Bent over a toilet wasn’t a position she would have wanted to be caught dead in, but then, that was before she had accompanied Pinkie to this... this place. Nevertheless, she waved a hoof back at Pinkie; if she was going to have to suffer this indignity, she would rather do so privately.
It didn’t dissuade Pinkie from helping her hold her mane away from what had been dinner. Why are there carrots in there? I didn’t even eat carrots!
They remained in the restrooms for a good half hour before Rarity felt well enough to move, and even looking at the rest of the machines the fair had to offer was enough to make her uneasy for some time after that. They eventually found a bench in the quieter part of the fair and Rarity gratefully sank down on it. Pinkie hadn’t stopped smiling apologetically at her since they’d left the restrooms, and she had done her best to ignore it for fear of snapping at her friend. After a good long while, she finally felt that she had enough control of herself not to say something she might regret. “This wasn’t quite what I had in mind when I said I wanted to go and have some fun.” She watched Pinkie deflate a little and gave her a nudge with her shoulder. “But,” she continued in a cheerier tone of voice. “It wasn’t as terrible as I feared it would be either.”
It wasn’t that she thought she would ever get used to being spun around in every direction, but she simply couldn’t stand seeing Pinkie morose. The pink pony was supposed to be the smile of the group, laughing at anything and everything; full of life and promise.
“How about we space those rides out, and intersperse them with some of the gentler fare next time, hmm?”
Pinkie nodded. “Yeppers. Being sick is no fun, so...” She looked around briefly and then turned back to Rarity with a smile. “How about... a game of chess?”
“As much as that would be a welcome distraction right now, darling, I fear that I’ve left my chess set at home.”
She hadn’t finished half of her sentence and Pinkie was already shaking her head. “No, silly. Look over there.”
Rarity’s eyes followed the length of a pink leg and came to rest on a princess-esque chess piece that was large enough to compete with the real thing. At first glance she had mistaken it for a statue, but statues generally didn’t float through the air every few minutes.
“It’s an outdoor chess set,” Pinkie told her happily. “Wanna go have a look?”
Rarity nodded her assent and got up to follow Pinkie over to the life-sized pieces. The chess board had been set up in an alcove of the mountain, out of the way from most of the attractions. As such, the surroundings were a lot less intense, and for the first time in a while Rarity could actually hear herself think. The board itself had been drawn on the floor with simple chalk lines, and by the time they arrived, an aging stallion was picking up the pieces with his magic, and shrinking them down to a more familiar size, which he then put into a well-used box.
In a fashion only she could manage did Pinkie waltz up to the stallion. “Hiya!” she called out, looking as though she might glomp her new friend right there. Her outburst made the stallion stiffen. His magic faded from one of the tower pieces which dropped like a stone. Rarity caught it in her own magic out of reflex and found to her surprise that the pieces weighed little more than her own did despite their size. They had obviously been imbued with several enchantments, and she idly wondered if Twilight could do the same thing with her chess pieces.
“Good day,” the stallion replied good naturedly after he had recovered from Pinkie’s unique form of greeting. “Fancy a game?”
Pinkie smiled widely. “Do we ever!”
Rarity added her own more sedate smile and said: “If it’s not too much of a bother?”
The stallion waved away her polite uncertainty with a hoof. “Not at all, not at all. The evening was a little slow, is all.” He dipped his head to the both of them. “Name’s Castle, professional chess player; currently ranked fourth in the worldwide rankings. Always pleased to meet a pair of pretty fillies.”
“Ohhh...” Pinkie said, her eyes growing to the size of dinner plates. She bounced around the stallion, checking him from all sides before disappointedly exclaiming; “You don’t look like a castle. You don’t even have the pretty towers.”
“Forgive her, she can be a little excitable,” Rarity told the stallion quickly, silencing Pinkie with a look. “My name is Rarity. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Castle took one of her hooves and planted a kiss on it. A gentlemanly gesture of respect for those in the know, but from the corner of her eyes she could see Pinkie's expression darken almost imperceptibly. "Well then," he said after letting go. "Shall we begin? Don't worry, I'll go easy on you."
Pinkie made her way over to the black side of the board and took up position next to the princess-piece. "Bring it on, buster! We'll show you!"
The chess match quickly became a two-against-one game. While Pinkie had a better insight, and more experience, it proved difficult to move the pieces without magic, which Rarity provided without comment.
The beginning of the match consisted mostly of mirror moves, and for each piece they took from the stallion, he took one of theirs. Rarity didn’t know exactly how it happened, but steadily Castle gained ground, taking unprotected pieces where she hadn’t expected him to even have pieces of his own. Truth be told, she was only half paying attention to the match. Beyond the movement of the pieces, most of her focus was on Pinkie Pie who looked more focused and determined than Rarity had ever seen her.
Despite their best efforts, however, they were losing steadily. Castle lived up to his reputation, and it wasn’t long before Pinkie pushed over their own princess piece.
“That was well played,” Castle said when they met in the middle of the board. “It isn’t often that I meet ponies that last for more than a few moves, let alone make me work for my victory. Would you like to play another game?” He held out a hoof to Pinkie, but the earth pony merely stared at the floor.
Rarity took the hoof in her stead and shook it steadily, treating the stallion to an amicable smile. “Thank you for taking the time to play a game with us. We’d love to play another round, but it’s getting to be rather late, and we really must be heading home. Another time perhaps?”
“If I’m not playing a tournament, you can usually find me right here,” Castle replied, returning her smile. He then turned to Pinkie and said, “Cheer up, Miss Pinkie, you have a lot of potential. I’m looking forward to playing you again some day.” He nodded at Rarity and then began shrinking and packing his equipment.
Rarity watched him for a moment before turning to Pinkie, leaning forward a little to see if she could make out Pinkie’s expression. “Darling, are you alright?”
Pinkie said nothing, and despite Rarity’s best efforts to coax her out of her shell, remained morose for the remainder of their stay at the fairgrounds. She followed Rarity without question or care for her surroundings, and in doing so drove Rarity up the wall with worry.
Why can’t she just tell me what’s wrong?
It wasn’t until they reached the train station that Pinkie let out a sigh and looked a little like herself again. “I’m sorry, Rarity,” she said, keeping her ears folded back against her skull.
Biting back a derisive response, Rarity stepped closer to her friend and gave Pinkie a gentle nuzzle. “Darling, I have never seen you act like this. Whatever is the matter?”
“I wanted to win,” Pinkie admitted after a moment.
Rarity arched an eyebrow. “Darling, I’ve never seen you upset because of a game. What makes this one so different?”
Pinkie shrugged helplessly. “I wanted to show you that I was just as good as that stupid stallion mc-meaner-pants was.”
“Oh my,” Rarity said with a giggle. “Fighting for my honor now?” She gathered Pinkie in a quick hug and made a show of swooning all over her back before taking a step back and regarding Pinkie with a calm expression. “He wasn’t doing anything untoward, but I think I understand how you feel. Regardless of the outcome, you did very well against somepony who is the fourth best in the world in their field. Such gallantry should be rewarded.”
She circled Pinkie, looking at her from every angle. Talking seemed to have helped Pinkie as she looked no worse for the wear, aside from her ears, which were still flattened. Rarity put a hoof to her chin and hummed softly. “Now, what would be a suitable reward, I wonder?” The answer was easy, and with a mischievous smile, she began circling Pinkie again.
The earth pony twisted her neck, trying to keep Rarity in sight and her ears perked up as well, which Rarity considered a victory. After the fourth circle, even Pinkie’s neck lacked the elasticity to keep up with the constant movement, and unwound itself quickly enough to make Pinkie dizzy.
That was the moment Rarity had been waiting for. With only a few graceful steps did she move close to Pinkie, and placed a chaste kiss on her cheek.
“There,” she said, giggling at Pinkie’s blissful smile. “Shall we head home, darling?”
Pinkie nodded, still dazed from her head spinning.
The fair had been a lot of fun, even if Rarity refused to admit it. And despite her insistence on calling them ‘outings’, it was only the first of a long line.
The following week was spent barhopping, during which Pinkie Pie literally drank her under the table. She didn’t remember a lot of the rest of the evening, but to hear Pinkie tell it, she was a snuggly drunk. She hadn’t known if she wanted to be glad that she wasn’t destructive while inebriated, or mad for allowing herself to become such in the first place.
In the week after that, they went to an open air opera that Pinkie had somehow gotten tickets for. The performance itself wasn’t all that interesting, sadly, but they enjoyed themselves nevertheless; and that was what really got Rarity thinking. In many ways Pinkie was a perfect gentlemare. Her intentions, however badly they might sometimes turn out, were always to make Rarity smile, which was a big step up from some of the stallions she had dated.
Even after several more outings, it was difficult for Rarity to admit that she might enjoy Pinkie’s company as more than just as a friend, even to herself. That didn’t mean, however, that she didn’t look forward to the next date—outing. Which, as it so happened, was tonight. And Rarity was right in the middle of a rush order.
“Rarity? Are you ready yet?”
“Just about, darling. Give me a moment to finish up this cross-stitch... and then...” Rarity sighed as she went through all the adjustments and sewing that needed to happen before she could really call the order finished. In a moment of resolution, she put her needle down and left everything the way it was. Doing so meant that she would fail to meet the deadline, or at the very least ensure that she wouldn’t be getting any sleep tonight, but she considered her promise to Pinkie to be more important.
Tonight, they had planned—Well, Pinkie had planned—to go to a self-defense workshop, which took place in the same dojo where Rarity had learned her karate. It had been a bit of a surprise to say the least; Rarity hadn’t expected Pinkie to be into, or even need that sort of thing. Pinkie had insisted, however, and Rarity had come to understand that this, too, had been more for her benefit than Pinkie’s.
They arrived only a little late. The doors to the dojo had already opened, and inside, the sensei had just begun showing off a few of basic moves which were enthusiastically being mimicked by a group of foals and grown-ups alike. Rarity recognised every move and ran through the rest of the first set in her head. She smiled when Pinkie hopped into the group and followed along while doing what she did best: enjoying herself.
That was one thing Rarity could honestly say she loved about Pinkie: her friend knew how to have fun, and, perhaps more importantly, knew how to make things fun for others as well. She was pulled from her thoughts when the deep voice of the sensei reverberated through the dojo. "Well, if it isn't my star pupil!” the aging stallion thundered, smiling at the crowd.
For a moment Rarity looked around to see who he might have been talking to, before she realised that he was, in fact, talking to her. She hadn’t ever considered herself to be particularly good at the sport, but then, she had been little more than a filly when she last attended any sort of lessons at the dojo.
“Come over here,” the stallion said, beckoning her over and smiling when she began moving. Maybe she wouldn’t have, if Pinkie hadn’t pushed her, but there was no going back now. “Take a good look, folks,” he continued when she had reached the center of the mat that covered the entire floor of the dojo. “This lovely mare and I will show you what you came here to learn.” And with that as her only warning, he attacked.
The long hours of learning and repeating the moves and techniques saved her from a black eye. She ducked beneath his first swing and blocked the second with one of her forelegs. Then, in the split second it took for him to regain his balance, she put all of her weight on her front hooves and used them as a swivel, sweeping his legs out from under him. She wasn’t fast enough, and while she did managed to snag one of his legs, he hopped over her attack with the others. She rolled back when he jumped forward and ducked out of the way when he came at her again, this time with a flying kick.
Blowing a few strands of her mane out of her face, she finally got a chance to adopt a traditional fighting stance. Standing on one’s hind legs and staying balanced was the first big challenge that came with learning karate. It made moving around more difficult, but in return provided more options and avenues of attack, and Rarity used one of those as her next move. Unfortunately, she misjudged the distance when she tried to kick him again. It had been a long time since she had really even thought about practicing, and the long hours of sitting still behind a sewing machine did her no favours. The sensei landed a blow on her chest and she fell onto her back. Before she could move she was staring at the frog of his hoof, an altogether familiar sight.
“You should come back to the dojo, Rarity,” the sensei said while he helped her up. “I think you could use some refreshers.” They bowed to one another, and then he turned to the crowd of spectators and said; “And those are some of the moves you will learn here. Now, everypony who wants to get a little more of a feel for it, please find a partner and I’ll be by to explain what the correct movements are and some of the history behind them.”
After he stepped away, Pinkie immediately bounded up to her and caught her in a surprise hug. “You were amazing!” she exclaimed, smiling happily. “He was all like ‘pow!’ and ‘fwoosh’ and you were like ‘ha, missed me!’” She made a few more chops with her hooves before looking at Rarity again. “I didn’t know you could do karate!”
Rarity had a hard time with her own smile after the sudden flurry of activity, but when her brain and the excitement of a fight finally caught up with her, she found it and smiled back at Pinkie. “Yes, well...” she said with a soft giggle. “It’s not like I have a lot of time for it these days.”
“Well... you should do it more,” Pinkie said, nodding to herself. “You were great." She grabbed a hoof and dragged Rarity over to a different section of the mat, bowing to her in a crude imitation of the bow the sensei had given her.
“Hold on. Darling, stop.” Rarity told her before she could begin performing the moves that the sensei was showcasing.
“Nothing's wrong, darling,” Rarity said, pretending to idly look around the room. She didn't know how to broach the subject she really wanted to talk about so she fibbed it. “I just think you should find a different sparring partner. I already know all of these techniques, so it wouldn't really be fair.”
Pinkie considered her proposal for only a moment before nodding. “Oki-doki-loki, Rarity. Are you going to be—”
“I'll be fine, darling.”
Pinkie nodded before bounding off to the back of the dojo, where a group of adults were trying their best at following instructions. It was good to see how easily she was welcomed into the group and Rarity left her to it, deciding that she might as well make herself useful by giving some pointers to the younger students-to-be.
Rarity found that she enjoyed giving instructions in a sport that she herself had practiced for over half a life, and only became aware of the time when the next group of curious ponies stepped through the doors. She watched the foals and fillies she had been helping run back to their parents with some bewilderment and only then remembered that she had come to the event with Pinkie.
The earth pony wasn't hard to find, having drawn the attention of the crowd to herself and her sparring partner with quick moves that, while lacking any sort of refinement, proved to be effective in sparring. It helped that they were amusing to watch, obviously, but Rarity couldn’t deny that both Pinkie and the stallion she was fighting had picked up the moves rather quickly. They circled one another, occasionally trading a jab or ducking underneath a kick, making for an effective showcase match, perhaps even moreso than the one Rarity had been dragged into due to their obvious inexperience. As far Rarity was concerned, even the collection of their admittedly impressive moves could not even begin to compare to the excited gleam that Pinkie's eyes held.
It took her breath away, and for the first time since the whole bizarre arrangement had started did she feel part of what Pinkie must have felt for her. It was a mixture between a light feeling in her stomach and an excited sort of happiness at the thought that she could make Pinkie happy by telling her how she felt. And then she realised that she had never felt this way before. She’d had crushes before, first on Blueblood, and later on Trenderhoof, but neither of them had made her feel remotely similar. Perhaps that was what love was about? Caring more for the happiness of another than your own?
She decided that she should tell Pinkie how she felt as soon as equinely possible; although preferably in a somewhat more private setting.
Rarity smiled at her friend. “Hello, darling,” she said, her smile fading a little when she saw that Pinkie was dragging the stallion along by a hoof. “Are you ready to go home?”
“Well...” Pinkie drawled, looking at the stallion next to her with a sort of awe Rarity had scarcely ever seen from her. “I actually wanted to introduce you to Stampy!”
Rarity turned her smile on the stallion, trying not to let the panic she felt consume her. The stallion had an, in her opinion, hideous gray coat, and white hair to match. Still, he looked like he took good care of himself, from the shorn fetlocks to well maintained mane and the rubber stamp cutie mark... he had to be the opposite of Pinkie Pie in every way imaginable. Or so she tried to tell herself. “Hello...Stampy. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
The stallion nodded amicably. “My name is Rubber Stamp, actually. Pinkie told me it sounded stuffy so...” He smiled sheepishly. “Pleasure to meet you as well, Miss Rarity.”
“Rarity?" Pinkie cut in smiling apologetically. “Stampy invited me to goof around a little, and I really wanna go, but it’s not really... y’know... your kind of party?” She awkwardly rubbed the back of her neck before asking; “Do you think you’ll be okay getting home by yourself?”
It was Rarity’s turn to nod and she did so with a heavy heart. “Of course, darling. I have some work I need to get done anyway. Just promise me you’ll enjoy the rest of your evening.”
“Cross my heart and hope to fly,” Pinkie replied, in a quick rendition of her age old promise before grabbing Rubber Stamp by the hoof once more and dragging him off to stars knew where. “Bye, Rarity!” she shouted over her shoulder, not looking back for long enough to see the subdued wave Rarity gave her in reply.
By the time Rarity stepped back into her boutique, she had come to exactly one important realisation: This was exactly what she had hoped for when she agreed to go out with Pinkie. She had wanted her friend to find somepony that would be good for her, and now it seemed that she had.
Rarity clung to the thought like a life-raft, letting it drown out all other thoughts, and even the pain that seeped from the open wound in her heart. On the way back she had managed to delude herself that it would be a one-time deal, simply because Pinkie liked parties as much as she did. But then she would remember the smile Pinkie had been wearing when she looked at the stallion; a smile that, before, Rarity had only seen when Pinkie had looked at her.
With an aggressive shake of her head Rarity cleared her mind of all thoughts but one: I have an order due in eight hours, and I had best get back to it. She went about it in a frenzy, working on three different stitches, folds, and cuts at the same time. It was an intense task, one that required her complete focus. It was just what she was looking for.
By the time Upper Crust arrived to pick up her dresses eight hours later, Rarity had just about finished. “Just a moment, darling,” she told the mare with a dazzling smile. “I wasn’t quite happy with one of the stitches, it will be done in just a moment. Tea?”
The dresses were some of her best work, and Upper Crust was happy with them, even if she did decline Rarity’s offer of tea. After she had left, Rarity made some for herself and sat down on her chaise lounge. Now that her order was finished, she had nothing to focus on, and the thoughts quickly filled her mind again.
What if it isn’t a one-time thing? What if she’s genuinely fallen in love with him? She scoffed. “Don’t be absurd, Rarity. She hardly even knows him. They met maybe an hour prior to deciding to go to a party?” She gulped down most of her tea in one go. “That isn’t love.”
But what if it is?
“Well, seeing as I was the one that encouraged her to find somepony that could love her back, I will simply be happy for her,” she told the empty room, with the eniquins as her only witnesses.
Merely sitting still drinking tea wasn’t an option for long. She needed to know that Pinkie was alright. Of course, part of her knew that she could simply ask her friend about it during their next chess session, but she felt that it was her duty to make sure that her friend had had a good time. It’s about time for breakfast, anyway.
Her unasked question was answered before she even came near Sugarcube Corner. Pinkie’s singing drifted out of the open doors and onto the street, a sure sign that she was happy, and a blow to Rarity’s gut. The last time she had heard Pinkie sing had been many months ago, which made her realise that her estimates on Pinkie’s crush had been woefully off the mark.
Swallowing her insecurities and letting the delicious smell of baked good drive her onward, she stepped into the bakery. There was a lengthy line to the counter despite the earliness of the hour, fortunately, Pinkie appeared to be everywhere at once and it took less than a minute between order and delivery of said order which made it more of an inconvenience than a problem.
When it was finally her turn, Rarity stepped up to the counter and said: “Hello, Darling. I’ll have three croissants please.” She hardly even saw Pinkie’s face, all smiles and zipping hooves. “How was your party last night?” she added after a fashion, hoping to be able to get an answer before the ponies that had gotten in line behind her made a fuss.
“That’ll be five bits.” Pinkie zipped back into place, still wobbling a bit from the speeds at which she had moved, and handed Rarity a paper bag. “It was great,” she continued while Rarity opened her purse and traded the bits for the bag. “I’ll tell you all about it at our next game.”
Rarity opened her mouth to reply but thought better of it. Pinkie was busy and had already assured her that they would talk about it. That would have to be enough for now.
During her walk home, she steeled her resolve, vowing not to let this problem interfere with her day to day life. Her heart complained, but she silenced it and threw away the key. It wasn't the first time her love life had thrown her a curveball, and it wouldn't be the last. She just needed some time to gather herself. Time, and a few family-sized tubs of icecream.
The week that followed was relatively normal. Rarity worked on the orders she had gotten, fussed about her sister whenever she found another one of the crusader's ill-fated plans in the boutique, and generally held her life together well enough. The only noticeable change was the fact that she no longer felt inspired to come up with new designs whenever she had a moment of peace. It felt like her creativity had abandoned her when she locked up her heart, but she didn't dare release it for fear of falling apart at the seams.
She very nearly did when the next thursday rolled around and Pinkie was nowhere to be found. Fashionably late was a concept Pinkie had never understood. The earth pony had always been on time, or even early to whatever appointment with Rarity she had, and her absence made Rarity fear the worst.
Her fears were confirmed when Mrs. Cake, laden with the twins and a pair of saddlebags fit to bursting with picnic supplies, dropped by to deliver a note hastily written by Pinkie.
Hey, Rarity. Sorry I’m not there to tell you that I couldn’t come myself. Stampy invited me to a restaurant he really likes. He even had roses and everything! Anyway, I couldn’t just tell him ‘no’, it would have made him so sad!
“I’ll make it up to you later. Pinkie Promise,” she read aloud to the sympathetic face of the older mare.
“No need to fret, deary,” Mrs. Cake told her. “Young love often makes ponies do crazy things. Why I remember when Carrot—”
Rarity only half listened to the story that followed. Her world was falling apart, and her body seemed determined to go with it. Her head pounded, her stomach ached and her hooves felt like they were on fire. Worst of all, however, was her heart. It had burst through the seams of its prison and was screaming bloody murder. You could have had everything you ever wanted in Pinkie Pie, and now you have nothing.
Every fibre of her being ached with a desire to destroy the stallion that had taken away what could have been hers. She had already absently thanked Mrs. Cake for her time and walked half of the way to Sugarcube Corner before her senses returned.
You have no one to blame but yourself, her mind told the rest of her. You insisted that the wonderful times you had with her should not be classified as dates. You told her that it was important that she look for somepony else, because beauty queen Rarity could never fall in love with the likes of her.
“I never said that I couldn't,” Rarity muttered, sinking down onto her haunches in the middle of the street. But you implied it. Hot tears stung behind her eyelids, and she closed them to keep the tears from spilling out. Frantically, she raced through every memory, every laugh, every word that had passed between her and Pinkie, looking for anything that she could use to take back everything she had said. Anything to make everything go back to the way it had been all those weeks ago when Pinkie had told her she loved her.
She came up empty. Letting out a deeply suffering sigh, she got up and looked at the gigantic cupcake that topped Sugarcube Corner. Her vision became blurry, but she refused to be seen crying in the middle of the street. There was nothing she could do anyway; Pinkie wasn’t at Sugarcube corner, and neither was the stallion. She could only do what she had told herself she would:
She would grin, and bear it, and help Pinkie in whatever way she could. That’s what good friends did. Rarity would just have to rid herself of that thing called love. It should be easy enough; she had only just found out it existed after all.
I always hated the way she bowled me over while I was working, anyway. And the way she always yelled, so uncouth. Never could stand still when I was designing a dress for her. Made me go on those awful rides.
For every negative thought she threw at her love, however, it threw back positive ones, small details that made Pinkie... Pinkie. And before she had made it out of the street, she realised why it wasn’t working. Love meant caring for somepony despite their little annoyances. She was stuck with it.
By the time she returned to her boutique, Mrs. Cake had long since gone, and her sister wasn’t anywhere to be found either. Just as well, she thought to herself. A lady doesn’t cry in front of others.
When Rarity set out the chessboard again a week later, she didn’t have high hopes of Pinkie arriving on time, or at all. She had thrown herself into her work and taken on more projects than she should have, which had helped her emotional state to an extent, if not much else. Having reduced her everyday life to working until exhaustion and then lying down in bed until sufficient time had passed that she could call it sleeping was a way to live; it just wasn’t a very happy way. It was only by sheer coincidence that she even remembered that Pinkie could be coming by today. On some level, Rarity hoped that she wouldn't.
Part of that thought came from the little vanity she had left. She looked hideous, and she knew it. Her eyes were constantly bloodshot and had heavy bags under them; she hadn’t combed her mane in days and it was starting to get tangled up, and last, but certainly worst, she knew she had put on some weight. There was a veritable mountain of ice cream canisters behind her boutique, and there would have been more had the mare she bought the ice cream from not banned her from the parlour for her own safety.
Once the pieces were in place, she decided that she should at the very least make some tea. The day had been a long one, and looked like it was going to be longer still. The water went forgotten the moment she put it on the stove, having lost the competition for her attention against a myriad of other matters that required it. If I can get all seven of Fancy Pants' suits done before tonight, I could tackle the rest of Fleur's dresses tomorrow. She very nearly smiled to herself, pleased with her plan. The suits alone would have her working until deep unto the night, but that's what she was planning on. Another sleepless night with nothing to do but think didn't help her in any way, so she avoided it as much as possible.
The little bell above her shop's door rang the moment she stepped out of the kitchen, and even though she hardly paid any attention to the sounds, she had heard it often enough that she almost subconsciously rattled off her usual greeting. "Welcome to the Carousel Boutique where everything..." Both her sentence and her train of thought crashed and burned when she saw Pinkie standing in the doorway.
The earth pony looked alarmed, her ears swiveling every which way and her eyes mirroring the movements. The reason for her anxiety wasn't hard to place. Rarity had stopped trying to keep the boutique neat and tidy several days ago, and although she hardly noticed anymore, it likely looked as bad as she did.
“Hi…” she called out lamely. “Is it... okay if I come in?”
Rarity sucked in a breath and donned her brightest smile. The moment of truth, Rarity. You can do this. “Of course it is, darling. We're...friends... aren't we?” The word came out sounding weak and pathetic, and Rarity silently cursed herself. She cleared her throat and composed herself before beckoning Pinkie inside. “Forgive me, darling. It’s been a busy week. How have you been?”
Pinkie eyed her warily, but tried a cautiously optimistic smile after she had subjected Rarity to a close inspection. “Oki doki.”
They sat down, though neither touched the chess pieces. Pinkie didn't let up with her inquisitive gaze, and it didn't take long before Rarity began to feel uncomfortable. “So, how are you and Rubber Stamp doing?” she asked, shifting uncomfortably in her seat.
“We’re great!” Pinkie replied, smiling. “We had a lot of fun at parties, and a disco, and we even went to a wine tasting event.” She leant forward and whispered, “Stampy is funny when he gets drunk.”
Rarity affected a smile in turn and grabbed Pinkie’s hoof with her own. “I’m glad for you, darling.” It was an earnest statement; more earnest than Rarity thought she would have been able to be, but there it was. She found it within herself to be happy for Pinkie Pie even if every word twisted the knife a little more.
It will get better, she promised herself after letting go of Pinkie’s hoof. Time heals all wounds. It’s happened before. Of course, her love hadn’t been quite the love she felt now, but she ignored the differences.
However wonderful her performance was, however, it seemed that it still wasn’t quite good enough. Pinkie had lost her smile somewhere in Rarity’s sentence, and was now looking positively cowed.
“You don’t like him, do you?”
The room seemed cramped all of a sudden, and Rarity felt as though she couldn't get any air. “Nonsense! Why would you say that?" Her smile stretched until it felt unnatural, but she couldn't get her facial muscles to behave. "Granted I don’t know him very well but he seems like a nice enough stallion.”
“But you don’t like him.” It wasn't quite an accusation; the only things Pinkie Pie ever accused ponies of was breaking a promise or spiking the punch, but it was close enough to sting.
Whatever else might happen between them, Rarity knew that she didn't want to lose Pinkie's friendship. Expressing her disapproval of Pinkie's colt friend would force her to choose, and Rarity didn't want to find out what she would do if Pinkie chose the stallion over her. “What I think is of no concern. If he loves you and you love him then—”
Rarity did a doubletake. “W-What?”
“I don’t love him,” Pinkie elaborated. “I love you.”
Rarity was confused. Her head spun, both with the fact that, not only had she been wrong in her assumptions, Pinkie would give up on most anything to be close to her. “Darling…” she started, completely overwhelmed. “I—”
“And I know you don't love me!” Pinkie interrupted her once again. “That's okay, I just... I just wanna be your friend, and stay close to you and have fun and laugh and…” She slowed down, taking a deep breath and letting it out in an equally deep sigh. “I like goofing around, but it’s not the same without you.” A sad, lonely filly who had both ears flattened against her head looked at Rarity for a moment longer and then stepped away from the table and trudged over to the door. “Sorry, Rarity. I'll go home now…”
Rarity shook off her stupor and got up as well, half sprinting, half stumbling in her haste to get to Pinkie before she reached the front door. “Darling, wait!” She saw Pinkie turn around slowly, and braced herself for what she was about to do. She lunged.
They collided with the hardwood of the front door with a loud 'bang' at the same time that Rarity's lips found Pinkie’s. The kiss was one that could have come straight from one of her romance novels. It was passionate—if one sided; romantic—if sudden; and liberating, although that might just have been her.
She kissed Pinkie until she ran out of breath and then kissed her some more until her lungs finally rebelled and pulled her away from the lips of the mare that she loved— the mare that loved her. “What if,” she said, panting softly. “What if I did love you as well?"
Pinkie looked at her, as speechless and confused as she had felt just a moment ago. Rarity belatedly realised that she had been a little overzealous in her confession, but that didn’t mean that she was going to let Pinkie go—ever.
"Come, darling,” she said, pulling Pinkie to her hooves and guiding her to the table. “Sit down."
Pinkie turned her head to look at Rarity, eyes still filled with awe and a little apprehension. "B-but..."
Rarity silenced her with a hoof to the lips, and a small, chaste, kiss on the nose. "No buts, darling. I am going to make us some tea, and then we are going to talk.” She smiled tenderly and caressed Pinkie’s cheek. “And perhaps a game of chess, if you still want to play?”
Pinkie surprised her with a sudden, and none too gentle hug, squeezing for all she was worth and sneaking in a shy kiss on Rarity’s cheek before taking her seat at the table. “I’d like that, but... I don’t get it! I mean, I’m super happy, but—”
Rarity silenced the tirade with another kiss, then pulled back, smiled at her and said, “In a moment, darling. Let me get us some tea, and I’ll tell you a story.”
Rarity nodded. “It’s about a very foolish mare who nearly lost what she was looking for her whole life, just because when she found it, it wasn’t quite what she’d expected.”
“Oh!” Pinkie vibrated out of her chair with excitement. “Does it have a happy ending?”
“I think so, yes.” Rarity winked and gave her another kiss. “I’ll be right back.”
Tea, especially the simple chamomile kind that Rarity drank near constantly, had a nice soft aftertaste which lingered in the mouth for minutes following a drink; much like kissing Pinkie had. It also helped that—no matter how much of the stuff she drank—it didn’t interfere with the wonderful feeling that settled in her stomach like butterflies when she moved her first pawn forward. The tension she had walked around with for months was finally gone, and she’d already won the most important game she ever played.