A Woman Worth Saving

by Undome Tinwe

First published

In a city as corrupt as it is beautiful, Detective Rarity searches for her missing lover, Officer Twilight Sparkle, with the help of her former mentor, Celestia.

In a city as corrupt as it is beautiful, a private investigator searches for her missing lover, a cop on the verge of busting open Canterlot's biggest crime syndicate.

But in order to find her beloved Twilight Sparkle, Rarity will have to enlist the help of Canterlot's former chief of police and Twilight's mentor, Celestia. And as the two race against the clock to save a life, they will have to ask themselves what's worth fighting for in a city that's already lost its soul.

(2021-03-09) Featured on Equestria Daily!

Pre-read by Snow Quill.

Chapter One: The Caged Canary

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I knew she was trouble from the moment she walked into my office.

Not because she was a mysterious dame with more charm and beauty than you could shake a stick at, or because she exuded danger and sensuality like a pair of crimson lips dripping with blood — she wasn't me, after all.

No, I knew Twilight Sparkle was trouble the moment she opened the door because she was a damn copper, and she didn't even have the decency to hide it well.

"Miss Rarity?" she asked with the voice of someone used to asking questions. She wasn't wearing her uniform, but I knew as soon as she opened her mouth that she was either a copper or an egghead, and she was too pretty to be an egghead. Pretty enough to be a honeypot, even, but I wasn't enough of a sap to fall for her.

It's really quite remarkable how much hindsight makes rubes of us all, isn't it?

"At your service." Even though I knew she was trouble, I couldn't help but play along. Dangerous women held a certain appeal to me, you see, especially the ones that didn't realize how dangerous they were. "How may I help you, Miss...?"

"Sparkle. Twilight Sparkle." She might as well have given me her title too, with how officially she said her name. "And I hear that you deal in information that's difficult to find."

"Well, Miss Sparkle, as you may have seen in elegant calligraphy on the sign outside, I'm a Private Investigator," I replied, taking pride in my chosen profession. "Discovering secrets is one of my many skills." A thought occurred to me then—perhaps she wasn't in uniform because this wasn't an official call. Even coppers had personal problems they couldn't beat into submission sometimes.

I smiled. "So, what sort of information are you interested in, dear? Surveillance on a wayward girlfriend? The identity of your wife's lover? Or do you want to know where your wife and girlfriend are meeting up for a secret tryst so you can watch?"

"Nothing like that." Ah, I still remember how stone-faced she was as she stepped into my tastefully-decorated office! Later, I would learn that she was using most of her brainpower to keep her poor little cheeks from blushing red at my words, but at the time, I truly believed she thought nothing of my flair. "I'm looking for some information about one of your clients. Buggy Seagull."

It seemed like she was on official business after all. How drab. "A lady never kisses and tells, Miss Sparkle." I shot her a playful smirk, determined to get some kind of reaction out of her.

I did, but not the one I'd expected or hoped for. "Please." Twilight's eyes widened as she pleaded with me, brimming with crocodile tears. "He's kidnapped my friend's brother, Zephyr Breeze. She's worried sick about him, and we just want him back."

"If Buggy has him, then he should've paid off his gambling debts, no?" It was starting to get tedious, playing with her. I cut to the chase. "Maybe you should come back with a warrant next time, Miss Sparkle."

Twilight actually looked disappointed when I called her out! "Darn it," she muttered. "How'd you know?"

I actually gasped at that, if you can believe it. "You really think you were fooling me?"

"You could at least pretend to be a little surprised." Twilight pouted. "I've never done undercover work before."

"As well you shouldn't," I agreed. "Leave that to the professionals. So, what is it that you really want, Detective?"

"How did you—?"

"A lady never shares all her secrets." I gave her my best mysterious smile.

"Does a lady do anything?" Twilight asked before her expression turned serious again. "And I was telling the truth, before. Fluttershy really is my friend, and her brother really is missing. I've exhausted all my other leads, but I managed to find out that you've worked for Buggy before. Can you tell me where he might have taken him?"

It was too bad I didn't have a cigar on me at the time. It would've complimented my devil-may-care attitude perfectly as I gave my reply. "Like I said, I take my clients' confidentiality very seriously. Especially ones with ties to The Nightmares. So unless you have a warrant..."

"I guess I was wrong about you."

My oh my. What an intriguing statement that was. Twilight Sparkle had her own flair for the dramatic, as it turned out. I appreciated that. "Excuse me?" I asked, taking her bait.

"I remember some of the old case files from my first days on the force," Twilight explained. "You used to call in anonymous tips sometimes. You helped us rescue people in danger and bring justice to those who needed it."

Old memories started flooding back, memories I didn't want to remember. But I guess the past always has a way of catching up with you, and no good deed goes unpunished. "I noticed you said that those tips were anonymous," I said, smiling with all the innocence I didn't have anymore.

"My mentor— the former chief— figured out that it was you after we arrested Dr. Caballeron when he tried to have A.K. Yearling killed. You were the only one who could've known about it."

"Oh," I said, understanding dawning. "You're Celestia's protégée. No wonder you're such a do-gooder. I've heard the stories about her. Is it true that Nightmare Moon once offered her a private island if she dropped the investigation against her, and that she threw the offer right back in her face?"

"She believed in doing the right thing, no matter how hard it was. I think you used to as well."

"Perhaps we did." This time when I smiled, I made sure to show my teeth. "And now Celestia's gone, along with all the other good coppers in this city, if there ever were any. I grew up, Miss Sparkle, and I suggest you do the same."

"There's still good people left in this city," Twilight argued, and the sincerity in her tone was so pure that it made me listen with more than just my ears. "Some of us aren't giving up on trying to save it. Please, Miss Rarity, I know that part of you remembers the woman who helped us save lives. You can still hold on to that."

I was wrong about her being a good candidate for a honeypot. She was something far more dangerous: a goody two-shoes believer.

And Harmony help me, she was making me remember what I'd tried so hard to forget.

"The Nightmares own a warehouse under a shell company on the northeast corner of Meadowbrook and Clover." I sighed, feeling a warm feeling in my chest that I really would rather have done without. "It's where Buggy likes to take those who've crossed him."

"Thank you." Twilight paused as she turned to leave the office and my life. "Umm, afterwards, can I buy you a drink tonight?" She was so adorably nervous that the warmth in my chest threatened to blossom into something beautiful. "I'd like to thank you for your help."

I should have said no. This dame was nothing but trouble, and all that talking would only bring back that part of my heart I fought so hard to keep cold.

Still, Twilight Sparkle was far more than a copper with a pretty face, and part of me was curious about what the protégée of someone as legendary as Chief Celestia herself was like. At least, that's what I told myself.

"I'll be at Joe's at eight tonight," I said, already regretting it. "Just don't try to make me be a good girl again." The words sounded so pathetic even to my own ears, a final attempt to pretend like I wasn't losing all my skills at charm in front of this straight-talking copper.

"No promises." And when Twilight smirked and gave her answer, my heart jumped, and I knew it was too late for me already.

Rarity parked her car by the curb and hoped that it wouldn't be stolen while she was gone.

Normally, she would have taken a cab to this type of locale, but time was of the essence, and she didn't have time to waste on such measures. Hopefully, her intel was accurate — she couldn't afford a dead end, not now.

Unfortunately, her intel only led her to this block. Rarity glanced down along the row of dilapidated buildings, half of which were boarded up and the other half looking like nobody had ever inspected them for hygiene or safety or anything else, which was probably true. This wasn't the type of place that attracted anyone honest.

Which was unfortunate, because Rarity needed information, and she needed it fast. She'd hoped that her destination would be obvious to her, but it seemed that even a place like this still did its best to hide its more obviously illegal establishments.

Looking down at the end of the block, she noted three figures standing underneath a flickering streetlight, their faces barely illuminated enough to see. Two of them wore police uniforms, and they loomed over the third, who was dressed in little enough that Rarity wondered if it counted as indecent exposure.

She smiled grimly as she saw one of the coppers advance towards the streetwalker. "C'mon, doll," he said, his voice as oily and sleazy as he looked, a lecherous smile on his face that sent revulsion through Rarity's stomach. "Ain't no reason to be so cold," he whined, as she backed away from him.

"Yeah," the other one said, and though his tone was more kindly, Rarity could sense the edge beneath it. He was the more dangerous one. "It's not like you don't do this as a job anyways, right? How 'bout a free sample for Canterlot's Finest?"

"My boss ain't gonna like that," the woman protested. "I've got a quota to fill, y'know?"

"We'll be fast," the first cop replied. "And what your boss don't know won't hurt no one." He reached out and roughly grabbed her by the arm, leaning in. "Not like anyone's gonna snitch, right?"

That was Rarity's cue to make her presence known. "On the contrary, I think you'll find that The Nightmares care quite a bit for their bottom line," she said breezily, not daring to show any fear. "It's quite fortunate that they send people to make sure that everyone's behaving properly. Now, officers, I assume you were about to pay this good lady for her services? I wouldn't want to have to report anything untoward back to my employers."

The two cops eyed her suspiciously, no doubt trying to figure out just who she knew and whether she could be intimidated into silence. Rarity kept her expression perfectly pleasant as she added, "There's really no reason to add more work to Fancy Pants' desk, is there? He's such a busy man."

All three of them flinched at the name. The lecherous one glanced at his partner and they shared a silent understanding between them. "We should investigate the reports on that shooting on Fourth Street," he told his partner.

"Yeah." The two of them hurried away without saying another word, not willing to call a bluff with such high stakes.

"I ain't been shirking on the job," the woman immediately informed Rarity once the cops were gone, fear evident in the way she almost huddled in on herself. "You saw that those pigs tried their funny business on me first, right?"

"My affairs here have nothing to do with your employment," Rarity reassured her. "I'm here to conduct some business."

"Oh, well, I guess I could give you a discount for helping me out with those two," the woman replied, her posture shifting back to something more seductive. "But I can't go lower than twenty percent or I'll be in big trouble." She held out a hand. "Call me Candy."

"As much as I'd love to partake in your services, Candy, I'm afraid I'm actually after some information." Rarity reached into her purse and pulled out a wad of bills. "As you know, The Nightmares pay handsomely for those who can provide the right kind of help."

The other woman tensed again. "What kind of information do you want?"

"I'm looking for a dive they call The Sunset Lounge," Rarity said. "My employers were unfortunately not kind enough to provide an address, and as you can imagine, I'm not eager to report a failure over such a... minor lapse in communication." Technically, every word she'd said was true, just lacking in some crucial context.

"Ah, gotcha," Candy replied, relaxing. "You're looking for a door between twenty-three and twenty-four, behind Seventh Street."

"Thank you." Rarity handed over the bills. "Pleasure doing business with you, ma'am."

The other woman counted up the bills. "Pleasure's all mine. And if you ever wanna have some fun, you know where to find me." She winked, and Rarity let herself laugh softly.

"I'll bear that in mind, darling."

Rarity set off again, looking at the crumpled piece of paper in her hand and hoping that the rest of the information there was correct. As expected, she ended up in a grimy back alley, the type that had her clutching the pistol in her purse a little tighter as she scanned the rotting wooden doors for the right numbers.

She finally found the door near the end of the alley, looking a little nicer than the ones around it. Stepping over a broken bottle, she knocked twice, then three times, and then twice again.

The door creaked open, and a raspy voice called out. "What's the password?"


The door opened wider, revealing a woman who was dressed to impress, assuming you were trying to impress a drunken thug. Dark red eyes glared at her from behind the short-cut mop of rainbow-coloured hair on her head.

"You're not a copper, right?" she asked, her eyes narrowing. "I already had one try to sneak in here a couple of days ago. We don't serve their kind around here."

"Really?" That hadn't been part of her intel. "Isn't that quite a bit of potential revenue lost, not allowing any officers in here?"

"Our clients like that they don't have to worry about any coppers, even dirty ones. And the owner's got enough pull with The Nightmares to not worry about any of 'em getting pissed and trying to bust the place."

"I can respect that." Rarity smiled her most dazzling smile as she pulled out a business card and handed it over to the bouncer. "And I assure you, I have no great love of the law." Especially right now.

"Huh, a Private Dick." The woman shrugged. "Well, as long as you don't make any trouble you can go in."

"I'll be on my best behaviour," Rarity promised. After all, she had a very important first impression to make.

The door opened all the way as the bouncer grumbled something under her breath, and Rarity stepped inside The Sunset Lounge.

As to be expected for a speakeasy, the club reeked of sin, the pungent, ever-present cloud of cigar smoke surrounding Rarity as she took a deep breath, appreciating the cloying odour of moonshine that lingered on her tongue.

She glanced around the dimly-lit room, taking the measure of all the patrons. Nothing out of the ordinary — just the usual assortment of people who desperately needed makeovers, from dockworkers with stained shirts to businessmen in poorly-tailored suits to thugs from various gangs throwing glares around that threatened to erupt into a barfight if the wrong words were said.

On any other day, Rarity might have considered saying those wrong words. She'd used a good scuffle as a distraction to get to a mark more than once, and the sight of a bunch of sweaty men and women crawling all over each other made for a great chaser after drinking some of the swill she'd had the misfortune of tasting.

Today, though, her mark wasn't any of these patrons in this place that existed beyond the law. Instead, she was sitting on a chair atop the rickety wooden stage in front of a piano, her long, elegant fingers gliding across the keys that were as ivory-white as her skin. Her hair billowed like an aurora as she leaned her head back and crooned softly into the microphone set down next to her.

Rarity walked up to the counter and ordered whatever was on tap, not paying attention to what it was as she swirled it around her glass without drinking, her eyes focused on the singer as she played her heart out in a melancholy melody that tugged at the soul and filled it with grief for the loss of better times.

Celestia was positively radiant, a shining beacon of beauty in this dark place.

The years had been kind to her, Rarity noted as the angelic singing voice tapered off into a slow piano solo. She looked nearly the same age as when she'd retired early from the force, with only the slightest suggestion of wrinkles around her eyes to indicate the passage of time.

"Hey beautiful, haven't seen you around here before." A gruff voice pulled Rarity's attention from the singer, and she turned to face the woman who had spoken to her. She was dressed in more leather than a cow and wore a chain with an eagle-head crest dangling from it around her neck. "And I never forget a pretty face."

Rarity resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Griffons. Sometimes she wasn't sure if they were a gang or simply a collection of punks with no idea how to woo someone. "I'm afraid my dance card is already full, dear." Her hand hovered over her purse, just in case.

"Hey, c'mon." The woman leaned in closer, until Rarity could smell the alcohol in her breath. "Don't be like that, babydoll."

A sigh slipped from Rarity's lips as she prepared to tell the thug off much more forcefully. She really didn't need to deal with this sort of thing tonight, but that was a speakeasy for you.

"Gilda, lay off." The bouncer from earlier appeared as if out of nowhere, and placed a hand over the Griffon's shoulder. "The lady said she wasn't interested."

"Aww, you're no fun, Rainbow." Still, Gilda acquiesced, allowing Rainbow to lead her away from Rarity, though not before she shot the P.I. a leer and licked her lips in a gesture that Rarity assumed was supposed to be enticing.

With that sideshow over, Rarity focused her attention back on her main objective. She waited for the final notes of the piano to die off before standing up and politely applauding with the rest of the crowd. Celestia acknowledged the admiration with a small bow before leaving the stage and allowing the audience to return to their vices.

Rarity manoeuvred her way through the crowd to sit next to her at the bar. "That was a marvelous performance," she said after Celestia put in her order. "Music is always much more enjoyable when it comes from the heart, no?"

"Indeed it is, detective," Celestia replied smoothly.

"Really, am I that obvious?" Rarity said, pouting. "First the bouncer marks me at the door, then you do it without even looking at me. Honestly, it's enough to wound a girl's pride."

The singer let out a soft laugh, practiced and possibly even sincere. "I wouldn't feel too bad about it. Rainbow Dash is both experienced with spotting those related to your profession and quite perceptive despite her brash attitude."

"And you, of course, were the greatest detective of your time, chief." For the first time that night, Rarity took a sip of her drink. It burned pleasantly going down.

Beside her, Celestia tensed, still not turning to face her. "Former chief," she corrected, some strain finally entering her voice. "I haven't been on the force for a very long time." The message was clear— Rarity wouldn't be able to make use of any of her former contacts.

That wasn't why she was here, though. "Your investigative skills are as sharp as they've always been, it seems."

"What do you want?" It also seemed that Celestia was tired of playing games.

"I need your help in a missing person's case." So that was what it was like to be on the other side of things. Rarity had to admit it wasn't pleasant in the slightest. "The Nightmares kidnapped someone I know, and I need help recovering her."

"The police station is on Third Street," Celestia replied immediately. The bartender set down a glass of whiskey in front of her, and Celestia picked it up before getting back up to her feet. "I hope you find whoever it is you're looking for, detective."

"Are you truly going to just walk away?" Something about seeing this person she'd heard so many stories about so flippantly dismissing her stirred a fire in Rarity's blood, threatening to boil it in her veins. "I tell you that someone is in danger, and you won't even lift a finger to help? What happened to the woman who had the entire criminal underworld quaking in their boots?"

Rarity slammed down her drink to get Celestia's attention, forcing the other woman to finally face her. Celestia's eyes were filled with so much pain and regret that Rarity almost shut her trap. Almost. "They used to say that it was easier to bribe the statue outside the station than you," Rarity continued, holding her gaze with her own. "The Celestia from the stories I heard would never have been caught dead in a place like this without a warrant for the owner's arrest. What happened to her?"

"Same thing that happens to everyone trying to make a difference in this city," Celestia said with a grunt, downing her drink with worrying speed. "She realized she'd be happier making music than arrests."

"Is that so." Rarity began toying with her drink again, putting just the smallest hint of disdain in her voice. "And is she happier being a canary in one of Nightmare Moon's clubs than she is stopping her from destroying this city from the inside out?"

"It wouldn't matter if you put a bullet between her eyes," Celestia said, finally turning away from Rarity. "A hundred people even worse than her would step up to fill the void she left behind."

"Even so, you won't even try to save one life?"

Celestia snorted. "If your mark's got herself tangled up with the Nightmares, then she's beyond saving." She began walking away, and Rarity was finally forced to play her trump card.

From her purse, Rarity withdrew a necklace with a small crystal set into its center. In the dim lighting of the Lounge, it almost seemed to glow with a purple-pink effervescence. "The woman I'm looking for is Twilight Sparkle."

Celestia froze, her eyes locked onto the piece of jewelry. "I see," she said softly.

Rarity wanted to feel smug, but all she could muster up was a deep sadness. "So, can I count on your aid, darling?"

When the singer didn't reply, Rarity feared that she might still refuse her. However, Celestia eventually let out a sigh and motioned for her to stand up. "Not here. Let's go to the backroom."

The pair set off towards the stage and the door near the back of it. Celestia unlocked the door and ushered Rarity in. Then, in the dingy cellar that had a cracked vanity sitting in one corner and piles of crates everywhere else, the former police captain turned to face the private investigator. "What did Twilight get herself involved in, and why can't you go to the police?"

"I don't know who's clean or not," Rarity replied simply, "and you know that it's worse than a fair coin toss if the copper I go to for help will rat me out to the Nightmares instead of just laughing in my face."

Celestia nodded, that ever-present sadness still sitting in her eyes. "So it is. And who might you be? I don't think we've been introduced before."

"Rarity." Nothing else needed to be said. There was no way a mind like Celestia's wouldn't remember her name.

"Ah, the private investigator in the Caballeron case." Recognition flashed on her face. "Didn't the Nightmares make up most of your clients in your early days?"

"They still do," Rarity replied. "I've been helping Twilight build a case against them in the past few months." It felt odd saying that out loud. Part of Rarity still winced inwardly at professing such a dangerous statement, one that could easily get her killed or worse if the wrong person overheard it. "Today was going to be the day I gave her the final pieces of evidence she needed to start getting warrants.

"We were supposed to meet behind the vet's place on Fifth and Platinum, but when I got there, she'd already been taken." Rarity focused on the facts, willing herself to stay calm and collected and calling upon a lifetime of training to not let any emotion show. "There were signs of a struggle, but I couldn't track the movements of the kidnappers."

Celestia shook her head. "That stupid, brilliant girl. I should've known she'd go and do some foolish thing like this after I left."

"She couldn't stand to see what Nightmare Moon had done to this city," Rarity replied softly. "She was willing to die to see justice done, and I'm very much hoping that you'll help me prevent that from happening."

To her credit, Celestia didn't even hesitate before walking over to her coat rack and putting on a stylish, understated set of jacket and hat. "This doesn't change anything, Miss Rarity," she warned. "Once we find Twilight, I'm returning here and forgetting all about this police business again."

"Fine." What the former chief did wasn't any of her business anyways. "If you want to walk away from her again, I won't stop you."

Celestia glared at her. "I had my reasons."

Rarity snorted. "I told myself the very same thing for far too long. But like it or not, Celestia, I don't believe you're quite as jaded as you pretend to be."

"Believe what you wish, Miss Rarity. Just be prepared for disappointment as well." Despite her words, Rarity saw the same uncertainty that she had felt when Twilight had first walked into her office. "I want to take a look at the crime scene, to see if there's anything I might recognize."

"I'll take you there." For the first time this night, Rarity's heart flared up with hope, and the world looked just a little brighter as the pair of detectives walked out of The Sunset Lounge and into the Canterlot night.

Chapter Two: Old Habits

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"You know, Miss Sparkle, if you want to have a better chance with a lady, you should take her somewhere that serves real drinks."

Twilight rolled her eyes as she took another gulp from her mug of coffee. "First of all, I would never take advantage of someone who's under the influence. Second, we're just friends."

"You know, friendship can have all sorts of wonderful benefits." I shot her a half-lidded gaze from my own mug to let her know exactly what I was talking about.

Shaking her head, Twilight grabbed a donut and wolfed it down with such wild abandon that it made me jealous of her metabolism. "Why do I even bother hanging out with you?"

It was our third meeting since she'd walked into my office and sweet-talked me into doing something terribly unselfish. By now, we'd developed a delightful routine. I would try to goad her, and she would admire my dazzling wit and beauty.

"Because you know exactly where I stand," I replied primly, taking a delicate and ladylike bite from my own donut. Oh stars, was it ever heavenly, but one of us needed to maintain proper decorum. "You don't have to sit here and wonder if I'm lying to you about who I am. Which is more than I can say for most of your colleagues."

"Mmm, I don't know that I do." Twilight was a damn good copper. I knew by the way her stare pierced right into my soul, and saw far more than I'd ever shown anyone. "Know where you stand, that is."

"Darling." I laughed, trying to hide how uncomfortable I felt at that moment. "I thought we came to an agreement during our last meeting about my intentions being strictly impure." My fluttering eyelashes attempted to distract the copper from my true feelings, whatever those might have been. "I enjoy the thrill of the chase, that's all. Of outsmarting another person and being fabulous while doing so. You're simply my latest hunt."

I'd come up with that excuse after Twilight had left my office with the lead she'd needed to save her friend's brother. After all, the alternative was that I'd actually had an attack of conscience, and that certainly couldn't have been the case now, could it?

"We'll see." Twilight Sparkle smiled the kind of smile that was normally reserved for women like me. The kind that told you she had a secret she desperately wanted to tell you, but the pleasure of keeping it was too much to let go of. It was one of my favourite smiles to use on others, and stars help me, I liked it far too much on her than was proper.

"I suppose we shall," I said airily, and not faintly, thank you very much.

"So, have you thought about my request any more?" Twilight asked, thankfully changing the subject, at least a little.

I tsked at her, taking the moment to regain my footing. "Now, now, Twilight," I chided, waggling a finger. "It's most unbecoming of you to ask a lady to violate her clients' privacy. There are rules that a proper lady must follow, after all."

"Celestia always said that rules were important, but ultimately, doing the right thing took precedence."

"How adorably sentimental," I replied. "Tell me, were all of Celestia's lessons similarly naïve?"

It had become a pastime of mine to needle Twilight about her former mentor. With how rose-tinted her glasses were when it came to her, it was always sure to lead to some delightfully entertaining indignation, and I hid my smile in my coffee as I waited for her impassioned defence.

Of course, Twilight Sparkle was always a woman of surprises, as I'd yet to truly appreciate back then. She chuckled darkly at my words, and when I looked up at her, I looked into eyes that seemed much older than the woman I was talking to.

"Do you think the Chief of Police of Canterlot didn't understand the kind of city she was trying to protect?" Twilight shook her head at me. "Celestia didn't teach me that good always prevails over evil and that if I do the right thing I'll be rewarded in the end. Honestly, I would have spat in her face if she'd tried.

"What she did was teach me that even if the whole force was dirty, even if every single other officer was willing to look the other way for the right price, it only took one good person to save a life. One good person to make a difference for someone, and for that someone, we were saving their world."

To my eternal embarrassment, I was quite frozen in place by her words, and Twilight Sparkle pressed her advantage in this little battle of wills between us.

"My brother died in the gang wars, back in the early days when Nightmare Moon was still a small-time crime lord. He was an officer too, under Celestia's supervision, and protecting his wife during a random shootout when he went down." There was such pain in her eyes, and I felt the absolutely ridiculous desire to wrap my arms around her and try to comfort her with my embrace. "That was the life he saved. His death tested my resolve to follow Celestia's teaching, but she helped me turn it into a desire to make sure he didn't die in vain.

"Cadance— his wife— and I both swore we wouldn't let something like that happen again if we could help it. That would be how we made a difference. We would fight to change the world, one person at a time."

"And yet, in the end, even Celestia couldn't hold on to the hope that things would get better," I said, feeling my walls crumbling to dust in the face of this dame who was far more than she seemed. "What makes you think you can?"

"I don't know," Twilight admitted. We had both forgotten our drinks by now, our attention locked onto each other with monumental intensity. "Maybe one day I'll wake up and decide that this place isn't worth saving. Maybe I'll decide to disappear like Celestia and leave it all behind, let this place and its people rot and stop playing by the rules because no one else is, anyways."

This time, when she smiled, she had no secrets, and I was still awed. "But until then, I've got a life to save somewhere out there. And another, and another."

To my absolute horror, I couldn't help but smile back warmly. "I wish you all the best, then." My wit had failed me in the face of Twilight's sincerity, and I found my foundations shaken by her once again.

Twilight, of course, didn't even have the decency to lord her victory over me. "Thank you," she said instead, and then added, "for being my friend. I don't have a lot of those on the force."

"I can't imagine why," I said dryly.

Twilight smirked in response. "Well, I don't have your winning personality, unfortunately."

Our conversation returned to normal after that, but Twilight's words stayed in my head, worming their way into my heart and thawing it out bit by bit.

Kind Heart Veterinary Hospital was located a fifteen-minute drive away from The Sunset Lounge. Rarity and Celestia took Rarity's car, which was parked about a block away from the club.

"So, tell me, how did Twilight manage to drag you into all of this?" As Rarity took the wheel, Celestia used the opportunity to interrogate her new temporary partner.

"Why do you immediately assume that it was Twilight's idea to go after Nightmare Moon?" Rarity huffed, sneaking a glance at her as they reached a straight part of the road. "Perhaps it was I who valiantly suggested that we dismantle her criminal empire with the information I was privy to."

Celestia snorted. "Please, Detective, I trained Twilight myself. And I know your type as well. You wouldn't be here if Twilight hadn't somehow dragged you into this kicking and screaming."

"What exactly do you mean by that?" Rarity's eyes narrowed as she took the next turn a little too sharply, nervousness causing her to drive faster than usual.

"The Yearling case was the last time you ever called in a tip," Celestia replied smoothly. "You're not the first person on the other side who thought she could make a difference, and you're definitely not the first to give up either. The only thing I don't know is whether your faith was broken by some grand betrayal, or if it was a slower, more insidious death."

For a moment, Rarity was tempted to remain silent. After all, she didn't owe Celestia any answers, not after all she'd done— or hadn't done, as the case may be.

Still, she thought to herself as she watched the streetlights blur as she drove past them, Twilight had respected Celestia, and for her, she was willing to try and make peace with her former mentor.

"The Nightmares figured out my little double-cross," she said. "A few days after I phoned in the tip, I received a visit from one Tempest Shadow."

Both of them winced at the name. "I see," Celestia said politely.

"As you might imagine, she left quite the impression," Rarity continued dryly. "If I never see another one of Nightmare Moon's lieutenants again, I will count myself most fortunate." A shudder wracked her body as she forced herself to focus on the road. "Anyways, it's one thing to play at saving the world, and quite another to face the very real threat that trying to do so would entail.

"And after that..." She shrugged. "The first time you turn your back away from someone is hard."

"But then it gets easier over time." The perfect understanding in Celestia's tone was saddening. "Eventually, it becomes a habit."

"It's easier to believe that this city isn't worth saving than it is to face the terrifying possibility that it might be." A wry smile graced Rarity's lips. "At least, that's what I thought, until someone reminded me that it only took one person to save someone's entire world."

They stopped at a traffic light, allowing Rarity to turn and see the other woman's reaction to her words. Her lips twitched downwards in a small frown, and for someone like Celestia, who must have been so practiced at hiding her emotions, it was as good as a cry of despair. When the former chief of police spoke again, her tone was measured, cautious. "Twilight was always the brightest of us all," she said quietly.

"Quite so," Rarity replied with a nod. "I knew she was dangerous the moment I laid eyes on her, but it took me far too long to realize just how right I was. Twilight Sparkle had a way of making you want to believe."

Celestia hummed in agreement. "She was the best student I ever had," she murmured softly. There was a hesitation before she asked her next question. "Did she ever talk about me?"

And there it was. A crack in her armour that Rarity could see clear as day. "Yes," she replied, thinking of how best to leverage this weakness. "She spoke very highly of you, despite everything. One would think the sun rose at your command, from how she nearly worshipped your teachings."

She heard Celestia sigh beside her as they continued the drive. "I always hated that," the former chief admitted. "I did my best to teach her to think for herself, and I like to think that I got through to her in the end, but she always did put me on a pedestal."

And yet, you still left her. You don't deserve her respect. The words were on Rarity's tongue, but she held them back in favour of trying to tease out more information from the mysterious singer. "Twilight also told me that you'd been far closer to discovering Nightmare Moon's true identity than anyone ever suspected."

Rarity paused, considering how far to push her point, before deciding that there was no purpose in trying to play coy around someone like Celestia. "She also performed some sort of analysis that's far beyond my abilities, and realized that The Nightmares were scrambling to close ranks after your disappearance, between them laying low for several months to Nightmare Moon delegating more of her tasks to her lieutenants. Something must have scared them quite badly."

For several moments, Celestia said nothing, and Rarity focused her eyes on the road, watching as the number of boarded-up buildings and predatory pawn shops and money-lenders grew in number. They were getting close to their destination, then, but she wanted to see what clues Celestia might reveal in her answer, first. She wanted so much to look her in the eyes and try to discern what she was thinking, but she knew that it was better to let her stew on the words without any distraction.

Finally, after almost half a minute of waiting, Celestia spoke. "The day before I quit the force, I found the smoking gun. A link between one of Nightmare Moon's shell companies and her real identity. Not enough for a case, but enough that I finally knew who she was. I confronted her that evening, and there were consequences."

Time seemed to stand still as Rarity drove entirely on autopilot, barely paying attention to the cars around her. "What happened?" she asked in a near-whisper, her heart pounding away madly in her chest.

"I lost my sister," Celestia replied quietly. Rarity turned and saw her bowing her head low, immeasurable sadness radiant from her form. "Luna was my best friend. I loved her more than anything and, after that night, I lost hope like you did. I stopped believing that this city was worth saving."

"I'm sorry." Rarity knew those words weren't enough, had said them to so many of her clients that she knew they didn't matter, but they were all she had.

"Trying to take down The Nightmares would have cost me more than I was willing to pay," Celestia continued, and Rarity wondered if she'd even heard her words of sympathy. "I'd already failed so many people. Luna, Shining Armor, Ca—" She paused and shook her head. "Anyways, I took the coward's way out and disappeared."

"And became the star attraction of the Sunset Lounge," Rarity finished, feeling crushed in the confines of the car as she continued the drive, her heart constricted in a vise.

"I always had a talent for singing," Celestia murmured. "I took plenty of lessons as a child, and was accepted into the Conservatory, before I foolishly believed I could do something greater."

There was a lot that didn't add up about Celestia's story, and Rarity suspected there was something big that Celestia was hiding, but that didn't matter to her now. Only one thing did. "You can still help me save Twilight now. Even if your information is out of date, surely there's something you know that can help us now. That's worth something."

"Perhaps," Celestia murmured. "I'll need to see the scene of the disappearance before I can say for sure."

"Well, you're in luck." There was an attempt at cheerfulness on Rarity's part, but it sounded false even to her own ears. "We're here." She pulled into the parking lot and drove into an empty spot. "Also, I must say, you are being far more forthcoming with a woman you met an hour ago than I would have expected from a former chief of police hiding from Nightmare Moon herself."

Celestia shrugged. "It hardly matters now." A mischievous glint sparkled in her eyes. "And I figure any woman with the good sense to fall in love with Twilight Sparkle can be trusted with some of my secrets."

Rarity was very glad that she'd parked her car already, or else she might've swerved into traffic in her shock. "H-How did you—?"

For the first time since their meeting, she heard Celestia chuckle with genuine mirth. "My dear, you do recall that I was once the best detective in Canterlot, hmm? And it's not a very difficult deduction to make. Very few people would be willing to go up against Nightmare Moon herself for reasons besides love."

"Ah," Rarity replied faintly. "I suppose in this regard I may wear my heart on my sleeve."

"I'm happy for both of you," Celestia said with utter sincerity. "Twilight's been alone for so long, and I know she doesn't think she needs other people, but you and I know better."

And who's fault is it that she had no one to look after her? The words danced on the tip of Rarity's tongue, but she held them back for the sake of civility, again. Instead, she spotted a familiar face standing outside the entrance of the building in front of them.

"Fluttershy!" she called out. "We're here!"

Fluttershy looked up at them with one widened eye, the other hidden beneath her long, lustrous hair. "Oh, Rarity!" She stepped forward and the two of them hugged. "I haven't touched anything out back." She stared at Celestia. "Is that her?"

"Yes." Rarity stepped back in order to make introductions. "Fluttershy, meet Celestia, the former chief of police of Canterlot. Celestia, this is Fluttershy. She owns the veterinary hospital that Twilight and I were supposed to meet behind today, and she's provided us with a safe haven more than once when we needed somewhere to hide out."

"It's the least I could do after everything the two of you have done for us," Fluttershy replied meekly. "I hope you can find Twilight before anything terrible happens."

"We shall certainly do our best," Celestia said.

Fluttershy nodded before her worried eyes drifted back to Rarity. "Umm, Rarity, I know this is a bad time, but Troubleshoes came by earlier, and he's been evicted from the apartment on Clover Drive."

Rarity sighed. "I don't even want to know what he accidentally broke this time. Not to worry, I'm sure I can find some landlady who hasn't heard of his abominable reputation with accidental destruction of property." That was a headache for another time, though. For now, she had more pressing concerns.

"Thanks, Rarity," Fluttershy said as they circled the hospital, passing by a handful of cages. "I really appreciate everything you've done to help us and keep this place safe."

"Think nothing of it, dear Fluttershy," Rarity replied. "I take it Fleur hasn't been around anymore?"

Fluttershy shook her head. "Not since you talked to her. I'm not sure what you said, but we haven't been asked for protection money by anyone in the last month."

"That's good to hear." Even if the worst came to pass, Rarity would at least know that they had helped someone. After all, it had been Twilight's files that had given Rarity the leverage she'd needed to get Fleur De Lis to back off from extorting Fluttershy as part of The Nightmare's protection racket.

A barking from inside the building broke Rarity from her reverie as she saw Fluttershy push open the door to the back. "Oh, I think that's Spot calling for me. Is it okay if you two go on ahead without me?"

"I know this place well enough," Rarity assured her. "Go on, dear."

As Fluttershy took her leave, Rarity turned to see Celestia peering curiously at her. "You seem to have recovered your previous sense of community responsibility," the former chief said, her expression unreadable.

"Twilight's fault," Rarity said simply. "The funny thing about habits is that they go both ways. You start out doing something nice for someone once, and the next thing you know you've been roped into trying to make the city a better place. I must say, it does wonders for the soul."

"I can imagine." A wistful sigh slipped from between Celestia's lips. "That feeling of making a difference truly was the only thing getting me through the day sometimes. Not that it mattered in the end."

"It mattered," Rarity replied. "You inspired a wonderful woman to do what is right, no matter how hopeless she felt."

"And now she's gone missing."

Rarity glared at Celestia. "We'll find her, and save her, and then you can go back to your little cage." There was no retort from Celestia, and together the two of them made the rest of their way around the building in silence, eventually reaching a small yard located behind the hospital that was bordered by a back alley.

A chorus of barking and screeching greeted them when they reached the back, coming from the row of cages lined up along the wall. One particularly large pitbull snarled at Celestia as she walked past it, lunging at her from behind its bars. The cacophony made concentrating on anything else impossible, but fortunately, a door to the back to the hospital opened to reveal Fluttershy once again, a serene expression on her face as she strode down the row of excited animals.

"It's alright," she said, her voice soothing and filled with so much kindness and compassion that even Rarity felt its effects on her heart. "These are friends who are trying to help our other friend, okay? Can you be quiet for them so that they can do their jobs?"

As if they could actually understand her words, the noise immediately quieted down as all the animals settled back into their usual behaviours. "Thank you," Fluttershy said, smiling. She turned to face Celestia with an apologetic smile. "Sorry about that. The animals get a little excited when someone new comes around."

"Remarkable," Rarity heard Celestia murmur as she glanced about the crime scene. "Thank you, Fluttershy," she said more loudly before addressing both of them. "So, what can you tell me about the case?"

Rarity cleared her throat. It was time to get down to business and save her lover. "Twilight and I were supposed to meet at eight in the morning here," she said, softly enough that they wouldn't be accidentally overheard by someone driving by. "I had enough proof that several of the businesses the Nightmares owned were being used to launder their ill-gotten gains, which would have been enough to get warrants on them and see where the trail of ownership led.

"I'd faxed over the list of companies yesterday, and was going to deliver the originals of the documents Twilight needed when we met. Afterwards, I was supposed to head to a safe house to lay low for a few days just in case some of the heat landed back on me. Of course, when I got here on time, I found, well, this."

At that, Rarity gestured towards the right side of the yard, where a badge lay strewn on the floor, with a trail of blood leading from it to the road. She did her best not to actually look at the evidence of her lover's disappearance — she'd done all the detective work she knew how to do already, and it was more important that she keep a clear head around Celestia and her secrets than to take a second gander at what had gone down.

Meanwhile, Celestia walked carefully around the yard, stopping at the remnants of a struggle that had knocked over several of the tables in one corner and left its marks on the scuffed dirt beneath. Rarity gave her a few minutes of silence to do a thorough evaluation of the premises, steeling her mind to discuss her lover's disappearance at length.

Finally, Celestia gestured her over from her position crouched over Twilight's badge. "Tell me, detective, what do you see?"

Rarity rolled her eyes. "Please, Celestia, I'm not one of your students, and this is hardly the time for a lesson in investigative work."

"It's been a long time since I've had to do this sort of thing," Celestia replied. "I only wanted a second opinion on what my rusty skills are deducing."

Rarity couldn't tell if she was being sincere or not, but decided to give her the benefit of the doubt to speed things along. "If you're referring to the fact that the badge was dropped on top of the blood trail, I noticed that as well."

Celestia picked up the badge, noting the torn cloth still attached to its back. "It's also very clean for something that would've been dropped in the middle of a fight, don't you think? No dirt or other grime that one would expect from it getting kicked around in a heated fight."

"I'd considered that," Rarity said. "It does seem like it was left here after the fact, rather than knocked off in the scuffle. But whyever would the miscreants who took Twilight leave behind her badge? Perhaps as a message?"

"Perhaps." Again, Celestia was hiding something, and Rarity couldn't tell what it was. It was endlessly frustrating, especially when so much was at stake. "It's possible that there was meant to be no question as to what transpired here. Tell me, what were you supposed to do in such a situation?"

"Well, I was already meant to head straight to the safe house, but I suppose this would spur me even faster into going to ground." A creeping chill slid down Rarity's spine. "It's possible they wanted to ambush me there, but I don't believe that they would know where our little secret hideout even was, and they could simply have waited here for me if I was their target."

"It's certainly odd," Celestia agreed. Then, with a suddenness that nearly gave Rarity whiplash, she called out to the other member of their little group. "Miss Fluttershy, may I ask you a few questions?"

"Oh, umm, sure!" Fluttershy nodded eagerly.

"Thank you," Celestia said kindly. "Tell me, what time did you come in to work?"

"Around six," Fluttershy replied. "I didn't see Twilight or anyone else around when I did the rounds to make sure all the animals were okay. I spent the whole time in my office until Rarity came in to tell me that Twilight was missing."

"And you didn't hear or see anything out of the ordinary?"

A shake of the head. "I'm sorry I couldn't be more help. Twilight really means a lot to all of us. The critters here all loved her once they got to know her and see how sweet she was."

"I swear, they were almost as pleasant around her than they were around Fluttershy," Rarity said dryly, a pang shooting through her heart at the memory of Twilight helping to feed the dogs and being knocked over by a particularly excited husky. They had to find her before it was too late.

Celestia had to come through. It was the least she could do after leaving her to the wolves.

"Did she ever get over her fear of snakes?" Celestia asked, a faraway look in her eyes and a smile that shone with echoes of a better time.

Fluttershy shook her head with her own smile. "You could hear her screams from anywhere in the building when she saw one. She was talking about trying exposure therapy to get over it, before..." she trailed off, the previous cheer of reminiscence washed away by the cold reality of Twilight's disappearance. "I hope you can find her."

"I hope so as well," Celestia replied. "And thank you, Miss Fluttershy. I think we have the information we need."

"You do?" The surprise in Fluttershy's words was mirrored in Rarity's thoughts.

Celestia nodded. "If you'll excuse me, I need to make a phone call. Where is the nearest payphone?"

Fluttershy listed off some directions, and then bid the pair farewell as they walked down the block. As soon as they were out of earshot, Rarity spoke in a low tone. "So, care to share your thoughts with us lesser minds?"

A pause as Celestia seemed to consider her words. "I have... a suspicion about what may have happened, but I would rather verify some things first before sharing them. I'll need to see the list of shell companies you sent to Twilight."

"I have a copy in my office," Rarity quickly replied. "You can have them. And what, pray tell, is this suspicion of yours?"

"You likely wouldn't believe me even if I told you," Celestia said. "But rest assured, if I'm correct, then we will have a major clue that will help us find her."

Rarity's eyes narrowed. "You're hiding something from me. Something that cracks this whole case wide open, and you won't even share what it is with Twilight's life on the line."

At least Celestia respected her enough not to hide it. "I promise you, Detective, Twilight Sparkle is very likely still alive. Nightmare Moon would not have killed her."

"How are you so sure of that?" Rarity demanded, anger flaring up again. How dare Celestia play games like this! Hadn't she pulled Twilight's puppet strings enough already? "Why do you know so much about Nightmare Moon, and why won't you tell me who she is?"

"I made a promise." The answer was spoken so softly that Rarity almost didn't hear it. Then, more loudly, Celestia said, "And the less you know, the better. You'll only find pain going down this path, and I hope to the stars that Twilight hasn't gone too far yet."

"Any pain is worth removing that menace from the streets." Had the former chief really fallen so far as to deny that? "Unlike you, Twilight and I are willing to see this to the end, no matter what." Still, she too prayed that Twilight wouldn't have to pay the ultimate price for justice, even if she was willing to do so.

"That's what I fear." They were at the payphone now. Celestia put a dime in the slot and picked it up, rattling off a list of numbers to the operator. Rarity waited patiently as she was connected to someone on the other end. "Tell your employer that Celestia wants a meeting at Sugarcube Corner in an hour. I'm willing to hand over the account number and key in exchange for some information about her operations."

There was a pause, and a minute later Celestia seemed to have received a reply. "Thank you, please enjoy the rest of your night," she said before hanging up.

"So, care to explain what just happened?" Rarity was beginning to get quite tired of all these secrets. It was amusing when she was the one holding them, and the stakes weren't the love of her life. Now, it was grating at best, and dangerous at worst. "Are we meeting with someone else who will refuse to tell me what I need to save Twilight?"

"Hopefully not," Celestia replied, not reacting to the anger in her tone. "We need to get to Sugarcube Corner quickly. I've arranged a meeting with someone who should be able to shed some light on how much Nightmare Moon knows about your investigation against her."

"And who is that?" Rarity asked.

"Sunset Shimmer, her lieutenant," Celestia replied. "And, once upon a time, one of my best officers."

Chapter Three: Wayward Sun

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Never in a million years did I ever think I'd be the sucker getting stuck in the honeypot.

And never in a million years did I think I'd be inviting said honeypot into my office with a smile on my lips and fire in my eyes.

"Hello, darling!" I greeted the dame who had wormed her way into my heart despite my best efforts. "You're looking ravishing as usual. I do so love a woman in uniform."

Twilight Sparkle rolled her eyes, as she was wont to do when I was expressing my most sincere appreciation for her beauty. "Hey, Rarity. You wanted to meet with me for something?"

I nodded. "Yes, I have a little gift for you." At this point, Twilight Sparkle had peeled away so many layers of my mask that I needed to take whatever chances I still had to be the mysterious woman in her life. "But I believe in a little pleasure before business." I gestured to the chair in front of me "Sit, please. As much as I'd love to hold you in my arms, I'd rather not have to drag you to a seat when you swoon over my generosity."

"If you talk like this to all your friends, I'm surprised you're still single," Twilight commented as she sat down, crossing her legs and holding her posture straight and professional.

"I'm far too enamoured with the chase for that." I leaned back in my chair, a lazy smirk playing on my lips. "The only place I'd let someone tie me down is in the bedroom. And even then, I'm not usually the one wearing the ol' ball and chain."

"One day, someone is going to make you eat your words, and I can't wait to shake their hand."

I laughed to hide my discomfort at her words. Showing weakness so early would ruin the fun, and I did so love matching wits with this brilliant, beautiful copper. "Until then, may I offer you a drink?" I reached down into the hidden drawer under my desk, preparing to pull out my top-shelf brandy for her enjoyment.

Twilight raised an eyebrow. "Do you want me to arrest you for possession? I know you like being handcuffed, but I'm not sure that's how you want to go about getting what you want." Damn her, she was still smiling as she said that, and I hated how much I loved her smile.

Still, I wouldn't be defeated that easily. "With you, I'm sure I could turn that into a most... stimulating experience for the both of us." I stood up. "Won't you at least search me, officer?"

Twilight snorted. "Why bother? No one else on the force gives a damn, and seeing as I can't even pin down who Nightmare Moon is, I'm not much better than them. Might as well help a friend dodge the law too."

I winced. "Oh dear. Hard day at work?"

"Normal day at work." There was a bitterness to her voice that I didn't like. It felt like absinthe tasted, and it only made me more sure about my gift. Twilight Sparkle was the best of us, and I couldn't allow her brightness to fade.

"Well, regardless, I know you're much more than those other brutes you call your colleagues," I said, my smile returning. "I don't give gifts to just any officer, I'll have you know. And if we're not in the mood for pleasure, then perhaps we should move on to business?"

Twilight, ever the proper woman, stood as well and watched as I walked over to one of my filing cabinets and pulled out a manilla folder. "I hope you remember this when Hearth's Warming comes around," I said as I handed it over to her. "For the record, I enjoy tasteful but expensive jewelry, and clothing made with authentic silk in the latest fashions."

I waited several seconds for Twilight to flip through the papers inside and realize what she was holding. And when her eyes lit up with awe, when that anger was replaced by wonder, my traitorous heart leapt and actually began to flutter. How positively mortifying!

"This is..." Twilight trailed off as she pulled out one of the pages. "We've been trying for years to get something like this. A paper trail of records that proves Shadowbolt Security is involved with money laundering will be enough to get a warrant and do a more thorough investigation of their finances, which should be enough to shut them down and take down at least a few of the higher-ranking members of the Nightmares."

The smile on my face grew wider, and my heart soared. "I thought you might like it."

At those words, my dear Detective remembered my existence and looked up at me. "Where did you get this?" she asked. Then, a moment later, she frowned. "If the Nightmares know you gave me this information, your life will be in danger."

The most infuriating thing about Twilight Sparkle is that she didn't have to try to think about others. It came as naturally to her as colour theory did to me. Was it any wonder that she would manage to capture my mind and heart so thoroughly?

"Don't worry about me, dear." My professional confidence returned as I spoke. "I obtained these from the offices of a poor unfortunate soul who passed away last week in a tragic accident. A bean counter who was dipping his fingers in the pots while counting them.

"My client thought that he might be a snitch, and hired me to make sure that he hadn't leaked any documents to the cops." A wicked grin played on my lips. "Such a shame that I'll have to report he was giving vital documents to some upstanding officers on the force. Sudden attacks of conscience are such a terrible thing, aren't they?"

"I should be able to make the records reflect that," Twilight said. "I'll need to look into regulations to see what needs to be done to ensure your safety and anonymity." Her own professional tone faltered after that as she looked me in the eyes, her gaze piercing far deeper than it had any right to. "Thank you for this, Rarity. You've done a good thing today, and we're going to save a lot of lives with this information. I always knew you had it in you."

"Don't sell yourself short, Miss Sparkle," I replied, an unexpected bout of heartfelt sincerity assailing me. "You've been quite the bad influence on me, making me want to be a do-gooder. My colleagues would be oh-so disappointed in me."

"Well, I'm proud of you." There was a pause as Twilight looked hesitant. "I always hoped I'd be able to inspire someone one day," she confessed quietly. "Just like how Celestia was an inspiration to me."

I'd already made my own opinion on the former chief quite clear, so I couldn't help but deliver a snide reply. "Well, this is only the first step. Perhaps we'll be able to do what your mentor never could, and take down Nightmare Moon herself. Wouldn't that be something?"

Twilight didn't take the bait, thankfully. "That'd be nice," she simply said, before going back to reading over the papers. "We can discuss the details of your involvement and how to hide it for this case after I do some due diligence. I have to make sure that these documents are authentic first, of course, before we move forward."

"Why, I never!" I huffed. "Accusing me of providing false information! You've wounded my pride, Detective Sparkle. I should demand that you kiss it better as recompense."

To my dying day, I will never forget the expression on her face after I said those words. She gave me a look of such intense calculation, like I was an insect she had pinned against her web and she was the spider trying to see where I would be weakest to strike at. And behind that intensity was fear and longing mixed together in equal measure.

Twilight Sparkle closed her eyes and leaned in, and in that moment, I knew that whatever happened next, it would define the rest of my days, and I would have to decide now if I wanted to let her do what I had asked her to so many times before.

Well, that was hardly even a choice, wasn't it? Not with her.

It was not the most practiced kiss that we shared, but it hardly mattered. I had never fallen for anyone as hard as I had fallen for Twilight, had never respected or desired any man or woman this much.

I had never been so terrified to explore my passion with someone.

And I had never been so excited.

When she eventually pulled back, I saw panic rear its ugly head in Twilight Sparkle's expression. "I..." she stared at me with wide eyes. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that. You were just joking and I— I forced myself on you and I'm so sorry I understand if you don't want to be around me anymore I'll just leave and—"

I silenced her ramblings with a finger against her lips as I considered my response. Before now, I thought I had grown used to how Twilight could surprise me and keep me on my toes, but nothing could have prepared me for this.

Of course, there was no question as to whether or not I regretted what had happened, and it was vital that Twilight know she had done nothing wrong. "Darling!" I laughed, and I had to hold back a wince at the hysteria creeping into my own voice. "A lady may play hard-to-get, but don't ever think for a moment I don't truly desire you." I reached out a hand to cup her chin, and was honestly surprised that it wasn't trembling. "You're clever, intelligent, and positively ravishing."

"R-Really?" Hope glimmered in her eyes as she looked up at me.

"Would I lie to you?" I replied playfully.

Twilight tried to force a smile. "Frankly, yes."

I chuckled. "Touché. But actions speak louder and truer than words, no?" With that, I leaned down and kissed her again. "Do you believe me now, my dear?"

"I guess I do," she replied in a daze. Then her previous sharpness returned and she sat down. "Well, I guess the chase is over," she said with a hesitant smile, though I sensed pain in her words. "Now you can move on to your next conquest, right?"

That was the million-dollar question, wasn't it? I had never thought of settling down before, and the idea of being in a relationship was very much foreign to me. Why would I, Rarity, wish to be tied down to a single person when the whole world was my oyster?

And yet, what was the world compared to this copper who actually believed in doing the right thing and inspired me to do the same? This woman who made me believe I still had a soul, and fought to save it by being herself? Twilight Sparkle was one in a million, and she had already made me break so many of my rules. What was another one to add to the list?

"First of all," I finally said once I had made my decision, "it's adorable how you think a kiss is all I would be after. And secondly..." My voice grew soft, and for the first time since I had met her, I did my damnedest to pour my heart and soul into my words and sound as sincere as I could. "I think, if you can make me believe that I can make a difference again, you can sweet-talk me into anything. Including staying to make you breakfast after we share a torrid night of passion beneath the moonlit sky."

The blush on Twilight Sparkle's cheeks was all I needed to know I had made the right decision. "Hey!" she shot back. "Are you just assuming that I'll waltz into your bed because you crooked a finger at me? What if I want to be wooed?"

The challenge hung between us, and I revelled in it. "Oh, Miss Sparkle," I said, my voice dripping with fire as I circled languidly around her. "If it's seduction you want, then that's exactly what you'll receive. And I know just what the fastest way to a girl's heart is."

"What is it?" The best damn honeypot I had ever met asked, wide-eyed.

"Cold, hard evidence." I picked up the folder she had left on the table. "I'm going to help you burn down Nightmare Moon's empire, and then we can make sweet, sweet love in its ashes."

"Sunset Shimmer was one of yours?" Rarity asked as she rifled through the trunk of her car.

"Once upon a time, yes." Celestia replied, her voice getting closer until Rarity knew she was standing beside her. "And I really must reiterate that I think this is a terrible idea. If she recognizes you..."

"Sugarcube Corner is neutral ground," Rarity said. "But it won't come to that. Nightmare Moon's lieutenants can't possibly be expected to know of everyone who works for them, and as long as we get our story straight, she won't even know to suspect me." She pulled out a set of baggy clothes that she wouldn't have been caught dead wearing if her very life didn't depend on it.

Celestia politely turned away Rarity put on the ill-fitting shirt and pants and ruined her delicately coiffed hair under a large baseball cap. They then returned to the front seats of the car, where Rarity began removing her makeup.

"Very well," the former chief finally said as Rarity worked. "But don't blame me if something goes wrong."

"No worries, darling. I know you don't like to take responsibility for things anymore." Rarity squinted into the mirror, making sure to wipe off all traces of her mascara and deliberately ignoring Celestia as she spoke. "So, how is it that you can summon up one of Nightmare Moon's lieutenants on such short notice? I can't imagine there's any love lost between you two."

"There isn't," Celestia replied, also ignoring her jab, "but I have something Nightmare Moon wants, and Sunset knows me well enough to know that I wouldn't go back on a deal."

"What Twilight and I wouldn't have given to be able to get a meeting with one of her inner circle on neutral ground." Rarity shook her head sadly. "Then again, I doubt it would have done us any good. Nightmare Moon inspires such deep love and admiration from her most ardent followers— none of them would have given her up for anything."

"She does that, yes," Celestia agreed. "It was always one of her greatest strengths."

"It's a pain in the rear is what it is." Taking one last look at the mirror, she turned to face her partner of convenience. "So, how do I look?"

Her question received a raised eyebrow from Celestia in response. "You look like someone pretending to be a thug I picked up off the street."

Rarity beamed. "Perfect! Shall we be off, then?"

The drive over to the meeting point was occupied by discussing their cover story and how they would present themselves to Sunset Shimmer. Rarity wanted to ask more questions about Celestia's relationship with one of Nightmare Moon's lieutenants, and whether that had anything to do with her disappearance, but she didn't have the opportunity, and ultimately, it didn't matter. Nothing mattered except that Sunset might hold the key to saving Twilight.

If Celestia could trade some secret information for her location, Rarity was willing to stop asking questions, and to let her run back to her previous life.

Twenty minutes later, they arrived at their destination, just in time for the meeting. Rarity took a moment to look up at the neon lights twisted into the shape of a cupcake hanging outside the entrance, bathing them in its soothing pink glow and announcing the name of the establishment in bright, cheery typeface.

Sugarcube Corner was a modern marvel of Canterlot for two reasons. Firstly, they had the most divine baked goods, unmatched by anything in the entire city. The heavenly smell wafting out signalled to the world that only the finest pastries were served here, and that the proprietors were ready to tempt anyone away from their carefully constructed diet.

Secondly, and most importantly tonight, was that this lovely little bakery was the only place in all of Canterlot that was considered to be absolutely neutral ground. Coppers, members of any gang, and law-abiding citizens could all sit down and indulge in a few slices of chocolate cream cake or apple pie together without having to worry about a gunfight breaking out. This place had helped broker more than one truce between rival gangs by giving them a place to negotiate where everyone felt safe.

And it was all thanks to the star employee of the establishment, one Pinkamena Diane Pie. Or Pinkie, as she insisted everyone call her. No one was brave enough to refuse.

"Heya Celestia," the bubbly woman said as she waved to them, her pink curls bouncing up and down as she practically vibrated in place. "Hello new person I've never met before."

"Hello, Pinkie," Celestia replied. Rarity said nothing, not knowing how much Pinkie knew with her unusual insights and not wanting to risk being exposed to anyone else. "We're here to meet with someone."

Pinkie nodded. "Sunnybuns is waiting for you over there." She pointed at a corner, where a fiery-haired woman was sitting with an impatient expression on her face. "Have fun!" she said before bouncing off back into the kitchen.

The woman looked up as they approached, and her lips curled into a sneer. "Well, if it isn't the great Celestia herself, come to grace us mortals with her magnificent presence," she said, her throaty voice dripping with disdain. "I'm so honoured. And who's your friend here in the crappy disguise looking like a film set reject?"

Rarity cleared her throat to retort, but Celestia spoke first. "Just a concerned citizen," she said calmly, her eyes never leaving Sunset's. "She's interested in the same information that I am."

"Whatever." Sunset Shimmer shrugged. "Alright, so what's so important that you called my assistant up in the middle of the night to get a meeting with me? If you need someone disappeared on short notice, I'm afraid you'll have to pay full price. Nightmare Moon wouldn't like it if I gave you the Friends And Family Discount, even for old times' sakes."

"As I said, I'm just looking for some information," Celestia replied, and Rarity could already sense some strain in her voice.

"I'll admit, I'm curious what you need to know so badly that you're willing to hand over that account." Sunset's eyes narrowed. "I assume you haven't done any funny business with it. I don't care what Nightmare Moon says, if you make a fool of me in front of her, I will come for you, protected status be damned."

Protected status? Rarity kept her mouth shut even as she filed that little tidbit away in her mind.

To her credit, Celestia didn't even bat an eye at the threat, even as a chill spread down Rarity's spine. "I haven't touched anything," she said. "You have my word."

"Fine, I guess I'll take it," Sunset replied. "So, what do you want to know?"

"Has there been any talk in the last twenty-four hours about Twilight Sparkle?"

It took all of Rarity's willpower not to show any signs of her surprise. Beyond how blunt the question was, did Celestia really expect Sunset to even know who Twilight was beyond a former colleague from so long ago, enough to pick up on rumours about her?

Sunset cut off her thoughts with a harsh laugh. "Of course this is about Twilight," she said, her lips curling into a smile that barely hid the anger bubbling below the surface. "Why should I have expected anything else? What, did Little Miss Perfect finally try to get a hit of something from one of our dealers to take the edge off? Or maybe she decided to go to one of our girls and finally get laid so she could get someone to take that stick out of her ass?"

Well, tonight was certainly full of surprises. Rarity hadn't been aware that Sunset and Twilight had history. Her lover had only mentioned Sunset in passing when discussing Nightmare Moon's lieutenants, and she'd only spoken of things Rarity already knew from keeping her ear to the ground.

Meanwhile, Celestia did actually wince at Sunset's words. "I'm worried she might be in trouble, and I need to know if The Nightmares have anything on her right now."

"And you're willing to give up the account number for that?" Glancing downwards, Rarity saw that Sunset was gripping the table with enough force to turn her knuckles white. "Guess I shouldn't be surprised that you'd give anything up for her. I wonder if you would've done the same for me."

"Did Nightmare Moon do anything to her?" Rarity demanded, and the tension in the room ratcheted up another level.

At that, Sunset leaned back, her previous devil-may-care smirk returning. "Oh, so Officer Sparkle is in some kind of trouble. Interesting. Well, I can't say I know anything about that. Such a shame; Nightmare Moon will be devastated to find out that she's finally getting what she deserves."

"You're lying," Rarity hissed, her hands clenching into fists. "I know The Nightmares have her, and I swear, if you've done anything to her..."

Sunset raised an eyebrow. "You'll what? What exactly are you gonna threaten one of Nightmare Moon's lieutenants with, huh? And why do you even care so much about one lousy copper who's too dumb to take a hint?"

"Twilight Sparkle is twice the woman you'll ever be, you traitor." If looks could kill, Rarity would have struck down Sunset on the spot.

Sunset's eyes narrowed dangerously. "I'd be careful talking about stuff when you don't know the whole story. And you'll notice that I'm not the one that's apparently been kidnapped, so who's the better woman now? Personally, I'd put my money on the one with a life expectancy that isn't measured in days."

Rage lit up Rarity's soul into a conflagration as the tension in the booth finally reached a boiling point. Her hand instinctively reached into her purse, her fingers curling around the cold metal of the pistol she kept in there. Sunset Shimmer had to know something about Twilight's disappearance, and she was going to get the information out of her by any means necessary.

A sudden stiffness in Sunset's posture told Rarity that she knew what was coming, and her hand shifted somewhere below the table. Rarity's heart pounded away as blood rushed to her head and adrenaline filled her veins, her entire body on a hair-trigger and waiting for Sunset to make a mistake...

"Here you go, girls!"

All three patrons looked up to see Pinkie Pie smiling down at them and holding a tray of baked goods. She was her usual cheery, bubbly self, but something glinted in her eyes, a warning that scared Rarity more than anything Nightmare Moon's lieutenant could say. "I brought you all your favourites! A deluxe cinnamon roll for Sunset, a slice of angel's food cake for Celestia, and a red velvet cupcake for our mysterious stranger!"

She set down the pastries, then winked at Rarity, which she supposed confirmed that her disguise had been seen through. "Oh," Pinkie added, and suddenly Rarity could feel a presence constricting her heart and striking fear into her very soul, even as their hostess' voice never lost any of its cheer. "And I just wanted to give all of you a teensy, friendly reminder that we don't allow any roughhousing in here. You should go to a roughhouse for that, whatever that is. Enjoy!"

With that, she bounded off, and Rarity felt herself relax just the slightest bit now that she didn't feel like she was about to suffocate.

"You know, one day I'll find out how she does that," Sunset commented, prodding at her food as she shivered. "It'd be really useful for a lot of things. Shame Pinkie doesn't seem to care about money; we'd pay a lot to have her as an enforcer."

"Some people have standards," Rarity retorted as her heart rate slowly returned to a normal amount of tense beating.

Sunset snorted. "Says the woman who's hanging out with her." She pointed to Celestia. "I get why she cares about her precious little golden child, but why do you give a damn what happens to Twilight Sparkle?"

"Is it not enough that I want to save a life?" Rarity took a dainty bite of her cupcake to hide her expression.

It didn't matter, as Sunset burst out laughing once again, but this time with genuine amusement. "You're in love with her!" she gasped out between breaths. "Oh, this is too much! Congrats on finally melting the Ice Queen. I gotta know, though, when you're in bed together and it's getting hot and heavy, does she shout your name out loud or Celestia's?"

Rarity nearly choked on her pastry. "Why, I never!" she exclaimed. "I know it's too much to expect one of Nightmare Moon's lackeys to behave with class, but must you do away with all decorum?"

"Look, I never thought she'd find someone else who also liked having sticks shoved up her ass, so sorry for having a little bit of fun. Really, how many book reports did she make you do before she let you cop a feel?"

"Enough." Rarity stood up, grabbing her purse. "We are clearly not going to obtain the information we need here, and if you don't tell us where you're keeping Twilight, then there's no reason for Celestia to uphold their side of the bargain either."

"Woah woah woah." At the very least, that seemed to have gotten through to the lieutenant. Sunset raised up her hands in a defensive gesture. "Look, I actually did mean it when I said I hadn't heard anything, and as much as I'd like it if Twilight's disappearance ended up permanent, Nightmare Moon would find out if I was hiding something from you, and I definitely don't want to have to deal with that."

"And we're just supposed to trust your word?" Rarity asked, taking a seat once again and eyeing her suspiciously.

Sunset shrugged again. "Not that I haven't been known to lie, but Celestia knows I'm telling the truth in this case." A sly smirk graced her expression. "And honestly, I'm not the one you shouldn't be trusting here, considering you actually think Celestia came here to find out if we were holding Twilight."

"Of course that's why we came here," Rarity replied, turning to Celestia. "Right?"

Celestia didn't say anything, and Sunset laughed again, a grating, mocking sound. "She's here to find out if we know which of the other gangs might have acted against her. Which, if they have, we don't know about it." She shook her head. "Typical Celestia, playing things close to the chest. She always thinks she knows best, and it doesn't matter how many people get hurt, she's going to convince herself that she did the right thing."

An unfathomable amount of regret was contained in Celestia's sigh as she replied, "I'm sorry, Sunset. I failed you as a mentor, and I should have tried harder to save you. But that doesn't excuse everything you've done since then."

"Actually, I'd say you were successful beyond your wildest imagination," Sunset said, letting that statement sit for a moment as she finished up her cinnamon roll. "I mean, back when I was on the force, I wanted to be just like you, and now, I am. People listen to what I say, and if I want something, anything, I can have it. Nightmare Moon gave me all the power I wanted from you, and taught me how things really worked in this city."

Her smirk grew. "It's every teacher's dream that one day their student will surpass them, right? Now looks who's running this joint, and who's stuck playing canary in a two-bit dive?"

Celestia shook her head. "I only wanted you to understand what it meant to serve this city, to fight for it and try to make it a better place."

"I did understand that," Sunset shot back, glaring at Celestia. "And when I tried to do what was necessary, you had me kicked from the force." The glare faded, replaced by a lazy smile. "But that was the best thing that ever happened to me, since Nightmare Moon ended up giving me the power to actually make a difference, and bring order to this sun-forsaken city.

"And hey, you always did want the two of us to get along,." Sunset pulled out her wallet and slammed down a few bills. "Chin up, chief, you finally have your perfect little family. Well, what's left of it, anyways. So, the account number?"

"Surely you can't expect us to hand it over when you've been utterly useless in providing any sort of actionable intelligence—" Rarity's words were cut off as she glanced to her side to see Celestia fish a pen and a key out from her purse.

"Here," she said, sliding the key over and scribbling a series of numbers onto a napkin. "You'll need to have Luna's personal information in order to access the safety deposit box, but I assume that won't be a problem."

"It won't," Sunset said, taking the two items. "Pleasure doing business with you. Let's not do it ever again." She turned to Rarity. "And a couple bits of advice for you, whoever you are, from one concerned citizen to another. First, get out while you still can. Doesn't matter how good in the sack Twilight is, you really don't want to get caught up in this twisted little family feud that's going on. And don't trust Celestia, obviously."

"I'll take that under advisement," Rarity said. "Any other nuggets of wisdom you wish to impart upon me?"

"Oh, don't let Suri pick out your clothes for you." An edge of steel laced Sunset's tone, a clear warning to Rarity. "It's really obvious when an undercover cop grabs something from her rack, and she's only still working for the force because she's got too much dirt on everyone. And if I ever see you outside of Sugarcube Corner snooping around in our business... well, Nightmare Moon won't care if one of Twilight's friends disappears."

"I can't believe that worked," Celestia muttered as they drove away from the bakery. "You actually managed to convince Sunset that you were an undercover officer without dropping any hints in that direction."

"Having clothing made in the style of someone else is an oft-overlooked technique in a sleuth's arsenal. Now Sunset thinks I'm a copper who fell for Twilight on the job, and won't suspect that we've been investigating the Nightmares beyond the usual constraints of her position."

Celestia nodded. "Impressive."

"I am a Master of Disguise, after all," Rarity said proudly. "I take pride in my ability to be anyone. Well, I did, until Twilight waltzed into my office and made me want to be myself once again. And speaking of Twilight, care to explain what just happened in there?"

"Sunset Shimmer confirmed several of my suspicions," Celestia replied. "If we can go to your office, I can take a look at the list of companies you sent her and confirm my theory."

"No." Rarity pulled the car over and glared at Celestia. "You've been keeping far too many secrets for me to continue trusting you. Why does Sunset Shimmer seem to think that Nightmare Moon cares for or is even aware of Twilight's existence? And what did she mean by a family feud?" Her eyes narrowed. "Who is Nightmare Moon?"

"It doesn't matter," Celestia said, staring straight ahead. "Or rather, the less you know, the better. Sunset Shimmer was right when she said that you don't want to get caught up in this. I had hoped that Twilight wouldn't as well, but it seems I underestimated her detective skills."

"That's not good enough. You know who she is, and you're covering her up for some reason I cannot possibly fathom." Rarity glanced in the rear-view mirror, watching as another car passed by them. "She killed your sister and now she's taken Twilight. Why are you protecting her?"

"Because I failed everyone I ever cared for." When Celestia finally turned to face Rarity, the pain in her eyes was so immense that it nearly staggered Rarity. "And if keeping this one secret can save a single life, then I will take it to my grave."

If they hadn't been sitting in the car, Rarity would have stamped her foot in frustration. As it was, she gripped the steering wheel tight enough to hurt. "I cannot believe Twilight Sparkle ever saw you as an inspiration. She was going to save this city, instead of letting it fall apart out of some misguided fear of failure."

"You don't understand," Celestia said softly, and Rarity dearly wanted to slap some sense into her.

"Of course I don't understand," she retorted instead, her eyes returning to watching the traffic. "Nobody possibly could. You keep your cards so close to your chest that you can't let anyone in, despite all the people who obviously adored you at some time or another. Case in point, even Twilight could never understand why you simply disappeared one day. Sometimes, she wondered if it was her fault."

"It wasn't," Celestia immediately replied. She bowed her head slowly. "But I suppose I should have seen that she would find some way to blame herself for it. If I can be honest, part of me always hoped that she would come visit me so I could explain myself. I know she could have found me easily enough with her skills and resources."

"Part of her thought you didn't care about her anymore," Rarity said softly. "And she wanted to respect your desire to close yourself off from the world. She would do anything for you." Another car passed by. A familiar, worn buggy.

"That I know too well." Celestia glanced at the mirror. "Let me see the list of Nightmare-owned companies you sent to Twilight, and I'll tell you why Nightmare Moon cares so much about her. Also, I assume that the car following us is gone by now?"

Rarity glanced at her in surprise. "You knew?"

A shake of the head from her passenger. "Not until you pulled over and started staring at the mirror," Celestia admitted. "But I recognize someone trying to lose a tail when I see it."

"They've been following me since before the Sunset Lounge, I think, but I didn't realize it until we were leaving Sugarcube Corner," Rarity explained. "While I sincerely hope that this stalker is an admirer connected to one of my other cases, I can't help but worry that maybe Twilight isn't as safe as you think she is, and neither are we."

"That is... worrying," Celestia said. "Perhaps we should make haste for your office."

Rarity nodded and pulled out of the alley. Her office was only a few blocks down, and soon enough they had arrived. She parked a block away from the actual building as an extra precaution, and then carefully stepped out of the car and took note of her surroundings.

Unfortunately, rent in Canterlot was not easy on one's budget, and Rarity's office was housed in a building that had seen better days. As she pushed open the worn, creaking front door with one hand, her other hand hovered inside her purse, lightly gripping the pistol inside.

"My office is at the end of the hall," Rarity said as they walked down the corridor of businesses which had all closed for the night, row after row of locked doors passing them by as they approached their destination. "I have the rest of the files stashed there as well, if you want to peruse them."

"I doubt that will be necessary, but more information could be helpful," Celestia replied.

The scent of old wood filled the air as the floorboard thumped rhythmically beneath her feet as they continued to walk, their steps out of tempo with the soft swaying of the electric lights hanging above their heads, but synchronized with one another.

That is, until their harmony was interrupted by the sounds of another set of footsteps.

Rarity turned around, her voice dropping down to a whisper.

"Did you hear th—?"

Her words caught in the throat as she saw the glint of steel in the dim hallway, and instinct overrode thought as she tackled Celestia to the ground.

They fell, and the deafening sound of a gunshot rang out.

Chapter Four: Home Is Where The Heart Is

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It was a shame that I didn't have a taste for tobacco. A good smoke would have completed my aesthetic as I sat up in bed, my back propped up by a pillow, uncaring as to whether the blankets covered my body.

After all, it wasn't as if the copper resting her head on the other pillow hadn't already seen— and touched, and tasted— all of me.

"Wow," Twilight Sparkle said, ever the eloquent one. "That was— wow."

I chuckled. "I would ask if it was good for you as well, but you were quite vocal about your enjoyment earlier." My lover blushed, and I laughed again. "My dear, you cannot possibly still be embarrassed after all we've just done!"

A most delightful pout formed on Twilight's lips. "It's a matter of context!" she protested, slowly sliding herself under the blankets. "Also, I was too distracted to think about it when we were... having relations with each other."

"I do aim to please," I said with pride. "And I am quite grateful that you do as well."

"I wanted to make you happy," Twilight replied, smirking. "How else am I going to convince you to stay now that you've finally gotten what you wanted?"

I laughed at the old little joke between us. "Well, if every time we make love is going to be like this, then I can hardly leave you now, hmm?" Truthfully, even if Twilight had been as frigid in bed as some of the trophy wives I'd had the displeasure of meeting, it wouldn't have mattered. The little honeypot had won over my cold, dead heart, and breathed life into it again.

And damn her if she didn't know it, too. "I guess I can make that sacrifice and we can do this whenever you want, as long as you keep feeding me good intel on The Nightmares." Twilight smirked with a confidence that was usually only reserved for myself.

"Speaking of which, I think we were discussing the Shadowbolt case before you distracted me,"
I said, curious as to what the evidence I'd provided had led to. "Has justice been done yet?"

The playful confidence in Twilight vanished. "Not exactly." She sighed, and I heard the bitterness in her voice that had become more common in the months since we'd met. "Someone's been tampering with the evidence and messing up our investigation. I can't even begin to determine who it might be because all the officers on Nightmare Moon's payroll have closed ranks, which means that I basically can't ask any questions at all. We'll get them eventually, but I'm so tired of fighting with one hand tied behind my back."

"You'll win in the end." I pressed a kiss against her forehead, trying to reassure her. "I have the utmost faith in you."

"I know, but it's still frustrating." Twilight groaned and pressed her face against my arm. "Sometimes, I wonder if I should just do what Celestia did and disappear." She looked up at me, mischief dancing in her eyes. "Maybe we could run away together to some small town that nobody cares about. I could get a job as a librarian and you could sell dresses."

She teased, I knew, but I also sensed the sincerity underneath the teasing. "That sounds lovely," I said, because that was the truth. And because I was telling the truth, I added, "But, unfortunately, you've made an honest woman of me, and I don't think I could turn my back on those in need anymore. And neither could you, my little do-gooder."

"Ugh, fine." Twilight rolled over with a delightful pout on her lips. "I guess I'll keep doing what I swore to do and try to make the world a better place because you told me to."

"Look on the bright side," I replied playfully. "You get to fight crime with a dashing and beautiful sidekick."

"That sounds nice."

After that, we sat in silence for a few minutes, enjoying this stolen moment of peace and pleasure between us. Then, Twilight rolled back to face me, looking unsure of herself for a moment before she got that determined look on her face that was always exhilarating to see.

I held my breath as I waited for her to speak.

"Rarity, I—" She paused, and I saw that she was thinking very hard about her next words. "I really appreciate everything you've for the case. It means a lot to me."

"Think nothing of it?" That hadn't meant to be a question, but I couldn't help but be confused about this new tangent.

"And I've enjoyed spending time with you a lot," my nervous little copper continued, ignoring my reply. "You're one of the only real friends I have, and you respect what I'm trying to do, and I have a lot of fun with you and I like talking to you and—" She cut her ramblings off, pressing her lips together into a hard line. "And I love you," she finally said, fear and uncertainty mingling with sincerity in her expression.

Well, I should have expected that, truth be told. I knew very well the kinds of declarations one was prone to making after a night with moi. Twilight wasn't the first to profess their love to me. I had that effect on many people, and before meeting my darling dearest, I wielded that power as a weapon.

Normally, this would be the point where I laughed off the words, or played along with an insincere declaration myself, already thinking of whom my next conquest would be. But with Twilight, it was different.

For the first time ever, I was in love as well.

How positively mortifying, I thought to myself. After all the games I'd played, someone had finally bewitched me with their wiles. I should have been ashamed of myself, but I was far too enraptured.

And so, I took the greatest risk of my life. "I love you too, my heart," I said, stroking my beloved softly on the cheek. "Despite my best efforts, you gave me a reason to believe in this city again, to believe in myself, and I cannot ever curse or thank you enough for that."

Twilight smirked at that. "It's a good thing I tempted you to the side of good first, because I think you could drive me to darkness if you wanted to." Something danced in her eyes, a conviction that scared me. "I don't know what I'd do if you were ever in danger."

"We'll just have to make sure it doesn't come to that," I said firmly. "Because I'm certainly not abandoning you. We're in this together, for better or worse, until the end."

"Agreed." Another pause as Twilight seemed to remember something. "Oh, I have something to give you too." She rolled over and opened up a drawer, pulling out a pair of necklaces. "Celestia and I bought these a long time ago," she said, blushing slightly. "It was at a faire downtown, one of the only times I actually did anything with her outside of work. She told me that one day I'd find a reason to get out of bed besides the job, and when I found the person responsible, I should have something to give them."

I took the necklace in my hand, examining its crystal centerpiece. There was something inscribed into it. "We were strangers when we first met, but now we are the best of friends." I smiled. "I daresay we are more than friends now, but I appreciate the gesture nonetheless." Though I didn't think too highly of her, I knew Twilight valued anything she still had to remember her mentor by.

After putting the jewelry away in my purse, I kissed her again. "And don't worry too much about me," I said, feeling as if I conquer the whole world by myself with the power of love. "I don't ever intend on putting myself in harm's way. Not when I too have a reason to live beyond by profession."

"Over here!" Rarity cried as she and Celestia scrambled to pick themselves up. She pulled out her own revolver and quickly fired back, hoping to scare off their attacker before they took a second shot.

It seemed to work, as there were a precious few seconds of silence while the two of them darted into a nearby alcove. Rarity chanced a quick glance outside and noted three men in masks and off-the-rack suits with weapons drawn diving for cover themselves, then ducked back before they rallied themselves and fired again.

She was somewhat relieved to see Celestia holding a firearm in her hand, her gaze steely and grim. "I don't suppose these are friends of yours, detective?"

Rarity shook her head. "As if I would let anyone in my presence be dressed in such a fashion. I do have standards, you know." She glanced at the revolver Celestia was gripping. "And how is your aim these days, dear?"

"Worse than it was before I left the force, and to be honest, I was never very good at sharpshooting to begin with." Celestia smiled sadly. "I always preferred to talk things out than to resort to force, if possible. You can use that as more evidence that I'm coward, if you wish."

"Despite our differences, I would never think less of someone who did everything they could to avoid taking a life. And I must admit, I've always thought of myself as more a lover than a fighter." A weight settled in her heart as Rarity spoke, despite her attempts at levity. "When we started this whole business of investigation, I assumed that Twilight was going to be the one to keep me safe."

She chanced another peek outwards, and immediately ducked her head in as a bullet tore through the wood behind where it had been. It looked like they were all hiding in one of the side corridors a short sprint away.

"Twilight's aim was quite impressive, yes." Celestia chuckled darkly. "A shame neither of us learned from her. I sincerely hope it's not the last mistake we ever make."

"We just want the detective!" One of the men shouted. "We don't care about you, lady. Hand her over, and you can walk away from all of this!"

"You must admit, that's a very tempting offer," Rarity said dryly. "Seeing as you seem to know Twilight's fate already, this could be the perfect opportunity to remove the annoying but fabulous and brilliant detective hounding you about her."

"Somehow, I don't think Twilight would forgive me for giving up her girlfriend to the wolves, no matter how persistent she was," Celestia replied, equally droll.

"It's true, she does have some affection for me. In that case, shall we perhaps formulate a plan?" Part of Rarity was surprised at how calmly she was speaking. Despite the stories told about her line of work, she rarely found herself in actual mortal danger. Perhaps the stress of the past day was finally beginning to wear her down into numbness.

"We should at least attempt de-escalation," Celestia said before raising her voice and shouting to their assailants. "You must know by now that someone will have heard your shots. Are your employers paying you enough to face the Chair for trying to kill us?"

The response was a laugh from them. "Nightmare Moon won't let 'em stick any charges to us. 'Sides, not like the coppers are gonna give a shit about some mouthy PI getting knocked off."

"Somehow, I don't think Nightmare Moon's hitmen are going to be intimidated by something as impotent as the police," Rarity said. "If we can make it to my office, the window there should allow us to escape." She pointed to the next door ahead of them, on the other side of the hall, and then fished out her keys from her purse. "I'll keep them distracted while you get in. It's much more important that you make it out of here."

Celestia raised an eyebrow at that. "Oh, is it, now? And how do you figure that, detective?"

"It's simple," Rarity replied. "You know how to find Twilight. I don't. Now, shall we?" She didn't give Celestia time to argue, tossing the keys to Celestia and immediately stepping out and blindly firing down the hall.

As expected, the shot forced their attackers to hide, and Rarity waited a couple seconds before firing again, this time at the corner she knew one of them was hiding behind. She vaguely noted the flurry of activity behind her as Celestia unlocked the door. She knew she was unlikely to hit any of them, that they were no doubt counting down until she ran out of bullets, but that didn't matter. All she needed to do was buy time.

Another shot. Three left now.

She saw a flash of metal emerge from the corridor and fired again, causing it to pull back. Two.

"It's open!"

At that, Rarity emptied the last two shots before blindly diving behind, praying that Celestia had opened the door already. Blessedly, she landed inside the office as the sounds of return fire echoed down the hall, followed by hurried footsteps.

"Get 'em!"

"Grab a chair and break the window," Rarity instructed as she locked the door and grabbed whatever she could to barricade it.

Celestia did as she said, picking up the chair behind the desk and preparing to throw it outwards. Before she could, however, more gunshots rang out, the sounds different from the weapons she had heard before. Then, Rarity heard the words that chilled her to the bone, spoken with a twang that indicated that the speaker wasn't from Canterlot.

"Police! Stand down and drop your weapons! We have this place surrounded!"

"Oh no," Rarity breathed. The last thing they needed was more of Nightmare Moon's goons showing up. The chances of her surviving interrogation were low at best.

It seemed Celestia has a similar idea, as she threw the chair with all her might and shattered the window, shards of glass spraying outwards in a rain of deadly glitter.

Several more shots rang out outside. "Go!" Rarity hissed. "I'll keep them busy! They don't know who you are; you can still save Twilight!" She pressed her back against the door, sincerely hoping that whoever was on the other side did not elect to simply shoot it open.

"Like I said, she would never forgive me if I left you here to make your heroic sacrifice," Celestia replied, using the chair to brush away the broken glass on the windowsill.

"At least she'll be alive to hate you." This was absolutely ridiculous. They didn't have time to argue. "Fine, I'll be right behind you." Maybe a lie would speed things up, if Celestia took her at her word.

Before she could find out, however, there was a gentle knock on the door. "Rarity?" the officer's voice said gently, her voice soft and tinged heavily with an accent from the countryside. "It's safe now. I ain't gonna hurt you." A pause. "Twilight sent me to help you."

Did she trust this copper who claimed to be a friend of Twilight? Rarity shot a glance at Celestia, who simply shrugged.

"She was worried about you," the voice continued to say. "Guess she was right to, huh? Don't worry, I don't actually have this place surrounded. If you wanna run away, I won't chase ya, but it looks like you and Twi are caught up in something big, and I'd like to help if I can. I ain't got no love for the Nightmares either."

The sincerity in that voice could have been faked, but something in Rarity's heart told her it was genuine. And the officer had just admitted to not having them surrounded, which would be a monumentally stupid thing to do if she wanted to take them out.

Slowly, she unlocked the door and pushed aside the furniture she had piled up in front of it. She opened the door to see a woman in uniform standing in front of her. "How do I know that I can trust you?"

The officer shrugged, her golden ponytail swaying as she did. "You don't, really. Just like I don't know if I can trust you. But Twilight asked me to keep you safe, so I figure you've gotta be square with her, at least, and I know she's on the level." Her green eyes sparkled with such raw honesty that Rarity was tempted to believe her on the spot.

"And when did she do this?" Rarity asked, holding on to her suspicion.

"Yesterday," the officer replied. "Told me that she might not show up to work today, and if she didn't, then I should make sure you were safe."

Rarity's eyes narrowed. "So you were the one tailing us all day."

There was no shame in the officer's expression as she nodded. "Yup. Officer Applejack, at your service." She extended a hand forward, which Rarity shook. "You actually managed to lose me just now, but when I heard the gunshots I figured I'd find you here."

"And what of our assailants?"

Applejack stepped to the side, to let Rarity see a thin trail of blood leading outwards. "Clipped one in the arm, and then the rest of 'em ran off. Guess I'm a better bluffer than I thought. Speaking of, we really should get out of here before my colleagues show up — I'm not on duty right now and I figure y'all don't want to be answering any questions at the precinct."

"Very well, officer." There wasn't much to be gained by the officer lying, and Rarity couldn't afford to lose any more time. "I need to collect some documents first."

"This about that big case Twi was building against the Nightmares?" Applejack smirked when Rarity glanced at her in surprise. "She did her best to hide it, but I'm no slouch myself when it comes to detective work, and she kinda gave up eventually around me. Trusted me enough to know I wouldn't rat her out to the rest of the force."

"Well, she's gone missing now," Rarity said, finally allowing herself to relax just a smidge. "We're trying to find her." She walked over to the cabinet where she kept her files and began rifling through them.

"That why you have Celestia herself here with ya?" Rarity looked up to see Applejack turn her attention on the former chief. "I must say, it's an honour to meet you, ma'am. I heard lots of stories about the good you did when I first transferred over."

"That was a long time ago," Celestia replied. "Now I'm just hoping that I can get everyone out of this without any deaths."

"Still better than the ones who stayed to line their pockets with blood money," Applejack said. "Now, how can I help?"

"Well, first, I need the list of companies you sent Twilight," Celestia said to Rarity.

Rarity pulled out the folder and handed it over. "Here are all the documents I was preparing to give to her. The list is on the top. Please tell me this is the end of our merry little search." The frustration of the night bled into her voice as she spoke. "This diversion is testing my faith in your assurances that Twilight Sparkle has yet to be harmed."

Celestia didn't respond, instead scanning through the list with a finger trailing down the paper. She stopped halfway through. "There." She pointed at one of the companies. "Crystal Emporium. I need the records you have on them."

"They should be inside the folder," Rarity replied.

"If I'm correct, we'll find her at one of the locations owned by this company."

"Well, let's go, then!" Applejack declared, looking as impatient as Rarity felt. "I dunno if you want us to call backup, but having some more cops might make it harder for them to make us all disappear."

"It would be better if we split up," Celestia said. "That way, we can cover more ground. And if you see something, you can call for reinforcements."

Immediately, Applejack raised an eyebrow at that. "I wasn't born yesterday, Celestia. I can tell when someone's tryin' to get rid of me."

Celestia sighed. "Is everyone going to see through me today?"

"Only if you keep lying," Rarity said dryly.

"Very well, the truth, then." Celestia locked Applejack with a serious gaze. "You're a good copper, standing by Twilight when everyone else abandoned her. It would be better if you didn't see certain things for now. This is Twilight's investigation, and she should be the one to decide whose secrets to reveal."

The eyebrow remained raised. "Fine, but if things go sideways, I'm hauling your ass in for questioning."

Celestia acknowledged the threat with a nod. "That being said, I do believe that Rarity's car may be compromised. Would you mind giving us a lift to where mine is? I can take the time to compile a list of locations to search."

There was nothing to say against that, and together, the three of them carefully made their way out of the office and piled into Applejack's car. It was an old, dusty, beat-up thing, but it started up fine and Applejack handled it with a care that bespoke of a deeper love for the vehicle, which was all Rarity needed as she sat down on the worn seats and tried not to think about when it had last been washed.

Directions were given, and then they were off. The drive to the Sunset Lounge was quiet, no one wanting to disturb Celestia's perusal of the damning documents. Rarity did her level best not to think about what Nightmare Moon might be doing to her beloved as time continued to while away.

This encounter with Nightmare Moon's enforcers had been terrifying, yes, but beyond the physical threat to Rarity, what had her more disconcerted was that this was the first time Celestia hadn't seemed to know what was going on, which made her assurances of Twilight's well-being even less to be trusted.

Applejack's voice cut through her reverie as they continued down the quiet, dimly-lit streets. "By the way, Rarity, I gotta express my gratitude to you."

"Oh?" Rarity's head tilted curiously as she glanced over at her driver. "For what, pray tell?"

"Making Twilight happy," Applejack replied. "You probably saw how she was getting sore at the whole business of being an officer of the law these last few months. Girl's been finding it harder and harder to come to work each day when no one else seems to care, and I'm glad she's got something outside the force waiting for her now."

She let out a dark chuckle. "I reckon we ain't long for this profession, neither of us. Even if we find Twilight safe and sound, it's only a matter of time until we wise up and get outta the business or someone makes us leave because we raised too much of a stink."

"There's always hope," Rarity said with total conviction. "I don't believe Twilight will ever stop trying to make a difference."

"Didn't say she wouldn't." Sadness tinged Applejack's smile. "Just that one of these days she's gonna realize that banging her head against a brick wall ain't gonna break it, and she needs to start looking for a door."

"And you?" Rarity couldn't help but ask.

Another chuckle, just as dark. "Reckon I'm too bull-headed to think about turning around. Runs in the family," she added proudly.

That got a smile from Rarity. "I daresay the world needs more stubborn folk like you and Twilight."

"Damn shame we're a dying breed these days. At least Big Mac's got that baker who'll help him carry on that family line." The car slowed to a stop. "Here's your stop. Ain't much to look at, if I'm gonna be honest."

"It's what's on the inside that counts," Rarity promised. "Thank you, Applejack."

They got out of the car, and Celestia and Rarity headed over towards the entrance to the Sunset Lounge after asking a reluctant Applejack to stay behind.

Two knocks, then three, then two again. The door opened, revealing Rainbow Dash.

"Oh hey, it's you two." She glanced at Rarity. "Didn't expect you to come back, to be honest."

"We just need to pick up some things," Celestia explained. "May we come in?"

"Sure." As Rainbow Dash opened the door, she glanced outside and scowled. "Oh, c'mon, Celly! Did you actually bring a copper here?"

"She won't come in," Celestia promised.

"She better not," Rainbow grumbled. "Already had to throw out that cop from a couple days ago again. Didn't know you had fans on the force still."

Celestia and Rarity both froze at that. "An officer was asking for me?" the singer asked carefully.

"Yeah," Rainbow replied. "Said she really needed to speak to you. But rules are rules, and I ain't gonna let any copper harass you."

"I see." The two investigators shared a glance that spoke volumes. "Can you describe this officer?"

"Uhh, around her age, I guess." Rainbow pointed to Rarity. "Bit shorter, though. Talked a bit more posh than I'd expect from a copper, but otherwise she was wearing this really bulky hoodie and sunglasses so I couldn't get much else. Sorry."

"It's fine," Celelstia replied. "If you'll excuse us for a moment."

As they turned away from the bouncer, Rarity immediately spoke. "So, they sent someone after you as well, it seems. The question is, does this officer know anything about where Twilight might have been taken?"

"If I'm right, finding this officer will be the key to finding Twilight," Celestia said. "Unfortunately, I doubt Rainbow Dash asked her about her plans."

Before Rarity could reply, another voice called out to them. "Hey, sugar, you back so soon?"

Rarity turned to see Candy standing by the curb on the other side of the alley, waving at them. "Oh, hello, dear," Rarity said. "Unfortunately, I'm still quite busy at the moment. You wouldn't happen to have seen an officer in disguise here earlier, would you?"

"Oh, her?" Candy nodded. "Yeah, stayed clear of that. Didn't want no more trouble tonight, and she didn't seem like the type to be looking for some fun."

It was a long shot, but Rarity had to ask. "You wouldn't happen to see which direction she was headed, would you?"

Candy pointed northwards. "I saw a map of the Harmony Plains in her car, if that helps."

"Thank you," Celestia said, cutting in. "That's very helpful."

"Well, consider it a freebie for your help earlier." Candy winked at them. "Good luck finding your copper."

When Rarity turned to face Celestia again, she saw a grim certainty in her eyes. "You know where she's headed. Do you think it might be connected to finding Twilight?"

"Yes," Celestia replied. "We have to get going as soon as possible."

With that ominous declaration, Celestia and Rarity said their goodbyes to Applejack, asking her to check the warehouses owned by Crystal Emporium just in case Celestia was wrong, and then hurriedly made their way to Celestia's car and strapped in. "So, where are we headed now?" Rarity asked from the passenger's seat.

Celestia rattled off an address, and Rarity's eyebrow rose.

"Platinum Lane is quite close to the heart of Harmony Plains," she said. "All residential and all very, very expensive. Whose house are we paying a visit to?"

"My family's home," Celestia said as they drove off, the streetlights blurring into a smear as the speed limit was quite thoroughly ignored. "And Nightmare Moon's as well."

Rarity was very glad she wasn't the one driving, or she probably would have spun into a ditch at that revelation. "You're related to Nightmare Moon?" Sunset's line about a family feud suddenly made much more sense, as did the odd stalemate that seemed to exist between the two. "Is that way you've never lifted a finger to try to stop her?" If some twisted sense of familial duty had put Twilight in danger...

"I did try to stop the Nightmares once," Celestia said. "I told you this earlier."

The words from their drive to the hospital echoed in Rarity's mind. I lost my sister. "Luna," Rarity said, recalling the name of Celestia's beloved sibling. "You told me that you lost her that day." Horror washed over her. "She was..."

"Luna was what you might call a free spirit," Celestia said, her voice sounding both detached and yet in immeasurable pain. "She never did have much respect for the law, and our family always tried to pretend she didn't exist, until one day, she seemed to clean up her act."

The lights around them grew dimmer as they left the city center and entered the wooded outskirts of Canterlot. "Suddenly, we stopped getting calls from the station to pick her up, stopped having to bribe officers to keep her record clean. She even started dressing properly, and claimed to have struck off on her own and was working for some consulting firm. She didn't need the money, not with how large her trust fund was, but we were so happy that she had found some stability in her life."

Celestia's hand gripped the steering wheel harder. "Of course, what had happened was that she'd gotten far better at not getting caught, and was able to bribe the guards herself with the money she'd made running her new gang of criminals.

"My parents died soon afterwards, and I was always too busy with my police work to pay attention to her, so it was easy for her to become the biggest criminal mastermind in the city." A bitter chuckle escaped from Celestia's lips. "How ironic, that the greatest detective's sister was the one who kept getting away."

Rarity could scarcely breathe now, so entranced as she was by Celestia's tale. "But then you caught her," she said, remembering their earlier talk.

"I did," Celestia said. "I confronted her in the very house we're headed to." The houses around them were getting nicer now, the obvious price tags behind them growing higher and higher as they all did their best to look perfectly harmless yet fabulously wealthy.

"And that's why you said you lost your sister that day." Understanding dawned on Rarity. "That day, when you learned the truth, Luna became dead to you, and you to her."

It was such a tragic tale, and even if Luna had her sights set on Twilight, Rarity couldn't help but feel a pang of sympathy for how much it must have hurt to be betrayed by someone so close to her...

"No," Celestia said, cutting off Rarity's thoughts. "I said that because I put a bullet between her eyes."

"Oh." A moment after saying that, Rarity really processed Celestia's words. "Wait, you what?" Shock and a total conviction that she had misheard Celestia's words kept the maelstrom of emotions now bubbling in Rarity's heart from exploding.

"I was so angry," Celestia said. "All this time, I had worked so hard to make Canterlot a better place. And I was failing, because someone I trusted, someone I was so proud of, was slowly dismantling all my hard work and killing this city from the inside out. I thought I had to choose between her and Canterlot, that if she wasn't around anymore, then The Nightmares would fade away and I could start saving the world again, without her interference."

A wry smile twisted her expression, one that didn't reach her eyes. "Of course, I was also just lashing out. I let rage blind me, and did something unthinkable. Something unforgivable."

Rarity truly didn't know what to say to that. On the one hand, Celestia had killed Nightmare Moon, and Rarity couldn't be too grief-stricken at that loss. On the other hand, she had killed her sister. Rarity thought of Sweetie Belle for a moment, then very consciously banished all thoughts of her out of her head before she went to some very dark places.

How could she have done something so terrible?

How could Rarity blame her?

At the end of the day, it wasn't her place to judge, and moreover, that wasn't what was important now. The past was the past, and while Rarity would never see Celestia the same way after this, Twilight's wellbeing was far more pressing. As was the obvious question that Celestia's story left open.

"If Luna was Nightmare Moon, and you killed her, then who exactly is running this city right now?" Rarity asked as they pulled onto Platinum Lane.

They were almost at the house now, and Rarity dreaded what they would find there. It was so very obvious that she was far beyond her depth, and with so much on the line, she couldn't afford to be in the dark.

"I wasn't the only person who loved Luna," Celestia said, the pain still evident in every word she said. "Someone else cared for her very deeply as well, and after she learned of what happened, she swore to take up the mantle of Nightmare Moon and finish what my sister started."

Rarity could see the house in the distance now. There was a car parked in the driveway, but it was too far away to see whose it was.

Celestia continued to speak as Rarity squinted at the vehicle in the distance. "She'd made a vow, you see, years ago. A vow to stop all the gang wars in Canterlot, the senseless violence that had taken so much from her, and as the new Nightmare Moon, she had the power she needed to make that happen."

They reached the house, and Rarity gasped as she saw the car in much clearer detail. "No," she whispered. "It can't be." The make and model were generic enough, but the decal of a blue, crystalline heart wreathed in gold sent a wave of recollection through her. In the first few weeks of her friendship with Twilight, she'd found her beloved's car parked next to one with the same decal. And when she'd gone in to say hello and possibly fluster her about a possible date she might be on, she'd instead been introduced to...

"I take it you know of my niece?" Celestia said. "She was our cousin's daughter, whom we adopted after her and her husband's deaths."

"Cadance is Nightmare Moon?" And with that, more pieces fell into place, and Rarity's heart dropped even further.

"Her husband's death hit her very, very hard," Celestia said. "She dealt with it very poorly, becoming obsessed with ending the gang violence by any means possible, and becoming my sister's protégé while I wasn't looking." She sighed. "Another person I failed. When Luna died, she took up her reins, and I... I couldn't take another life. Not Cadance's. So I left. Disappeared, and became a singer."

They pulled over a short distance away. Rarity stepped out of the car, still in a state of surreal shock. Nothing seemed real, and even Celestia's voice felt like it was coming from very far away, her own mind struggling with all the information she was now trying to process. "Well, now I know why you were so sure that she hadn't taken Twilight."

"She would never hurt her sister-in-law," Celestia said in agreement. "Which is why I was confused as to what might have happened to her until I saw that the disappearance site had been very deliberately set up to send a message."

"Right." Rarity wracked her brain to recall the clues they'd found. "Whoever took her wanted everyone to know that she'd been taken."

"Yes, it was very important that you knew she was gone." Celestia paused. "And that's why I couldn't share my suspicions with you until now. Because without this final piece of evidence, you would never believe me."

They made their way silently over to the house, hiding behind a hedge wall at the entrance to the estate.

"And what wouldn't I believe?" Rarity asked. At this point, she was ready to take Celestia's word on anything, after all that she'd learned.

"That Twilight Sparkle hasn't been kidnapped." Celestia motioned to Rarity to look around the hedge. "The disappearance site was set up to make sure you thought she was gone, and go to ground as you'd planned, thus keeping you safe."

"That's ridiculous," Rarity immediately replied, but still did as Celestia instructed. "Why would Twilight—?" her question was cut off as she peeked around the hedge and saw the police officer that Rainbow Dash had described earlier.

She'd taken off her hoodie, and was now standing in front of the house, hiding between two windows with her gun drawn. In the bright moonlight, Rarity could clearly see the pink strip in her purple hair sticking out like a sore thumb in the dreary landscape. The truth was undeniable.

Twilight Sparkle was alive and well, and about to confront her sister-in-law, Nightmare Moon.

Chapter Five: A Woman Worth Saving

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Rarity had no idea where Cadance was, and attracting her attention or that of her goons would have been very, very bad, so all she could do was hiss out her beloved's name and hope that Twilight would hear her.

Fortunately, Twilight's ears were sensitive enough that she turned to meet Rarity's gaze, her eyes widening in surprise. "Rarity?" Then, a look of absolute panic flashed across her face. "No no no no no, you can't be here."

Rarity smiled, cutting off her ramblings. "Until the end, I did say. And so, here I am." In truth, despite her teasing tone, Rarity was also fighting her own urge to panic and run. This was far beyond her depth, and now they were in the lion's den.

But she'd meant what she'd said. If Twilight was here, then so would she stand by her as well, no matter how scared she was.

"You were supposed to head to the safe house." Twilight's tone was accusatory now, the hysteria beginning to wear off. "That's what the contingency plan was."

"You tricked me into believing you had been kidnapped," Rarity snapped. "Did you really think so little of me that you thought I wouldn't do everything in my power to try to rescue you? I may enjoy playing the part of the damsel, but I know when the time for games has passed."

"I'm sorry." At least the contrition in Twilight's eyes seemed true. "I didn't want you here to see this."

"See what?" Rarity demanded. "What are you doing here? You recognized one of the companies on the list I faxed over, didn't you?"

Twilight nodded. "Crystal Emporium. I remembered that it was originally owned by Cadance's parents. At that point, I cross-referenced my memories of all the times Cadance had to miss a meeting with me with reports related to Nightmare Moon's activities and combined that with the redacted reports on Luna's criminal past. Everything became pretty clear after that."

"I see." Rarity paused. "So, you know that Luna was Nightmare Moon as well?" At least that would save her some unpleasant explanations — the truth was already rotten enough without having to force it on Twilight at this moment.

"Yeah." Her lover's smile didn't reach her eyes. "I guess now we know what happened during the reorganization period. My sister-in-law was consolidating her power after her aunt died."

The bitterness in her voice nearly made Rarity flinch. "So, what do you mean to do with this information?" she asked, her heart pounding as she waited for the answer.

"Today's the anniversary of Shining Armor's death," Twilight explained. "I know Cadance comes here alone every year to pay her respects." She tilted the revolver in her hand so that the light of the moon glinted off of it with a sinister shine. "I can end this now, before she hurts anyone else."

So, Rarity's worst fears had come true. Twilight Sparkle was about to make history repeat herself. "Please, Twilight," she begged, "don't do this."

She took a step forward, and Twilight backed away, guilt in her eyes. "I have to," she said. "This is the only way to keep you safe. Nightmare Moon won't hurt me, but when she finds out you're the leak, she's going to come after you unless she's eliminated from the equation."

Undeterred, Rarity took another step closer. "Think about what you're saying. You're talking about killing Cadance, for sun's sakes! The two of you swore you'd save lives, not take them!" Fear and anger blended together in her voice as she forced herself to keep her voice low and prevent them from being spotted by the woman inside the house.

Twilight's voice hardened as she frowned. "And Cadance already betrayed her vows." She met Rarity's gaze with her own look of steely determination, one that spoke of a familiar pain and bitterness she had seen in her before. "Everything I tried to do, all the lives I saved, none of it matters because of her. I kept trying to do the right thing, kept believing in Celestia's teachings even when she disappeared on me."

She raised her gun, pointing it towards the window. "Why bother to do things the right way when Cadance obviously gave up right from the start and got so much farther than me?"

"If you do this, all the evidence we've collected will be for nothing," Rarity said. "You'll be compromised, and the rest of the Nightmares we've been after will go free."

Twilight snorted. "They'll walk anyways. Cadance has half the judges on her payroll, and her lieutenants can scare the rest into doing what she wants." The grip on her gun tightened as she chuckled darkly. "Guess we know why Nightmare Moon inspires so much love now. Everyone loved Cadance; when she walked into a room, it was like the whole place got brighter."

She hung her head in shame. "I should have known. Nightmare Moon was right under my nose and I had no idea. Some detective I am."

"It's only natural for us to be blind to the ones we love most." Rarity reached out towards Twilight, but she pulled back yet again. "Twilight, this isn't you. You taught me to be better, to give a damn about doing things right, and I'm not going to let this cycle continue."

"It's too late for me," Twilight said. "I can't— I'm sorry, Rarity. I love you so much, but I can't be the woman you fell in love with." There were tears in her eyes, now. "Please, just go to the safe house and lay low for a few weeks. With Cadance out of the picture and the investigation compromised, there won't be any reason to come after you. You'll be safe. That's the only thing that matters now."

That's when it clicked for Rarity. "This is about protecting me, isn't it?"

"If I kill Nightmare Moon, it should create enough of a power vacuum to keep the Nightmares from coming after you."

The words were said with such cold calculation that Rarity shivered. "If you do this, you won't be able to come back from it." This was Twilight, so she tried to appeal to logic as well. "And given that there's apparently already a hit out on me, I doubt that murder will do much good."

Twilight's eyes widened. "What? What happened? Did someone come after you already?"

Rarity waved her hand dismissively. "Just a minor tiff with some thugs who wanted me out of the picture. Fortunately, Applejack was there to scare them off. I don't know whether to thank you or berate you for sending someone to stalk me today."

At that revelation, Twilight seemed to deflate further. "I'm sorry," she said. "I— I failed to protect you. If something had happened to you..."

"But nothing did," Rarity replied gently. "Because even when you were planning on playing vigilante, you still cared enough to send someone after me. Because that's who you are, Twilight. A protector, not a murderer, just like you said your brother was."

"Shining Armor died for nothing," Twilight spat. "If he hadn't been there, then Cadance wouldn't be threatening you right now. He didn't make the world a better place."

"He died doing what he thought was right," Rarity said. "He died for love, and that's not nothing. I refuse to believe that. And though Cadance may have walked down a dark path, he inspired you to carry on his legacy and protect others as he once did."

"Yeah, and look how good of a job I'm doing at that." Twilight rolled her eyes. "Someone tried to kill you tonight, Rarity, and I wasn't there for you, because I was too busy chasing down a lead." She shook her head. "I can't be what you wanted me to be, but at least, if I do this one thing, I can save you."

"No." Rarity reached into her purse and pulled out her own gun. "You don't get to play the martyr like that. You pulled me from the darkness, Twilight, and if you're going to jump back in, then I'll be right beside you, to the end." Her voice softened. "But please, don't make us do this. It's not going to do any good."

"You can't know that," Twilight whispered. Her eyes were red, now, stained with tears that she was clearly trying to avoid.

"But I can."

Both Rarity and Twilight turned in surprise at the familiar voice to see the former chief step out into the open. In truth, Rarity had forgotten that she hadn't been alone when she'd come here, so caught up as she was in trying to talk Twilight down from murdering her sister-in-law.

Meanwhile, Twilight's jaw dropped at the sight of her former mentor, and Rarity saw her nearly lose her grip on her gun as she struggled to hold it safely. "Celestia?"

The woman in question smiled sadly, the weight of ages present in her movements. "Hello, Twilight. It's been a while, hasn't it? I'm sorry for not writing, but I've been busy running away from my problems and hiding from my past."

Twilight glanced between Rarity and Celestia, and Rarity could see the gears turning in her beautiful mind as she put the pieces together. "You went to her for help in finding me after I disappeared." It wasn't a question. "That's how you knew to come here, and that Cadance is Nightmare Moon."

"Admittedly, it was not easy pulling that information from your former mentor," Rarity said dryly. "Has she always been this cryptic?"

"Always." Twilight pointed an accusatory finger at Celestia. "You knew," she said, her voice trembling with so many emotions that Rarity couldn't tell them apart. "You knew that Luna was Nightmare Moon, and then that Cadance took over after her death. "

Celestia sighed. "I'm sorry, Twilight. I've left you with quite the mess to clean up in my absence."

"Why?" Twilight asked. "Why did you walk away? Why do I have to be the one to fix everything? Why did you leave me?" Pain bled into her voice, and Rarity winced in sympathy.

"I never wanted this for you," Celestia replied. "I— I'd say you wouldn't understand, but I suppose that's not true anymore, is it? You inherited my burden, and I can never apologize enough for that."

"If you'd had the guts to end this all those years ago I wouldn't be here," Twilight snarled. "I wouldn't have had to spend years alone, fighting against a city that didn't want to be saved."

"I tried," Celestia said softly. "Right before I left the force, I tried to end it. You're right, I found out that Luna was Nightmare Moon, and I went to confront her. And I killed her."

Twilight gasped. "You... I thought it was an internal power grab."

A sad shake of the head from Celestia. "Anger is a powerful drug, Twilight. I felt much the same way that I imagine you do now, and I let those feelings blind me, to convince me that I was doing the right thing. But all I did was stain my own soul and make Cadance the new leader of the Nightmares. Because there's always someone else, and if you kill Cadance, then another will take her place. At best, you might buy a few weeks of peace while they reorganized."

"Maybe that's enough." The bitterness in Twilight's voice returned in full force. "After all, I just have to save one life, right? A couple weeks with the Nightmares out of commission will save at least a few people."

"But if you leave this place, then one day, we can take down the entire organization," Rarity argued.

Twilight turned to face Rarity, and her shoulders sagged. "I'm so tired, Rarity." She gestured towards Celestia. "I finally understand why she quit. Why she left me. This city takes everything from you, and it's still not enough. At some point, you have to acknowledge the sunk cost and cut losses. Celestia made the correct decision."

"No, I didn't."

The words brought Twilight's glare down on her former mentor. "I tried so hard to live up to your example," she hissed, her words filled with venom. "I wanted you to be proud of me, because some desperate part of me thought that maybe you'd come back if I was a good enough officer. But when I tried to see you at your club, you wouldn't even talk to me!"

She took a step towards Celestia, her fists clenching. "You don't get to tell me what to do anymore. Not after you abandoned this city."

"You're right," Celestia replied calmly, not looking away from her former student. "I was a coward, and I ran away from my duty and left you with this mess to deal with. I don't have any right to tell you what you should do, and I can never apologize enough for what I've done. And I can't blame you for wanting to be done with this, because I know what kind of toll this city takes on you when you try to do the right thing."

A smile spread out across her face. "But there's one thing different between you and me, and that difference is what makes you so much better than I ever was."

"And what's that?" Twilight demanded.

"Friendship," Celestia replied. "I never gave my trust to anyone, and I thought I could save this city all by myself. I kept so many secrets and hurt everyone around me as a result, and allowed my own niece and sister to fall into darkness because I thought I knew better. But tonight, I saw that you had found a better way."

"She's right." Rarity stepped forward as well, her own smile filled with love as she hoped she would be able to get through to Twilight. "In our time together, you often spoke of how Celestia inspired you. But you, Twilight, you've inspired so many people as well. Applejack, Fluttershy, they believed in you. And so do I. You're the light that you thought others were to you."

"This city is too big for one person," Celestia added. "No one can shoulder all the responsibility of saving Canterlot. But maybe, if we do it together, there's a chance that justice will prevail."

"We'll take Nightmare Moon down together," Rarity promised. "The right way."

Twilight frowned, and Rarity saw the conflict playing out in her mind. "I don't even know what the right way is," she whispered, another tear falling to the ground.

"Then we'll find it. Together." Rarity reached out a hand towards her beloved. "Just like we said we would. Maybe it won't be through the courts, and maybe it won't be as officer and private detective, but we'll find a way to take down the whole corrupt system and save everyone in this city."

"I cannot make up for hiding away all these years, but I can stand up for what's right today, and every day onwards." Celestia held out her own hand as she stood beside Rarity.

"Come with us, Twilight," Rarity pleaded. "Let love win over hate tonight, and live to fight another day."

For an endless moment, Twilight stared at both of them in silence, and they all held their breaths waiting for her to choose. Then, just as Rarity thought she might go through with her plans anyways, Twilight leapt forwards and tackled Rarity into a crushing hug.

"I'm sorry," she cried, warm tears staining the shoulder of Rarity's shirt. "I'm so sorry, Rarity." In those words, Rarity felt the world grow brighter, as if some colour had been breathed back into her heart.

"It's alright, my darling dearest," Rarity said, patting her lover on her back. "I love you, and I know we'll be able to get through this together." They pulled apart, and Rarity smiled through her own tears, feeling so much lighter now. "Besides, it's nice to know you have a bad girl side," she teased. "It's very attractive, I must say."

Twilight nearly choked. "Rarity!" she waggled an admonishing finger at her. "This is serious! I almost shot my sister-in-law!"

"But you didn't, because you're far too bright to darken your heart like that," Rarity replied, then added, "And you're far too pretty for jail, anyways."

Twilight shook her head. "You're incorrigible."

"And you love me for it," Rarity teased back, the tension flowing away as she finally let herself relax a little.

"Unfortunately, yes." Twilight frowned. "So, what happens now?"

"If I may," Celestia cut in smoothly. "We should probably get as far away from this house as possible. I don't know how much longer Cadance will be at the cemetery, but we don't want her to see us during her vigil."

Twilight glanced towards the house, and a look of determination flashed across her face. "Not yet," she said. "There's something I need to do first." She holstered her gun and walked towards the front entrance.

"Twilight!" Rarity called out, rushing towards her and grabbing her by the arm. "What in the world are you doing?" Panic began welling up in her again.

Fortunately, Twilight shook her head and smiled, and Rarity didn't see any anger in her eyes. "Don't worry, Rarity, I'm not going to hurt her. But I can't just walk away and do nothing." With a gentle tug, she freed herself from Rarity's grasp and made her way to the front door. Lifting up a hand, she knocked three times, politely but firmly.

Rarity stepped back, hiding herself behind a hedge next to Celestia. The former chief also looked concerned and confused, but they didn't have time to theorize before they heard the sound of the door opening, followed by a familiar lilting voice.

"Oh, Twilight, I wasn't expecting you today," Cadance said, in such a pleasant tone that Rarity had to struggle to remember that she was the leader of the most powerful gang in the city.

"I came to pay my respects," Twilight replied.

"Of course." There was the sound of the door being opened up wider, followed by some footsteps. "I'll unlock the gate for you. We should really just get you a key. He was your brother, after all, and you have as much of a right to be here as I do." A pause, and then Cadance continued, "Though, this is the first time you've come on this day. Is everything okay?"

Rarity peeked through the hedge, and saw Twilight frowning as she faced Cadance, who had just stepped out. She was breathtaking, with long flowing hair and a simple pink dress that allowed her natural beauty to shine through. And she looked just as unassuming as she had when Rarity had first met her, like she should be curating an art gallery instead of running a crime syndicate.

"Not really," Twilight replied, her eyes fixed forwards towards her conversation partner. "I... I almost did something really bad today. Almost turned my back on everything I believed in and let myself go back on the vow we made all those years ago."

"I see. That sounds like quite the ordeal." Genuine concern rang out in Cadance's voice. "Would you like to talk about it?"

Twilight didn't reply for a moment, her quiet creating a deafening silence in the yard. Then, she asked, "Do you still think this city is worth saving, Cadance?"

To her credit, Cadance didn't laugh off the question or condescend to Twilight. "I think it depends on what you mean by saving," she said, sounding just as serious as Twilight had been. "Canterlot will never be a utopia where evil doesn't exist, but, no matter how difficult it's been, I try to hold on to the hope that I can bring peace to this city with my work, and that Shining's sacrifice won't have been in vain."

"But don't you ever wonder if everyone in this city is bad?" Twilight pressed, and Rarity heard her frustration returning. "If maybe there's nobody who's actually worth saving?"

A worried gleam glinted in Cadance's eyes, though she tried to smile still. "Well, there's you, of course. You're worth saving to me, Twilight." There was nothing but warmth and sincerity in her words, and Rarity felt a thrill of fear at how she could show such a human side when she'd done such terrible things. "Sometimes, it's important to not lose touch with the people you're trying to serve, officer. When I find myself losing hope, I remember that you're out there every day, risking your life to try to help complete strangers, and it gives me the strength to keep going."

She reached out to hug Twilight. "You just have to find someone to put your faith into."

Twilight pulled away, wrapping her arms around her herself. "And what happens when the people you trusted turn out to not be who you think they are? What happens when it turns out they're just as bad as everyone else, or worse?"

"Twilight." Cadance looked very worried now as she frowned. "What happened? Did one of your cases go badly?"

"You could say that." Twilight continued to stare right into Cadance's eyes as she spoke. "I found out something that destroyed my belief in people, and it took some good friends to remind me of what I'm fighting for, that the vow I made to Shining still matters. I almost did something very bad, though."

"None of us can do everything by ourselves," Cadance said. "It's not weakness to allow the ones who love you to help you when you falter. That's true strength."

"I know that now." A grim smile played at Twilight's lips. "I brought the people who helped me believe again here, to pay their respects with me. Do you mind if we go together?"

Cadance looked surprised, but recovered well with her own smile. "Of course! You don't have to ask for permission, silly." She began making her way to the side of the house. "So, who are your new friends? I don't think I've heard you talk about them before."

"Actually, they're people I've known for a while."

Rarity knew a dramatic cue when she heard one, and after taking a moment to smooth out her coat and make sure she looked as best she could, she stepped out and waved pleasantly. "Hello, Cadance! So good to see you again. I do hope you don't mind me being here right now."

Cadance's eyes widened in shock, which Rarity had to admit was very satisfying to see. "Oh, hello. Rarity, was it?" She waved a hand in greeting. "It's good to see you again too. I'm sorry you had to come out so late."

So, they were going to play it like this, were they? "The loss of a little beauty sleep is a small price to pay to help a friend," Rarity replied. "I'm just glad I was there for Twilight when she needed me." She smiled. "And besides, I had some business to take care of tonight at my office, anyways. I swear, sometimes my workload is absolutely murder on my schedule."

Cadance's smile grew brittle. "I'm sorry to hear that. Well, at least now you can leave those worries behind. I like to come here to forget about my work sometimes." Her eyes narrowed subtly as her real message came through to Rarity: I don't know what you know, exactly, but don't do this in front of Twilight.

"That might be difficult," Rarity replied, verbally knocking away her olive branch. "Unfortunately, my work seems to have followed me here." She turned to Twilight. "Do you think our mutual acquaintance is here yet?"

"She should be, by now." Twilight glanced back at the hedge, gesturing with a shake of her head.

At that, Celestia stepped out. "Sorry, I wanted to make myself presentable to pay respects to my sister and my nephew-in-law." She smoothed out her dress as she said the words, her calm and cool mask on her face as always.

This time, Cadance's reaction was to reach inside a pocket inside of her dress with a hand, panic and anger flashing in her expression. Rarity and Celestia both responded in kind, reaching for their own weapons. Rarity's fingers curled around the metal of her revolver's grip, waiting to see if Cadance would reveal her own weapon. As much as she hadn't wanted Twilight to kill Nightmare Moon, Rarity had no qualms about defending her beloved if her hand was forced.

Before anyone could do anything rash, however, Twilight leapt between them, raising her arms. "Stop!" she commanded, and Rarity froze, unable to disobey. "They're not here to hurt you, Cadance."

Cadance didn't remove her hand from her pocket. Her eyes cut towards Twilight as they narrowed. "You know," she said, and it wasn't a question.

Twilight nodded.

Cadance sighed as she shot a baleful glare at Celestia. "And I suppose she told you all about our family history?"

"Actually," Celestia said, cutting in, "she figured out most of it herself. Twilight is quite the skilled detective, if you recall. I did fill in a few of the gaps, though."

"I see." At that, Cadance smiled sadly at Twilight. "I'm sorry you had to find out."

"Why?" Twilight demanded, and Rarity saw her hands clenching into fists. "How could you do this?"

"To protect you," Cadance replied simply. "And to fulfill the promise I made after Shining's death." She gestured out towards the street. "Look at this city — it was rotting long before Luna came along, but she managed to exert enough control to stop the gang wars that took Shining's life. I know you've looked at the statistics and seen the decrease in shootings between rival groups."

"And you think that justifies trying to have Rarity killed?" Twilight snarled.

"It was nothing personal," Cadance replied simply. "Just necessary collateral damage in the name of keeping the peace. And the ambush was set up so that no one else would get hurt."

"It's a little difficult not to take an attempt on one's life personally," Rarity muttered.

"You shouldn't have snitched." The casual way that Cadance said the words grated on Rarity. "I can't allow anyone to prevent me from stopping the violence that will consume this city in my absence."

"You stopped it by creating something even worse," Twilight shot back. "The Nightmares are completely above the justice system thanks to you compromising everyone who's part of it."

"The system was broken already." Cadance snorted. "We just took advantage of it to enforce our peace. Did you know that the man who shot Shining was guilty of a half-dozen other murders? The police never brought him to justice, but Luna did, and with the help of the Nightmares, I was able to look my husband's murderer in the eyes before I put a bullet in between them."

"And do you think Shining Armor would be proud of that?"

Silence filled the air as Twilight and Cadance locked eyes with one another. Rarity wasn't altogether certain that they were even aware of her presence or Celestia's at this point, so intent were they on their debate.

Finally, Cadance turned away. "Shining always supported me, and believed that I could do something great."

"I don't think running a criminal empire is what he had in mind," Twilight replied dryly.

"Well, someone had to after Celestia murdered Luna," Cadance snapped, jerking her head towards her aunt. "Or did you miss that in your investigation, detective?"

Twilight shook her head. "I did, but she told me about it afterwards."

"And yet, you still stand with her? With the woman who killed her own sister?" There was genuine hurt in Cadance's eyes. "I thought you were a part of our family, Twilight."

"I want to be mad at her for what she did, but I... I can't blame her, not anymore." This time, it was Twilight's turn to bow her head in shame. "Because... the reason I came here, the reason why Rarity and Celestia had to track me down, was to make history repeat itself."

It took a moment for Cadance to understand the meaning behind the words, and when she did, the look of betrayal on her face was heartbreaking, and once again Rarity had to remind herself whom she was facing down right now. Nightmare Moon didn't deserve any of her pity, especially not after she had tried to have her killed.

Cadance's hand finally left her pocket and dropped down to her sides. "Very well." She looked Twilight in the eyes, defiance radiating from her form. "Do it, then. I won't lift a hand against you, Twilight. Not after I've done so much to try and protect you from Shining's fate. If you truly believe that what I've done is wrong, that your precious police will save this city, then take me out of the equation and put an end to Nightmare Moon."

For a moment, Rarity saw the hesitation in Twilight's eyes, saw her seriously considering doing exactly as Cadance had commanded. She took a step towards her. "Darling," she said softly, "do remember our promise. I will follow you until the end, wherever that may be."

Twilight turned to face her, and Rarity saw her determination return. She smiled, and colour returned to the world once again as Rarity felt her love for her. Then, she returned her attention to Cadance, and her smile turned almost predatory. "Luckily for all of us, Rarity and Celestia talked me out of doing anything dumb tonight." Just as Cadance began to relax, Twilight added, "But there is one thing I wanted to say to you tonight."

Rarity gasped as Twilight reached out and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. She pulled her close, until their faces were inches apart, and Rarity only had a split second of warning before Twilight kissed her.

Surprised, she could do nothing but return the gesture, feeling very awkward expressing her affections in front of her lover's sister-in-law, but also craving the physical comfort and the affirmation that Twilight was alive and well and in her arms right now, and not kidnapped by some criminal organization or other.

They pulled apart, and Twilight shot her a cheeky smirk before glaring at Cadance. "Rarity and I are in love."

There was a flash of surprise in Cadance's eyes, but otherwise she didn't react. Twilight continued, wrapping an arm around Rarity, "I'm not going to stop trying to prove you wrong, and I'm hoping that one day you'll see that this isn't the way to change the world.

"But you're right that I won't be able to do it as an officer, not when you own half the judges in the city. So, I'm going to turn in my badge, and then Rarity won't have anyone to feed information to on the force."

Rarity gasped. "Twilight, you can't possibly—?"

"I told you I was tired, Rarity," Twilight said, and Rarity saw peace in her eyes as she spoke. "I think it's time I found another way to make a difference."

Cadance sighed. "I'd offer you a place in my organization, but I feel like that would be a waste of time. You've always been very idealistic, Twilight, and I hope one day you'll be able to see that I'm doing what's best for Canterlot. Your skills could go a long way in helping make this city safe."

Twilight's glare returned. "I'll never help you, Cadance."

"We'll see about that." With that out of the way, Cadance turned her attention to Rarity. "Miss Rarity, I don't believe we'll be needing your services anymore." She smiled grimly. "I'd accuse you of filling my sister-in-law's head with dangerous nonsense, but somehow I feel like I should be angry at her instead. You were always one of our better contractors."

Rarity's smile was equally thin. "You should be thanking her. If she hadn't taught me to be a better person, I would have stood by as she ended your miserable life. Part of me is still wondering if I shouldn't shoot you here myself so that Twilight doesn't have to darken her soul."

To her credit, Cadance didn't each flinch at the threat. "Well, call it a life for a life, then. You shouldn't have any more trouble from the Nightmares for now, though even Nightmare Moon can't control all of her subordinates, so I'd be careful who you antagonize as you and Twilight continue your doomed quest."

"I appreciate you not trying to murder me anymore," Rarity replied dryly. "Truly, I do."

Cadance rolled her eyes. "Now, if we're done with this... whatever this is, I think I'll take my leave while you pay your respects." She handed over a key to Twilight before walking away, and as she passed Celestia, the former chief held out a hand towards her.

"I'm sorry," she said.

The hatred in Cadance's eyes was palpable as she turned to glare at Celestia. "You said that last time. It doesn't change the fact that she's dead and you're not."

"That's not what I wanted to apologize for." Celestia met her glare with a look of contrition. "I'm sorry for not being there for you, for being so caught up in my job that I didn't see my own niece and sister falling into the darkness."

Cadance snorted. "My choices were my own, Celestia. The world doesn't revolve around you."

"I know that, now." Celestia smiled sadly. "I was so self-absorbed back then, and I did everything wrong. And I know I can't make up for the past, but I won't make the mistake of writing you off like I did to Luna, and I'm going to start believing in this city again. I think you can too." She paused. "I gave Sunset the key and the account number for the safety deposit box at the First Canterlot Bank earlier today in exchange for some information from her eyes and ears."

"Did you now?" Cadance tapped a finger against her chin. "How interesting. I'll have to talk to her about it after this. Though, it really doesn't matter; you must have made copies of all the documents in there, so it's not like you've lost your leverage."

"There was never any leverage," Celestia said. "You just assumed that Luna had hidden something in our joint account that would give me the keys to the Nightmares, and I didn't disabuse you of that notion because I wanted to be left alone. The box has something far more precious, something I hope will serve you more than some documents about offshore accounts or blackmail material."

"I see." With that, Cadance turned away again, and made her way towards her car. She shot one last look at the three of them. "Have a nice night, and remember to lock up afterwards." She paused, her eyes settling on her sister-in-law. "And Twilight, please take care. This city is dangerous, and I can only protect you so much."

"I will," Twilight promised, and that was that.

As Cadance drove away, Rarity felt the tension around them fade into sadness and grief. "Well, that was far more excitement than I had expected when I woke up this morning," Rarity said, attempting to fill the silence. "And here I thought I'd just be hiding and fearing for my life in a safe house. How quaint of me."

Twilight's response was to dive at her and hug her again in her crushing grip. "Thank you," she whispered. "I can't ever thank you enough for saving me, and I'm so sorry for everything I put you through tonight."

"You're worth it, Twilight." Warmth and life flooded Rarity's senses as she held on for dear life. "I owe my heart and soul to you, and I would walk through Hell itself for you. Just, please don't ever do anything like that ever again, hmm?"

"Never." Twilight pulled away, and Rarity could see the tears in her eyes. "From now on, we do everything together." For a moment, she shuffled awkwardly in place, clearly second-guessing her next words. Then, with more confidence, she said, "I'd like you to come with me when I visit Shining." She turned to face Celestia. "Both of you. I think he'd like to meet you, Rarity, and I think he'd like to see Celestia again."

"That sounds like a wonderful idea," Celestia said, walking up to them "It's about time I stopped running away from my past and made peace with it instead."

"And I would be honoured to meet your brother," Rarity added. "And to tell him what a lovely woman his sister grew up to be."

Twilight blushed at that. "Please don't go into detail."

That got a laugh from Rarity, and she felt the last of the day's tension melt away with it. "No promises, darling. You're beautiful when you're flustered, and quite fun to tease besides. Now, shall we?"

Twilight nodded, and together, the three of them made their way towards the back of the mansion, to pay their respects to the past and begin carving a path towards a brighter future.

"So then I tried to ask Celestia for advice, but Rainbow Dash told me to go away."

The group at the table chuckled good-naturedly as said bouncer for the Sunset Lounge crossed her arms. "Hey," she replied, "we got a policy of No Coppers and I take my job very seriously. Not my fault you left before her shift was over."

"I— uhh... I got cold feet after that," Twilight admitted. "And the second time I was just so angry that I didn't want to wait."

"Well, everything worked out in the end," Rarity added from her position sitting next to Twilight. She took full advantage of her position to snuggle closer to her girlfriend, uncaring as to who was watching.

"That it did," Celestia said. "And I am sorry that I never reached out to you after my retirement. It was selfish of me."

Twilight shrugged. "There's no use regretting the past. Not when the future has way too many things to worry about."

"About that," Applejack said as she dug into her slice of apple pie (which she insisted was almost as good as what she could get back on her family's farm). "You really turned in your badge yesterday, Twi?"

"Yeah." There was a heavy silence in the air as everyone processed Twilight's reply. "I made a deal with Nightmare Moon, and I intend to keep it."

Applejack raised an eyebrow at that. "And you're sure that she'll uphold her part of the bargain too? Pardon me for saying, but I ain't exactly keen on taking the word of the most dangerous criminal in Canterlot at face value."

"She won't go after Rarity," Twilight said. "I declared our relationship to her, and Cadance wouldn't ever hurt me by going after someone I loved. She may have gone down a very dark path, but I still believe there are lines she won't cross." She smiled grimly. "If there aren't, then we're all dead anyways no matter what."

Fluttershy visibly paled at that. "Umm." She meekly raised a hand. "How about the rest of us? Is Nightmare Moon going to come after us next?"

"As long as you don't go directly against her, you'll be safe," Twilight said. "We've studied the Nightmares long enough to know how they operate. Though, you don't have to be here if you don't want to— things will get dangerous eventually if all goes well, and I can't guarantee that I can keep you safe."

Despite her trembling, Fluttershy put on a look of determination. "No," she said. "I'm not going to run away from this. The people here need our help."

"Hell yeah!" Dash pumped her fists in the air as she slung an arm around Fluttershy, who froze at the contact. "'Bout time someone showed those guys some guts. So, what're we gonna do next?"

Twilight shrugged. "I don't know, yet. This problem is bigger than all of us, and even working together, we're going to need more friends if we want to make sure that someone like Nightmare Moon can never take over this city again. Hopefully, I can get to Cadance one day, and she can help us, but if that ever happens, it'll be a long time from now, and we need to focus on finding a way to stop her that doesn't involve the systems she's compromised."

"I used to know a lot of very powerful people," Celestia added. "And not all of them were happy with what happened to this city. I'll see if any of them would be willing to help."

"There is much to do," Rarity said, "but for now, I think we deserve a little rest." She rested her head on Twilight's shoulder. "Some of Pinkie's pastries will be good for the soul, and so will time spent with good friends."

"I'll drink to that." In a single gulp, Applejack downed her cider, letting out a contented sigh afterwards. "Might as well enjoy my last few days on the force before Nightmare Moon finally has my badge for helping y'all." She looked around. "Now then, where's Pinkie with our orders?"

"Waiting for her chance to make a dramatic entrance, of course!"

Applejack didn't even flinch as she turned to find the pink terror grinning at her. "Hello, Pinkie," she said, nodding her head respectfully.

"Hiya AJ," Pinkie chirped as she set down a plate in front of each of the diners at the table. Her smile never changed, but once again, Rarity felt a presence in the air, not threatening this time, but determined and hopeful. "So, are you guys finally going to do something about the systemic issues that plague our city and lead to rampant corruption and powerful organized crime groups using collective action to reform the justice system?"

Everyone stared at her. "Yes, Pinkie," Twilight finally said. "I think that's exactly what we're going to do."

"Well, if you ever need any information, or a safe place to stay, you can always count on your aunt Pinkie Pie!" She gave them a wink and leaned in to whisper conspiratorially. "I've been sitting on so much dirt from running this place, and not the kind you sweep away with a broom. The kind you give to someone who's actually trying to make a difference."

Rainbow Dash laughed. "Well, if Pinkie Pie's on our side, then there's no way we can lose!"

There was a general chorus of agreement as Pinkie Pie laughed as well. "I gotta go now and make sure the pies are done baking. If you need me, just call and I'll be there, anywhere, anytime. Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye!" She made a complex motion with her free hand before disappearing as suddenly as she'd appeared.

"Suddenly, everything feels a little less hopeless," Twilight commented as everyone recovered from their encounter with Pinkie.

"Quite," Rarity agreed. She looked down at her cupcake. "Oh dear, if we're going to be meeting here more often, then I'm going to have to seriously consider going on a diet."

"Or you could just work out with me," Rainbow Dash said. "I can help you burn off those calories, and you probably wanna get more fit in case you need to do more fighting for your life. Twilight would probably appreciate it too."

Twilight rolled her eyes. "I like her just the way she is." She paused. "Though, maybe some self-defence training wouldn't be a bad idea. For all of us who don't already have it."

"We can discuss these things at a later time." Celestia sipped from her cup of tea as she regarded Twilight and Rarity. "For now, I believe it is time for us to eat, drink, and be merry."

"Hear, hear!" Rainbow Dash raised her mug of hot chocolate before downing it.

"And I also believe that we can start with a story." Celestia's eyes locked on Rarity's as she smiled. "I must admit, I've been wondering how you managed to woo my student since we first met."

"It's a grand tale," Rarity said, returning her smile. "One of hope and love and fighting for what one believes in."

"That sounds exactly like the kind of story we need right now," Fluttershy said with her own grin.

"Very well, then."

Rarity leaned back and took a sip from her own cup of tea, wetting her lips in preparation for telling her story. She glanced beside her at Twilight, the beautiful, brilliant copper that had stolen her heart and given her back her soul, who now promised her a future worth fighting for, and allowed the warmth of love to fill her as she told her story.

"I knew she was trouble from the moment she walked into my office..."