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    XVIII. A Talk Between Delinquents

    Life works in mysterious ways, doesn’t it?

    It’s such a trite expression, used by everypony so often that it’s lost any shred of meaning, and yet it’s true.

    Life has a tendency, I’ve found, to give you what you want exactly at the precise moment when you don’t want it, and in a way you never wanted it. Is it a way to punish us for being demanding? Entitled? Taking things for granted? Life is a cruel prankster.

    And its cruelest prank, I thought later on, was that it gave me you.

    I loved you, Twilight. Not that I don’t love you now, but back then was when it started, and I held on with the last of my strength to the belief that I did not love you. I was infatuated, perhaps; I was very much taken by you, but love? No.

    But I could grow to love you, I thought. Told myself. Knew. Already did.

    “Good morning!”

    A warm coffee floated before me, the heavenly gift from a heavenly pony. Weeks ago, it felt, I would have regarded you with dying eyes, wishing nothing more than to be back in bed, but after our fight from a week or so ago? After our fight, just the thought of spending time with you was far more effective than any amount of caffeine.

    “Good morning, darling,” I purred, offering you a shamelessly smitten smile.

    You see, I was no longer trying to hide it. How ironic, how cruel, don’t you think? The day I decided to take you for myself was the day you decided to let me go.

    I took a sip of the coffee, slow and gentle, making a show out of it to please you, and when I was done, I sighed with content—content derived from the endeared expression you wore. You put down your saddlebag, and I noticed it was much heavier than I’d ever seen it. A few thin books were sticking out, as well as what seemed to be rather a hefty binder.

    “I see the Princess hasn’t gone easy on you,” I teased. “I wager you regret being so social this weekend, darling. Fluttershy told me you asked to have dinner with her and Applejack on Friday night, and then Rainbow whined at me on Sunday that she and Pinkie spent nearly all Saturday afternoon helping you with research at the Ponyville Express and the Ponyville Chronicle.” I took another sip of my coffee. “Are you writing a research paper on what a stunning mare I am? I’m only asking because it’s curious you didn’t ask for my help at all.”

    Poor dear, you blanched at my question, staring at me with wide beautiful eyes, at a loss for what to say. I assumed you thought you had offended me somehow, so rather than continuing my teasing, I allowed you some reprieve.

    “Twilight, don’t look so terrified,” I said with a laugh, lifting my hoof and brushing away your bangs. “I was very busy with commissions, as you already knew, so I wouldn’t have even been able to spend time with you even if I wanted.”

    Which I had wanted to, very much indeed.

    “I didn’t want to be a bother,” you said quickly, still looking ever so slightly frazzled.

    I thought to myself that if you were to continue being nervous, I could at least give you a proper reason
    With little care or thought, I sat down beside you, leaving not an inch of space between us. I think I nuzzled you, and what a giggle I had to bite down at the delightful squeak you yourself tried to bite down.

    “A-are you cold?” you asked, and if you had your wings by then, no doubt they would already have been wrapped around me.

    “I was indeed, but here you are to fix that,” I replied, closing my eyes and shamelessly enjoying the fact that my words were quite physically warming you up.

    You laughed softly, and rather than shoot back a witty reply, you indulged both of us by keeping me close and planting a kiss on the top of my head before nuzzling me softly. I held my breath, I remember, my cheeks flaming up. You had never been so affectionate before, never actually taken such a forward step, and I was caught by surprise. You, who had always tried to be reserved and discreet, had now boldly taken a step further as if you had nothing to lose and all to gain.

    In retrospect, I see why you did it.

    Acts of great courage and heart oftentimes come when we think it’s the end.

    “We haven’t been to your hideout in a while, have we?”

    You laughed, and I loved you more. “It’s not a hideout, Rarity.”

    “Yes, it is,” I protested after taking a sip of the drink. “It’s our hideout.”

    You mulled it over. “Well, for it to qualify as a hideout, we’d have to have broken a law and be hiding from law enforcement. What exactly are we being persecuted for?”

    “Well, I’m being persecuted for being too beautiful.”

    “Riiiight,” you said with a giggle and you nuzzled me again. “What am I being accused of, then?”

    “Theft,” I replied at once.

    “What did I steal?” you asked, and I made a choice.

    “We should go back tonight,” I said. “The orchestra will be playing, won’t it?”

    You were thrown back by the sudden topic change, but you did not question me. “Errr, yes? Yes, it’s Thursday, so they’ll be there,” you replied.

    “We should go there tonight,” I repeated. “And we might also start trying to find a similar place for us to use back home after my job here is done.”

    You paused. It was an almost uncomfortable pause. How obvious it seems now.

    “Yeah, we should.” You paused again and pointed out, “You never told me what I stole.”

    “That,” I said, “is because I intend to show you tonight, so I ask again, Twilight, shall we go back to our hideout tonight?“

    I expected you to take your time, for every choice you make is not made without careful consideration. And yet, every so often, much like the choice to travel back in time or agree to embark on what might be our last adventure together, you did not have to think about your answer.

    “Yes,” you said. “I’d like that.”


    XIX. Lace Ribbon’s Visit

    Lace Ribbon was, at the time, one of Equestria’s most prominent young designers. Mind, I call her young, but she was nearly a decade older than we were, and her experience in the field showed it. A beautiful blue-coated earth pony that knew more about unicorns and pegasi than probably many of them knew about themselves. She had her own company, a stunning career to show off, and a reputation of never judging a book—or design—by its cover.

    She was what I aspired to be like, even now.

    I hadn’t seen Lace Ribbon again ever since our run-in with Tinsel River and Him, and so it was a surprise when she trotted into my workshop that morning with a… a sense of purpose? It was the only way to describe it, how she marched in with an ambitious gleam in her eyes.

    “Hello!” she exclaimed, seeming much more at ease than our first meeting. Doubtlessly because that dev— Stars above, I really am bitter, aren’t I? I ought to work on that.

    I practically tripped over myself rushing over to her, wanting to greet her properly.

    “Good morning!” I greeted in a hurry, perching my glasses atop my horn. “Miss Ribbon, what an honor!”

    “Oh, please, no, don’t call me that!” she said, horrified. She peered into the hallway in an almost terrified fashion, and after stepping back in and closing the door, she grimaced. “It makes me feel like I’m one of these stuffy Canterlot folk.”

    “Oh goodness, we wouldn’t want that, would we?” I said, unable to help a laugh when she allowed herself a sigh of relief.

    “No, we wouldn’t,” she replied at once.

    Once she’d composed herself, she offered me a warm smile.

    “It’s nice to see you again, Rarity,” she said, and I was thrilled! She remembered me! Honestly, after my experience with Sharp Silk, any positive attention from a top designer was more than welcome. “We didn’t have much time to talk when we met.”

    Anger burned me. I’d been a fool! Rather than driving both of us mad trying to make dresses for Sharp, we could have had a lovely lunch with Lace Ribbon.

    I did not want to remember that awful affair, and so I was quick to move the topic along to hopefully nicer and more promising horizons.

    “And yet you’re here now!” I exclaimed. I returned my glasses to their spot atop the bridge of the nose and offered her my best salesmare smile. “What can I do for you?”

    Lace stepped further into the room. She put down her heavy-looking saddlebag and a wave of concern crashed through me when she frowned, taking in the entirety of my workshop. I realized only then the terrible chaos I’d been working in, and I dearly hoped she wouldn’t be put off. It was a curse, that I could only ever work in some sort of organized disaster.

    “Are you working on anything right now?”

    I furrowed my brow, levitating my checklist over and scanning it for my pending duties. I had a few pending commissions for some of the duchesses, but none were due until the following week.

    “I am quite ahead of schedule, actually,” I said, putting my checklist back on my desk and turning to her, trying not to let my imagination and hopes get too far ahead of reality. “Why do you ask?”

    She didn’t reply immediately, too busy exam—admiring one of the dresses I’d recently finished, but when she was satisfied, she turned to me with the same smile.

    “I’d like to commission a dress, actually,” she said.

    I gasped. “Really? But, you—” The urge to point out that whatever she made for herself would surely outshine mine was quite powerful, but I held my tongue. To say such a thing would undermine my work, and I had to remind myself that total self-confidence—or the illusion of, at least—was an integral quality of the most esteemed fashionistas.

    I cleared my throat.

    “It would be my honor,” I said instead, scouring through my mess for the paper where I’d scribbled down my different commission rates. “One moment, please. Allow me to fetch you my commission sheet.”

    “Oh, you don’t have to worry about that,” she replied almost at once, now having moved towards examining another dress.

    I looked back towards her, confused. “Pardon?”

    “Money won’t be a problem for me,” she elaborated. “Do you have a tissue I can wipe my hoof with?”

    Quickly, I levitated one to her, which she used to wipe her hoof before touching and examining the fabric of the dress. “An Empire Line dress? Interesting. Was it your client’s request, if I can know?”

    “No, it wasn’t,” I explained. “The King and Queen of Minos Kingdom are staying here for a few weeks, and King Asterion commissioned a dress for Queen Thessalis. Due to minotaurs’ particular body shape, I felt it was the perfect opportunity for an Empire Line.”

    “I see.”

    My heart shrunk in my chest. Had I displeased her? Given the wrong reply, perhaps?

    And yet, before I could dwell too much on this, she turned around and again, she smiled widely.

    “So then, do you accept?”

    “Of course, of course!” I blurted out, even though I was still disconcerted by the, well, lack of price tag. I took hold of my sketchbook, flipping the pages to a blank one, after which I took my pencil and offered her an expectant stare. “What exactly do you have in mind?”

    She continued to smile.

    “That’s up to you, Rarity.”

    Again, I blinked like a perplexed child. “Pardon?”

    She strode across the room, climbing up on my dressing platform and said, “You are a designer, aren’t you? I’m sure you can come up with a dress design I’ll like. All I care about is that you explain your process, please.”

    I didn’t know what to say.

    Frankly, darling, I didn’t know that to think. The cynical side of me grew wary, afraid that perhaps she was intending on stealing my methods and designs. The logical, more grounded side of me rebuked that somepony of Lace Ribbon’s talent would gain nothing from trying to ‘steal’ my methods and designs. And, finally, the excitable part of me insisted that clearly she was fascinated by me and simply wanted to learn from somepony who so clearly talented beyond measure.

    She spoke up before any of my three selves reached a consensus.

    “I should mention this is how I do job interviews,” Lace said with all the nonchalance in the world. “Before you think I’m trying to steal your M.O.”

    If I had been stunned when she walked in, well now…

    A job interview?” I all but gasped, staring at her as if she’d done no less than sprout a second head. “I—! You—! You can’t be serious!”

    “I think I am,” Lace said, fixing me with an amused stare. “You made last-minute dresses for Sharp Silk’s job posting, so either you’re desperate or you’re very confident in yourself or you’ve had your head in the clouds for the past three weeks.” She giggled. “I’m guessing it’s one of the first two with a little of the third.”

    To say I was mortified would be an understatement.

    “I heard about how it went,” she continued, and I swear to you, the earth could have cracked open in front of me and I’d have willingly jumped in. “I’d say I’m sorry to hear that, but I’m not. I’m glad you’re not stuck with him. Silk’s more pretentious and old fashioned than Canterlot’s entire nobility combined. Do you know what he said about me?” She snorted in a very unladylike fashion. “He said I was a simple mare from Dodge Junction trying to pretend I was from Canterlot. Good thing we’re not like that, right?”

    I—

    Twilight, you stop laughing right this instant!

    That was the most insincere apology you’ve ever given me, Sparkle.

    In any case.

    I was still at a loss for what to say.

    “I— This is so sudden, I—”

    “It’s just a job interview,” she said, her tone shifting, less teasing and more reassuring. “You haven’t been hired yet, and if you don’t want to go through with it, you don’t. I just think you could do great things, and I’d like to help you like somepony helped me once.”

    She cleared her throat and struck a pose.

    “I still want a dress, so it’s up to you to decide if you’re going to explain your methods or not.”


    XX. The Difficult Proposal

    We got along very well.

    We got along alarmingly well, in fact, which was something I never would have expected would fill me with such… Not dread, that isn’t quite the word I want, but… conflict. Anxiety? Conflicting anxiety, if that’s even an existing expression, and before you say anything, I don’t actually want to know if it is or not.

    I took the job interview route on a whim, out of sheer curiosity to see if I would fail or pass, and the more time went on, the more I saw myself passing with flying colors. She critiqued me, yes; she did not hold any of her punches and remarks, but her praise far outweighed these terrible things. She nodded and hummed appreciatively to most of my choices and explanations, and more than twice did her eyes widen in the way one does when learning something new.

    I spoke with absolute confidence, with no hesitation or falter, and I was surprised I could do so considering the fear dredging up inside me at every growing sign that I would get the job.

    Get the dream job, and have to decide between it and you.

    I’d not finished the dress by the time six in the afternoon approached, but Lace did not care. If I say so myself, she was more than thoroughly impressed.

    She sat on the small couch, her eyes closed as she took a long sip of the tea I’d gone and fetched from the kitchens. I remember watching her from the other side of the couch, filled with trepidation even though everything had gone perfectly. I wondered, in the back of my mind, if she was doing it on purpose. If that was her intent, to keep me in suspense until the very last moment. Perhaps I was projecting, but the thought calmed me somewhat.

    When she finally finished, she put the cup down on the nearby table and breathed deeply.

    “It’ll be a full-time job if you accept. Well, actually, it’s more of a highly-paid internship.”

    I held my breath. There it was. Plainly stated.

    “Here in Canterlot?”

    “Obviously,” she replied with a smile that quickly vanished. “You would have to move here. I know you’ve been commuting from Ponyville, but you couldn’t do that for this. You need to be fully committed.” She paused, allowing me a moment to take this in, before continuing. ”I think you have a lot of talent, Rarity, and I really want to help you. Canterlot needs more ponies like us. Outsiders with fresh, interesting ideas.” I did not say anything, so she went on. “It would only be for a year, though.”

    “Only for a year?”

    She nodded firmly. “Like I said, it’s a highly-paid internship. I want to give you the chance to really learn the ropes, especially here in Canterlot. With or without my help, you’re getting places, and”–she winked at me—”better be friends and collaborators instead of rivals, right?”
    “I…”

    I sat back on the couch, my heart hammering in my chest. That was an opportunity like I’d never get again. It could kickstart my career, put me in a much better position in much less time than if I stayed in Ponyville.

    “But… I have a boutique at home, and—”

    “And we can come up with a solution,” she said. “Or you can work the weekends, too. Take fewer commissions, and deliver them then. It’ll be hard work, but hard work gets you places.”

    It was more than clear that she wanted me to accept. It was baffling, really, to the point that I couldn’t find it within myself to make a conceited comment, to declare that of course, she would be more than eager to mentor me.

    I thought of you.

    “When would I start?”

    “Well, I have another designer who’d like the job, and she’s available now, so…. You would be starting after your job with Princess Celestia ends. That’s in a few weeks, isn’t it? You can take a month or so after that to make all the arrangements you need to make, but that’s the most I can give you.”

    A year away. An entire life could change in a year. An entire future could be wiped away and replaced in a year.

    I thought of you again. I thought of you, and I wondered how ever would I be able to choose. I thought it was funny in a very cruel sort of way that life gave me this on the very day I intended on devoting myself to you.

    Little did I know it was not life who was cruel, but you.

    “Why did you choose me for this?”

    She laughed. “It’s a funny story, actually,” she said. “It was through your friend Twilight.”

    It was like a dagger, Twilight, like a dagger through my chest, comprised of every single remark Sharp Silk had thrown my way.

    “Oh? Really? How interesting.”

    I think I smiled. I might have laughed, and it must have been a humorless laugh or smile. Of course, I thought, of course it would be through her.

    I felt betrayed, yet I could not fault you for trying to help.

    “I saw her on Friday actually, during a lunch with the Princess and some other ponies,” she continued, clearly unaware or ignoring my stricken expression. “I knew her from the Princess, sure, but I also remembered seeing her with you. I don’t think she remembered me, though.”

    Twilight, I wanted to murder you. Yes, it was that bad. It was almost as bad as if I ran into, I don’t know, Starswirl the Bearded and asked him who he was!

    “It’s okay, I wasn’t offended,” she said, amused at my mortified expression. “I talked with her, and I asked her to tell me about you.”

    And then.

    Then, I held my breath again.

    “You asked her?” I inquired, needing clarification.

    “I did! I asked her how were you as far as designing went, and what she thought. It’s funny because I was expecting her to, I don’t know, gush about you just like every other pony does to build up their friends but instead she gave me the most uncomfortable stare I’ve ever gotten.”

    I wanted to murder you much less at this point.

    I think I laughed.

    “Oh dear,” I said. “Did she really?”

    Lace laughed. “Oh yes, it was pretty bad. I asked her if you were really that bad at it, and then she started to gush about you, and it was like everything she said about you, she had to remind me fifty times that she wasn’t saying it just because she was your friend.”

    “I see.”

    I exhaled the breath I’d been holding.

    “Did… Did she by any chance tell you why Sharp Silk rejected my designs?”

    She shook her head, and with great difficulty, I spoke up.

    “He accused me of using my friendship with Twilight and the Princess to get jobs and connections.”

    Lace blew air through her gritted teeth. “Yikes. I’d say I’m surprised, but…”

    “Twilight found out, and I believe she blames herself for what happened,” I explained, and felt terribly ashamed. “When you mentioned her earlier, I confess I thought what she’d been accused of was exactly what happened with you.”

    She stared at me.

    She gave me the hardest stare she’d given me the entire night.

    “I shouldn’t be showing you this.”

    And for the third time that day, I balked at her and said, “Pardon?”

    “I told her I wouldn’t,” she continued, getting up and trotting towards her saddlebag. “But I think you should see it.”

    “See what?” I asked, and I think my heart skipped a beat when what did she pull out from her saddlebag but the very same binder I’d seen you carrying around earlier.

    “She was driving me crazy with her insisting that she wasn’t saying all that just because she was your friend,” Lace continued as she returned to her spot on the couch, binder in tow, “so I told her to bring me a few references for me to look at today, and I’d decide based on them if I talked to you or not.” Once she was seated, she handed me the thick tome and snorted. “I don’t think she heard when I said two or three would be fine.”

    There were more than twenty, Twilight. Twe—Hm? Oh, terribly sorry, let me amend my statement.

    There were twenty-seven things in that binder. I opened it with trembling hooves and found before me the kind of portfolio I dreamed of doing if I had the time. Letters of recommendation from every single one of my friends and acquaintances; newspaper clippings of reviews and articles the locals papers had done about me and my work going back to my first fashion show during high school; and a color-coded photographic gallery of my work organized by style, cross-referenced by size, and reverse-indexed by fabric.

    Not even I was that thorough!

    My eyes teared up, and I missed you terribly. Ahhh, it was as though destiny had taken that week and decided to relentlessly bombard my heart with the extents of your devotion and care for me.

    My heart swelled with affection for you.

    And it also hurt.

    It hurt like nothing had ever hurt within me before.

    “She really wants you to succeed,” Lace said. She laughed afterward. “At this point, if you don’t want to do it for yourself, then do it for her.”

    And I smiled.

    It was a very painful smile, for how silly was I, thinking I’d have to choose between you and my industry dream when you…

    You had already made the choice for me, it seemed.


    XXI. One Last Symphony

    I wanted to rush into your forelegs when I saw you later that night.

    I wanted you more than ever now that the reality of losing you kissed my lips.

    But I didn’t, and I wouldn’t, and I couldn’t.

    I trotted past the castle gates, into this city that would be my new home if I so chose, and tears stung my eyes when I saw you at the end of the path, looking up at me with a warm smile, a beautiful blue scarf around your neck, and two cups floating beside you—not of tea, but hot chocolate, as I later found out.

    A change of protocol. I wondered why you bought them rather than allowing me to do so.

    A consolation? You mean, a consolation if I didn’t get the job? Ah, and a reward, then, if I had.

    In retrospect, that warm hot cocoa was both. A reward for achieving my most coveted dream, and a consolation for losing the one I’d not even known I’d had until she was gone from my grasp.

    “Hi, Rarity!” you exclaimed, and your voice hurt me, Twilight. You hurt me because I was losing you, and it sounds so dramatic, but stars above, it felt that way to me. It was tragic, and painful, and horrific because I knew, I felt, I feared that if I chose you over Canterlot, you would never forgive yourself.

    I was miserable because you loved me so much.

    “Hi, Rarity!” you exclaimed, and what could I do but smile in reply, put on a mask, and on with the show, my love.

    “Well, well, well, Twilight Sparkle,” I purred, taking the drink in my magic. “Hot chocolate? What’s the occasion?”

    “I just thought it would be nice for a change,” you replied, taking a sip and displaying a brand new chocolate mustache.

    It was…

    You know when you’re irritated at someone; truly, honestly, and sincerely irritated at someone, you reach the point where anything they do is an offense towards everything you stand for? How they can do something as natural as breathing and even to that you take offense? If there’s an opposite for that, I was feeling it for you at that moment.

    It was all a muddle, a terrible vicious circle where the conflict and pain I was in made me love everything you did all the more, which in turn would make my pain and conflict even more devastating.

    I thought for a moment, entertained the idea of kissing you then and there, but I didn’t.

    “What about you?” you asked, and though you strove for nonchalance, it was obvious your question was premeditated, calculated and expecting a particular answer. “Anything interesting happen today?”

    For a moment, I envisioned a scenario where I lied. Where I said Lace had come and I made her a dress and that was all that went on. I was never offered a job, I was never given the choice between you and my career, and I went back to Ponyville to be yours.

    I never liked lying to you. Even now, we’ve seen the consequences of that, haven’t we?

    “Yes, actually,” I replied, and it was difficult to smile a dazzling smile. “Lace Ribbon visited me today.”

    You gasped. It was actually convincing.

    “Lace Ribbon? The designer?” you asked as if you’d always know who that was, you liar! “Rarity, that’s amazing! What did she want?”

    “She wanted me to make her a dress,” I replied.

    “A dress?! Really? That’s great!” you continued, perhaps a bit too eagerly, but I allowed it. “Anything else? She just wanted a dress? Nothing more?” you asked, and I wondered whether acting classes would serve you well.

    “She had something else to say,” I replied without much hurry, “but I can tell you about that once we’re in our hideout.”

    “But—I mean—” You frowned at me, anxious. “I mean, you can tell me now! I’d like to know now.”

    “And I don’t want to miss the start of the concert,” I said, moving forward and adjusting your scarf. “So, rather than protesting, shall we get going?”


    We walked in silence, but we were not silent.

    You weren’t, at least. Every sound you make, from your hooves against the ground, from your soft breaths, your soft hums, everything about you screamed to me, called my attention like nothing else before. You were so loud, Twilight, but not as loud as my heart.

    My tail swung behind me, and before I could stop it, it swung enough that it brushed against yours. It was an intimate gesture, the act of brushing tails together, an attempt to intertwine them. Now, as I think back, I did it because I wanted you to react.

    I wanted you to confess, I wanted to push you over the edge, to make you go back on your decision and declare your feelings.

    I feel so… I feel so silly now! Now, as I tell you this, I can see why I was called dramatic! It was so clear, it was so obvious my heart yearned for you, I should have spared myself the drama and made my choice.

    But I also wanted the job.

    I wanted my future, and to have both that and you seemed impossible. It felt impossible. You, living in Ponyville? Me, in Canterlot? I was frightened by the distance, by the daunting task of trying to have a relationship where we would only see and talk to each other, what, once a week if we were lucky? If one of us was willing or could take the train during the weekends? If our lives and jobs even permitted it?

    What if you met somepony else? What if I met somepony else?

    What if, what if, what if.

    Did you sense something was wrong? I felt so, at least, for you moved closer to me as we walked and asked me if I was cold. I don’t remember what I replied. I don’t remember much of what I said or thought beyond the fact that I wished you were closer.

    We finally reached the Folded Bookmark.

    “Here we are,” I said.

    “Here we are,” you repeated.

    And there we were, afraid to continue and afraid to go back.

    “Shall we, then?” I asked, stepping forward and opening the door, twisting the two red handles of doors I was crossing for the last few times, regardless of what I decided.

    The last few times we’d come, we took our time going up. I looked around for interesting books while you spoke with the librarian; you’d return some books while I entertained myself with looking at my reflection in the great oval mirror by the entrance.

    This time, however, we did not dwell on distractions.

    We entered the quiet library and I followed you through the labyrinth of books, wishing it were so easy to navigate the chaos of emotions that made up my feelings for you. You were smiling, and I was shocked by it. Earlier before I’d accused you of terrible acting, yet here before me was a perfect mask decorating your face.

    Surely you knew what had happened. Surely you expected I got the job offer, for I am me and I am perfect in most everything I do. Surely you knew, and so I could not understand how you could so easily put on a facade of earnest content.

    Did you not love me anymore? Had you given up on me that painfully easily? Was I not worth fighting for?

    Darling, of course I know now you wanted to, but back then, I was so blind, Twilight. I was blind to the extent of the love you held for me, and goodness, even now, years later, I’ve only just started to see it.

    You are not one for half-measures, Twilight Sparkle.

    We reached the door to the attic, the words DO NOT ENTER somehow seeming more daunting than ever before. We paused before it, and you seemed to hesitate, your mask slipping away for a moment.

    I didn’t think I’d be able to take it if it did.

    “Well?” I asked, allowing myself a smirk. “Shall you do us the honor of breaking and entering, Miss Sparkle?”

    “Breaking and entering into our own hideout?” you asked, raising an eyebrow.

    “Ah, so then you admit it is a hideout,” I teased, and I giggled when you did as well.

    “Okay, smarty-pants,” you said, your horn glowing, and the sound of the door unlocking promptly following it. It swung open and you stepped back, allowing me first passage.

    “Now, as I was saying about stealing Princess Celestia’s crown jewels,” I loudly said, slowly moving up the spiral staircase, “I think it would be much more interesting if we do it while she’s still wearing them. I’ll seduce her, and then you steal them while she’s busy with me.”

    Your gasp echoed into the room. “Rarity!”

    I stifled a giggle and called out, “What? Oh, terribly sorry! You’ll seduce her, then?”

    “R-RARITY!” you screeched, scandalized, and I let out the most unrefined cackle as I rushed up the stairs before you could catch up and kill me.

    I stepped into the room and I felt serene for a precious moment in time. This haven that had once been yours was mine as well now, if only because it was so distinctly you—and did I not love you? I moved further ahead, looking around to see if all was as we’d left it, but more importantly, I was interested in finding my unfinished painting.

    To my immense relief, it was still covered with a sheet, and the pins holding it down were still placed in the same position I’d left them. You walked into the room a moment later, and I could hardly help a smitten laugh at your still-horrified expression.

    “I can’t believe you said that to me,” you said, tonelessly.

    I tried so hard to look composed but failed utterly. “What part, dearest? The part about stealing the crown jewels, or the part about seduci—”

    “RARITY.”

    You were so flustered, Twilight! You looked utterly appalled and adorable, your cheeks red and ears pressed against your head, and I loved you, and I said as much.

    “I love you too, darling,” I said with a flutter of my eyelashes, and I saw you stop for a moment.

    You didn’t think I meant it, did you? No, you didn’t, and a second later you smiled and rolled your eyes, moving towards the center of the room. If only you knew! I had admittedly said it in a teasing way, like a friend might say to another, but stars, some part of me meant it. Some part of me meant it, and that same part wished you hadn’t taken it as a friendly tease.

    You trotted towards the edge of the room, your horn aglow. I watched as you opened the ceiling window, and as if your magic itself were the conductor, distant claps echoed into the room and thusly followed the sound of classical music, drifting into our little haven.

    Neither of us quite knew what to say.

    An awkward silence permeated the room, and rather than wait and see what you did, see if you inquired about the job, I moved to my painting and hid behind it. I heard you moving around, take your book and sit on your couch, and do or say nothing else.

    I removed the cover from the painting and found myself at an unfinished painting of you. The faint brush strokes starting to fill in the messy sketch of a lovely content unicorn reading her book. You seemed so calm in my painting, so relaxed and pleased, that I found I did not want to look at the real you. I couldn’t bear to peek from behind the canvas and find out if you looked as I felt.

    So I did not.

    I took the oil paintings, began to mix and mix on the palette, and carefully and lovingly filled your contour with colors and life.

    And I waited.

    I waited for you to say something. Wondered if you even wanted to say something. Gone was our little dynamic, our Alone Togetherness, and I felt myself being eaten alive by the anticipation of the question I feared. Who would talk first? Who would bring the subject up first and get on with the show? Who would end this dance we danced in an attempt to delay pain?

    “What else did Lace say?”

    My breath caught in my throat at the sound of your voice. My brush, marred with lavender oils, hovered over your barrel. The impul—no, the need—to look at you suffocated me, to put expressions and emotions to a question asked so calmly and tonelessly.

    “Rarity?” you called out when I did not reply for a minute, and I swore I heard your voice tremble. Like this was something you did not want to do, either.

    “Yes?” I called out in a very cowardly fashion. I was so afraid to hurt you! And I was afraid of it all.

    “What else did Lace Ribbon say?” you repeated. “You said something else happened?”

    Brush stroked canvas, and your foreleg sprung to colorful life.

    “Well,” I said enthusiastically, trying to remember the fact that I’d been personally selected by one of Equestria’s top designers, “she offered me a job! Can you believe it? I have until Wednesday to accept.”

    “Really?! Rarity, that’s great! You’re going to accept, right?” you exclaimed, and your voice subdued, and Princesses, I wanted to look at you. “That’s really great,” you said quietly and nothing more.

    We fell into a haunting silence again.

    “Well? Tell me about it!” you prompted after a moment, and it hurt that you were eager, that you sounded excited.

    But what had I been expecting? That you’d rush to me, beg me not to take it and stay in Ponyville? You’d done that before, in your own way, and hadn’t I lashed out at you in reply?

    How terrible, to get just what I wanted.

    “It’ll be a year-long job. An internship of sorts, she said,” I replied, trying to focus on illustrating the rest of your body. “I’d have to move here, however.”

    “Move here?”

    “Yes, and I would begin in about a month or so.”

    That damned silence again, only seconds long at most but eternal in my heart.

    “Oh. That’s very soon…”

    “Yes, it is.” I paused. “I’ll have to really think this through.”

    There was a lot to think through. To leave my boutique behind, to leave my family and my friends. Just the thought of having to break the news to Fluttershy or Sweetie brought me heartache, and yet… had they not already given their tacit blessing? If they helped create that portfolio, then surely it meant they knew what could happen, and…

    We didn’t speak again for the next few hours. You read, and I painted, and we listened only to the sound of the distant orchestra up until it stopped and only the sounds of the city could be heard.

    I didn’t immediately announce it when I finished the painting. I put the paintings away neatly and quietly, and finally, I peered past the canvas. You were still on your couch, immersed in a book, and yet there was no smile to be found on your lips.

    I hoped to fix that immediately.

    I moved away from the painting in a very slow and deliberate fashion, moving to the very center of the room and staring up at the glass ceiling. I could see the stars speckled across the night sky, and I remembered you once mentioned your habit of lying down and staring up at the stars when you were a filly.

    My gaze wandered the room and I spotted a blanket tucked away inside a bookcase. I levitated it over and only when I spread it out in the center of the room did you finally look up.

    “Rarity?” you asked, watching me float some pillows and place them atop the blanket. “What are you doing?”

    “I finished my painting,” I said, moving back to admire it, “so I think I’ve earned myself a rest.”

    You practically dropped your book, you were so excited. “You finished?”

    “Yes,” I replied, peeking at you from behind it. “You’re welcome to look at it. I’d love to hear your feedback.”

    Without a moment of hesitation, you jumped off the couch and practically galloped over, rambling on about what dress I’d designed, and what technique; many things that all faded into silence the moment you were beside me and saw yourself as my work of art.

    “Well?” I prompted, trying to keep my smile measured. “What do you think?”

    You cried.

    Yes, you did! Well, no, not great earth-shattering sobs as you should have, because it was that wonderful of a painting, but your eyes teared up, and admittedly mine did as well.

    “It’s beautiful,” you whispered.

    “It is, isn’t it?” I replied in kind, admiring my muse—and not the one on the canvas, mind you. “It certainly helped having such an inspiring pony to work off. Maybe I ought to strive to be a painter rather than a designer.”

    “You should take the job, Rarity. You deserve it.”

    I felt a great weight lifted off my heart, yet I did not feel relief. I walked away and lied down on my side in the middle of the room, and when you gazed at me, I patted the spot beside me. You considered it a moment, but when I extended my foreleg towards you, you did not deny me.

    You cuddled against me, your cheeks rosy, and then followed my gaze when I looked up at the twinkling stars. The air felt heavy with words said and words unsaid, with affection revealed and affection hidden.

    “I suppose this means we won’t be seducing Celestia tonight?”

    You laughed, and I swear I thought your eyes would roll back into your head. We settled into silence again, and I continued to speak.

    “Do you think she’s ever been in love?”

    “The Princess?” you asked, and your brow creased. “I… I don’t know? She’s never told me.”

    “It can’t be easy,” I said, and…

    And…

    Stars.

    Yes, yes, I’m going! Give me a moment. So, we continued looking at the stars, and you cudd—What about Celestia? I… Darling, it’s not— But—

    Fine. Fine!

    “It can’t be easy,” I said, and…

    And you regarded me with a curious stare. “What do you mean?”

    “She’s immortal, isn’t she? Or long-lived, at least,” I said. “Can you imagine falling in love with somepony you will outlive? Or the reverse, knowing your lover will outlive you? I don’t think I could handle it.”

    “Even if you love them?” you asked, as if somehow even then you knew, and I…

    I…

    Darling, heavens, my love, don’t give me that look! I’m not crying! I’m… I’m simply stunned by your beauty, clearly. No, Twilight, it’s fine, please, I want to finish the story.

    “I don’t know,” I said, and I moved towards you and nuzzled you as if even then I knew. I closed my eyes and felt tired, and heavy, and sad, and everything all at once.

    All I wanted was to be with you in our little haven and pretend life and love were easy.

    We fell asleep together, do you remember? We did not care for the train, to leave the library, to leave our hideout; all we cared for was to spend one last night together.

    “I’ll miss you,” I said as I drifted into your embrace.

    “I’ll miss you, too,” you replied as you held me close.

    And I never told you what you stole, but I think deep inside, you already knew.

    Twilight Portrait

    There is a line
    I’m yet to sever—
    it goes from me
    to you.

    There was a time
    you swore forever,
    And I am captive
    to its pull.

    If you were kind,
    you’d cut the tether—
    but I must ask you
    to be cruel.

    ~ Lang Leav, Lullabies


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