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Counterfeit · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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It Takes a Village
Passing through the blue but chilly not-quite-winter-yet sky over Ponyville after her morning workout—an easy one today: she was on vacation—Dash couldn't remember the last time she'd just stopped by Carousel Boutique to see what Rarity was up to.

So she did.

Now, though, sprawled across the couch in Rarity's reception area, she was remembering why she didn't usually stop by Carousel Boutique to see what Rarity was up to.

Because Rarity was withers deep in work, of course, moving back and forth between seven different dresses covering the wooden pony-statue-things that surrounded her. "I'm terribly sorry, darling," she said for, like, the fifth time since letting Dash in, her eyes through her little half-glasses narrow and intent on whatever stitch she was stitching. "These need to be done this afternoon so I can catch the evening train to Canterlot and get them to Sassy before Canterlot Carousel opens tomorrow. I'm scheduled to have lunch with Twilight at the palace, though, so that should be lovely. But every inch of these needs to be exactly right first."

"I hear you." Dash aimed a couple lazy kicks at a couch cushion. "When I first joined the Bolts, I had no idea how hard it was putting the finishing touches on one of our new—"

And that was when the book popped out from behind the cushion and plopped onto the floor.

The cover picture, all purple and silver like it was night, showed a mare in a gauzy dress gazing sappily up at a stallion wearing a pirate shirt who was staring sappily down at her. And the title— "Gone by Morning?" Dash read out loud.

"Rainbow!" The blue glow of Rarity's magic shot all the way across the room to snatch the book away. "Do I rummage about in your sofa when I come visit you?"

"You never come visit me." The words popped out of her mouth without even a thought.

Rarity, though, snapped her head back like she'd been slapped. "Well! Forgive me for being both devoted to my art and my career and for not having sufficient limbs to manage the flight!" Tears started welling up behind her glasses. "If you don't appreciate the exertions I make to maintain our friendship, then I—"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Dash had seen Rarity upset before, but her folded ears, her quivering lower lip, the cracking of her voice, they all told Dash that this was something else again. Leaping over, Dash held up her front hooves. "It's okay, Rares! I didn't mean anything! We all know you're, like, totally busy most of the time! That's why we come to see you, see?" She moved a hoof back and forth between herself and Rarity and hoped her smile didn't look as phony as it felt. "See?"

For a long, long moment, Rarity just kind of sat there and vibrated. Dash hovered, holding her breath, ready to zoom for the kitchen if she needed to grab a towel or a glass of water or a pint of ice cream or anything.

But then Rarity wilted like a balloon losing air. "I'm sorry, Rainbow." Her horn flickered, and the book dropped with a little foomp to the top of the cloth pile beneath it. "It's just that I've been under a great deal of deadline pressure lately." Her mouth went sideways. "Say, for the last eight or nine years." She blew out a big breath. "I keep thinking that each new success will signal that I've, quote, arrived, unquote, and that I can then slow down and enjoy the fruits of my labor."

Dash found herself nodding. "Weird how that turns out never to happen, isn't it?"

Rarity's chuckle had just the barest trace of amusement in it. "I suppose I hardly need to tell the new second-in-command of the Wonderbolts about the drive toward perfection." Her next sigh was somehow even bigger. "The final product in both our cases is something akin to our flawless visions, of course, but where does that leave us?" The glow came back to her horn, and the book rose once again. "Lying on the sofa at midnight, too tired to go upstairs to bed and too wrung out for anything other than tales of imaginary romance."

This time, Dash stopped herself from doing any blurting—how she'd managed more than once to fall asleep on top of an active thunderstorm, for instance, or how she'd never much seen the point of romance, imaginary or not.

The pinch-mouthed look that came over Rarity's face, though, made it seem like she'd heard most of everything Dash hadn't said. "And yes, Rainbow, I know romance is as foreign a concept to you as dining room etiquette. But some of us still carry our foalish hopes about, dreaming of an impossibly good-looking and understanding stallion who will touch us to our very souls, leave us breathless with his charm and suavity, and then vanish before we can begin to notice his less sanitary aspects."

"Gone by morning." Dash grinned. "All of the sweet stuff and none of the sour, right?"

That got a more amused chuckle from Rarity. "I'll wager that you and I have slightly different definitions of what constitutes the sweet and what constitutes the sour, but yes." She turned the book back and forth in her magic, then sent it floating to rest on top of the big cabinet that held her spools of thread. "For me, the ultimate expression of romance is desire without attainment. I call it emotional engagement without physical engagement, an interior fantasy one can experience without having to worry about the reality of all the messy, exterior experiences."

Again, Dash didn't say a thing about how fun those messy exterior experiences could be. Instead, she nodded and said, "You know what you want. That's more than a lotta ponies ever figure out."

"I suppose." Rarity shook her head. "However, it is something of a pity that what I want doesn't exist in the real world." Drawing a breath, she turned back to her dresses. "But as long as I have orders to fill, I shall always be fulfilled. More or less..."

Dash hung around a while longer, then asked Rarity to say hi to Twilight for her when they had lunch tomorrow and took off, saying she had to get back to Wonderbolt HQ.

It wasn't a lie, either: Dash did have to get back to HQ eventually. But with the show season wrapped for the year and the new recruits not showing up till after Hearth's Warming, Dash bent her course after leaving Carousel Boutique and headed for the castle instead.

Not that it technically was a castle anymore. Twilight had deeded the place to the city when she'd moved back to Canterlot Tower and taken over as The Princess, so the West Wing was now the town library, the North Wing housed a little museum that Dash had donated some of her extra stuff to, and the South Wing had become the Ponyville Arts Center. Sweetie Belle and some kid named Tender Taps had already organized a few song-and-dance shows there, and to hear both AJ and Fluttershy talk about how great they were, Dash was hoping she could get down here some time to see one.

At the moment, though, Dash had her sights set on the East Wing. Since it was right across the little pond from the School of Friendship, Starlight had asked the mayor if she could use it as faculty housing: she and Trixie already had their rooms there, after all, and Sunburst said it reminded him of his digs in the Crystal Empire. The three of them had been living there ever since, but as far as Dash knew, none of the school's other professors had taken advantage of the offer. Apparently a free place wasn't nearly enough to put up with being so close to the students twenty-four hours a day...

Of course, Starlight, Trixie, and Sunburst weren't in the castle on a Wednesday afternoon two weeks before the end of fall term, and it took Dash a good hour to track them down in their classes or meetings or whatever it was they were doing—"Important friendship business," she told a couple groups of awe-struck ponies with a wink and a few quick autographs. Then, chivvying the three back to their sitting room at the palace, she explained her plan. "Because Rarity's a friend, right?" she finished up.

Sunburst and Trixie blinked at her from the sofa, but Starlight, tucked into an easy chair off to the right of the coffee table between Dash and the couch, just narrowed her eyes. "Rarity's a friend," she repeated, stirring the cup of tea floating in front of her. "Which is why we're playing this horrible joke on her?"

Dash's mane bristled, and she leaped into a hover. "It's not a joke!"

"A phony romance?" The spoon in Starlight's cup clattered against the side louder than Dash thought a spoon could clatter. "Explain to me how that's anything friendly."

Opening her mouth, Dash discovered she didn't have any words waiting there.

Words got that way now and then, she'd learned over the years. It was like they sometimes couldn't get themselves together to describe how awesome her ideas were.

Fortunately, she'd also learned to just go on talking anyway. "Because it's Rarity's thing, and it makes sense if you think about it. I mean, look at how busy she is all the time! If she tried to fit an actual stallion in there, it'd be like putting too much water in a water balloon." She stirred up a quick chunk of cloud from the air in front of her till it popped with a small spatter of rain. "She wants all the stuff that goes with a romance without the, y'know, touching and kissing and sex and everything you get afterwards. Which is different, yeah, but, well, that's why I came to you guys!" She waved a hoof at them. "The way you're a threesome, you know about different!"

Sunburst and Trixie stopped blinking, everything about them seeming to freeze, and Starlight did such a perfect 'spit take' with her tea that Dash wished she'd brought a camera. "You— What— Where—" Starlight sputtered before taking a breath, setting the cup carefully down on the coffee table, and giving a smile almost as phony as the one Dash had given Rarity earlier. "How did you— I mean, why would you possibly ever think that the three of us are in any way—"

"Ha!" Trixie whapped a hoof into Sunburst's shoulder. "Trixie believes that you owe her twenty bits."

Rubbing his shoulder, Sunburst scowled at Trixie first, then at Starlight.

Starlight was blushing so hard, her face was almost Twilight's regular color.

Trixie stretched on the couch. "Trixie had bet Sunburst that Starlight would collapse like cheap patio furniture if anycreature ever deduced the truth about us."

Darkening further, Starlight's complexion was heading toward Princess Luna territory.

Dash held up her hooves. "Look, I'm not here to judge. I'm just saying that different things peel different ponies' bananas, right? And I'm sure you guys can help me give Rarity something she can pine over or whatever it is she wants to do."

"Of course." Trixie rolled onto her hooves and brushed at her chest. "The Great and Romantic Trixie is always available to assist her friends in—"

Sunburst's bark of laughter interrupted her. "Romantic? You? I mean, do you even know what foreplay is?"

The look Trixie gave him, well, Dash had heard the word 'smoldering' before, but she'd never actually seen it till now. "Do you wish to lodge a complaint?" Trixie asked, the words crackling like kindling in a bonfire.

His mane shivering and his eyes huge behind his glasses, Sunburst squeaked, "No, ma'am!"

"And you?" Trixie turned a completely different sort of smoldering look on Starlight. "Has Trixie ever given her headmare reason to doubt her romanticism?"

At least Starlight had gotten back to more or less the right shade of purple, but she sure was doing a lot of twitching. "This," she got out through clenched teeth, "is neither the time nor the place to be having this discussion."

"Exactly!" Dash waved a hoof. "But, I mean, some of us can't seem to keep a two-person relationship from crashing and burning like, oh, I dunno, like an apple tree in the middle of a lightning storm." She made a mental note to ask around town if AJ might be ready to forgive her yet for that particular stunt the last time they'd tried to go on a date. "So I figured that if the three of you are making each other happy, well, you probably know what you're doing with this stuff."

Sunburst cocked his head, a thoughtful smile spreading over his snout, and Trixie was getting positively misty-eyed. Even Starlight stopped looking like she was thinking about the best and closest place to dig a couple or three unmarked graves. "Well, uhh," Starlight said after a moment, looking at Sunburst and Trixie, "we...we do make each other happy, don't we?"

Trixie slid over to cuddle against Sunburst's left side, and he held out his right foreleg toward Starlight. She gave a breathy little laugh and literally levitated over the coffee table to wrap one foreleg around Sunburst while the other reached across him to stroke Trixie's mane.

Which was cute, sure, but while it proved her point, it was really more than Dash needed to see. "So you'll do it?" she asked, trying to get the conversation back on topic.

"OK," Starlight said, her eyes half closed and her head resting on Sunburst's chest. Then she blinked, sat up, shook her head, and turned a somewhat more awake expression toward Dash. "Except I'm still not all that clear on what exactly you want to do here."

"Romance." Dash shrugged. "Like I'd know."

"Letters." Sunburst's horn glowed, and a quill pen with a scroll appeared floating in front of him. "From a secret admirer, of course."

"Ooo!" Trixie clapped her hooves. "He'll be a business pony like Rarity, but he travels a great deal more."

Nodding, Sunburst focused on the quill, now scratching away across the parchment. "He sees her at some function in Canterlot—we'll need to find one she was at recently, and we'll need to know about her dress in some detail so he can describe how it caught his eye."

"Although," Trixie added, "the beauty of the dress was nothing compared to the beauty of the mare who wore it."

Sunburst did some more nodding and some more parchment scratching.

Starlight stared at them, then stared at Dash. "It, uhh, it sounds like we've got this covered."

"Great!" Dash couldn't help darting forward to give Starlight a quick, sidelong hug. "You guys're the best!" She spun for the door. "I'll see you later!"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Starlight's voice called behind her, and the unmistakable tingly, sparkly sensation of magic grabbed her around the middle, spun her back to face the others again. "I'm still very uncomfortable with this, Rainbow Dash. I mean, what if she wants to meet this guy?"

"Silken Cravat," Trixie said.

Starlight's horn sputtered when she turned to stare open-mouthed at Trixie.

Trixie shrugged. "Not that Rarity will ever learn that information, what with her admirer insisting that his name is simply unworthy of staining the pages upon which Rarity's attention rests. But we shall need to know all about him if we're to create the proper sort of effect." She batted her eyelashes.

This seemed to root Starlight to the spot, so Dash made like her name again. "Send me a message if anything goes weird, and thanks again!" Out the window and into the afternoon sky, Dash pushed herself, not sure how far Starlight's magic could reach and not much wanting to find out. But she'd done her part: Starlight, Sunburst, and Trixie could handle the rest.

The winter crop of recruits always had a little extra something to them—gumption or gall or stupidity or craziness—and this year's group was no different. Dash loved running the kids through their paces no matter how nutty or dramatic they got, but even better was hearing the other Bolts moaning and groaning about it.

"One more year," Spitfire said, slumping behind her desk six weeks into training, "and I'm giving the place to you, Crash."

Leaning against the wall, Dash grinned behind her mirror shades. "You said that last year, Cap."

"And I'll say it next year, too." Spitfire's sunglasses didn't affect her glare at all, Dash had noticed. "Haven't you got a meeting of the Secret Rulers of Equestria to get to?"

Dash shrugged. "How's it a secret if everycreature knows about it?" She pulled her glasses down so she could give Spitfire a wink. "But I'll be happy to tell Princess Twilight you're ready to retire if you want me to."

Spitfire could say more with a stony silence than anycreature Dash had ever met, so Dash just touched a sloppy salute to her forehead, flapped for the locker room to leave her shades behind, and hit the skies toward Canterlot.

Just after the Running of the Leaves was the last time she and all the girls had gotten together, but Dash had managed to swing by their places separately right around Hearth's Warming. They'd all been doing fine, and Rarity had practically purred during the whole visit, a couple letters in very nice cursive fastened to the frame of the big mirror above her sewing machine. Dash hadn't gotten a close look at them, but she could put two and two together: she'd almost flapped over to the school afterwards to give Starlight and Co. a big hug.

But no. Why stick her muzzle in if the whole thing seemed to be working?

She came within sight of Canterlot Tower, then, and a whole squadron of Royal Guard flyers came swooping up out of the city and serried into flanking ranks alongside her, their sergeant shouting, "Commander Dash on site! Ten-hut!" And as tempted as Dash was to flip into a few maneuvers just to see if her escort could keep up, she instead flashed her most professional salute, nodded briskly instead of squealing like a filly when they all returned it in unison, then led the bunch of them down to the private landing pad outside Twilight's rooms.

Still, she did flap up a big gust of wind to crash the door open so she could slide into the arrival hall with a whoosh that rattled the stained glass windows. "Hey, guys," she said nonchalantly, her friends' expressions ranging from smiles to eye rolls. "What's up?"

Fortunately, Twilight was wearing one of the smiles. "We were just waiting for your inimitable entrance, Rainbow."

Even Applejack, who'd been doing most of the eye rolling, gave a grin at that, and Dash winked, glad that AJ had finally forgiven her for the whole lightning-strike-in-the-orchard thing. Knowing that she was welcome once again to stop by the Acres for some canoodling always made life so much better.

Then they all hugged and moved chatting down the corridor to their usual meeting room, pillows around a low table. Twi asked how everyone was getting along, and that led naturally into their various reports. Not that they were, like, real written reports or anything, though Dash had always wanted to hire some egghead to do her up a five hundred page monstrosity, dripping with footnotes and five-syllable words, just so she could drop it on the table at one of these meetings with a big grin.

No, it was really just an afternoon slipping away with talk and ideas and jokes and serious thoughts going on. But it sure got Dash's chest puffing till she nearly burst, thinking about how a bunch of ponies from a backwater place like Ponyville were now helping run the world.

Supper was always great, too, the six of them just hanging out—or seven, sometimes, when Spike was between ambassador gigs. It wasn't like old times, of course, with the no-kidding-for-real Canterlot castle all around them and having to look up at Twilight even when she was sitting down and everything. But it was absolutely and completely great, knowing that they were making the lives of every creature in Equestria better.

Polishing off dessert, though, Dash couldn't help noticing something weird about Rarity. As quick with a quip as always, she smiled, demure and every inch the fashion plate Dash had known all these years. But a cloud clung to the edges of her brightness, unmistakable to Dash's weather sense. So when things broke up after supper, Twilight thanking them and saying she looked forward to their spring meeting, Dash flapped off the balcony and into a holding pattern around the palace.

It took a couple or five passes over the yellow glow of Canterlot's streetlights, but she finally spotted Rarity slipping out the eastern gate like the slightest possible shadow. Adjusting her flight path, Dash drifted down, calling out before she landed to give Rarity a heads-up, "Hey, Rares! I forgot to ask how those outfits you were making before Hearth's Warming turned out!"

Everything about Rarity seemed to brighten and perk. "Quite well, of course," she answered, a sudden strut in her step and her smile beaming.

But it wasn't anything like her regular strut, more phoniness there for Dash to wince at. Glancing up and down the winter-deserted street, Dash took a step closer and lowered her voice. "You don't have to pretend with me, Rares."

Rarity's next step wavered, her ears and tail drooping. "I don't wish to burden you with my foolishness, Rainbow."

An effort kept her laugh natural. "Me and foolishness are old pals: you oughtta know that by now." She jumped into a low hover and motioned with her front hooves. "So c'mon. Burden away."

Mist drifted out when Rarity sighed, her head down, her hooves noiseless along the flagstones. "Just before Hearth's Warming, I, well, I apparently picked up a secret admirer."

Swallowing her first five or six responses but unable to stop her thoughts from seething—what had those unicorns done?—Dash wrinkled her brow in pretend confusion. "Isn't that usually a good thing?"

"Oh, it is!" The sparkle when Rarity looked up quickly faded. "Or rather, it was." A second ghostly sigh. "We've been carrying on the most wonderful correspondence all winter, full of charm, clever phrases, amusing anecdotes, juicy gossip, and he's almost as good at it as I am!" Again, her sparkle came and went. "But just recently, he— I mean, I told him in my very first letter than I didn't want any sort of physical relationship, and he said he was fine with that. But this last week, his tone's begun changing. I'm almost certain he'll be asking to meet me in person next, and I...I..."

She hissed, a sound that never failed to make Dash's feathers bristle. "Why do I always have to be the villain in relationships? I make it clear what I don't want, and when I'm forced to break things off, I'm the one who's frigid or erratic or untrustworthy!" Her voice cracked, the quiet emptiness of her next words scarier than anything else. "And yet I keep getting sucked in, don't I? Keep thinking there might actually be somepony out there who understands..."

"Give him another day!" Dash blurted.

"What?" Rarity blinked at her.

"This guy!" With no idea what to say, Dash followed her usual strategy and just kept talking. "He sounds like he's really great, but maybe he's, I dunno, having a bad week! So don't do any breaking up yet! Just...just wait for his next letter, OK?"

"Rainbow Dash?" Rarity stopped there on the sidewalk, her smile as sharp as a razor blade. "Are you giving me romantic advice?"

"I'm just saying!" More effort kept her from sounding like she was choking on a peach pit. "I've made every possible dating mistake, right? So I'm telling you: don't make this one." She stretched her wings and flapped into a higher hover. "Listen, I've got an early muster tomorrow, but I'll be in Ponyville next week! Promise me you won't do anything till his next letter, OK?"

Rarity rolled her eyes. "Fine."

"Great! I'll see you!" And Dash shot up into the darkness.

Pushing herself, she hit the outskirts of Ponyville just before midnight, slid onto the well-tended lawn in front of the East Wing of the former castle, and pounded on the door of the residential section.

Lights were glowing inside, so she didn't have to pound again before purple light pulled the door open, Starlight herself staring out. "Rainbow? Is something—?"

"You can let me in." Dash had actually thought about what she wanted to say during the trip, but she still had trouble unclenching her throat enough to say it. "Or we can treat your students and all of Ponyville to the sight of two national heroes yelling at each other."

Starlight's ears folded into her mane, and she stepped aside, her magic drawing the door open even farther.

Dash stalked past her down the little hallway into the sitting room. Fortunately, Sunburst and Trixie were stretched along their ends of the sofa, books open in front of them. "What did you do?" Dash asked, not shouting, not shrieking, not even raising her voice.

Because the other thing that had circled over and over through her head during the trip here? How everything that had happened was really her fault. So she would be firm and she would be tough, but above all, she would be fair. Or so she'd been telling herself the whole flight...

At least none of the unicorns was trying to play innocent: Dash could smell Starlight's embarrassment all sour and spicy in the hall behind her; Sunburst's orange hide had a blushing red tinge to it; and Trixie, who'd never looked sorry for anything in all the years Dash had known her, was shifting uncomfortably against the sofa cushions. "We, uhh," Trixie said after the silence started getting itchy, "we got a bit more involved than we thought we would."

"Involved?" Dash moved further into the room so she could turn and soak all three of them in her glare. "And what does that mean?"

"It means..." Trixie blew out a breath. "Rarity's letters are incredible. Passionate, playful, erotic, a joy to read!"

"And we, uhh..." Sunburst's gaze met Dash's, then darted away. "We had to keep upping our game just to keep responding in kind."

"It wasn't easy," Starlight murmured.

Trixie sniffed. "Few of life's true treasures are."

Sunburst swallowed so hard, Dash could hear it from across the room. "And for all that she said she didn't want to meet, well, after reading what she wrote..." He swallowed again. "Some of us started thinking that we could...that we should—"

"Should show her!" Trixie leaped from the sofa and marched up to Dash, her horn brandished like a dagger in front of her. "Her fear of physical contact is foalish at best and pathological at worst!"

"Pathological?" Dash stared at her. "Because she doesn't want to have sex?"

"Ha!" Trixie tossed her head. "Everycreature wants to have sex! She merely needs some good friends to help her overcome her—"

Dash growled. She hadn't really known that she could growl till right that second, and from the way the other three all froze, their eyes wide and their manes bristling, Dash guessed that they weren't expecting it, either.

"Really?" she asked when she managed to find her words again. "We're deciding what's right and wrong for other people to want now?" She took half a step toward Trixie, the unicorn backing half a step away. "Since I've never been attracted to more than one creature at once, should I be able to say that you need to chose between Starlight and Sunburst? Or that something's wrong with you 'cause you love them both? Is that what you're suggesting here?"

Trixie opened her mouth, then shut it again.

The sight made Dash nod, glad once again that she didn't have to get really angry at any of them. "All right," she said. "First thing? You're breaking up with Rarity."

"What?" Sunburst and Trixie both said at once.

"Did I stutter?" Dash shouted, putting on her drill sergeant voice, and the whole scenario came to her at once. "Tonight, you're writing her one last letter! This guy you made up, he's gotten an amazing job offer somewhere south of Zebrabwe, so far away, airships get there maybe twice a year! It's a now-or-never, once-in-a-lifetime thing—selling neckties to giraffes or something—and he wasn't sure he wanted to do it: that's why his letters have been weird the last week! But thinking about all Rarity's adventures, he's realized that he has to live up to her example and take the chance! So he's leaving tomorrow!"

Her throat wanted to close again. Dash wouldn't let it. "But every time he looks at the moon, he'll remember her silver-white fur. And every time he sees sunlight dancing on the water, he'll remember the blue sparkle of her magic." Springing into a hover, she clapped her front hooves. "Are you getting this down?"

"Yes, ma'am!" Sunburst yipped, his quickly conjured pen and paper scratching away.

Dash let herself land with a crash. "It'll be the most romantic thing you've ever written, and it'll be in her mailbox before oh-seven-hundred tomorrow! Is that clear?"

The "Yes, ma'am!" came again from Sunburst and Trixie in unison.

With a crisp nod, Dash let every last wisp of her anger evaporate. "And the second thing?" She blew out a breath. "I'm sorry I pulled you into this. I shouldn't've asked you to lie, and I take full responsibility for it going off the rails."

All three unicorns stared at her, their ears halfway up and halfway down. After a few seconds, Starlight asked in a wobbly voice, "You're apologizing to us?"

"Well?" Dash slumped against the wall. "You guys lost sight of the goal, sure, but I'm the one who brought you in even though I know how easy it is to—" fall for Rarity, she barely stopped herself from blurting out loud. Instead, she just repeated, "I'm sorry."

Trixie brushed a hoof at her mane. "Well, a correspondent of Rarity's caliber is certainly worth getting carried away over, but I will still apologize for my unwarranted assumptions."

Attention on his quill and scroll, Sunburst nodded vigorously. "Reading her letters aloud in bed each night and planning the response I would write the next morning was an exquisite experience." He sighed. "I'll miss that."

"Well?" Dash waved a wing. "She just lives across town, and you already know her. She'd love being better friends with you—as long as you remember it's just friendship she's after."

Starlight's face practically lit up. "That would be great! I've been thinking about asking you Friendship Councilors back to guest lecture at the school, too, and a famous entrepreneur like Rarity? The students would eat it up!"

Dash clapped her hooves. "There you go!" She unleashed her smile, but it took a little effort to keep it steady. "So you get that letter to Rarity, and I'll see you later, OK?"

A single flap carried her down the hall and out the door. Stretching her wings, she shot toward HQ, more than ready for the two or three hours of sleep she might be able to grab before reveille.

Surrounded again by wooden figures draped in various bits of cloth, Rarity looked a good deal more relaxed than the last time Dash had stretched over her couch. Sure, she was still bobbing and weaving like no earth-bound pony Dash had ever seen, but her undeniable strut was back, the smooth, sinuous, whatever-it-was that made her impossible to ignore or even look away from sometimes.

Dash shook her head and bent her face into the perplexed expression she was so good at. "And you're sure these are different outfits?"

Rarity actually chuckled. "You can't fool me, you know, Rainbow, trying to hide that discerning eye of yours."

"Discerning eye?" Pushing herself up from the sofa, Dash flapped across the room to the big mirror above Rarity's sewing machine and turned a squint back and forth. "Which one?"

A floppy hat propelled by blue magic flew over and engulfed Dash's head, but not before she'd gotten a closer look at the single letter now clipped to the mirror's frame, the lovely cursive she'd seen before displaying the words she'd spoken in Starlight, Sunburst, and Trixie's front room the other night.

She staggered away, pretending to struggle with the hat. "See? Fashion doesn't agree with me!"

That soft chuckle stroked Dash's ears again, and she stumbled backwards onto the sofa before finally pulling the hat off. "But you seem in a better mood than last time we talked." She wasn't sure she should bring it up, but she had to know if Rarity was OK. "Your secret admirer get his act together or something?"

A little smile spread across her snout. "He did, as a matter of fact. Quite sweetly and quite romantically." Rarity glanced over her shoulder, her eyes half-lidded, her smile growing. "As if you didn't know."

"Me?" Dash wasn't going to lie, of course, which was why she'd already arranged the perfect change of subject. "All I know is"—she waved to the grandfather clock—"in approximately ten minutes, we're meeting Pinkie at Sugarcube Corner. The three of us will then spend the next twenty minutes carrying whatever picnic baskets she's put together out to where AJ's waiting for us at the Acres. Fluttershy should get there right about that same time, and then Twilight's scheduled to pop herself in all the way from Canterlot so we can all have ourselves a nice little not-quite-spring-yet lunch under the apple trees." She nodded to the coat rack. "So you might want a hat or a shawl or something."

"Rainbow!" With a glare, Rarity stopped her stitching. "I can't simply abandon my work!"

"Can't you?" Dash cocked her head and very carefully didn't say how much she treasured their relationship and how happy she was to be whatever Rarity wanted her to be.

Rarity's face softened for an instant—she did seem to have a knack for hearing it when Dash didn't speak—but then she scowled and puffed out a breath. "Fine." She stalked toward the coat rack. "You've talked me into it."

Dash had to laugh. "That's me: a silver-tongued devil."

"Please." A curl of Rarity's magic grabbed a scarf. "The less I know about your anatomy, the better." She started for the door. "Shall we?"

"You betcha!" Dash leaped up, ready to zoom forward and get the door. But Rarity was already wrapping her hornglow around the knob, grinning back at Dash as she stepped out into the cool, late morning sunlight.
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#1 ·
The style, I think, could be condensed a little. This writer has a fondness for 'establishing' details--"I'm an entrepreneur and you're a Wonderbolt"; "lunch with Twilight at noon"; "Sweetie Belle in the new auditorium"--building Ponyville up from the gridded bricks. These things suggest a sort of virtuosity but I tend to scan through them as a reader.

Beneath all that, however, there is a very satisfying thematic consistency here, subtly woven into the plot and carried through with great skill. The irony that Rainbow Dash is bad with words, but becomes the most verbal character by the proxy of Starlight, Trixie, and Starburst, is a pleasure, and could hold up in its own setting.
#2 ·
I can’t quite pin down the dynamic between Rainbow Dash and Rarity. Little hints suggest that they both hold some feelings for the other (especially Dash, with that ‘easy to fall for Rarity’ bit), but they both seem to clearly understand that they want very different things out of a relationship. With this odd tension I’m reading in things, I’m distracted from what might otherwise be a compelling if mundane bit of friendshipping. Part of me is left wondering how much the StarTrixBurst trifecta stole the writer away, as much as they stole the mid-story plot (not that that’s a bad thing, writer?).