Lounging on her bed, Rarity was currently reading through one of her various romance novels when she heard the faint knocking on her door. She was expecting a visit from Rainbow Dash that evening, but Rainbow Dash never knocked? She was far more prone to simply barging in through the front door - or, in some thankfully rare cases - crashing in through a window. "Come on in, dear, the door's unlocked!" Rarity called out, quickly closing her book and tucking it under one of her pillows. It simply wouldn't do to have Dash finding out about some of the more lurid things in her library, after all.
Rainbow Dash opened the door and entered the boutique, not entirely sure of what to expect out of Rarity. While all her friends in school had been having slumber parties and giving each other makeovers, she'd been...well, she didn't really want to think about her foalhood. "Hi, Rarity," she said, halting that line of thought completely.
"And here I was worried that you wouldn't come at all!" Rarity said, descending from her bed and walking over towards Dash. "Now, I can tell that you're nervous about all this, so we'll start with easy things tonight."
"Tonight? You mean this is going to take more than one night?" Dash asked, sounding a little frightened by the prospect of working on something for more than a few hours.
"One doesn't learn to be well-groomed and sophisticated overnight, dear," Rarity replied, trying to remain patient with her impulsive friend. "You're going to need to come see me every night until the night of the Gala, actually." The Unicorn began to walk towards her own dresser, and rummaged through it looking for a specific grooming kit that she kept tucked away for emergencies. "Now then, let's start with that mane and tail of yours..."
"What's wrong with them?!" Dash asked, her voice growing irritated.
Rarity studied her friend closely for a moment, and it didn't take a genius to see that the prospect of being groomed wasn't the source of her irritation. Something else was bothering the filly, but what? "Not a thing, Rainbow," she said, soothingly. "They would, however, benefit from being trimmed and brushed. I can trim them for you, but you'll have to start brushing them every day - it helps them look clean and cared-for."
"And...this is going to help me impress that certain somepony?" Dash asked hesitantly. When Rarity nodded, she walked over and settled onto the floor in a comfortable position, allowing her Unicorn friend to get started without any further protest.
With the same practiced grace that she used to make her dresses, Rarity used her magic to turn a pair of scissors to Dash's mane and begin to remove the overabundance of split-ends and even out the mane's length. "So are you going to tell me who the lucky filly is, or do I have to figure it out for myself?" she asked as she worked.
For several long moments, Dash simply watched the bits of multicolored hair falling to the ground in silence. "Why does everypony assume I'm chasing fillies?" Dash asked, her voice sounding more inquisitive than insulted.
Rarity took note of the way Dash phrased her reply, and smiled to herself. "Now don't you go changing the subject on me, Rainbow Dash, or these scissors might slip," the Unicorn replied, giving her friend a look that was somehow sugary-sweet and utterly terrifying at the same time. "So let me make a few guesses, and we'll see what happens..."
While she didn't believe that Rarity would ever intentionally mar somepony's beauty, Dash could already feel her willpower cracking under this interrogation. Trying to puff herself up with as much pride as she could muster, she closed her eyes and stuck her nose into the air as Rarity herself had done countless times before. "You just go ahead and guess all you want, Rarity. I'm not going to say a thing," she announced.
"Is that right?" Rarity asked as she resumed working on her friend's mane. "I don't suppose it's Fluttershy, with her sweet demeanor, silky-soft hair and unspoiled nature?" She hadn't expected Dash to say anything, but more importantly, Dash didn't do anything when Rarity probed into her feelings on Fluttershy. "Well, what about Pinkie Pie, then? You two always do spend so much time together, and you both love to play pranks on the rest of us," she asked.
"I told you, I'm not going to tell you who it is," Dash asserted.
"Really?" she asked, mildly surprised at her friend's ability to clam up. "Well, I only had one more guess anyways. I thought that maybe you had a crush on Applejack. You two have known each other the longest, and with all that carrying on you two do, it makes me wonder if there isn't some other reason you're always so eager to one-up the poor dear."
This time, Rarity was somewhat pleased to see that Dash shifted ever-so-slightly, as if she was suddenly very uncomfortable with the discussion.
"Ah ha, so that's who it is," Rarity announced, quite pleased with herself. When Rainbow Dash gave her a pained expression, she chuckled and pointed a hoof at her friend's back. "Your wings betrayed you, dear. They twitched when I mentioned Applejack."
There was no point in arguing the fact; Dash knew that she'd been beaten. "Do you treat the other girls like this when they come over?" she asked, anger creeping into her voice. "Pry all their secrets out of them, and then spread the news all over town? Like how I never told anyone else that I had a crush on somepony but you, and then miraculously everypony knew about it? I thought we were friends, Rarity!"
Stopping dead in her tracks, Rarity suddenly realized that Dash was right - she had trusted Rarity with keeping the matter a secret, and Rarity had violated that trust. "Loyalty, thy name is Rainbow Dash," she said quietly, frowning and feeling about three inches tall. "I...I'm sorry, Dash. I thought that maybe if word got around, whoever it was you had a crush on would make themselves known. I just wanted you to find that special somepony and..."
Rarity found herself stopped by one of Dash's hooves being placed on her own. "It's okay, Rarity," the Pegasus told her. "I don't always think things through either, and I know you meant well."
"Just don't let anyone find out until I'm ready, okay?" the Pegasus asked, exhaling some of the anger out of her system. "I want it to be just right."
Rarity didn't say anything to Rainbow Dash at first; she simply nodded and continued her work on getting the Pegasus cleaned up. "I promise, Dash. It'll be our little secret," she finally responded. "Now then, once we get your mane cleaned up, we'll need to..."
"What do you intend to do about the security at the Starlight Ball, Princess Luna? Princess Celestia's Sun Guard will almost certainly be there in force," the chamberlain asked. Her sister had only recently allowed her the honor of choosing a new retainer for herself, and she had selected a rather natural talent in the field - a dark-colored Unicorn stallion with a few shocks of gray beginning to show in his mane.
"Send a message to my sister stating that the services of the Sun Guard will not be necessary," the Princess responded, using a tone that made the issue seem far less serious than it might've been. "I have reviewed the Sun Guard duty assignments for the evening of the Ball, and many of her soldiers are going to have to pull double shifts just to cover the event. The Knightmares will be providing security for the Starlight Ball, and will be available to provide assistance to the Sun Guard as needed."
This came as quite a shock to the chamberlain, who nearly lost his magical hold on the quill and parchment he was reading from. "I mean no offense, Highness, but won't Princess Celestia object to this?"
Princess Luna stood from her throne-dais, and slowly walked to a nearby window to gaze out at the stars beyond. The moonlight that poured through the small opening left her feeling invigorated in a way that she had scarcely felt in the past thousand years. "On what grounds can she reasonably object?" she asked, a sly grin creeping onto her face. "Her Sun Guard are overtaxed, and she did entrust the Starlight Ball to me. Any objection from her at this stage would come across as naught but paranoia and distrust."
The chamberlain swallowed hard as he considered how easily the princess could outmaneuver her sister. "Very well, Highness. I shall forward your message to Princess Celestia as soon as I draw up duty assignments for the Knightmares that evening," he replied, trying to visualize the public's response to Knightmares being posted at the ball.
"Excellent," the princess replied, turning to face the chamberlain again. "Now then, there is another matter that I would like to address - the one of reestablishing my home."
"Your majesty will have to forgive my ignorance, but..." the Unicorn began to reply.
"My castle," she responded, sounding perhaps a touch annoyed. "It has fallen into ruin from a thousand years of neglect, and the surrounding wilds encroach upon it a little more with each passing year. I require that my castle be rebuilt, and the lands around it cleared once more. I have many things on my agenda, and I simply cannot even begin to work upon them while I'm stuck living in my sister's attic."
"A most reasonable request, milady. I shall contract out the construction work to the required guilds tomorrow morning, if it pleases you," he replied, relieved to hear that her problem was - for once - a rather mundane one.
"I ought to make my sister pay for the repairs, given that she was supposed to take care of it while I was gone," the princess stated, turning back to the window. "I would have the construction foremen survey the site tomorrow night. I will, of course, be in personal attendance."
"As you wish, milady."
"Oh, and one last thing," she said, catching the chamberlain's attention suddenly. "There is somepony else I require in attendance tomorrow night. A Unicorn of some repute, as I understand it."
"Of course, milady. You need but to tell me who this Unicorn is, and I will see to it that they are in attendance."
"I want you to find the Unicorn who travels under the guise of 'The Great and Powerful Trixie'," the princess said, a hint of laughter escaping her.
The chamberlain nodded his agreement, then excused himself to begin working on carrying out Luna's wishes. While there was no overt hostility present in her demeanor, it didn't take a genius to realize that Luna was steadily growing more powerful with each passing night. Her size was beginning to approach that of her sister, and her hair now shimmered in the moonlight. He could only hope that she was not on the path to resuming her role as Nightmare Moon.
Rainbow Dash continued living her daytime life as Ponyville's weather pony, and the residents were beginning to notice that Dash spent far less time napping in trees and far more time making sure that the city's weather needs were met accurately and in a timely fashion. The other ponies were also beginning to notice the subtle changes in Dash's appearance with each passing day. Her standards of grooming had improved considerably, and perched atop the clouds above Ponyville, Rarity couldn't help but find her appearance to be almost noble.
Her behavioral improvements hadn't gone unnoticed, either. Applejack was the first to comment that Rainbow Dash had finally grown up, and was less than amused when she found four bottles of ketchup in her mailbox the next morning. Twilight, Pinkie, Rarity, and even Fluttershy had each mailed her a bottle "to help with the taste of her hat."
Of course, Rarity had been witness to numerous sides of Rainbow Dash's personality that she hadn't even realized existed until the Pegasus began spending her evenings learning grooming, etiquette, and even how to dance. The other ponies could see the results of Dash's work, but only Rarity had seen the path the Pegasus had walked to get to where she was now. There had been anger, embarrassment, and more than a little despair. Yet Rarity always had an encouraging word to offer her friend, and their lessons continued unabated.
Except for one night. While she wasn't quite sure what had brought it on, Dash had come to Rarity's home in a much worse mood than usual, and on that night, Rarity saw something that she was certain nopony else in Ponyville had ever seen: she had seen the proud Rainbow Dash break down and cry. She would, of course, never tell another soul that she had foregone their lessons that night and spent the evening comforting the Pegasus.
That was the night that everything had come into focus for Rarity, as well. In one night she had learned more about Rainbow Dash than anyone else had learned about her since she moved to Ponyville from Cloudsdale. She knew that Rainbow Dash would eventually tell the others, but until that day came, Rarity had resolved herself to silence.
"I guess it's true what they say," she told herself before returning to her work. "Always bet on the Dash." All that was left now was to wait for the day of the Gala...