“So, darling, have you enjoyed yourself tonight?” Rarity purred.
“Are you kidding?” Greenfire blushed as a pony shushed him, and he ducked his head to continue in a quieter tone. “This’s been... amazing. So many ponies, and they’ve all been so... so nice!”
Rarity beamed happily. “I told you, didn’t I? If you gave them a chance, they’d give you one...”
Greenfire rolled his eyes, bumping his side playfully against hers. “Okay, okay, I admit it, you were right. Again.”
“I do try to make a habit of it.” Rarity bumped him back, then glanced up at the sky. “Oh, here it comes! Pay attention, now...”
The sun rose, climbing above the horizon and blanketing the Ponyville crowd in the orange hues of sunrise. Now was her moment. Rarity tossed her mane, positioning herself just so, allowing the light to accentuate and enhance her beauty. After a few moments watching the sunrise, Greenfire turned to face her—and his breath left him.
“Is something the matter, Greenfire?” she said coyly, batting her eyes at him.
“Rarity...” he whispered, staring in undisguised awe at the mare by his side. “How did I never notice before? You’re beautiful. You’re breathtaking. You’re ravishing. You’re—”
Rarity paused mid-step. “Hmm...” she mused. “I think that might not sound quite right.”
As the unicorn continued her trek up to the cave, she pondered the scenario she’d been rehearsing in her mind. Was she hoping for too much, too soon? It had taken her some time to teach Greenfire about friendship, so perhaps it was too early to bring romance into the mix. Although she had been lending him those romance novels since her first trip to the library... Well done, past Rarity!
But winning Greenfire’s heart wasn’t all Rarity had to worry about. What she really needed was to figure out her own. Spending time with Greenfire on a date... or date-like outing, at least... would help her to pin down her confusing, complicated feelings for the dragon, in a way that the past week spent thinking and dreaming and agonizing simply hadn’t. Why, in the end, she might find that he was really nothing more than a friend to her after all!
Or... she might not. And then, if she reached out to him and discovered that he felt the same... An excited squeal and giggle escaped Rarity’s lips. So caught up in her imagination was she that she almost forgot to announce her presence before trotting into her darling dragon’s cave.
“Good morning, Greenfire!” she called out cheerfully.
It was only a moment before her friend emerged. “Wow, somepony sounds happy,” Greenfire chuckled. “Good morning, Rarity. What’s up?”
“I just received some fantastic news from the mayor! May I come in?”
“Sure!” He pointed a thumb behind him. “Already got the torch burning.”
“You’re so thoughtful, darling.” Rarity followed the dragon in, smiling at his cave’s familiar interior. “Oh, have you rearranged your hoard?”
Greenfire grinned. “You noticed? Yeah, I just shuffled everything around a little. I think it looks better like this.”
“It certainly does! Once again, your aesthetic instinct is impeccable.”
His wide, unreserved smile, full of pleasure and pride, made her heart skip a beat. ‘Calm yourself,’ she commanded herself, even as he settled in next to his hoard and gestured for her to relax as well. “So what’s this good news about?” he asked.
“Oh! Yes, of course!” Rarity settled in across from him, beaming happily. “Well, you see, Ponyville is going to be hosting this year’s Summer Sun Celebration!”
Greenfire scratched his cheek. “Summer Sun Celebration? What’s that?”
“A yearly celebration of... oh, some great triumph or another in Equestria’s history. Every year, the Princess holds a ceremony in a different city, raising the sun to commemorate the summer solstice.” Rarity paused, suddenly uncertain if she’d given her lonely friend enough background. “You’ve heard of her, yes? Princess Celestia? The ruler of Equestria?”
“Hmm, the name sounds kind of familiar, but I can’t quite yes I’ve heard of Princess Celestia.”
Rarity giggled sheepishly at Greenfire’s sardonic stare. “Sorry. I’m just so excited I can’t think straight! Princess Celestia is going to be here, in Ponyville! Oh, and I haven’t even told you the best part. Guess who the mayor is graciously allowing to decorate the town hall for the ceremony!”
The dragon’s eyes widened. “No. Way.”
“Yes!” Rarity squealed. “Isn’t it wonderful?”
“Yeah, that’s fantastic! But I don’t know...” Greenfire put on a look of feigned concern that very nearly fooled her. “It sounds like a formal sorta thing. And didn’t you say Pinkie Pie usually does birthday parties? You think she’ll be—”
“Greenfire.” Rarity tried her level best to sound stern, but she couldn’t keep her amusement from shining through.
He held up his claws in a pose of surrender. “Okay, okay,” he laughed. “Seriously, congratulations. Sounds like a pretty big deal.”
“Oh, it is! Princess Celestia herself will be seeing my decorations, my aesthetic instinct! Why, if she likes them, and if the Canterlot newspapers pick up on it... It could be the hoof in the door I need! The tipping point that will catapult my fashion into the public eye of high society!” She was mixing her metaphors in her excitement, and she didn’t even care.
“Wow, nice. You know how you’re gonna do it, then?”
“Of course!” Rarity responded. “I have a plan mostly laid out already! Everything from the door to the curtains. And our town hall is already so lovely as it is—completely hoof-crafted, you know. Oh, I can’t wait for you to see it! It’s going to be so—”
Greenfire’s voice stopped Rarity mid-sentence. “Wait, what?” When she looked at him, she found him staring back, brow furrowed with disbelief.
“I thought you were—I misunderstood you, that’s all.” He waved a claw dismissively. “So you’re gonna bring the photo album after it’s all done, huh?”
Of course the poor dear had assumed he wouldn’t be attending. Rarity swallowed, throat feeling a bit tight for an instant. But she was about to show him that it didn’t have to be that way. “Actually,” she said, her smile returning, “I want to extend an invitation to you. An invitation to attend the Summer Sun Celebration, as my guest.”
Greenfire’s mouth fell open, his eyes wide. But then, much to her surprise, he scowled at her. “You’re kidding, right?” he demanded, voice suddenly cold.
Taken aback, Rarity could only shake her head. “I assure you, I’ve never been more serious.”
“I think you mean you’ve never been more stupid.”
Rarity recoiled with shock—and hurt. That hadn’t been the playful teasing they’d taken to exchanging. “Greenfire, really, now!” she gasped.
“Yeah, really, now.” He stood up, giving her a withering look. “What exactly do you think would happen if I went down there? I’ll give you a hint: The same thing that happened with that brainless tin can last week.”
That was what was bothering him? Rarity smiled, eager to assuage his concerns. “Darling, you’re worrying over nothing. Ponyville is nothing like that. And of course I’ll be sure to tell everypony ahead of time—”
“So they can have the torches and pitchforks ready for me!” Greenfire snapped. “Perfect!”
“No one is going to have torches or pitchforks!” She shook her head. “Greenfire, dear, I think you’re overreacting just a bit.”
The dragon eyed her, tail lashing about behind him. “Overreacting, huh. Every pony I’ve ever met either attacked me or ran screaming, and you think I’m overreacting.”
“I didn’t,” Rarity pointed out, placing a hoof on her chest.
“Maybe you didn’t scream, but you did run,” he retorted. “And if I hadn’t given you those gems, you never would’ve come back.”
Rarity bristled. Was he trying to say she only cared about him for his gem-digging? “Just what are you implying?” she demanded.
“What, am I wrong?”
In the most technical sense, he wasn’t, but she still didn’t like the implications. “That’s not the point.”
“Yeah, you’re right. The point is, I’m not going.” Greenfire sat down again, curling his tail around himself. “I’m lucky the rumors about me have never gotten any worse than they are. If Ponyville actually knew I was up here, like, really knew... I’d get driven out in a week, I just know it.”
“You most certainly would not!” Rarity insisted. “I would never let that happen!”
“What, you’d stop an entire town?”
“If I had to, yes!”
He snorted dismissively. “Yeah, right.”
He didn’t believe her! Rarity frowned fiercely. She’d never dealt with anyone so infuriatingly stubborn! “Listen, Greenfire, I don’t intend to let you wriggle out of this so easily.” She ignored his affronted growl. “I’m not just inviting you so I can show off to you! I really believe this is something you need, and if you—”
“Need? Need? Alright, that does it!” Rarity jumped as Greenfire rolled to his feet again, clawing the ground hard enough to crack the stone as he leaned forward and snarled at her. “Let’s get something straight: I don’t need anything! Not your stupid little town, not your stupid pity... Not even you!”
Rarity staggered, as if physically struck. She stared up into Greenfire’s burning eyes, unable to speak.
“I was fine out here before you ever showed up, and I’ll be fine long after you stop coming around.” His tail lashed again and he rolled his eyes, turning his head away from her. “I thought you understood that already, but I guess I have to spell it out, huh?”
Tears gathered in her eyes, but she blinked them away furiously. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing how deeply his words had cut. She’d thought that their visits had become as important to him as they were to her. She’d thought—dared to hope—that perhaps he might care for her as much as she cared for him.
Well, she certainly knew better now, didn’t she?
“So? Do you get it now?” Greenfire demanded. “I don’t need you coming in here trying to fix my life!”
Rarity gathered herself up and gave him her coldest, haughtiest look. “Oh, yes, I get it. You’ve certainly made your opinion on the matter quite clear.”
He sighed, running a claw over his spines. “Good. Look, I do hope you and the other ponies have fun and all. But if you think you're gonna drag me down there with them, you're crazy.”
“Trust me,” Rarity said, “I understand perfectly now. I hope you’ll forgive me for believing that you—”
That you enjoyed spending time with me. That you cared about me. Rarity clamped her mouth shut before any of those words could escape. She couldn’t say it out loud. That would be tantamount to admitting how much it hurt.
“...that you might wish to take a chance on something,” she finished lamely. “And I do hope that you have a pleasant evening yourself. Alone. In the dark.”
Greenfire wasn’t daunted in the slightest. “Thanks. I will.”
“Well, then!” Rarity gathered up the picnic basket that she’d never even gotten a chance to unpack. “Until we meet again, whenever that may be. I certainly won’t have time next week, considering all the preparations I’m going to be busy with.”
“Fine. Have fun.” He crossed his forelegs in front of him, scowling at her. “And don’t worry about me missing you. I got plenty to keep myself occupied.”
“Fine! Goodbye, Greenfire.” Rarity turned her back on the dragon and marched out of his cave without another word, her head held high.
Righteous fury was driving her now. How dare he treat her like she had no idea what she was talking about? Like she didn’t know Ponyville well enough to predict how they would react? Like he couldn’t even trust her?
If that was how he felt, then it was just as well he’d refused! Rarity didn’t need him any more than he needed her, and now she could stop wasting her time thinking about him. Really, a pony and a dragon? It had been a ridiculous idea from the start. She would go back to her old plan, find somepony much more noble, much better suited to her.
And this ache in her chest would vanish completely.
The moment Rarity was out of earshot, Greenfire growled and grabbed an emerald out of his food pile, chucking it at the wall. It exploded with what should have been a very satisfying crash, green shards scattering across the floor. But it didn’t improve his mood any.
“Where did all that come from?” he demanded of the empty cave. All of a sudden, that pony had just marched in and started bossing him around. Telling him what to do like she knew better! Dictating his life to him like he was a child, a little baby dragon who couldn’t decide anything for himself!
He pushed himself to his feet and started gathering the shards of emerald, popping them into his mouth. “I never should’ve told her anything,” he grumbled, mouth half-full. Just because he was alone, she’d started getting idiotic ideas about “helping” him. Well, he didn’t need her help, and he didn’t need her! Hopefully she finally understood that now.
Once the emerald pieces were all cleaned up, Greenfire reached out and closed his claw over the torch, snuffing it out. There. Alone and in the dark, just like Rarity had said. Just the way he liked it. He could see just fine anyway with the little light that filtered in. And there was no one to bother him with stupid gossip and stupider ideas.
He settled in on his hoard, still grumbling to himself. A gemstone caught under one of his scales, poking annoyingly, and he reached under himself to pull it out.
It was that flawless sapphire he’d gotten months ago. The one that looked almost exactly like a certain cutie mark.
With a snarl, Greenfire yanked it up to his mouth, jaws poised. It would only take one snap to reduce it to lunch.
He held that pose for several seconds. One of his fins twitched involuntarily.
And then he sighed and slumped down on the floor, tossing the unharmed sapphire back onto the pile. He rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling of his cave.
No one to bother him. Yeah. And no one to tell him stories, or bring him books and sweets. No one to go digging for gems with. No one to smile at him like he was more important than anything else.
No one to care.
“I really am a menace.”