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Greenfire

Chapter Text

“And... there!” Rarity let her breath out as the ruby she’d been levering out of the earth finally came free, dirt crumbling off its facets. “Hah hah!” she squealed triumphantly, holding it up to the light. “Oh, you’ve outdone yourself this time, Rarity, darling! What a marvelous find!”

The sun hung low, nearly touching the horizon, its glow blanketing the valley in oranges and reds. It had been a long, tiring day of searching and digging, but Rarity’s bulging saddlebags spoke to the trip being well worth the effort. It was always a pain to come up to the Rambling Rock Ridge and dig for gems, especially considering she had nopony to help her. But true genius occasionally required sacrifice, and for the sake of her art, Rarity could cope with dirt and exertion for an afternoon.

The unicorn tucked the newfound ruby away in her bag, barely able to tug the cover fully closed. Well worth the effort, indeed. This would easily take her through her next two weeks of commissions, with enough left over to deck out a display mannequin or two. And just in time, with the sun about to set. “I do believe,” Rarity mused aloud, “it’s time for a well-earned rest.”

Suddenly her horn lit up like a light bulb, the tug of her magic enough to yank her head to one side. The combination of the light in her eyes and the magical pull made Rarity stumble, disoriented, and by the time she had her balance again, she’d already been dragged several feet. “What on earth?” she breathed.

Tentatively, Rarity took a step toward the source of the pull. She hadn’t felt anything like this since the day she got her cutie mark. It was distant but powerful, the call of a source of jewels larger than any she’d ever discovered before. She could feel it right down to her bones, and it was swiftly replacing all apprehension with an eager curiosity. Exhausted or not, she simply had no choice but to investigate.

She carefully slid her saddlebags off and tucked them into one of the holes she’d dug. Ever prepared, she had tucked a spare set under the strap, just in case. Next was a layer of dirt over the full bags, to hide them from roaming eyes; unhidden, any items she left in the valley were unlikely to stay there. With the spare bags draped over her back, she was ready to go.

Rarity followed the magical pull, over and around the peaks of dirt and stone that bordered the valley of the Rambling Rock Ridge. It seemed to be coming from the other side, so a bit of searching led her to a rough path that curled behind the mountains. The path ran uncomfortably close to the edge of the Everfree Forest, which made her a bit nervous—she’d never been into that forest, only heard the stories that ponies told in hushed voices, the rumors of basilisks and manticores and other horrid beasts. Still, the promise of the gold at the end of the rainbow (so to speak) drew her inexorably forward.

The path wasn’t easy to navigate, especially considering how tired Rarity already was. She took it one step at a time, lighting the way with her horn as the sun dipped lower. Finally it led her to a very well hidden cavern, facing outward toward the forest. The entrance blended in so well with the outcroppings of rock around it, she doubted she’d ever have stumbled across it without her magic.

She paused at the cave mouth to turn up the intensity of her magical illumination, then ventured inward. The ground was smoother there, easier to traverse, but she kept her slow, careful pace. She could still sense that treasure trove up ahead, drawing closer and closer...

And all of a sudden, there it was. Rarity’s eyes went wide as the huge pile of gemstones came into the radius of her light. Why, there had to be hundreds there! It was astonishing, breathtaking, the most amazing deposit she’d ever seen. They were utterly flawless, perfectly faceted jewels of every color she could imagine. And they were mixed with shiny coins of all denominations, pieces of pony jewelry, little statues and sculptures...

In an instant, everything changed. Rarity’s blood went cold as she realized exactly what she was seeing. A huge pile of gems, coins, and other valuable items, in the back of a dark cave? There was only one explanation for what all this was, and why it was here. Only one creature that would gather all of these precious things together. She had to get out before—

“You must think you’re pretty clever.”

Rarity jumped as if she’d been stung by a bee, spinning to face the voice that had come from the cave mouth. It was just as she’d feared: blindly, idiotically, she’d trotted right into the lair of a dragon. And it had her trapped.

The beast towered over her, casting a shadow on the stalactites overhead. The light from her horn illuminated its lavender scales and reptilian green eyes. Behind it, she could see its tail lashing back and forth—if dragons were anything like her darling Opalescence, she knew that was not a good sign.

It spoke again, voice cold, white teeth gleaming in the light of her magic. “Sneaking into my cave while I’m hunting. At least you’re smarter than the ponies who tried to fight me. But how many idiot knights do I have to go through before you start getting the picture?”

Rarity couldn’t respond, terror freezing her tongue. She shrank away from the monster, but halted when she felt cool metal under her hooves. It was backing her right into its hoard. Would it then take that as proof she was there to steal from it?

The dragon followed her pace by pace, though its stride was slightly longer than hers. “Maybe I should just stop playing around. Well?” Its head was close enough that she could feel the heat of its breath. One quick snap was all it would take for it to bite right through her neck... “Gimme one good reason not to roast you right now.”

Rarity trembled helplessly. Her mouth moved silently, her mind grasped desperately for something, anything to say...

And then, suddenly, she found it.

Well, for a start, that would be an act of absolutely unconscionable rudeness!”

Rudeness?” The dragon leaned away slightly, giving her a skeptical glare. “Are you arguing manners with a dragon?”

“Yes! Yes, I am!” Rarity exclaimed. She straightened up, looking the dragon in the eyes and standing her ground as best she could. She sensed a fraction of an advantage, and she knew she had to press it if she wanted to get out of that cave alive. “Might doesn’t make right, you know! Making assumptions about a poor innocent pony and threatening her without giving her a chance to explain... Why, it’s the absolute height of cruelty!”

The dragon’s lip curled slightly, and it leaned forward again, narrowed eyes never leaving hers. “Fine, then,” it said. “You want to explain? Explain. And make it quick.”

Alright, this was her only chance. Rarity breathed deep, summoning up all of her charm and eloquence. “Gladly! As you can see from my cutie mark, my special talent is related to gemstones, so I use a special spell to track them down. I detected a massive treasure trove in this cave, and it wasn’t until I came all the way back here that I realized it belonged to you!

“No matter how beautiful and well-gathered the hoard, I would never dream of stealing from anypony—or anydragon,” she corrected herself. Good, good, she’d even managed to mix a little bit of flattery in there. Now for the finishing touch. Rarity bowed low to the ground, nose nearly touching the stone. “So I do hope you will accept my sincerest apology for intruding in your home.”

Silence. After a few seconds went by with no reply, Rarity dared to glance up past her forelock. The dragon seemed stunned, mouth open and eyes wide. She’d hoped to surprise it, but it seemed she’d been even more successful than she hoped. She stood up, tentatively, realizing as she did that the dragon wasn’t as large as she’d first thought—when it wasn’t rearing up to intimidate her, it was only a head taller than she was, maybe two.

It met her eyes, seeing she had stood up again, and it quickly schooled its expression into indifference—or at least, it tried to. The shock was still clear in its face and voice as it struggled to take back control of the conversation. “Well. That, uh, that little story was amusing enough. If you really haven’t taken anything from my hoard... I suppose I can let you go. Just this once.”

Relief flooded through Rarity’s body, and for an instant she felt as if she might collapse like a rag doll. But she maintained her composure, bowing her head again briefly and smiling winningly up at the dragon. “Thank you so much. I assure you, I haven’t taken so much as a single coin. So, with your leave?”

She edged toward the exit, just a step, and after an agonizingly uncertain second, the dragon slowly shifted to one side, allowing her to pass. She gave it one last brilliant smile before leaving it behind her. Her pace was controlled, careful, calm; it wasn’t until she left the cave entirely that she finally permitted herself to give in to instinct and run.

------

That had certainly been interesting.

With the intruding unicorn gone, Greenfire padded over to his hoard, mentally cataloguing his coins and gems. Everything seemed to be in order. She’d shoved a few coins around, but it looked like none of them were missing, just as she’d claimed. Still, it was a little discomfiting. Ponies almost never managed to get that close to his hoard.

He’d seen them in the forest before, of course, if briefly. And every so often one stuck around long enough to exchange words with him. Mostly those were the daring ones who’d heard rumors about the dragon in the Everfree Forest and come seeking his riches. Luckily, their daring didn’t stand up in the face of his fire breath; it was always child’s play to scare them off. He’d never even had to hurt one yet.

But there was something different about that one. Not only the way she’d found his cave, which only one or two ponies had managed before. Not only the way she seemed to shine from within, almost like a gemstone herself. But the way she’d talked him down from his initial anger with a few short sentences, rather than trying to run. And then she’d actually apologized for entering his cave. Apologized! No pony had ever apologized to him for anything.

No pony had ever talked to him like he was more than a monster.

With a heavy sigh, Greenfire breathed a burst of the flame that had named him toward the ceiling. It wasn’t worth thinking about. He’d lived his whole life alone and never had reason to complain. He was happy. He’d done quite well for himself. He didn’t need or want any more than that.

So he curled up tight on his hoard and closed his eyes, willing away the nagging feeling of something bubbling in the pit of his stomach, and trying to ignore the fact that, brief and confrontational though it may have been, it was still the longest conversation he’d had in months.

Chapter Text

It was two weeks later that Greenfire saw that unicorn again.

He didn’t usually go out to the Rambling Rock Ridge before sunset, but his stomach was growling like mad, and he hadn’t indulged his “sweet” tooth in a while. A nice bite of emerald or topaz was just what the doctor ordered. Hey, maybe he’d even find a ruby. They’d always been his favorite.

These thoughts bouncing around in his head, feeling almost carefree for once, Greenfire clambered over the cliff that separated the ridge from the Everfree Forest.

And there she was.

Reflexively, Greenfire ducked behind an outcropping of stone, peering out at the figure down in the valley. She didn’t seem to have noticed him. Sheesh, he was getting careless, taking this long to notice a pony so close to his territory.

It was definitely the unicorn he’d met in his cave. Same coloration, same absurdly large curls in her mane and tail. How much time did she have to spend in the morning putting each hair into place? Greenfire didn’t know anything about pony manecare, but it seemed like such a waste of effort.

But as much as she obviously cared about her appearance, she didn’t seem to have a problem with manual labor. She was levitating a small shovel, digging away at the dirt with a surprising ferocity. The reason for her enthusiasm became obvious when she unearthed a glimmering emerald, bigger than her own hoof. Greenfire couldn’t help but stare, almost drooling over the delicious-looking jewel.

It went on like that. The glow of her horn’s magic would briefly surge, and she would home in on a section of the dirt and dig. Invariably she would come away with a gleaming gemstone, each shinier and more appetizing than the last. Right, she’d mentioned a spell that let her find jewels. Greenfire had never exactly envied unicorns their magic, but he wouldn’t have minded a spell like that. The question was, what did she need with the gems? Ponies didn’t eat them, he knew that much. Was she looking for riches? Did she just like to collect them, the same way he did? A pony with a hoard... That was a funny thought.

She was kind of pretty, for a pony. Her mane bobbed slightly as she worked, always holding its shape, and it drew his eyes to her face. Her eyes sparkled like sapphires, framed by her long lashes and the pale blue on her eyelids. She managed to look elegant, almost regal, even as she was digging up gems with a levitating shovel.

The sun melded with the horizon, and Greenfire jolted in place as he suddenly noticed the hues of orange that streaked the sky. Had he really been watching her that long? It was interesting to see a pony that wasn’t screaming in either fear or anger, but he was wasting time just sitting there and watching her dig. “What’s wrong with me?” the dragon muttered under his breath.

When he looked back down again, he found the pony focusing her attention on one particular divot. But the motions of the shovel were slowing, and her breaths coming faster. She was obviously growing tired; she’d already been in the valley for a while before he’d gotten there. She paused in her work, glancing up at the sun, then down at the dirt again. And finally she sighed, placed the shovel in one of her saddlebags, and turned back toward Ponyville. It wasn’t long before silence settled over the Rambling Rock Ridge again.

Once she was completely out of sight, Greenfire leapt down to the pit she’d left behind, a mixture of curiosity and greed spurring him on. They were deep underground—it took several minutes of digging to finally get to them, enough time that he began to doubt her magic had been accurate. But his claws were up to the task, and soon the gems were finally unearthed.

And oh, what beautiful gems they were. There were four clumped together in the dirt: a fist-sized ruby, a flawless sapphire, a sparkling amethyst, and a diamond as clear as spring water. These were far too good for snacking; they would make a wonderful addition to his hoard. The dragon scooped them up with one foreleg and started up the rock face, ready to make the short trip back to his cave.

But something stopped him.

What was it? He just didn’t feel right. She’d done half the work to find the gems, detecting them and then starting to dig them up. If not for her, he’d never have known to dig right there. Taking them felt like... theft. He’d never cared about that sort of thing before, but now, for some reason, it didn’t sit right in his stomach.

She hadn’t stolen anything from him. That was it. She could have looted from his hoard, but she hadn’t. A pony had the moral high ground over him. He bristled, prideful, at the thought. There was no way he was going to let a pony show him up like that. So he couldn’t keep the gems. But leaving them there would just invite those infuriating Diamond Dogs to come by and steal them. So that only left...

Greenfire groaned. This was the stupidest idea he’d ever had. But there was no way around it. So be it, then. It wasn’t like he had anything to fear, right? He was a dragon! He could go anywhere and do anything he pleased!

But... he’d wait until dark.

------

A loud noise from outside the boutique woke Rarity from her slumber. Rain pattered gently against the roof as she rose to consciousness. She lifted off her sleeping mask and squinted at her bedroom window, trying to decide if it was worth getting up to investigate. There was surely no one in Ponyville who would try to steal from her, but she wouldn’t put it past certain residents to play a night-time prank... Well, as long as she was awake, she supposed there was no harm in checking.

It seemed to have come from just outside, so Rarity slowly made her way down to the first floor. Opalescence dashed up to her, clearly outraged that anypony had dared to disturb her slumber. “There there, Opal, darling, it’s alright,” Rarity said, suppressing a tiny yawn. “Mommy just needs to look outside.” She couldn’t see anything through the windows, so she opened the top half of the front door and carefully leaned outside. A glint of reflected light caught her eyes and drew them down to the grass.

Gemstones? No, not just any gemstones. These were the gems she’d left behind a few hours ago! The very same ones she’d been too exhausted to finish digging up. She’d been half convinced they were lost to whoever else stumbled across them. How in the world had they ended up on her doorstep? She certainly didn’t believe they’d dug themselves out of the dirt and walked down from the Rambling Rock Ridge. So what kind soul was responsible for bringing them to her?

Rarity opened the other half of the door and stepped out into the light rain. She focused her magic into a spotlight and cast it around the area along with her gaze. Surely there had to be a clue somewhere. A note her mysterious benefactor had left, or perhaps a trail in the grass...

Or a large round hoofprint in a patch of mud. She dashed over to it—only to stare in shock. It wasn’t a hoofprint. It was a clawprint, with three clawed toes extending from one side. Almost in a trance, Rarity reached out and placed one hoof in the print. About an inch of space on either side. Just the right size for some creature a head taller than she was, maybe two. Some creature with claws, scales, and absolutely no reason to give her any gemstones when it could keep them for its own hoard...

Rarity had put the dragon out of her mind since their encounter two weeks ago. She’d had a bit of an adventure, narrowly escaping from the clutches of a terrible (if easily outfoxed) monster, and now she could stay out of the Everfree Forest and never have to worry about it again. That was what she’d thought... But now she didn’t know what to think. It had been watching her in the valley, for who knew how long. It could have attacked her at any time, but it hadn’t. It could have at the very least kept the gems she’d left behind—and honestly she wouldn’t have blamed it if it had—but it hadn’t.

Common knowledge about dragons (what little there was) said they cared about nothing but themselves, that they were slaves to their greed. What else did common knowledge have wrong?

How long she spent thinking and staring at the clawprint, she couldn’t say. At the very least, it was long enough for Opal to yowl in complaint at the cool air blowing in. And long enough for the rain to fully soak into her mane, causing her forelock to droop down into her face and startle her out of her contemplation. In a daze, she shuffled back into the boutique, picking up her gemstones and bringing them in with her.

No, they weren’t hers. Or at the least, they weren’t just hers. Rarity nodded to herself, suddenly firm with determination. She would hold on to them for now. And tomorrow, after the boutique closed for the day, she had someone to talk to.

Chapter Text

“I cannot believe,” Rarity sighed, “that I am actually doing this.” The path to the dragon’s cave was still damp from the rain the night before, but it wasn’t a problem as long as she took it slowly. And she certainly was taking it slowly; part of her was very happy to delay her arrival as long as possible.

The resolution that had seemed so right in the middle of the night wasn’t quite so strong under the light of the sun. Entering a dragon’s lair accidentally was one thing, but walking back into it purposely? She could easily remember the fear she’d felt two weeks ago, trapped, helpless, fully believing that she was about to be burned or eaten alive.

But the more she thought about the short conversation they’d had, the more she had to wonder. It had mentioned ponies that had tried to fight it. How many treasure seekers had it been forced to deal with in the past? If the Carousel Boutique were constantly under siege by ponies aiming to steal her dresses, she could well imagine she’d have a bit of a short temper too.

Rarity was intensely curious about the dragon. How long had it lived in the forest? How did it pass the time? Why had it given her the gemstones when she’d never have known if it kept them? There was only one way to answer those questions. Coming out to its cave again was risky, but Rarity had never allowed fear to rule her life, and she didn’t intend to start now.

Of course, that didn’t mean she wasn’t going to be careful.

“Excuse me!” Rarity called into the cave. She was several feet back from the entrance; if the dragon emerged angry, the distance would give her enough of a head start to flee. “Mr. Dragon, sir? I apologize if I’m disturbing you, but I was wondering if you would be amenable to a... a little chat.”

Silence. Well, she could hardly blame it if it felt suspicious. “I promise I have no intentions toward your hoard,” she continued. “All I want is to talk to you. I’ll leave if you want me to, but I do hope you’ll give me a chance?”

Still no response. Rarity began to wonder if the dragon was even home. But soon she heard the distant echo of claws scraping against stone. The beast emerged from the shadows slowly, eyeing Rarity with no little suspicion. “So it is you,” it eventually said. “You actually came back. You know, most ponies are smart enough to stay away after I scare them off.”

Rarity sniffed, ignoring the implicit insult in the statement. “Yes, well, I am hardly like ‘most ponies’.”

“Yeah. I noticed.” Rarity furrowed her brow. Was that an insult? She couldn’t tell, and the dragon wasn’t exactly forthcoming with explanations. It studied her for a few more seconds before seeming to come to a decision. “Alright, come on in. But touch anything and I’m tossing you out by your tail.”

“Of course.”

It turned around and walked back into the cave, and she followed, proud of herself for only being a little anxious. Halfway in, she swallowed a yelp as a burst of green flame exploded in front of her. When her sight cleared, she could see the dragon, tucking a flickering torch into a small crevice in the wall.

“Why, thank you!” Rarity said immediately, pleased that it had thought of her comfort. “It’s so nice to be shown a bit of hospitality.”

The brief look of disbelief the dragon shot her was honestly rather amusing. She could almost hear it think, ‘What’s wrong with her priorities?’ It shook its head and curled up on its hoard, and she settled a few feet in front of it. “So why are you back here?” it asked.

“Because of these.” Rarity opened her saddlebags and levitated the four gems out, bringing them around to hover between her and the dragon. “You brought them to my boutique last night, did you not?”

The dragon averted its eyes, turning to one side. It didn’t speak, but its evasion was answer enough.

Rarity nodded knowingly. “I thought so. I presume you were watching me, then, when I was attempting to dig them up?”

That remark got more of a reaction. The dragon turned back toward her with a scowl. “Hey, it’s not like I was looking for you, okay? I came out to get a snack and there you were.”

“Of course. I certainly didn’t mean to imply anything.” So transparent. She couldn’t help but smile. “But I do find it fascinating that you chose to give them back to me rather than keep them...”

It frowned and looked away again. She never would have expected a dragon to be so... well, awkward was the only word that seemed to fit. “I just... didn’t wanna owe you anything. And if I’d left them there, the Diamond Dogs would’ve come for them.”

That wasn’t a set of words Rarity had expected to hear together. “‘Diamond Dogs’? What on earth are those?”

The dragon shrugged. “Well, basically what they sound like,” it said. “They’re a bunch of mutts that live in caves under the Rambling Rock Ridge. I don’t know or care why they love gemstones so much, but they’ll do anything to get their paws on one.”

Rarity shivered delicately. “They live underneath the ridge? Oh, dear. I’ve been digging there for years, and I had no idea.” If they had ever come after her during one of her trips... It was disturbing to imagine.

“Yeah, well, that’s no surprise. They don’t come up to the surface much.” The dragon breathed on its claws, buffing them against its scaly chest in a remarkably recognizable expression of pride. “You can thank me for that. The one that tried to sneak in here two summers ago is probably still growing back his fur.”

The dragon seemed to be playing it off as a joke, but still imagining the danger a pack of jewel-stealing dogs could have posed to one lone mare, Rarity found herself feeling very grateful indeed. “Well, then, it seems I have more to thank you for than I realized. But that brings me back to the reason I came.” She set the four gemstones down on the stone floor of the cave. “I, too, do not like to owe anything to anypony, when I can help it. So considering that we shared the work of unearthing these gems, I felt we should also share the gems themselves.”

The dragon stared at the gems for a moment, then looked back at her with a skeptical frown. “Uh-huh. And next you’re gonna tell me I’ve won the million bit lottery, right?”

“Is it really that hard to believe?” Rarity asked primly.

The flat look became, if possible, even flatter. “Uh, yeah? No pony’s ever wanted to give me anything but a sword to the gut, so why should you be different?”

She turned her nose up. “Hmph. I understand that you may never have dealt with a truly refined mare like myself before. But it ought to be obvious that I am nothing like the jewel-stealing ruffians that may have troubled you in the past.”

“Oh, yeah? I guess you’re pretty special, huh? That why you don’t look scared?” The dragon reached out and slammed one claw into the stone, between her and the jewels. “I could just drive you out of my cave and keep them all for myself now. You realize that, right?” Its expression seemed fierce at first glance, but Rarity’s trained eye caught the uncertainty below the surface. It was challenging her to remain calm; in fact, it seemed to her that the dragon wanted her to rise to the challenge.

Which she would. She nodded, unphased. “Of course I do. You certainly could... But I don’t believe that you would. If you were that kind of dragon, you wouldn’t have brought them back to me in the first place, now, would you?” It didn’t answer, so she gently nudged, “Am I right?”

“Yeah,” it finally admitted, pulling its claw back. “But don’t go telling everypony, alright? I’ve got a reputation to keep.”

Fighting the urge to roll her eyes—stallions would be stallions, even when they were dragons, apparently—Rarity just laughed politely. “I assure you, Mr. Dragon, that your secret is safe with me.”

The dragon snorted, giving her an appraising look. “...Greenfire.”

“Hmm?”

“That’s my name. Greenfire.”

“Oh! Yes, of course!” Rarity blushed, ashamed to think she’d gone so long without giving her own name. “I’m so sorry for my rudeness! My name is Rarity. I must say, it is a pleasure to finally be formally introduced.”

The dragon quirked an eyebrow. “A pleasure? You really are a weird pony.” But before she could get properly outraged by the comment, Greenfire... smiled. A lopsided grin, but a genuine one, the first one Rarity had seen on its muzzle. On his muzzle. “Not that I’m complaining,” he chuckled, resting his chin on his crossed forelegs.

Rarity felt an answering smile slip onto her face. The grin had displayed Greenfire’s long teeth once again, a sharp flash of white against the lavender of his scales, but she wasn’t afraid. She felt comfortable, even safe. Greenfire was a dragon, but all of his actions so far had proven that he was far from being a monster.

“I shall take that as a compliment, then,” she said regally. “Now, about the gems...”

“Oh, right.” Greenfire glanced down at the gems, resting on the floor of his cave. “How did you wanna split them up?”

“I believe a 50-50 split would be suitable, don’t you?” Greenfire nodded after a moment’s thought, so Rarity continued. “First of all... I think you should take the diamond.” She slid it forward toward him, not without a little regret. “I would dearly love to keep it, but its shape is just too inconvenient for my purposes. I would be forced to... cut it.” A little ladylike shudder. “I’m sure you’ll agree that that would be a tragedy.”

“Huh, yeah,” Greenfire agreed, reaching out to lift the diamond into his palm. He sounded distracted, but Rarity wasn’t left wondering why for long. “That reminds me, I’ve been wondering. What do you want gems for, anyway? I didn’t think ponies hoarded like us dragons do.”

Rarity giggled. She hadn’t realized that he might wonder about that, but of course, how could a dragon be expected to know about pony fashion? “Oh, darling, I don’t hoard them, I use them! Gemstones like these are the perfect accents to the dresses I create in the Carousel Boutique!”

Greenfire’s brows scrunched up, making him look adorably baffled. “Dresses? So you wear them?”

“Yes, of course! From day to day, mind you, most ponies prefer to go au naturel, as it were. But on special occasions, or when one wishes to stand out from the crowd—well! That is precisely what my creations are meant for! To enhance a pony’s inner beauty and ensure that no one around can tear their eyes away!” By the end of her miniature speech, Rarity was posing proudly, head thrown back and chest puffed out, smiling with the confidence that true genius supplied.

He still looked skeptical, but Greenfire seemed to be content enough with that explanation. “I guess that’s no weirder than hoarding them,” he said.

“Of course it isn’t!” Rarity insisted. “So you’ll keep the diamond, then. The amethyst would be perfect for a project I’m working on, so if I may?”

“Yeah, sure.”

She beamed. “Thank you! That leaves the ruby and the sapphire. Do you have any preference?”

Greenfire took a good look at the two remaining gems. He took his time, gaze shifting between her and the jewels, but she imagined the question was probably academic in the end. The ruby was of slightly better quality and easily twice as large, so no doubt he’d want—

“The sapphire,” he said, plucking it off the ground.

“Rea—” Rarity stopped herself mid-word. If he wanted to give her that beautiful ruby, she wasn’t about to try to talk him out of it. “As you wish!” she said instead, gathering up the amethyst and ruby before he could change his mind. “I’m so glad we could come to an accord!”

“Yeah. Me too.” Greenfire didn’t sound glad, though. He laid back down on his hoard, watching the flickering torchlight as it bounced off the facets of the sapphire.

“Is something the matter?” she asked, taking a step toward him.

“Oh, no, no,” the dragon replied unconvincingly. He glanced past her, to the cave entrance. “It’s getting dark.”

Surprised by the change of topic, Rarity turned to look. Sure enough, the light of the sun was fading fast. “Oh dear, it certainly is.”

Greenfire nodded. “You should probably get going. You did get what you came for, right? Or ‘give’. Whatever.”

Oh. So that was it. Rarity hid a smile behind her hoof as she looked at the sulking dragon. He really was terrible at hiding his feelings, wasn’t he? If he thought that she was just going to leave him lonely now that they’d shared the gems... Well, she clearly would have to teach him better than that.

“Greenfire,” she said warmly. “May I... come back to speak with you again?”

He sat up straight, eyes wide. “You... You wanna come back?”

“Of course! This has been a very pleasant conversation. I must confess, I’m still quite curious about you and your lifestyle.” Tentatively, ready to backpedal if necessary, she placed a hoof gently atop his claw. “And dragon or no, I would like very much to call you ‘friend’.”

Rarity had never imagined that a dragon could blush, but Greenfire could and did, cheeks turning a faint pink. He leaned away from her, but didn’t move his claw. “Uh, that—I-I guess that’s alright.”

“Wonderful.” Rarity smiled and turned half toward the entrance. “I’ll visit some time next week, if I may?”

Greenfire waved a claw aimlessly, still distracted and still blushing. “Sure, that’s fine. If I’m out, just wait on the path and I’ll show up sooner or later.”

Rarity beamed one last time, the widest, brightest smile in her entire repertoire. “I will. Well, then... Au revoir!”

------

Quiet again. After such a long conversation, the sudden silence seemed so strange.

Greenfire scratched his cheek thoughtfully. He imagined he could still feel the warmth that had briefly filled it, or the cool touch of Rarity’s hoof on the back of his claw.

He groaned and shook his head, as if shaking dust out of his ears. Why was he acting so bizarre around that weird unicorn? Dragons weren’t supposed to hang out with ponies, and they definitely weren’t supposed to care about having friends. Dragons were solitary. They were fierce beasts, heartless hunters. Right?

Greenfire glanced at a certain spot in the back of his cave, then rolled his eyes with a sigh. “Yeah. Like I’d know.”

He got up to blow out the torch he’d lit, but halfway to it, he felt a stray gemstone under his claw. “Oh yeah, I almost forgot about you two,” he chuckled, scooping up the two gems he’d kept. Rarity had seemed surprised that he hadn’t chosen the ruby. And ordinarily he would have, but he’d been struck with a sudden... sentimentality of sorts.

He didn’t think she’d noticed. It was wider, after all, and the blue was several shades darker. But aside from that, the sapphire was a pretty close match to the trio of jewels in her cutie mark. And as an additional pleasant coincidence, the crystal-clear diamond was probably the closest any gemstone could come to the pristine white of her fur.

Greenfire set the two gems down with the rest of his hoard, giving them a faint smile. He wasn’t entirely convinced Rarity would really return, although she’d already proven him wrong once. But if she didn’t, at least he would have this memento. A pleasant little reminder of the time a pony said she wanted to be his friend.

Chapter Text

Greenfire stared at the floor of his cave.

Before him rested a pink checkered tablecloth, on which rested a large silver platter, on which rested a small porcelain saucer, on which rested a tiny white tea cup. The cup was filled with a steaming brown liquid; he felt safe in assuming that it was some form of tea.

The dragon looked back up at his guest. “Really?”

A week after her second visit to Greenfire’s cave, Rarity had returned for the third. And just like the week before, she had not come empty-hooved. But what she’d brought with her this time was something much stranger than a bag full of gems.

Rarity smiled at him, lifting the teapot to fill her own cup. “Whatever could be the matter, Greenfire?”

“Gee, I wonder. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything more absurd in my life.”

She shook her head. “Oh, now, don’t be silly. I see nothing absurd about having tea with a friend.”

“Yeah, nothing apart from everything. Look at this!” He gestured at the little setup. “You brought a tea set into a dragon’s cave!”

“And?” she responded archly. “Why should a dragon not be allowed to enjoy a pleasant cup of tea just like anypony else?”

Greenfire paused briefly, then sighed and rolled his eyes. “Y’know what, I’m just gonna give up now. No sense arguing with a mad pony.”

“Well done, darling,” Rarity teased. “You’re learning already.”

With a valiant effort, he successfully fought off the urge to slap a claw over his face. But only just. Instead the claw plucked the tea cup off the saucer, and he lifted it up to his eye. There were flowers around the rim of it.

“Careful! This tea set is very fragile, you know.”

Greenfire gave the unicorn another baffled look. ‘Then why drag it all up here?’ he wanted to ask. He didn’t understand why she was bothering with all of this. Why she was going to so much trouble for him. Why she was different from every other pony in Equestria.

To distract himself, he gulped the tea down. Rarity frowned, but didn’t draw attention to his undoubtedly dreadful table manners. Surprisingly, it was actually fairly tasty. “Huh... Not bad.”

Rarity’s frown vanished. “I’m glad you like it. Would you care for another cup, or perhaps a cupcake?”

Greenfire tilted his head. “Cupcake?”

“You haven’t heard of—oh dear, it’s a good thing I’m here! Please, have one.” She levitated a little pastry out of her basket, peeling off the scrap of paper that covered the bottom half.

With a bit of uncertainty, Greenfire took it. He wasn’t prepared for it to be so soft, and it was a little mangled by the time it got to his lips. But he’d eaten far worse, so with only a sliver of hesitation, he popped it into his mouth.

His eyes went wide. “Mmm! It’f fweet!” Far sweeter than anything he’d ever tasted before. But it was good. He was torn between gulping it down greedily or leaving it in his mouth to enjoy the taste longer... but then he heard a most unladylike snort come from the other side of the tablecloth.

When he looked at Rarity again, she was biting her lip, shoulders shaking with suppressed laughter. “I-I’m so sorry, Greenfire, I... The expression on your face was... There, there are more cupcakes if you would like another?”

Greenfire scowled and swallowed the little treat. “Glad you’re having fun,” he muttered, groaning internally at how wounded his voice sounded. Maybe it was just so hilarious, a dragon who didn’t know the first thing about pony food or pony drinks or pony anything, but she didn’t have to—

“Wait—” Her hoof was on his claw again, before he could lift it to turn away from her. She looked genuinely contrite, all laughter gone. “I am sorry, truly I am. I didn’t mean to laugh at you. It was just a bit unexpected.”

His claw tightened once, involuntarily, before he settled down again. “Alright. I... guess I should probably be a little less sensitive.”

Rarity shook her head, curls bouncing delicately. “No, I’m the one who should have taken your feelings into consideration.” She tapped her lip thoughtfully. “If it helps... I have it on good authority that the first time I tasted one of Pinkie Pie’s strawberry cupcakes, I made an even more embarrassing face than that.”

“Oh, really?” Greenfire chuckled despite himself. “Sorry I couldn’t have seen that.”

“I’m not,” Rarity said firmly. But the barest hint of a smile tugged at her lips.

The dragon picked up another cupcake, careful not to squish it this time. “So this is a strawberry cupcake, huh? And Pinkie Pie must be the pony who made it?”

“That’s right! She is an acquaintance of mine who works at the Sugarcube Corner, making all manner of sugary delicacies.”

“Well, I wouldn’t mind trying a few more of those, uh, delicacies.” The unfamiliar word came out a syllable at a time. “These are pretty tasty.” He popped the second cupcake into his mouth and chewed slowly, allowing himself to savor it.

Rarity tensed up, reaching out with a hoof again. “Uh, dear, you’re supposed to—” He swallowed, and she winced. “Um. The wrapper?”

Wrapper? Oh, there had been another scrap of paper on it. Greenfire shrugged. “It’s fine,” he said. “There’s not much a dragon’s stomach can’t handle.”

“I... see. As long as you’re enjoying them, I suppose.” She picked up a cupcake of her own and took a tiny bite, far more delicate than any bite the dragon had ever taken in his life.

They sat in polite silence for a while, Rarity nibbling at her cupcake, Greenfire gingerly pouring himself another cup of tea. He picked up his cup, he drank, he set it down. “So, this is what ponies do at a tea party?” he finally asked. “Sit around and talk about... whatever?”

Rarity tittered and nodded. “That’s exactly right. You could say that it’s just an excuse to spend time with one’s friends. But the routine of it, the ritual, if you will, can be very comforting.”

“Comforting?”

“Yes, indeed! For example, my friend Fluttershy is very, well, shy.”

Greenfire made a show of dramatically rolling his eyes. “Gosh, really? I never would’ve guessed.” Ponies sure had weird names.

“Oh, hush.” Rarity slapped his claw, playfully scolding. “But it’s true. She is ever so sweet and a joy to talk to, but new situations and new ponies can make her very nervous. So we have tea parties, salon visits, that sort of thing. The routines are familiar, you see, so she doesn’t have to worry that she’s doing something wrong. Which means she can just relax and enjoy the company.”

The dragon thought that over for a few seconds. “Huh. Yeah, that makes sense. So what do you talk about with her? Just whatever comes to mind?”

“Well, if there hasn’t been anything of note in her life or mine, we just pass some gossip back and forth! News about our friends and acquaintances in Ponyville and elsewhere.” The unicorn beamed. “Would you like to hear an example?”

A single-shoulder shrug was his reply, as he rested his head on one claw. “Sure, why not?”

The gleam that arose in Rarity’s eyes was Greenfire’s first hint that he had committed a grave error.

------

“I had the occasion to speak to Lemon Hearts during a recent shopping trip, and I discovered that she has the most adorable little crush on her pen pal, a Canterlot mare by the name of Strawberry Lime. Lemon and Lime, isn’t it just perfect? But even though she regularly visits Canterlot and has several good friends there, the poor dear is terrified that she doesn’t measure up to nobility, and she absolutely refuses to confess!”

Rarity had tried to hold back. Really, she had.

“Now of course I told her that was nonsense, and anypony who suggested that she was lower than nobility wasn’t worthy of spending a moment in her presence! But she wouldn’t be convinced, so I came up with a second tactic that I like to think was rather clever of me: I informed her that what she needed was lessons in noble etiquette, and who better to give her those lessons than yours truly? Of course, she positively leapt at the offer. I just ought to have made it in a more private venue, because, you see, she wasn’t the only one.”

But she was holding a cozy little tea party, even if her other attendee was of the decidedly masculine (and decidedly draconic) sort, and tea parties just weren’t tea parties without a little gossip!

“I’m afraid I’ll be ending up with quite a class to teach! And I was shocked at some of the ponies who expressed interest! Who would ever have guessed that Caramel was interested in proper etiquette? I can’t imagine why, but I certainly won’t turn him down if he’s willing to learn. Coconut was less of a surprise, considering how often he orders lunch from Horte Cuisine. Really, it amazes me that nopony else sees the looks he gives him!”

And he had said it was alright for her to demonstrate what she talked about with Fluttershy...

“And then, after all of that, I visited Bon Bon’s sweet shop, thinking that surely she would be a bastion of reliability in a day full of romantic turmoil. But what do I discover when I walk in? That she’d broken up with her coltfriend Blue Bonnet just the day before! Of course, I can hardly blame her, if even half of the many transgressions she so lovingly detailed were true. And I’ve always thought he was a bit too... sour for her, tee hee. She’s quite cynical herself, and she needs somepony more cheerful, somepony who can break through her pessimism and show her how much there is to smile about in the world...”

So before she knew it, she was hip-deep in a story about who had asked out who, and who was trying to work up the nerve to propose to who, and who had sworn never to speak to who again, and a good fifteen minutes had passed before she finally realized Greenfire had gone silent and, moreover, was staring at her the way one might stare at the light of an oncoming train.

She paused to take a breath.

Greenfire blinked at her repeatedly, eyes ever so slightly out of focus. Then, just as she was opening her mouth to ask if he was alright, he went limp, dramatically toppling over onto his side.

“Greenfire!” she exclaimed indignantly. “I’ll admit I may have gotten a bit carried away, but it wasn’t that bad!”

The dragon propped up his chin on one claw, giving her a sardonic look. “Are you kidding? I bet that Fluttershy mare isn’t quiet at all, she just can’t get a word in.”

Rarity turned her nose up. “Hmph! If you’re going to be like that, perhaps I’ll just be going.” ‘And I’ll be taking the cupcakes with me,’ she readied herself to continue.

But Greenfire didn’t give her the chance to speak. “W-Wait! I—” He scrambled up off the stone, one claw outstretched as if to stop her, unguarded panic on his face.

Rarity froze for an instant, then smiled a little sadly. She couldn’t help but think that he must have precious few close friendships, to be so desperate to keep hers. “It’s alright,” she assured him. “I was only teasing.”

“...Oh.” Greenfire sat back down, a blush blazing across his cheeks. Honestly, it wasn’t fair that such a big dragon should be so adorable.

She placed her hoof on his claw again and gave him the most sympathetic look she could. “I am trying to keep your feelings in mind, and I’ll continue to do so. But by the same token... If you’re going to tease me, you must expect a little in return.”

Greenfire chuckled sheepishly. “Yeah, I get it. Sorry, I’m still getting used to... this, y’know?” He gestured widely at her and the tea set.

“Believe me,” Rarity said, “I understand completely. It may surprise you to hear this, but you happen to be the first dragon I have ever befriended.”

He gasped and put a claw over his mouth. “You mean you don’t have a whole pack of dragon pals back home? I’m shocked!”

The laugh they shared brightened the mood considerably. After a moment, Rarity reached out to toy with the edge of the tablecloth. If she were completely honest with herself, she had gone overboard. “But I do hope my little speech wasn’t too unpleasant.”

Greenfire shook his head. “No, it’s fine,” he said. “I was just... amazed, I guess. I mean, how do you even remember all those ponies, much less keep track of all that crazy stuff they’re up to?”

“It’s not that difficult, darling. After all, I grew up with most of them! And Ponyville isn’t exactly a small town, but we’re nowhere near the big cities like Manehattan and Canterlot.”

“Yeah, but still...” He drummed his clawtips against the stone. “How many ponies live there?”

Rarity hummed and considered the question, lips pursed. “I can’t say that I’ve ever counted, but... perhaps a few hundred?”

The dragon’s jaw dropped. “Wow. Yeah, no, there’s no way I could keep track of that many names and faces.”

“Really, as I said, it’s not that difficult when you’ve spent your whole life with them. You don’t have trouble remembering your friends, do you?”

Greenfire’s mouth tightened and he glanced to one side. “Well, no, but... I don’t exactly have hundreds,” he said, with a casualness that couldn’t be anything but feigned.

There it was again. Forget “precious few” friendships, she was beginning to wonder if he had any aside from her. Dragons were said to be very territorial, after all... Rarity wanted to ask, but they’d only been on friendly terms for a week. It was far too early to invade his privacy.

Perhaps he would volunteer something on his own? Unlikely, but worth a try. “At any rate,” she said, “I fear I’ve gone on more than long enough for one evening. Why don’t you tell me what you’ve been up to since our last get-together?”

“Huh? Me?” Greenfire sat up a little, looking perplexed.

“Unless you see another dragon in this cave?” Rarity giggled. “I’m simply dying to know what you get up to out here.”

Greenfire settled in again and scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Huh... I dunno if it’s all that interesting. Spent some time rereading a few old books, I guess?”

“Oh, you enjoy reading?” Wasn’t that a lovely mental image? A dragon peacefully reading by torchlight, carefully turning pages with his formidable claws, maybe even with tiny reading glasses perched on his snout. It struck Rarity as almost poetic. “What sort of books do you favor?”

He shrugged at that. “Just whatever I come across, I guess. They aren’t exactly easy to come by out here.”

“I see... Well, why don’t I bring you something from the Ponyville library when I visit next?”

Rarity thought she could spend all day just watching the subtle interplay of emotions that flashed across Greenfire’s face as he thought. He was so open about everything he was feeling, as if he’d never needed to hide it, or even, perhaps, never learned how. Wide-eyed excitement was followed closely by a flash of suspicion, then careful contemplation. “I guess I wouldn’t mind that,” he finally said.

She nodded firmly. “I’ll do my best to choose something you’ll like. So, anything else? I’m sure you didn’t spend an entire week just reading.”

The thoughtful expression stayed, joined by the furrowing of his brow. But soon he seemed to have an answer. “Well,” he said in an all too casual tone, “there was that clan of manticores I ran into three days ago.”

Rarity gasped, front hooves shooting up to cover her mouth. “Manticores? An entire clan of them?” The horror had blown all thoughts of observation from her mind.

“Oh, yeah! Big ones, too.” Greenfire reared up on his hind legs, briefly towering over Rarity, and held one claw up over his head, nearly to the ceiling of the cave. “The tallest one was about this big. And they were not happy to see me.”

“Oh my goodness... If I were to run into even one manticore, I can’t imagine what I would do!” She still remembered the terror of the night she first met Greenfire, and she could picture that fear multiplied by however many monsters he’d faced. “So what happened?” she asked.

“Well, I offered to just turn around and head home, but they were mad for some reason. So they started circling around me in the clearing, and the big one pounced!” Greenfire got on all fours and did a quick horizontal jump. “I was way too fast for him, obviously, but I couldn’t really get away with his friends all around me. And I had to keep an eye on that tail of his, ‘cause manticore poison can even get through dragon scales! So I kept dodging left and right—” He swerved back and forth to illustrate. “—and waiting for him to make a mistake.”

Rarity found herself leaning forward unconsciously as Greenfire told his tale. He had a bit of a knack for it—it was the enthusiasm and emotion in his voice that did it, more than his word choice or grammar—and she would still have been anxious to know what happened next even if it hadn’t actually happened to him. She did suspect he might be embellishing just a touch, though.

“He wasn’t getting tired, so I started tossing some insults at him. If he was even trying, if those claws were just for show... When I asked if his tail had gone dull, that did the trick. He swung it right down at me—!” Greenfire swung his own claw in a swift downward arc.

Crash!

And froze instantly, eyes as wide as the saucer and cup he’d just shattered.

“Greenfire!” Rarity gasped. “Oh, are you alright?”

The dragon lifted his claw slowly, as if willing the shards of porcelain not to be there when he looked down. A few pieces were lodged in between his scales, but as he opened his fist they fell to the stone to join the others. He seemed to be unharmed; scales beat porcelain, apparently.

Rarity winced at the sight of the crushed tableware, but that was a secondary concern to her friend’s well-being. “Don’t worry, dear,” she hurried to reassure him, “they can be replaced. If you’re not hurt, then there’s no harm done!”

Greenfire dropped his head into his claws with a groan. “Oh, don’t try to sugarcoat it. I’m a menace. This has gotta be the worst tea party you’ve ever had, right?”

“Far from it, darling! I’m having a lovely evening, broken cup and all.” She leaned in to whisper conspiratorially, “Remind me one day to tell you what happened when I made the mistake of inviting over the two most energetic mares in Ponyville.”

He peeked out from behind his claws. “Was it bad?”

“It’s been months since the incident, and I am still finding bits of biscuit embedded in the wallpaper!”

That got a laugh out of Greenfire, and he uncurled and stood up again. “Now that sounds like a story I wouldn’t mind hearing.”

Rarity glanced at the cave entrance and sighed; the oranges of sunset were peeking in already. “Another time, I’m afraid. It is getting late.”

“Oh, wow, I guess so. I lost track of time.” Greenfire gathered up the porcelain shards, frowning awkwardly. “You want some help getting this packed up?”

She had already begun to levitate the tea set back into her bags, carefully wrapping up each piece. “I have it under control, but thank you so much for offering! Did you enjoy our little tea party tonight?”

He rubbed his neck and nodded, looking adorably embarrassed but happy. “Yeah, it was... kinda fun. Are you coming back the same time next week?”

“Of cour—” Rarity stopped mid-word. “Oh, no, I’m sorry. I just remembered, I’ll be needing to go digging at the ridge next week. I haven’t been since the day you retrieved those gems for me, and my stock will be running low soon.” She gave him an apologetic smile. “It will have to be the day after, I’m afraid.”

“Hey, that’s fine!” Greenfire said. “Whenever works. My schedule’s open.”

She had suspected, but hadn’t wanted to assume. Rarity nodded and went back to her packing. “I’m so glad to hear that, darling. Eight days it is, then.”

“Huh... Y’know, come to think of it, that was my last trip up there too. Guess it is about time for another.” She could hear the amusement enter his voice. “Don’t worry, I’ll leave one of the nice gems for you when I’m done.”

If you can find them,” she swiftly retorted. He might have the advantage at digging, but she had the advantage at detecting...

So why in the wild, wild world of Equestria were they working alone?

Rarity stopped her packing again and turned toward her dragon friend, beaming winningly as another brilliant idea formed in her head. “Actually, Greenfire... What would you say to a little business proposition?”

Chapter Text

The following week dragged terribly for Rarity. The prospect of an extremely profitable trip to the Rambling Rock Ridge—not to mention more time spent with the dragon who was rapidly becoming a good friend—left her tapping her hoof at work, anxiously awaiting her free day. None of her customers noticed her impatience, of course, thanks to her long-honed skill at putting on a professional face, but she felt it keenly. Until, at long last, the day arrived.

She looked over the contents of her saddlebags one last time. Library books (she wouldn’t dream of forgetting a promise). Three sets of spare bags (she’d never filled more than one before, but she had a good feeling about today). Her shovel (on the off chance Greenfire decided he’d like to use it instead of his claws). And two lunch bags (each containing a sandwich, hay fries, and some more of the Sugarcube Corner’s delicacies). “Everything seems to be in order,” she thought aloud. “Now onward!”

“Oooooh! Onward to where?”

As long as Rarity lived, she would never get used to the way Pinkie Pie just appeared out of nowhere. She was certain there had to be teleporting unicorns somewhere in the party pony’s lineage. Once her heart rate had calmed down, she finished locking up the door of the boutique and turned around. “Good morning, Pinkie. I’m just heading up to the ridge to replenish my store of gemstones.”

Pinkie nodded energetically (not that she ever did anything less than energetically) and opened her mouth to speak—but something suddenly arrested her attention, and she squinted at Rarity. “Waaaait a minute... So how come your bags are already full?”

Rarity felt herself begin to sweat. For all of her flightiness, Pinkie seemed to have a talent for getting really focused exactly when one didn’t want her to. “Well... I’m... packing a lunch! I’m making a day trip of it.”

“Ooh, sounds like fun! Are you gonna have a picnic up there?” Pinkie cheerfully bounced into the air, wiggling her legs until she touched down again. Some detached portion of Rarity’s mind noted that her hang time was quite impressive. “Can I come too?”

Rarity frowned. All of her instincts were telling her to recoil at the idea, but setting that aside, would it be so bad if she brought another pony along with her? Pinkie was one of the friendliest ponies in town, so there was no fear of her rejecting Greenfire for being a dragon. She’d treat him like anypony else, immediately putting together a huge welcoming party and inviting the entire town—

“No!” The cry came out unbidden, and Rarity scrambled to explain herself before the shock on Pinkie’s face could transition into hurt. “I-I’d love to have a picnic with you some time, darling, but today I’ll be digging so much that I simply won’t have time. I couldn’t ask you to help with such unpleasant work.”

“I don’t mind!” Pinkie’s response was instantaneous, and Rarity couldn’t help but smile at her eagerness. There was no such thing as “too much trouble” for her, if it made her friends happy.

But luckily that brought the perfect response to the unicorn’s mind. “That’s ever so kind of you, Pinkie Pie, but won’t the Cakes need you at the bakery?”

“Oh, that’s right.” Pinkie drooped briefly, but soon perked up again. “Well, have fun, Rarity! Hope you find a real gem of a gem!”

“Oh, I’m certain I will,” Rarity tittered. “Enjoy your day, dear!”

She made it out of town without further incident, and from there it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to the path. Rarity shook her head as she walked up toward Greenfire’s cave. They’d dodged a bullet there—Greenfire definitely wasn’t ready to meet Ponyville’s resident partier, much less find himself the center of one of her celebrations. Once he was more comfortable with Rarity, she’d see about helping him meet more ponies, but for now, he was best kept her little secret.

She giggled to herself as she realized what she’d just thought. “A secret rendezvous with a mysterious male...” she mused. “Why, if circumstances were different, this would be the perfect setting for a passionate romance!” But really, a pony and a dragon? What a crazy idea that was.

At the cave mouth, Rarity raised her voice. “Good morning, Greenfire! Are you ready?”

After several long moments, the dragon emerged from his cave. He rubbed his eyes and blinked blearily at her, as if she’d awoken him from a deep slumber. “Rarity? What are you doing up here?”

Rarity chuckled knowingly. “You didn’t forget that we’re digging for gems together, did you?”

That got the dragon to perk up a little, as she’d expected. “Oh, yeah! No, I just... I’m not usually up this early. But I’m ready if you are!”

“Excellent. But before we go...” Rarity opened up her saddlebags and began to levitate the contents out. “I wanted to drop off these books with you.”

Surprisingly, Greenfire seemed to be even more excited by the books than the gems. His eyes lit up and he grinned wide. “Oh, that’s right! Geez, you’re gonna spoil me.”

“Is that a complaint?” she teased.

“No way! So what’d you pick out?” He leaned forward, eager to see the books she’d brought.

She began with some rather hefty textbooks, hovering them over to his open claws. “To start with,” she proclaimed, “a few of my favorites on gemology! I’m certain you’ll find them just as fascinating as I did. And since the language in some of them is rather obtuse, I included a dictionary, just to be safe.”

“Sounds good!” Greenfire eyed the still-bulging saddlebag with a grin. “What else?”

One at a time, the books continued to float out, accompanied by Rarity’s lilting voice. “The rest are my more entertainment-oriented choices. The first and second books in the Daring Do adventure series—I haven’t read them myself, but they come highly recommended. One of my favorite romances, Fragrance of the Lily. And finally, an anthology of old Equestrian myths and legends. It’s written for foals, I’m afraid, but it is the most comprehensive collection I could find, so I hope you’ll still be able to enjoy it.”

The dragon carefully gathered all the books up, stacking them neatly just inside the cave entrance. “Yeah, I’m sure I will. Thanks. I-I mean it, really. It’s been ages since I had something new to read.” He ducked his head and glanced over at Rarity with a shy smile and a blush that almost looked out of place on his snout. But she was quickly growing accustomed to him, with his soft heart sheathed in tough scales.

“I’m glad to help!” she said happily. “But you must be very careful with these. The library will be expecting them back in two weeks, so I’ll pick them up again when I visit then.”

Greenfire sat up straight and saluted. “Got it! I’ll guard ‘em with my life!”

“Oh, you don’t have to go that far, darling. Just keep them away from, oh, say, any open flames that might appear in or around your cave?” She lifted an eyebrow teasingly.

“Gosh, I dunno how anything like that would happen...” he retorted. “Don’t worry, I’ll be careful. Promise.”

“That’s all I needed to hear.” Rarity briefly considered teaching him the Pinkie Promise, but quickly decided against it. “Now, are we ready to start our little expedition?”

His eyes lit up, and he leapt to his feet like a puppy ready for walkies. Oh, goodness, if he started wagging his tail, she would simply die. “You bet! Let’s go!”

Rarity chuckled and turned around to take the path back toward the ridge. She hadn’t trotted more than a few steps, though, before she heard his voice again. “Wait, where are you going?”

She met his confused expression with one of her own. “To the Rambling Rock Ridge, where else? Unless you know a better route?”

“Uh, yeah?” Greenfire gestured toward the rocky mountains that bordered the forest. “It’s right on the other side of this cliff.”

Rarity rolled her eyes. “Which may be an easy trip for you, but some of us were not blessed with the gift of claws.” And even if she had been capable of such a climb, the thought of clambering over those rocks and getting herself unnecessarily dirty was absolutely abhorrent. Just because she tolerated the mess of her gem-digging trips didn’t mean she enjoyed it.

Greenfire looked back at the mountains, as if seeing them for the first time. “Oh, yeah... Well, what if I just carried you over?”

“Wha—Really, now!” Rarity scoffed. “Of all the awkward, undignified suggestions! Can you imagine how absurd we would look?”

“Oh, who cares about that? There’s nopony here to see, and who would I tell?”

Rarity frowned. There was some truth to that, but he would still see. “Regardless of who sees and who does not see, to be carted about like—like a piece of luggage—”

“Luggage? What do you think I’m gonna do, sling you over my shoulder? Sheesh.” Greenfire crouched down until his stomach touched the dirt, beckoning to Rarity with one claw. “Just hop on my back and I’ll take you right over.”

“Oh, so like a backpack, then,” Rarity retorted. “Yes, I see, that’s quite an improvement.”

Now it was Greenfire’s turn to roll his eyes. “Do you wanna argue all day or do you wanna go dig? The sooner we get over there, the sooner we can start filling those bags up again, right?”

That got her to pause. It was, after all, a long walk down the path and around to the ridge. The footing was a touch precarious in places, to boot. Nothing she couldn’t handle, naturally, but the prospect of skipping it did appeal. “Well... I suppose it would be alright,” she finally conceded. “As long as nopony ever hears of it, you understand?”

“My lips are sealed,” he laughed. “Now come on already so we can go.”

Rarity stepped toward the crouching dragon, swallowing as she drew close. They were friends now, and she’d stopped being afraid of him two weeks ago, but getting close to him made her aware of just how imposing he was. He was a little larger than even Big Macintosh, the biggest pony in Ponyville, and he was all sharp claws and tough scales. Still, Rarity remembered the blush that had moments ago stained those scales red. She knew instinctively, the same way she knew her own name, that he would never harm her.

Tentatively she climbed up his side and onto his back, using his knee as a step to get herself up there. Green spines ran all the way from his head down to his tail, but to her surprise, they bent easily underneath her, yielding to her touch, more like the flexible fins on his cheeks than the rigid plates she had expected. She pushed them to one side, as delicately as she could, and laid down.

He was warm. Winter had been wrapped up over two months ago, but the weather still had its chilly moments, and Rarity was surprised at how lovely it felt to be draped over his back. And something else that felt lovely was the muscle that tensed under her as he shifted his weight, readying himself for the climb. She’d obviously already known that Greenfire was male, but the close contact was a sharp reminder.

He stood up straight, lifting her with imperceptible effort, and she shivered. No, not simply male. The word she was looking for was masculine.

Maybe it’s not such a crazy idea after all, hmm?

Heat instantly flooded Rarity’s face. She shook her head vigorously, as if to shake the involuntary thought out. “No, no, no, stop that right now,” she told herself.

“What’s that?” Greenfire asked from underneath her.

“Nothing! I’m ready when you are.”

She wrapped her forelegs around Greenfire’s neck as he nodded and began the climb. His movements were slow but sure, claws finding places to grip as if he knew them by heart. Which he probably did, come to think of it, if he’d lived in that cave as long as it seemed. He was as surefooted as a mountain goat on the rocky slope, making his way up foot by foot.

In a fit of foolish confidence, Rarity glanced behind them to see how far they’d come. She was rewarded with a lovely view of the thirty-or-more-foot drop back to the path. “Bad idea,” she muttered under her breath, jerking her head back and tightening her grip on the dragon’s neck.

Perhaps a minute later, Greenfire’s voice broke the silence. “Alright, here we are!” Rarity realized her eyes were clenched shut, and she pried them open. Sure enough, they’d crested the cliff, and the Rambling Rock Ridge was just ahead and below. This side was much less steep, so there was no longer any danger of falling more than a few feet at a time.

“Wonderful. Thank you, darling,” she said, climbing off his back with only a sliver of reluctance. “I... think I’d prefer to take the long way back, though. We’ll have a good deal of gems to carry, after all.”

Greenfire gave her a questioning look, and she felt herself blush again at the thought that he might see through her, but if he had, he played along. “Sure, that’s fine. So where do we start? You’re the gem detector.”

Rarity called upon her magic, allowing it to pull her down toward the center of the valley. In just a moment, she came upon a lovely-looking ruby, just a few inches below the surface. “Right here!” she chimed, levitating her shovel around to draw an X in the dirt.

The dragon padded over to the X, eyeing it thoughtfully. He cracked his knuckles, crouched down close, raised his claw... And two swipes was all it took. Rarity’s jaw dropped as he lifted the ruby out of the hole he’d so easily dug. “What do you think?” he said, holding it out as if for her approval.

What did she think? In two seconds he’d dug up a gemstone that would have taken her two minutes to retrieve! Not only was he giving her a break from the laborious part of the job, he was doing it far more efficiently. Why, if they kept this speed up until sunset...

“I think,” she announced happily, “that this is going to be a very good day.”

------

It was.

“I’ll trade you a moonstone for that garnet.”

“Hmm... Would you be willing to part with that peridot as well? I’ll throw in this lovely piece of amethyst to sweeten the deal!”

“I dunno, it’s pretty small... How about this? The moonstone and the peridot, for the garnet, amethyst, and that little bit of red beryl there.”

“Oh, very well. You do drive a hard bargain!”

At sunset, Greenfire and Rarity had finally returned to his cave. Four sets of saddlebags had been draped over their backs, each one full to bulging with gemstones of every variety. They had already agreed on an even split the week before, when Rarity had first had the idea, but that left the question of how to split their bounty. Some jewels, of course, were unsuitable for one or the other, but just as many were desirable to both. So they’d dumped the whole haul on his cave floor and split it impartially, and now they were going through their respective halves and making trades.

Greenfire’s sorting procedure was simple: three piles, for hoard, food, and trash. Rarity was doing something much more complicated with her gems, constantly shuffling them from one heap to the next. He couldn’t tell whether she was sorting by color, size, shape, quality, or some bizarre combination of the four and more factors besides. Best not to dig too deeply.

She beamed at him, peering through the facets of a hovering chunk of rose quartz. He dreaded to think how silly he looked through the pink lens. “I must say, it’s so refreshing to speak to someone who appreciates gemstones as much as I do. You have an eye for quality that rivals my own!”

He rubbed the back of his neck, feeling his spines gently give way before springing back up. “Uh, thanks, I guess. It’s not like I’ve got any formal schooling, obviously. I just know what I like.”

Rarity’s expression grew contemplative. “I wonder... Perhaps it’s draconic instinct?”

“Could be.” Greenfire picked up two shards of aquamarine and twirled them around in his claw. “Hey, didn’t you say you were doing a dress in blue this week?”

“I did! You’re so thoughtful, darling. Now, what to trade you for those...” The unicorn sifted through her collection, brow furrowed in a thoughtful expression that Greenfire found oddly cute. “Aha! This will be per—oh, drat.”

“Whoa, what’s the matter?”

Rarity held up the large ruby she’d found, cherry red with a burgundy streak through the center. “Just look at this flaw! It’s perfectly shaped and faceted, too. What a waste, don’t you think?”

Greenfire felt his mouth watering as she waved it around. “No, no! I’ll take it,” he said eagerly. Flaw or not, it looked incredibly appetizing.

Rarity pursed her lips as she levitated the ruby over to him, accepting the aquamarine in exchange. “Are you certain, dear? I mean, of course you’re welcome to it if you wish. But the flaw runs so deep. I really don’t think it’s suited to your hoard.”

Greenfire grinned and snatched it out of the air. “Oh, this one’s not going in my hoard. It’s going in my stomach.” He took a big bite out of the jewel, crunching it up like peanut brittle and letting the taste wash over him. It was all he could do not to let out an embarrassing moan or purr in front of his guest. Rubies were seriously too delicious to be allowed.

In the middle of chewing, he heard an appalled gasp. He pried one eye open to see Rarity staring at him in shock, as if he’d bitten the head off of a kitten right in front of her. “You—You—Y-Y-Y-Y-You...” she stuttered.

“What?” he said through half a mouthful of ruby shards. He swallowed and went on, “You said I could have it, right?” He tried to keep his face innocent, but he could feel another grin threatening to escape.

Rarity reared up dramatically and pointed at him with a hoof. “You eat gemstones?!”

The sheer horror in her voice, as if she could scarcely think of a worse fate for that poor, innocent ruby, utterly broke Greenfire’s already weak poker face. He threw back his head and laughed uproariously, shamelessly reveling in the sight of the dignified unicorn left dumbstruck. “You didn’t know?” he cackled.

“Of course I didn’t know!” she replied hotly. “It is hardly a common menu item in Ponyville restaurants!”

Greenfire shook his head, shoulders still shuddering with amusement. “Well, duh. You don’t exactly have the teeth for it. But if you could taste this,” he added, waving the half-eaten ruby at her, “you’d understand. Gemstones are like nothing else in Equestria.”

Rarity stared at the gem and its bite mark, looking like he’d told her two and two made seventeen. “Are they really that delicious?”

“They really are.” He took another bite to demonstrate. If anything, the flaw actually made it even better, adding a burst of taste in the center.

To her credit, she was recovering quickly. “I-I see. I suppose that explains why you hoard them, doesn’t it? In addition to their beauty, they are... almost like an emergency food stock.”

Funnily enough, he’d never thought of it that way, but now that she mentioned it... “I guess that makes sense. I don’t like to eat the gems in my hoard, though. There’s plenty of food out here.”

“Really?”

“Oh, yeah. The Everfree Forest’s full of food, and like I said the other day, there’s not much a dragon’s stomach can’t handle.”

“Ah.” Rarity cast her eyes down to the stone, faintly frowning. “You do eat well, though? You don’t ever... go hungry?”

He snorted and patted his belly. “Do I look like I go hungry? I guess the winters are a little annoying, but I just stock up on gems for eating in the fall. And I sleep a lot more.”

Her frown only intensified. “Isn’t that... a bit tedious for you?”

Tedious? “Yeah, I guess it is,” he admitted. “But that’s life, right?”

“...It doesn’t have to be.” Rarity looked up at him again, her jaw set. “May I visit you more often, come wintertime?”

Greenfire found himself leaning back a bit, just from the intensity in her eyes. “Huh? Well, yeah, sure, I guess, but... What do you get out of it?” He still didn’t understand her. Why did she keep going out of her way to do things just for him? Sure, she’d gotten a bunch of gems today, but even he could barely dig when the ground was frozen. So why would she bother when she couldn’t get anything out of it?

Rarity opened her mouth, then stopped, seemingly considering her words. “I get the pleasure of your company...” she finally said. “And the knowledge that my good friend will be a little less bored.” That was it?

Instead of arguing, Greenfire just chuckled and rested his head on his claw. “You know, I don’t think I could ever be bored with you around.”

She seemed happy to hear that, her cheeks turning a little pink. “As long as I stay away from the gossip, that is?” she asked with a wry smile.

The self-deprecation caught him off guard, and a bark of laughter escaped him. “Ha! The gossip’s fine, just don’t dump an hour of it on me all at once!”

“You know very well that was far less than an hour,” Rarity giggled.

After a few moments of shared amusement, the two returned to their gem sorting, not quite in unison. Unable to concentrate on the jewels, however, Greenfire found himself glancing over at Rarity instead. Her face lit up with joy as she beheld a particularly stunning geode, and he could feel an uncontrollable smile coming on as he watched her sapphire eyes sparkle in the torchlight.

She was smiling like that because he’d helped her dig up all these gemstones. She was happy because of him.

Huh. Maybe he was beginning to understand after all.

Chapter Text

It was a fine summer morning, and the Everfree Forest was silent. This was not the ordinary sort of silence, where the background noise of rustling animals could still be heard. No, this was the artificial silence of held breath, frozen limbs, and one creature in particular trying very hard not to be heard.

After several minutes passed, Greenfire allowed himself to peek out of the tree he’d hidden in. He looked right. He looked left.

Nothing.

Greenfire let out the breath he’d been holding and slowly climbed out of the branches. “Did I actually lose him? Ugh, thank heavens...” He stopped a foot off the ground and snorted at himself. He was spending so much time with Rarity these days that he was starting to sound like her—

“Rarity! Darn it, I gotta get moving!” Without further ado, he dropped to the dirt and set off at a run toward his cave. She had been visiting him for a couple months now, and so far neither of them had missed a single week. He certainly didn’t intend to do it first, annoyance or no annoyance.

A rustle behind him made him jump, and he sped up. “Please please please don’t be following me,” he growled under his breath. The last thing he needed was for the single high point of his week—his life—to be ruined.

Rarity was already standing at the cave mouth when he came up the path. “Oh, there you are, darling!” she said, turning to grace him with one of her radiant smiles.

Shame he was in too much of a rush to appreciate it. “Hi! C’mon, let’s get inside.” He shooed her toward the entrance, glancing over his shoulder.

The unicorn dodged away from his claws, twirling gracefully to face him. “Actually, I was wondering if we might dine outside today. It’s such a lovely morning, after all!”

Of course she wanted to eat outside today. “This is literally the worst possible time to suggest that,” Greenfire said flatly. “Later, maybe. We can talk about it in the cave, okay?”

He gestured inward again, but Rarity stood still, looking cutely baffled. “Oh, heavens, what is the rush?”

Why did she have to be so difficult? Greenfire dodged behind her, put his claws on her backside, and shoved. “The rush is why are you arguing with a dragon, just move.”

Still unwilling to budge, Rarity dug her hooves into the dirt and pushed back. “Really, Greenfire! There’s no call to be so rude—”

Greenfire spoke over her words, eyes darting over his shoulders again. “I’ll explain inside, I promise, so please—”

“—what is that has you in such—”

“—just hurry up and get in there before—”

“Stop right there, you foul beast!”

Silence reigned again, for an instant. And then a guttural groan of frustration and rage that was nigh untranscribable escaped Greenfire’s throat.

He turned toward the intruder, watching as the armor-clad knight pony he’d thought he’d escaped from clank his way toward them. Oh, damn, it was a unicorn, too. Oh, the unicorns were always the worst, with their magically levitated weapons and their obsessions with their noble codes.

“Release that beautiful maiden at once, monster!” the knight demanded, hefting a shield on one side and a lance on the other. “I will not allow you to so profane her fairest of coats!”

Greenfire glanced back—oh, for crying out loud, he still had one claw on Rarity’s flank. He yanked it away, hoping the heat in his cheeks didn’t look as obvious as it felt. “Right, okay, sorry, look. Can we do this some other time?” he asked, in what was probably a misguided and hopeless plea for sanity. “I’m kinda busy right now...”

The knight laughed derisively. “Ha! Justice waits for nopony! Stand and face your doom, foul one!”

“No, I’m serious,” Greenfire groaned. “I’m not saying I don’t love the whole dragon/knight thing—although I don’t—but can you just come back tomorrow? Or the day after? Or any time at all that’s not right now?”

“As if I would trot away and let you continue to threaten this innocent damsel in distress! Now, no more words!” The knight lowered his lance and pawed at the ground. “Face me, unless you’re as cowardly as you are hideous!”

Greenfire snarled, hackles rising. He’d let all this time with Rarity soften him up so much, he’d practically forgotten how to be threatening. But if this jerk of a pony wanted a terrifying dragon, he was about to get one. “Fine, then!” he snapped. “When your family finds you roasted in your own armor, don’t try and tell them I didn’t warn you first!”

“Just try it, monster!” With a mighty battle yell, the knight charged, and Greenfire breathed in, gathering up his flame. A nice fireball overhead would singe his horn and burn the feather in his helmet to dust, and if that didn’t scare him off—

“Excuse me? Pardon me?”

Without warning, Rarity stepped in between the two males, her back to Greenfire. He yelped and swallowed his flame, coughing up a cloud of smoke. In front of them both, the knight stumbled and skidded and yanked his lance down, burying the tip in the dirt, and finally brought his charge to a halt by tripping over his shield and landing face-first.

As if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, Rarity bowed her head to speak to him. “My good sir, I’m afraid this is all just a little misunderstanding. I can assure you that I am in no danger here.”

The knight pulled his snout out of the dirt, staring up at her in disbelief. “Don’t be silly, milady! Surely you’ve noticed the ravening beast of a dragon behind you!”

She tittered innocently, like she’d just been told a funny joke. “Dragon, yes. Ravening beast, certainly not! Why, Greenfire is better behaved than many ponies I know!”

“With some of the stories you’ve told me, I dunno how much of a compliment that is.” Greenfire couldn’t help himself; the quip just slipped out uncontrollably.

“Hush, now,” Rarity told him, amusement in her voice. She returned to addressing the knight without missing a beat. “You can see his sense of humor is a touch lacking—” She ignored the dragon’s indignant scoff. “—but I hardly think that is an offense worthy of assault, don’t you agree?”

Unsteadily, the knight got back onto his hooves, picking up his shield and lance again. He was still looking at Rarity as if she’d gone mad. “I don’t understand. Why in Equestria are you defending a monster?”

Rarity stood up a little straighter. Greenfire couldn’t see her face very well from behind, but craning his head around a little, he could tell that she was no longer smiling. “Greenfire is not a monster. That’s exactly the point I’m trying to make! Really, what has he ever done to you to deserve such mistreatment?”

“It’s a dragon!” the knight retorted. “It doesn’t have to do anything!”

Rarity went very still. “...I see.”

Involuntarily, Greenfire took a step backward. He’d never heard her voice sound so cold.

“Would you like to hear a story, sir knight?” Rarity stalked toward the knight, who backed up as she approached. “I have always been a devout proponent of chivalry, in all its forms. Ever since I was a child, I have dreamt of falling into the hooves of a brave hero. But this!” She leaned forward into his personal space, and he cringed away, hiding behind his shield. “This isn’t chivalry or bravery! This is cruelty! You’re not a hero, you’re just a bully, threatening an innocent young drake based on nothing more than outside appearances!”

The knight’s eyes were as wide as dinner plates. “B-B-B-But...” he stuttered, before regaining a little nerve. “How can it be innocent? It’s a dragon!”

“Yes, he is!” Rarity declared. “And he is also one of the best friends I have ever had the privilege of making! He is far more kind, far more caring, far more chivalrous than some heartless knight who barges in where he isn’t wanted and starts throwing around threats!”

Greenfire became dimly aware that his jaw was hanging open. But closing it might have taken his attention away from the amazing mare standing before him. He couldn’t take that chance.

Her voice dropped to a hiss. “So if you have any sense at all, you will leave right now and not bother Greenfire any further. Because I assure you, if you or anypony else dares to harm one scale on his head, I will make you regret it.”

The knight’s shield and lance clattered to the dirt, his concentration broken by Rarity’s tirade. With a strangled squawk of fear, he snatched them up in his forelegs and fled down the path as if a pack of hounds were chasing him.

“Well!” Rarity finally said, after the armored figure was out of sight. She cleared her throat awkwardly. “Good riddance.”

That broke the spell, and Greenfire found himself remembering how to think and speak again. “I think I’m in love. Rarity, that was fantastic!” He bounded over to the unicorn’s side, grinning uncontrollably at her. “You scared him off better than I ever could!”

Rarity blushed demurely, turning her head to one side. “I-I apologize for losing my temper. When I heard him talk about you like that, I’m afraid I saw red.”

“Hey, I’m not complaining! He had me spitting fire—literally!” Rarity rolled her eyes at the pun, but Greenfire caught her smiling despite her best efforts. “Kinda wish I could hire you to handle all the knights,” he said with a chuckle.

“Do they come by so often that you would need to?” she asked, looking horrified.

“Well, not really,” he admitted. “He’s the first one I’ve had since we met. It’s usually just one every few months.”

“Good.” Rarity’s voice was firm. “He was absolutely dreadful, and if they’re all so horrid, I don’t blame you a bit for being so suspicious when we first met.”

Greenfire curled his tail around himself and sat across from her. “They’re not all that bad, but they are all annoying.”

Rarity brought out a familiar tablecloth from her saddlebags, fussing with it and not looking at him. “Really, what upsets me the most... Before I met you, I’m ashamed to admit I would have agreed with him. I had no idea dragons could be like you.”

“Well... I had no idea ponies could be like you. So I guess we’re even.” When she met his eyes, Greenfire gave her his biggest smile. “I’m just glad he didn’t ruin our visit.”

“As am I.” That seemed to lift her spirits again, at least for a moment. She continued her unpacking, smiling faintly, but her gaze was still downcast.

Well, he knew one way to cheer her up more solidly. Greenfire girded his ears and settled in on the tablecloth. “So, any new Ponyville gossip to share?”

That did the trick. “Oh, if you insist...”

------

Rarity took a long sip of her tea, smiling contentedly. “Ready for dessert?”

After a filling meal and a long conversation, Greenfire had been looking a little sluggish, but those three words were all it took for him to perk up again. “You better believe it. Sugarcube Corner again?”

“Naturally! Those strawberry cupcakes you like so much. And I added something special today, just for you...” Rarity opened the box of cupcakes and levitated two of the specially-prepared ones over to him.

His eyes went wide with awe, just like they had when he’d first tasted Pinkie Pie’s wares, and she bit her lip to suppress her squeal of joy. “Are those ruby shavings on top?” he whispered reverently.

“Only the best is good enough for my friends,” Rarity said proudly. “Go on, try one!”

Greenfire picked one up, carefully peeling the wrapper off (much to her amusement). He popped it into his mouth and froze for a split second... and then—there was no other word for it—he moaned, eyes fluttering shut as he drooped ecstatically to the floor. “Oh, wow,” he rumbled, his voice rough and deep.

Rarity lifted a hoof in front of her face, under the pretense of fixing a stray curl in her mane, and waited patiently for her faint blush to recede. “I take it they meet with your approval?”

The dragon gulped down the cupcake and licked his lips. “Okay, I’m gonna have to ask you to bring these every visit from now on.”

“Now, Greenfire, if I did that, you’d quickly get sick of them.”

“Get sick of these? No way!” His tongue darted out to grab the second cupcake and pull it into his mouth. This one he savored, chin dropping onto his crossed forelegs as he lost himself in gastronomical bliss.

Rarity couldn’t help but giggle. “Honestly, for such a large dragon, you certainly can be childish at times!”

Greenfire glanced up at her, meeting her eyes. He opened his mouth slightly, looking as if he was just about to speak... And then he stuck his tongue out, eliciting a fresh burst of laughter from her.

“R-Really, now!” she tittered. “I told that knight you were well-behaved, and here you are making a liar out of me! Why, my little sister has more decorum than you do!”

Greenfire sat up again, brow furrowed, and swallowed the cupcake at last. “You have a sister?” he asked curiously.

“Oh, haven’t I told you about her? Her name is Sweetie Belle.” Rarity smiled fondly. “To call her a handful would be putting it lightly, but she is a darling little filly when she isn’t acting out.”

“Does she live with you at the boutique?”

Rarity shook her head. “No, Sweetie is still living with our parents. Goodness, I don’t think I’d be able to handle raising her on my own.”

“Your parents?” Greenfire sat up straighter. “What are they like?”

“Ah, well...” She ducked her head, feeling the awkwardness that always came on when she thought of her mother and father. How to explain them? “They’re very... boisterous. Father used to play hoofball in school, and Mother was a cheerleader. That’s how they met.” She smiled sheepishly. “They’re a bit embarrassing, to be honest. They really don’t understand my love of fashion... But they’ve always supported me, even so.”

Greenfire was completely still, taking in her every word with an unusual intensity. “Huh,” he finally said, once he seemed certain that she wasn’t going to continue. “That sounds nice.”

Rarity had just opened her mouth to agree when the change registered. She froze for an instant, not sure how to continue. “Yes, it is,” she allowed. “I... imagine it’s a bit different for dragons?”

He laughed, without any real humor in it. “Yeah, no kidding.”

Rarity wanted to kick herself. She’d managed to stumble into a conversational thorn bush, hadn’t she? “I’m sorry... Did I touch a nerve?”

“No, no, it... it’s nothing,” Greenfire replied. To say that he was unconvincing would have been an incredible understatement.

“Darling, please. Anything that so clearly distresses you cannot be ‘nothing’.” Rarity reached out to touch his shoulder. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise. They’d never talked about his social situation before, but now that the subject had been broached...

“No, really, I’m fine,” he insisted. “I-I like hearing about your family.”

“I’m glad to hear that. But it’s bothering you at the same time, I’d have to be blind not to notice. Don’t think it’s escaped me that you’ve...” She hesitated one last time, then took the plunge. “You’ve never told me anything about yours.”

Greenfire took in a long breath, then let it all out. “Yeah, nothing gets by you.”

Rarity waited. “Well?” she finally demanded, once it seemed clear he wouldn’t go on without prompting.

“Well, what? There’s nothing to tell.” He frowned at the tablecloth, one claw on his neck. “I mean, you already figured it out, right? I was alone before I met you.”

“I have suspected that for some time. But what I don’t understand is why. Surely other dragons can appreciate your good qualities as much as I do?”

Greenfire snorted. “No, see, I don’t think you’re getting what I mean when I say ‘alone’. I don’t know what other dragons would think of me, ‘cause I’ve never met one.”

Rarity opened her mouth to respond, but nothing came out. She couldn’t have heard that right, could she? “You’ve never...” she managed, after several seconds.

“Met another dragon,” Greenfire finished for her. “I’m the only one in the forest.”

Rarity shook her head. “I—Surely I must be misunderstanding you. If there are no other dragons here, then who raised you?”

“I did, pretty much. Lucky for me, dragons can eat just about anything. My memory’s fuzzy, but I know it was a while before I found the ridge and all those gems.”

“But...” Rarity had prepared herself to hear the worst: his family had abandoned him, cast him out, rejected him. Something along those lines. But she hadn’t been prepared for this. He had never even known them? “But then how did you learn to talk? And read?”

“I’m not really sure. I can’t remember not knowing how.” The dragon scratched at his chin, glancing up at the sky as he thought. “I must’ve just picked it up from the ponies who came by. Before the rumors got around, they’d come through the ridge or around the edge of the forest delivering supplies from town to town. And, uh, sometimes a crate or two would fall off the back of their wagons...”

“Oh... That’s how you got your books, isn’t it?” Still attempting to absorb what she’d heard, that was the most coherent sentence Rarity could put together.

“You got it. One of them is actually about dragons. Well, magical creatures, mostly.” He flashed a smirk that was, once more, devoid of actual amusement. “Everything I know about being a dragon, I learned from a whole three pages out of that book. Pretty pathetic, huh?”

Pathetic wasn’t the word Rarity would have used. Horrible was much closer. It wasn’t unheard of for a foal to lose her parents, but there were extended families, orphanages... Even in the worst cases, not even the most rundown of towns would entirely abandon a child to her own devices. And here he’d had to learn about his own species from a book?! “So what you’re saying is...” she whispered. “Your family... Your parents...”

Greenfire shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. I figure they’re either dead, they lost me, or they didn’t want me in the first place. I kinda gave up wondering which one it was.”

The worst part was the matter-of-fact way he said it. As if he’d long ago resigned himself to having no one. And she knew he must have. How long had he lived alone in this empty cave, forced to fend for himself? Constantly dealing with those awful knights or treasure-seeking thieves, yet still perhaps looking forward to those rare breaks in the solitude. No one to talk to him, no one to care for him, and if she hadn’t finally come along and reached out to him, he would still be alone even now...

For a long while, Rarity just stared at the dragon, throat dry and eyes hot with unshed tears. Then she got to her hooves and walked toward him purposefully.

“Anyway, I guess I was just a little jealous that—What are you doing?”

She put her forelegs around his neck, hugging him as tight as she could and pressing her face against his scaly shoulder, and then she allowed herself to start crying.

“Wha—Rarity. What are you doing.

“I’m hugging you, you silly dragon,” she sobbed into him. “Oh, Greenfire, I’m so sorry...”

Greenfire leaned back, as if trying to pull away, but her grip on him was too strong. “G-Geez, calm down, okay? Even when we’re babies, dragons are tough. It didn’t take me long to figure things out. It’s no big deal.”

“Yes, it is!” she wailed. “No one should have to be alone like that!”

“Well... I’m not. Not any more, right?” He nudged her chin with his claw, pushing gently until she looked up again and met his eyes. And he grinned, that lopsided grin of his that she’d grown to adore. “I’ve got you.”

The tears flowed again, and she threw herself at him once more, clinging as if he were a life preserver, floating in the ocean of emotion that threatened to swallow her. “That’s right... You have me. Always.” The last word came out in a squeaky whisper.

“There you go,” he chuckled. “What more could I ask for?”

A watery giggle escaped her, and she hid her face against his shoulder again. His forelegs slipped around her to return the hug, and she sighed and melted against him.

“I do wish... you hadn’t had to go through that,” she said, once she felt a little calmer.

Perhaps unconsciously, Greenfire’s claws curled against her back, scratching gently. Goodness, that felt lovely. “Thanks, I guess. Seriously, it wasn’t that bad. I never knew what I was missing. Heck, I didn’t even know what families were until I started reading! Figured everyone just woke up alone in a forest.”

Rarity didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at that. She just shook her head and held him a little tighter. He was happy now, that was what mattered. And she would make sure his future was even happier. She hadn’t been this determined about anything since the day she opened her boutique.

A few moments passed; she wasn’t sure how many. Enough that it startled her just a bit when Greenfire spoke again. “So... Are we just gonna sit like this all day, or did you want to let go any time soon?”

No, actually, she didn’t. She didn’t ever want to let go. She wanted to stay there in Greenfire’s embrace forever. She wanted to bask in his warmth and the feel of his arms wrapped tight around her. She wanted to stare up into his gorgeous green eyes and pull his face closer to hers and...

Oh.

Oh, no.

Oh, no, no, no, this could absolutely not be happening.

Rarity released Greenfire and all but threw herself backward, rattling her dishes as she landed. Her heart was pounding in her chest, and her stomach had begun an acrobatic act worthy of the greatest circus in all the land.

“Thanks,” Greenfire said, oblivious to her inner turmoil. “No offense or anything, that was nice and all, but my tail was starting to go numb.” He stood up and allowed it to lash back and forth behind him.

Rarity barely heard him. She put a hoof to her chest and tried to collect herself again. She couldn’t possibly be feeling what she thought she was. It was... The shock from hearing about his dreadful past had caused her to misinterpret her emotions, that was all.

Certainly Greenfire was a handsome dragon. She’d already come to terms with that attraction weeks ago, then set it aside as irrelevant to their friendship. Because it was irrelevant! Really, regardless of the species issue, he was absolutely nothing like her ideal stallion. He was brash, sarcastic, impolite, rough around the edges...

Greenfire leaned forward, reaching out with one claw. “Hey, you okay? You’re not gonna start bawling again, right?” Despite the insensitive phrasing, his concern was clear in his eyes.

And yet he was kind, caring, chivalrous, just as she’d told the knight before. And visiting him was the highlight of her every week. And suddenly she was realizing how impossible it had become to imagine her life without him.

“Oh, my goodness,” she whispered under her breath.

“Seriously, what’s the matter now?” Greenfire nudged her shoulder gently with the back of his claw.

Rarity jumped. “Oh! I’m so sorry, darling. I-I was merely lost in thought for a moment.”

Greenfire tilted his head at her. “Uh-huh. Anything you wanna share with the class?”

She shook her head. “I’m... not quite ready. It’s something I need to give just a little more thought to before sharing with anypony, that’s all.”

The dragon seemed to accept that, settling down again as Rarity gathered up the tablecloth. But she avoided his gaze as she cleaned up. She’d told him a little white lie.

A matter this dreadfully serious was going to take far more than a little thought.

Chapter Text

“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.

“Hmm?”

“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.”