4 Months, 6 Days
It was important that I not mess up this neat little situation that I currently found myself in. It is often far too easy to lose something good in this life due to carelessness, and this was something that I could not risk jeopardising. And so, my next actions would have to be mediated by logical thought and rationality. It was important to look at the facts before judging the scenario that I had stumbled into quite unwittingly. Firstly, Rarity had made it quite clear from the beginning that she had no interest in any form of relationship, and that her life was devoted to her work and, in more recent months, her rapidly increasing popularity. We hadn't had the relationship discussion for months, and I sincerely doubted that anything had changed. Sure, I was getting closer to her actively inviting me into her otherwise exclusive Inspiration Room and the kiss last night supported this but Rarity was impulsive and prone to fleeting indulgences. Secondly, I hadn't stayed in Ponyville in order to fall in love and embark on some romantic voyage; I was here to oversee the fashion career of a talented unicorn. I had now potentially jeopardised any credibility that I had once attributed to myself by getting in a little too deep. My own opinion mirrored that of Rarity; that being together would be a rather impossible idea, and that we would be better remaining as co-workers and impersonal associates.
I rolled over and felt my hind leg brush up against something soft. It was Rarity's own rear hooves; she was still sleeping. I avoided moving in the hope of preventing her from waking up. It was nice to let her get her beauty sleep and, given her natural allure, I could deduce that she had spent much of her life sleeping and I was in no rush myself to get out. It was imperative that I clear my mind of all thoughts extraneous to Rarity and simply deal with the issue at hand. Romance was never my strong-suit, but last night had indeed seemed romantic to me. I couldn't guarantee that she cared for me as much as I for her, but I could at least remember the sublimity of it all. To an extent, anyway; I was never very good at remembering things. I was too much of a worrier to have the mental capacity to remember much. I just remained there in the darkness for a little while, my attention captured by the ticking of Rarity's old grandfather clock.
When she woke up, things were quite unusual, to say the least. She was obviously aware of my presence beside her and felt comfortable with me being there, because she didn't panic or scream when she awoke. She did not remain in bed for long, however, gracefully rising from the passionate sheets mere moments after opening her eyes and facing towards the window, away from me. "Is everything okay?" I remember asking in the smallest of voices, but she didn't hear what I said. She disappeared into her bathroom and I was left in bed without the faintest idea of when to get out. Was it custom to let the lady leave first? My immediate interest was getting a glass of water, for I was thirsty from exerting myself. With Rarity in the bathroom I had to make do with heading downstairs and using the kitchen sink. I held my head under the streaming water for some time, allowing the refreshing, if tasteless liquid to flow down my gullet. I then took a seat at the kitchen table and waited. It wasn't long before I heard the floorboard at the top of the stairs creak. Rarity was then upon me, standing in the doorway in a dressing gown and looking me over studiously.
"The bathroom is vacant," she said, taking a seat at the opposite end of the table from me.
I nodded and looked towards the doorway. "I got my drink, so I'm not sure that I need it."
"Go and wash," she insisted. "Immediately."
As much as I wanted to object I couldn't bring myself to oppose her iron-rule. I returned upstairs and used the bathroom for various acts of hygiene. I washed behind my ears and found some pink fluffy device that applied sweet-scented powder to one's face. I hoofed at it and it exploded everywhere but in my eyes. At least I would smell nice for Rarity. After drying myself off I returned to the kitchen sheepishly. Rarity had prepared some breakfast, and nodded to my plate, directing me to sit. She was munching on something herself, although I noticed that my plate had far more food on it than hers. Perhaps she had eaten the rest of it whilst I had been in the bathroom?
"I hope that you are ready to put the capes out today," she said to me. "Red on the left, gold on the right."
"Are we working today?" I queried. She shot me a glare."-I just assumed that we would be having the day off."
I guess I didn't have a suitable response.
"-Yesterday was my day off," she said. "This past week I have been frivolous and lazy. I partly blame myself and I somewhat blame you."
"What did I do?" I questioned, wide-eyed and appalled.
"You have been distracting me," she tutted. "Since Winter Wrap-up I have barely designed a single dress. That was six days ago. I cannot afford to waste any more time."
Of the many words I could have used to describe the past week of getting re-acquainted with one another, 'wasted' would not be the one that I would pick. I probably had a tear in my eye, but I remained strong and nodded. "I'm sorry, Rarity," I found myself saying, barely understanding what I was apologising for. "I didn't mean to get in the way of your work."
She looked towards me disdainfully, rolling those big blue eyes and shaking her head. "Oh really, that puppy-dog expression again? You must grow a backbone. It frustrates me to see you without any sense of pride."
If I lacked a backbone, she had performed the surgery.
"Eat your food at once," she added, rising from her chair and walking towards the bin with her plate levitated in front of her. I realised what she was about to do and stuck a hoof out in desperation to stop her, but it was too late. She had open the kitchen bin.
"No!" I cried. She looked towards me in absolute surprise. "You aren't going to eat your food?" she asked, and I shook my head.
"...No. I just meant...I should take your plate for you. I am a guest in your home, after all."
"Stop being ridiculous," she muttered, pouring the remains of her food into the bin whilst keeping her eyes fixed on me. "You have babied me for far too long. I am a business pony, and I should not be pampered left-right-and-centre. I must be independent and I must do things without you." She closed the lid of the bin with her magic and I felt my heart return to its regular position. I could relax now. Really, with the amount of discarded paper in there, I should think of a new way of disposing of all of that mess. I would do so from now on. Nothing would distract me; the moment she left the room I would find a new home for those unimportant letters.
"I am going to get dressed properly," she said to me, washing her plate at the sink with a levitated cloth. "When I return we shall put out those capes. I shall need you to move the stands; they are incredibly heavy." She took her leave of the room in order to beautify herself. I watched her go with my breath held, waiting for my signal.
I approached the bin and removed the lid entirely. It was a screwing mechanism which took a bit of getting used to for many, but having undone it several times before it didn't take me long. Beneath whatever was left of her meal were various other disposables and the occasional piece of torn paper. I dipped a hoof into the mess and pulled out the nearest strand of sticky paper.
your butler did not
several meetings with
inherently a bad idea.
to retain the exclusive
lines become neutered
I couldn't even remember what that letter had been about. I dug around for some more and found the next strand dripping in some sort of food-juice.
I hope that my little conflict
have heard that you have been
wanted to let you know
consumerism is a poor move
license your dresses out to me
Now it was starting to come back to me. I screwed both bits up together and looked around. Disposing of things wasn't that easy when the object designed for such a thing was no longer safe from suspicious eyes. I rummaged around a little more for additional letters, but everything else was too obscured in other rubbish that it wouldn't be possible for Rarity to even identify that they were intended for her. I smiled to myself quite proudly as I tied the top of the bin liner into a neat knot and hoisted it up onto my back. I would be able to leave it out for collection and put a new one in right away. But maybe, just for a while, I would lay low and bide my time before disposing of any more of Mr. Cross' letters. It was just the respectful thing to do.
3 Months, 13 Days
"I respect your privacy."
"For you, I shall show you what you wish to see."
The train to Manehattan was a quick one. The route, as it became more familiar, seemed to go by at a more tolerable pace. It was hardly an effort to go to Manehattan now, although I still felt the same queasiness in my stomach from the last few times that I had been there. Having Rarity by my side always made that journey easier. Having attended the Golden Gown Parade with Rarity on the streets of Manehattan less than a month ago, she had been begging me for the last couple of weeks to bring her back. We had gone through a slight blip a few weeks ago, but it was now in the past and we had overcome our dispute. It really was quite a silly argument, anyway, and it had been pushed to the dark recesses of my mind in exchange for a new concern: finally caving in to her demands.
"I am unfamiliar with the road that we will be taking," she said to me as we disembarked the train. "I have never before walked through Old Manehattan."
"You go down The Old Fjord," I explained, walking a little too fast for her to keep up, "but you won't find the road by looking for that name any more."
"Did they change the name of the road?"
"They changed everything."
We were instead looking for Falabella Way. I remembered the rough location from when I had come looking for the gift for Rarity. I would have called that trip a complete waste of time, had it not helped me remember the way to where Rarity now wished to visit. So I guess it saved us an hour of wandering in the wrong direction. That was, in turn, one less hour that I would get to spend with Rarity. In Manehattan it was impossible to win. As we walked I was surprised that Rarity wasn't ambushed by ponies desperate for an interview or autograph. Perhaps it was because she had wrapped herself up in a ridiculous amount of layers that they hadn't noticed her; she had not been feeling well for a while, and colour had left her cheeks several weeks ago. I blamed her working too hard; apart from today, she had locked herself away for longer than I had ever before seen, creating endless stacks of dresses and luxuries.
She had decided in her great debate between working for Mr. Orange and working for Mr. Cross to side with the former, the enigmatic business pony that I had no desire to meet and even less desire to talk about extensively. I was glad that Mr. Cross had been shunned; Rarity had decided that getting her dresses out into the public as quickly as possible was worth the decrease in authenticity. Already I had been informed that worker-ponies were emulating and replicating Rarity's style and dresses by using big industrial machinery that would minimise the amount of time and effort put into each product. It was quite outstanding, really. If only I could have seen Mr. Cross' reaction, although thankfully I had not laid eyes on that hateful character for some time. I imagine he was probably chasing after the next rising fashion star without any response to his many letters, he would soon forget all about Rarity.
By working for Mr. Orange, the workload was supposedly going to be noticeably less, as she would merely need to send designs for him and his workers to create. This didn't really add up with why she was forcing herself to pool more effort into dress-making than ever before. I could have made assumptions all over the place about why she was behaving as she was, but in the end I could only guarantee that Rarity was the flawed pony that she was, and that if she truly wished to work herself to the bone, I would merely have to be there to catch her when she fell.
This ordeal today, however, was not Rarity's but my own. She wanted to see where I had grown up and the location that I had once called home. I hadn't been back home to my family for more years than I could count. Being away from them had been cathartic; returning would be terrible. I could only assume that Rarity appreciated the effort that I had gone to in agreeing to return to my birthplace, for she was resting against me as we walked, often gripping me tightly by the shoulder or hoof. She seemed oddly clingy today, and I appreciated it very much. Anyway, we found Falabella Way after a slow walk. I had been distracted on several occasions by travelling musicians and various things in shop windows on the wealthier part of the route, but she did not seem at all interested today.
"We should go and smash the windows of The Glass House," I suggested, but she didn't respond in any meaningful way. I shrugged. I guess there was nothing stopping me from coming back another day and doing that. Falabella Way - I still hated that new name was the only major route that took one from the wealthy area of the city near the train station to the poor wasteland of decaying history, excluding the back-alleys, at least. I wasn't about to take Rarity down one of those, however, as Manehattan was not free from its crime, and I knew what disgusting, depraved individuals lurked in the shadows of this monstrous metropolis. Like a dislocated jaw it consumed the masses and spat them out as criminals, dullards and drones. Rarity tripped and I held my hoof out to help her balance, frowning a little.
"Watch your step," I said. That was just like the bloody Manehattan parishioners. They would spend excessive amounts of money glorifying the financially lucrative plaza districts but they didn't ever bother to invest in repairing the roads as one moved closer to the slums of Old Manehattan. "These roads have always been easy to stumble on. I remember I grazed my hoof once tripping over some discarded mining apparatus."
The blue-shine of the plaza eventually started to become a mottled, disgusting brown. Great buildings had now been replaced by beaten-down, dusty paths and derelict homes. It was really quite amazing how quickly one could walk into Old Manehattan without even realising it; five minutes back the way we had come would suggest an entirely different city to where we now found ourselves. It had always looked like the terrible amputated limb of the city, and time had done no favours to the remnants of the once prosperous mining facilities that had historically occupied these streets. We passed under a collapsing archway and Rarity pointed a hoof towards a tired old sign that read, 'Old Manehattan' and beneath it the date that the city had first been founded. Some child had at some point scribbled a phallus out of the 'L' of 'Old', and I quickly nudged Rarity away in order to shield her eyes from perverse imagery.
"Where did you grow up?" she asked, attentively looking at her hooves to avoid stepping in thick mud off the side of the cobbled paths.
"Slickstone Warren," I mouthed. "There were fifteen families living in a small circuit of buildings closely compacted together."
Rarity looked around dubiously. "It all looks the same..."
She wasn't wrong there. Taking her by the hoof I carefully helped her cross the swamp of muck and mess. From the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a pony watching us from a window in a nearby building, but when I turned they ducked behind a torn-sheet curtain. Visitors were obviously some form of strange, extraterrestrial sighting in these parts. I couldn't blame them for looking; as a young colt I had always been envious of the wealth of the rich folk of Manehattan. My family had resented one another and their immediate relatives; having a wealthy Aunt had hardly benefited the situation when she had kept her money from my mother and father. But I had always loved Mrs. Morgans and she had adored me, having no children of her own to pass her home to in death. If I had only been born to her and not my birth-mother, things would have been so much easier.
We neared an old turreted building that had been cobbled together originally out of big rustic chunks of grey stone. Sadly, this stone had eroded over time, and some idiotic architect had decided to replace the missing parts with typical terracotta bricks, which made the building appear as some mutilated husk of its former self. There was nothing here that I could show to Rarity as a sign of my childhood. She had been able to dazzle me with infant-amusing festivals and anecdotes of gleeful nostalgia, and in return I could show her only the mismatched machinations of a foolish pony's attempt at rebuilding that which was already beyond repair. The turrets of the building before us had known that their time was up; why couldn't we have just let them crumble into dust rather than allow them to grow aged and forlorn?
I used the declining building as a judge of where we were. "Do you wish to keep going?" I asked, and she nodded with only the slightest hint of reluctance. She was a braver pony than I, dare I say it. I took her closer by the hoof and kept her pressed up against me, the both of us remaining close to the cobbled wall surrounding the ill-restored structure. Up ahead I noticed a familiar path that branched off in a meandering, nonsensical way. Whoever designed Old Manehattan originally must have been an utterly incompetent pony, whose only merits of design were in erecting the certified Worst Place in Equestria. If I found his grave in one of the surrounding cemeteries I would dig it up and claw at his worthless hide.
Slickstone Warren was our destination, and it was everything that the name suggested. It had once been one of the core miner's homes when ponies had raped this land for its natural resources. Great pulleys had been used to hoist up copper and carts had then taken the ore to the workhouses deeper into the abstract mess of Old Manehattan. The system had been quick, granting the area the name of 'Slickstone'. As for 'Warren', well, the labyrinthine complex of living holes and shacks dotted around this area made it seem very much like the workers for mere animals furrowing about aimlessly. It was a condescending name for a social group of ponies in need of condescension. We eventually located the sign for the road and found that some of the lettering had been chipped away. It read, simply:
S L K ONE WA R N
This was more than I needed to gain my bearings, for I now recognised exactly where we were. Right near the old graveyard and reasonably close to the sewers. Some ponies were clearly still living around here, and so I warned Rarity of the virulent smell that she would undoubtedly experience in this place. She appreciated my gesture, but further colour had drained from her delicate face, and my heart felt for her. We stopped in front of a nearby lopsided building made of sandy-brown cement. I looked up slowly towards the highest window of the five-storey building and pointed a hoof upwards, accepting defeat.
"Up there. That was my room," I said. She looked upwards and shook her head a little. "It is very high up..."
"Closer to the clouds. A colt could dream back then," I responded, clearing my throat. It was unsettling to be here. What did she want from me, anyway? What sort of demand was it to see the place that I grew up in? The moment that we saw the 'Old Manehattan' sign she could have assumed that it would be a repulsive and vile place. I wondered how long we would have to stand here ignorant to the locals that might still reside just so that Rarity could get whatever perverse satisfaction she desired from staring vapidly at my childhood shame.
"What have we here?" a churlish voice questioned from nearby, and I turned rather quickly to meet the owner. It was an elderly mare. "Are you lost?" she asked, sniffing the dry air. "You both look like you're from Manehattan."
"What do you want, old crone?" I questioned, moving in front of Rarity before she could even speak. It wasn't for her to engage with this sort of insolence.
"I may be old, yes..." she blathered, "but I know when a pony is looking for something. Yes..."
"We were wondering if the occupant of this building still lives here," Rarity spoke up suddenly, moving out from behind my protective barrier to communicate directly with the haggard pony.
We were not wondering that at all. Bringing her here was one thing, but if she had any idea in her irresponsible mind that I would speak with my parents once again, she was sorely mistaken.
"-The owners of that home died over fifteen years ago, ma'am," the mare said, shaking. It seemed like a great strain for her to stand there and converse. "A stallion and a mare...what were their names now?"
"Were there any children?" I found myself asking, stepping closer to her. The old mare seemed surprised and used her remaining brain muscles to fathom an answer.
"Yes...three...a colt and two fillies...they too died of the same illness. It was terrible...it made all of the papers in the big city. They said as a result that they would be cleaning up Old Manehattan...I am waiting for the day..."
My family were no more, it seemed. The relatives that I had left behind were, as this mare had said, two sisters and a brother, all of them younger than me, and my mother and father, both of whom had always been in a sickly state of health.
"Why has nopony moved into the house since?" Rarity questioned, and I looked towards her pleadingly to stop. I did not wish to hear more than what I now knew.
"Things don't work like that around here..." the mare explained. "Folk don't move into Old Manehattan...when we die there's nopony here to take our place. We are just counting time now in the forgotten parts of the city..."
"This is terrible," Rarity commented, coughing in disgust at the desolation of this place. She looked incredibly faint. She should have heeded my warnings of this place. She looked to me for reassurance, but my view was obscured temporarily by tears created by the sand and dust of this humid desert. I rubbed my eyes with a hoof. "Mare, leave us be," I demanded. She seemed to have more information to impart but I was no position to hear it. "Return to your home and wait for death's quick release..."
I turned away from her and Rarity and galloped. My hooves carried me towards the graveyard that we had passed on the way. I scanned the most recent graves positioned further back in the plot of land. It didn't take long for me to find the names of my kin etched into hard, cold rock. There were only two graves; one for my mother and siblings, and another for my father. They must have chucked the bodies of the mare and her young into the same crypt. My father likely received his own for being a corrupted soul. Rarity caught up minutes later; I heard her panting form behind me and I turned to face her with obvious disdain.
"You saw it," I mouthed. "You wanted to see where I grew up and now you have."
She seemed unsure of what to say, but those big, blue eyes penetrated deep and spoke words louder than any that her mouth could muster.
"I am sorry..." she said in a sullen, neglected state. "I should not have forced you to come here." Her eyes seemed grey.
I could not bring myself to hate Rarity. It was a relief to know that my family memory could plague me no longer. It didn't matter to me how they had died or in what sick state they had been laid to rest; their absence was a blessing. But Rarity looked different; it took me a few foolish moments to realise that she was struggling to breathe. Tears were gathering in the corners of her eyes and her bottom lip was trembling. I stepped closer to her and demanded to know what she was experiencing. I will never forget that day, for it was the instance where she finally caved. I still do not know what caused it, whether it was the ordeal of being surrounded by death, the demand made on her body in catching up with me, or the weight of the world finally crashing down upon her vulnerable form. But in a fleeting moment her eyes rolled back into her skull, her muscles saw fit to spasm and a single hoof thrust forwards in order to touch me. She was seized by the hoof that day, but not by me. She fell like a leaf to the dense earth. I did all in my power to help her then, and carried her on my back away from the vile lair towards Manehattan. She was not conscious, I could tell, and I believed that the heat and the smell of my old home had finally taken its toll.
Back in civilisation we were surrounded, although I hadn't asked for assistance. Many pony-folk had involved themselves in our private business without invite. One pony announced that he was a doctor and pushed the others aside, helping Rarity from my back and lying her down on the ground. She was a victim to exploratory hooves, although I had been shunned into the background whilst he checked her over. He put his hoof to her head just above her horn. He had none of his tools of the trade, but he was able to determine that she was still breathing easily enough.
"Where did you find her?" he questioned me quickly. "When did she faint?"
"She is fine," I responded, but my medical knowledge was painfully inferior to his own. He began looking around for others and giving commands to various strangers who were willing to help, asking them to run to the nearest hospital in order to get aid. They dashed off, usurping my own job. I attempted to lift Rarity's head with a hoof, but the doctor warned me with his own raised leg. "Don't move her," he commanded. "What is her name?" The crowd that had gathered were all muttering amongst one another, and I heard some of them saying it; granted they recognised her, for the doctor had taken the clothing from Rarity in order to give her room to breathe. This had given away her identity, and all manner of assumptions were made that day. I knew not how to respond to their disdainful commentary.
When the messengers returned they had with them strong paramedics who helped carefully lift Rarity. "What is happening?" I questioned repeatedly, but I was given anything but a satisfactory answer from the ignorant doctor that had rushed to her side. "Can you hear me, Rarity?" the doctor questioned. "I'm Doctor Tawleed. You've had a nasty fall and we're going to take you to the hospital to run a few checks. You are in safe hooves."
He was rushing at her side with the paramedic ponies, and I struggled to keep up with them. They were youthful and trained for this sort of work, and soon I was falling behind them. I lost my way to the hospital and had to ask for directions from strangers who laughed at me whilst explaining. I felt fit to burst as I eventually located and squeezed through the sliding doors of the medical institution, approaching the desk and slamming a hoof down upon it. "Where is Rarity?" I demanded. The secretary looked at me like wide-eyed prey. "She was brought in minutes ago! A unicorn!"
"She was taken to the emergency room," the secretary explained. "I don't know anything more than that, I am afraid."
"What are you being paid for?"
"Sir, you are welcome to stay in the waiting area."
"I must see her!"
"The doctors will be doing all that they can for her," she foolishly announced. "Please, be patient."
Rarity was the patient here, not me. But I did as I was told, not because I wanted to, might I add, but because I did not know what else to do. I took a seat in the waiting area and remained there for some time, my eyes scanning over the other patrons. There were little colts and fillies playing with toys and older ponies barely keeping an eye on them. Two fillies in particular were building a tower out of toy bricks and then knocking it down. They did this more times than I could count. The crashing was insufferable. "Stop..." I muttered under my breath. A mare, presumably the mother, looked up from her magazine and gave me the oddest look imaginable.
"Are those your young?" I asked, pointing a hoof towards the infants. She nodded.
"Tell them to be silent."
"Leave the tower crumbled," I said to the children, turning away from their mother. "Do not rebuild it."
Some stuff happened and the mother left with her kids to try and find out more information about whoever it was that they were waiting for. Eventually my eyes caught sight of the doctor from the scene and I jumped to my feet. He addressed me before I could approach him further. "Hello there," he said smoothly. "My name is Doctor Tawleed." He held a hoof out for me to shake, and I gave him that much in order to obey social formality. "Rarity is fine. She fainted and we're going to run a few tests on her. Right now she is just resting."
"When can she go home?"
"I wouldn't like to say just yet," he responded. "Ponies do not generally faint unless there is something wrong. Fainting is caused by a lack of blood flow and oxygen to the brain. I would not like to send her home until we know that this was a singular occurrence. Perhaps you can help me?"
I found myself agreeing. "Does Rarity faint quite a lot?" he asked.
"I have never seen it before," I said honestly, clearing my throat. "Please, let her come home. She is fine. We were in Old Manehattan and she must have succumbed to the smell and atmosphere."
He appeared to make a mental note of the information. "When can I see her?" I asked, and he looked back towards the doorway that he had come through. "She is still dizzy," he said, "but you should be able to see her right away."
I thanked him for his time, although he went with me to see her which I found to be a terrible breach of privacy. Rarity was lying in a white-sheeted bed looking pale and weak. Some nurses were standing around her doing various things, although nopony seemed to think that her condition was anything serious. I approached her bedside and moved a hoof to her own; she gripped and smiled up at me. "I am sorry..." she mouthed dryly. "This is really...rather silly of me."
"It's fine," I said. "You have been working so hard recently. This is proof of that."
"Thank you...for showing me your home. I do not regret it..."
She closed her eyes and I looked back to the doctor desperately. He commented that such a thing was normal, and that I should let her rest. Despite sleeping, her grip remained true and I was bound to her bedside. The doctor moved a small chair over to the side of the bed so that I could sit there. I thanked him and stopped him for another moment of his time.
I had forgotten his name.
I paused. "Thank you for helping her. When she fell I panicked. I was useless to help her. I didn't know what to do."
"These things happen," the doctor said. "Most ponies react the same way. It is impossible to always be there for somepony without fail. It is not a bad thing to accept the help of others once in a while. Everypony in this room just wants to help Rarity. She is in safe hooves now, so you can rest easy." He smiled at me and left the room, no doubt to go and play the hero elsewhere. I watched him go, turning to Rarity and stroking a hoof through her purple locks of mane. "It's okay..." I said to her softly, keeping our link strong.
If we needed the doctor again, all I would need to do was say his name.
Tumbleweed, was it?