As a rule, Fleur de Lis was a happy pony. Living in Canterlot and having everything she wanted given to her certainly helped. What her lifestyle did not help with, however, was preparing her for those times the rule broke.
“Fleur, I’m sorry, but I really don’t think this is working out,” said the blue haired stallion. He refused to look her in the eye, but the gesture didn’t make Fleur’s heart beat any less vigorously. On the contrary, she was certain that if things didn’t calm down soon, she might well faint. On the other hoof, at least her soon-to-be-ex was at least kind enough to levitate her a paper bag.
“B-b-b-but-” she stuttered, tears streaming out of her eyes. Fancypants shook his head as she stuffed her face into the bag; her breaths were slowing down and she was certainly doing a much better job of not being too terribly panicked. She was only crying instead of hyperventilating.
Fancypants smiled, continuing to look carefully just past her head. “Now, now. Don’t cry. It won’t do for you to cry,” he said. Apparently he’d never broken up before. Ponies cried. Mares cried. Even stallions cried, though they might not admit it afterwards.
“Wh-wh-what di-di-did I do wroooooong?” she wailed. Grayish black tears rolled down her face, leaving dark streaks along her cheek before they plopped gracelessly on the tile floor.
Fancypants shook his head at her. “Nothing my dear, you did nothing wrong; it’s all me you see.” He placed a hoof on her shoulder and decided to look at her nose. “I’ve changed. Grown up a little more ever since running into that dressmaker from Ponyville; and to be honest, I’ve realized that you’re not quite the mare for me. I need someone more...mature.”
Fleur bawled even louder than before; there really was no chance of stopping this. High Rise Magazine’s couple of the year was officially through. Her reputation among Canterlot’s elite might as well have never existed; Fancypants himself, the single most important high society pony in Canerlot, had dumped her.
“I’m r-r-ruined!” she howled, throwing herself onto the nearest chaise. She buried her face into one of the brilliant red cushions; its silky smoothness crushed her tears against her face, and she tasted her charcoal eyeliner. Now almost completely lost in hysterics, she bit the cushion in an effort to keep some measure of control as her diaphragm fought violently with the rest of her. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to breathe or throw up. Dramatic sobbing is, after all, rather taxing.
Fleur didn’t know how long Fancypants left her there, weeping into his twelve thousand bit chaise. All she knew was when she woke, she had found a thick red cashmere blanket draped over her and a mouth-written letter sitting on the nearby coffee table next to a bowl watercress salad on ice and a flute of Tannat. Her favorite. How thoughtful.
I’m dreadfully sorry that this has happened; however do not worry. While we are no longer together, I will not require that you move out any time soon. We’ll wait until you have found fitting and permanent accommodations, and you’ve found yourself some work. You know me: not one to leave a pony out in the cold.
I know that you’re hurting right now, and I sincerely hope that you can forgive me. Believe me, it was not easy to come to the decision that I came to; but I decided it was the best for both of us.
Nevertheless, do me a favor would you? Wait until after you’ve had some time to process what’s happened.
I hope that this hasn’t driven a wedge between us. As much as I know you must be suffering right now, I want you to know that we can still be friends.
Fleur stared at the parchment; she stared, specifically, at five words: “We can still be friends.” The death knell of every relationship with a colt; her heart felt like it had fallen through the bottom of her stomach and into the floor, and what appetite she might have had disappeared entirely.
Well, maybe not entirely. “It’s not like this day could get any worse,” she muttered as she speared some watercress on a fork. A sharp taste of raspberry vinaigrette filled her mouth. She swallowed, not entirely enjoying her favorite food. It was a little hard for her to relish the dish when her coltfriend had broken up with her only a little while before; it certainly wasn’t any easier when her mouth was dry from all the crying earlier.
The wine didn’t help much either. As a rule, the Tannat helped bring out the raspberry in the salad, since the red wine had its own raspberry aromas; however, today the wine’s tannic nature was much stronger, leading to a harsh bitter taste. There was another one of Fleur’s rules broken. Such a shame. She loved raspberries.
Still, she finished her meal and levitated it all to the sink herself. Her mother had taught her never to waste food. The old matron’s voice floated through her mind, reciting one of the lessons she had learned as a little filly.
“Waste not, want not!” her mother had shrilled. “While you may not want for food or entertainment, remember that there are hundreds of ponies, dragons, donkeys, and other creatures who are starving this very minute!” The pale green coated mare, ever practical, then insisted that the young filly eat all of her alfalfa before going out to play at Canterlot Park. Fleur sniffled. Apparently, breaking up with someone made a pony nostalgic.
A few moments later, she threw herself onto her bed. She sank into the soft, silk sheets, feeling their smoothness. When she moved out, she was taking the bed with her. Or at least the sheets; she loved the sheets. Fancypants had gotten them for her.
The penthouse’s silence irked her. Normally she would be out and about Canterlot, hobnobbing with the elite while Fancypants was at work. He spent the day as a chief financial officer for some international investment firm that dealt in enormous exchanges, contracts, bonds, and mountains of bits while Equestrian Stock Exchange went through the motions of the day. She spent the day going from one high society event to another, inspiring awe in both her own beauty and grace, and Fancypants’ success in being able to nab her as his marefriend. Not today however. Today she was too exhausted from no longer being his marefriend.
She peered at the crystal clock on the wall. The clock had the shape of a heart and held a framed photograph of her former beau and herself as they had their picture taken at one of Canterlot’s famous garden parties. She was wearing an elegant white and pink ensemble, with a gorgeous hat. He was dressed in his eternally stylish suit. They looked happy together. As if their relationship would never end.
One o’clock in the afternoon.
“Fleur! Don’t let the day waste away! Staying on your hooves and busy is the best way to make sure that you’re always moving forward in life!” shrilled her mother’s voice again. She’d been scolding Fleur for not doing her homework that day.
She squeezed her eyes shut, letting exhaustion take her.
“One is just too early to deal with all of this,” the pink haired pony mumbled. Then she was out, on her way to the bright meadows and pastures of Luna’s dreamland. Hopefully she could eat all the watercress salad in raspberry vinaigrette she wanted without worrying about gaining weight.
“Sorry babe,” the brown colt said. His eyes followed a filly in a slinky blue dress sashay down the runway. “I’m full up. The firm doesn’t need any more models.”
“But Limelight!” Fleur said. “I was one of the best models you’ve ever had! There’s not one of these girls who wouldn’t give their left hoof to be me! I still make the cover of magazines!” She was ranting now, standing on her hind legs with her fore legs spread wide in an open pose, nose held high, hair flowing back. “I’m Fleur de Lis! Runner-up for last year’s Miss Equestria competition!”
Somewhere in the deserted stands, a lone pony clapped. Fleur glared into the shadows, her eyes searching for some hint of the heckler, but she saw nothing.
Limelight shook his head. Fleur watched him shuffle his notes around on the tiny little director’s table before him, nearly knocking over his cup of coffee. As a rule, whenever Limelight was shuffling papers around he was about to give in to another pony.
Fleur smiled. Get a job? Easy. She’d been one of the Equestria’s top models for three years, and according to most fashion and gossip magazines she was still a ten by most stallions’ opinions. Ponies would talk about her dresses for weeks after the Grand Galloping Gala; she was, in all definitions of the word, a well-known celebrity. The World’s Fashion Fair should be delighted to have her; Bit and Bridle, being a small fashion outlet, even more so.
“I don’t know how to tell you this Fleur, so I’m just going to say it straight,” Limelight started. “There’s nothing I can do.” She drank in the news as he drank some of his coffee. “Sorry doll; I’d love to, but with the way the tabloids and rags talk about you and Fancypants? I’m not putting my career on the line so you can embarrass yourself.”
Another rule broken.
Fleur couldn’t panic again. That would be making a scene, and then she’d never find a job anywhere else. It was fine. She’d find some other job right? Surely some other high rise clothing line would hire her.
“Limelight, I am not Lindsey Rohan.” Who was she kidding? Bridle and Saddle was the bottom of the barrel when it came to high rise fashion, and if they wouldn’t have her, who would? Nopony. She could hear the late night talk shows now; Busy Bee introducing Fancypants as one of the new Riders of Lohan...only this time she’d be the one they were all making fun of. Not some drugged up, two bit party pony.
Limelight sighed, shuffling more papers around. The coffee cup was brushed more than once. “Fleur, I’m not suggesting anything about you. I’m just saying that there’s no way I can convince my bosses to hire you. There’s just too much bad press right now.” He seized the cup in his teeth, tipping it backwards into his mouth.
Fleur’s horn glowed, tipping the cup a little further backwards than Limelight would have liked. He choked on the hot liquid, feeling it singe his lips and throat. Spluttering, he slammed the cup down on the desk in front of him, splattering what was left in the cup all over his papers.
“Fleur? What is wrong with you?” he shouted. He took a few moments to massage his throat with his left forehoof, pointing savagely with the other. The rage in his eyes was enough to send the mare backwards a few steps. “I took the time to talk to you, and you shove my coffee down my throat?” The models on the stage had stopped chattering with each other and were staring at the two of them.
“Is that Fleur de Lis?” one of them whispered, the sound carrying all the way across the auditorium. While the recognition brightened her mood slightly, the second whisper didn’t.
“Didn’t Fancypants break up with her?” If Fleur’s hackles could have risen, they would have; instead, she’d have to settle for her mane almost literally standing on end.
“Limelight!” Fleur screeched, “If I don’t get a job here, I’m ruined!” She returned Limelight’s forceful point as she spoke, thrust her hoof forward on each point. “I’ve gone to every other modeling agency and open model audition and I can’t even get the time of day!” She slammed her hoof down on the table, and the cup finally had it. It fell off of the table, careening towards the auditorium floor.
All that was of the coffee cup were sharp porcelain slivers. Two larger pieces glistened in the light, and Fleur could make out the writing on both of them. One read “est”. The other read “Da”.
Oh sweet Celestia.
Limelight rounded on her, nostrils flaring wide open. It wasn’t a pretty sight. “Out!” he shouted, stomping towards her.
Fleur backed up as quickly as she could. “I-I’m sorry!” she said. “I didn’t mean to-”
“GET OUT BEFORE I CALL SECURITY!” the brown earth pony roared.
Fleur fled, sobbing as she left. Her career was like Limelight’s coffee cup; broken with only a few pieces left behind to give a hint of what might have been.
Fancypants might not have meant to completely wreck her life and reputation by breaking up with her. That didn’t mean that it hadn’t happened.
“Fleur!” the white stallion called. “Fleur! It’s time to go home!”
“Coming dad!” she called. She turned to her friends in the sandbox, smiling brightly. “See you foals tomorrow?”
A blue earth filly and yellow unicorn colt smiled back. “Sure thing!” the filly said as the colt climbed on top of her head.
“Eat sand!” the colt cried. Unluckily for him, his spell backfired, and the cloud of sand instead blasted him in the face as the little filly ducked.
Fleur laughed, trotting back to her father. Or her step-father at any rate.
“Did you have fun?” he asked as she trotted along beside him.
“Yeah!” she said brightly. “I got to swing on the swing today with my magic, and I got to-” and she began to babble on and on about her day as foals do. Some time later, the sun hanging low in the sky, they arrived back at home.
“Now I have some news for you sweetie!” he said as he opened the door for her.
“Oh! What is it? Tell me, tell me, tell me!” she squealed excitedly. Fleur hopped in place, hair falling everywhere about her.
Her father looked at her very carefully before continuing. “Well, I have to make sure that you’re ready first.”
Filly Fleur looked shocked. How could she not be ready? She could count by twos and tie her shoes! Well, she didn’t actually have any shoes, but that didn’t matter; she knew she was quite ready. “Daaaady!” she wailed, stomping her hooves.
“Alright alright,” he said. He paused for emphasis. Then her world ended.
“We’re moving to Canterlot.”
“Soo,” Airy Breeze said, “What do you think Fleur? Is tall, dark, and handsome into me?” The purple filly was levitating a small compact, staring at the school hoofball captain in the mirror.
Fleur scoffed at the idea. “As if,” she said. “Emerald Shine’s been hanging all over him for the past week. If he’s into you, then he’s a lot more into that slut.” She finished brushing away the tiniest incongruity in her facial fur. “There!”
“Well, if it isn’t Little Miss Perfect and My Little Syncophant,” Page sniped as she sat at her desk. Fleur turned her nose up in response.
“And if it isn’t Miss Know-Every-Page,” Emerald answered. “Well, Pagey-Wagey, what’s with that tacky little necklace there? Soo, sparkly. Is it rock candy?”
Page pushed her glasses securely onto her nose before answering. “Miss Green Glass, [a]this happens to be a pendant given to me by my grandmother. I’ll have you know that it is very special to me. Besides, should you really be making fun of someone who might be your boss one day?”
Fleur rolled her eyes. She didn’t know how she put up with their constant bickering at all. Ever since she’d started school at Canterlot’s San Celestia Preparatory School, the days had become an endless stream of nothingness and boredom. She would flounce through the halls, leaving those she passed in awe of her beauty. Fleur was going to be the single most successful model the world had ever seen; that was her life. Nopony was going to tell her otherwise.
Nopony except Page Turner apparently. There was a pony who needed to be put in her place. Page couldn’t dress, couldn’t move with grace, couldn’t do anything right except exactly what didn’t matter: being a bookworm. Page Turner was one of the most popular students with the teachers at San Celestia; Fleur’s exact opposite. So far, they had deigned to ignore each other, instead spending their time socially attacking the other’s friends.
About a week ago, Fleur had decided that it was time for that truce to end. Unilaterally of course.
Hidden in Page Turner’s desk was a small spell trap loaded full of baby powder. Nopony would know who set it except Page, and poor Miss Turner couldn’t prove anything. Fleur hadn’t even placed the trap herself; one of the many colts who were swooning over her had done it.
In fact, it was none other than school hoofball captain, Meteor Bolt. She knew that he sat behind her just to stare at the back of her head. They all did. Because she was Fleur de Lis, the single prettiest, most popular pony, in their podunk little school.
And she was destined for greatness.
“Hey! Page Turner!” Emerald shouted, levitating a paper ball. “Think fast!” Before Fleur could say anything, the ball had hit Page squarely between the nose. A dribble of spit ran slowly down her snout as tears welled up in her eyes.
“Y-you’re s-so mean!” Page cried. Everypony was laughing at her.
Everypony but Fleur. Suddenly the white coated mare didn’t feel so great about the prank she had planned out. Page could, apparently, take verbal abuse very well. A spitball? That wasn’t just mean-spirited, it lacked imagination. Even worse, as much as Fleur disliked Page, Fleur disliked Page crying even more.
Fleur de Lis stood up, glaring at everypony. “You all should be ashamed of yourselves!” she exclaimed, grounding her forehooves on the desk in front of her. “I know that a lot of you dislike Page, but this behavior is unacceptable! It’s immoral, and immature! Page, I think I speak for everyone in the room when I say, ‘We’re sorry.’ Isn’t that right everypony?”
Nopony dared to contradict the queen of the school’s social scene.
Fleur smiled at Page, and Page, after wiping off most of the spit, smiled back. Maybe their truce wouldn’t end today after all. Maybe they could even be friends.
Which is why what happened next was the worst possible thing.
Nopony had noticed Meteor Bolt sneaking up on Page’s desk. Nopony had noticed him getting ready to nudge the desk’s cover with his hoof. Nopony except Fleur, and she noticed too late.
“No, don’t-” she tried, leaning forward to catch the surface of the desk with her hoof.
The desk’s top flew open, propelled by a hundred thousand athletic practices and by a single minded purpose: embarrass Page Turner. Tomato soup flew out of little trap Meteor and Fleur had prepared ahead of time, covering the poor blue earth pony in sweet, sticky, red paste. To add injury to insult, the pendant clasp flew open, and the piece of tacky jewelry fell to the floor. Where it shattered.
Fleur stared at Page. Page stared at Fleur. Meteor started laughing uproariously, his voice sounding unnaturally loud in the eerie silence of the rest of the classroom. He fell silent after a few seconds; laughing alone will do that.
“I-I didn’t-” was all Fleur managed to say before Page stormed out of the classroom in tears.
The next day Page didn’t return to school. Or the day after that. Or the day after that.
A week later the teacher, who had been conveniently late for the entire episode, mentioned that Page had left San Celestia. She would be returning to Hoofington, where she would finish out her high school.
Fleur had arranged for the teacher to be late to class. She had arranged for the tomato soup trap. She had arranged for everything ... everything except hurting another pony’s feelings badly enough that they no longer felt safe or comfortable coming to school.
Page had left her the undisputed Queen of San Celestia’s social scene.
Queen of San Celestia. How empty and ephemeral that sounded knowing that she had single-hoofedly changed another pony’s life forever. Had forced her to move. Away from her friends. The life she had known since she was a little filly.
Fleur cried herself to sleep that night.
It had been a month since Fancypants had broken up with her. A month that Fleur de Lis had spent flitting from job interview to job interview, and high society party to high society party, though mostly the latter. Fancypants was beginning to get restless.
“My dear, I’m going to have to put hoof to haunches and kick you out the door if you don’t take your job search more seriously,” he had said one night. The stallion had been quietly cleaning his monocle as he talked, trying not to look Fleur in the eye. “I’ve decided to start charging rent,” he said. “Hopefully that will galvanize you into taking your job hunt more seriously.”
Fleur gasped. Rent? Fleur de Lis had never paid rent! She’d always managed to charm her way into the homes of other ponies, or had gotten some extra spending money from her father when she needed it. As a rule, Fleur de Lis had always lived off of the generosity of other ponies! All because she was beautiful!
Oh well. Another rule broken. It seemed to be a trend.
Fleur could ask her father for enough money to pay whatever rent Fancypants was willing to charge for a few months, but she wasn’t sure he’d be entirely happy about perpetuating the situation. This was the stallion who had broken his daughter’s heart after all, and she was still living with him.
The tabloids, meanwhile, continued their endless rant.
Her reputation was in tatters now. Fleur could barely walk through the streets without hearing somepony or other whispering behind her back. How could she possibly explain to her father that she was staying with the only pony who would willingly watch after her? Fancypants had nothing to lose, of course. His reputation was untouchable; he was Canterlot’s most important pony after all.
“I’ll...see if I can try something other than modeling,” she said. Fancypants nodded sagely, placing his monocle back before continuing.
“Ah! So much better!” he said, seizing several lettuce leaves with a pair of chopsticks. “And to be honest, I think we don’t want to see a repeat of last week, now do we?”
Fleur cringed. The last Canterlot Garden Party she’d been to, she’d left in hysterics. Jet Set and Upper Crust had invited her, only to strike her name from the invitation list; she hadn’t even made it past the guard. The next day, the rags all printed comparisons between Fleur de Lis and Lindsey Rohan. She’d won the comparison of course, but coming out on top over Rohan was like a rabbit beating a tortoise at a race: a predetermined outcome.
She hadn’t expected Jet Set and Upper Crust to be that capricious either. Then again, she no longer had Fancypants to protect her from the fickle tastes of the Canterlot elite; and she knew better than almost anyone about how capricious they could be. She had wielded that weapon more often than she could count, purposefully reeling in possible new members and then destroying them when they began to threaten her own position.
Now that Fancypants’ ex-marefriend had fallen from her throne, everypony was wheeling and dealing to be the second most important pony in Canterlot.
Canterlot high society. Cutthroat. Ruthless. Utterly uncaring. The exact opposite of everything Princesses Celestia and Luna wanted in their Equestrian society. Fleur had been at the top of the heap.
That only meant that she had a lot to learn.
As a rule, Fleur de Lis knew all of Canterlot that mattered. If a pony needed to find a posh shop or an expensive side street, she could find it.
Of all of the rules to break next, it had to be this one. She looked high. She looked low. Low and high. High and low.
There was no mistaking it. Fleur de Lis was hopelessly, unmistakably lost. She nudged a pebble in sad frustration, wandering past the dilapidated tenements. A few foals stopped her in the street to ask her for bits; it broke her heart to say no. She couldn’t explain how she had no bits of her own.
After wandering about for about a half an hour, she laid down on a nearby bench, trying to remember something, anything, that might get her out of this place. She couldn’t remember when, or how, she had left Fancypants’ penthouse; she couldn’t even remember which side streets she’d taken to get here. All she could remember was one thought: get away from the hecklers.
Fleur had never had to live with sustained ridicule. When faced with it now, from the very ponies she used to go places with, whose opinions she had cared about, she began to realize just how empty that life was.
“Maybe that’s why Fancypants broke up with me,” she mused. It made sense. He was the one member of high society who didn’t seem to care what anyone else thought, and who seemed to do his own thing. Canterlot’s very own Whet Cutler: a cutthroat businesspony with a heart of gold and a strong, if skewed, moral and social compass.
Fleur de Lis, on the other hoof, was very much a prissy mare who only cared about social climbing. Social climbing was second nature to her; and she had stomped on anypony in her way. She’d learned to ignore the caring part of herself a long time ago as she fended off attempt after attempt to dethrone the Queen of Canterlot.
Fancypants wanted somepony like him. Somepony who knew how to be savvy with one hoof, and honorable with the other. He wanted somepony not only shrewd but also sympathetic. He wanted-
No. He needed somepony. Somepony that wasn’t her.
A bench in the middle of the less affluent neighborhoods of Canterlot is neither the time nor the place to have a quiet cry. Nevertheless, it was there, on that bench, that somepony found her.
A voice filtered over her sniffles, through her ear, and into her brain. A voice that was shouting. Shouting very, very rude things. Things like, “Hey! Escort Sluthooves!”
Her eyes flew open, and she rose from the bench, nostrils flaring in rage. Whoever this pony was, he was about to find out that she was not a unicorn to be trifled with.
Or not. Apparently it was not somepony who found her. It was someponies. One...two...three...four...one of them a unicorn, and another a pegasus, all male.
Fleur’s anger born confidence faded as quickly as it came, and a little pony in her head started praying desperately to Celestia.
“Please let me get out of this, please let me get out of this, please let me get out of this...” it muttered desperately to itself. The litany of fear almost overwhelmed her, and she barely avoided fainting. Yet somewhere, in between her loudly beating heart, and her quivering legs, a long buried soul of steel revealed itself.
“How about,” she said loudly, “We all pretend nothing happened and we go about our day?” Fleur de Lis’ eyes flitted about, searching for an out. A police pony, a helpful looking gentlecolt...nothing.
“Hows about, y’all just come with us, pretty lady?” the earth pony colt countered. The leer that stretched across his face was almost unbearable; as much as she had capitalized on her looks to climb the upper rungs of high society, she still hated it whenever a colt looked at her that way. All of them except for ... Fancypants.
Then the colt licked his lips and she could almost taste her lunch: caramelized truffles and fresh daises on toasted ciabatta.
“And if I don’t?” she answered, still looking around for a way out. Maybe there was a weapon she could levitate. One that the other unicorn couldn’t see; no matter what he needed to go down first. Fleur had never been very good at Telekinetic-Tug-of-War, and with three other hostile ponies, his interference would almost certainly be the final nail in her coffin.
There! One of the parked carts had a broken axle! If she could just pry it loose she might have a fighting chance! Still, she’d need to pull, and hard, and the axle was a little far from the unicorn. There! A rock at his hooves ... no, wait. He would probably just chuck it at her the moment her horn started glowing.
She was so busy trying to find a way out she didn’t notice when the axle flew out from under the cart and the unicorn colt suddenly experienced centrifugal force applied to the side of his head.
She seized the pegasus as he charged and threw him into one of the stallions who was trying to tackle her, then dashed over to them and laid into them with her forehooves until they turned fled. Luckily, it didn’t take long.
That just left Talky, who was spinning around wildly, crudely dodging the axle as it attempted to introduce him to the concept of blunt force.
“Where are you!” he screamed around the knife in his mouth. “Come out here and fight like a stallion!” He was stopped, rather abruptly, by running into the very rock that had been at his unicorn friend’s hooves. It was very lucky for him that he had been holding the blade by the handle sideways, or he might have choked or cut himself. As it was, he was just out cold.
“Well, well, an uptown mare who knows how to defend herself,” an older voice chuckled. Fleur turned to the source. Her breathing was ragged, and her head ached from the effort she had poured into the fight; she wouldn’t be levitating things for a few hours without giving herself a splitting headache. If she had to fight this other pony, she was going to lose.
An old mare stood in the shadows, two fully-laden saddlebags strapped to her sides. The axle was leaning against a nearby lamp post, and she was smiling rather widely.
“Now what’s an uptowner like yourself doing down here in the slums of Canterlot?” she asked. Fleur noticed that her magical glow had left the axle.
Fleur opened her mouth to answer, only to find that she really didn’t have an answer. Why was she in the slums of Canterlot? Hadn’t she gotten lost?
The older pony nodded sagely. “You’re lost aren’t you?” Fleur nodded. “Well, now, Grandma Pepper lead the way.” With that, the old mare set off. Fleur, unsure of what else to do, started following her.
“Have a bad day dear?” Pepper asked. Fleur nodded. Pepper coughed. “Not much of a talker, are you?”
Fleur spoke. “Oh, no ma’am,” she said, “I’m just not having a very good day. Or week. Or month, actually.”
Pepper kept walking for a little before replying. “Why don’t you tell Grandma Pepper about everything.”
Fleur told her everything. About how the tabloids wouldn’t stop printing trash about her, how her old connections in high fashion had left her in the dust, how the high society snobs had turned against her, and how she was beginning to realize, at some point during their relationship she had fallen completely in love with the stallion she had once seen as a stepping stone along the way to marrying Prince Blueblood and becoming Princess Fleur de Lis.
And how that same stallion had decided that she wasn’t the right mare for him.
After she finished her story, they walked in silence for awhile. Finally, they arrived at their destination and Grandma Pepper turned to her, smiling.
“Well,” she said, “We’re here!” Fleur looked up at the building behind her and saw ... not the beginnings of high rise Canterlot, but an old soup kitchen. From the old mare’s grin, Fleur could tell that Grandma Pepper knew that she was confused.
“C’mon now girl, step inside and give an old mare a hoof,” she said.
“But,” Fleur said, “Weren’t you leading me to-”
“Aw, we can do that later,” Pepper interrupted. “Now come on in and help me out! From what you’ve been saying, it’s not like you have anything better to do with your time now is there?”
She was right. It wasn’t like Fleur had anywhere else to be. So Fleur, against her better judgment, stepped inside the kitchen.
And was met with a scene that was at once heartwarming and heartbreaking.
The floors were clean, the tables neat, and the food line itself was running efficiently. Families ate, and foals played with each other in groups.
Everypony’s plate was a little too small, and a few too many of the foals had just barely too much of their ribs showing. If she focused, she could guess at how many on a few of them.
After a few moments, everypony was staring at her.
“This here, is my pride and joy. It’s a life’s hard work of sweat and toil and hard work, something that it sounds like you aren’t used to.” Pepper neighed a little at her own joke. Fleur smiled awkwardly in return.
“Come now child, it’s all in good fun,” she said. Turning to the crowd she raised her hoof in introduction, “This here is Fleur de Lis. She’ll be helping us for a little while today, so I expect you all will treat her with respect and kindness!” She winked at Fleur as the crowd murmured their thanks returned to their meals. “Now come on back and help me out with this stew.”
The stew was a simple one. Potatoes, leeks, celery, beans and salt. Lots of salt. The meal smelled thick and filling; something that everypony present, Fleur excluded, needed. It was the kind of meal that Fleur normally turned her nose up at; she could feel the pounds filling in just by looking at it.
Yet, the work, while neither glamorous nor even paid, was fulfilling. It was the kind of work that filled the empty feeling left behind by high rise society; the society that had forgotten her in its haste to fill the void she had left behind.
It was exactly what she had been missing from her life, and she loved every minute of it. From the playful joking in the back to the smiles on the foals faces as she ladled the stew onto the rice.
When one of them asked, “You’re not going to be like those other mares who stop by right? The high school students who come by once and then never come back?”
She shook her head. “I’ll come back.”
“Fleur?” Fancypants asked. He’d caught her trying to sneak out early again. “Fleur what’s going on? Your father just sent me a letter saying that he’s no longer paying your rent, and it’s been four months. You still haven’t found a job?” The confusion on his face was clear. He clearly had expected that Fleur would have found something by now; not that it was particularly troublesome for him. He had been paying all the bills for the past two years between the both of them.
She faced him, rubbing her fore leg awkwardly. “I don’t know how to say this, but-”
Fancypants smiled. “Say no more. I understand how hard it is to find work; I’ll ask around town and see who’s hiring. You’ll have ten job offers by lunch time,” he said, waving his hoof nonchalantly. “Now then, since I’m taking the day off, I’m back to bed!”
“Wait!” she said. Fancypants stopped, and turned around, this time with a disappointed look on his face.
“Fleur,” he said slowly, “Don’t tell me you haven’t been job searching.” The mare shook her head quietly, a little ashamed to be admitting this. He fumed quietly for full minute before continuing. “Fleur ... I had hoped that you would grow up a little over the past few months, but I can see now that you’re never going to. I’m going to have to ask you to pack your things and leave.” He glared at her through his monocle, his rage seemingly focused by the device.
“If you’d let me explain-” Fleur started.
“OUT!” he shouted.
As a rule, Fleur knew that socially aggressive stallions liked mares who could toy with them, who were semi-assertive but just submissive enough to not get in their way at a garden party.
Today, she decided to break that rule herself.
“Now listen here!” she shouted back. Fancypants froze, confused. Fleur had never shouted at him before. Something was different. She could practically hear the gears turning in his head as he tried to understand exactly what was happening. “I have found work! I’ve been volunteering at Miss Pepper’s Soup Kitchen down in Withers!”
The monocle fell off of Fancypants’ face, and if he could have picked his jaw up off the floor, he would have. “Withers?” he said quietly. “But ... that’s one of Canterlot’s largest slums. What were you doing there?”
“Volunteering at a soup kitchen!” she retorted. “Wasn’t I clear enough the first time?” Her angry gaze matched his. He gulped.
“And I’m going to keep volunteering at the soup kitchen! If you kick me out, so be it. I’ll find a way to keep working there sooner than I’ll find a way to make some money to pay you your precious rent! Rent that you find more valuable than me!” Fancypants flinched. Fleur knew that he saw himself as an honorable stallion, and that the words had been quite the slap in the face.
Cowering back, he levitated the monocle back into place. “Have I ever told you that you’re beautiful when you’re angry?” he said, smiling awkwardly.
Fleur stomped her hooves. “I’m going down to the soup kitchen, and I’ll pack my things when I get back!” she roared. The door slammed shut behind her.
Fancypants watched a saucer spin around helplessly before it fell off the counter and shattered on the tile. “Well,” he said to himself, “she has grown up a little after all. Perhaps I’ll poke around this soup kitchen sometime today.”
With that, he went back to bed. Yet, he was unable to sleep. All he could think of was how assertive Fleur had been about something that mattered for once. Not about scarves or hats, or somepony who had looked at her just the tiniest bit wrong at the luncheon the other day. No, she was angry with him for doubting her integrity and simply writing off what she’d been spending her time doing before even bothering to listen to what it was.
She had been, there was no better word for it, sexy.
Besides, soup kitchens were a cause he could get behind. Now if only he could convince her father not to throttle him for letting his daughter work in a soup kitchen in one of Canterlot’s most dangerous slums for four months.
Fleur de Lis slammed another ladle full of garlic and butter potatoes on the pony’s tray in front of her. She was incensed at Fancypants; the stallion had basically written her off as an air-head, the way that all of Canterlot had done. She was backing a cause, on her own, and not making a dent in it. Nopony should be going hungry in the capitol of Equestria, and yet here they were. Everyday. Not a single high society pony seemed to care except her, and that was only when she’d been thrown out of the upper echelons of society.
Pepper took her to the side. “Fleur,” she said, a worried look on her face, “Is something wrong?”
Fleur sighed, letting the anger out of her. Most of it. He’d still have to deal with it when she got back later that evening. “Nothing,” she answered. “Just had a spat.”
Pepper grinned. “Well if you’re having a nice little lover’s quarrel, why don’t you take the day off?” Fleur started shaking her head, but Pepper interrupted her. “I insist.”
At that moment, the little greeting bell rang. It had been Fleur’s idea. “A nice little ring-a-ling to greet you as you walk into someplace that you can call your home away from home.” The patrons had all agreed that it was a nice touch to the drab facility.
It was Fancypants. With a single rose. If Fleur could have picked her jaw up off the floor, she would have.
“Well,” he said, “This appears to be a rather fine establishment. My dear, where would I find Miss Fleur de Lis?” He was clearly ignoring Fleur to be funny; she had never quite understood this joke, and probably never would.
“Is that ... Fancypants?” Pepper whispered. Fleur nodded. “You are definitely taking the day off.” Fleur rolled her eyes at Pepper.
She turned to Fancypants, intending to give him a piece of her mind, when he immediately proffered her the flower. “My dear,” he said, “I underestimated you. You’ve grown up much more than I expected, and I’m sorry to say that I ever doubted you.” He lifted her hoof to his lips and kissed. “Will you take me back?” One of the diners whooped.
“Say yes!” another shouted.
Fleur paused for a moment, her heart soaring through the skies. She was blushing so deeply, her cheeks matched her mane. This was the last thing she had been expecting.
Which was why her answer hurt so much.
Fancypants was stopped in his tracks for the second time today. For everypony else, it was the first.
“But...why?” he asked.
“Fancypants, over the past four months, I’ve come to love this place deeply, and to love its cause even more deeply than you could ever imagine.” She paused to catch her breath before continuing, fighting the tears. “But nopony that you or I know in high society is really interested. Do you think Jet Set and Upper Crust would do anything significant? What about Emerald Shine? I don’t think any of them would, and I know that you haven’t been doing anything either.”
Another breath. This was the hardest part.
“Fancypants, I’ve changed. I’ve grown up a little bit ever since you broke up with me, and started demanding that I find some work. Well, I did.” She waved her hoof at the entirety of the soup kitchen. “My time here has taught me a few things. One of them is that you’re not quite the stallion for me. I need someone who’s mature enough to know that there are more important things to do with clout than just gathering more of it. I need someone more ... mature.”
Fancypants chuckled. “That’s not fair, using the same words I used to break up with you.” One of the braver audience members raised his hoof to heckle. Pepper stared him down.
“I’ll be here if you ever choose to grow up,” Fleur said. “And I understand if you still want me to move out.”
Fancypants shook his head. “My dear, you can stay as long as you like.” He turned to Pepper. “Where can I find an apron?”
Fleur took a step back. “Fancypants? What are you doing?”
“Why, I’m growing up,” he said, winking at her and grinning. Fleur smiled back.
This was going to be fun.
As a rule, Fancypants and Fleur de Lis were two of the most generous philequines Canterlot had ever seen. Their wedding at a small soup kitchen was, according to some of the most fashionable magazines in the business, one of the most interesting fusions of the rich and the poor that had ever graced the Equestrian capitol’s cobblestone streets. All of the gifts gathered at the wedding were distributed to the poorer attendees. The pair’s efforts to bring nourishment and education to Withers were a rallying cry to the rich and powerful of Canterlot, and Withers was revitalized into a lively sector of Canterlot.
This rule? It was never broken.
Hey! It’s PenPal! Don’t you colts and fillies, worry, I’m still working on Wooly Fetlocks. I just needed to take a break and recharge, after chapter nine, and after seeing Sweet and Elite, I really wanted to write this story. So here you go! Chapters ten and eleven will probably be released some time before New Year’s. Maybe even chapter twelve!
But yeah, I think I’ll do mostly one-shots after finishing Wooly Fetlocks. Or something episodic.
But if I do another long project like Fetlocks, I’ll do it the way I’ll be doing it now: interspersing it with the one-shots I really really like.
Comments and reviews sent to [email protected] would greatly be appreciated. Alternatively, send comments and reviews to my Fimfiction.net page. Same name: PenPal.