>It was a particularly warm summer day, the kind where a thick, choking heat blanketed the scorched grass of the empty soccer fields behind Canterlot Elementary
>As one would expect, the school was empty from summer break, and the intense heat meant that even the kickballs fields were empty
>Well, almost empty
>Had you looked closely, you'd have noticed a single child kneeling in the dirt next to the school walls, crying softly as she washed dirt stains from her skin with lukewarm water from a garden hole
>Rarity kept her head low, hoping they wouldn't come back
>They'd hurt her, they'd ruined the new dress she was so proud of...
>But worst of all, the insults kept chasing each other in circles through her head
>Various synonyms for gross, or ugly, they were all absolutely childish, Rarity knew, and they shouldn't hurt her
>But they did, and trying to ignore them only made them louder
>She squeezed her eyes shut, scrubbing miserably at the dirt that the boys had rubbed into her face, more tears slipping down her cheeks
>When she heard footsteps behind her, Rarity flinched
"P-please, just leave me alone!"
>The voice that answered her wasn't that of the boys who had tormented her earlier
>Rarity opened one eye, turning to find someone unfamiliar watching her
>For a moment, she wasn't sure if this stranger was a boy or a girl; they were dressed in shorts and an ill-fitting jersey, with a soccer ball under one arm
>"I've never seen you before in my life, dude. You alright?"
"I'm p-perfectly fine," Rarity answered, trying to keep her voice composed despite the sobs
>"You don't look fine."
>Rarity turned away
"Well, I'm n-not particularly c-concerned with what you t-think! So please, just... just l-leave me alone."
>She splashed more hose-water onto her face, trying to hide the fresh wave of tears
>Dirt crunched as the other kid knelt down behind her
>"Did someone do this to you? Was it Hoops?"
>Rarity paused for a moment, then nodded
"And a f-few others."
>The other kid pounded their fists together
>"Agh! I hate those two! What did they do to you?"
"Called me names. Pushed me. T-tore my new dress..."
>Rarity choked out another sob
>"That's messed up!" the kid said, jumping to their feet. "They pick fights with me all the time, but hurting a pretty girl like you, that... that just pisses me off!"
>Sunlight reflected in this kid's rainbow-patterned hair, silhouetting them in seven different hues
>Rarity blinked twice, awestruck
>The other kid pointed a finger towards Rarity
>"I promise you, I'm not gonna let that happen again! C'mere!"
>The pointed finger turned into an open hand, which Rarity took
>She let this stranger pull her to her feet
>"Yeah! No matter what, lemme protect you, alright? I can't let those creeps get away with this."
>Rarity could feel herself blushing, probably visible even through the dirt
"O-okay. You, um... wow..."
>She let out a breathy laugh, the humiliation from earlier suddenly fading away
"I would be honored," she managed to choke out
>The other kid reached out, almost casually, touching Rarity's face with a hand that was surprisingly delicate
>A girl's hand
>"You, uh... got a little dirt here, still."
"Yes. I do."
>The other girl gently wiped Rarity's cheek
>And, in that moment, Rarity could have sworn that this girl was the most beautiful thing she would ever set her eyes on
>She'd never been so wrong in all her life
"Darling, would you *please* try and keep it down? I'd like to get at least a single hour of sleep before the wedding!"
>Dash, of course, didn't say anything
>She was already passed out, and her snoring could be compared to several dozen particularly ornery chainsaws
>Rarity crossed her arms over her chest, scooting as far away from the other girl as the queen-sized bed they shared would allow
"I can't believe I let you talk me into getting a one-bed room. No amount of savings is worth this."
>Dash grunted in her sleep
"The arrangement was that you'd sleep on the floor, you know! The floor! I was supposed to get the bed."
>Dash rolled onto her back, her limbs sprawling out
>Her arm ended up laying across Rarity's chest, palm resting just an inch below the fashionista's right breast
"Agh! Even in your sleep, you have absolutely no manners!"
>Dash's eyes fluttered open
>"Yo, Rare, could you keep it down? You're kinda messing up my sleep, senpai..."
"You... no! That's not all what's going on here! You're the one messing up *my* sleep! I've been listening to your snoring for an hour and it's driving me bonkers!"
>"Bruh. I can't help it. You're the one who wanted to share a room so bad."
>Rarity hoped Dash couldn't see her blushing in the darkened motel room
"I... I most certainly did not! I merely knew it would be more convenient."
>Dash yawned, rolling onto her side
>"We can cuddle if ya want, Rara. I ain't gonna judge."
"Hmph. I told you not to call me that."
>"So is that a no to cuddles?"
"Of course it's a no!"
>"Suit yourself. Might help ya relax a bit."
"I'm perfectly relaxed already, for your information."
>"Yeah, I can tell. Anyway, I'mma finish getting my z's. You just, uh, keep doing your thing."
"I intend to. Maybe try getting your z's a little more peacefully, hmm?"
>"Sure thing, sure thing..." Dash mumbled, passing out almost immediately
>Rarity slumped in bed, fuming
>She seriously didn't know why she put up with this girl
>For the last ten years they'd been inseparable, ever since that summer...
>Rarity glanced over at Dash, who lay sprawled out and tangled in the sheets, and she sighed
>She scooted a bit closer to the other girl
>Not because she secretly hoped Dash would grab for her again, or anything, that would be preposterous
>She simply wanted to ensure she wouldn't roll off this bed in the middle of the night; it was just for practical reasons
>Rarity settled down into the bed, her shoulder just a few inches from Rainbow's, and stared at the ceiling
>It was quite a while before she slept
>When she woke up, the bed was empty
>Rarity's voice was hoarse from a night of poor sleep, and she blinked groggily as she set up in bed
>To her surprise, the room was empty
"Rainbow Dash? You there?"
>A minute later, the door to the shower opened, and a towel-clad Rainbow stepped out
>She flashed Rarity a smug smile
>"Did you miss me?"
"Was just concerned, that's all," Rarity replied, hugging her knees to her chest
>"Aww. You don't gotta worry about me, I made it past the roaches."
>Rarity went pale
>"Yeah, man. Big ones too. Not *that* big though. Just like baseball-sized ones. Anything bigger and I might have had to get serious."
>She flexed at Rarity
"I know perfectly well you're joking."
>"Course I am. They're actually barely golfball size."
"You... there's not really any roaches, right?"
>Rainbow raised an eyebrow
>"Where do you think we are? Of course there's roaches. They ain't gonna hurt you."
"Rainbow, this isn't funny!"
>"It's a little bit funny."
"I need you to promise me there's no roaches."
>Dash rolled her eyes, then glanced into the bathroom
>"There's no roaches. Now hurry up and take your long-as-fuck shower. I don't wanna be late to Twi and Sunset's rehearsal brunch!"
"I have a full beauty routine to attend to. I'm not about to compromise it on such an important day."
>"Whatever. I'll be changing if you need me," Dash said, and immediately dropped her towel
>Rarity averted her eyes after a split-second, her face flushed
"You really don't have to be so cavalier with your naked body, you know."
>"Why not? Pretty sure you know what a vag looks like."
>"Relax, Rara. Go take your epic-length shower."
"Hmph. Maybe I will. And I'm going to make it extra long, just for you!"
>Rainbow raised an eyebrow
"You... you know that's not what I meant! Sometimes, you just drive me so... so... agh!"
>Rarity huffed and stomped into the shower and slammed the door
>She'd never disrobed so angrily in her life, pulling her pajamas off and hurling them at the wall
"Stupid Dash. Stupid uncomfortable bed. Stupid everything."
>She kicked her pile of clothes into the corner and pulled back the plastic shower curtain, revealing three bulbous, chittering roaches perched right on the shower wall
>The resulting scream could be heard two floors away
"Rainbow!" she cried out. "Roaches!"
>Rainbow opened the shower door and poked her head in
>"Oh. Musta missed those."
"Don't just stand there. Kill it! Kill it!"
>Dash walked in, wearing only a pair of athletic under-shorts, and casually grabbed at the roaches as they tried to scurry away
>She tossed them into the toilet, where the bugs disappeared in a rush of water
"Most certainly not! That scared me half to death!"
>"Shit, I can tell. Your nipples look like they could cut diamonds," Rainbow said, casting a casual glance at Rarity's nude form
"Gah! Stop it, you weirdo!"
>She covered herself, backing up against the wall
>"You gotta lighten up, Rara."
>Rainbow took a casual step towards Rarity, leaning on the wall just inches from the fashionista
>Rarity's face burned with embarrassment, and she could feel a stray bead of perspiration trailing its way down the back of her neck
"I am quite lightened-up right now, I'll have you know. You need to learn some personal boundaries."
>"Psh. We've been closer than this."
"That doesn't count! It was seven minutes in heaven! And it was Pinkie Pie's party, you know how those get. And I was acting purely out of obligation to the party spirit, as you know!"
>"Is that why you asked Pinkie to double our time together?"
"I have n-no recollection of that happening."
>Rarity tried to back away from Rainbow, but a force that felt almost magnetic held her in place
>"Huh? Weird. The rest of us sure do."
>Dash winked, then pulled away, casually strolling out of the bathroom and shutting the door behind her
>"I'll be out here when you need me, Rara."
>Rarity slid down to the floor, not surprised to find her heart hammering in her chest
>When she finally got up the nerve to shower, she made sure to the run the water as cold as it would go
>That didn't help much