"The Canterlot Garden Party?"
Celestia, her smile bearing an (un)surprising tinge of mischief, nodded eagerly.
Luna, her suspicions already heightening, turned back to her private copy of Canterlot Decorator's Guide. "What of it?"
Celestia shrugged. "Oh, you know. One of Canterlot's premier events, a good chance to get out of the castle, make a few new acquaintances..."
"First off, Celly, I have a lot of work to do. Second, that fiasco several weeks ago has somewhat lessened my desire for public appearances -"
"Understandable," admitted Celestia.
"Quite. Anyways, my third point: even if I had no concern for points one and two, there is no way in a thousand years -"
"Not that alien a time, in your case," interjected Celestia. This quip, as it always did, elicited a near-lethal glare from Luna. "...You were saying?"
"Thank you. Anyways, there is no way that I would even consider bringing PJ to the Canterlot Garden Party, which I am almost certain was your suggestion in the first place."
"Am I that transparent?"
"Well, no matter." A pause. "So, what, are you ashamed to be seen with him?"
Luna's gaze snapped up from her book, shocked. "No, of course not!"
"Then what's the problem?"
Luna sighed. "The problem, Celly, is that the last time me and PJ were seen together, it resulted in a massive smear job on the both of us, a near-riot at the castle gates, and - lest we forget - multiple ponies crawling through garbage." She turned back to her book. "It's much simpler to keep our dates private."
"Simpler, yes," agreed Celestia, "Boring, too, I'm sure."
Luna looked up, indignant. "Our dates are not boring!"
"In the next ten seconds, tell me the most interesting thing you two have talked about in the last week."
Luna blinked. "Um..."
"Let's skip to the part where I'm standing here smugly with my point proven."
Luna sighed. "Fine, Celly, you win that one. But I'm not putting more strain on this relationship with yet another slander-fest, and that is final." With that said, Luna once again turned back to her book.
Celestia nodded. "Alright, Luna, I understand." She turned, trotting out of the room before pausing. "Of course, it'll be somewhat awkward retracting that invite I sent him..."
Luna glanced back up. "Invite?" Celestia simply smiled over her shoulder. "...You really went ahead and invited him?" Celestia raised one eyebrow, still smiling. Luna glared, then sighed. "Fine, you win. Happy?"
"More than you know."
"Right..." Luna turned back to her book, quietly fuming. "I'll make my way to PJ's shop tonight to make arrangements. And Celly?"
"If you ever do anything else to meddle in my love life, I swear that I'll -"
"What? Send me to the sun for a thousand years?"
Luna looked up again, an uncharacteristically devilish smile on her lips. "No," she said, "I'll make sure that that Rémi you're so interested in never pulls another caper again."
Celestia's eyes widened. "You wouldn't."
"Try me," said Luna, "Give me the slightest provocation, and I'll send his picture to every costume shop, vehicle rental agency, and golf course in Equestria. He tries to buy so much as a soccer ball, and the Royal Guard will be breaking down his door. As the ponies say nowadays - you get me?"
Celestia stared for a few more moments in shock, then sighed, smiling lightly. "You have learned a few tricks from me."
"One or two, yes. Now, give me some peace, would you?"
"Of course, Luna," replied Celestia, feeling the slightest bit more respect for her younger sibling.
"A modeling agency?"
"Eeyup." Snapshot blinked, the word having spontaneously erupted from his mouth and feeling rather alien. Marking it as nothing worrisome, he shrugged it off and continued. "Photographer, of course. And it's nothing official yet, just a friend of a friend got me the interview there tomorrow."
Pony Joe looked at Snapshot quizzically, sliding another donut across the bar. Snapshot returned the gaze. "What?" he asked, "Is me getting employed somehow a bad thing?"
Pony Joe shook his head. "Naw, of course not. Just...you're not even gonna try for your old job?"
Snapshot shrugged. "I did. Twice. And Mr. Bugle said 'no' both times."
"Yeah, somewhere between calling me something to the effect of a 'good-for-nothing, embarrassing example of a paparazzi photographer' and that 'mashed alfalfa had a higher IQ than me,' and having security chuck me out."
"Eesh. That had to hurt."
"Yeah. Especially for that old couple trotting up right about then."
PJ froze, his jaw loosening slightly. "You're not serious."
Snapshot stayed silent for a moment, before looking down and taking a bite of his donut, saying simply: "Twice."
Pony Joe stared at his friend for a moment more out of some diluted form of horror. "Alright then...aren't you gonna miss Dee?"
Snapshot thought for a minute, and shrugged. "She's been my best friend for years, so I'd have to say...about as much as I've ever missed anypony, yeah."
"You can't try to see her outside of work?"
"PJ, she's a paparazzi photographer. Her work schedule is always fairly...iffy, to say the least. It wouldn't be easy."
PJ nodded, ignoring sub-par quality of that excuse. "Right. So, what, you're moving on?"
"Well, not every love story can be a fairy tale like you and Luna."
PJ scoffed. "I wouldn't exactly call it a fairy tale -"
"PJ, she's a bucking princess. It's pretty darn close."
"...Point. Still, you're really just gonna forget about her completely?"
Snapshot opened his mouth to respond, then proceeded to smack his muzzle into the counter. "No, I'm not."
"I figured you wouldn't. So what do you plan on doing about it?"
Snapshot laughed, his face still pressed down on the bar. "If I knew that, I wouldn't be at a donut bar in the middle of the night trying to talk it through." Suddenly, a small realization clicking in his head, Snapshot sat back up and took a look around the empty store. "Say...aren't you supposed to be closed about now?"
PJ smiled reassuringly, shrugging. "Eh, it's not like I got better things to do."
Snapshot sat for a moment, a blank stare on his face before it broke into an ear-to-ear grin of pure, unrefined gratitude. "Thanks, PJ."
"Hey, ever since I opened this place, I've had to give ponies all kinds of advice. I don't see any reason to stop now. So, please, talk away."
Snapshot nodded, still smiling. "Well, let's change the subject for a while, if you don't mind."
PJ nodded. "Alright, fair enough. So, who exactly got you the interview for this new job?"
Snapshot shrugged. "Like I said: friend of a friend."
North Star, a purple-maned pony who could be pointedly described as a friend of a friend, was quietly killing time with a fashion magazine as she went to bed before hearing a knock on her front door. Releasing an annoyed sigh, she dropped her magazine on the dog-eared page showing the newest dress line from Canterlot Fashions (It's simple and practical!) and went to the door, being brushed to the side by a particularly irate sandy-maned earth pony.
"I hate him," hissed Dee as she stormed into North Star's living room, helping herself to the couch.
North Star stood for a moment, contemplating the pros and cons of asking exactly who 'him' was meant to refer to.
"All of them!" Dee added, obviously expecting North Star to have responded by now and not giving a damn one way or the other that she hadn't, "I hate my new partner, I hate Mr. Bugle for hiring him - and I hate Snapshot for getting himself fired!"
North Star sighed, taking a seat in the nearest chair. "Alright, first off: you have a new partner?"
Dee sighed, covering her eyes with her left hoof. "Yeah, a big pegasus colt named Kodak. And...well, you remember how awkward Snapshot was?"
"Oh, goddess, yes."
"Now imagine if he was a dozen times more awkward, had no idea of that fact, and was constantly hitting on me."
"Oh, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit," replied Dee, "Then again, the line 'you should have an astronomy cutie mark, because your flank is out of this world' leaves a certain impression."
Under any other circumstances, North Star would have been on the brink of an epileptic fit from laughing so hard. Under the specific circumstances, she settled for a brief giggle before apologizing.
"It's fine," Dee assured, "Seriously, though, and that was just the one he greeted me with. I could give you a list the size of your favorite dress with all the others."
North Star nodded slowly, her eyes remaining focused on Dee. "Alright, so you have a bad partner."
"Yes. One that my boss hired. Without bothering to tell me that I was getting a new partner."
"Well, did you try telling him about Kodak?"
Dee sat up. "Yes. Constantly. On good days, he tells me that he's very busy but that he'll get around to it."
"What does he tell you on bad days?"
Dee paused for a moment, and quoted: "'Just take it as a compliment, and get your flank back to work.'"
Dee nodded, reclining so that she was staring at North Star's ceiling. "It's been a long road downhill since Snapshot left." She sighed. "I miss him."
North Star leaned back, chuckling softly. "That's funny..."
Dee quickly sat up. "Pardon?"
"He misses you, too."
Dee stared blankly. North Star leaned forward again, and elaborated: "I talked with him yesterday, we, uh, bumped into each other at that new restaurant near the park."
"...And?" urged Dee.
"Well, a couple things, after a little conversation. First, well..." North Star leaned on one hoof. "I heard he was still unemployed, so I told him about the new photographer position open at the agency."
"You got him a new job?"
"Technically, I just got him an interview. But there's not a lot of competition, I mean, photographing models all day long isn't exactly a widely-advertised job." She glanced upwards in thought. "Although you think it would be..." she mused.
Dee smiled. "That was sweet of you, Northie. Thanks." A pause. "And the other thing?"
"Well, he asked about you. And told me how much he misses you."
Dee was silent, her eyes slightly wider than usual.
Tears rimmed around Dee's eyelids, which she tried blinking away. "He always did have terrible timing," she said hoarsely.
North Star got up, switching seats to the couch. "Come again?"
Dee succeeded in blinking back the tears, but her eyes were still glassy. "We're partners for years, we spend so much time together, and he picks now to admit he likes me."
"...Better late than never?" said North Star, shrugging awkwardly.
Dee flicked North Star a scathing glare.
"Right...um, better to have loved and lost than -" Another glare, more caustic than the last one. "...Sorry."
Dee chuckled in spite of herself. "It's fine. Y'know, Snapshot would've finished that." Dee checked the clock, getting off the couch. "Look, I gotta get going." She wiped her eyes. "I'll sleep on the whole thing, we'll talk over lunch tomorrow. Deal?"
North Star nodded. "Deal." She watched Dee head for the front door. "Oh, and Dee?"
Dee stopped and turned. "Yes, Northie?"
"If you ever drop by my house this late at night again, I will flay you alive," she said with a (hopefully) threatening tone. Seeing no response from Dee, she added, trying her best to look intimidating, "With my mind."
Dee stared at her with a single raised eyebrow, then broke into heaping fits of laughter. "Oh, Northie," she said between chortles, "Y'know, I really needed that."
"I mean it."
"Yeah, sure you do. See you tomorrow," she said before bucking the door closed behind her.
"'Let's skip to the part where my point's proven!'" recited Luna with the utmost contempt, walking through the castle hallways, "Goddess, what a foal. And how dare she accuse me and PJ of having nothing to talk about on our dates?" She scoffed. "Me and PJ talk about plenty of interesting things...don't we?" She shook her head rapidly. "Of course we do!" she assured herself, "I mean, the history of the Canterlot fountain gardens is interesting, right?" She stood for a moment, as if she were listening to the echoes for some semblance of confidence. She found none. "Oh, I'm not fooling anypony," she sighed, slumping into a rather un-majestic posture.
"Excuse me, your majesty."
Luna turned around, finding herself face-to-face with one of the royal guards on patrol. "Erm, yes?"
"I'm sorry, but I couldn't help noticing that you seem to be holding an in-depth conversation with yourself," he said with the brazen tone of a soldier, "Do you need to talk with somepony, your majesty?"
Luna stared at him quizzically. "I'm sorry?"
The guard clicked his hooves together. "As a fully-trained member of the royal guard, my duty is to insure the well-being of both princesses, which I believe to apply both physically and mentally. So, I hold it my responsibility to provide a listening ear - should you need one, your majesty."
Luna stood for another moment, contemplating. "Did my sister send you to try and trick me?"
The guard shook his head. "No, your majesty."
"Really?" Luna trotted around the guard, eyeing him from head to hood. "This isn't just a set-up for some elaborate prank?"
"No, your majesty."
She continued pacing around the stoic soldier, satisfying herself about the third lap around. "Alright," she decided, "You really want me to tell you what's wrong with my life?"
"If you so desire, your majesty."
Luna thought, then took in a deep breath: "I have a childhood fear of alfalfa," she wailed, "I had to wear a bit until I was one-hundred and thirteen years old, I spent a thousand years on the moon- which my sister won't stop joking about - and I have a recurring dream of sensually being fed donut holes by an island of scantily-clad PJ's!"
The guard blinked, the closest thing to an emotional response he would allow. Luna took in another breath, continuing.
"And, y'know, my parents never admitted it, but Celly was always the favorite child. It was always, 'Why can't you be more like your sister?' and 'You should really lighten up, it was just a prank,' and 'Stop playing with those socks this instant and get back to your studies!'"
The guard's left eye twitched.
"And Discord used to be such a nice draconequus, but then he fell in with the wrong crowd and before you knew it, he was warping reality. I mean, we tried an intervention, but that fell apart when he turned the banner into glue."
The guard let out a small shudder.
"And now, I'm in love with donut shop owner and the last time I spent any real time with him outside, it nearly destroyed both our reputations, but now I have to risk it again because my sister can't keep her nose out of my business!"
Luna, exhausted from digging up so much trauma, let herself sink to the floor, breathing deeply. The guard kept in exactly the same position. "Well?" she asked sarcastically, "What do you think?"
The guard clicked his hooves together again. "In order, my thoughts are as follows: there are more irrational fears than alfalfa, having to wear a bit is nothing to be embarrassed of, your sister is simply trying to make light of what was an awful experience for all involved, your dream is simply taking some base desires and expanding them to unrealistic proportions, I'm sure your parents loved you but just had trouble expressing it clearly, don't live in the past with Discord, and..." He paused, taking a silent breath. "As for your love life, my advice is this, your majesty: your sister isn't intending to be a nuisance..."
Luna shot him one of her patent death glares.
"...Well, perhaps it's an ulterior motive, but certainly not her primary one. The truth, as I see it, is that she wants you to be happy with Pony Joe as much as you do, and she's simply making sure that your fear doesn't cause you to miss this opportunity."
Luna stared at the guard, slowly getting to her hooves. "...You think so?"
The guard nodded. "I've been part of Celestia's Royal Guard for years, Princess. I know so."
Luna looked at him for another moment, and smiled. "Thank you...what's your name?"
"With all due respect, your Highness, Royal Guard members are discouraged from giving their names to you and Princess Celestia."
"And why is that?" she inquired.
"Telling you our names risks creating an unnecessary emotional bond, making it more difficult for when we have to lay down our lives in your name."
"...Exactly how many Royal Guardsponies have died in service?" she asked numbly.
"Fifteen, your majesty, since our initial formation."
"Seven foiling attempted assassination plots, five while patrolling Canterlot, two from ignored symptoms of fatal diseases, and one from a flaming wheat thresher."
Luna stood, horrified, then said, "I-I need to get going, but...thank you."
The guard nodded. "Anything for the royal sisters."
The guard stood in place until Luna turned the next corner out of sight. He then did a quick spin on his hooves, trotted back down the hallway, and into a very specific office.
"And?" asked Celestia expectantly, her gaze focused on a stack of police reports.
"Your sister has taken the sage advice of the stoic guardspony and is on her way to meet with Pony Joe. Just as you planned, your highness."
Celestia nodded, smiling contentedly. "Thank you for your help in this. I didn't like seeing Luna so upset."
The guard nodded. "Permission to speak freely, Princess Celestia?"
"Your sister is bucking insane. Seriously, she should be seeing a therapist or something."
"Noted. Now, if there's nothing else, be on your way."
"Yes, ma'am." The guard turned and made it about halfway to the door before curiosity got the better of him. "You majesty..."
"Did she bring up the alfalfa?"
Celestia tsked. "I thought she'd be over that by now."
"...May I ask what happened?"
Celestia looked up in thought. "I recall that it involved a sieve, a hoof-ful of moist alfalfa...oh, and the detached head of a statue." She paused. "And it may or may not have all ended up in her bed. While she was sleeping."
"...I see, your majesty."
"Yes..." Celestia looked back at the guard, gesturing him to shoo. "Go on, then."
"But why was there an old couple in the first place?"
"Well, apparently, they thought the place was a -" Snapshot paused, noticing the somewhat shocked princess standing in the doorway. "Um, PJ..."
PJ looked to the side, and chuckled. "Well, if it isn't my favorite customer. Take a seat, Luna."
Luna, impolitely keeping her gaze on Snapshot, made her way to the seat nearest Pony Joe.
"You remember Snapshot, don't you?"
Luna nodded. "Yes. And -" She swiveled her seat towards Snapshot. "Snapshot, please understand that I harbor no personal resentment towards you."
"Of course, Princess," replied Snapshot.
"Thank you." She swiveled back towards PJ. "Anyways...what in the name of a thousand flaming donut holes is he doing here?"
PJ blinked, then shrugged. "He got fired from his job after the whole disaster at the castle and wandered in here to put himself in a sugared stupor."
"And I'm guessing that instead of allowing him to delve into such a self-destructive act, you listened to his problems and gave him some helpful advice?"
Before PJ could respond, Snapshot interjected: "Actually, I ate about six double-chocolate cream-filled donuts -"
"- With extra sprinkles," added Pony Joe.
"With extra sprinkles, that's right," continued Snapshot, "Anyways, ate six of those, passed out, woke up fifteen minutes later, ate three more, passed out again, woke up, threw up, passed out one more time, and then PJ here got some Canterlot guards to take me home."
PJ nodded. "Then he came back in a couple nights later, and that's when I started giving him advice. Since then, he's become one of my regulars." After a few seconds, he noticed Luna staring oddly at the both of them. "Are you alright?"
Luna hiccuped, then nodded. "Oh, fine, fine," she assured, "Anyways, back to the reason I'm here." Luna cleared her throat, inhaled, and began: "Seeing as the Canterlot Garden Party is within the next week, our personal preparations must commence immediately. While I, of course, can see to my own affairs with such brief notice, you might face some more difficulty in getting high-quality garments and the like so quickly. To expedite matters, I plan on giving you direct access to the royal tailors. From there, we'll see about everything else, such as a timetable for that evening and our method of transportation, although I'm sure some of those details were already covered by my sister's invitation." Reaching the end of her spiel, Luna gasped and panted, having been out of breath since 'high-quality garments.'
PJ nodded politely, smiling. "Alright, Luna, that all sounds fine and dandy, but I do have one question."
Luna took another few moments to catch her breath. "Yes?"