Rule of Three

by RadiantBeam

Chapter 1: Rule of Three

The first time it happened, Sunset didn’t pay it any mind due to the circumstances. It had been the middle of the Friendship Games, and she had been focused on other, far more pressing issues at the time: namely, the silence of one Princess Twilight Sparkle, and the fact that she still had no idea how to control magic in the human world after being explicitly asked to keep it from interfering with the games.

Magic that she’d brought over to a world that wasn’t even supposed to have any. Magic that could potentially, if not understood and controlled now, could throw her right back into the situation she’d been in before the Battle of the Bands; hated by everyone because of a situation she hadn’t been able to control.

It had been easy to spiral down into negativity considering that, really. It had been easy to ignore her friends, to block out all of what they were saying.

“But don’t you remember, darling?”

Well, almost all of what they were saying.

Rarity’s touch was gentle, brushing a loose strand of hair back behind Sunset’s ear while her other hand rested lightly on her arm, urging the redhead to look at her. “What we needed to defeat them,” she continued, never once letting go, “was you.”

And it had been like a ray of light in a storm, a rope tossed out to her as she thrashed in stormy seas trying to keep her head above water. Sunset may not have believed it herself—not completely—but it had been easy to relax, to breathe out and manage a weak smile, when Rarity’s eyes were so soft and understanding.

“All right,” she sighed, and it had been worth it for Rarity’s delighted little smile and happy clapping.

Looking back on it now, with a clearer mind, Sunset realized that the whole thing had been kind of strange. Rarity had always been the type to touch, to soothe with a hand on a shoulder or an arm around a waist; it was just who she was, and she was hardly the only girl in their group to do it. All of them were ridiculously touchy feely, when it came down to it. It had taken some time for Sunset to get used to that, really; from what she’d learned on human culture, touching wasn’t usually such an easy thing like it was with ponies.

So it hadn’t been odd, in and of itself, but the way it had happened was strange. Brushing hair back behind her ear was a small, intimate gesture even for the fashionista, and there had just been something… different in her eyes, in the tone of her voice. She had lingered perhaps a little too long in her touch before pulling away, and it had come and gone so quickly—and then things had gone so spectacularly off the rails—that Sunset hadn’t really paid any mind to it.

It had just been a moment between two friends.

But Sunset would look back on it after the fact, once the Friendship Games were over and magic was no longer her top priority, and realize that it had actually been more than that. It had been a short moment, a small moment, but it had also been a test. A test to see how far Rarity could go without Sunset’s complaint, of how much she could touch and cross the line of friendship without immediately getting called out and shut down.

It had been a beginning.

And as with all good beginnings, Sunset hadn’t even realized it at the time.

The second time it happened, Sunset noticed it—and brushed it off as the action of a concerned friend. It had been immediately after the Friendship Games had been declared over by Principal Celestia; calls had been placed to human Twilight’s family, and Cinch had been kept in place by Luna and Cadance to make sure she would actually speak to the girl’s family about her role in what had happened. While that had been going on, the mixed students of Canterlot High and Crystal Prep had gone about cleaning up the mess Twilight’s evil form had caused and tentatively forging friendships they’d never had a chance to explore.

It had been easy to slip away, in all of that. Sunset felt exhausted, drained, like she could fall asleep standing up and not even a fall could jolt her awake again. She had crept away and snuck into school, back to the practice room she and her friends regularly hung out in, and had curled up behind Pinkie’s drum set where no one was likely to see her.

She only needed a few minutes to close her eyes, a power nap to get her feeling recharged. Then she would go back out and help her friends.

When she drifted back to awareness, the first thing she felt were fingers combing gently through her hair, almost tempting her back into sleep’s sweet embrace right then and there. She felt warmer than she’d been when she’d settled down, and someone was curled into her, humming quietly.

No, not just someone. She knew that voice.


The humming stopped, but blissfully the fingers in her hair didn’t; Sunset groaned and opened her eyes, blinking several times to get the blurriness to fade. Rarity was seated next to her, legs pulled up to her chest, and she smiled warmly when Sunset was finally able to meet her gaze. “Good morning, dear,” she said. She paused. “Or should I say good evening, that’s far more accurate.”

“Evening? What…” Sunset shifted and sat up, blinking as a cape slid down off of her form. She stared at it for a moment, recognizing it was from one of her friend’s outfits, before she shook herself. “What time is it?”

Rarity fished out her phone. “A little after seven. The girls and I got concerned when a few minutes passed and we couldn’t find you.”

Sunset winced, taking a moment to stretch and work out any lingering stiffness. “I’m sorry. I should have told you what I was doing, but I just wanted to close my eyes and rest for a bit. I didn’t think I’d be asleep for… five hours.”

“Honestly, Sunset, after what you went through I think you earned a few hours of sleep. What happened between you and Twilight was clearly no walk in the park.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” Sunset sighed, managing a laugh despite the situation. Truth be told, even after several hours of sleep she still felt exhausted, and her hair was no doubt even messier now than it had been when she and Twilight had emerged from their shared beam of light. Rarity seemed to have noticed, as after a few seconds passed and Sunset didn’t shake her away, she shifted slightly behind her friend to gently smooth her hair out and work out any knots that had formed.

Sunset closed her eyes, enjoying the sensation of Rarity working her fingers through her hair and leaning back into it with a quiet sigh. Rarity chuckled, clearly amused. “I didn’t know you enjoyed having your hair touched, Sunset.”

“Brings back memories,” she murmured, not even opening her eyes. “Back in Equestria, when I was little, Princess Celestia used to groom my mane all the time.”

Rarity was quiet for a moment, carefully lacing strands of gold and red hair together, before she spoke again, her voice soft. “You never talk about her.”

“… Not much to talk about, really. I messed it up, and I don’t even have the benefit of proving her I’ve gotten better. I said and did some pretty awful things the last time I saw her, worse than what I did here in a lot of ways. I’m pretty sure it still stings.”

Rarity was quiet again, seemingly focused on whatever she was doing with Sunset’s hair, and the redhead let the topic go. All too soon the other girl seemed to be done and her fingers pulled away from the former unicorn’s hair; she found herself missing the contact immediately, even as she reached back to feel what her friend had done with her hair.

The answer seemed to be Rarity had braided her hair to smooth out the loose strands and knots. It was a good braid, too, and Sunset smiled. “Thanks, Rarity. I appreciate it.”

Before her hand could slip away Rarity caught it gently, laced their fingers together and squeezed. “Between you and me,” the fashionista said, and Sunset shivered as she realized Rarity had nuzzled into her so close her voice was right by her ear, “I think you’re still far too harsh on yourself, darling. If everyone here at Canterlot High can forgive you, I’m sure your princess already has.”

“… Maybe,” Sunset managed after a deep breath and a swallow to compose herself. After a moment of hesitation, she squeezed Rarity’s hand back. “I’ll think about it.”

Rarity laughed and pulled away completely, and Sunset wondered at how she missed the contact. “I suppose it’s a start,” the fashionista said, coming back into her friend’s view with a wink. “Now come on, I need to get home before my father goes out looking for me with a shotgun.”

Sunset staggered to her feet, hissing as the feeling came rushing back into her legs and brought pins and needles along with it. She scooped up the cape Rarity had used to keep her warm and hung it back up, smiling at her friend’s hum of appreciation. “You know you didn’t have to stay until I woke up.”

“Oh, I know I didn’t have to stay.” Rarity tossed a beautiful smile her way as she opened the door. “I just wanted to.”

It was enough to make Sunset pause, to make her wonder for a moment, but in the end she let it go. Rarity’s actions were intimate, but she was also concerned and trying to boost her confidence; she might have crossed a line, but her actions still fell within the realm of friendship.

Close friendship.

Still, even as she thought that, the moment lingered in Sunset’s mind for some time after and never completely faded away.

The third time it happened, Sunset finally figured it out. Or at least, the way Rarity told it, she figured it out. The way Sunset told it, the third time simply confirmed what she had already been suspecting for awhile but wasn’t completely sure about. It had been a few days after the Friendship Games, out on the obstacle course Crystal Prep had constructed for the second round of events; after a bit of discussion, the sisters and Cadance had agreed to leave it be for a little bit longer so that students from both schools could enjoy it without the magic and the flesh-eating plants from Equestria.

“Mmmm, baby, that’s what I like to see.”

Sunset blinked, briefly distracted from the sight of Applejack teaching Twilight archery across the field. “What?”

Rainbow grinned, patting her bike. “Not a single scratch. How’s yours looking, Sunset?”

Sunset had to resist the urge to cringe. She’d already looked over her bike before her friends had come over, and honestly what she’d found didn’t surprise her. Unlike Rainbow’s bike, hers had been caught right in the middle of the plants bursting through the portal; she was lucky the damage had turned out to be so minor. “Not as good as yours, I’m afraid,” she sighed, stepping back over to examine it. “Some dents and a few scratches. It got banged up.”

Even Rarity, who knew next to nothing about bikes, cringed at the description. Rainbow grimaced, rubbing the back of her neck as she looked Sunset’s bike over. “Do you need a good word at the garage? If I say something you might get a discount, at least.”

Sunset shook her head. “Thanks, but I can work with this. I’ll just need some paint and a free weekend and it’ll be good as new, more or less. I need it back in condition fast.”

“… You do all of the work on your bike?” Rainbow asked, a little bit of awe leaking into her voice. Over by the archery range, Fluttershy and Spike were cheering Twilight on as she continued her lessons.

Sunset shrugged, shoving her hands into her pockets. “Ever since I came over from Equestria, yeah. I didn’t have enough money to afford a shop, and after awhile I just got into the habit of it.” She patted her bike. “I trust my hands more than anyone else’s when it comes to this. I need it functioning just right if I want to eat.”

“I’m a little concerned from that wording, darling,” Rarity murmured.

Sunset shrugged again. “It’s how I’ve always made enough money to survive here. Have either of you ever heard of street racing?”

Catching on, Rainbow smirked. “That’s like, super illegal.”

Sunset smirked back. “Only if you get caught.”

Unable to resist even with Rarity watching, Rainbow held out her fist and Sunset tapped hers against it, both of them sharing a smile at where their shared hobby had led the conversation.

On the other hand, Rarity didn’t seem to appreciate this revelation nearly as much as Rainbow did, and considering she was the only one of their friends witnessing this conversation—what with three of their friends still focused on archery, and everyone had given up on keeping track of Pinkie immediately after she had disappeared—she felt the need to offer an alternative viewpoint on the subject. “Street racing is illegal for a reason,” she muttered sourly, crossing her arms over her chest. “It’s hardly safe.”

“Still really cool,” Rainbow said.

Rarity glared at her, and the athlete smiled sheepishly. “Not cool at all,” she snapped, and Rainbow held both hands up apologetically.

Sunset was very still, operating on the logic that if she didn’t move Rarity wouldn’t see her and direct her anger at her. Unfortunately Rarity was human, so that logic didn’t apply to her at all, and all too soon dark blue eyes focused on the redhead with blazing intensity. Sunset squeaked, shrinking under that glare. “I’m sorry?” she offered.

Rarity lifted a brow, relaxing slightly. “Well. At least you acknowledge that what you’re doing is dangerous.”

Sunset breathed out at the sight of her friend’s concern lessening slightly. “Hey, I’m not gonna argue with you, it is dangerous. But considering where I came from and how I got here, it was the easiest thing I could do once I figured out the bike.”

That seemed to work, at least enough for those blazing blue eyes to soften. Rarity sighed and her shoulders slumped. “I just don’t like finding out this way, Sunset. You could have mentioned this sooner.”

“I could have, yeah, but what would have been the point? It’s not like any of you can offer me a job, that would require paperwork I couldn’t properly fill out, and Applejack’s farm doesn’t need extra hands.” Sunset hesitated before reaching out, taking Rarity’s hands and giving them a reassuring squeeze. “I’m good at this, Rarity, trust me. I’ve been careful before and I’ll keep being careful. I mean…”

She smiled, and it was just a little nervous.

“I have a lot more to come back to now after my races.”

There was a moment of silence as Rarity turned those words over in her head, and in the end they seemed to be enough to settle her; not enough to please her completely, but she was willing to let the topic go. She chuckled, giving Sunset’s hands a return squeeze. “I suppose I’ll have to trust you on this, darling. Though I must say…”

She gave Sunset’s hands a little tug to pull her in closer, releasing one to reach up and tuck a loose strand of hair back behind her ear before she murmured into it, “It’s very rude of you to have not invited us to see at least one race.”

An intense shiver shot down Sunset’s spine at the feeling of Rarity’s breath against her ear, and she inhaled sharply to steady herself; Rarity must have heard, because she pulled away with a satisfied little smirk before she turned on her heel and headed over to the archery range. Sunset stared after her dumbly, mouth hanging slightly open.

“So….” Rainbow’s voice was completely casual as she came up to her friend’s side. “When did you two start dating?”

“I…” Sunset swallowed, hard, as it all clicked into place. “I have no idea.”

“Well, that’s lame. Figure that out, okay? You two wanna go suck face that’s cool by me, but I don’t want it to drag out and ruin our band if you’re still working through it.”

Sunset just groaned and turned around to examine her bike, shrieking and jumping back as Pinkie sprang out from behind it with a grin.

“Oh, oh! Does this mean I can plan a ‘Congrats on getting a girlfriend even if you don’t know how it happened’ party?! I’ve been wanting to plan one of those for ages!”

They did say the third time was the charm.

Sunset stared at the glowing screen of her phone, and found herself at a crossroads. Rarity hadn’t even been subtle out on the obstacle course compared to the first two times, and doing what she had done right in front of their friends made her intentions glaringly obvious: she was, for whatever reason, interested in Sunset and wanted to pursue a relationship deeper than friendship.


The redhead groaned quietly, running a hand through her hair. It should have been easy, and yet her mind kept going back to the possibility that maybe she was wrong. Rarity was throwing flaming signs right in her face, and yet she kept tripping over the thought that the other girl might like her, because…

Well, because she just didn’t get it.

Rarity having a crush on Applejack or Fluttershy? Sunset could accept that without a problem. Rarity having a crush on Pinkie or Rainbow? A little harder to swallow, but still, it would have been something Sunset could accept in time. Heck, Rarity having a crush on human Twilight? Perfectly fine in Sunset’s book, Twilight was new and interesting and different from everyone else in Canterlot High School.

But Rarity having a crush on her? On Sunset herself? The reasoning there went completely over her head. Sure, they were good friends now—Rarity in particular had been far more forgiving and supportive of her than even the other girls, after the Fall Formal and before the Battle of the Bands—but that didn’t erase the fact that the last time they’d competed against each other in a Formal, Sunset had used every tactic she knew to completely and utterly crush the other girl.

She’d apologized for it after her reformation so many times that eventually Rarity had sat her down so they could talk the whole thing out, and since then they’d been the best of friends. But it had still happened, and the fact that Rarity now had a crush on the girl who had once made her life completely and utterly miserable was one that baffled Sunset to no end.

She didn’t get it. She didn’t get it at all.

But it didn’t change the evidence, and it didn’t change the fact that Sunset needed to do something about it. For all of her flirting, Rarity hadn’t actually made the move to deepen their relationship; that was clearly something she was leaving to Sunset.

Sunset stared at the glowing screen of her phone, and made her choice.

They met at the Sweet Shoppe during the weekend at Sunset’s request, carefully timed and planned on her part so it was only her and Rarity; she had managed to get it to fall during the time Rainbow was helping Applejack on the farm and Fluttershy was introducing Twilight to the shelter animals. As far as Pinkie went, the last time Sunset had spoken to her she’d seemed completely serious about continuing to plan her ‘congrats on getting a girlfriend’ party, so as far as the redhead could tell she was busy as well.

That was perfectly fine. This needed to be between the two of them, anyway.

“I must say, I’m impressed.” Rarity took a sip from her milkshake. “I didn’t think you could actually arrange it so it was just us.”

Sunset lifted a brow, resting her chin in her hands. “You doubted me?”

Rarity smiled. “More like I know our friends, dear. They absolutely have the best of intentions, but they’d want to be involved in this to make sure it goes well. When you texted me asking to meet, I was absolutely certain I’d see them seated at another table, hiding their faces behind the menus.”

As if to make sure they weren’t actually doing that, Sunset quickly glanced around the café and snorted at Rarity’s little giggle. “Very funny.”

Rarity simply hummed in amusement and went back to sipping her milkshake. Sunset took a quiet breath, leaning back in her chair and thinking of the best way to approach this topic. She hadn’t made it a secret what they needed to talk about, after all; they both knew what was going on at this point.

Finally, Sunset sighed. “I don’t get it.”

Rarity blinked. “I beg your pardon?”

“I don’t get it,” Sunset repeated, and held up a hand before Rarity could speak. “And no, I’m not talking about the flirting, I get that. I know what flirting is.”

“I would be a little concerned if you didn’t considering you dated in the past,” Rarity murmured, and squealed as Sunset threw her crumbled straw wrapper at her.

The redhead had to fight back a smile. “I don’t get why,” she said. “Why me? I know we’re friends now, Rarity, but… I mean, come on, you remember what happened the last time we competed against each other.”

Rarity lifted a brow, setting down her milkshake. “I do believe I told you that was all water under the bridge, Sunset. You’ve changed significantly since we competed against each other.”

“That doesn’t change that it happened! I was awful to you. I didn’t just win, I won and threw salt on the wound as a bonus because I wanted to break you. I don’t see how you could remember that and still…” Sunset trailed off, gesturing helplessly to herself. “And still decide I’m someone you want to date. I’m not saying you’re wrong to do so, I just… I don’t get it.”

Rarity was content to not say anything as Sunset finished speaking, continuing to sip from her milkshake with her eyes closed as she listened to her friend’s words. Once she was certain Sunset was done, she pulled away from her treat and leaned forward, resting her arms on the table. “I suppose it is a little confusing,” she said at last. “I mean, why would I want to date you? It’s certainly not because you’re the most gorgeous girl I’ve ever seen and when you smile you light up a whole room.”

Sunset could feel heat creeping into her cheeks.

“And it’s definitely not because of the figure you cut in that leather jacket, oh my no.” As if to back up her point, Rarity allowed her eyes to drift ever so slowly over Sunset, drinking her in and smirking in satisfaction when the redhead’s blush deepened. “But I suppose if you want more beyond the physical…”

“That would be nice, yes,” Sunset muttered.

Rarity’s smirk became a small, warm smile. “Well, then, why would I want to date you, hm? After you hit rock bottom—no, hit rock bottom and broke through to fall even farther, honestly—and yet still managed to climb back out and start over again because someone gave you a chance? After you kept on trying to start over and put yourself back together despite no one else being willing to give you a chance for months? After you were finally given that chance and, in grabbing it, showed you had a heart as warm and as bright as the sun?”

Sunset opened her mouth to say something, found no words, and closed it again.

Rarity’s smile widened. “Considering that, Sunset, I don’t think the question you should ask yourself is why would I want to date you, but why wouldn’t I want to date you?”

Having said her piece and then some, Rarity went back to sipping her milkshake, ready to accept whatever Sunset decided now that she’d made herself clear. Sunset blinked a few times and ran a hand over her face, stunned to realize just how deep her blush had gotten.

Why wouldn’t Rarity want to date her, indeed?

Her brain latched onto something in that moment, a thought, and Sunset took a deep breath, grabbing Rarity’s hand before she lost her courage. “I want to test a theory,” she blurted out.

Rarity blinked once. Twice. Three times. “… Okay?” she asked. Or said. It was hard to tell from the tone of her voice.

“I want to test a theory,” Sunset repeated, and felt oddly reassured when Rarity laced their fingers together. “And before you ask, no, Flash Sentry doesn’t count, I wasn’t kidding when I said I never really liked him and he didn’t know the truth about me when we were dating.”

A gleam entered Rarity’s eyes, and she leaned forward. “Then I won’t ask about Flash Sentry.”

“Good.” Sunset took another deep breath. “I want to test how a relationship between someone from Equestria and someone from this world would go. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for awhile, actually, and if, um, you’d be willing to help me with it…”

“Sunset.” She could hear the smile in Rarity’s voice. “Are you asking me out on a date?”

Sunset exhaled and finally met her gaze, smiling weakly as her hair fell into her eyes. “I was working myself around to that eventually,” she said.

Rarity got up and shifted over to the chair next to Sunset, her free hand coming up to gently tuck her hair back out of her eyes. After a second of internal contemplation, she brushed her hand against Sunset’s cheek and pulled her into a kiss, humming with delight when the redhead kissed her back.

It was a light, chaste thing, but in that moment it was the best kiss Sunset had ever had.

When they parted Rarity’s eyes gleamed like diamonds, and her smile was utterly brilliant. “I would love to go on a date with you, Sunset.”

“Well.” Sunset squeezed Rarity’s hand. “If I told you I managed to figure this out so we’d be alone together all day?”

Rarity laughed, and it was the most beautiful sound Sunset had ever heard. “Then I suppose the date starts now.”

Author's Notes:

I checked the wiki and the place the girls visit in Rainbow Rocks is apparently called the Sweet Shoppe and not Sugarcube Corner, so... chalk it up to differences between the human world and the pony world, I guess. And apparently motorcross street racing is a thing, who knew?

... I really don't know what else to say, this pairing kind of crept up on me. I don't even know if it has a ship name. :rainbowhuh:

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