Assumptions I: A Chance Meeting
While on the outside the young rainbow-maned mare displayed her usual cool, arrogant, devil-may-care attitude, on the inside, her heart was almost jumping out of her chest and she clenched her jaw to suppress a grin. Tonight was the night. Her companion had treated her to a candle-lit dinner by the Canterlot riverside. The golden hall was filled to the brim with crème de la crème of Equestrian society. In one of the corners, Hoity-Toity and Photo Finish lead a heated discussion about the new fall line. Couple of tables further, Octavia was explaining the finer points of playing her instrument (was it cello or bass?) to Frederic Horseshoepin, seated opposite her, who seemed to be listening, although his expression was somewhat blank. DJ PON3, formerly known as Vinyl Scratch, sat next to Octavia, throwing dirty looks at the esteemed court composer. Deeper still in the VIP section, Prince Blueblood was gesturing wildly, imitating the splatter of a giant cake to a crowd of alarmingly young, giggling fillies.
But Rainbow Dash had eyes for one pony only. She looked up at her date, Soarin’. The suave, if somewhat goofy blue pegasus looked across their table and winked at her with his clear emerald eyes. Rainbow Dash gave a little smile, her magenta eyes lighting up ever so slightly. Inside her small cyan chest, her heart melted.
“Soarin’,” she said suddenly, her voice weaker and trembling somewhat.
Soarin’ resurfaced from his apple pie and gave her an inquisitive look.
“There’s a reason I suggested our little get-together,” she said with newfound confidence, her light cyan cheeks blushing ever so slightly.
“No problem,” said Soarin’ waving his hoof. “In fact, I know exactly what you’re after, Missy.” He gave her another one of his mischievous winks.
Then, ever so slowly, he leaned towards her, his lips still pressed in a goofy smile, Rainbow Dash, taking the cue, leaned in as well and closed her eyelids. Surprisingly, however, she felt his warm breath against her ear. After a few seconds, Rainbow Dash’s face became redder, and turned to stone. With every word Soarin’ whispered, her eyes opened wider, her pupils became reduced to mere dots. She looked up at Soarin’ as he withdrew, her lips trembling, her gaze obscured by a film of tears that had started to form in the corner of her eyes.
“You don’t need to thank me at all. She was actually quite keen and curious about it herself. But next time, you can ask straight-up. No need for fancy dinners like this.” He gave her a knowing nudge.
For the first time that evening, Rainbow Dash became completely aware of the noise that filled the famous Canterlot dining hall. All around her were distinguished ponies laughing, holding hooves, leading animated discussions. In the roar of the great wall, her tiny heartbreak was drowned out. At once her face was blank, her gaze fixated at nowhere in particular. Without a word, she stood up, spread her wings and took off. Any feeling she had left her body, but she could still hear the shatter of glass and yells of pain as she flew outside. She needed air. Fast.
Once outside, her deep breathing, mingled with sobs, produced a little cloud of condensation around her. She leaned against the window of the restaurant, avoiding looking inside. Collapsing into a small heap right where she stood, Rainbow Dash shed a single tear. But before it could run down her cheek, she felt a warm current of air and a small peck on where her tear had made its progress. She opened her eyes and looked up. Before her, a fiery-maned pegasus was offering her an outstretched hoof.
“No thanks,” said Rainbow Dash, her voice trembling.
“Don’t be silly. I don’t bite… hard.” Spitfire grinned. “Just let me help you get up!”
Dash hesitated. If Soarin’ had just told her what she thought he told her, this might mean even more trouble. Perhaps she should just stay on the spot and wallow in whatever ponies are supposed to wallow in. Or maybe she just needed to get up, tell Spitfire it had all been a misunderstanding and fly to her cloud castle as fast as she could. Attack things head on. Sort it out. Clear the air. That was the only way. As she accepted Spitfire’s helping hoof, something unexpected happened. Spitfire used a little bit more force than was needed to get the cyan pegasus back on her hooves. She pulled her firmly toward her, looked deep into the frightened magenta eyes with her fiery seductive gaze and kissed her. On Spitfire’s part, the kiss had been intended to be passionate and deep. Rainbow Dash felt the yellow mare’s warm lips on her own. Her pupils dilated again as her jaw clenched shut. As soon as she felt Spitfire reluctantly release her grip, she flung herself away, her hooves getting caught up in her dress sending her falling face forward.
“I’m sorry. I can’t do this” Rainbow Dash whispered, tears streaming down her face as she stood up one last time. She took to the dark November sky, which began to shed unforgivingly cold tears of its own.
As she sped towards Cloudsdale, the words that Soarin’ had whispered to her kept on repeating themselves over and over in her head.
I know why you arranged this dinner. I figured what you were as soon as I saw you. No, I don’t think you need anyone’s help to get into the Wonderbolts, you and I know full well that within a few years, you’ll make the team. You just want to get to know your future team mates better, am I right? Somepony has caught your eye? Don’t worry, I know all about it. I told her as soon as you suggested this get together. She’s quite excited to get to know you personally. She likes both, you see. And she’s not seeing anypony at the moment. No need to thank me. That’s what team does for each other. We’re not just colleagues, but friends. But you can be more than that. It’s okay. She’s waiting for you outside whenever you’re ready to see her. Go get her, tigress…
In hindsight, she probably should have told Soarin’ the truth. That she wanted to confess her feelings to him and that her admiration of Spitfire had been innocent. She was a fan, no more. Soarin’ probably thought that perhaps her toughness, her independence and her rainbow mane somehow added up to her liking mares. Rainbow Dash knew that she could not choose the color of her mane, no less than anypony could choose who they were attracted to. She just refused to believe there was any strict correlation between the two. If this had been true, then Pinkie Pie should be the most “frou-frou” pony, as Applejack called it, since she was all pink. Yet the title of the most lady-like mare in Ponyville went to Rarity, with Fluttershy a close second.
She winced as she remembered the rumours. Why would anyone assume anything? She’s had a hard time since she was born. It was always about her mane. She was a natural rainbow, but that meant nothing to other foals. Rainbow Crash! Attention seeker! Rainbow Dash swallowed hard as she remembered all of the ridicule she had to suffer throughout foalhood and adolescence. That’s why she was independent and tough. That’s where her need to prove herself came from. That’s what drove her to flying and racing, and that’s why she was slender and had an athletic body. It was an expression of her whole being and history, not an arbitrary expression of sexuality. And now, her first kiss had been stolen by a mare, albeit one of her idols. She grit her teeth, the wind billowing past her, its terrific roar doing nothing to numb her inner turmoil.
She accelerated once again leaving Canterlot far behind. Her line of vision decreased with every second, obscured by the veil of ever-heavier rainfall. Her wings began pulling her down as they soaked in the cold precipitation. A few more minutes, and she would be in bed, where no one could hurt her. Despite her present discomfort, she could almost feel the warmth of her bed and dreams of a monochromatic mane. Or maybe a stallion who could see past the rainbow. Lost in her thoughts, she felt her wings unable to move, a chilling grip locking them in their position. The storm had been stronger and colder than the pegasi had calculated. Suddenly aware of her dire situation, Rainbow Dash, still cursing her weather patrol colleagues under her breath, prepared for crash landing. This was no longer about getting home. What she needed was some seriously good damage control…
On the ground, a slender tan pony looked down into the small valley before him. The storm was getting more violent, but despite the late hour and the storm, he could still see the Apple siblings doing a round around their land, despite the hail that obliterated the usual vistas. But it wasn’t the quiet backdrop of rolling hills, or the scent of apple trees that usually swayed in the evening breeze that Caramel enjoyed on his way from work. He looked longingly at one of the farmers and sighed deeply. Besides this pony, I have no reason to stay in this town. He knew he stood no chance. He looked down at his hazy refection in a puddle. A lanky, slouched pony looked back at him. Plus there was his reputation. It was a funny thing, all the premature conclusions that somepony decided to draw someday, somehow began to matter to him.
He clenched his teeth and trotted on against the wind and hail. He would not see any more of his beloved Apple farmer today. He pressed on his road home, entering a small clearing when he saw faint cyan flash overhead…
Rainbow Dash was cold no longer control her wings. As gravity pulled her ever closer to the hard unforgiving ground, she flexed her muscles and winced in pain. She turned around to see the ice on her wings cutting into her flesh. She tried to spread her wings once more. Hearing a small crack, she started flexing her wings more desperately than ever before. With great effort, she managed to wring herself from the icy grip.She looked at the ground below her. Row upon row of trees stretched as far as her eyes could see. But they were close. Too close. There was a little clearing in the midst of the apple trees, and on the other end of it, she recognized the Crusaders’ clubhouse. She braced for impact, hoping that the ground would be soft. Just before she closed her eyes, she though she saw a faint beige blur through the hail, walking right in front of where she was supposed to crash. She closed her eyes and prayed to Celestia…
It must have only been a few seconds that she was unconscious. She looked at what had softened her spectacular fall: a slight beige colt, now lying in the mud, bruised and battered. It was a sorry sight. A feeling of pity and disgust mingled in Rainbow’s mind. Sure, she was sorry she had almost killed Caramel, even though in her mind he was probably the lamest, most useless pony in all of Ponyville, if not Equestria. But what on earth was he doing sneaking around the Crusader’s clubhouse? Not that she wanted to know. She’s already heard everything from the villagers, but now she was sure there was some truth behind the rumours. Given her experiences, she should not jump to conclusions, but she could at least know for certain that Caramel did wander around Sweet Apple Acres.
Sure, she practiced her moves above the farm too, but she the reasons should be obvious to anypony. Had she been practicing above Ponyville, a failed trick could result in a lot of collateral damage, which her insurance would not pay, and the thought of selling her parents’ cloud castle was breaking her heart. Practicing above Everfree would mean that, if something were to go wrong, her wings would be up against the dense forest canopy, leaving her in the midst of the woods which were home to some of the most dangerous creatures known to ponykind. Over Sweet Apple Acres, should anything happen, it would only be a tree or two that would get the receiving end of her acrobatics (though Applejack saw it differently), and her orange friend or Big Macintosh were always nearby to help patch her up. In her head, it made perfect sense. Even if some ponies believed that her frequent shenanigans over the farm had a different purpose altogether, namely seeing the mare that she was supposed to be infatuated with.
She looked again at the injured colt. He gave a slight whimper and let out a small, weary sigh. Pathetic, Rainbow Dash thought. He was going to make it, though. Just as she flew off, she heard a sound of four powerful pairs of hooves approaching the clearing. Applejack and Macintosh, she knew. They will deal with him, while she was off to wallow in whatever ponies wallow in. She would be fine tomorrow. Eventually…
Caramel literally did not know what had hit him. He was certain he heard his own bones crack and then he just kept on falling into nothingness. His life flashed before his eyes, A series of bad experiences featuring ponies he’d met from different walks of life, replayed again and again. Get away from her, foal-fiddler! The lies. Caramel lost the grass seeds again! The disappointments. You know what they say, a colt-cuddler is a mare’s best friend! The rumours. The fact that no matter where he went, no pony would ever look him straight in the eye. The feelings of worthlessness. The fact that he had become so used to all of this, that he accepted it and that he led himself to believe he was unworthy of anypony’s attention.
Just when he though the film would stop and he would be taken into the light, he could feel his own limbs again, the freezing hail hitting his coat, soaking him to the bone. He could hear a flutter of wings and his own breathing. He could hear a light trot through the mud. He tried opening his eyes and let out a weary sigh. He thought he saw a rainbow. He opened his eyes again, but it was gone. Only the storm remained. Then he heard a gallop in the distance, approaching him. He gathered his strength and struggled to stand up, but weak as he was, it was not enough. As the pungent smell of mud filled his nostrils and his eyes closed, he fell unconscious again.
Applejack and Big Macintosh always went around the farm as the evening fell, even in this weather. Finding all the gates closed, and their precious Apple trees safe, they were finally returning home, their thoughts of warm apple pies and a comfortable fireplace were disturbed by a loud crash nearby. They cantered quickly to see what had passed. Applejack was expecting anything, from a Diamond Dog, a thief, and even perhaps her foolhardy pegasus friend, who was occasionally known to train in weather like this. However, she wasn’t prepared to see a small earth pony, smashed, and lying face down in the mud in front of the Crusaders’ clubhouse. There was nopony else around, and no clues were left as to how Caramel got himself in this pitiful state.
“What in tarnation?,” Applejack cried, inspecting the bruised colt. She ran her hoof across his neck and lowered her face to his. Luckily, Caramel was still breathing, and his heart was still beating. Applejack sighed in relief, but continued thinking out loud. “What is Caramel doin’ here? In this weather? An’ how’d he get in this condition?” She looked up at the clubhouse and her face darkened. “Was he sneakin’ round tryin’ to get a look at Apple Bloom again? Or her friends? Maybe he wanted to get into the clubhouse an’…” Sick images of Caramel rummaging through Crusaders’ toys flooded Applejack’s mind. “Oh sweet Celestia…” A second ago, she could not help but feel genuinely concerned for her fellow pony, now she looked ready to pounce on him, her nostrils enlarged and her hooves clenched..
“Now hold on, sis,” Big Mac grumbled from behind. He knew his sister was perhaps too quick thinking and despite, or maybe because of her honest and trusting nature, she was prone to believe things that were little more than rumours. “Y’all don’t know whether that’s true. Plus you can’t make him hurt any more than he already is…”
“But it’s clear as Celestia’s sun, ain’t it?” Applejack interjected angrily.
“Consider this. If it’s true what they say, and Caramel really is a colt-cuddler and a foal-fiddler, why would he go after our filly sister? It just don’t add up.”
“Well, that orange friend of Apple Bloom’s sure looks kinder like a little colt sometimes,” Applejack mused, but deep down inside she knew she was splitting hairs. There was no denying her brother’s logic.
“What do we do then?” she asked, looking at her brother.
“What else can we do? We gotta get him to the farm and call nurse Redheart in the mornin’,” Big Macintosh said calmly, and when he caught the terrified expression on Applejack’s face he added: “Don’t worry sis. Apple Bloom can sleep with you tonight if yer worried. An’ ya’ll can always lock the door.” Macintosh pleaded as his calm eyes met Applejack’s.
“An’ ya don’t mind carryin’ him on yer back?” Applejack smirked.
“Ee-nope,” Macintosh replied, his face completely serious. “Ya’ll should know better Applejack. Believin’ gossip! Can ya recall what ponies said about us when Apple Bloom was born?” he scolded his sister. “He ain’t done nothin’ to us, and he’s in need of our help now.”
Applejack hung her head and looked on the ground. “All right, he can stay the night. But he’s a strange pony, so we’ll need to keep an eye on ‘im anyway. And we gotta ask him how got himself into this mess. Perhaps it’s a new kind of monster, or some other giant varmint. Now help me carry him to the farm.”
And with that, the Apple siblings departed, carrying Caramel between them, heading to their warm farm home.