Hot water sputtered out of the shower head with a hiss and splashed against Rainbow Dash as she stood in the shower adjoining the hotel room, the water washing away the tension in her muscles.
The Best Young Flier competition is only a few hours away, she thought, closing her eyes and letting the water flow over her back. And me, its future winner, is inside a fancy hotel taking a shower, before the big day. The stage is set. This is going to be the moment I get to strut my stuff in front of the Wonderbolts. Everything is perfect.
She glanced at the bathroom door and let out a sigh, running her mane under the shower head, her ears twitching as the water poured over them.
“Everything is perfect,” Dash repeated out loud.
Ever since they had gotten to Cloudsdale, Twilight had been acting distant. From the moment they had touched down, she’d been looking over her shoulder and acting skittish around everypony they bumped into.
Dash turned off the water and draped a towel over her back as she stepped out onto the impeccably clean, white bathroom tiles of the hotel, watching the water drip from her mane. Grabbing a towel from the shelf, Dash fluffed out her mane and dried her coat, staring dully at the fogged up bathroom mirror. Her mane sat flat against her head, wrapping around her ears and winding down the back of her neck. It made her look appropriately deflated.
Dash opened the bathroom and walked out with the towel hanging loosely around her neck. Twilight sat awake on the side of the bed, fidgeting with her hooves, but as soon as she saw Rainbow, she perked up.
“Morning!” Twilight said cheerfully, giving her a kiss on the cheek and darting past her into the shower.
The door clicked shut behind Dash, followed by the sound of running water coming from inside. Dash reached up to touch where Twilight had kissed her.
I should be focusing on the competition, not thinking about this right now! she thought, a low growl escaping her.
Dash flopped down on the bed, taking a deep breath and staring at the ceiling.
The water running in the bathroom stopped. Dash heard the bathroom door open and sat back up to look at it. Twilight walked out, water still dripping off her onto the floor. Her normally flat mane lay loose around her shoulders, the dark purple and bright pink in it giving her an exotic, spellbinding look.
“Hey, I think you took the only towel,” Twilight said. “What’s wrong? Why are you looking at me weird?”
“Uh... it’s nothing.” Dash picked the towel up under wing, carrying it over to Twilight with a blush on her face.
Twilight took the towel from Dash and dried herself off. Rubbing her mane until it was dry and fluffy, Twilight put the towel down on her shoulders and caught Dash staring at her.
“What’s so interesting?” Twilight asked, cocking her head to the side.
Lifting a hoof up to Twilight’s cheek, Dash leaned in close. “You,” she said, waiting for Twilight to meet her halfway. Twilight hesitated for a moment before leaning in to kiss her. Dash closed her eyes as their lips met. Twilight softly pushed her lips against Dash’s, but the kiss was brief. Twilight pulled back, keeping it short.
The feeling lingered on Dash’s lips, but it was missing something. It felt distant and forced. Opening her eyes, Dash saw Twilight smiling at her.
“That’s it, huh?” Dash said, turning away.
“What did I do?” Twilight asked.
Dash let out a disappointed sigh and walked over to the door. “Nothing. Just forget about it.” She opened the door, stopping to glance over her shoulder at Twilight. “I’m going to go out for a bit before the contest, just to get a bit of air.”
Twilight reached out a hoof towards the door. “But, Dash—”
Dash shut the door, not waiting to hear what she had to say, and marched down the hall, wondering if it had been a good idea to bring Twilight up there in the first place.
Dash had gotten out of the hotel room and flown to the market. Her stomach growled as she walked past all the stalls full of fruits and vegetables, reminding her that she had missed breakfast.
“Well if it isn’t Rainbow Crash!”
Dash froze. Turning around, she saw somepony she hadn’t seen since flight school. Personally, she would have liked to keep it that way.
“Get kicked out of any flight schools lately?” The dark-brown stallion with a dumbbell cutie mark poked her in the shoulder. His two friends on either side of him guffawed, following him around like a flock of sheep.
“For the record, I didn’t get kicked out,” Dash growled, receiving another mocking laugh in reply. The three larger ponies circled her like a pack of sharks.
“Yeah, only because you left before they could kick you out! Face it Dash, flight school had too many rules for you.” The jock’s eyes widened. “Don’t tell me... you’re in Cloudsdale for that flying contest, aren’t you?”
Dash gave him a flat look as he burst out laughing. “Oh man, you totally are! Ha!” His two goons laughed behind him, and he smirked at her. “There’s no way you’re going to win.”
Dash growled. “You wait and see! I’m going to pull off another sonic rainboom and win the competition hooves down.”
“The sonic rainboom is nothing but an old mare’s tale. You don’t have the skill to pull something like that off.”
Dash marched up to him and got in his face. “I can too! I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again! You’ll see!”
Dumbbell laughed at her. “Oh, we’ll see alright. We’ll be at the contest, watching, along with an entire stadium of impatient sports fan ponies... no pressure, right, Dash?”
The fire in Dash’s eyes flickered with doubt, and she looked down at the ground with her ears drooping, eliciting another round of laughs from the jocks.
“Later, Rainbow Crash.” Dumbbell turned and walked away, his cronies in tow.
Dash fell down on her haunches, burying her face into the clouds and groaning, drawing glances from passersby.
“You shouldn’t worry about what those guys say too much.”
Dash took her head out of the clouds and looked up at the voice. She instantly recognized just who was talking to her, and her eyes lit up with stars. “Spitfire?” she asked, excitement creeping into her voice. The mare opposite her was recognizable from the posters Dash had hanging in her room, somepony she had dreamed of getting a chance to meet in person.
“Heh, a fan I’m guessing?” Spitfire offered her a hoof to help her get back on her hooves.
Dash took the hoof, standing up and shaking it enthusiastically. “I’m probably one of your biggest fans! I’ve been to just about every show you guys have done!” She stifled the urge to giggle like a school-filly, not wanting to do anything uncool in front of Spitfire. “You’re a major part of the reason I got into flying in the first place!”
“I’m always honored to hear about how much ponies look up to me.” Spitfire gave her a nervous smile. “Think I can have my hoof back?”
Dash looked down to Spitfire’s hoof and let it go with a small blush. “Err, sorry about that.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Spitfire cleared her throat. “Anyway, I overheard you’re going to be in the Best Young Flier competition today.”
“Yeah...” Dash answered.
“You shouldn’t sweat the little things so much. What those guys said... they don’t know what they’re talking about. You just have to go up there like you’re invincible.”
“Like I’m invincible?” Dash repeated.
“Mindset is a very important part of any performance. If you go up on stage like nothing can touch you, and nothing can stop you, then nothing will.”
Dash put a hoof to her chin as Spitfire walked past her.
“Just some advice from somepony who’s been doing this for a long time,” Spitfire called over her shoulder, trotting away.
Dash’s head snapped up as she realized Spitfire had walked away. “Wait!” she called, raising a hoof after her, but Spitfire had already disappeared into the crowd.
Dash thought of all the times she had seen the Wonderbolts perform with a stadium full of eyes on them.
“Go up there like nothing can stop you, and nothing will, huh?” Dash figured it was worth a shot. The advice was from Spitfire herself after all.
As she was walking around the marketplace looking for somewhere to grab a bite to eat, Dash realized she had forgotten something important.
Shoot! I didn’t ask her for an autograph!
Twilight paced nervously in the hotel room, stealing glances at the door. The ticking of the clock on the wall was deafening in the silent room. Twilight stared at it, watching the second hand rotate, and the longer she stared, the slower it seemed to move. She let out a sigh and crawled onto the bed, laying her chin on a pillow.
Rainbow Dash, we need to talk... Rainbow Dash, is there something bothering you lately?... Hey, Rainbow Dash! Is everything alright? she practiced in her head, as she stared at the door, waiting.
Twilight shifted, lifting the pillow and putting it at the foot of the bed so that she could lay facing the door. Listen, Dash, about last night, things were just a little out of my comfort zone, alright? I know we’ve known each other for a while, but we only just started dating. I don’t want to move too fast.
Twilight buried her face in the pillow and let out a muffled scream of frustration. She screamed until her throat was sore and she was red in the face, and then rolled onto her back, taking deep breaths.
Maybe I’ll think of the right thing to say when I see her. Twilight thought, looking at the clock.
A minute had passed.
A groan escaped her lips as she went back to the only thing to do by herself in the hotel room: stare at the ceiling. There was a slowly creeping doubt in her mind that Dash might not even come back before the competition started.
“She can’t stay mad at me forever... right?”
Silence answered her. Still lying on her back, Twilight grabbed the pillow and put it on her face, and between her options of staring at the ceiling or sleeping, she chose to close her eyes and drift off.
The door opened.
Twilight bolted upright, the pillow falling onto the bed next to her as she looked at the doorway to see Dash walk into the room.
Twilight got off the bed and took a tentative step towards Dash. “Listen, Dash, I think we need to talk.” The pegasus froze, and Twilight could see the way her whole body tensed at her words. “Ever since last night you’ve been acting frustrated and angry. If something is bothering you just tell me.”
Dash let out a long breath and turned to face her with a determined look in her eyes, marching right up to her, until they were nose to nose. “You want to know what’s bothering me ever since last night?” she asked, cutting right to the chase. “It’s the fact that ever since we got to Cloudsdale you’ve been acting afraid of everything!”
Twilight’s mouth opened and closed, unable to come up with a reply. She looked down at the floor, avoiding Dash’s stare.
“See?” Dash said, poking her in the chest with a hoof. “You’re doing it right now!”
“I-I had every right to stop you when I felt uncomfortable with what—”
“But it’s the reason that you’re uncomfortable that bugs me,” Dash interrupted, lowering the hoof she had pointed at Twilight. “You’re uncomfortable because you’re scared of being with me, being seen with me...” Dash finished, taking a step back.
“I...” Twilight stopped, considering her words. She sighed and hung her head, looking up at Dash. “I’m still a little unsure about dating another mare.”
Dash let out a loud groan and walked to the edge of the bed, flopping down on it next to Twilight and twitching her tail in agitation.
“I really need to think carefully about this.”
Dash sat up. “That’s your problem, Twilight! You rely so much on your head for answers that you don’t listen to your feelings.” Dash got off the bed and walked up to her. “Do you have feelings for me?” Dash searched Twilight’s eyes for some kind of sign, but all she saw was hesitation.
Dash let out a sigh. “Do you truly want this relationship, and every aspect that comes with it?”
Twilight looked away, unable to answer her.
“You should try listening to your heart some time, Twilight,” Dash said, shaking her head and giving Twilight a disappointed look. She walked to the door and opened it, looking back over her shoulder. “I need to be focusing on the competition right now, but after it, come and find me if you have some kind of answer.”
With that, Dash left. Twilight barely even registered the sound of the door closing. There was a hollow ache that she couldn’t describe.
Was it her heart?
Dash had gotten her number for the competition. She had done a quick number swap with the pony going last when no one was looking. Maybe that could be considered some small form of cheating, but the more time she had to try to sort through the mess of what happened back at the hotel, the better.
Storming out of the hotel saying she needed to focus on the competition, what a joke. All she could think about was Twilight, and the question she had left her with back at the hotel.
“Hey... why so glum? Those jerks bothering you again?”
Dash looked up to see Spitfire. “No, it’s nothing like that,” Dash answered, kicking the ground with a hoof.
Spitfire nodded her head slowly. “I know that tone. Having some romance issues?”
Dash’s eyes widened, recieving a knowing wink from the Wonderbolt. “How could you tell?”
“It was written all over your face.” Spitfire took a seat next to Dash. “So what happened between you and him?”
“She still isn’t sure whether she wants to go through with dating another mare.”
Spitfire’s eyebrows rose. “Oh...” She scratched the back of her neck, giving a sidelong glance at Dash. “Well, it’s pretty much up to her then.”
Dash let out a wistful sigh. “Yeah.”
A moment of silence passed, before Spitfire spoke again. “How did you two meet?”
There was a far off look in Dash’s eye, a small smile playing on her lips. “Well,” she began. “We were friends for a while. Then I told her that I had a crush on her.” Dash looked up at the sky with a grin on her face. “It was a picnic under the stars. Just me and her, lying on our backs and looking up at the night sky.”
Spitfire found herself with a smile on her face just listening to the story. “That sounds romantic.”
“Really? I was actually trying to be subtle...” Dash stopped, clearing her throat. “Well, as I was saying, we were having that picnic. We talked about the stars, and it was great. But then Twilight asked me if something had been bugging me. We were lying next to each other on the picnic blanket, and it just seemed like a good time to kiss her.”
The smile fell from Dash’s face. “She didn’t take it so well. She shouted at me, then got up and left.” Dash looked at Spitfire out of the corner of her eye. “She eventually talked to me again. I managed to get our friendship back and she wasn’t so mad at me anymore. Then, the next day she tells me she changed her mind, and wants to give a relationship a shot.”
“She’s been on the ropes about it from the start?”
“Yeah. But after the first date things were going great. By the end of the date I got her to fall for me too.” Dash propped her head up on an elbow. “At least, I thought I did. She’s having second thoughts about it now.”
“Maybe she just needs a little time to overcome whatever apprehensions she still has of being with you.” The first contestant was called to the stadium to perform, and Spitfire stood. “Sorry Dash, I need to get back to the others, competition to judge and all.” Spitfire spread her wings and gave Dash a half-hearted smile. “For what it’s worth, I hope everything turns out alright between you two,” she said, turning to fly back to the judges’ booth
“Wait!” Dash called out, causing Spitfire to stop and turn to look at her. “Why do you keep helping me like this?”
“Not quite sure. I guess something about you caught my curiosity.” Spitfire smirked at her and winked, taking to a hover in front of her. “Good luck with the competition!” she said, giving a mock salute and flying away to the stands, leaving Dash alone with all the other contestants.
Twilight slammed the hotel door open and sprinted down the hall, hearing an indignant shout from a hotel worker as she ran past.
“Sorry!” Twilight called over her shoulder. There wasn’t time to stop, not when she had to find Dash.
She rushed down the stairs and out the front door of the hotel, her frantic sprinting catching more than a few looks as she ran across the cloud roads to the stadium.
The Cloudiseum’s towering entrance came into view. Her legs burned, her mouth felt dry, and it hurt her lungs just to breath, but the entrance was so close. Twilight rushed up the flight of stairs and burst into the lobby, spotting a blue colt who looked like he worked there.
Twilight dashed up to him. “Where’s the contestants’ waiting lobby!?” she asked, shaking him by the shoulders.
“D-Down that hallway, second d-door on the right.”
Twilight let go of him and ran down the hallway, her legs burning as she ran down the final stretch. She came to the second door on the right and kicked it open, revealing a room full of pegasi, who whipped their heads around to the sound of the door being slammed open. Twilight spotted Dash at the back of the room and ran towards her.
“Twilight!? What the—”
Dash was cut off as Twilight’s lips crashed into hers in front of everypony. Wrapping her hooves around Dash, Twilight squeezed her close, as though she were afraid to lose her.
Dash’s eyes closed and she began to return the kiss, spreading her wings and leaning into it. Her lips were warm, and trembling, and Twilight did her best to comfort them.
Twilight pulled back, having the decency to blush after kissing Dash so passionately in front of a room full of ponies. “I wanted to get here before the contest to tell you that I made up my mind.” Twilight threw her hooves around Dash, who was still stiff as a board. “I want to be with you.” A hoof brushed against Twilight’s cheek, and she looked up to see Dash with a heartfelt smile on her face.
“I’m glad you chose me.” Dash brought her hooves up and wrapped them around Twilight, returning the embrace.
Twilight rest her head on Dash’s shoulder and closed her eyes. It was amazing how warm and safe a simple hug could make her feel. The hollow ache in her chest was gone, and Twilight wanted nothing more than to never let go of Dash, with a whole room of ponies watching them or not.
“Contestant number sixteen!” a nasally-voiced mare shouted, causing Dash to look up.
Twilight looked down at Dash’s flank, seeing that her number had just been called. The hooves around Twilight squeezed, reluctant to let go of her. Twilight moved back, Dash’s hooves falling back to her side as she moved out of the hug.
“Go,” Twilight said, reaching up and touching Dash’s cheek. “You’ll be fantastic.”
Dash raised a hoof and placed it on hers. Twilight could see a desire to linger there with her and forget about the competition. Smiling, Dash spread her wings and gave her one last cocky grin before she took off.
“Knowing you’ll be there with me, I’ll be untouchable.” Dash flew away to the middle of the stadium, and took a deep breath as she looked at the rows of cloud seats, full of ponies watching her.
“Show time,” Dash muttered under her breath, diving to begin her routine.