Twilight Sparkle hummed happily to herself, her horn glowing with a soft magenta light as she held aloft a fine, blue quill and a yellowed, wrinkled scroll. The scroll was long, long enough that it could not be fully unfurled without risking its already tattered and worn surface on the numerous books, chairs, and other objects strewn about the library’s floor.
Twilight squinted, trying to make out faded ink in the dying light of the single candle she allowed herself, a concession only granted due to magical exhaustion and the late hour. Her eyes traversed the parchment, stopping mid-way down at item number three hundred seventy-six: perfect long-range teleportation spell. She brought her quill to her inkwell with exaggerated care and dipped it in. Equal care was given to ensure that no ink dripped from the black tip as she brought it to the scroll. She closed her eyes as she marked yet another item off The List. A small shudder ran up her legs, across her back, and into her ears as she pulled the quill away and blotted the newly made check mark with fine sand.
With a satisfied smile she scanned her completed items, basking in the knowledge that her List, and her life, were right on track. Until she remembered it: the one item that had thwarted and taunted her. A single blank box in a sea of perfectly lined up check marks. Twilight didn’t really know why she had added it to The List—a filly’s whim, she supposed. Item number fifty-six: go on a date, obtain first kiss. Her brows creased as she stared at the defiant entry. It had mocked her for two and a half years now.
Twilight gritted her teeth, trying to force the thought of her failure from her mind. Not everything had gone according to her plan. Oh, some things had thrown her for a loop and required some liberal reinterpretation, especially after moving to Ponyville. She had yet to attempt some of the newer items she had added to the List, but this was the only remaining item from the original One Hundred Things Every Filly Should Do.
It was a failure of organization. Without organization came chaos. She had been using lists to plan and order since before gaining her cutie mark and they had served her faithfully. Yet here was this list. Incomplete. Disorderly.
“And it’s high time I did something about that!” she proclaimed to nopony in particular. With much less regard than she used for The List, she unfurled a smaller, cleaner scroll and checked “be assertive” off of her weekly planner.
Plans already beginning to form in her mind, she finished rolling her List up, taking less care than she had previously. She slipped it into a polished wooden case emblazoned with a pink six-pointed star, an exact match to the one adorning her flank. Only then did she use her magic to light the rest of the room’s candles. Trotting over to one of the numerous bookshelves, she began reading titles, looking for some self-help book on finding a perfect date-candidate. How to Lose a Stallion in Seven Days and 21 Dishes He’ll Love flew off the shelf and dropped on the floor. It was followed by Formal Dining Guides, which might have been useful for the date itself, but offered no help on who to date. Choosing the Perfect Calendar—how had this gotten here? She’d been looking for this for months. Pulling book after book off the shelves until she had gone through the entire bookcase yielded nothing better than a set of romance novels she wasn’t sure should even be in the general audience section. Adding one of the more promising novels about a lonely librarian to her “read later” stack, she was forced to conclude her shelves lacked any such helpful literature. “That’s not going to stop me this time,” she growled at fate. It was time to get serious.
Since moving to Ponyville less than a year ago, she had accomplished so many of her goals, some in very surprising ways. She mulled over the various techniques for finding a dating partner she remembered from overheard snatches of conversation. She was no longer a student—well, she no longer had classmates—nor was she enrolled in any clubs or other social activities with ponies of her age. That left two choices: dating a friend or hitting the night scene.
The thought of trying to chat up strange ponies in some dimly lit nightclub in Canterlot or Manehatten caused a lump of ice to form in her gut. All those wasted hours spent just seeing if she could get along with a stranger was almost enough for her to give up right there. With all other options exhausted, she turned towards the last source of potential partners.
Her friends had helped her learn and achieve so much; perhaps she could once again rely on them? It shouldn’t be that awkward. The list item in question didn’t explicitly state romance was required. She really only needed a pony willing to help her out, to go through the motions. Yes, her friends were the answer. Now all that remained was choosing who would be the best candidate.
Twilight grabbed a short scroll. This plan would not have as many steps as her usual daily checklists. Her quill made small scraping sounds as she developed her plan. When she was done, she re-read the list to ensure no errors were present.
Make a list of friend’s traits
Decide on whom to date
Ask friend out. Note: this may require additional research
Go on a date. A list of activities will be required
Repeat steps one through four until kiss is obtained
Finish original list
Talk to Pinkie Pie about party
(see standard Pinkie Pie Party checklist)
Twilight beamed. With this many lists, organization was sure to triumph. Giggling at the exhilaration that came with taking control of her life, she snatched five more sheets of paper and inscribed the name of a friend at the top of each. With great care, she drew a vertical line down the center of each sheet of paper, dividing each precisely in half. In one column she wrote “pros” and in the other “cons”.
Quickly she began compiling all of the positive and negative traits of her friends, with a critical eye towards date-ability. She muttered aloud as she wrote. “Pinkie Pie. Pros: is a lot of fun to be around, she’s always doing something new, pretty sure it’s impossible to really be unhappy around her, likes cooking, parties, Pinkie Sense.” Smiling at both her concise list and the thoughts of Pinkie’s positive date-ability oriented qualities, she moved over to the “cons” section. It felt a little odd to be quantifying her friends’ flaws, but she pushed that thought away. This was for a good cause. Besides, non-datability didn’t mean they were bad ponies, just ill suited to helping her.
“Cons: Hyperactive, unintelligible at times, would drive me mad within three days, too many parties, Pinkie Sense.” She chewed on the end of her quill trying to think of any more relevant traits that might tip the balance in Pinkie’s favor. Unable to really come up with any qualities that outweighed near certain insanity, she reluctantly placed Pinkie’s list down and swept up Fluttershy’s.
After a careful moment of thought she wrote a single line in the “con” category and put the paper down. She knew that Fluttershy would do anything to help a friend; she would not want to say “no” even if she was totally against the idea for fear of hurting Twilight’s feelings. Even explaining that this would be strictly scientific would not lessen her friend’s distress. It didn’t seem fair to place undue stress on such a timid pony.
Next up was Rarity. Twilight was able to fill her page on both sides. Generous fought against self-centered, determined faced off with prissy, elegant and high-maintenance added weight to their respective sides. Twilight struggled to contain all of her various thoughts on the single sheet, writing new traits within the margins and white space between words. Her candle burned low before she lifted the quill for the final time.
She rolled her neck, a small popping sound coming from her stiff muscles. Fighting to contain a yawn, she stared at the near solidly inked scroll. Twilight tried to make a decision one way or another, but for every positive influence there was a negative one lurking, and every time she thought she had finally ruled Rarity out, a redeeming phrase seemed to shine. “Gah!” She rubbed her temples with her hooves. “Why does this have to be so complicated?” Brightening immediately, she scrambled to find a bit of space on the right side of her sheet and finally located a small patch of parchment between “obsessive compulsive” and “anti-green”. She wrote “too complicated,” then smiled as she placed Rarity’s list on top of Pinkie’s and Fluttershy’s.
Only two left. She was more than halfway done. Rarity’s ink-soaked sheet stared at her, mocking her hopes of being nearly finished. Hopefully neither Applejack nor Rainbow Dash would be so involved. Grabbing Applejack’s, she quickly began to list traits, starting with AJ’s trademark honesty and devotion to her friends. Twilight’s quill wobbled a bit and caused some spotting as she added athleticism to the pros side. Though she had no intention of taking things beyond a date and first kiss, Twilight blushed thinking about how that trait might come into play in a more serious relationship. She shook her head. “Focus, Twilight.”
Industrious. If there was one thing anypony who knew anything about Applejack knew, it was that she was as hard working a pony as ever lived. Maybe even a bit too hard working; her work often kept her in the fields and orchards when other ponies would have skipped out to visit their friends. Simply finding time when she was free would be tough. And getting the apple farmer to do anything she didn’t really want to was like moving a mountain. She took pride in her stubbornness.
Twilight sat on her haunches to think. Applejack had overcome her bullheadedness when it came to accepting help from her friends, but she was still reluctant to ask for help. It had taken the full force of a hyper Pinkie Pie to get Applejack to open up to them, and it had been entirely due to her family’s pride and stubbornness that she had risked the farm in that cider contest. Recalling that it had been her idea to allow Applejack’s honorary family to help, Twilight underlined stubborn.
Twilight chewed on the tip of her quill once more. It was true that stubbornness was a key trait to her orange friend. Most of the other traits on the paper could be related or traced back to refusing to give in, but Applejack’s stubbornness could be a good trait too. She underlined devoted as well.
Twilight spent several more minutes wracking her brain to come up with anything else to add to the list. She tapped her quill against her desk, scowling when she realized the mess she was making with the ink. She’d have to get Spike to clean that later. Shaking her head, Twilight decided she had been as thorough as possible. She sighed, tension flowing from her along with her breath. She had begun to worry that none of her friends would be compatible enough for this task.
A tingle ran up her spine as she grabbed for Rainbow’s empty sheet. The pegasus represented the final step to completing phase one. Quickly, not caring as much about smudges, she began writing. Loyal, athletic, courageous, all went down in the positive traits. Sarcastic, judgmental, and arrogant went into the negatives list. To be fair to her friend, Rainbow had been much less boastful of late. The Mysterious Mare Do-Well incident had helped tremendously with that. And, as much as Twilight hated to admit it, she was often even more snarky and sarcastic than her friend. She wasn’t going to cross those off the list; they were good and valid points, but the ink on the page made them seem so much more negative than they really were. She almost felt she should qualify the points, but could summon up nothing beyond a slightly protective feeling towards the pegasus.
Twilight closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead with a hoof, struggling to contain another yawn. Surely she had more to say about her friend? Well, Dash was undeniably cool, but was that a trait that mattered? Twilight wanted to write it down, but the analytical side of her mind just couldn’t justify “cool” as a date-oriented quality. She tried approaching it from a different angle, but still couldn’t see a functional difference between “cool”, “awesome”, and “radical”. There had to be something here.
Twilight blinked. During the moment her eyes were closed she could see Rainbow’s air of assurance—the slight spring to her steps, that cocky half smirk she wore when she was faced with an obstacle, those eyes that welcomed a challenge. Even were she more of a Monochrome Dash, Twilight knew she would still command attention. It was just something about the way she moved. Flying or walking, it didn’t matter.
“Confidence!” Her inkwell jumped a little as she pounded her hoof into the table. Dash exuded confidence: she was so self-assured about everything she did. Twilight grinned as she wrote. Well, almost everything. There had been her reluctance to read simply because she had viewed it as uncool. “Right!” Twilight turned and scanned the small piles of books scattered around her study. “I need to remember to get that next Danger Mare book out for her.” Dash had very good taste in fiction even if she still shunned non-fiction. Maybe one of the Wonderbolts had written something? That would get her hesitant friend to read a biography if anything could.
Twilight placed her final page, Rainbow’s page, on top of Applejack’s. With renewed energy, she bounded over to her checklist and mark off phase one. “Score one point for organization!” She double-checked phase two, even though it was obvious what she had to do next. “Phase two,” she read aloud, “decide on who to date.”
She stalked back to her desk, narrowing her eyes and keeping her head down low and her hoofsteps soft. Moving right up against the side of the desk, slowly, quietly, she raised her head, eyes just peeking up over the surface. She stared at the smaller of the two stacks. Applejack and Rainbow Dash, the two ponies she felt exemplified the traits that her romance novels seemed to indicate would complement her own the most.
Applejack, the honest farmer. Rainbow Dash, the exciting flier. She used her magic to spread the two sheets out in front of her. Twilight peered at the two papers, her eyes narrowing further, taking in each word and weighing it. Both ponies had rough edges that would make dating either one difficult. Both had qualities that many agreed were good traits in a partner.
Back and forth between her two friends. Applejack seemed to be the better choice. She was simply far more steady and well grounded than Rainbow Dash, but every time she started to add Rainbow to the pile of discarded papers, she found herself unable to. Flopping onto her back, she stared up at her ceiling. “Ugh! Why does choosing have to be so hard?” Her ceiling did not answer.
She lay there for several minutes, trying to think of anything but Rainbow Dash and Applejack. No answers came to her. No ideas, no sudden bolts of inspiration materialized inside her mind. She sighed and rolled over, a book digging into her side as she gathered her hooves under her. She picked it up and read the title by the light of her own levitation spell. It was the first novel in one of her favorite adventure series, Daring Do. Rainbow loved the series as much as she did and had practically devoured the entire thing during her week of enforced bed rest.
How many couples had she read about who started off with nothing more than a shared interest? This was perfect, just the push she needed. Like she had tried to do so many times tonight, she moved one of the two papers back towards the desk, inwardly bracing for the same reticence that had plagued her for the last half hour. She was pleased and not a little surprised to find she felt only satisfaction at this choice. With no half-formed thoughts nagging her about the decision, she placed Applejack onto the pile with her three other friends.
Twilight leapt to her hooves, dimples forming as she smiled at her selection. Keeping the all-important paper with her, she skipped back over to her list. “Phase two complete!” She reared back and clapped her front hooves together. Her plan was well on its way. Now she had only to ask the blue pegasus on a date.
Twilight froze mid-celebration, her jubilant grin falling into a worried frown. Right, she had no real idea how to ask somepony out. Well, more reading was hardly going to stop her now. She stifled yet another yawn; she couldn’t sleep yet. There was research to be done, lists to be made, and a rainbow-maned pegasus to contemplate. Twilight’s grin widened as she reminded herself of these three points.
With a blast of magic, Twilight cleared a large space next to her desk, shoving everything around it back six or seven paces. Her horn flared, outshining the candles as she pulled out every book that had even the smallest hint of romance in it. She would read until she found a solution that fit her perfectly.
Choosing a book at random, she settled in for long hours of research. Within twenty minutes a puddle of drool had formed on her desk, under her muzzle. The chirping of the birds and her own light snoozing greeted the first fingers of dawn.
Rainbow Dash’s grin deepened as she started into the last segment of her routine. The world spun, earth and sky flipping wildly as she threw herself through corkscrews and rolls. She flared her wings and back-flipped into a dive. The last time she had tried this, it had put her into the hospital. Not this time, no way. She corkscrewed towards the green field and the four ponies sitting on checkered blanket below. All of her closest friends except Applejack had made it out to this picnic and show to watch her practice. The farm pony had said something about her trees needing to be ‘pruned’. Dash tried to snort, but the wind made it really hard to tell if she had. Pruning apple trees, a likely story. Everypony knew prunes didn’t come from apples; maybe kumquats or something, but not apples. That pony really needed to relax a bit and take some time off! And Rainbow really needed to pay attention to her flight path.
Struggling to keep her wings in position and not lose control as she threatened to spin out, Dash pulled herself level with the ground. The bottom of her erratic spiral came within a mere few wingspans on the earth. Fluttershy lay quivering upon the ground, hooves over her eyes as Rainbow passed overhead. Pinkie Pie took the opposite approach, bounding high into the air and achieving a hang-time that would make many of the foals in this year’s Summer Flight Camp jealous. For a minute Dash thought that the pink pony might actually sprout wings and take flight in disregard for reality. Then she passed over the group, hardly able to hear the cheering over the roar of her own wind stream.
She dipped towards the ground and tightened her roll, bringing her back to face the ground mere hoof-lengths away. Then she dove towards the sky, tucked, flipped, and landed, already half way into a bow as she did so. “Thank you, thank you,” she said as her friends cheered and clapped for her.
“Rainbow my dear, that was absolutely stunning. The way your mane and tail flowed was simply marvelous.” The white unicorn’s eyes drifted upwards, no doubt daydreaming about shoving her into some frilly gown again.
“Oh it was so super cool!” Pinkie Pie bounced into the air. “Zoom! Whoosh!” She thrust her hooves left then right in a pantomime of Dash’s flight, ending with a backward somersault flip and a final “Wheee!”
“Oh yes. It was, um, very nice.” Fluttershy offered up a small smile for her fellow pegasus. “The parts I could watch, that is.”
Dash smiled and laughed at her friends’ enthusiasm. “It’s cool, Fluttershy. I know not everypony can deal with displays of such raw speed and talent.” Dash reached out with one hoof and gave her reserved friend a quick hug. “It still means a lot that you came out to see me. All of you.” She turned to beam at each of her friends for a moment.
“Oh, oh, oh, oh!” Pinkie vibrated. “I should totally throw a party for this!”
“Pinkie Pie, you don’t have to throw a party every time I learn a new trick.” Dash puffed out her chest and spread her wings. “You’d be throwing them non-stop.”
“Yeah, but this trick is different! You got really, really hurt last time.” Pinkie’s ears drooped and her eyes teared up. Then she smiled, her ears perking forward and her tears vanishing. “And this time you didn’t! Yay!”
Rainbow laughed. She didn’t really like being reminded of her failures, but now that she had succeeded in performing the trick, the sting was gone. Nopony could learn a new trick without bending a few feathers. “Alright Pinkie, I can’t wait.”
Pinkie Pie zipped off, leaving a curling trail of dirt, dust, and grass clippings billowing outward in her wake.
For the first time since Dash had landed, Twilight spoke. “Well, I guess we’d better all go get ready for Pinkie’s party.” She was met with a chorus of agreements and they all began trotting back towards the town proper, following the still-settling dust trails that Pinkie Pie had left.
Living on the outskirts of Ponyville, Fluttershy was the first to peel off from the group. Giving them a soft “goodbye”, she trotted off towards her home. Dash could have flown up to her house right then, but she was still a bit winded from her performance, and the small talk and chitchat of her friends was pleasant enough, even if a good half of it covered things she didn’t really care much about. She stayed with the group until they got to the center of the village and had to separate. Saying her goodbyes, Dash prepared to take flight and get a quick nap in before the party.
Dash turned towards Twilight, who hadn’t budged since saying goodbye to Rarity. Dash hesitated for a second, and then trotted over to her friend. “What’s up Twi?” Something was a little bit off about the unicorn. Her smile was suspiciously wide, like a used carriage salespony’s. Maybe the workout had worn her out more than she thought.
“Well, Rainbow. I’ve been going over some notes these last few days, trying to find the perfect way to approach this. See I’ve got a new project and I’ve been staying up late the last few nights, making plans and compiling lists for each of you...”
As Twilight rambled on about lists and projects, experiments and data gathering, Dash nodded at what seemed appropriate points. She tried to keep from yawning, but with the thought of a nap already firmly planted in her head, she couldn’t help it. She didn’t mean to be rude, but when Twilight got on about her charts and the process of elimination, it was hard to pay attention. Especially when she really just wanted a muffin and a nap. Giving a little shake of her head, she was surprised to find that she couldn’t actually remember what Twilight had just said. The unicorn didn’t seem to have noticed.
“...and you’re the most logical match!” Twilight stopped, finally. She smiled and nodded, tilting her chin up and looking very satisfied.
“Yeah, look Twilight I–”
“So, do you wanna go out on a date?”
Dash froze mid thought. She must have heard Twilight wrong. “E–excuse me?” she stammered.
“Would you like to go out on a date with me sometime?” Twilight asked.
This wasn’t right. Ponies didn’t just walk up to their friends and ask them out. Despite her best efforts, Dash had picked up that much from Rarity. Twilight should have stammered or mumbled, or tried to spend a lot of time alone with her until Dash got the hint and made the first move, or maybe collected and obsessed over her discarded feathers. She should have pawed at the ground and blushed. Ponies asking their friends out on dates did not just stand there looking like they were talking about the weather schedule. She should be bouncing from hoof to hoof, or ready to run away the second Dash opened her mouth.
Maybe because Twilight wasn’t nervous, certainly not because she was nervous, Dash’s wings rose off of her back, her fight or flight instincts rapidly heading for the flight option. She couldn’t just run off though. One, that was not cool—it was the total opposite of cool, anti-cool. Two, how could she live with herself if she just left Twilight standing there? She owed her friend an answer. She opened her mouth to reply, but had no idea what she was going to say. She tried again, and once more was speechless. Neither a “yeah, sure” nor a “sorry, Twi” could be forced out. She, the fastest pony in Equestria, needed more time. “Uh. Twilight, isn’t this a little, um, sudden?” She pleaded for understanding as she stalled. The smartest pony she knew didn’t disappoint.
“Oh, I realize it’s a bit out of the blue.” Twilight actually smiled, like she hadn’t just put her heart out on the line.
“Yeah, just a little.” She offered Twilight an apologetic grin. “Could I have, like, a day to think about it?”
“Sure, Rainbow Dash. No problem.”
Rainbow Dash was floored. Twilight sounded like she really meant that. No hitches in her voice, no drawing back like she’d been struck. Just, “No problem”. Twilight’s nerves had to be made of ice water or something even colder, like really cold ice water. Heat began to creep into Dash’s cheeks. She really had to give Twilight credit: that amount of cool was beyond pretty much anypony else.
“So, tomorrow then?” Twilight asked.
“Yeah, tomorrow. Um. Yeah.” Dash sprang into the air and sped towards her home. Her head was spinning. Twilight liked her? Twilight wanted to date her? Why couldn’t she answer? “Man, I really need a nap.”