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“Gah!” Twilight yelled as she balled another sheet of paper up. Her horn flared brightly for a second and the notes burst into white flames, leaving another tiny, ashen grave dotting the library. As she paced from one side of the room to the other, she kicked over several of them, heedless of the char she was rubbing into the wooden floor. “Nopony else works!” she cried.
She had been at this all day, trying to salvage her plan to finish her List. She had failed with Rainbow Dash, much to her continued annoyance, and had started working her way through her other friends again. When she had discarded each of them in turn, she began on her acquaintances. She had even stretched the limits of that, having just incinerated a set of notes on Braeburn.
All of her friends were amazing ponies; each had great talents and could do incredible things. The fact remained that she had found something that disqualified each and every one of them. It was driving her crazy. No matter how hard she had tried to find another pony to go on a date with her, something always ruled them out. No pony had the right mix of dependability and spontaneity she was looking for. None of them had the energy and love of fun that she felt suited her. Not a single one could make her smile just by thinking about walking down the street together or spending a Sunday afternoon curled up reading the same book.
In short, no pony was Rainbow Dash. Twilight rolled her eyes and groaned. Spotting an undisturbed mound of ash, she kicked out a leg, scattering the pile. It did little to satisfy her or calm her mind. Why should she be so stuck on her pegasus friend? Being Rainbow Dash was not a central metric for potential datability. At least, not according to any source she could find. And yet, every time she thought she had finally settled on another prospect, every time she was close to making a decision, she discarded it and her mind came back to Rainbow.
Rainbow Dash, Rainbow Dash, Rainbow Dash! What was it? Why, when she thought about a candlelit dinner, did the flickering light always timidly reveal a sky blue coat and a mane of every color? Why did the pony who brought her roses and daisies always deliver them with a chuckle and fly circles around her? Why was the shadowy flank of the pony she rested her head against when she became sleepy—when she lay in an open field, staring at the night sky—always emblazoned with a white cloud and a multicolored lightning bolt?
Her mind raced in circles as she walked back and forth. She was on the cusp of some realization. If she could only–
A hollow knocking came from her front door. She was turning to start her three-hundred-and-fifty-seventh lap around the common room and the sudden interruption made her forget her place, both mentally and physically. She moved her left rear hoof instead of her right front one and had to scramble to keep from planting her face in a pile of soot.
“Twilight! Twilight!” a sugary voice called through the door! “Twi-light!” As much as she loved her friends, Pinkie Pie was not exactly the pony she wanted to see right now. However, ignoring her and pretending she wasn’t home never worked.
Twilight toyed with the idea of using her newest spell to teleport to somewhere safe from Pinkie’s intrusions, like the far side of the moon. She decided that answering the door and talking to her friend might be a better solution than a hasty lunar vacation. “Come in, Pinkie,” was what she tried to say, but a curt “What?” came out instead. Shaking her head, she dashed over to the door and pushed it open.
If the pink pony had taken offense at her rudeness, she showed no signs of it. Pinkie was bobbing merrily more or less in place outside her doorway. Her eyebrows went up a little when she noticed Fluttershy standing behind Pinkie. “Come on in, girls.” Twilight stepped back to give them room to enter.
Pinkie Pie bounced into the room and began zipping about, inspecting the little piles of ash. “Oh wow, Twilight! Have you been redecorating? Oh, oh, I know! You’re trying to bake cupcakes! I made a lot of black and crumbly ones my first few times, too!” Before Twilight could say anything, the earth pony’s tongue shot out and licked up a small mound.
“Oh, yuck!” Pinkie stuck her tongue out and tried to wipe off the soot and ash with her hooves. “Twilight, you really should use flour instead of paper. It tastes so much better!”
Twilight narrowed her eyes and gritted her teeth. “I wasn’t making–” This was a mistake: she should have tried teleporting away. Pinkie’s cheer and excitement only served to remind her how frustrated she was at the moment. “Oh, never mind,” Twilight snapped. “Look, I’m a little bit busy at the moment. Was there something specific you wanted?”
“Well, there was something, but I totally forgot about it because now I want cupca–”
“Um, actually...” Fluttershy’s voice made Twilight jump. She had forgotten her soft-spoken friend was there. “Pinkie, remember? The party?” she prompted as she picked her way through the piles of ash, careful to keep her mane and tail from dragging through any of them.
“Oh yeah!” Pinkie said, somehow even more cheerful than when she had arrived.
“A party?” Twilight turned her head to glance askance first at Fluttershy then at Pinkie Pie. “Didn’t we just have one of those?”
“What we had was a shindig that turned into a celebration,” Pinkie explained, wiggling a hoof as if to brush away Twilight’s concern. “This is more of a get-together, or maybe just a dinner-party.” Pinkie sat on her haunches and raised her front hooves, eyeing them critically, as if she were holding the very words and trying to weigh their appropriateness.
Fluttershy cleared her throat. “I know it’s a little soon, Twilight, but we would really love it if you’d come.”
She looked back and forth between her two friends. Pinkie muttered to herself as her hooves teetered like scales, while Fluttershy stared up at her, teal eyes pleading. Twilight closed her eyes and made as neutral a face as she could. “I’m sorry, girls. I simply have too much stuff to catch up on.”
“But, Twilight!” Pinkie jumped forward and landed in a crouching position, thrusting her head at Twilight and forcing her to jerk back or risk a collision. “You have to come! It’s super duper extra important!”
Twilight narrowed her eyes and gave the pink pony a sharp glare. “This isn’t some kind of surprise party, is it?”
“No, silly,” Pinkie chirped. The pony pulled away from Twilight, returning her precious personal space. “If it was a surprise party, I’d ask you to come try some new muffins or say that all of the sugar had melted into a super meanie pants magical marshmallow mare and we need you to come fix it!”
“I said I’m busy.” Twilight stomped her hoof and snorted. “This is a very important project and I can’t take time off just because you want to party.”
“Aw!” Even Pinkie’s disappointment sounded too cheerful to her ears. Her teeth ground together. She knew that if she let herself get distracted, she would never figure this out, never complete her goal. That was unacceptable.
“Oh dear.” Fluttershy glanced away from her, turning her head to peek out from behind her mane. She twisted a hoof around, pawing at the floor. “Rainbow Dash is going to be so disappointed.”
Twilight’s ears perked forward and the tension in her neck vanished as she heard that. Had she really been that upset? Maybe she did need to relax a little, but first she had to test the waters and see what Fluttershy meant by that. It would take craftiness and poise to ferret out the information she wanted from her friend. “Huh?” she said. She could have handled that better.
Twilight shook her head, trying to clear away the warring feelings inside her. “Rainbow wants me to come?” she asked.
“Oh, yes,” Fluttershy said, her voice gaining strength as she stood up straighter to smile. “She really wants to see you tonight.”
“Yeah, see!” Pinkie exploded, all four hooves leaving the ground. “I told you it was super important!”
“S-she does?” Twilight’s mouth had trouble forming the words. After all the screw ups —the closed diner, falling asleep, not even getting the kiss that had been the whole point—after wasting her entire evening, Rainbow Dash wanted to see her, specifically?
Like a lightning bolt, a thought entered her mind: she could ask Dash to try again. Her heart began to pound and her mouth was suddenly dry. She could do that, right? It wouldn’t be unfair to Rainbow, would it? No, her friend was perfectly capable of saying no. A weight lifted off of her back and her mouth turned up in a smile. Both Pinkie Pie’s and Fluttershy’s mirrored hers until all three were grinning like idiots. Pinkie was nearly shaking where she stood.
“Okay, I’ll go.”
“Yippie!” Pinkie yelled as she began to leap around the library. “Par-ty!” she cried, careening off of a bookcase. “Oh, we’ll have sparklers and streamers...”
Fluttershy eyed Pinkie warily, but her muzzle still sported a smile and her wings were shifting restlessly on her back, half unfolding before settling back.
“...and sarsaparilla and soda...”
Twilight began to giggle at the two extremes. Her laughter felt good, like a cool tonic to soothe away the last of the burning irritation that had kept her company all day. “Alright girls. I’ll see you there. I really do have some things to do first.” She gestured around at the blackened floor.
“...and cakes and cookies and cotton candy...”
“Um, Pinkie Pie?” Twilight tried to grab the manic pony’s attention. “Pinkie Pie!” she yelled. When that failed to work, she turned her glare on Fluttershy. The yellow pegasus tilted her head as Twilight stared at her. After a moment had passed, Twilight gestured towards the pink rocket and then to the door.
“Oh! Of course, Twilight.” Fluttershy’s wings unfurled and she flew over to grab the bouncing Pinkie mid-jump. She caught one of the pony’s rear legs.
Pinkie landed, not with a thump, but rather a squeak. “Bye, Twilight,” she cheerfully called, waving as Fluttershy dragged her out of the library.
“Bye, Pinkie Pie. Bye, Fluttershy,” Twilight called after them. Closing the door, she turned to survey the extent of the cleaning job she had ahead of her. Her ears drooped as she took in the mess she had made of the common room. Even before her friends had visited, the entire thing had been dotted with the remains of burnt paper. Pinkie’s excited bouncing had left hoofprints on tables and chairs, and at least one set on the ceiling. This mess would take both her and Spike hours to clean up.
If he were here. Spike was out, off doing something with the Cutie Mark Crusaders. He seemed to have developed a sense of when to be scarce. Sighing, her horn lit up as she began the long and arduous process of cleaning the library’s common room.
Rainbow Dash bit her lip and continued pacing, her stride short and her motions jerky. She barely felt the currycomb as Rarity dragged it through her coat. The unicorn tsked at her as she reached the edge of the room, spun around, and glanced back up at the clock for the millionth time; the minute hand taunted her as it slowly ticked over. Nineteen minutes. She had nineteen minutes until Pinkie’s party started.
Dash sighed and tossed her head, drawing a snort from Rarity as her mane was jerked out from under a brush or something. She hardly noticed the tugging. Her short steps took her quickly to the other side of the boutique, where she once again checked the clock. Rarity’s ornate timepiece lacked a second hand and presented the same face it had last time she had looked at it.
She inhaled deeply then puffed out her cheeks, allowing the air to escape with a hiss. That was entertaining for all of half a second. She slumped, hanging her head. At least she tried to. Something was yanked her mane back up. “Ouch!”
“I do apologize dear. I’ve been trying to keep up, but you’ve not exactly been as still as the ponies I’m used to,” Rarity said as she walked up next to her. “Just a little...” Rarity eyed her mane in concentration. Dash could feel whatever it was twisting. “...And there!” Once more free to move, she rounded on Rarity just in time to see the fashionista putting away hair curlers of all things.
Rainbow’s mind raced back, replaying the last fifteen minutes. She had been pacing, then muttering to herself, and then Rarity had asked her something. It hadn’t been “Are you ready to go?” or anything like that. It hadn’t been about Twilight either, so she’d blown it off, answering with a grunt and a shrug. She’d have to try to pay more attention to what ponies said in the future.
Dash was jerked out of her thoughts by a squirting noise right behind her head. A moment later, the overpowering scent of flowers engulfed her. She blinked, trying to quell the sudden burning in her eyes. “Bleh,” she spat. She could taste it. “Rarity! What is this?” No longer able to contain it, she sneezed.
“Oh, do stop overreacting, Rainbow Dash. It’s just a dab of perfume. A little something I picked up to help set the mood. Bold, but not wanton; it’s simply perfect for you.” Rarity levitated an ornate crystal vial with a silver tip up behind her own head. Another squirting sound and Dash sneezed again as she got a second, much more subdued wave of floral abuse.
“Okay, seriously, Rarity. How long does this take to wear off?” She was still blinking away the stinging sensation and her nose was stuffed with more scents than she could name.
Rarity rolled her eyes. “Perhaps I was a bit excessive,” she allowed. “But trust me, Rainbow Dash. This scent is all the rage right now.” Rarity closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. “You smell simply divine,” she concluded.
“What I smell like,” Dash grumbled, “is a cheap buffet.” She glanced back up at the clock. The traitor still showed a full eighteen minutes to go. “I can’t stand this!” Turning to Rarity, she pleaded, “Can we just go? Right now? Please?”
Rarity raised a hoof to hide her chuckle. “Oh, Rainbow Dash. We can’t simply just ‘go’. We must obtain a suitable escort to see us to the party.” Rarity’s eyes narrowed. “And we can’t even think of that until we’ve picked out accessories.” Her eyes closed and she began to smile. “I have several dozen fine hat and shoe sets to choose from, not to mention saddles and blankets–” Rarity opened her eyes.
Rainbow could have sworn she was smiling her friendliest smile, even if every other word from her friend’s mouth made her pinions tense and her legs twitch. She must have let something show through, because Rarity stopped cold in the middle of her fashion rant.
“Oh, my dear! I should have realized! I’m so, so sorry, Rainbow.” Dash relaxed as her friend got her not so subtle hint. “I should have realized you’d want a full formal gown. Why I ha–”
Dash’s wings snapped open as she dove towards the door. She pumped them hard, outrunning the visions of herself stuck here trying on dresses for the next forever. There was a decent chance she could get away before Rarity could catch her. The fashionista’s magic was nowhere near as strong as her girlfriend’s, but it could still make escape tricky. Luckily, Rarity just stood there, no doubt stunned by her supreme speed and taken completely by surprise at her un-telegraphed movement. She barreled towards the closed door, her hooves mere inches away. She was free!
Stars wouldn’t stop spinning through her vision and her nose throbbed.
“Rainbow Dash, are you alright?” She heard the unicorn walk up behind her. “Dear, that door only opens inwards.”
Dash slowly got to her hooves. Rubbing her sore nose, she glared at the door, fighting to keep her annoyed frown from slipping into a sheepish grin as she turned to face Rarity. “Sorry, Rarity, but I need to go. Now.” She surreptitiously kicked the door, hoping to pay it back in some small way.
In a final act of vengeance, the wall clock slipped from its nail and landed on her head.
Her vision blurred in and out of focus. She shook her head to try to clear it, relieved to see her foe swim into view. From her position on the floor, she could just make out the face of her tormentor. Seventeen minutes.
“Oh my goodness! Darling, are you okay?” Rarity helped her get to her hooves.
“Yeah, Rarity, I’m fine.” Rainbow Dash shook her head; she’d taken harder hits from failed stunts. No stupid clock was going to get the best of her.
Rarity’s face took on a blank look as her eyes swept over Dash. “Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to be a tad early to the–”
“Finally!” Dash exalted. Turning so fast her tail made a whistling sound as she spun, she bit down on the doorknob and yanked the stupid thing open. Before Rarity had a chance to change her mind, Dash was through the threshold and free. She took to the air for a few brief flips.
Rarity’s hoofbeats sounded out behind her. “Rainbow Dash, you get down here this instant!” The unicorn yelled, allowing her lady-like decorum to slip for a moment. “I did not spend the last hour styling your mane and brushing your coat only to have you tangle it all up again with your wild acrobatics.”
Her spirit and smile restored with the small burst of freedom, she landed next to her fashion-conscious friend. “Sorry, Rares, but this pegasus just had to get a bit of sky.”
Rarity’s mouth curved down into a frown and her brows drew together as she glared at Dash. After a moment, her expression softened. “Okay, Rainbow Dash. Let’s get you to your party.”
“Pinkie’s party. Remember, taff-toff-overs?” Dash smirked as she began trotting off towards Sugar Cube Corner.
Rarity didn’t even try to hide her smile now, as she pulled up alongside Rainbow. “And to think, that Pinkie Pie of all ponies would have been so socially astute. I never realized she paid any attention to courtship etiquette at all.”
Rainbow Dash laughed. “Duh!” she said. “It has to do with parties. I’d be more surprised if she didn’t know.”
The two ponies didn’t have time to stray from the subject of Pinkie’s uncanny party related abilities. Rainbow Dash broke into a gallop when she caught sight of the Corner’s rose doorway. She heard Rarity give a humph of protest, but ignored it. Covering the remaining distance in only a few seconds and not even knocking, she shoved the door open and bolted through.
Pinkie Pie was balanced on the edge of a table, a roll of green streamers in her mouth as she stood on her hind legs, trying to reach one of the many ornately carved joists the bakery boasted. As Dash slid to a halt in front of the cookies, Pinkie spun to face her. “Oh! Hi, Haifow Hafh!” she said. The crazy pony began to wave at her even as she toppled sideways. Dash shot forward, arriving in the nick of time. She was able to get under her friend, catching Pinkie across her back.
“Easy there, Pinkie,” she said.
“Hankh!” Pinkie grunted, seemingly content with being half draped across her.
“Um, Pinkie,” Dash said, rolling her eyes. “It might be easier to talk if you dropped the streamers.”
Pinkie’s head tilted and her brows came together as she thought about that for a second. Turning her head to the side, she spat out the bundle of crinkled paper. “Hi!” she said, her eyes brightening. “Oh, this is much better!” The pony began trying to bounce, but succeeded only in rocking Dash side to side. “Huh?” She held up her front hooves and glared at them suspiciously. “Normally when I do that, I become a super extra bouncy Pinkie Pie, not a wiggle back and forth Pinkie Pie.”
“Pinkie,” Dash said through gritted teeth, “that’s because you’re normally on the ground, not my back.” She waited; sometimes Pinkie needed a few moments.
“Oh yeah!” Pinkie stabbed the air with hoof. “That’s it! Bouncing works so much better when I’m on the ground.” She gasped and her eyes grew wide. “Or a trampoline!” She folded a hoof under her chin and her brows once more came together in thought.
Dash stared at Pinkie for a second. She took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. “Pinkie Pie,” she said, poking the other mare’s nose with her own.
The way Pinkie was beaming at her made it hard to be angry at the earth pony. Anger was hard, but she had annoyance to spare. “Get. Off.” She glared at Pinkie.
Pinkie closed her eyes and smiled even wider. “Sure thing!” she chirped, sliding from Dash’s back. When all four hooves touched the floor, the mare gave a few small bounces. “Oh, hey! This does work better on the floor!” She threw a leg over Dash’s neck in a quick hug. “Thanks, Rainbow Dash!”
She was saved from having to come up with a response that would get through to Pinkie—if such a thing existed—by a knocking from the doorway. Both of them looked up to see that Rarity had finally arrived. Pinkie flung herself away from Rainbow Dash and bounced forward to greet her new guest.
A loud bang from the kitchen drew Dash’s attention. She trotted over and stuck her head inside just in time to see Applejack settling a muffin tray on the stovetop. “Hey, Applejack! I didn’t expect you to be here already. Run out of twigs and prunes?”
Applejack spat out the hot pad she had been holding. “Oh hello, Rainbow.” She glanced up and Dash’s gaze followed hers to another wretched clock. “You’re a mite early, ain’t ya?” Applejack didn’t wait for her answer. “Or maybe you was just pinin’ away in that bit of fluff you call a home!” AJ reached out a hoof and slapped the edge of her muffin tray then kicked a plate into position to catch the muffins before they could tumble to the floor.
“Nice catch.” Dash grinned. “How many did you drop before now?”
Applejack just snorted and rolled her eyes, easing the tray onto her back.
With AJ not rising to her bait, Dash decided to answer. “Nah, I couldn’t sleep,” Dash explained. “I was hanging out with Rarity.”
Applejack chuckled. “And here I thought you was gettin’ all girly on me.” Her grin could cow manticores, but Rainbow let it bounce right off. Applejack’s voice took on the smooth silky tones of The City and she fluttered her eyes as she said “I do love what you’ve done with your mane. It’s simply marvelous.”
Dash halted in her tracks and her wings shot out in a panic. “Oh Celestia! Don’t do that, AJ!” her voice cracked. She folded her wings back and took a breath to steady her nerves. “It isn’t right.”
Applejack’s twang sounded clear and thick, even through her laugh. “I’m just teasing you, RD. I ain’t gonna pretend to be no high class pony.” Applejack stopped and smiled at her again. “Least ways, not unless I can get a rise out of you.”
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes as she followed AJ and her steaming treats into the common room. Fluttershy had shown up during her absence and the three ponies were chatting around the sole large table that hadn’t been put away. Applejack trotted right up to the group and Dash paced her.
“Well, howdy Rarity, Fluttershy.”
“Oh, oh, oh!” Pinkie squirmed in her seat with one hoof raised into the air. “Me! Pick me!”
Rainbow and Applejack shared a quick, worried glance. Applejack shrugged then cleared her throat. “Okay,” she started, and then wiggled a knee at the other earth pony, “Pinkie.”
“Surprise!” Pinkie yelled.
Caught off guard, Applejack nearly dropped her tasty cargo; it was only thanks to the fastest and most awesome pony in Equestria that the muffins were saved. “Whoa, Pinkie!” Dash snapped. “What was that for?”
“Duh, it was a surprise!” Pinkie clapped her front hooves together. “And it worked!”
“Well, it certainly was surprising, Pinkie Pie,” Rarity said as she coaxed Fluttershy out from under the table. “But maybe you should keep your surprises to parties? It was a trifle–” she paused, searching for a word– “loud.” Fluttershy merely nodded, clinging to the unicorn’s forelegs as Rarity helped her back into her seat.
“Any more surprises like that,” muttered Applejack, “and I’ll need to borrow Granny’s hearing aid.”
“Aw.” Pinkie pouted, then brightened up almost immediately. “Maybe next time I can use balloons!” Pinkie ducked below the table. Her tail stuck up and it bobbed to and fro as squeaks of exertion drifted up from underneath.
“Surely she’s not...?” Rarity left her question unfinished.
“Oh, um. I think she might be.” Fluttershy ducked behind Rarity, only her eyes and the tips of her mane remained visible.
Applejack squared her jaw and glared at the bobbing mass of curls while Dash struggled to contain her laughter. The tail disappeared under the table and the entire bakery became deathly quiet.
Even though every single one of her friends knew it was coming, even though they were braced for it, Pinkie still carried through. “Surprise!” she yelled, quite a bit quieter, much to Fluttershy’s relief. This time a torrent of yellow and orange balloons, with a few red and green streamers mixed in, was hurled at Applejack. The force of the passing party paraphernalia would have blown AJ’s hat off had she not already been holding it in place.
Rainbow Dash was laughing so hard, she had to unfurl her wings to keep from falling out of her chair. Her eyes were closed and small tears leaked out of the corners. “Oh man, Pinkie! You are a riot!”
“I’m not a riot,” Pinkie said, “I’m a baker!”
“Well since y’all showed up early, you can help us finish,” Applejack chimed in. “Pinkie could use some help on the last of the streamers, and I reckon I could use pair of hooves to help me clean up some of these here pots.”
Dash stuck her tongue out. Cleaning was work, boring work. She started to protest, but AJ’s eyes narrowed when she opened her mouth. “Fine,” she grumped, making sure to drag her hooves and let her wing tips hang downwards as she turned towards the kitchen.
“Oh, Applejack,” chastised Rarity. “Have you no sense of romance? Asking her to clean before she is to be reunited with her soul mate. Why, that’s quite simply the least amorous suggestion I’ve ever heard.”
“My what?” Dash asked. “We just started going out, Rari–”
“I can see it now!” Rarity interrupted her. The unicorn giggled and her eyes focused on something far away. “Oh, it will be so romantic!” she half-whispered to herself. “The studious and clever Twilight meeting the energetic Rainbow Dash at a soirée the day after an enchanting evening together.” She sighed, blinking away small tears.
Dash drew back from her friend as Rarity took a mental trip to Creepytown. The unicorn continued building up her fantasy, giggling to herself until even Fluttershy began to back away. When a small line of drool began to escape from Rarity’s mouth, Dash turned and bolted for the kitchen.
“Sure thing, AJ,” she called. Pots were safer.