A strange chirping warbled through the Everfree Forest, disrupting the serenity of the night. Years before, Rainbow Dash might have been unnerved by that sound. Okay, she admitted that was a lie; she’d just be pumped for a fight. But it was just a crescent-beaked songbird. She couldn’t believe she knew that, but she sighed and admitted it wasn’t all that surprising, she guessed. Spend the majority of your life around an egghead, and you’re bound to pick up a few things. It had been a long time since she’d really been scared of this place; Rainbow Dash being, well, herself, she wasn’t particularly worried about losing a brawl with anything this place could dish out. Even if her bones were a bit creakier than she’d like to admit these days. “And you know,” she muttered under her breath. “it’s not even like I’m the only pony out here anyways.”
The little overgrown trail had been leading her on for a good while now; she’d jumped over the Poison Joke patch about a minute ago, so she knew she was on the right track. Sure enough, the trees relented a bit, and a humble little hut rested snugly in the clearing. Firelight came from an open window; good, Dash thought. Wouldn’t want to wake her or anything. This was going to be difficult enough without having to explain it to a sleepy, cranky old mare as opposed to a fresh and alert cranky old more. Rainbow Dash slowly walked up to the door, and took a heavy breath, steeling herself. She knocked three times, and heard somepony on the other side of the door muttering to herself as she hobbled over to the door. The wooden little entrance creaked open a bit, and a gleaming blue eye peeked out.
“In daytime’s hush and nighttime dour,
Who disturbs me at this hour?”
The eye’s suspicious glint disappeared entirely when it saw Rainbow Dash, trying her best to smile in the dim light. The door flung itself open, and Zecora threw her legs around the pegasus, greeting her with a tight hug.
“Rainbow Dash, is that really you there?
What brings you out to see this tired, old mare?
Come inside, have a drink!
Take a rest; stop and think!”
Before Rainbow could protest, the old Zebra had dragged her inside of the hut, which for its part looked just like it had the last time she had visited. Odds and ends, curios and mysteries hung from the walls, and—wait, curio? When did she learn that word? Stupid eggheaded wife…
The old cyan mare found herself plopped down in a plush couch as Zecora momentarily went back to a stew brewing in a kettle by the corner. Wait, couch? That was new.
“Hey, Zecora, when did you get this thing? Doesn’t really fit the style of the place, you know?”
“I’ve had it for years, Mrs. Dash;
Though now my bones creak, and I itch from a rash.
I need it now to sleep safe and sound,
A softer bed could ne’er be found!”
“Uh… huh.” Rainbow was never exactly comfortable with the whole “rhyming” thing that her zebra pal did. Seemed a little forced sometimes. She was a smart pony, though; somebody who’d take her seriously, and wouldn’t ruin her whole reputation by telling the town whatever Dash might tell her. By now Zecora had left the pot and was coming back with two bowls of stew. She set one down into Rainbow’s hooves and sat herself beside her on the couch, digging into her own bowl before speaking up.
“You can’t have come here just to chat,
This late at home’s where you’d normally be at.
So why don’t you tell me, Rainbow, dear
What fills your heart with all those tears?”
Rainbow Dash jumped a bit inside her own mind as Zecora pegged her feelings like that. She felt her temper flare for a moment, but calmed down and had to let herself chuckle a bit. The old zebra was way too good at stuff like that.
“It’s… well, I dunno. I’m not sure I really want to talk about it. You haven’t even heard yet, so maybe I should just—“
“I know all about Twilight.”
Dash frowned a bit, and gaped at the mare in confusion.
“Shiverwing visited me last night.” Zecora explained. Rainbow felt a heavy weight on her chest as she thought it through. Of course Fluttershy would send out messengers to everypony. Great, just great. No escaping this now.
“W-well… right. Yeah, so you know then.”
“I do, Rainbow Dash, and such sorrow I scorn.
I knew Twilight well, she would not want you to mourn.”
“Urgh!” Rainbow Dash jumped up from the couch and stamped her hoof on the floor as her attempt at a scream cracked. “That’s TWICE today somepony’s tried to tell me they know my wife better than me! TWICE!”
Zecora stood up, looking somewhat ashamed as she tried to calm the pegasus down.
“Rainbow Dash, please, remain composed!
My words were my thoughts, my perceptions alone.
I merely meant to try and console you
In these troubling times—that’s what friends do.”
Rainbow Dash stared down her zebra friend, narrowing her eyes as far as she could go. But try as she might Zecora wouldn’t permit even a hint of intimidation creep onto her wrinkled features. The pegasus grunted, and dug her hoof even further down. “What does it matter what Twilight would have thought anyway? You don’t go asking dead ponies for their opinions.”
The mare turned away and started to move for the door, but by now Zecora was already up and hobbling to her side.
“Rainbow Dash, my dear old friend, what’s gotten in you?
I know your feelings were no lie, why say the things you do?
You cannot say it was for naught,
Because it’s reached the end!
Would you not have bucked yourself for saying that,
When your romance first began?”
Rainbow Dash winced, as did Zecora. That rhyme was a stretch. But by now, the pegasus had had her hoof resting firmly on the doorknob; she took a deep, forceful breath like she was trying to restrain herself, and slowly put her leg back to rest on the floor “Yeah. I would have.” She walked back to the couch, drooping her head and neck nearly to the point they were on the floor. She dragged herself back into her seat and let her head rest on a pillow as she chose her next words.
“I want to heal your ailing heart,
And see you smile, and so;
Tell me the story from the start
How did this love tale go?”
Rainbow Dash’s ears fell back as she thought, trying to recall when it had all began; it had been so long she hardly remembered a time without the purple mare by her side. “I guess… I guess it was at her brother’s wedding. You know, to that Princess? Mi Amore Ca…Cadance. That night. Right, so, when she and Shining Armor were taking off, she tossed that bouquet, and Rarity snapped it. And… I guess I just started thinking.”
Rainbow Dash wasn’t thinking of marriage right then and there, necessarily. She was happy for Rarity and all, since she seemed so fervent about it herself; but the whole thing was really kind of irrelevant to the hot-blooded pegasus. Even though the night was almost over, there was still a bit more party to be wrung out of it. The celebrations went on for nearly an hour after the newlyweds had left the building; pony by pony, the crowd began to disperse. Somewhere around one in the morning, the only ones left were Dash herself, her friends, and that DJ with the weird shades. She was still up at the turntables, apparently oblivious to the world and that she was the only one still digging the music.
Well, her and Pinkie Pie, that is. The hyperactive mare was still shaking on the dance floor like a seizure going horribly wrong. But she was the last one at parties by default; Rainbow had stopped counting her a long time ago. When the realization sank in to the other five ponies, they convened to try and get an idea of where to go. Fluttershy’s suggestion of “home” being ignored, the other four seemed to agree that Pony Joe’s was the only place open this time of night.
“Hey, Pinkie! We’re gonna be over at Pony Joe’s, so c’mon over when you’re done here!” Applejack called out. If Pinkie had heard she wasn’t responding; at the moment she was hopping around the dance floor in a manner vaguely similar to a cricket; the DJ was kind of getting weirded out. The other mares just rolled their eyes, shared a laugh and went on their way.
Another hour passed, and before any of them realized it a half-dozen baker’s dozen of donuts were now nothing more than a few crumbs on their lips. In the darkness of Luna’s night, Pony Joe’s was a little bright spot of daytime, as pristinely white as a donut place could get. The four girls had set themselves down at a table in the far corner of the place, their conversation not getting in the way of any other customers Joe might somehow be getting this late. The conversation had been winding and rather nonsensical as exhaustion slowly sapped the ponies of their higher thinking functions. Rainbow Dash finally recalled Rarity’s rather “forceful” acquisition of the bouquet earlier in the evening, and asked her if she had anypony special in mind.
“Oh, dear, that’s simply insulting to put me on the spot like that!” Rarity said, giggling in sleepy glee as she downed a raspberry-filled donut. “Asking me to choose like that, the nerve! I’ve got boys lining up all the way from here to Manehattan trying to win my hoof!”
“Like Tom?” Applejack asked, a mischievous twinkle in her eye. The other three mares nearly fell out of their seats, holding their aching sides as they laughed. Rarity could only blush, and try to sputter out a retort.
“W-w-WELL! I don’t particularly see any dashing stallions fighting for YOUR hoof either, Applejack! Would you even have time for love with all your days spent working on that farm of yours?”
“Can’t say Ah really would.” Applejack replied, pondering it as best as her addled brain could. “They’d need t’ be patient or, Ah guess upbeat enough not t’ get worked up over that. An’ bein’ able t’ actually help around Sweet Apple Acres’d be a big plus. But Ah dunno. Seems like every colt in Ponyville’s either no fun or a dunce.”
“Well, uh, not ALL of them are like that…” Fluttershy whispered in her meekest voice. The others looked towards her, suddenly very interested. All they got in response was a timid “Meep!” and the poor pegasus shielding herself behind a veritable wall of donuts before they could press the issue. She whispered a quick thanks to Pony Joe as he left their table, having delivered their latest order.
Rarity shrugged and nabbed another donut from the pile, stuffing it into her mouth. Applejack did the same, and spoke through the crumbs at the pony to her left. “Well, Ah guess if we’re goin’ around th’ table now, you’re up Rainbow. Got some special fella on your mind?”
“Pffft, what, are you kidding?” Dash asked, almost sounding insulted by the question. “I don’t have time for colts; none of ‘em are fast enough to even try and keep up with me! I doubt there’s a stallion in Equestria awesome enough to do THAT.”
“No stallions, huh?" Twilight asked, almost too innocent-sounding to believably say what came next. "Well, how about mares then?”
The fresh glazed donut that Rainbow Dash had just bitten into was wasted as its crumbs were sputtered out like a machine gun. Directly into the face of Twilight Sparkle, who was now 100% awake and alert. Her face darted from left to right like a dazed foal, earning a few chuckles from everyone but Rainbow. She was still too busy trying to hide her blush.
“Um, ok. Wow!” Twilight’s horn glowed for a second, and her napkin moved on its own; the little thing moved all on its own, scrubbing her face for a second before moving away and leaving her features pristine. “I never pegged Rainbow Dash for a filly-fooler.”
“Ya DIDN’T?” Applejack asked, sounding absolutely shocked. Rainbow blushed even deeper, and considered just what her chances were of getting out the front door before the others could stop her. “Ah mean, really, that may be the biggest surprise Ah’ve had all day! An’ Ah’m countin’ the fake wedding!”
As the others continued their ribbing, Fluttershy slinked over and put a hoof on Dash’s shoulder, massaging it in her best attempt to make her friend feel better. “It’s OK, Rainbow Dash. We’re your friends, we won’t judge you for your, uh, preferences.”
A sound like a glass pane shattering crashed in the mind of the blue pegasus. One of her ruby eyes twitched a bit. Her wings had started flapping on sheer reflex, and now floating almost at the ceiling, she opened her mouth and practically screamed “I AM NOT A FILLY-FOOLER!”
That outburst was loud enough to garner the undeniable attention of the family of ponies who had just walked in the door, and a look from Pony Joe somewhere between anger and bewilderment. Rainbow’s wings stopped mid-flap, and she fell onto her hooves completely rigid as her cheeks flushed with color. Her friends had stopped laughing now, and were observing the situation with a uniformly mortified expression once they noticed the mare by the door cupping her hooves over her little colt’s ears.
“Oh, forget this!” Rainbow shouted, cutting the tension like a knife to make a little room for even more of the stuff. “I’m going to bed.”
Faster than a speeding bullet, the pegasus barreled out the door and took off into the sky, leaving the other ponies sitting in silence at the donut shop. Twilight was the first to make any actions, planting a hoof on her face and dragging it off. “Nice going, girls. Think I should go talk with her?”
“Naw, don’t fret about it just yet.” Applejack told her, finally calming herself once she saw the pony family return to doing business with Joe. “Dash ain’t one t’ get embarrassed over somethin’ like this, right? She’ll be fine in the mornin’.”
Twilight shrugged. “I hope so.” She took a bite of the nearest donut before trying to find some way to salvage the conversation.
A few minutes later, Rainbow Dash knocked open the window to her suite at the castle and flew inside. The decorations were nice, even the walls were the same color as her coat. She didn’t particularly care, since nothing could top her cloud-house, but she guessed it was a thoughtful touch. She slammed the window shut behind her and threw herself on the bed, ready to pass out and let the night pass uneventfully.
Her brain had other ideas, and she found that she couldn’t let go of that last little disaster at Pony Joe’s. So her friends had called a filly-fooler, what was the big deal? She knew she wasn’t one, so what did it matter? She dwelled on that last part a bit longer than she liked. She DID know she wasn’t one, right? Her thoughts drifted back to the wedding earlier that night. She’d spent a bit of time with Soarin, as it happened. Not exactly an unattractive stallion, and one of the Wonderbolts on top of that. But she hadn’t really felt a… “click”, she guessed. Was that the right word?
“I mean,” she whispered to herself, not really too self-conscious once nopony else was around. “it’s not like he wasn’t awesome. But he WAS kind of an airhead.”
She remembered that he’d stopped in the middle of their dance at least three times to bring up Applejack’s apple pie, or on one occasion directly asked her to make one for him later. How rude can a colt get anyway?
But it did serve a purpose, in a way. She thought of that, and it did lead her to another question: what exactly WAS she looking for in a coltfriend? Or, a marefriend? Actually, wait, scratch that. She decided that the gender thing was a whole other basket of apples, and she’d sort that out on some other day. Regardless of that, actual qualities?
She scratched her mane lazily staring up at the ceiling as she pondered it.
Awesomeness. That was definitely a quality which she would absolutely require from anypony. Maybe not her level of awesomeness, of course; that would just be unfair. But it had to be a colt or a mare or a whatever that could keep up with her in some meaningful way; a COOL way, not some lame talent like carpentry or something.
That was easy. The others wouldn’t be quite as quick to come to her.
Kindness? She guessed that was a thing worth having. She’d heard enough stories about Blueblood from Rarity to know some fop with a big ego wasn’t really her style. So, somepony who’d respect her. Treat her well. OK, easy. Number three?
She was reminded of Rarity, and all those romance novels she went on about whenever she got the chance. What did ponies in there have that she wasn’t thinking of? She thought about that for a while, long enough that her mind went to its usual habits and began to wander. What was she thinking about again? Books or something? Ew. It was probably some kind of egghead book; her mind visualized her perfect novels: the adventures of Daring Do. Just last week she’d finally finished the series, catching up to Twilight. The unicorn had suggested that once the newest one got in they could read it together—oh! That was it! Common interests. She was pretty sure that was one of those things a relationship needed. It made sense enough to her: if you hated doing what the other pony enjoyed, what was the point of being around each other?
OK, check. That was a third one. It still felt incomplete though. Her mind wandered back to Soarin; he was definitely awesome. No doubt about that, he was a Wonderbolt for Celestia’s sake! Kindness was down pat too. She didn’t think there were many other ponies in Equestria with better intentions, save maybe her own friends. And of course, there wasn’t an interest one of them had that the other didn’t share. So what was breaking it?
Intelligence. At the end of the day, Soarin was such a dope. He wasn’t a BAD colt at all, she just couldn’t put up with that kind of airheadedness. That was the key, it had to be. She needed somepony smart. That felt right to her. Awesome, Kind, Intelligent, and with Shared Interests.
Then she started thinking more. If that was what she was looking for, what ponies even MET those requirements? Her mind shuffled through the various stallions in Ponyville. Big Macintosh? They didn’t really have any common interests, he was just too laid-back. Caramel? Not awesome enough. Plus, Rainbow totally knew Fluttershy had been working up the nerve to ask him out for months. She wouldn’t intrude on that. That weird doctor pony that hung out with those other mares all the time? Once again, not exactly “awesome”. In fact, downright weird from what she’d seen of him. He kept muttering nonsense that didn’t even sound like Equestrian. What the hay was a tartiss anyway?
Pokey, not awesome and no interests. Bruce Mane, not kind enough. Thunderlane, no interests. Roid Rage… ew.
She went through every stallion she could think of, and not one fit all four of those criteria. She groaned and smacked a hoof on the bed. “Fine. Mares, then.”
She sorted through the mares in a similar fashion. Lyra and Bon Bon were “taken”, as best as she could tell. That one with the cello was too stuck up, Blossomforth wasn’t awesome enough, and Derpy was… Derpy.
No dice, again. She was about to shout something to vent, but a thought creeped into her head before she could do it. She hadn’t considered her friends yet.
That thought woke her up even more than her insomniac self was keeping her awake before. No, nonononono. There was no possible way she could consider her friends. They were, well, her friends! It would be weird changing up their relationship like that. Not to mention the everlasting awkwardness that would come from it; something absolutely NOT awesome, she reminded herself.
Her protests were in vain. Try as she might, one thought pressed past the rest and presented itself: a perfect match. A pony who was surely the most awesome in Ponyville, her magic could take on freaks and monsters even the Wonderbolts probably couldn’t.
Kind and forgiving, always dedicated to being the best friend she could possibly be. Admittedly, with a few stumbles, but good intentions.
They were already planning to dig into the newest installment of their favorite book series together.
Come on brain, Dash thought. “Give me a break!”
And she was by far the most intelligent pony Dash knew. She groaned, and smacked her face with both hooves. “Aw, horseapples. It’s Twilight.”