68w, 14hWriting Gold
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65w, 1dPinkie Pie: Pinkamena Diane Pie
64w, 1dThe Mysterious Mare Do Well
57w, 6dPony Fiction Vault
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"Uh, I'm really sorry about this, Rare."
"Oh, no no no, it's fine!" Rarity insisted. "I couldn't possibly have let you spend the night on the streets, could I? I've said it before and I'll say it again: my boutique is always open to you girls!"
"I don't think I've ever heard you say that before, actually, but thanks. That's really cool of you."
"It's no trouble at all! And you'll let me know if you need anything else, won't you, darling?"
Rarity smiled at her. Her voice was perky enough, but she looked utterly exhausted. Flyaway strands of hair were escaping from her normally expertly-coiffed mane, and although Rainbow Dash knew better than to mention them, she had dark bags under her eyes. She wasn't cranky, though, the way Rarity usually got when somepony interrupted her beauty sleep. Rainbow suspected that it was because the unicorn hadn't actually gone to bed yet. The lights in the store had still been on when she'd first approached the building, and when Rarity had answered the door, she'd had a tape measure hanging over her shoulders and was wearing those red spectacles that she was so superstitious about.
Rarity seemed to labor under the delusion that if she didn't wear the glasses, she wouldn't be able to sew, since she always did her best work with them on, but since she refused to sew without them, there was no way of knowing whether or not she was right about that.
That was the kind of work ethic that Rainbow Dash just couldn't get behind. To a certain extent, she appreciated Rarity's passion for her career, but that appreciation was limited to mere admiration, rather than a desire to imitate. Dash would never bother trying to be like Rarity, working all hours of the night. She just didn't understand it. If she was going to be gradually evolving into some kind of nocturnal creature, then she could at least spend those midnight hours doing something mildly enjoyable.
Not that she considered whatever she was doing with Mare Do Well enjoyable in any way. That was pure business. Just... a different kind of business.
Rarity had insisted on taking Rainbow Dash straight to the bedroom. Normally Dash would've been the kind of pony to jump at such an offer, but this time, she'd been reluctant to accept, either because she was somehow changing or because Rarity was kind of scary when sleep-deprived.
Rarity's personal bedroom was much more elaborate than Rainbow Dash had been expecting, maybe because Dash was only just now realizing that she'd never actually seen Rarity's room before. She'd seen her work space and so-called inspiration room, but Dash had never seen her bed, and had been half-expecting to see something exactly like the rest of the boutique – with the added bonus of a bed shoved in a corner. But it was perfectly in-character for Rarity, filled with luxurious furniture that was decorated accordingly with all kinds of expensive adornments. The bed itself was vast and kind of intimidating.
Rarity asked no questions, which was a little disturbing. Weren't you supposed to be a little concerned when a friend showed up on your doorstep in the middle of the night, disheveled and asking for a place to sleep?
Yet Rarity hadn't seemed to be the slightest bit bothered. Then again, Rainbow Dash had been doing a lot of stuff like this lately, now that she thought about it. Maybe word had gotten around that she wasn't exactly sleeping anymore and her friends were on perpetual high alert, just in case Dash should choose to come seek one of them out for aid that night. That would explain why Fluttershy always seemed ready to take her in on short notice lately; she was just getting used to Rainbow coming over to crash.
"Seriously, though, are you sure it's okay? You look like you could use the bed yourself," Dash ventured, taking one last stab at being a good pony. If Rarity still refused to take it herself, then all bets were off. As intimidating as it was in terms of size, that bed looked pretty damn welcoming right then.
"Of course it's okay! I would never make a friend of mine sleep on a... sofa." And Rarity shuddered slightly at the very thought. "That would be simply awful of me; and besides, I highly doubt I'll be getting any sleep tonight," she added, urging Rainbow Dash to the bed with a little magical shove. "I have far too much work to do, so I'll worry about sleeping later. And if I'm not using it, then, well, what reason is there for me to refuse to lend you the use of my bed?"
"Okay, okay," Rainbow Dash finally agreed. But although her voice indicated uncertainty, she jumped onto the covers, seemingly without a second thought, bouncing slightly on the mattress as she wormed her way under the quilt.
Rarity opened her mouth. She looked like she was on the verge of saying something about the way Rainbow Dash was ruining her carefully arranged blankets, but she stopped herself as she seemed to think better of it, as if considering how Rainbow Dash was injured and still deserving of sympathy for a little while longer. "Will you be all right on your own?" she asked instead.
"Yeah, yeah, I'll be fine. Turn off the lights," came Dash's reply. She had already formed a nest of sorts out of the numerous sheets and comforters that Rarity owned, which Rainbow Dash was now apparently burrowing into. It was all Rarity could do to avoid lecturing her, but she was trying to be more agreeable by not forcing her perfectionism on her friends anymore, so the unicorn held her tongue, even though it practically killed her to do so.
Rarity obediently turned off the lights before stealing a glance back at her friend. From the looks of things, Rainbow Dash was already asleep, her breathing slow and steady, and Rarity sighed. She missed the days when she could sleep so easily.
Rainbow Dash waited for Rarity to shut the door before flopping over onto her back. Her hooves gripped the mattress beneath her as she stared at the ceiling. She felt tense, like a coiled spring, ready to burst at any moment.
Now that she was alone, Dash felt free to organize her thoughts: to reflect on what had happened, and to review both what she already knew and what she'd recently learned.
For a moment, it occurred to her that now would be the perfect opportunity to go looking for those sales files of Rarity's. But if the unicorn was going to be up working all night, then the chances of Rainbow Dash getting caught were obviously much, much higher.
Actually, Rainbow didn't even know if the files had ever existed, and if they had, whether they still did. At the time, she'd been suspicious of Pinkie's claim that she hadn't found anything, but now that Pinkie Pie's crush was out in the open, she was starting to wonder if the pink pony had been lying. Maybe she'd stolen them, or even destroyed them, only to claim that she hadn't found anything so that Dash wouldn't question her.
For a long time, Rainbow Dash had had a vague sort of idea that Pinkie had a crush on her, but she hadn't realized how big it was, either because she'd been in denial or because Pinkie had been better at hiding it than Rainbow would've expected of the party pony. She'd been afraid of something like this happening, but hadn't really been prepared for it when it did. And even though Dash had sort of noticed the jealousy Pinkie seemed to feel whenever Rainbow Dash told her about Mare Do Well, it hadn't occurred to Rainbow that it was anything truly serious. Holy Celestia, she was dumb.
But Pinkie Pie still wanted to be friends, and still wanted to hang out the next day, so that meant that things were cool between them. There was no point in worrying about her. Instead, Rainbow Dash should worry about Mare Do Well.
Rainbow Dash was loathe to admit it, but it had been kind of a relief to talk to the mare again. She'd been worried that Mare Do Well had decided to fade away after all, and if the whole incident had been resolved without any kind of closure, Dash probably would've snapped.
Closure. Yes. That was what she wanted. She wanted answers before the alleged superhero finally left town. So if the game was back on, then that meant it was time for Rainbow Dash to get back to investigating.
What did she know so far?
Not a whole lot, actually.
Rainbow Dash didn't know if Mare Do Well was a unicorn, pegasus, or earth pony, but she was inclined to think the mare was an earth pony, since Dash had never seen her fly or use magic. That might have been intentional, though, as Mare Do Well might have been purposefully hiding her abilities around Rainbow to further protect her secret identity.
Mare Do Well probably wasn't Twilight, since Twilight's appearance after Pinkie's party had actually prompted one of the masked mare's sudden departures. Unless Twilight Sparkle knew some kind of complicated duplication spell, signs pointed to not even possible. Rainbow Dash couldn't completely rule the unicorn out, though, because Twilight was a pretty awesome magician and could theoretically find a way to pull it off if she had to.
Mare Do Well also probably wasn't Fluttershy, since Mare Do Well had openly admitted that she didn't know anything about healing and had really botched the whole "bandaging broken wings" thing before. Fluttershy was a professional and would never have let a friend suffer an improperly-tended injury for any reason, even if it would've given her away.
Applejack was highly unlikely, if only because of the Honesty thing. Rainbow Dash hadn't really seen a lot of her lately, now that she thought about it, but that was because the pegasus had chosen to take the earth pony's word for it – Applejack said it wasn't her, so it wasn't her, simple as that.
Pinkie Pie would have no reason to be resentful of Mare Do Well if she was Mare Do Well, but Rainbow Dash still didn't completely trust her. Pinkie had wanted to help Dash uncover Mare Do Well's identity, but then there was the jealousy thing – why would she be trying to foil herself and keep her identity safe at the same time? It made no sense, even for Pinkie, whom Rainbow Dash was reluctantly starting to admit probably had a lot more going on beneath the bubbly surface than Dash had ever paid attention to before.
Rarity still hadn't given Rainbow an explanation for the costume purchase, and had known what red carnations meant. But other than that, Rainbow Dash didn't really have any evidence either way, vilifying the unicorn or clearing her name. Maybe she needed to look into that.
There was always the possibility that Mare Do Well wasn't one of Rainbow Dash's friends, but that was growing increasingly unlikely. In all honesty, Rainbow would feel a lot better about things if Mare Do Well was secretly one of them. As threatening or predatory as the mare could be at times, Dash would be a lot more forgiving of those traits if the mare ended up being Fluttershy or whoever.
And besides, Mare Do Well wasn't all that bad, really. Rainbow Dash had meant what she'd told her earlier: the mare sometimes made Dash smile against her will, and she did seem to have a sweet side that she was trying really hard to repress for some reason. And she had a nice laugh.
Oh, Celestia, why did I think that?
With a groan, Rainbow Dash rolled over and shoved her head into her mountain of pillows. She was lucky that Rarity had so many, and of such good quality. They were soft and squishy, ideal for burying heads into. She didn't know why she was hiding her face, since it was dark and she was alone, but Dash could feel a blush coming and didn't want to chance anypony throwing open the doors and flicking on the lights only to see the shame on her cheeks.
Mare Do Well did not have a nice laugh. Rainbow Dash barely remembered what her laugh even sounded like. She'd only heard it, what, twice? Three times, maybe? The last time would've been that coy, girlish giggle that had...
With another groan, Rainbow grabbed a nearby pillow and tugged it over her head, pressing it against her ears as tightly as she could to see if it was possible to block out any further thought.
If Dash stayed in bed any longer she was going to go nuts. Maybe her need to get away from Pinkie Pie's room hadn't so much been a need to get away from Pinkie, as a need to not be lying down. There was no way Rainbow Dash was going to sleep, even though that had been all she'd been able to think of earlier; what she needed to do was fly, to stretch her wings and go soaring and be free and get away from all this craziness. But she couldn't even do that.
How did unicorns and earth ponies stand it? Didn't they ever get claustrophobic, trapped here on all this ground, gravity pressing against them and holding them down from every corner?
Rainbow Dash squirmed further into the makeshift nest that she'd formed out of blankets and pillows to resemble a cloud as much as possible, squeezing her eyes shut and covering her ears. Any sleep that she got was sure to be unpleasant and full of bitter dreams, but Rainbow didn't especially want to be awake right then, so she'd take what she could get.
In the morning, Rainbow Dash expected to walk into Rarity's workroom only to find everything in disarray, materials scattered and mannequins on the floor and Rarity herself on the verge of meltdown. Instead she walked in to find it in perfect order, with not a single thing out of place, Rarity herself looking as fresh as ever and ready to face the new day.
"You look good," Rainbow Dash said immediately. "Aren't you tired?"
"Oh, heavens, no," Rarity laughed. It was that noblemare's laugh she had, silvery and fake. A sure sign that whatever she was saying wasn't even remotely true. "I had to stay up all night to do it, but the dresses are finally done and ready to be shipped to Canterlot! I almost thought I wouldn't make it, but, well..." The unicorn stopped and yawned. "Mm. Excuse me. I suppose I am the teeniest bit sleepy, now that I think of it. But what sort of hostess would I be if I didn't see to the needs of my guest first? Do you want breakfast?"
"Sure!" Dash answered without thinking, and then hastened to correct herself. "I mean, nah, I'm good. You should probably... I dunno. Go take a nap or something. I bet you've been awake for like three days."
"No, no, I'm fine," Rarity insisted with a wan smile. "I do it all the time. This is my life's work, you know – I'm used to it by now. Are you sure you don't need anything?"
"Yeah, I'm sure."
Rainbow Dash was already heading for the door. Rarity followed from behind to see her out.
"Do you have anywhere to stay tonight?" the unicorn asked, sounding curious. "If you need to, you can spend the night here again. I know that you're in a bit of a tricky situation right now, what with your..." She trailed off and gestured vaguely to her sides with her hooves, as if to indicate a pair of imaginary wings.
"Thanks, Rare, that's totally awesome of you."
"No trouble at all, I promise! Oh, but, before you go, Rainbow Dash, there's something I wanted to ask you about."
"Huh?" Rainbow Dash turned, ears pricking up in interest.
"You asked me about flowers before. Did you ever find out who your secret admirer was?" Rarity asked.
Rarity's smile was all innocence, her voice all friendly curiosity, like she was just any other pony looking for gossip, but Rainbow Dash's heart practically stopped. "Oh," Dash began stupidly, and her eyes flitted away, avoiding Rarity's probing gaze. "Oh. Um, yeah. Flowers. Secret admirer. Uh, no, that, I... no."
"Don't be like that!" Rarity cooed, all playful teasing. "I know you're lying; tell me! I want to know everything!"
"It's complicated." Rainbow Dash took a step back.
There was a flash of hurt on Rarity's face, just for the briefest moment, but Rainbow Dash still saw it; and then the unicorn smiled again, nodding. "I understand, darling," Rarity assured her. "It's a personal matter, of course. But promise that you'll share all of the juicy details with your friends when you're ready to talk about it, okay?"
"Okay," Rainbow Dash agreed. She was halfway out the door by then and only wanted to leave. "I promise. As soon as I get it figured out, I'll tell you everything. Don't worry."
Rainbow Dash felt the teensiest bit guilty as she left, but told herself not to dwell on it. Rarity was cool. She wasn't going to hold a grudge just because the pegasus hadn't really felt one hundred percent comfortable telling her about the whole Mare Do Well thing yet. And Rainbow would tell her – she'd tell them all. It wasn't like Dash was trying to hide anything from them – she just wanted to wait until she had the mystery solved herself before she got any them involved, since she didn't know yet if any of them were already involved. Any of them would've done the same in her place. There was no reason for her to feel bad.
She felt bad anyway.
Rainbow Dash's special talent was supposed to be raw speed, so she liked to tell ponies that she was called Rainbow Dash for a reason. But maybe she'd made a mistake, and the reason she was called that was actually because she was great at dashing off and ditching others. Some Element of Loyalty she was.
When Pinkie Pie had said that she would see Rainbow Dash tomorrow, she'd apparently been referring to seeing her along with everypony else, since the only time Dash saw her all day was when the six of them were gathered at Sugarcube Corner for hot chocolate later that afternoon. Rarity didn't mention how she'd slept over, and although Rainbow Dash hadn't explicitly asked her not to tell anypony, she felt grateful all the same. It was the kind of thing that felt like it needed to be kept secret, Celestia knows why.
Pinkie didn't say anything about what had happened, and didn't act at all differently with Rainbow; her hair was curly, her eyes were twinkling, and her voice was filled with joy, the way it was meant to be. She betrayed no sign that she was still bothered by what had passed between them.
Aside from dodging Fluttershy's questions about how her wings were healing, it was like a perfectly normal day. Just what Rainbow had been craving.
They were gathered in the warmth of the bakery, sipping their drinks – Pinkie's Super-Secret Best-Hot-Chocolate-In-The-World, Rainbow Dash guessed – and talking and laughing about nothing at all. About little, pointless things – like how relieved Rarity was to have finished that massive dress order she'd been working on, or how Applejack was trying a new recipe for apple cinnamon cake that she wanted them to try later (Pinkie Pie called dibs) or the details of Twilight Sparkle's latest letter to the princess. Apparently it was about how when a friend does you a favor, it was a good idea to be equally generous in return, whether with your actual material possessions or something as simple as your time.
"Wait, what? Where did that come from?" Rainbow Dash asked when Twilight finished telling them about it. "I don't remember you learning anything about sharing."
"You probably missed it," Twilight answered dismissively. "A lot can happen when you're not around, you know, and you have been pretty distant lately."
"Shucks, that happened to me once," Applejack chuckled. "I spent a couple o' weeks buckin' apples on the farm, came back and Twi was goin' on about all kinds of crazy adventures I missed."
"Ooh, that reminds me!" Pinkie shouted, suddenly slamming her hooves on the table and causing everypony to jump. She was working that day, only stopping by their table occasionally to top off their hot chocolate or shower them with more baked goods, free of charge. The rest of the time she was bustling about, either working the counter and beaming at the customers in line, or back in the kitchen, her beruffled apron visible through the open door. But now, she apparently had an important declaration to make. "What are we gonna do for Hearth's Warming this year? Because I know we gotta go to Canterlot again to perform in the pageant, but that's only on Hearth's Warming Eve. So we totally gotta have a big ol' Hearth's Warming Day party, with presents and stuff!"
"We'll probably still be in Canterlot, Pinkie," Twilight Sparkle said gently, sipping her hot chocolate. "I don't know if we'll be back in time for Hearth's Warming Day. But I'm sure the princess will be hosting an event in the palace, so we'll still get a party."
"Well, fine," Pinkie Pie conceded with a blustery sigh. "But I don't really like those fancypants parties, so we gotta plan one for after so we don't miss out on the fun! And besides, we still gotta have presents, right? We should do a present exchange! We'll pick names out of a hat and do secret gift-giving! Ohmygosh that's a great idea, let's do that!"
Pinkie bounced and the others laughed softly, wow Pinkie Pie how are you so happy all the time, and Rainbow Dash drank long and deeply from her mug. Her magenta eyes followed Pinkie as she hopped from table to table, seeing to it that nopony wanted for anything. The pegasus was trying to ignore the unpleasant, swirling thoughts that kept rising up unbidden while she drank; the hot chocolate was too good for her to allow the memory of the kiss to ruin it.
When they'd all finished their drinks, the five of them prepared to leave, with Pinkie alone staying behind. Rainbow Dash was last to go. For some reason she lingered, and even then, as she was finally ready to head out, she felt something tug on her tail, holding her back, and she actually felt relieved.
Rainbow turned to see who it was, only to find herself face-to-face with Pinkie Pie.
"Dashie?" Pinkie said. "I wanted to talk to you for a sec."
"Sure. What's up, Pinks?" Rainbow Dash asked.
"Are you doing okay?"
Pinkie Pie spoke in a hushed tone that brimmed with concern, and it made Rainbow's temper flare. Why was Pinkie the one being concerned about her?
"Yeah, I'm doing pretty awesome," Rainbow Dash answered loudly. "How 'bout you? You cool?"
"Oh, yeah, I'm fine! I'm doing okie-dokie!" Pinkie was quick to answer, her voice bright and her smile wide and natural-looking. "So, whatcha doing this afternoon?"
"I dunno," Dash said truthfully. "I hadn't really thought about it. Sleep, I guess."
"Dashie, you're silly," Pinkie giggled, covering her mouth with a flour-stained hoof. "You sleep all the time, goofball. Are you really gonna sleep some more?"
Rainbow's mind instantly flitted back to her restless night of tossing and turning.
"You know me. I use up so much energy during the day, it takes forever to get it all back," she boasted. Although she was playing along, Rainbow Dash couldn't let herself be fooled into thinking that things were back to normal yet. She'd made that mistake before. Just because the pink pony was acting fine, it didn't mean she actually was; Pinkie was a master at hiding her feelings, with a habit of letting them simmer until they finally exploded.
Then, to Dash's surprise, Pinkie wordlessly moved in for a hug.
It wasn't the kind of fierce, tackling, borderline violent hug that Rainbow Dash was used to getting from the pink pony. This was quiet and tender, forelegs wrapping around Dash and drawing her closer, and even though every instinct she possessed was warning her not to, Rainbow Dash found herself returning it, wrapping her own legs around Pinkie as well.
For a moment the two of them stood like that, the rest of the world forgotten as their breathing synchronised, oblivious to the staring eyes of the other customers present in the bakery.
"You're going back, aren't you?" Pinkie Pie asked softly, whispering into Dash's ear and breaking the silence they had temporarily shared.
There was no point in pretending she didn't know what Pinkie was talking about.
"Yeah," Rainbow Dash admitted. Then, for Celestia knows what reason, she asked, "Do you want me to stay?"
Rainbow didn't know what possessed her to ask that; all she knew was that if Pinkie Pie had said yes, she might have actually agreed.
But instead, Pinkie smiled and released her, stepping back and saying, "Do what you want, Dashie. I won't stop you."
The answer was both a relief and a stab in the heart, but the only response Dash could offer was a smile of her own before turning and trotting away.
The rest of the day passed in a confusing, drowsy mess. Rainbow Dash was either asleep or half-asleep for most of it, dozing on a park bench only to be woken up occasionally, either by the snow or by curious foals wondering what she was doing there.
At one point, Rainbow Dash woke up hungry and thought to get food, only to return after grabbing lunch to find that her bench had been stolen by Lyra for her afternoon concert. After that, she found a bush to nap in instead; bushes were kind of like clouds, Dash told herself. Only wet and cold, and kind of scratchy and not actually all that great for napping in after all now that she thought about it.
If she stopped to think about it for too long she started to feel bitter about the whole situation, so Rainbow chose not to, instead opting to ignore the way that sleeping in a bush might have made her look homeless and pathetic. She was too busy sleeping in a bush to worry about that.
Eventually she was woken by Derpy Hooves with the mail. Derpy had been nice enough to deliver it by hoof every day during the entire time Dash had been grounded so far, a favor the cyan pegasus appreciated. Still, Rainbow Dash almost never got any actual letters. In fact, she rarely got anything more exciting than the weather team's newsletter with the updated schedule, which was useless to her now but that she received like clockwork anyway because she was still on the mailing list.
Today, though, Derpy had a flower for her. Not a bouquet – just a single carnation, without even a note accompanying it.
My heart aches for you, Rainbow Dash thought as she stared at the flower.
"It took me forever to find you," Derpy said, cheery as ever. "You were in a bush!"
"I sure was, Derpy," Dash grumbled. "Hey, is there any way to find out who's sending me these?"
"You can check the return address!" the mailmare offered helpfully.
Rainbow Dash decided there was no need to point out that the flower didn't actually have an address at all, instead saying, "Okay. Thanks." She closed her eyes, nestling back into her bush as the gray pegasus flapped her wings and flew off, humming in a tuneless sort of way.
Rainbow had only thought to ask because you couldn't exactly mail flowers the usual way, for obvious reasons. Only a moron would try shoving a bouquet of real flowers into a mailbox and expect one of the carrier ponies to deliver it. If Mare Do Well was sending her these, then the mare must have arranged some kind of delivery service with the florist, but there was probably a way to do so anonymously. And even if there wasn't, it had been too much for Dash to expect Derpy of all ponies to know. If Rainbow tried to ask somepony else, they probably would've spewed that customer confidentiality nonsense again, completely unsympathetic to the way it was affecting her life.
Rainbow Dash didn't throw it out, though. She didn't do anything idiotic like clasp it to her chest over her heart as she sighed melodramatically, either, and she didn't even eat it, despite the fact that Rainbow was starting to feel the rumbles of hunger once more. Instead, she kept it, just to look at it. The crimson petals were soft to the touch, and unlike a rose, it had no thorns. It smelled sweetly indescribable, the fragrance so faint that it was almost unnoticeable, except for when the blossom was pressed directly to your face. But who would do that?
All in all, though, it wasn't that bad, for just another dumb flower. It was okay, really.
Mare Do Well was not her friend, and Rainbow Dash couldn't let herself make the mistake of thinking that way. But that didn't necessarily mean she had to be Dash's enemy, either. She could be obnoxious at times, sure, and a little too touchy-feely, but, well, who wasn't? Dash herself had flaws, just as the mare had pointed out, and so did her friends. So what if Mare Do Well was kind of annoying? And plenty of ponies could be a little overly affectionate at times; just look at Pinkie Pie on a good day, hugging and kissing like nopony's business. The only difference, really, was that Rainbow wasn't entirely sure who...
No. She couldn't think like that. That was bad. If Rainbow Dash didn't even know who Mare Do Well was, but the mare kept harassing her, that in itself was wrong enough, even if Mare Do Well seemed to actually be kind of shy and sweet on the inside.
The flower was okay.
Night fell, the day came to a close, and soon, it was that time again. After a day of dozing, Rainbow Dash felt awake and alert and brimming with energy for once, ready to charge ahead to the cul-de-sac and... and she didn't know what, because Dash knew now that they were never going to get to that epic battle and she hadn't actually made any progress in her investigation.
Still, Rainbow felt pumped. Ready.
It took her longer than usual to get there, even though she ran, simply because her legs couldn't carry her quite as fast as she would've liked.
When Rainbow Dash got there, Mare Do Well was standing on the dumpster. She must have gotten bored with how long it had taken the pegasus to finally appear, since she wasn't posing in anticipation of Rainbow's arrival the way she usually did; instead the mare was carefully walking along the very edge of the dumpster itself, her legs shaking slightly as she strove to keep her balance.
"Yo," Rainbow Dash shouted, to get her attention. She was severely tempted to kick the side of the receptacle to knock Mare Do Well off balance and make her fall, but by the time the idea occurred to Dash, Mare Do Well had already jumped off.
"Are you ready to discuss our progress?" Mare Do Well asked, catching Rainbow Dash off guard by cutting right to the chase.
"Huh?" Rainbow asked, before remembering what she'd said the other night. "Oh, yeah. Right. Uh, you go first."
"I think you'd have a better idea of how well I'm doing than I would," Mare Do Well said playfully. "Care to share?"
"I still hate you," Dash retorted immediately.
"That's not what you said yesterday."
"I was tired. I wasn't thinking straight."
"Aw. That's too bad. I thought I was doing better."
"What were you doing up on there?" Rainbow Dash asked to change the subject, nodding to the dumpster that the mare had been balancing on earlier.
"Oh," the mare said, before pausing and glancing behind her. "Um, I was..."
"You were what?"
"I was trying to hide it from you before, and I'm only telling you now because you want me to be more normal," Mare Do Well said quickly, words spilling out in a rush. "But, uh, I'm actually a little... afraid of heights."
Rainbow Dash raised her eyebrows. Maybe she shouldn't have been surprised, because plenty of ponies were afraid of heights – it was perfectly rational. But she hadn't expected to hear such an admission from Mare Do Well, whose entire gimmick revolved around standing atop tall buildings and jumping from incredible heights. "Really?" Dash asked, dumbfounded. "Are you kidding me?"
"I... I like being up high because I feel like it's impressive and makes for a good dramatic entrance. But I can't look down, because if I do, I freeze up," Mare Do Well admitted. "As long as I keep moving it doesn't bother me as much, though, and it honestly doesn't come up a lot in my everyday life. I wanted to see if I could balance without getting dizzy."
Normally, the idea of an acrophobic pegasus was laughable. A creature born to fly couldn't be afraid of using their wings; it was just ridiculous. Fluttershy was an exception, though, so this confession, as surprising as it was, didn't actually tell Rainbow anything. If Mare Do Well was one of her friends, it was still within the realm of possibility that she was the pegasus.
Actually, this knowledge made it even more likely, since Fluttershy was the only one of Rainbow Dash's friends that she knew for sure had a fear of heights. Huh.
She tried to imagine tearing off the mask only to find Fluttershy's blushing face underneath, but it didn't work. It was too weird.
"It's okay that I told you, right?" Mare Do Well asked. "That's what you meant by being normal, isn't it?"
"It's a start," Rainbow Dash allowed graciously. "I mean, everypony gets scared sometimes. Except me, of course."
"That's not true. I've told you before, I know a lot about you, and you're scared of plenty of things."
Rainbow snorted. "Like what?"
"No I'm not," Dash said immediately. That was somewhere she didn't want to go. Didn't even want to think about. Ignore something long enough and it goes away.
"Okay, fine," Mare Do Well allowed, equally gracious. "That's not important, anyway. I don't feel like getting into any philosophical debates with you tonight. What I meant to say was, you can go ahead and discuss your findings now. Any fascinating new insights into my identity yet?"
If Mare Do Well had said something like that during any of their other previous meetings, Rainbow Dash might have immediately assumed that she was being mocked and bristled accordingly in response. As it was, Dash could only look at Mare Do Well and think about how the other mare was apparently afraid of heights, which didn't stop her from bounding across rooftops and springing into battle from the air.
When Rainbow Dash was scared of something, she ran from it and prayed that it would stay away as long as she hid. Mare Do Well charged straight through, pushing past the fear. Rainbow didn't know whether this revelation was supposed to make her jealous or further infuriate her.
"Nothing yet," Rainbow Dash grudgingly admitted. "I keep thinking I'm on the right track, only to find something new that totally throws me off."
"Have you considered just asking me who I am?" Mare Do Well prompted, her head tilted as she looked at Dash.
Rising to the bait, Rainbow Dash immediately asked, "Who are you?"
"Not telling," Mare Do Well shot back.
The pegasus scowled and rolled her eyes. "Oh, yeah, very mature," Rainbow muttered, kicking her hoof and sending up a little cloud of snow.
"You're going to Canterlot soon," Mare Do Well said suddenly, her voice taking on a mournful tone.
"So, what am I going to do without you?" the masked mare asked with a practically audible pout. "How will I get through a whole week without seeing you?"
"You're going, too, though," Rainbow Dash began before narrowing her eyes. "Aren't you?" If Mare Do Well was one of Rainbow's friends, then she'd obviously be in Canterlot for the pageant as well – so it wouldn't be like they'd be apart, exactly.
"Well, yes. Technically I'll be in Canterlot too, of course," Mare Do Well agreed. "But it won't be the same as if we were having our nightly meetings. For one thing, I won't be in costume, so I won't be able to say what I like in front of you. I'll have to watch everything I say and do so as not to give anything away. That won't be very fun."
She pressed her hooves to her face, cocking her head the other way as if she'd just had a brilliant idea. "How about I make it up to you, though? I'm sure you'll miss me just as much when you're gone, so I promise to have a surprise for you next time. A Hearth's Warming present."
"A surprise?" Rainbow Dash repeated doubtfully. "Is it gonna be something stupid, or is it gonna be something awesome?"
"It'll be something meaningful, and it'll be very heart-warming when I give it to you. Don't worry, though, you don't have to get me anything in return."
"I wasn't planning to."
"Good!" Mare Do Well said happily, with a little clap of her hooves. "That's settled, then. And don't worry, I'm sure some more clues will turn up sooner or later, and then, well, you'll sure show me. But until then we can keep seeing each other, right?"
"Why did you send me the flower?" Rainbow Dash asked instead of answering. This seemed to catch Mare Do Well off guard, as the other mare didn't answer right away.
"Because I wanted to," she said simply, after a moment's consideration.
"But why?" Rainbow pressed.
"I have no reason. I wanted to send you something because I like you and like giving you things. I thought the flower was beautiful and wanted to share it with you. That's all. I only sent you one because I didn't feel like wasting my time sending a full bouquet when you'd just throw it out, but I wanted to send you something."
"I didn't throw it out."
Mare Do Well sounded surprised, and waited, as if to allow Rainbow Dash time to continue or explain herself. Rainbow didn't, though. Instead, the pegasus feigned a yawn, saying, "Wow, it's late. I guess it's about time I headed back."
"It's not late," Mare Do Well said quickly, taking an urgent step forward. "And you already slept all day. In a bush."
"How do you know that?" Rainbow Dash asked, suddenly feeling offended for some reason, even though what Mare Do Well had said was undeniably true.
"I saw you! Please, you don't have to go. I'll stop teasing you. We've barely talked at all."
She sounded so pleading that Rainbow Dash almost wanted to give in. Why did she have to have such a soft spot for patheticness? It was the same with Fluttershy's whimpering or Pinkie Pie's puppydog-eyed stare; Dash could never refuse either of them when they directed those assets on her. She was supposed to be the toughest pegasus to ever come out of Cloudsdale, and her weakness was weakness.
"Don't get all clingy and desperate," Rainbow Dash lectured, trying not to listen to the voice in the back of her mind that was urging her to give in and stay. "That's a big turnoff. Besides, I'll see you again tomorrow, so you don't have to get all freaked out."
Mare Do Well bowed her head, pawing at the ground with a hoof.
"What's wrong?" Dash asked, a little nervously. She didn't know why she cared, or why she was even bothering to ask, since it was probably just Mare Do Well setting up some dumb pickup line somehow.
"I promised that I wouldn't creep on you anymore," Mare Do Well answered, a little apologetically. "But right now, I want to hold you. I won't, because you don't like it; but right now, that's what I'm thinking about. I'd really like to."
Rainbow Dash flushed, and when she opened her mouth to respond, her mouth was dry, her words getting lost along the way somewhere on the way to her throat.
"You said before you'd figure something out if I was, um, gonna let you kiss me," Rainbow managed to say after a moment of standing there like an idiot, staring at Mare Do Well with her face burning and mouth hanging open. "Did, did you think of anything?"
"Not yet," Mare Do Well mused thoughtfully. "A blindfold, perhaps?"
Rainbow Dash found herself grinning against her will. She'd told Mare Do Well before that the mare had a way of making her smile without her permission, and that was exactly what was happening now. "Wow," Dash joked. "Kinky. But no thanks, I'm not into that. It was just a hypothetical question, anyway."
It's just that when you see something you want or like very, very much, isn't it hard to resist the impulse to touch it?
The thought flashed through Rainbow's mind, and she remembered the way Mare Do Well had looked so small and had sounded so innocent when she had spoken those words, and suddenly Rainbow Dash felt the urge to reach out and...
No. No. She wasn't going to fall into that trap. Mare Do Well wasn't a friend, and Rainbow Dash couldn't let herself make that mistake. The mare wasn't a friend, and definitely wasn't anything else. Even if Dash had decided that she wasn't necessarily an enemy, Mare Do Well was still a... rival? Was that the word Rainbow was looking for?
"Well, if you're going to go, you'd best be going now," Mare Do Well said dismissively, whirling around with a whoosh of her cape before Rainbow Dash could make a move. It was like her anxiety from before was completely forgotten and she no longer cared if Rainbow stayed or went. Dash's inner contrarian almost made her want to declare her intention to stay after all, just to spite the masked mare, but that was probably what Mare Do Well wanted. Reverse psychology and all that.
"I will, then!" Rainbow Dash declared loudly, to reflect the strength of her resolve. "And you'd better be here tomorrow. Don't you dare pull another disappearing stunt, either. Just because I'm leaving soon, doesn't mean you have the right to do that again and make me wait up all night for no reason."
"Of course," Mare Do Well answered smoothly. "Let us both continue to pretend that is why my temporary absence bothered you, rather than have you honestly admit that you missed me. At least I know the truth."
"If my teasing really bothered you, you'd just hit me again."
"Sometimes I want to," Dash muttered. "This whole night was pointless. I'm leaving."
"It wasn't pointless!" Mare Do Well cried with mock offense. "We got to spend time together! Isn't that enough for you?"
That time, Rainbow Dash let it go. There was no point in trying to get the last word in a conversation with Mare Do Well, because no matter what was said, the mare always managed to think of some last-minute retort that never failed to leave Rainbow's mind empty of any possible comeback.
"You're weird," was all she said.
"Are your wings doing any better?" Mare Do Well called out to Rainbow, voice faltering slightly. Rainbow Dash was already walking away, but stopped when she heard this.
"Yeah," Dash called back. "They're doing okay. I should be able to fly again really soon."
Mare Do Well's relief was palpable, but there was nothing Rainbow Dash could say to this, so she didn't even try. Instead she walked away, just as she'd promised, letting her hooves sink deeply into the snow as she shivered lightly in the chilly air.
Rainbow briefly wondered whether Mare Do Well was warm in her costume, and considered turning back one last time to ask, but when she did, Mare Do Well was nowhere to be seen.
How does she do that? Rainbow Dash thought, annoyed. But it didn't matter, really, because even though Mare Do Well seemed so talented at disappearing and appearing at will, she'd said she'd be sure to return the next night. Who cared if the mare was gone for now? She was going to be back.
Rainbow Dash felt a growl of frustration building in her throat. She hadn't learned a single freaking thing, and their conversation together had essentially been entirely meaningless. If her life had been a comic book, that night would've been pure filler.
Well, no. Rainbow had learned something. Apparently, Mare Do Well was afraid of heights.
If that was true, then as soon as her wings were better, Rainbow Dash was going to take her flying, just to freak her out. As payback for everything the mare put her through. It would be nice to see Mare Do Well scared out of her mind for once – provided that she hadn't been lying for some reason.
Rainbow Dash snickered. A private sound, subdued and kept to herself, but a snicker nonetheless. She was mean, it was true, but Mare Do Well deserved it.
Rarity had again offered the use of her boutique as a place to crash, and that was where Dash was now headed. Starting tomorrow, though, she really needed to get down to business.
Rarity had been the first pony she'd talked to when this mess had started, but Rainbow had dismissed her as a suspect pretty quickly. Yet Rainbow Dash had managed to find some reason to cross everypony off her list except the unicorn.
First, she needed to find out whether or not those sales files had ever existed, and then, she needed to talk to Rarity herself.