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She ran. She didn't know where she ran to, just that she couldn't stop. Her legs ached and her lungs burned, but she couldn't pause, not even for a moment, because if she did, Rainbow Dash would catch her.
She was almost sick with fear of what Dash would do to her upon catching her, and this was the fear that propelled her forward. Her thoughts wouldn't quiet down long enough for her to actually stop and think, so she continued to run ahead blindly rather than risk giving herself even a moment of rest only to get caught off guard. Now, more than ever, she wished she could fly. If she had wings, at least they'd be on even ground.
Her heart was pounding against her ribcage so fast and so hard that she thought it might tear out of her chest at any moment. Her pulse fluttered in her throat, rapid and hot, and sweat stung her eyes. The panic was like a noose slipped around her neck, gradually tightening and constricting around her throat, choking the life out of her.
She should have waited to have her little temper tantrum. Waited until they were at least back in Ponyville. She didn't know Canterlot nearly well enough to outrun Rainbow in a chase; the city was like a maze, with countless unexpected twists and turns and buildings that were far too high for her to climb easily. Not only that, but the streets continued to bustle with life, even this late on Hearth's Warming Eve. It wasn't quite the urban sprawl of Manehattan, but it was still a living thing, huge and ever-shifting.
She was afraid of it, this strange and foreign place and the secrets it held. It could swallow her so easily. Especially since she didn't know where she was going.
Back home, the nights were silent and still. Peaceful, with the exception of the occasional easily-subdued petty criminal. She'd never had to worry about being seen by anypony during her midnight treks. Here, she had to limit herself to dark corners and narrow, abandoned alleys: places she might have chosen to haunt back home, but she now resented the fact that she was restricted to them, praying all the while that she wouldn't be spotted.
This was the kind of city where a mare running around in a mask and cape would likely be carted off to jail, or even to an asylum, rather than hailed as a genuine superhero. She wasn't a superhero, though. She was a stupid little filly who'd wanted to play pretend to impress her crush. She'd wanted to feel big and important and heroic because she'd thought that was what Rainbow Dash liked, and now she was being exposed for the coward she truly was. The kind of coward who shook so violently from fear of being caught that she could barely run. The kind of coward who would rather keep up the game until the very end, despite knowing what it was doing to Dash, rather than risk being exposed. The kind of coward who would rather quit and hide than drop the act, even now.
What had she expected to happen? Had she honestly believed that Rainbow Dash would just let her quietly fade away?
In an ideal world, Rainbow Dash would've begged her to stay, not because she wanted revenge or closure, but because the pegasus wanted her to stay.
In an ideal world, Rainbow Dash would've left her alone. Would've just let her disappear the way she wanted to and let everything go back to normal, forgetting any of this had ever happened.
In an ideal world, it would've taken just one kiss for everything to be okay again, and then they would've lived happily ever after.
But this wasn't a romance novel. It wasn't a superhero comic. It wasn't a movie and it wasn't a fairytale love story. It was reality, and in the real world, where those cherished ideals almost never came to pass, there were consequences to mistakes as huge and phenomenally stupid as the mistakes she'd made.
When you messed with somepony, they became angry, even if you'd only done it out a misguided sense of love. When you hurt somepony, they wanted to hurt you back, even if you'd only ever wanted to see them smile. And when you ran, they chased you, even if you only ran because you wanted them to forget that you'd ever been there in the first place.
She couldn't stop. When you're being chased by a pegasus capable of breaking the sound barrier, pausing to catch your breath isn't a good idea.
Shamefully, she couldn't help but feel almost grateful that Rainbow Dash's wings were still recovering; if they'd been whole and well, Mare Do Well wouldn't have had the slightest chance of escaping. If Rainbow was having trouble flying properly, that made things marginally easier.
So what was the plan? Was she just going to run and hope Rainbow Dash got bored and gave up? Not likely. Maybe she could hide and ditch the costume. But then Rainbow Dash would want to know why she was wandering Canterlot in the middle of the night, instead of hanging out at that stupid ball. Maybe she could go back to the palace? No, that was stupid; before she'd even finished thinking it, a voice in the back of her head screamed that's the dumbest idea ever!
Would it be better to stick to the ground, or should she take her chances on the rooftops that were more familiar to her? The ground was restrictive, and it would be easy to get cornered when she had to take such care to avoid being seen, but it would be harder for Rainbow Dash to follow her if she stuck to crowded areas and tight spots like the alley she was now running down. Still, maybe she should risk it; she had no idea where she was going, and she'd have a better view from above. Maybe then she could get some idea of where to go next. Maybe she could find somewhere to hide.
She was somewhere downtown by now; they weren't quite slums, but they were far rougher than the more sophisticated areas of the royal city that were reserved for aristocrats and tourists. Up ahead was a fire escape, and she didn't give herself time to rethink her next move; she was already climbing, hoof over hoof, scrambling up as fast as she could, faster than she knew she was capable of moving – it was strange, the way you could surprise yourself – and then she was on the roof.
This rooftop was small, and she covered the distance quickly before her hind-legs kicked off the edge.
It was such a rush. She'd been born with no wings, but as Mare Do Well, she could fly. Like a foal in a playground, she'd climbed and swung and leapt, gleefully delighting in the freedom of it. Even if she'd only donned the mask with the intention of approaching Rainbow Dash without fear, she'd gotten carried away more than once with the superhero persona she'd taken on. There was nothing so exhilarating as the feeling of hanging in the air mid-jump, heart pounding fit to burst and stomach flip-flopping. It was terrifying and wonderful all at once; terrifying because she was never quite sure if she'd make it, always afraid that this would be the one time that she slipped and fell, and wonderful because... well, just because. As long as she didn't look down.
It was a long jump, but she made it, landing with a hard thud on the building across the way.
Then, only then, did Mare Do Well allow herself to chance a brief glance backwards. She almost laughed with relief when Rainbow Dash was nowhere to be seen.
Where did she go?!
It was like a scene out of a greeting card. The night was cold and clear, the moon huge and shining and lovely, the snow softly falling. The shops were decorated with tinsel and glittering lights and festive garlands, holiday carols drifting out onto the streets; streets full of laughing, busy ponies, all infused with the good cheer of the season.
It should've been easy to spot something as conspicuous as a mare in a cape dashing ahead through the merry throng, yet somehow, Rainbow Dash had lost sight of her. Mare Do Well had melted into the darkness as easily as ever. Now, Rainbow Dash's gaze swept over the scene splayed out before her, desperately searching for some sign that she'd been here.
In a quiet community like Ponyville, all she would've had to do was look for hoofsteps, but there wasn't a single patch of undisturbed snow as far as the eye could see. Even now, when it was practically midnight, ponies of every age were trotting about, oblivious to the frustration felt by the rainbow-maned pegasus.
Heck, in Ponyville, Rainbow Dash could've just flown overhead to try and scope out Mare Do Well from above, but that wouldn't work in Canterlot. It was too freaking big. There were too many places that Rainbow wouldn't be able to see, places that the mare could hide.
Then, Rainbow Dash noticed the sign hanging outside the building nearest to her. It was the café that she and Pinkie had gone to. The café they'd had hot chocolate in. The café she'd thought about kissing Pinkie in.
That was all it took for her to feel another surge of anger. No, not even that. It was more than mere anger. It was bitterness and betrayal, and a hurt so deep that she wanted to scream.
Rainbow Dash rushed forward, grabbing the first pony she saw by the shoulders and whipping him around so that he was facing her.
"Did you see anypony go by here just now?" she asked, words tumbling out in a rush.
He raised his eyebrows. "I work a newsstand in Canterlot, lady," he replied with a smirk. "I see a lotta ponies go by."
It was all Rainbow Dash could do to keep from smacking him. "No!" she snapped. "A pony with a hat and a cape, all black and purple! I could've sworn she went this way! Did you see anything like that?"
"A hat and cape?" he asked, a note of interest in his voice. Rainbow Dash nodded urgently. He lifted a hoof to scratch the back of his head, brow furrowed in thought.
"You know, it's the funniest thing," he said conversationally, despite Rainbow's impatient scowl. "I gotta cousin over in Ponyville who works as a reporter, and she came up to visit for the holidays. Said there was a big story a little while ago about this weather pony who was saved by some kinda superhero. The hero had a cape and funny name and everything, too. It's on the tip of my tongue... Mare Do Good? Mare Do Right? Something like that."
"Mare Do Well," Rainbow corrected through gritted teeth.
"Mare Do Well?" the stallion repeated, face lighting up. "Like ne'er do well? I like that. It's clever," he chuckled. "I'll remember that one. Anyway, no, sorry. I didn't see anypony like that. But if you –"
Rainbow Dash didn't wait to hear what else he had to say, already bolting forward to grab somepony else.
"Didyouseeasuperherogoby?" she asked in one breath. If Rainbow had stopped to think first, she might have realized how crazy that sounded and wouldn't have been surprised when the unicorn just shrugged her off in disgust before quickly trotting away, not even deigning to answer. As it was, she just rolled her eyes before moving on to a nearby pegasus to ask the exact same question.
By the fourth time Rainbow Dash was shrugged off with no reply, her frustration had reached its peak and she was about ready to explode. Then she heard it. The tiny, squeaky voice of a very young colt, maybe only a foal, asking, "Mommy, did you see that?"
Rainbow Dash looked, her eyes following the tiny outstretched hoof of the colt who had spoken. And then she saw it – in the distance, so far away and so tiny as to very possibly be a figment of her imagination, a streak of black tearing across the sky. In a flash, Rainbow was gone, chasing it.
She tried to keep running, to will her limbs back into motion. But at the sound of Rainbow Dash's voice, she froze up, legs locking, the noose of fear easily slipping back around her throat, strangling her. Nonononononononononononononono...
But she had to stay calm. Even if she didn't feel it, she had to at least act it. Had to keep up the game. Had to keep up the charade. If her body was going to disobey her and stop working properly, she would take advantage of that. She had to act like she'd intended to do this.
Uttering a silent prayer of thanks that the disguise she wore would hide the terror that was undoubtedly written all over her face, Mare Do Well took a deep breath, and turned to face her pursuer.
It must have made a strange sight. Two ponies perched on the roof of a brownstone apartment building, somewhere in the downtown pseudo-slums of Canterlot; on one side, a mare dressed in black and violet, head adorned with a wide-brimmed hat and a cape tossed rakishly over her shoulders. On the other, a pegasus with a brilliantly colored rainbow mane, the likes of which had never been seen anywhere else in Equestria. Both of them were still; Rainbow Dash glaring, teeth gritted in determination, Mare Do Well's expression blank and unreadable due to the mask she wore.
"Still planning to run?" Rainbow Dash spat.
It would've been so easy for her to dart forward and grab Mare Do Well. It would've been so easy for Mare Do Well to start fleeing once again. But neither of them moved, too focused on each other to take a single step in any direction. Except for the snow that was quietly falling all around them, one might have almost thought that they were looking at a still photo of a scene rather than the scene itself.
"Why can't you just let me go?" Mare Do Well managed to choke through the noose. Her voice sounded steady to her ears; that was good. She needed to sound calm. She couldn't freak out. "Why can't you let things go back to normal? I told you, I'll disappear. I won't bother you anymore. That's what you wanted, isn't it?"
"Are you serious?" A hard, brittle laugh and a bitter smile. "Do you seriously think things can just go back to normal after you pulled a crazy stunt like this? There's no way I'm just letting you go. Not now. Not after everything you did. Even if I don't get anything else out of all this, I'm at least going to know who you are."
Heart pounding. Mouth dry. The noose tightens. She can't breathe.
Rainbow Dash's coat was illuminated almost silver in the moonlight, and although she looked angry, angry beyond belief, she still managed to look so incredibly beautiful, wrathful and glorious all at once like some kind of avenging angel. Almost ethereal.
I love you, Mare Do Well thought helplessly. As if that would make any difference now.
Mare Do Well didn't move. She just sat there, as if she wasn't even listening. As if she didn't even care. Didn't she understand how big this was? Didn't she understand how mad Rainbow Dash was? Even now, she was as smug and hateful as ever. Why had Rainbow Dash ever felt anything deeper for her? Why had she ever thought that she could like the mare?
"What's the point?" Mare Do Well challenged. Taunting her. "It's not going to make any difference now. All this is going to do is turn you against one of your friends. Do you want that? It's not worth the risk. Let me go. Pretend none of this ever happened. I swear I'll disappear, just like I promised."
"That doesn't work, you idiot," Rainbow Dash snarled. "I've been doing that my whole life, and it never works! If you ignore things, they just simmer, and build up below the surface, until they finally explode!"
"Maybe you don't really want to know. Maybe a part of you would rather keep the mystery. Maybe you don't want to have to think of one of your friends like this."
"No, I don't, but a bigger part of me needs to know," Rainbow retorted.
"Maybe I was never real. Maybe I'm just a figment of your imagination."
"Well, then at least I'd know I was crazy instead of always wondering."
Another silence fell over them.
Rainbow Dash panted. She didn't want to say anything – she didn't want to confess to any kind of weakness, especially not now – but the chase had taken a lot out of her. Her wings were still stiff and sore, and flying after her that way had been a lot harder than she'd expected. That was the only reason she wasn't charging right then. If Mare Do Well wasn't running, Rainbow Dash wasn't going to chase; at least, not until she'd taken a moment to catch her breath.
And of course, that was the way fate would have it. The moment that Rainbow Dash acknowledged her relief at the break, Mare Do Well would have to suddenly whip around, taking a running leap and once again flying through the night.
There was no time to hesitate. Rainbow Dash shot after her.
Her heart was in her throat. Again and again, her mind returned to the look of mingled anger and triumph and determination that had blazed in Rainbow Dash's eyes only moments ago.
She was going to die. Either she was going to slip and fall, or Rainbow Dash was going to catch her and kill her, or her lungs would finally give out, or maybe her heart would just explode, or something. It didn't even matter how it happened; she just knew it, with a sense of overwhelming certainty. She was going to die.
Just to make things worse, she somehow managed to land wrong. Normally she was able to get in position before landing, knees bent and ready, but tonight she was distracted and shockwaves of pain shot up her legs, making her cry out. Her knees almost gave out then and there. But that would've been so anticlimactic, really, to end up getting caught because she'd screwed up the landing and fell over, so she forced herself to get back up and push onwards. It was a good thing she could be so fast. It was a good thing Rainbow Dash was hurt. No, that wasn't a good thing and she was a horrible pony for thinking like that, but she didn't have time to feel guilty. She needed to get out of there, nownownownownow.
She was quickly approaching the edge of yet another roof, and the closest building was too far away; there was no way she'd be able to make that jump. But Rainbow Dash would be expecting her to at least try, and would probably shoot on straight ahead, flying too fast to immediately stop. If Mare Do Well aimed for the balcony below instead, maybe she'd buy herself enough time to make her getaway.
It was worth a shot.
Once again, her hind-legs prepared to kick off the edge.
"Mare Do Well!" a voice behind her screamed.
And she froze.
The moment Mare Do Well stopped, Rainbow Dash screeched to a halt in midair. If she'd kept going, she would've flown directly into the mare, knocking them both over the edge.
"What did you just call me?" Mare Do Well demanded. Her voice shook.
That hadn't been what Rainbow Dash had been expecting her to say, and if Mare Do Well had been looking, rather than standing with her back to the pegasus, she would've seen the blatant confusion on her face.
"Um, I said Mare Do Well?" Rainbow ventured.
"No," Mare Do Well said quietly, shaking her head. "No. No... no! Don't call me that! Don't call me that!"
Her voice began to grow louder, sinking further and further into panic with each word spoken, and suddenly she was shouting.
"Don't call me that!" she screamed. "That's not who I am! That's not my name!"
"Well, what am I supposed to call you?" Rainbow Dash shouted back. "I don't even know your name!"
"I don't know, but don't call me Mare Do Well!"
Rainbow Dash had never called her that before. Never. Not even once. Or had she? Maybe she had, and she'd just never noticed. But it sounded so strange, to hear that name on her tongue.
When they five of them had first begun the Mare Do Well masquerade, they hadn't picked a name; the mayor had given it to them after the first incident, and they'd just gone along with it. When she'd adopted the Mare Do Well persona on her own, she'd assumed the name as well.
But the name wasn't hers. It wasn't even a name she'd chosen. It was a name she'd been given, a name forced upon her that she'd only continued to use out of convenience.
Mare Do Well wasn't real. Mare Do Well was a character. Mare Do Well was a part she was playing.
And Rainbow Dash thought she was Mare Do Well.
She wanted to scream.
Rainbow Dash didn't know her at all; the point of all of this had been to find a way to be real in front of Rainbow Dash, a way to be real and honest without jeopardizing the friendship they had, and it had backfired so utterly spectacularly that words failed her.
A strangled cry of pain was rising up from somewhere deep inside of her, a cry that she tried to stifle by shoving her hooves over her mouth, but nothing could quell the sound.
"Mare Do Well?"
"Stop it!" she sobbed. "Don't say that! Don't call me that!"
She couldn't stay here. Not with Rainbow Dash looking at her like that, looking at her with confusion and something like fear in her eyes.
So she turned, and she ran.
In retrospect, that was a very, very bad idea. When you're breaking apart into a thousand million pieces and being chased across rooftops in a city like Canterlot and you're shaking so hard you can barely stand and you can't even see because you're blinded by your own tears, it's probably best to just stay put, rather than risk making another running jump.
Because if you do risk the jump, you also risk losing focus and looking down. And when you look down, you aren't looking where you're going, because all you can think about is falling, and then your hooves stumble on the edge, and the next thing you know, you are falling.
If she cried out, she didn't hear it. One moment she was struggling to hold herself together, and the next thing she knew, she was plummeting through the air into the alley between the pair of buildings, the sidewalk rushing closer, closer.
Until somepony slammed into her.
Her breathing was shallow and quick, but she was still breathing, because she was being cradled like a filly by the pegasus bringing her to safety.
Because she wanted to stay that way, enfolded in the warmth of Rainbow Dash's embrace.
She was still crying, but these tears weren't the agonized sobs of before. These were silent tears, quietly trailing down her face as all of her love and grief finally spilled over, too much for her to carry any longer.
She wrapped her forelegs around Rainbow Dash's neck, burrowing her face in her neck.
One moment, she'd been falling. The next, she was being carried. But even if she hadn't hit the ground, she knew that Mare Do Well was dead. The knowledge was like the lifting of a burden that she hadn't noticed the weight of before. Whatever happened now, she no longer had a mask to hide behind. There was only herself.
Rainbow Dash tried to be careful as she held Mare Do Well, but that lasted only as long as they were in flight. When they reached the ground, she dropped her, letting the mare slam down onto the sidewalk before roughly pinning her down with her hooves. The mare gave a cry before beginning to struggle, writhing and squirming beneath Rainbow Dash. She straddled Mare Do Well, intentionally looming over her. It felt pretty good, actually, to know that she was the one in control for once.
"All right," Rainbow Dash panted. Then she paused, unsure of what to say next. She swallowed, and took a deep breath before starting again. "All right. So how's this gonna go down?"
"Please," Mare Do Well whimpered. "Please don't. Please, I'll do anything. Just let me go. Please."
"Uh-uh. I don't think so. See, I think I kind of like having you under me like this," Rainbow Dash answered lightly. Her voice sounded so much calmer than how she actually felt, and she tightened the grip she had on Mare Do Well's forelegs, driving them harder into the alley. Mare Do Well let out another gasp of pain.
"You know what I'm gonna do?" Rainbow hissed. "I'm gonna tell you exactly why I hate you. And you're gonna listen."
Mare Do Well didn't answer.
"I hate you because you came out of nowhere. I hate you because you just had to keep popping up whenever I didn't want to see you, bugging me over and over again, even though you must have known how much I didn't want to see you," Rainbow Dash began. It was harder to speak than she'd expected; it was like there was a knot somewhere in her throat that threatened to gag her. But she kept going, because she needed to say this, and she needed the mare to hear it.
"I hate you because you were selfish and wouldn't leave me alone. I hate you because you made me doubt my friends. I hate you because you turned me into a different pony, a pony who couldn't sleep and couldn't relax and couldn't focus on anything. I hate you because you took things from me. You took my peace of mind, you... you took Pinkie! You took my best friend, and I don't know if I'm ever going to get her back after all of this!"
"I –" Mare Do Well began, but then she stopped, shrinking beneath Rainbow Dash's glare.
"I hate you because you made me different," Dash continued, flapping her wings with a sharp snap. "I hate you because you made me deal with things I would have rather avoided. Because of you, I had to confront all these issues I didn't even know I had."
She paused, and purely out of spite, she ground her hooves a little deeper, just to hear Mare Do Well cry out again. It was sadistic of her, she knew that, but it was so unbelievably satisfying that she couldn't help it.
Rainbow took another deep breath.
This was the hardest part.
"You didn't even mean to do it, either," she continued. "You made me face up to all these problems I had, made me realize I needed to deal with them, and you never even meant to. You just wanted to... I don't even know. But that's why. I hate you because you made me care about what you wanted. I hate you because you made me worry about you. You made me like you, and I didn't want to."
Mare Do Well had grown still, no longer struggling.
"I hate you," Rainbow Dash repeated, her voice little more than a whisper. "I hate you so much. I hate you for doing this to me. I hate you for making me not want to hate you."
All around them were the sounds of the city and the season, and here they were, alone in this tiny little pocket of Canterlot, unseen and unheard by anypony but each other. Just the two of them, as close to being eye-to-eye as one could hope for when one of them wore a mask.
The mood was quietly changing between them. Shifting. They were no longer a hunter and prey.
Mare Do Well's body, still sheathed in her black and violet costume, was slick and shining from the melting snowflakes she was dusted with, but Rainbow Dash could still feel her warmth. She could feel the mare's chest rise and fall as she breathed. It made her seem so much more real. Before, Rainbow Dash might have actually believed that she had never existed – that maybe she had imagined the whole thing. Now, though, there was no doubt.
A third deep breath, and at last, Rainbow moved in, slowly lowering her head.
Mare Do Well gave a tiny whimper.
"No more hiding," Rainbow Dash said softly. "No more running away. Nothing's gonna go away; it's just gonna come back later. It's better to face it now."
"I'm scared," Mare Do Well whispered.
She had never sounded as young or as vulnerable as she did right then.
"It's going to be all right," Rainbow Dash found herself saying, in a tone far gentler than she'd even known herself capable of using. "I don't know how, exactly, but we'll figure it out."
Mare Do Well was no longer trying to pull away, so Rainbow Dash at last released her hold on the mare's forelegs, moving instead to cup her face.
She closed her eyes. Leaning forward, she gripped the cloth of the mask between her teeth, and with a swift movement, tore it away.
Then, eyes still shut, Rainbow Dash kissed her.
She hadn't been expecting this.
It was more of an assault than a kiss. Like a purely accidental collision of mouths – hard and angry and fierce and full of so much wanting that she almost couldn't stand it. And yet, as brutal as it was, the moment their lips met, there was such beautiful, soaring release.
One of Rainbow Dash's hooves slid downwards, pressing flat against her stomach, as if to keep her still. But even if she'd wanted to move right then, she wouldn't have been able to. She couldn't move. She was too startled.
Finally, Rainbow Dash broke away. Her eyes were closed; they hadn't flickered open, even once, and she panted, the breath of the pegasus hot and sweet as it mingled with her own.
"What are you doing?" she managed to gasp, feeling almost breathless herself. "You didn't even –"
And Rainbow Dash silenced her with another kiss, bringing her mouth down upon hers.
Swift, possessive and hungry: that was what the caress of Rainbow Dash's lips felt like. The same hunger that she'd felt for so long. This time, she didn't pull back or wrench away; she responded immediately, leaning forward into the kiss.
Rainbow Dash's hooves were still pressed against her chest, still keeping her in place, but she was no longer pinned down. Not really. Not the way she'd been before. After all, her forelegs were free. And now, she wrapped them around Rainbow Dash's neck, drawing the pegasus even closer.
Rainbow Dash kept her eyes shut. It was stupid, but it was almost like she was trying to pretend that could just stay this way, thoroughly wrapped in one another, and that a time when she had to know the truth would never come.
A part of her needed to know who the pony who prowled in the dark was, the pony now kissing her back, but at the same time, another part of her needed to keep up the charade for just a little while longer. Because no matter what she'd promised, she knew it was a lie.
Things were going to change for them. Whoever Mare Do Well was, the moment Rainbow Dash laid eyes upon her face without the mask, things were going to break. Whatever friendship they had would become fractured.
But even if they cracked after all, there was always the slightest possibility that they would eventually be able to put themselves back together again. That was what she needed to believe. After all, she'd once been in love with Fluttershy, and the rejection had shattered her heart into a thousand million different pieces, and yet, here she was. She was still alive.
You couldn't fit this well with somepony if there wasn't some way for you to be whole together. You couldn't kiss somepony like this and never find a way to be with them without your heart breaking as your whole world turned upside down.
Countless soft, hesitant kisses followed that initial passion; fleeting and uncertain brushes of their lips, of their mouths against their skin, every kiss full of a tenderness that left Rainbow Dash needing more as her fur prickled.
At last, Rainbow Dash managed to say, voice hoarse from the way her throat tightened, "I guess you won."
Even now, her eyes were closed. She didn't want to see yet. She wasn't ready.
She felt Mare Do Well shift beneath her, sighing as the mare pressed her face into the crook of Rainbow Dash's neck. There was so much affection in such a simple gesture; it was overwhelming, causing her eyes to sting with the threat of even more tears. Since when did she ever cry this much?
"I called the game off, remember?" Mare Do Well answered, voice little more than a mumble.
Rainbow Dash's eyes were beginning to water behind the closed lids, and she realized that the stinging wasn't because she was on the verge of crying; it was because she couldn't hold her eyes shut much longer.
"I'm gonna have to look sometime."
"It would've been so much easier if I could've just been the bad guy for real," the mare said weakly. "Then I wouldn't have felt so incredibly guilty about all of this."
"If you were a bad guy for real, what would you have done?"
"I don't even know. Maybe... maybe I would've just taken you away somewhere, somewhere where I could've kept you to myself and not have had to worry about what would happen to us afterwards. But I couldn't exactly do that, could I? Not without getting arrested or something."
"Only if they found you."
A moment passed.
There was only silence, the sound of the two of them breathing and the hushed whisper of snow falling.
"We'll be okay," Rainbow Dash said, her voice firmer this time. "I promise. No matter what happens. I'm not going to give up on you."
And without waiting for a reply, she enfolded the mare in one final embrace before quietly lowering her to the ground.
"Are you ready?" she asked.
"No," Mare Do Well answered, still breathless and panting.
A smile twitched at the corners of her mouth, and Rainbow Dash ducked her head in, so that her mouth was moving against the shape of Mare Do Well's ear.
"Too bad," she whispered. She could feel the mare shiver beneath her.
It was time. She took one final deep breath.
Mare Do Well was perfectly still, as if preparing herself for what was coming. For whatever Rainbow did next.
And Rainbow Dash opened her eyes.
Under her... before her... there lay a pony clothed in shades of midnight, a cape fanned out beneath her. Atop her head there was perched a matching wide-brimmed hat.
But now, there was no mask to protect her face. No facade to hide behind.
There was only her.
Big blue eyes. A mouth, seemingly unsure about whether or not it was meant to smile. And a mane, bright and beautifully pink, pooling around her like a waterfall, long and straight as glass.
Rainbow Dash's jaw dropped. Her eyes were wide, her voice disappearing somewhere on its way to her mouth. Utterly lost for words.
"No," was all Rainbow could think to say, and a flicker of pain flashed in those eyes, those big and beautiful eyes. The exact same color as the sky that Rainbow Dash loved so much. "No. No. That doesn't make sense."
And still she had nothing to say for herself, only watching as Rainbow Dash shook her head, wings fluttering anxiously.
"That doesn't make sense," Rainbow Dash repeated. Her hooves had found their way to the mare's shoulders, gripping her as tightly as she could without even meaning to. The mare winced, then gave Rainbow a weak smile.
"Surprised?" Pinkie Pie whispered.