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The first thing Rainbow Dash saw upon reappearing in the palace was a pair of green-blue eyes flashing in anger, moments before she felt the sting of a hoof across her face.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Fluttershy squeaked. "I didn't mean to. But... but you do not run away!" she continued with a stomp of her hoof, her voice firm with a newfound resolve. "How dare you make us all worry about you like that? And on Hearth's Warming Eve, too! Do you have any idea how scared we all were?"
At first, Rainbow Dash was too surprised to respond, able only to stare with wide eyes as she lifted a hoof to touch her stinging cheek, but then Fluttershy moved in for a hug, whimpering softly.
"Where were you guys?" Applejack asked, coming up from behind the pegasus. Rainbow Dash had frozen completely, and at the sound of the farmer's voice, Fluttershy broke away. Her eyes asked the same question.
They were still dressed in their party finery. Fluttershy and Rarity were, at least; now that Rainbow Dash stopped to notice, Applejack had apparently taken off her dress at some point, although her hair was still arranged in an elaborate mess of curls.
Twilight hadn't asked any uncomfortable questions, thankfully, but it was also strangely out of character for her, causing Rainbow Dash to wonder just how much the unicorn had heard of her and Pinkie's conversation. When you find two of your best friends kissing in an empty alley on Hearth's Warming Eve, with one of them dressed as a superhero, especially after you'd just told one of them off for kissing the other one while drunk, you'd be bound to have questions. But if Twilight had heard what they'd been saying, maybe she'd put two and two together and drawn her own conclusions. After all, she was pretty smart.
When the initial shock at discovering Rainbow and Pinkie together had apparently worn off, instead of demanding an explanation, Twilight had only said, "Fluttershy went to check up on you and saw you were missing, so I said I'd look for you. I was worried you were upset about what I'd said." Her eyes drifted over to Pinkie, who was sitting impossibly still, a nervous smile plastered on her face as her eyes flickered between Rainbow and Twilight.
"Oh," Rainbow Dash had answered in a halting voice. "Um, okay. Um. Well..."
"Maybe we should just go back. You do look kind of tired," Twilight had graciously offered, interrupting Rainbow Dash's stammering, and still Pinkie was frozen, not offering even one of her trademark inane comments to smooth things over the way she usually did. All it took was a relieved nod from Dash, agreeing with her suggestion, for Twilight to close her eyes and allow the glow emanating from her horn to envelop them, and then they were back in Rainbow's room in the palace, where the rest of their friends had been waiting.
Pinkie was standing somewhere behind her, as if trying to use Rainbow Dash's body as a shield from the curious eyes of their friends. When Dash glanced behind her, she saw that the pink pony was no longer standing rigidly still, but was instead now trembling. She still looked so small, but now that Rainbow Dash knew the costume was Applejack's, that made more sense. Applejack had a thicker build than Pinkie, after all, so naturally her costume had been bigger. No wonder it had seemed too large for Pinkie – it was.
Pinkie Pie's eyes were fearful and uncertain, still darting between her friends. She looked like an animal that was used to abuse and knew what was coming, but couldn't say for sure when. They stopped on Rainbow Dash's face, though, and maybe it was Dash's imagination, but some of the tension, coiled so tightly beneath the calm of the smiling surface, seemed to loosen slightly once they did.
"RD?" Applejack asked. "I said, where'd you two run off to?"
"Nowhere special," Rainbow answered, the lie coming easily as she turned back to face the others. "We just went for a walk. Had some stuff to talk about."
"Um, why... why was Pinkie...?" Fluttershy began, but Rainbow Dash quickly cut her off.
"It was a prank – a totally awesome one, too. Boy, did she get me; I totally flipped, but it was pretty funny."
It was obviously a lie, and she could see by the look Applejack gave her that it was a horribly transparent one, as well. They were going to have to explain everything sometime, but... now was not the time. Tonight, she and Pinkie still had too much to figure out for themselves. Neither of them would be ready to share it with the others, friends or no.
When Rainbow Dash once again swiveled her neck to glance back at Pinkie, the other mare was gone. She must have quietly slipped away while Rainbow Dash had been trying to cover for the two of them. Even if she'd somehow managed to explain away every other aspect of her identity as Mare Do Well, the one thing Dash would never understand was how Pinkie had been able to appear and disappear so suddenly and completely at will, but maybe there were just some things that ponies were simply not meant to know.
However Pinkie had done it, though, didn't matter. What mattered was that Rainbow Dash needed to see Pinkie. There was still so much they needed to talk about, needed to share. So without a word of explanation, the moment Rainbow Dash noticed that the earth pony was missing, she shot out of the room like a dart.
Luckily, all of their bedrooms at the palace were in the same wing, so Dash didn't have to go very far to catch up with Pinkie Pie. The pink pony was only in her own room, just across the hall, so at least she wasn't making some kind of desperate bid for escape, the way Rainbow Dash had earlier that evening.
Pinkie was already out of costume. The Mare Do Well suit had been left in a careless heap on the floor, abandoned and forgotten, still damp from melted snow. Pinkie herself was huddled in the corner, gazing at the costume with a strangely distant gaze, but the sound of Rainbow Dash's hooves landing on the carpeted floor seemed to jar her out of her stupor, jolting her back into reality.
Her hair was still straight. Her eyes were almost haunted, but when they saw Rainbow Dash, the haunted look changed to one of pure alarm. Fear. It was like Pinkie was shrinking into herself, trying to curl up into nothingness.
"Pinkie?" Dash ventured, trying to keep her voice as gentle as she could. Pinkie looked so fragile right then; Rainbow Dash didn't want to be the reason she hurt anymore than she already did.
No matter what Pinkie had done, she was still the pony who'd acted as Dash's pranking buddy, who'd brought her surprise cupcakes and held parties for her just to cheer her up whenever Rainbow was feeling down. She was still the pony that Rainbow Dash had intentionally kissed, not once, but twice, now; the pony she almost thought she wanted to kiss again.
"Why'd you lie to them?" Pinkie asked in a low voice.
Her hooves were clutching either side of her head and she looked like a madmare, for all the reason her voice carried, wild-eyed and desperate. But that wasn't the first time Rainbow Dash had seen her this way.
"Because this is about us right now, duh. We can talk to them when we're ready. Friends don't have to share everything, you know," Dash answered calmly, her voice masking how unnerved she truly was. She'd seen Pinkie like this before; all she had to do was stay in control.
"But... but it's too late. They saw me, they know," Pinkie whispered. Her voice sounded hoarse and frail, like it had travelled a long, long distance to reach Rainbow Dash's ears. "They saw. They saw me as crazy Pinkamena Pinkie instead of crazy normal Pinkie. They're, they're all going to hate me now! Y-you won't want to be my friend anymore, and, and..."
"I can't stop!" Pinkie cried. Her face was twisting as if in pain. "They know! They saw me be totally crazy, and now they won't want to be my friends anymore, and, and neither will you, and everything's ruined now..."
It was amazing, really. How Pinkie was able to talk so much and so quickly, even in the midst of some kind of panic attack. At least it provided Rainbow Dash an opportunity to draw closer without the pink pony flinching away.
Settling down beside her, Rainbow Dash said, "You don't know that."
"You don't know that they'll hate you. Maybe you're wrong."
A hollow, bitter laugh. A defeated sound.
"Believe me, I know," Pinkie answered coldly. "That's how it always is. When I was a filly, nopony wanted me because I was useless; when I first decided to be happy, they thought I was annoying. Then they thought I must be insane because I was always flipping around my moods. When I left home and came to Ponyville, I wanted to make friends for once, so I compromised. If everypony thought I was crazy in a funny way, that was okay; at least they wouldn't leave me. But this... this is bad, this is really bad. Now they'll all think I'm crazy in a c-crazy way, crazy for real, and now they'll all be scared and stay away because that's what happens."
Pinkie was sniffing. Her voice wavered, and still, she looked like she was in pain.
Wordlessly, Rainbow Dash shuffled a little closer. She'd seated herself by Pinkie, leaving a few inches of space between them, but now, she drew close enough to touch, silently offering what little comfort she could as their shoulders brushed against one another.
"Pinkie, I seriously need to ask, before I say anything else," the pegasus said after a moment of shared silence, a silence only occasionally punctuated by Pinkie's sniffles. "What... what was all this, exactly? I mean... you said it was like you couldn't control yourself as Mare Do Well, and you're calling yourself Pinkie and Pinkamena, so... well, is this like multiple personalities, or something?"
And Pinkie sighed, a long and shuddering sigh.
"Not exactly," she mumbled. "I don't know. I mean, it's not like I actually lose time or anything. It's just... it's more like my mood changes. When I'm being Pinkie, I want to be fun and silly and happy, but when I'm being Pinkamena, I want to be taken seriously and I'm tired of being goofy. And then when I acted like Mare Do Well, I... I wanted you and I tried so, so hard to be cool and interesting for you. But then my mood would change again, and suddenly I'd want something else and I'd feel ashamed and embarrassed."
Rainbow Dash sighed as well, rubbing her suddenly-aching forehead with a hoof.
Not instability, then. Not exactly. At least, nothing scary like schizophrenia. More like fragility. Instead of multiple personalities, Pinkie was composed of the facets of one personality: an identity fragmented and scattered beyond belief.
"I'm so used to being a new pony with everypony I meet," Pinkie whispered. "I don't know what I actually am anymore."
"...I don't get it."
"With you, I want to be fun. With Mr. and Mrs. Cake, I want to be responsible. With almost everypony in town I want to show them a happy, silly Pinkie that they'll like, but with my family back home, I want them to see me as the serious pony they knew me as while I was growing up, because that's what they appreciate. And after a while, I got so used to always switching that I began to forget how I started out. I don't know who the real Pinkie Pie is anymore. I want to be happy, and sometimes I am, but I don't know if it's real or not."
This, more than anything else Pinkie had said so far, was something Rainbow Dash could understand. As a filly, she'd been self-conscious and fearful, but had trained herself to act bold and daring. Now, she couldn't imagine herself being any other way, not even if she wanted to be different. She had no romantic experience at all, aside from the innocent crushes of her foalhood and that mess with Gilda, but she'd painted herself as some kind of heartbreaker to accompany her cocky image. Now, everypony believed that's who she was, and would likely completely flip out if she one day woke up and reverted back to her old self.
"I guess I do get it, then," was all Rainbow Dash said, unusually quietly.
Pinkie gave her a curious glance, as if trying to prompt her to continue. Instead, Rainbow Dash went on to say, "But if you've never shown anypony what you can really be like, how do you know they'll leave you?"
Pinkie gave no answer. She still stared at Dash, looking puzzled, her head cocked. Her pink mane hung like a curtain between them, shrouding her face from Rainbow Dash until she lifted a hoof and brushed it back over her shoulder, but then it slithered back into place, and she had to push it back once more, irritated.
Pinkie shouldn't look irritated, Rainbow couldn't help but think, before mentally chastising herself. The entire point of this conversation was that Pinkie Pie didn't know who she was anymore, and it certainly wouldn't help for Rainbow Dash to start blatantly telling her who she was and wasn't allowed to be.
"I mean... you really don't know," the pegasus continued, unsure about where she was going, but hoping she would find the words she needed if she just plowed on. "You've never let anypony see you like this, so you can't say for sure how they'd react. You don't know if they'll hate you or think you're crazy for real. How can you know, if you've never trusted them enough to test it out?"
The look of curiosity had been replaced by one of confusion.
"Because..." she began, before her voice faltered. "I... because..."
She looked lost.
"Remember your birthday?" Rainbow Dash continued. She could feel herself picking up steam; her voice became stronger with each word as her conviction grew. "I didn't leave you. Remember? You went completely loco, and I still stuck with you. And here I am, still with you even now. I bet any of our other friends would've done the same, too, because –"
"That's why I like you, you know," a soft voice interrupted. "Because of what happened. You saw me be somepony else and you stayed anyway."
The other mare nodded. A tiny smile was playing on her lips now; a sad one, true, but a smile nonetheless. "I think... I think it might've started even earlier than that. But that was when I knew. I'd been so sure that you girls all hated me and didn't want to be my friends anymore. I completely snapped, but then you came to see me and took me to my surprise party, even though I was being stupid and stubborn about it. It's like you're always there to bring me back when I start to go over the edge."
Pinkie's birthday. The inanimate guests, all puppeteered by Pinkie herself. The first time Rainbow Dash had genuinely been afraid of Pinkie's erratic behavior. At the time, it had felt like a major turning point in their friendship, but Dash had first begun to fear the possibility of Pinkie having a crush on her long before that. Her fears had begun soon after she and Gilda had dissolved their friendship. In retrospect, it might have been her imagination, but Pinkie Pie had seemed to be much clingier than usual in the time before and after that particular incident.
But your mind could play tricks on you. Maybe Dash had just been imagining it, or maybe she'd been in denial over her possibly reciprocating. Maybe Pinkie just hadn't realized how she'd felt, herself. Any of those possibilities were likely, and the truth was, it didn't really matter anymore. What mattered was that Pinkie Pie was giving her one of those too-complicated smiles: still small, still hesitant. No longer fearful, though; instead, it was almost shy.
It only lasted a moment before that timid smile faded, giving way to yet another expression of heartbreaking sadness that a pony like Pinkie never should've had to wear.
"The worst part about all of this is that I'm not even sure how much of it is real," Pinkie confessed, her voice low. "It's not just that I'm not sure who I actually am; it's that I'm not sure who I ever was. I can't even really remember anymore. I have these... these vague memories of being unhappy as a filly, but that was so long ago. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe my memory's mistaken. Maybe I was the happiest filly in the world and I just convinced myself later that I'd been troubled. I honestly don't even know."
"Well..." Rainbow Dash answered slowly. How did she always get stuck in these conversations? She didn't know anything about psychology. Anypony but her probably would've known exactly what to say right then, but she had no clue. "I guess... you just start again. From scratch. But this time, you don't pretend. You just do and say exactly what you feel. And you know what? I guarantee you that everypony'll still like you, even if you're not completely happy all the time. Just look at Rarity. She's always having these total meltdowns, but we all put up with it. Right?"
Another hint of a smile, and then, another sigh.
"How did this happen?" Pinkie asked, almost mournfully. "You're doing it again... pulling me back from the edge. I wanted to be the one to take care of you for once."
"Technically, you did," Rainbow Dash mumbled grudgingly. Even if Mare Do Well had been Pinkie all along, that didn't do much to diminish how embarrassing it had been to need rescuing, not once, but twice. The only thing that might've made it worse was if Mare Do Well had been revealed to be Fluttershy or somepony. If that had happened, Rainbow likely would've gone into hiding in a cave someplace and never have come out.
"That's not really the same, though. I mean, it was fun, sort of, but... I dunno."
Gradually, she was slipping back into her old way of speaking, losing the formal, dignified air Mare Do Well had always spoken with.
"How was it fun?" asked Rainbow Dash.
And now, the smile was a sly one. "Because it was fun to tease you. You're cute when you're mad."
"I am not."
Her heated response was met with a giggle. "There," Pinkie said, prodding one of Rainbow Dash's cheeks almost triumphantly. "Your cheeks puff out and you make your face all squishy."
Rainbow's face might've stayed that way out of pure annoyance if Pinkie hadn't genuinely been grinning right then. As it was, Dash couldn't bring herself to stay angry, and instead found herself grinning as well, huge and happily, like an idiot.
I really like you, she wanted to say.
The words were on the tip of her tongue. Probably, that was a given, especially after the way Rainbow Dash had kissed Pinkie Pie earlier, even after Pinkie's confession, but she still wanted to say it. And yet, she couldn't, her throat closing up at the mere thought of it.
Her wings were beating, slowly and steadily, restless from pent-up energy she was beginning to feel.
Whatever had happened, Pinkie was still Pinkie. Even though Rainbow Dash had been almost unspeakably angry with her – and justifiably so, she believed – it hadn't changed the way she felt when her eyes fell on the pink pony: a fondness, which she'd once mistaken for some sense of deep, abiding friendship, which only grew more and more with each day that passed. A fondness that made her want to – no, need to reach out and touch her, just to see if Pinkie was still there, beside her. Still real.
If Rainbow Dash had fallen in love with both Mare Do Well and Pinkie Pie, surely that meant something. And if they were both just alternating personas of the same pony, then, well...
Before Rainbow Dash could stop and rethink what she wanted to do next, she did it. After all, Rainbow Dash never thought ahead. She was a pegasus of action.
It shouldn't have felt so huge. In theory, at least, the effect should've been somewhat diminished by now. After all, she'd kissed Mare Do Well Celestia knows how many times in the alley, and then she'd kissed Pinkie as herself surprisingly often, too. Even so, when their lips now met, yet again, it felt like they were kissing for the very first time.
A glow of warmth, spreading through Rainbow Dash's body, wings spreading in excitement; a blush touching her cheeks; the shape of a smile against her own. But this time, there was no desperation, no reason to stop or interruptions of any kind. They were alone and they were together and both of them wanted the same thing; two broken and splintered ponies, finding wholeness in one another. If only for a little while.
One night wasn't enough to fix everything, just like Rainbow Dash had warned, but still they stayed together in that quiet room, just the two of them. And then, the night eventually gave way to the morning, and from it emerged two ponies, changed in almost imperceptible ways – both of them exhausted and scarred, but looking considerably happier than they had before.
At breakfast, Twilight had given them a knowing look when they entered together, but Dash couldn't be bothered to get annoyed, because just as she and Pinkie had sat down, she'd felt Pinkie's tail switch, brushing against her and sending shivers of pleasure throughout her entire body.
Since the entire conflict from the evening before had stemmed from Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash ostensibly arguing, their coming to breakfast together seemed to confirm that there was nothing to worry about, and none of the others said a thing about it. Again, this was suspicious, but Dash suspected that Twilight had heard their conversation and had warned the others just to leave them be. For a unicorn who'd first arrived in Ponyville with no social skills at all having been assigned the task of learning about friendship by her mentor, she could be surprisingly insightful at times.
Hearth's Warming Day itself was a quiet, solemn affair at the palace, unlike the joyful celebrations everywhere else in Equestria. At least, until that night. Although the morning was somber enough and full of ceremony and ritual, by nightfall, things were in full swing; there were food and gifts and carols, like any other Hearth's Warming celebration. And then, that night, as well, Rainbow Dash found her way to Pinkie's room, and the second night began – a night of speaking in hushed whispers, of silent tears, then quiet smiles and soft kisses before falling asleep together.
So, no, one night wasn't enough to fully repair the damage that had been done. But there was no time limit, after all – no rule saying they only had one night. They were friends and lived in the same village, seeing each other nearly every day. They had as many nights as they wanted to find their way. If it took a thousand, so be it.
Applejack was the only one to mention anything about that night at all. Once the six of them had at last returned to Ponyville, the farmer had approached Rainbow Dash, looking guilty, before saying, "I'm awful sorry, Rainbow Dash."
And Dash, like the idiot she was, said, "Sorry about what?"
Applejack winced, pawing at the ground with a hoof – a nervous habit she must have picked up from Fluttershy. "About... about the party. I shouldn't've given you anythin' to drink. I shoulda known better. I'm sorry, though, and... and if it makes you feel any better, I did somethin' kinda dumb that night, too."
But before Rainbow Dash could ask her what she meant, Applejack scurried away, looking for all the world like she was too embarrassed to be honest for once.
"What was that about?" she asked Pinkie.
"Probably Rarity," came Pinkie's cryptic reply, complete with a suggestive waggle of her eyebrows before sticking her tongue out at Dash.
Rainbow Dash had been dumbfounded by this answer, almost wanting to laugh, but once you knew to look for something, it was almost impossible not see it. Suddenly, whenever Applejack and Rarity were together, all Rainbow could see was the gallant way Applejack would hold doors open for the unicorn, or how Rarity always seemed to be looking for excuses to style her mane. Although they argued, that didn't keep them from stealing glances at once another, turning bright red if they ever happened to look at the same time.
Really? the pegasus wanted to ask them, grabbing the two by the shoulders and pulling them into a huddle. Are you two serious?
But who was she to question it? Besides, it wasn't like either of them even seemed to notice it themselves. For once, Rainbow Dash was on the other side of that knowing smile that friends who were all in on the same secret tended to wear, even though it drove Applejack nuts and caused Rarity to haughtily feign indifference.
There were nights when all Rainbow Dash wanted to do was ask questions. Questions that hadn't occurred to her before, or clarification that she needed to fully understand something, and Pinkie would answer them all, giving whatever explanations the pegasus seemed to require, even though it obviously caused her pain.
Other nights, Rainbow Dash would talk about herself, instead, and Pinkie would listen, so, so patiently. To Dash's many stories about growing up – about flight school, about Fluttershy and Gilda – never offering even a single judgmental word of reproach, even as Dash confessed to her many embarrassing mistakes over the years.
And still on other nights, Pinkie would talk, instead. Not about Mare Do Well, but about her memories of her foalhood. She always had so much to say – much, much more than Rainbow Dash ever did, which meant occasionally, Dash would have to interrupt or cut her off with a kiss just to get a word in edgewise. But Pinkie never complained. Rainbow Dash was too restless to sit and listen as patiently as Pinkie did, but that didn't seem to bother the pink pony at all. She seemed happy just to be in Rainbow's company or to return the kiss with enthusiasm.
They made no grand announcement of the change that had come over the two of them, but the others seemed to pick up on it, anyway. It wasn't as if Rainbow or Pinkie actually tried to hide it – they just didn't go out of their way to advertise it. Maybe Twilight had said something, or maybe the others had been expecting something like this to happen eventually.
At first, the relationship they struggled to establish was wavering and uncertain, built on little more than these shared nights and tiny gestures of affection. It didn't take much to shake it, as they were already on the brink.
When Rainbow Dash finally summoned the courage to say those four little words – I really like you – Pinkie Pie reacted by bursting into tears before throwing herself at the pegasus in a fierce hug. Something similar happened the first time Rainbow Dash was given the idea to bring Pinkie flowers, as well. Rarity had been the one to suggest it, ever the hopeless romantic; again, Pinkie had burst into tears upon seeing them. That time, though, she'd apologized for her outburst by later sending Rainbow Dash a bouquet of her own. Red carnations.
The sight of them alone induced a momentary flutter of panic in Dash's stomach, but the note accompanying them consisted only of a crudely drawn pegasus wearing a big smile. Remember to smile, it said.
Sometimes they would be alone together, on one of the nights where there was no talking at all, and Rainbow Dash would find herself confronted with something darker than the Pinkie Pie she was slowly getting to know. On those nights, Pinkie's whispers and her laughter would take on a seductive tone, and the way her hooves travelled over Rainbow's body, caressing her wings, were eerily reminiscent of those nights in the alley. Before Dash even knew what she was doing, she'd shoved Pinkie away – and that was all it took for Pinkie's mood to change yet again, voice breaking as she begged for forgiveness.
The sixth or seventh time this happened, Rainbow Dash just seized Pinkie's hoof and firmly pulled it back into place against her wing, an action that seemed to both shock and delight Pinkie, prompting her to pull the pegasus into another eager kiss.
And so the nights passed.
By day, things were much the same as usual; the change had come so quietly as to be practically unnoticeable. There were days, though, where Pinkie Pie wouldn't smile quite as widely as she used to. Days where she wouldn't even smile at all. Days where she wouldn't go off on quite as many tangents, or where her hair just wouldn't curl the way it usually did. At first, Pinkie would hide on these days, refusing to leave her room or the company of Gummy, but at last, Rainbow Dash managed to entice her outside, and they continued from there. Step by step.
Winter came to an end, and true to her word, Rainbow Dash worked twice as hard at Winter Wrap-Up, bringing in spring with a previously unheard-of gusto. From the skies, she watched as Pinkie scored the ice, twisting and leaping as gracefully as a pegasus dancing amongst the clouds.
The chill of winter faded, melting into the delirious golden warmth of summer.
A broken mirror would always show cracks. Even if every piece were to be glued back into place, the spider-web thin fractures would continue to carve elaborate patterns across the surface and the mirror would never truly be repaired – but it would still reflect. That was what Rainbow and Pinkie were like, now. Every day that passed saw yet another piece be put back into place, slowly putting them back together again.
For a time, it was like they both underwent a shared period of mourning, but Mare Do Well had never been real, Dash had to remind herself again and again.
It hurt. But you couldn't lose somepony who had never existed, and there came a day at last when Rainbow Dash was able to see Pinkie and smile at her without the smile being touched by some kind of imperceptible sadness.
But this is fun, isn't it? Mare Do Well had asked. The games we play. I chase you, you chase me. Like an elaborate game of hide and seek; neither of us reaching each other, both of us circling one another...
It had seemed more like a game of tug-o-war at times. After all, both of them had been pulling as hard as they could without giving an inch themselves. And yet, it had been a kind of hide and seek in the end – the biggest difference being that Pinkie had wanted to be found.
Here I am. This is what I look like.
A realization of this magnitude may have been something to write a letter to the princess about on any other occasion. If only Rainbow Dash had known what to say.
When she'd mentioned it to Pinkie on one of the good days – a day when both Pinkie and Dash were able to laugh and smile without that edge to it – Pinkie had suggested the lesson, "don't say your pet alligator ate your costume when he doesn't even have teeth" and Rainbow Dash had rolled her eyes.
Sometimes in life, you had experiences that were much too complicated to summarize in a mere few words, but if Rainbow Dash were to have tried, maybe she would've said something about falling. About how fearing the fall didn't stop it from happening. About how all you could do was try and ensure a soft landing. About how being afraid didn't always mean there was a genuine cause for fear, and that sometimes you could come out all right, after all.
She wasn't a poet, though, and didn't have any special way with words. So Dash settled for letting the subject go, and instead basking in the warmth of one of Pinkie Pie's true smiles.
The costume was returned to Applejack's closet without a word.
And at last there was a day when Rainbow Dash was finally able to say it – I love you – only for Pinkie Pie to begin laughing and crying at the same time.
Even if they didn't know where they were going or what would come of it, they still continued onwards, going ever forwards. Their days and nights revolved around one another, and never before had Rainbow Dash felt quite at peace with herself in the same way she felt around Pinkie.
I love you too, Dashie.
Every kiss tasted as sweet as that first time. Every night felt as monumental. Every day felt as glorious and beautiful. If anything, life, something that had once seemed so hard, was mending right alongside them.
"I love you," Rainbow Dash had said again, but it wasn't enough. Pinkie needed to hear her, needed to know that she really and truly meant it. "I love you, Pinkie, I love you so –"
And she was cut off with a kiss.
The promises they made began to overshadow the lies they'd told, and the scars began to heal, until eventually they were barely noticeable anymore.
With the end of each day came the refitting of another piece, and whether there'd truly been a winner or a loser to their little game went unmentioned.
They were beyond that.
Those who watched them from the outside might have laughed. The two biggest pranksters in Ponyville, tamed by the wonders of first love, made docile by the puppyish devotion that now bound them to each other. But if any of them had known what had transpired during the months previous, maybe they wouldn't have laughed. You could never really know, though. You could never say for sure what was happening in somepony else's private life, or what they were thinking in their most secret thoughts.
Neither of them cared, though. It was enough that they could fall asleep wrapped in one another, and that they could take walks with their tails twisted together – a show of affection so common between young couples. It was enough that Pinkie would surprise Rainbow Dash all throughout the day with random sugary treats, and that Rainbow Dash began to frequent Sugarcube Corner more and more, under the disapproving gaze of Mr. Cake. It was enough that Rainbow Dash began to entice Pinkie on her back, so that she could take her flying, swearing up and down all the while that she would never let the pink pony fall.
It was enough that they could watch the sun rise, and Rainbow Dash could turn to see Pinkie smiling and know that she meant it.
It was enough. Because it meant that – no matter what else happened – right then and there, in that moment in time, they were happy.
It meant that everything was going to be fine. It meant that everything would be all right. There wasn't much more you could ask for, really. Those snapshots of happiness had to be enough.
And when Rainbow Dash lifted her head to see Pinkie beside her, whether it was a good day or not and the expression gracing her face was a smile or a frown, it felt like more than she deserved.
The sentiment never rang truer for her than those times when Rainbow would catch a glimpse of Pinkie and the smile would falter, flickering for just a moment, and she would see the exact same wonder in those big and beautiful blue eyes of hers – wondering how this had happened. How this had come together. How it hadn't all collapsed already.
Those were the moments when she knew, with a conviction stronger than anything she had ever felt before.
No more hiding. No more pretending. There was only the two of them, and together, as broken as they were, they could make the whole they'd both so desperately sought out.
And they were going to be okay.