“This is Captain Spitfire, get your lazy ass out of bed double time, recruit! You think you’ll ever be a Wonderbolt if you keep on–”
Rainbow’s arm lashed out at the snooze button, and the tiny electronic voice cut off. Groggily she reminded herself to never let her friends find out that she still had a novelty Wonderbolts alarm clock at her age, just as she did most mornings. Rarity and Sunset would have thought it tacky, Twilight wouldn’t have got it at all (because it was fun), and worst of all, Pinkie and Fluttershy would have thought it cute. Rainbow Dash did not do cute.
She didn’t want to go without the alarm clock, though – just like all the other Wonderbolts merchandise in her room, it was awesome. At least Applejack would have understood that, she thought, AJ would say that if something made you happy, denying it or running from it would just be lying to yourself, and that was plain stupid.
That’s weird, something feels different. Why do I feel happier than usual today?
There was also the angle that the commanding voice of the legendary Spitfire was the one thing Rainbow could guarantee to wake her up on time each morning. She had a knack for being able to get to sleep anyplace, anytime, but waking up again could be much harder, and when you were captain of every sports team CHS had, you kinda had to be punctual for training sessions first thing, even if you weren’t naturally a morning person.
But today’s only a normal school day, so why am I tingly with anticipation?
She pushed herself upright and rubbed the sleep from her eyes, before swinging her legs to the side, ignoring the cool air around her bare feet. She dragged herself out of bed and stretched, arching her back with her arms above her head, and then set about rummaging around in her drawer for clean underwear.
She still felt the unidentified shivers of excitement running through her as she grabbed her clothes from where she’d dumped them on the floor the night before, yawning freely and not even bothering to cover her mouth with her hand.
Maybe it’s just ‘cause I got less sleep than normal, and I’m a bit spaced out?
But that didn’t fit with what usually happened when she was tired, usually she felt dead on her feet. This was more like the feeling she’d have waking up on match day: there was something out there just waiting for her to win it, and the only thing holding her back was the delay until it was time to start.
Why am I so tired today, anyway? I don’t remember having any weird dreams. What was it I was doing that made me come to bed late?
But that couldn’t have been it either, as she remembered lying in bed the night before, with the digital clock on Spitfire’s plinth showing her usual bed time in lights. But then she also recalled the same clock displaying a much later time, and she didn’t think she’d been to sleep between the two clock checks, so she must have been lying awake thinking about something.
Finally tugging the last piece of clothing on, Rainbow sat back down on the edge of her bed and pulled on her shoes, then gave herself a quick once-over in the mirror before heading downstairs, checking she hadn’t put anything on back to front in her mostly-still-asleep stupor, or forgotten it entirely, a mistake she’d once learned the hard way.
So what was I lying there thinking about for hours?
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, she stepped through the doorway into the kitchen, lifting a hand to shield her eyes from the early sunlight streaming through the wide windows. Between the sun and the under-floor heating, the kitchen always held a warmth early in the morning which was just what she needed after having to leave her bed.
Crossing the floor to the food cupboard, she exchanged the usual wordless wave with her dad at the breakfast bar, as neither of them were normally awake enough to speak. She grabbed her regular cereal from the cupboard, a bowl from another, a spoon from the cutlery drawer, and milk from the fridge, carrying them all over to the bar beside her dad. She felt something in the corner of her mind trying to get her attention as she poured the cereal and the milk, and only remembered that she’d been pondering what had kept her up the night before as she dug into her breakfast.
It wasn’t too hot or cold, and I don’t feel any muscles aching, so I doubt I was too uncomfortable to get to sleep. ‘Cause with me that takes a lot.
So she must’ve been thinking about something, and that was what had kept her up. She tried to remember if there were any homework assignments due in that day which she inevitably hadn’t done, but couldn’t think of any. And anyway, while they were often the cause of a worried breakfast, she didn’t really care about schoolwork enough for it to keep her up at night. And recently she’d been paying even less attention, being so distracted since Adagio had come back and–
That was it! Adagio!
Rainbow, halfway through her cereal, nearly dropped her spoon in surprise. But she remembered clearly now – that was why she was excited: today was the day she’d get the upper hand.
Since the three sirens had returned to school the previous month, she’d been clashing with their leader once or twice a day. The sirens hadn’t really been unfriendly to anyone; they couldn’t really afford to be as haughty as they had been before, not now they had no magic backing them up, but Adagio had really got under Rainbow’s skin.
But today I’m gonna show her!
Finishing her last spoonful of cereal and slurping down the rest of the milk, Rainbow hopped down from the stool, then grabbed the used breakfast stuff and made her way over to the sink.
She and Adagio always seemed to be crossing paths in the hallways, and of course they shared one class together, and each time the two of them interacted, there’d be tension, and an exchange of words. And every time Rainbow thought she was winning their banter, she’d end up worse off. Adagio always had some witty remark that punctured whatever line Rainbow threw, and it was always perfectly pitched to make it clear she’d won the exchange, but not so horrible as to win Rainbow any sympathy.
I won’t be winning sympathy this time, I’ll be winning period.
She rinsed her bowl and spoon under the tap and dumped them in the sink, then grabbed a glass from the top cupboard and a carton of orange juice from the fridge, and returned the milk bottle while she was at it.
Her friends had advised her to ignore whatever Adagio prompted, or at least not get worked up over it. Rainbow had protested, but they’d suggested that maybe the sirens were just having trouble adjusting to their new place in the world, and she was proud to say that she’d thought about that and decided that her friends were probably right, and if Adagio was just frustrated then Rainbow should be the bigger person and let it drop.
Not this time. She’ll wish I’d let it drop!
Rainbow drained her orange juice all in one, pulling a face as the flavour mixed with that of milk in her mouth. She ran the glass under the tap and set it in the sink alongside her bowl, then walked across the kitchen again, kissing her dad goodbye and catching a strong whiff of his morning coffee in the process, before finally grabbing her school bag and heading out the back door.
She remembered how ignoring the problem had worked alright for a few minutes, until she’d had the bright idea to try approaching Adagio and offering to help, and that had not gone well. On paper, nothing had been wrong, their conversation had been normal and reasonable, but Rainbow couldn’t help hearing another layer of meaning in everything Adagio had said. Insults or putdowns could be overlooked, but every time they spoke, Adagio implied that Rainbow was a lesbian, and for some reason she found that very difficult to ignore.
I’ll get her back at last today, though. It’s long overdue.
Rainbow started her jog down the sidewalk to the bus stop, the usual slamming of the books in her backpack against her back, her body soon warming up to fight back against the chill Fall air around her legs.
“I’ve noticed you in the corridors, and–”
“Thank you, I’m flattered to have caught your eye.”
“I just mean I’ve seen the looks you get from some of the other students.”
“Ah. Well I’m sure the way you look at me is completely different.”
The words of that conversation echoed in her head as she ran, each sentence that had preceded her big mistake. It had seemed such a good idea at the time, asking outright if Adagio was flirting with her, blowing the cover off the whole thing. Adagio would have confirmed that she was not, and then they could have talked openly without Rainbow being uncertain of what she was hearing, suggesting or agreeing to through the layers of double meanings. That was not what had happened, and asking didn’t seem like it had been such a wise move, now. She hadn’t realised how much she’d been shielded by Adagio’s words needing to have an innocent alternative explanation, or what might be freely said without it. Maybe if Rainbow hadn’t sounded quite so suspicious when she’d asked...?
“Rainbow Dash, I can’t say human biology is my strong suit, but I’m fairly sure that if I were flirting with you, you’d be pregnant by now.”
“Erm, t-that’s not really how it works. You’re a girl, so you couldn’t...”
“Ah, I hadn’t realised you were an expert on siren reproductive systems.”
“But I thought you were human now, so y-you’ve got a... haven’t you?”
“Are you asking to look up my skirt?”
“No! I mean, I guess now you say it I’m kind of curious, but...”
“That’s ok, Rainbow, lots of young people get curious. Most wait until they’re in college to try anything, but good for you, getting a headstart.”
Rainbow slowed down as she approached the bus stop, her face burning from the memory despite the biting wind. Nodding to a couple of the other CHS kids there, she folded her arms across her chest to keep warm, but knew she at least wouldn’t have to wait long for the bus, having perfected her regular morning timings to the minute.
Her interactions with Adagio since then, she recalled, had continued along those lines. They’d cross paths, Adagio would give her a you-know-you-want-me look, and Rainbow wouldn’t be able to stand the implication or the smugness behind it. So she’d say something, then there’d be a few words back and forth, and Adagio would twist things to imply Rainbow was coming onto her. That was how it usually went.
“Not sure about your outfit today, Adagio.”
“Aww, is that why you’re picturing me without it?”
“N-No, of course not!”
“Oh right. So you just enjoy the view, then?”
The bus pulled up, and she clambered aboard and dropped into an empty seat, slinging her school bag on the floor in front of her. She’d spent enough journeys in the last month looking out of the window, idly watching the Canterlot suburbs go by and wishing she’d thought of some better response to Adagio’s latest jibe.
Not today, though. Today I know exactly what to say, and she’ll be left speechless and embarrassed.
And so with that weight off her mind, Rainbow smiled as she gazed out of the window, noticing the way the trees had faded from similar shades of green to all different reds, yellows and golds. Between sports, school and socialising, Rainbow rarely had time to think about how things looked, but it wasn’t like she couldn’t appreciate beauty. And when stuck on a school bus with no other options, she quite enjoyed having the time to chill out and drink in the scenery. She knew she couldn’t tell Rarity that, or she’d never be able to escape a ‘dress’ conversation again, but perhaps Fluttershy, who rarely stopped thinking about nature. And so Rainbow sat back and took in the view, and, added to the knowledge that within a few hours she’d be taking Adagio down, the resulting good mood kept her smiling enthusiastically right through until lunchtime.
Fry-up Friday. Best day of the week. Rainbow stood in line in the cafeteria, tray in hand, her nose filled with the amazing smells of bacon, eggs, sausages, beans, hash browns, mushrooms, fried tomatoes and toast. She’d been one of the last students to arrive and join the back of the queue, having come from a class on the far side of the school, but she knew there’d be plenty of everything left by the time she reached the front. She glanced over to her usual table and saw that all her friends except Twilight had already arrived, tucking into plates of (in Applejack’s case, heaped with) delicious-looking fried food.
Weirdly, she’d gone the whole day to that point without seeing Adagio at all, and, looking around the other tables in the cafeteria, there was no sign of her there, either. But nor could she spot the other two sirens, so perhaps they’d all been called into the principal’s office or something. She recalled seeing Sonata in English class earlier, but wondered if Adagio might be at home sick or something. She hoped that wasn’t the case – not out of concern, but because she didn’t want to have to wait until Monday to use her brilliant line and win their war of words.
Should I feel guilty at that? Wishing someone to be well just so that I can beat them? It probably wasn’t particularly kind, and Fluttershy might have given her a disappointed look for it, but Rainbow felt mostly ok with it, like it was deserved under the circumstances. She even thought that Adagio, of all people, would understand.
Eventually she reached the front of the line, and grabbed as many sausages and as much bacon as she was allowed, as well as two fried eggs, three fried tomatoes, a scoop of mushrooms and a couple of hash browns. She almost went without any beans or toast, as she might have wanted to be able to move afterwards, but thought better of it and added them at the last minute.
She grabbed some cutlery and carried her tray over to her table, smiling at her friends, who looked up at her approach. Each was in their usual spot, with Rarity, Applejack and Sunset on one side, and Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie on the other, an empty chair between them that might as well have had Rainbow’s name on it.
“Hey guys, how’s it going?” she asked as she set her tray on the table, and pleasant replies greeted her all round as she sat down. She grinned in return and picked up her knife and fork.
“No Twilight?” she asked, looking back to the queue but not seeing her there.
“She texted me earlier,” Rarity said, sounding less cheerful, “she’s at home with stomach cramps, poor thing.” A wince of sympathy was shared between the six of them, and then Rainbow began digging into her food.
“But you look perky,” Pinkie piped up, “what’s put you in such high spirits?”
“Frah-up Frahday,” Applejack stated without looking up from her own plate, which she was mechanically working her way through, so far about half done, and offered a fist bump in Rainbow’s direction. Rainbow, her mouth stuffed full of egg and bacon, said nothing but returned the fist bump.
“It’s not just that, though,” Fluttershy said in the quiet voice she’d never grown out of, looking in Rainbow’s direction, soon joined in doing so by the other four. “I haven’t seen you this happy in weeks.”
Rainbow paused as she finished her mouthful, deciding how to respond. She then lowered her voice and leaned in towards her friends, beckoning them to do the same.
“You know I’ve been having these run-ins with Adagio, right?”
“Yes,” Rarity said fondly, “it’s quite cute watching the two of you flirting away.” Sunset snickered at that, Pinkie grinned (encouragingly!), and even Fluttershy held up a hand to cover a guilty smile.
“We are not flirting!”
Everyone around the table gave her looks from ranging from ‘are you sure?’ to ‘sure you aren’t.’
“We’re not!” Rainbow protested, no longer keeping her voice quiet, but not meaning for it to rise in pitch as it did. With the conversation volume reset, all six of them resumed their regular sitting positions, no longer leaning in but sitting more upright so they could still eat while chatting.
“Whatever you two’re doin’,” Applejack said, looking up and locking eyes with her, “she’s much better at it than you are.”
Sunset chuckled again, and Rarity pulled an ‘ooooh, ouch’ face, but didn’t disagree. Applejack paused, looking away and frowning, then turned back to Rainbow.
“Sorry, that weren’t too nahce of me to say, was it?” she blushed. “Ah think ah’ve been hangin’ out too much with Sugarcoat.”
“For all we hoped that we might be a good influence on the Shadowbolts when we got to know them,” Sunset sighed, “there’s always been the risk they’ll rub off on us, too.”
They all nodded wisely, Rainbow included, before she shook her head to bring her thoughts back to the main conversation, eating whenever listening, and pausing to speak.
“So how come you guys don’t accuse AJ and Sugarcoat of flirting with each other?”
“Darling,” Rarity chided, “nobody’s accusing anyone of anything.”
“There’s nothing wrong with flirting, you know,” Sunset said gently.
“With girls or guys,” Pinkie added, and again she smiled encouragingly.
“We support you, Dashie,” Fluttershy said softly, “whoever you like.”
Another time Rainbow might have been touched by how much her friends cared, but at that moment?
“I do not like her! Not in that way, and in fact not much at all!”
Still her friends smiled to themselves and each other, like they knew some secret she didn’t.
“Again, how come you think I like her?” she continued, “But Applejack and Sugarcoat – nothing going on there!”
Applejack looked at her for a few moments, most of her plate now empty, and the table fell silent, awaiting the response.
“Well,” AJ said thoughtfully, “we don’t flirt with each other in the corridas...”
“We were not flirting!” Rainbow snapped, her voice rising above normal conversation level, but not quite shouting. Not yet, anyway. Her friends fell about laughing, but this time they at least looked a bit ashamed and guilty for doing so.
“Sorry, ah couldn’t resist,” Applejack forced out between guffaws, red faced.
“Yes, perhaps we shouldn’t tease you, dear,” Rarity said in a similar state, “I do apologise.” After she’d calmed down and her face had resumed more of its usual colour, she added, “But to answer your question: Applejack’s not often known for keeping secrets. And Sugarcoat?”
“I think if there were anything going on, they’d tell us,” Sunset finished, and Applejack nodded simply. Rainbow nodded too, resigned, because they did have a point.
“Ya have to admit,” Applejack said after a pause, in hesitant a voice that said she knew Rainbow wouldn’t be happy about it, “it is quahte funny. The legend’ry Rainbow Dash, so cool about everythin,’ gettin’ all worked up at the thought a’ lahkin’ someone.”
Rainbow ground her teeth. She didn’t find it funny. But that did explain what her friends had been misunderstanding about the situation, and she could grudgingly see why they would be so amused by it. And she accepted that of course she’d be unlikely to find it funny, when it was her they were joking about, but that didn’t mean the joke itself was a bad one. Still, she had to set the record straight, that she wasn’t just being a bad sport.
“It’s not that it’s someone,” she explained, firmly but staying calm, “it’s that it’s her.” Rainbow looked each of them in the eyes in turn, stressing how important that point was. “She’s really been getting to me in the last few weeks, and so you guys saying that I have a crush on her, that’s like if I’d said Rarity had a crush on Sunset, back when none of us were getting on.”
Sunset looked straight to Rarity and pulled an apologetic face, reaching out a hand towards her along the table, in front of Applejack’s now-empty plate. Rather than taking the hand, Rarity hurriedly stood up and rushed over to Sunset’s seat, stooping over and wrapping her arms around Sunset’s shoulders from behind.
“It’s fine, darling, it’s fine,” she said soothingly, and Sunset rubbed Rarity’s arm warmly in response. “It wasn’t then, it is now, and I’d sooner we all forget about it.”
As Rarity loosened her grip and returned to her seat, Sunset watched her go, and though she was smiling, there was a sadness in her eyes. And if it was obvious enough for Rainbow to spot, who wasn’t exactly the best with feelings stuff, then it was a pretty big deal.
“...Ok,” Rainbow blushed, “maybe it’s not that bad.” She remembered how Sunset had tormented them for years rather than weeks, and how affected they’d all been by it. “That might have been a bit of an exaggeration. Sorry,” she finished sheepishly.
Sunset held up and hand and waved her away, after which Rarity said to think nothing of it. Rainbow still felt bad, so figured she ought to try explaining again in a way that didn’t stir up unpleasant old memories.
“It’s just that it’s been really bugging me. Each time it’s over in a few seconds, and I look stupid in front of her and then have all day to think about it and what I should have done differently. And I’m distracted the whole time, I keep going over and over each encounter in my head and getting worked up about it, and... yeah, there’s no way I can phrase this that doesn’t sound like I have a crush on her,” Rainbow sank her face into her hand, despairing, but then snorting with laughter, able to share in the joke at last.
“I don’t, though!” she added, exasperated but still laughing at herself.
The others smiled at her again, and that time she didn’t hold it against them, as she could join in.
“W-Why do you think it’s affected you so much?” Fluttershy asked supportively, and Rainbow realised that she hadn’t thought to ask herself that question once in the weeks the whole thing had been going on.
“I, uh,” she began and trailed off. What was it about the situation she found so frustrating? Why couldn’t she keep any distance from it? Since she had brought up when Sunset had been bad, why hadn’t she reacted in the same way back then? She couldn’t put her finger on it. Was there the tiniest chance...? No. No way.
“It’s like, whatever I try, however foolproof I think my approach is, I just can’t seem to win against her. Not even once.”
“I think she’d probably say you won when it counted,” Sunset said grimly, “given the lack of a red gem on that black band she still wears around her neck.”
True, but that was all of us. This is just me, and so it feels more personal.
“And you do win pretty much everything, always,” Pinkie grinned beside her. Smile fading and voice dropping, she continued, “So it’s gotta be all the worse when you don’t.”
“Huh,” Rainbow thought aloud. She hadn’t looked at it like that before. But wasn’t it a good thing, not losing often? She didn’t think it was something she’d want to change.
“You do win a ridiculously high percentage of the time, Rainbow,” Rarity agreed. “Maybe it’s your own sights that need adjusting?” She set her knife and fork together delicately on her empty plate and reached for the grapes on the corner of her tray. “Most people lose all kinds of things quite frequently,” she pointed out.
It wasn’t exactly an enjoyable thought, but maybe that was it. Not even the hardest video game she’d ever tried had beaten her every day for a month straight, so naturally she’d take it badly when a person did, especially one who looked so smug about it.
“But then,” Sunset began thoughtfully, “you’d never win a general knowledge quiz against Twilight.” Well gee, thanks, Sunset! “Or against me, for that matter. You’d never out-sew Rarity.”
That was true enough, Rainbow thought. Now it had been suggested, a tiny part of her wanted to try it, but she knew she’d have to train night and day for years to be in with a chance, and even then it would be a long shot.
“In fact,” Sunset carried on, “despite the number of times you’ve tried, I’m not sure you’ve ever beaten Applejack in an arm wrestle.”
“Have too!” Rainbow shot back instantly, slightly peeved that Sunset would openly list all the other things Rainbow would lose at, suggesting she wasn’t as good as she thought she was in the first place. Applejack gave her an ‘oh really?’ look, but Rainbow wasn’t going to get distracted.
“Yet you call Twilight an egghead for knowing about books,” Sunset lectured on, as if Rainbow hadn’t interrupted at all, “and Rarity prissy for being so good at dressmaking.”
Rainbow suddenly became the second person within five minutes to look shamefully at Rarity, begging forgiveness. Rarity knew Rainbow had said it before, and they both knew she’d probably say it again, but she still looked embarrassed when it was brought up.
“You dismiss those areas where people have got you beat,” said Sunset, “because those things don’t matter to you. So why does losing this contest of yours with Adagio rile you up so?”
Huh. That was a very good point, and it brought Rainbow up short. She’d been wrong when she’d thought that she didn’t lose often – the truth was more that she didn’t often lose things she considered worth winning.
“It’s not like she could beat you at sporty things,” Sunset continued, “any more than the rest of us could, and I bet you play guitar better than she does.”
That was all true. So why would she be so bothered about winning some competition of wit with a depowered villain? Was it how public the whole thing was, and so in her eyes the idea of winning was wrapped up with being cool, or at least losing publically with being uncool? That could be it. Only, the conversation where it had all changed, where she’d offered to help Adagio; that one hadn’t been public. And yet she’d still been just as flustered, and felt it just as badly when she’d lost. So perhaps that wasn’t the answer.
But when she thought about it like that, it didn’t make sense how attached she was to the whole thing. What reason could she have for caring about it so much?
“That’s why we think there might be deeper feelings at work here,” Sunset finished, and Rainbow didn’t feel anger at the crush suggestion coming up again, because from the kind tone of her voice, and the patient way she explained it, she knew Sunset just wanted to help.
Could they be right? Could I actually be so determined to win against Adagio because I have a crush on her? That was what would happen in the kind of movies Rainbow had no interest in watching. And if it were true, how would she know? It didn’t sound like the real explanation, and she didn’t want it to be, but she couldn’t really think of any others.
“...I don’t know,” she said slowly, confused and lost, “I don’t know why it bothers me so much.”
She thought of Adagio’s face during their clashes, looking so confident, like it was unthinkable she couldn’t win, and Rainbow recognised the attitude and expression as something she often wore herself. Not during those exchanges, but did she really deserve to wear it at all, with how many times she’d lost in the preceding weeks? Although, when phrasing it like that, Adagio shouldn’t really have had it either.
“Maybe because we did beat her,” she suggested, “and yet she’s not at all humble, or sorry?” Sunset raised an eyebrow, and Fluttershy looked concerned. “Like you said, we beat her when it mattered. So it’s kind of irritating she’s still acting superior to us.”
“Ah, the defeated enemy that does not know her place...” Sunset sighed, looking defeated herself. “I hope it’s not that, ‘cause that’s kind of horrible.”
“It’s animal kingdom behaviour,” Fluttershy said, and Rainbow couldn’t miss the disappointment in her voice. “The pecking order is established by fighting for dominance, and any break from it is seen as a challenge needing to be put down with further fighting.” She hesitated, sounding regretful. “It’s a good survival instinct for sentient species, but as a sapient species, humans are supposed to be–” she broke off, shaking her head, then correcting herself “ – humans have the ability to be better than that.”
A quiet few seconds followed, and Rainbow looked down, her cheeks flushing slightly red. Most of the time she thought it quite sweet when told off by Fluttershy, but not so much at that moment. To cover, she set to work on her last hash brown, cutting off a corner and shovelling it into her mouth.
“Really,” Sunset spoke up, “would that be better as a motivation? Than discovering that you might have a crush on a girl for the first time?” She paused, narrowing her eyes as she looked at Rainbow, as if making a decision. “I wasn’t going to say anything, but if it helps...” Sunset hesitated again, smiling shyly, “I think Aria Blaze is really hot.”
Rainbow wasn’t quite sure what to make of that. Was it sweet? Was it crazy? Could it be both at the same time? Had Sunset said Sonata, Rainbow would have said sweet. With Adagio, crazy. But with Aria, she wasn’t sure either way. Sonata hung out with Pinkie quite often, and while Rainbow wouldn’t have said she trusted Sonata, she didn’t worry about her either, and was sure Pinkie would be fine being her friend. Aria, though, was much easier to think of as a threat, and so the idea that Sunset might like her was surprising at first. But really, Aria hadn’t been any nastier to them than Sonata had, she’d just mostly kept to herself while Sonata had been trying to make friends.
Her eyes flicked to each of the others at the table, checking out how they reacted to Sunset’s news. They were all smiling, although Fluttershy did so gently, Rarity approvingly, Applejack mixing it with surprise, and Pinkie grinning ear to ear. Rainbow added her own smile, because however difficult Aria might be, she was sure Sunset could handle it.
“So, if that is how you feel about Adagio,” Sunset broke the respectful silence, “then I know where you’re coming from.”
And that brought it back to Rainbow. Did it change things, knowing that Sunset liked one of the sirens in that way? Did it make it seem less impossible that if Sunset could feel that way, maybe Rainbow could too? She wasn’t sure. And that, in itself, was a million miles from how certain she’d been about it five minutes before. She kind of wished it was as simple as admitting it, but figuring it out if it was true or not was much harder.
Rainbow hadn’t thought of Adagio as ‘hot,’ she was pretty sure of that. Since the subject had come up, Adagio was hot – even her worst enemy wouldn’t deny that – but if Rainbow had a crush, then shouldn’t that thought have come to her sooner? And perhaps on its own, without Sunset saying anything about Aria? And when she’d thought half a minute before about how she’d have reacted if Sunset had said Adagio instead, Rainbow hadn’t felt any flash of jealousy. That kind of suggested that her feelings weren’t along those lines, right?
“I just don’t know,” Rainbow said, stumped. “I mean, it definitely doesn’t feel like that’s it. It really doesn’t, ya know? But I don’t really have any other answers to why it’s driving me up the wall like this.” She chewed her bottom lip as she tried to figure it out, speaking her thoughts out loud as she went.
“Maybe it’s the way she’s using my own ego against me? Like, she knows I won’t just put up with those looks she gives me, so she uses them to push me into saying something, knowing that she’s good at answering back to that? Maybe it’s just how easy she makes it all look,” Rainbow shook her head, more confused than ever.
“I guess I don’t know what it would feel like, to have the kind of crush that makes you fight with someone. Maybe all the good feelings I usually have towards a crush are there underneath, but all the anger is getting in the way, and so I can’t see them?”
“But maybe they aren’t,” she shrugged. The more she tried to think her way through the problem, the more she found herself going in circles. But she was Rainbow Dash, and Sunset had been right earlier in the conversation, about some of her friends being better thinkers than her. Thinking her way out of her problems wasn’t really her style, she relied a lot more on her instincts. And what did those instincts say about Adagio? They weren’t nearly as lost, and they’d all been pulling in the same direction the whole time.
“I don’t have a better answer why, but I just don’t think that’s it.” She felt bad, knowing that Sunset had told them all something personal, hoping Rainbow would be able to admit the same thing in return. But if she wasn’t denying something, then she couldn’t admit it. She wasn’t too worried that her friends would think she was lying to them about her feelings, or to herself, as she had more confidence in them than that. All the same, though, she knew she should say something to show she realised what a big deal it had been for Sunset to do that.
“But thank you,” she ended, quietly but sounding more sure of herself, “it means a lot that you’d tell me that just to try to help.”
Sunset didn’t say anything, she just smiled kindly. Fluttershy also caught Rainbow’s eye, and gave a look that said she was impressed Rainbow would say something like that, given how she didn’t like saying mushy stuff. Rainbow had to look away, and so took the opportunity to load up her fork with the last few bits of food on her plate and wolf them down.
“Whah Aria, if ya don’t mind mah askin?’” Applejack spoke up, looking at Sunset curiously. Rarity, too, turned to Sunset, like she’d been wanting to ask that herself.
“Swaggering around scowling at people,” Sunset chuckled, “badass jacket, doesn’t take crap from anyone, others jump out of her way – she reminds me of me.”
Pinkie burst out laughing while Sunset looked straight at Applejack and kept smiling, and Rarity looked disapproving. Sunset then added, in the sweet, girly voice of a loved-up 13 year-old, “But with pretty purple eyes,” and sighed happily. Rarity was clearly relieved.
“Is that why you’ve often been wearing your older jacket recently?” she asked, her eyes going to the metal studs all over the black leather on Sunset’s shoulders.
Rainbow grinned at the thought of Sunset trying to impress the bad girl, but didn’t say anything out loud. She wouldn’t tease Sunset about it, not when the whole reason they knew in the first place was because of her trying to help Rainbow.
“Maybe,” Sunset said in pretend shyness, deliberately looking away. “But it’s warmer, too, since we’re coming up to winter again, and also,” she ran a hand over the worn leather, “I love it to bits.”
Rarity nodded, but Rainbow wasn’t sure if she was agreeing with Sunset’s fashion sense, or the idea of someone loving their clothes that much.
“Not Sonata, then?” Pinkie asked Sunset, sounding disappointed.
“Why do you ask?”
“Just – I’ve seen her in her underwear,” Pinkie giggled, “you could do a lot worse!”
Sunset cracked up with laughter, covering her face with her hand, while most others stared at Pinkie with their mouths hanging open.
“How have you seen her in her underwear?!” Rainbow spluttered.
“We went bra shopping last weekend, she tried one on and needed a second opinion.”
“Yep, that’ll do it,” Applejack said matter-of-factly, and everyone around the table made noises of agreement, sharing their usual ‘oh, Pinkie Pie’ look.
“Good job, too,” Pinkie added, “the sizing was way off!”
“I have to say,” Sunset told them once she’d got her breath back from laughing so much, “of the reactions I’d expected, ‘have you considered a different siren?’ was low on the list.”
“Gotta keep you on your toes,” Pinkie shrugged, and Sunset smiled at her, before turning to Rainbow.
“Ok, so, not flirting, but – back to you and Adagio?”
“Huh?” was the best response Rainbow could manage, the question and subject change catching her unawares.
“What was it that made you bring her up in the first place? The reason you were beaming with joy when you sat down?”
“Oh yeah, that was ages ago,” Pinkie cut in before Rainbow had a chance to respond. That was ok, though, it gave her more time to work out where to begin the story from. She looked over to the clock on the far wall, saw that they still had half an hour of lunch break left, and figured that if they were all sitting there anyway, there’d be no harm in staying there for longer rather than going outside.
“Ok, so, she’s always got some smartass response, right? And I never know what to say.” Everyone else nodded, following her thoughts. “So last night I lay awake for hours thinking of the perfect line, and I think I’ve got it!”
As she was stuffed full of fried food, Rainbow finally felt normal again, but she’d been lagging all morning from lack of sleep. She was sure it had been worth it, though.
“...Oh?” Sunset asked hesitantly. The looks everyone was giving Rainbow weren’t exactly encouraging.
“Do tell, darling,” Rarity said, smiling and trying to sound excited about it, but Rainbow could hear the worry in her voice. She could tell her friends the line she’d thought of, but they’d probably just try to talk her out of using it, so she decided to sit on it until the time came to use it. Also she wanted them to be just as impressed as everyone else, and they’d be most blown away by it if they hadn’t already heard it.
“Nah, it’s a surprise!” she said confidently, leaning back in her chair and folding her arms behind her head. She stretched her legs out under the table too, crossing her ankles and relaxing.
“Are you sure you want to carry on with this battle between the two of you?” asked Rarity.
“It won’t be carrying on,” Rainbow told her, trying to reassure them all, “I’m going to win it, once and for all.”
It didn’t have the effect she had hoped for. If anything, her friends looked more concerned than they had beforehand. She spotted Applejack looking in Sunset’s direction, and then back to Rainbow, frowning.
“Remember the bit where she’s beaten you ev’ry day?”
“...For, like, a month,” Pinkie said uneasily, and quietly for her. That wasn’t a good sign at all.
“So, statistically,” Sunset followed with, “what’s going to happen this time?”
“Yeah, but,” Rainbow explained, trying not to sound like she thought they were stupid for not getting it, “this time I’ve got the response!” It was a bit sad how her friends didn’t believe in her being able to get the job done, especially remembering what she’d decided earlier about Sunset being able to handle Aria, but she kept reminding herself that they were just looking out for her, and doing so because they cared, rather than because they wanted to drag her down.
Rarity said, “But as we’ve established, comebacks on the spot are very much her forte,” and Rainbow thought of looking at it as though the girls wanted to hold her back.
Because there were two ways that you could be held back – you could be stopped from doing as well as you possibly could, like if a weak team member was holding you back, but you could also be stopped when you were about to start a fight with someone but were too angry to realise you didn’t have much chance of winning, like when Lyra and Bon Bon had to hold Derpy back from attacking Bulk Biceps during the Battle of the Bands.
Rainbow knew her friends meant to hold her back in the second sense. She had no doubt about that. But if she could beat Adagio, and they got in the way of that, then they might end up holding her back in the first sense, too.
“Not to this!” she said proudly. “Nothing Adagio could say would undo the damage, and everyone who overhears will remember it.” Rarity had a point that Adagio was good at adapting to that sort of thing, but there was no way she would see it coming, and nothing she’d be able to do about it afterwards. Whatever comeback she tried, Rainbow’s line would stick.
“And besides,” she added carelessly, “I hate to say it, but she was probably a better singer than any of us, too, and we won that one.” So there was no concrete rule that said Adagio couldn’t be beaten at her own game.
“...You got a point there,” Applejack had to agree after a second, but she didn’t look pleased about it.
“But are you sure it’s a good idea, Rainbow Dash?” worried Fluttershy.
“Trust me,” Rainbow said, closing her eyes and imagining her victory, although she accepted that her vision wasn’t all that believable, as it had a team of planes spelling out Rainbow’s name across the sky, “I’m gonna win, and it’ll be brilliant!”
She opened her eyes and found that the girls still weren’t feeling it, so she added a reminder of the last time they’d all won big time, to get them on side, “Like the Friendship Games all over again!”