by Northern Lights
The twilight sky was bathed in a glowing palette of red, indigo and violet as the last traces of the setting sun left the sky. As she watched the shimmering stars appear, Twilight Sparkle reflected on how appropriate her name was. She loved the edge of night, as day became dusk, then night, as she had always felt not quite one thing or another. Indeed, until she came to Ponyville, she'd wondered what her place in this world was as she looked up into an evening sky much like this one. She smiled to herself and pulled out her camping checklist. Though some of the other ponies laughed a bit at it, it made sure none of them had forgotten anything important. Sleeping out under the stars was Applejack's idea, and she had to admit it was a good one.
"Campfire, check. Marshmallows..."
"Cfech?" said Pinkie Pie, gulping the mouthful down with a wide grin. The other ponies giggled as Twilight noted, her voice peevish. "We're supposed to roast them."
She made a little check as Pinkie smiled sheepishly and pulled out her stick. The other ponies were sitting around the warm cheerful fire. Rarity, as usual, had simply the most fashionable sleeping bag and had already unrolled it, surrounding it with her toiletries and sundries. Fluttershy was happily watching the fireflies, and had spent a rather quiet afternoon on their hike pointing out each rare flower and strange animal. Applejack had already begun roasting her marshmallows with Pinkie; she'd been placed in charge of the campfire, and seemed to be doing a good job. Rainbow Dash chattered about how clear the sky was, emphasising that she made sure it had been cleared. As the sky grew dark she grinned and leaned over, the firelight adding a strange spooky look to her face.
"You know what time it is? Scary story time!" she said, letting out an evil laugh, causing Fluttershy to dive into her sleeping bag with a yelp.
"No scary stories please..." came her muffled voice, her tail twitching nervously.
Twilight frowned to herself and explained, "They are traditional."
Poking Fluttershy's rump with a hoof, Pinkie giggled. " C'mon, silly filly, they're fun!"
Dash nodded, "I know a million of them," she said boastfully.
“I don't want any spooky stories either, and if we tell them dear Fluttershy won't sleep," Rarity said as she shook her head in disagreement.
Tilting her head, Twilight cocked an eyebrow. "I guess we can move on to the songs?" Tugging at her saddlebags, she unsurprisingly pulled out a book with a wide grin. “Ahha! Caring Campfires hundred and one campfire songs!”
"Songs! I love singing!" Pinkie chirped in glee, bouncing in her seat with her normal vigor. Rainbow Dash groaned audibly with a roll of her eyes, Rarity making a quiet face of contempt.
"Yes, we know," chimed Applejack, her lip quirking into a sardonic smile, "I done never met anypony that loves a singing as much as you does, Pinkie."
Nodding her cotton-candy mane, she bobbed her head with a grin, “It's cause I'm soooo talented!”
They all chuckled at this, and Fluttershy even edged her quivering body around, peeking out from her sleeping bag with courage.
Rarity gave forth a knowing smile, tossing her purple locks out of her eyes.
"I did rather have a different idea. Do you remember the sleepover?" she said archly. Nodding her head, Twilight smiled a bit. The sleepover was part of the reason she had wanted to set up this camping trip. She'd felt bad that necessity had dictated she would only have two ponies over, impromptu as it was, and she'd been looking for a way to make it up to the rest of the gang.
"Well, I peeked at your sleepover book and I saw you skipped over part of your...ahem... list." Puzzling for a moment, the violet mare wondered what she could mean, until a sense of dread filled her heart. Opening her muzzle to try and forestall the suggestion, she was too late as Rarity brashly continued The white unicorn continued, a twinkle in her amethyst eyes. "You had down talking about our crushes, but had it crossed out."
Treacherously, Twilight felt a slow, hot wave riding up her neck, snout and cheeks. From the delighted look of the other unicorn, she imagined she must be lit up like a spotlight with her blush. The suppressed giggles of the rest of the ponies only confirmed her fear. With a small, nervous chuckle, she replied. " We-ll, that's not really something I have, um, experience with, so..."
To her surprise, Pinkie leaned over and pat her shoulder, “Aww, don’t worry. Not every can be as lucky with the boys as I am, after all.” Giving the pink filly a startled look, the violet unicorn was taken aback for a moment.
Before she could regain her composure, Rarity stomped a forehoof onto the ground. “Well, I for one prefer talking about romance to scary stories.” A quick vote showed that Pinkie seemed to be fine with this, though in all honesty Twilight suspected Pinkie was unlikely to be not fine with anything on the trip, short of setting her mane on fire; even then the unicorn would bet it’d be a close thing. Fluttershy agreed as well, volunteering that she in fact loved reading romantic novels. With a shrug, Applejack said she’d go on with whatever the group did, though she ‘ain’t one for the mushy stuff’, and that left Dash and Twilight herself as the only holdouts.
Shrugging with quiet resignation, the purple mare murmured. “Okay, but I won’t have anyone to talk about. I haven’t had a crush on anyone as long as I can remember.”
Considering this, Rarity offered a compromise.“Well, maybe we can talk about our ideal stallions, then, the sort we’d like to marry? I have the most WONDERFUL idea for a dress for that, you know!” She clapped her hooves together, lashes fluttering with abandon at the thought.
“Nu-uh. I don’t mind talkin’ bout boys, but I draw the LINE at dresses!” Applejack interjected, holding up her hoof with brows furrowed in annoyance.
It was agreed to that after the s’mores were distributed, with much groaning and moaning -and Dash coaxed down from the tree she retreated to-, that they’d go around in a circle, starting with Rarity, given that this was her idea.
Clearing her throat, she began primly. “First off, it’s a good thing little Spikey is not here, since I am sure he’d be utterly heartbroken to know my ideal male isn’t two feet tall and covered in scales.” The words broke the air of tension that had been hanging over the group, and even Dash noted with a sarcastic laugh, “Aww, Rarity, how could yah? He even grew a mustache for yah!”
“If you kissed him you’d have to fireproof your lips!” Pinkie added with a giggle. Even Twilight had to smile at that one. Everyone knew Spike’s crush; he certainly made that no mystery.
Continuing, the white mare noted, “I of course would settle for nothing less than the most handsome, sophisticated stallion I could find.”
“Well, it’s always nice t’have standards, but ain’t that a little high?” Applejack asked, tipping back her hat with a grin.
Rarity snorted, retorting to the farm pony, “I haven’t found him yet. It’s so hard to find a man that appreciates fashion, culture, style...”
“Likes getting bossed around...” said Dash, not quite under her breath, nor attempting to fully hide her words.
Rarity stomped a forehoof defensively, “I know what you think, and I am very particular, but I want someone who shares my interest, not just someone who’ll tell me what I want to hear. There’s plenty of ponies who are happy to say anything I like, but I want someone who is like me, not just pretending to like the things I like because I’m lovely.” As vain as that statement would sound out of any other mouth, the other ponies had long acknowledged Rarity was one of the most beautiful ponies in the town, if not the most.
Applejack gave the unicorn a slight nod of respect. “I reckon I know what you mean there. Still, I also reckon it’s gonna be a long time afore you meet this fella. Sounds like he’ll be one in a million.”
Flipping her mane back, Rarity noded. “One in a million is worth waiting for. I know I said I’d hope to meet him at the Gala, and maybe I will; but even if I don’t I know he’s out there, looking for his one in a million filly,” she said. “I wouldn’t settle for anyone who’d settle for anything less.”
Fluttershy was next, and it took a few minutes to coax her voice loud enough to hear, but as often was the case with the meek pegasus, once she got started talking she had a lot to say and her own very distinct opinions.
“Um, well, I would like to meet someone who’s big and strong, but also really soft hearted and quiet, like me.” Scuffing one hoof on the ground, she traced a little heart in the dirt, her yellow cheeks touched with a pink blush as she continued. “H-honestly, someone like your brother, if he was a pegasus, is what I like best, Applejack. H-he doesn’t talk much and he’s not a bully and he’s very nice and sweet.”
The orange pony choked on her s’more, causing Twilight to slap her on the back. “BIG MAC? Y’all ain’t SERIOUS?!”
Fluttershy’s mane covered her face for a moment. She nodded slowly to her words. “Well, not maybe him, but, someone like him; someone who likes animals, n-not apples. But it’s really hard, m-most pegasus ponies a-are more like Rainbow Dash and less like, um, me.”
Dash’s head popped up at the comment, “Hey, is there something wrong with them being like me?” she barked indignantly.
“N-no! Well, maybe... a little” she whimpered, her eyes wide. She quickly covered her tracks, “They’re all so brave and they like flying and going fast and being um... cocky. Most don’t even like that I live in my treehouse and not somewhere high.” She shuffled her hooves again squeaking out, “T-that’s all.”
A scowl still on the rainbow-maned pony, she shrugged at her friend, “Well, you’re really shy, Flutter. How ya going to meet this mystery man?”
Perking up, her voice layered with the warm misty overtones of a incurable romantic, Fluttershy replied. “Oh I know we’ll meet. Maybe he’ll have a sick kitty he needs me to care for; or maybe we’ll both be stopping to smell the same flower, but I just know I’ll meet him someday!” Sighing happily, the filly rested her head on her hooves, stuck in a dreamlike paradise.
“So, um, have you met your ideal stallion yet? You... um... sound like you’ve met a few?” Twilight said. The unspoken question as to how Pinkie Pie, of all the ponies managed this quivered in the air around her.
The pink pony considered for a moment, tapping a hoof to her chin. “Nooooo, I don’t think so, though I thought maybe this one unicorn, but turns out he likes popping balloons. Can you believe it? I couldn’t date a stallion like that. I mean,” she giggled, “it was kinda funny, but I can’t throw parties with popped balloons. Balloons are my thing!” Looking around at the quiet wondering faces of her friends, she blinked at their silence. “What? I dunno what’s so weird about me having balloons as my thing; it’s my cutie mark after all.”
“Um, no sugar, we were kinda wondering how y’all have been, uh, lucky with boys, as yah called it.” Applejack was the only one willing to be honest about what was on all their minds.
Her blue eyes lighting up, Pinkie nodded in understanding. “Ohhhhhh!. Well, that’s easy. If I like a guy, I’m all, ‘you wanna go out and have cupcakes?’And we can totally smooch!” Watching their jaws draw, she added, “You’d be amazed at how often that works! Like, almost every time!”
Coughing to clear the silence, Rarity noted, “That does sound like an... effective technique, yes.”
Pinkie leaned back, tossing some marshmallows into her mouth; with it full, and chewing loudly, she went on about her techniques. “I dunno if I wamma efen mawwy sumnun.” Swallowing, the pink filly rocks onto her back. “I just like having fun. I don’t think I ever wanna settle for just one stallion.” By now, the whole ring, even Rainbow Dash, was blushing at the implications of this. Oblivious, Pinkie leaned over to tap Applejack, “Tag, you’re it!”
Taking a long, pregnant pause -undoubtedly to clear the images from her head-, Twilight thought. Applejack flicked her tail, shrugging at being put under the spotlight, “I suspect all y’all’s will be a might disappointed. I already have an idea who I’m gonna marry.” Ears perked up in interest at this, Rarity looking like she might explode with overwhelming femininity and interest.
“Oh my gracious!” gasped the ivory-coated unicorn, clapping her hooves together in excitement, “Why didn’t you say so darling? Who is he? When do we meet him?”
Applejack cocked her head and used a hoof to push a log deeper into the fire, where it popped and crackled, overwhelming Rarity’s joyful matrimonial chatter. “Now, you gals are gonna get the wrong idea I reckon, but I gotta tell you, it’s a family tradition.”
“What is?” Twilight asked, an ear cocked in interest.
“Now, you’re a smart one, ain’t yah ever wonder why everyone in the apple family is all about apples? It’s cause it’s traditional for us to find other ponies with apple marks an’ especially apple orchards, after we get hitched.” Grinning, Applejack looked around at her friends; noting their quiet puzzlement, she added more bluntly, “We all go in for arranged marriages. I ain’t gonna get to pick who I marry outta any random folk, I got a couple o’ options an’ that’s basically it.”
“But.. that’s barbaric!” Rarity gasped, a horrified hoof covering her muzzle.
“What the heck sort of garbage is that!” Dash said as she flapped over to her friend with a frown, sitting down beside her, “I can’t see my AJ lettin’ somepony tell her who she’s gotta marry!”
Applejack growled in response. “I knew you’d take it the wrong way! It ain’t so bad.” The palomino filly was watching the pegasi’s reaction, her annoyance and disappointment evident on her face. She looked around the campfire, and saw that it was equally evident.
Only Fluttershy murmured a plea of support. “We should l-listen.. maybe they’re nice boys?”
Applejack nodded firmly. “Yeah, I gotta approve o’the final choice, o’course. We have it narrowed down t’two fellahs, an’ I’ve met ‘em both. One lives really far south o’ here, an’ his name’s Pippin. He’s a might small but real gentlemanly. T’other, he lives north’a here, on an island, an’ his name’s Fuji.”
“So,” asked Twilight with a brow raised, “A pippin is..”
“And a fuji..”
“’nother type a’apple”
Watching their disbelief, the rodeo mare continued. “Fuji’s not really for me, but he’s still pretty nice an’all. His family really grooms their trees, like a work o’ art. Either you or Fluttershy can have ‘m, Rarity,” she said with a wink to the indignant unicorn. “Pippins’ really nice, but, well...” she looked down, “I don’t think I’m gonna get married for some time, cause if I do, I gotta leave Sweet Apple Acres an’ move in with him.”
“Oh noooo!” Fluttershy gasped, “You love that farm! What can’t you stay?”
“Well, it’s an Apple famil-”
“Tradition, I think we get it,” Dash interrupted peevishly. “It’s a dumb one; you gotta find a guy who doesn’t mind moving to be with you. Your farm is, like, your life!”
Applejack noded. “Well, ‘taint no rush. Big Macintosh is fine with that. Even if I was t’find a guy mah family approves of. An’ until then, I ain’t worried.” She added more firmly, “and nopony’s gonna get me offa that farm. ” Her friends nodded, feeling better for having heard that.
Twilight thought for a bit. “I know there’s a lot of different cultures in Equestria, but I have to say, that's a little strange. I’ve only heard about royals and other such people doing it. I thought arranged marriages didn’t happen anymore; that they were only rumors now.”
“Well, we’re simple folk, but we got a lot o’history.” Applejack said proudly. “I know it wasn’t the answer y’all expected, but it’s the best you’re gonna get from this filly right now. S’long as the guy loves mah farm and mah apples, he’ll do right by me, so I reckon it’s your turn, sugar.”
Twilight gulped. She realized that she could not avoid this any longer. All of her friends were looking at her now. She could feel the blush edging up her cheeks again. Briskly, gathering up courage, she states honestly. “I really don’t see myself with anyone. My studies have always been my life, and I can’t say I’ve even really fantasized about anypony else in my life. It just... doesn’t cross my mind.”
“So, you’re married to your books?” Dash said with a snigger, elbowing the bookworm lightly in the side.
Flushing harder, she glared at the pegasus. “I’m just very dedicated. Princess Celestia isn’t married and no-one thinks less of her!” She retorted.
“I did hear things about that-” Rarity started with an arch smile until Twilight cut her off with a sharp look.
Twilight dragged a hoof firmly into the forest floor and wondered however to explain it to them all. It seemed like everypony had that ideal someone else, if only in their mind. She never had that person she wanted in her life, and hid it well from her friends under a stoic, naive gaze. Until a little while ago, the most she wanted from other ponies was to leave her alone and to let her study. She wasn’t even sure where she would begin letting someone into her life like that now. The more she thought about it, the less comfortable she was.
Watching her discomfort, the other ponies paused in their good natured teasing, and finally Rarity felt it best to close the subject, and said “I suppose that is.. admirable?"
The pale mare turned towards the final pegasus. "Well, I guess we shouldn’t be asking about the perfect stallion for you, Rainbow dear?” she asked with a mirthful, if not condescending smile.
Cerise eyes narrowed, Dash snorted; she was well aware of the rumors surrounding her. It came naturally with her hair color and personality. “I knew it; how many times I gotta tell you all, just because I ain’t out making ga-ga over colts doesn’t mean I like mares instead!” She snapped her wings in a quick, fierce motion, glaring over the fire at the white unicorn. Her eyes were sparkling in both anger and the reflected flames of the fire.
“Truth is, I’m like Twi about this sorta stuff. I don’t really have time for all this romance, an’ most of the boys who do like me end up trying to show they’re faster ‘n stronger than me.” With a smirk, the pegasus boasts, “not that they ever are! But I’m just too competitive to be with somepony. I don’t wanna have some guy who’s a pushover an’ I don’t want someone who’s always trying to be as good or better than me! So just lay off my private life alright?!”
Dash flapped up back in her tree, her tail twitching ten feet out of reach. Puzzled, Twilight looked around in shock. “I don’t get it. Why is she so insulted?” she asked.
Looking at each other, the five remaining mares pondered. “Well, it’s not that there’s anythin’ wrong with that, yah mind,” Applejack started.
Rarity finished the thought, “It’s just not, well.. typical for here. Ah... mares who are fond of mares. Very uncommon, really. ”
Frowning to herself, the violet unicorn tapped a hoof on the ground. She felt shyer tonight then she had in weeks. “That’s just silly. I mean, when I was a little foal, I remember hearing the story of two unicorn mares,” she said with a brief pause, “or sometimes it was stallions. It was a very old myth, who were so in love that their unicorn magic let them have a foal.” She smiled to herself, remembering how warm and happy it had made her feel, knowing how strong the magic of love was. Blinking for a moment, she realised she had forgotten that feeling after all these years of studies. Continuing, she smiled peacefully. “It was, and is lovely.. In Canterlot there’s no problem with mares or stallions being with each other. I wouldn’t call it common but it’s nothing any pony would tease them about.”
“Canterlot’s basically full a’unicorns, right?” Applejack coughed roughly.
“Ah, well, that’d go a long way to explain it.”
Twilight noted Rarity blushing, though in her case it was a flush of embarrassed anger. With a touch of malicious delight, the earth pony noted, “Y’see, unicorns are kinda thought t’be a bit... funny that way, y’know?”
“Oh yeah, everyone knows that!” Pinkie Pie giggled with a nod.
“Well, I guess it’s because of the unicorn magic?” Twilight said with a hopeful smile, only to get a sharp glare from Rarity.
Pinkie giggled loudly, then quickly whispered into a purple ear. With a gasp, Twilight sputtered out, “That’s not how you use a horn and you don’t put it there!” The pink party pony giggled more, and made a few gestures, to the eyerolls of Rarity. Going an incendiary shade of scarlet, Twilight let that information go to the back of her mind, buried it under some equations and pounded it with Foalmat's last theorem.
Twilight covered her face with her hooves. Quite obviously her cultural studies of Equestria had been lacking a lot of finer details, and for the moment she was really regretting she’d learned otherwise.
Finally, tapping her hoof over Pinkie’s laughter, Twilight continued. “I don’t think there is anything wrong with anypony loving another, but it’s just... wrong to assume someone does because they have a horn!”
Pinkie Pie and Applejack nodded dutifully, though Pinkie snorted in retort, “You should see your face Twilight! You’re almost as pink as me! Anyways a horn isn’t as good as-”
“That is quite enough!” shouted Rarity, the unicorn firmly placing a white hoof over the chattering filly’s snout with a sharp warning glance. "You are upsetting Twilight."
Twilight squirmed for a moment as she tried to banish her mind’s automatic tendency to fill in the blanks.
Gathering herself, the purple unicorn adds, “And it’s wrong to assume Dash is into that sort of thing just because she doesn’t want to date anypony right now. It really upsets her, too.”
That was a noticeable thing by itself to Twilight; it took a lot to really get under Dash’s skin. Leaning against the trunk of the tree, the violet filly called up to the pegasus. “Come on, Rainbow Dash, this isn’t the same without you.” After a few muttered curses that Twilight resolutely pretended not to hear, the cyan mare dropped from the branches, landing beside the flickering fire.
“Fine, fine. But I’m sleeping over beside you tonight, Twi,” she muttered, prismatic tail snapping back and forth in annoyance.
The circle of romantic talk well and truly broken, Pinkie Pie grabbed the songbook, and soon, with much cajoling and joyful bouncing, got everypony singing along to a selection of campfire songs, plus a couple she made up herself. By the time ponies were starting to yawn, and Luna’s moon was high in the sky, everyone was in a much better mood, and the awkwardness of earlier was forgotten.
Twilight flicked an ear, listening to the soft voice of Fluttershy, from the other side of the fire, saying goodnight to each owl and cricket before she dozed off in a quiet snore. The other ponies had fallen off to sleep some time back, and only the occasional soft snap and pop from the fire filled the silent night. Rolling on her back, the mare sighed to herself as she stared up into the indigo sky, counting the stars and as was her nature, tracking the constellations. Her mind ticked over what had happened earlier; it was strange how little she’d known about her friends when it came to dating and romance. She had always thought Pinkie Pie was funny, ditzy and would probably be somepony’s aunt, but never thought she was... popular with stallions. Nor did she think Rarity had so much depth; insisting on finding an intelligent partner, rather than just a pretty face with lots of jewels and titles. Even Fluttershy was a shock, since she basically thought the filly was too sweet to even think about kissing, let alone read romance. The unicorn had been shown after the sing-along a large and often rather steamy collection of love stories, and that this was only the section of her library the buttercup-yellow pegasus brought along to the trip.
Deep inside, even she had to admit that she thought Dash might have been interested in other fillies, and a tiny bit of disappointment had entered her heart for a brief moment when she heard the daring, blue-coated pegasus insist she wasn’t. Considering that feeling for a moment, she glanced over at her sleeping companion. She was curled tightly up, a wing over her snout; Twilight smiled a little, her cheeks gaining a pink hue for a moment at the sight. She wondered if Dash would be more open if she was talked to in private, and the curiosity got the best of her. Leaning over, she poked the gently snoring filly with a hoof on the flank. “Dash... are you asleep?” she asked, knowing full well she is.
With a snort and an incoherent sentence about the Wonderbolts, Dash startled, looking around blearily for a moment. She perked up her ears at Twilight, frowning at her for smashing her dreams. “Aww, man. I was having the best dream-” she began, instinct kicking in shortly afterwards. “You ok, Twi? Something the matter? We being attacked by pony-eating icewolves?” Her deep pink eyes darted around, as if this would be an excellent and totally enjoyable addition to the camping trip.
Twilight felt rather sheepish, “I just wanted to say sorry about how the other ponies were acting earlier,” she said, “and say it’s nice to know you and I have something in common.”
“What do you mean? ” Dash asked, her head tilting quizzically, her voice dropping to a low murmur.
With a hoof playing idly with her sleeping bag the unicorn explained herself. “Well, you seem like you understand what I mean about romance. Fluttershy wants some big, strong stallion to keep her safe, and even Applejack and Rarity want a stallion who’ll be a partner to them; they want them to be equally interested in what they like, but I don’t really want someone who’s just like me. I want my hobbies to be my hobbies. I wouldn’t mind a pony who understood that it was important to me, but I don’t really want somepony who’s just as studious as me, and you don’t want somepony who’s like you either... I think”
Dash smiled a little and nodded. “I guess I never really thought about it like that, but you’re right. It’d just cramp my style. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice to be with somepony sometimes, but I don’t want someone all needy and stuff, and I don’t want someone who doesn’t let me do my own thing. It’d be better if I found somepony who was just kinda interested in their own thing too. I mean, I do totally want somepony eventually, who will love what I do, but they don’t have to be a racer.”
“So no Wonderbolt for you Dash?” Twilight teased with a grin.
“Naaaah, probably not. Would keep me from focusing on being totally awesome!”
The two ponies giggled under their breath. Twilight, with her tendency to notice details, pressed a bit. “We’re both saying... somepony. Not some stallion,” she said, tentatively.
Looking sharply around the campfire at the other ponies, still slumbering under the stars, Dash nodded. “Yeah, well... you saw how it felt that ponies just assume what you’re like because of something about you. So I guess it’s fine if you know I do kind of like mares; but I like stallions too. I’ve just never met anyone that I’ve felt all, you know, mushy and stuff about, like Fluttershy is.” Dash glanced about sharply, continuing under her breath. Twilight leaned forward to listen, “Years ago I kinda tried something with Applejack, but that filly, wow, she’s really kinda uptight about that sorta thing.”
There was a small, hot pause, Dash frozen for a second, lost in her own mind and senses. After a moment of paranoia, she sighed softly. “Anyways. We’re good friends, and I think if we were anything more all the competitive stuff would really mess things up. It bugged me a long time ago, but now we’re cool.”
Nodding, the amethyst unicorn asked, “Is she why everyone says-”
“Naw, ponies were saying that even when I was in school. It has nothing to do with Applejack. She’s honest, but she’s not mean, you know that. I know she teases me but I don’t think the other girls get how much it bugs me, you know? Cause I’m super strong and nothing’s supposed to bug me.”
Dash grinned proudly with a flick of her tail, resulting in Twilight laughing under her breathe. “And Pinkie?”
Rainbow Dash made a face. “She’s fun, but... um... wow, if she came up to me and asked me for cupcakes and kisses, I’d probably be off cupcakes for life. She’s totally obsessed enough as it is.”
Snorting at the joke, Twilight nodded in agreement “Sounds like she’s very happy with the stallions of Ponyville.” Her dark purple eyes twinkled in the firelight, glancing over at Dash for a moment.
“What’s really on your mind, Twilight? You can tell me, I won’t tease you, well this time. Not unless you’re really in love with books,” Dash snorted.
She rubbed her forehooves together, averting her gaze once again. “I thought... maybe... that since we don’t have anyone else, and we’re both too busy with what we do...” she paused, only to exhale, “Maybewecouldsometimesbetogetherlikedatingorsomething.”
Gasping, she looked over at the other filly, her cheeks pink, heart racing and terrified; she couldn’t believe she even said that! She had to admit she was curious, both about what being near another pony was like, and what it would be like with a mare, rather than a stallion, but the jokes about unicorns made it clear why Dash fought so hard against what the other ponies said about her. Even if it is true, and even if you are happy with yourself, how other people see you can make something as simple as this feel shameful, and wrong. She had studied enough psychology and sociology to know that.
But everything Dash said, everything they both said, seem to make this a good idea, maybe even a great one. Both a logical choice, and one that her heart was comfortable with. They were both such independent ponies; they didn’t need or desire somepony to care for them, or to aid them in their life goals. They just wanted someone warm, to listen when things got them down, and cheer them when things got them up, and to know when they needed their own space. Was that so wrong?
Dash’s eyes widened, then narrowed suspiciously for a moment. “Why? Why me? Twi, you don’t seem lik-”
The unicorn stamped a hoof into her sleeping bag,.“I know what you’re going to say. This is all very sudden for me too. But these things aren’t about what other people think you’re like or not. They’re about what’s inside. Just... just trust me, okay? I’m not trying to tease you, or trick you. I... I just want to know if... if we could try this? We don’t have to let the others know.” A small, wavering smile darted across her snout. Breathing hard, her fear and embarrassment found a vent in this quick frustrated outburst..
The moment of silent waiting expectation was long; too long for comfort. In the failing glow of the warm fire’s embers, Dash seemed to think longer and harder than Twilight could remember seeing her ever have before. With a firm nod, the pegasus pony stretched her wings out, and then finally spat on her hoof and held it out. “Promise?”
Twilight shuddered for a second, then did the same, hoofbumping the other pony. This seemed to ease up Dash’s mood of paranoia considerably; shifting positions, she adjusted her wings and smiled in what she probably hoped was a painfully cool manner, tilting her head back. The lilac-coated filly tried not to giggle but did grin, which her friend luckily took for approval.
“Yeah, I know, I’m totally hot.” Dash said with a smirk and a wink. More awkwardly then expected, she asked Twilight, “Soo, um... what does this mean, exactly. What did you, um, wanna do, anyways?”
Twilight considered this question thoughtfully. The conversation around the fire had been the most she’d heard about boys and girls and dating for a long time. It was never something she looked into, and honestly, a year ago she would have called Fluttershy silly and impractical for focusing so much mental energy on mere romance novels. Even now, she’s not sure she could read some flighty Arlecchino paperback with saddle-ripping fillies in distress and muscular, blonde-maned stallions.
“I really just want to be able to be close to you. Maybe kiss?” The unicorn edged herself nearer to the pegasus, whose ears folded back as the bravado drained from her posture. “You have kissed before, right?” she asked. She never had, and she wasn’t sure exactly how it worked. If only she had a reference book...
“Sure, a million times-” started Dash , before catching Twilight’s expression. “Well, um... at least a few?” she said, attempting to cover her tracks. Seeing the incredulous look on the other pony’s face, the cyan pegasus finally muttered the truth. “I played Spin the Bottle once and I’ve practiced on a cloud a few times, okay?” Her blue cheeks turned pink for a few seconds as she glanced away, ashamed for admitting to be less than a total Romeo, in spite of her own admission she’d never had time for romance.
Twilight let out a small sigh. “Well, I understand. I can always check my libr-”
“Hey, the only way to learn how to fly is to jump off the cloud!” The pegasus gave a rakish grin and leaned over.
“I think actually that’s the worst way to learn ho-” her words were cut off by Dash, clumsily but sincerely, pressing her snout to the studious unicorn’s.
It was nothing she expected. Eyes wide for a moment, she slowly let them close, focusing on this strange feeling of affection; her intellectual side resolutely cataloguing how soft Dash’s lips felt, the unusual sensation as her horn brushed against the pegasi’s mane, the awkward back and forth it took to co-ordinate with someone at something as spontaneous as a kiss. It finally gave up as it informed her how her heart was racing, how breathless she felt, and died completely in a silent squeak of flushed emotion.
After a long moment, their lips parted and Twilight’s eyes slowly opened to find the deep magenta ones of her partner staring deeply into her own.
“Wow.” breathed Dash, her cheeks flushing in raw bliss. It was one word that conveyed all that needed to be said between the two. Neither of them had expected it to be that powerful, that great of a feeling. Was this why ponies got together, to experience this again, and again? Twilight leaned forward to-
“OOooOOOooh! They’re KISSING!”
The two ponies jerked apart so fast Twilight swore she heard a bone in her neck creak A look of horrified embarrassment crossed across Dash's snout as she tries to go from romantic to nonchalant in record speed. Looking around frantically, they saw Pinkie sitting happily, crosslegged and munching popcorn with approval. The other ponies, in various states of wakefulness, were staring at the pair in shock and disbelief.
“DASH! I can’t believe you would take advantage of Twi like that,” started Applejack, a scowl of disapproval on her face.
“ME?!” retorted the pegasus angrily, a jet of air hissing out of her snout, “Oh so it comes to me cause I’m-”
“STOP IT BOTH OF YOU!” Twilight screamed at the top of her lungs. Huffing herself in anger, she forced herself to quickly drop her volume; she was only just successful. “This wasn’t even Dash’s idea, it was mine. I’ve never kissed any other pony before and I thought I could try to practice with her.” This wasn’t totally true, it wasn’t even close to true; it was pretty close to a lie, but she had promised to keep this agreement between the two of them, and unless Dash herself said otherwise, she wasn’t going to bring any more embarrassment on her friend. She made a note she better ask AJ about her and Dash one day in the future as well.
“Oh darling NO, you can’t practice on Rainbow Dash, you just can’t!” called Rarity,with an air of horror.
Twilight glared at her snidely. “Why not? Giving unicorns a bad name, am I?”
Tsking through her teeth, Rarity shook her head. “Heavens no, darling, but Dash simply has no idea how to kiss.” The azure filly started to sputter a protest, but Rarity tutted impatiently. “If you simply must, I’ll have to show her how it’s done; it’s the only way she will learn, and perhaps teach her some civility!”
To the other girls eternal shock and amazement, Rarity strode over to Rainbow Dash. “First,” she began, cupping a hoof onto Dash’s cheek, “one must look deep into the eyes of one’s kissing partner.” She fluttered her eyelashes coyly, as only she knew how. The pegasus gulped in shock; her nerves escaped her, ears going pink and her eyes widening at being a public display of affection. “Then, as the, ahem, gentleman, Rainbow Dash, you should dip,” the ivory mare did so effortlessly, “and then kiss.” Their lips met, Dash’s eyes growing wider by the second, and for a moment Twilight swore she saw steam coming out of her ears. As the two snouts parted, Rarity politely coughed. “Dear... your breathe.. do speak to Colgate later...” After making that remark, she regained her dignity, and gave the pegasus a small push towards Twilight, Dash wobbling unsteadily onto her legs. Rarity commanded firmly at the pegasus. “Now, you go and do this properly, young filly!”
Glancing around, Twilight saw the various expressions on her friends faces, still watching, and realised she would have to kiss Dash in front of them. Fluttershy looked strangely interested, eyes wide and cheeks flushed. Applejack looked confused and slightly disgusted, Pinkie Pie seemed happy to treat the whole thing as a movie, and was still eating popcorn. She held up a “8” card after Rarity finished the strange kiss. As for Rarity, she had an odd proprietary air, a smile on her snout. Catching her eye, she winked at the lilac unicorn, as if to share a personal joke.
Dash staggered over to Twilight, and with a more confident smile, followed the unicorn’s instructions to a tee. Already, Twilight felt herself getting lost in the other ponies eyes, and when she went to try the dip, a foreleg instinctively ran around Dash’s strong neck. The kiss was much deeper and longer with -to a measure of personal internal confusion but eventual enjoyment-, some tongue involved as well. When they broke off this time, they both found themselves flushed and panting softly. She never knew such passion was bubbling up deep inside of her like this, only to explosively come out in this moment. She stroked Dash’s mane idly, almost... instinctively.
Pinkie Pie clapped enthusiastically and held up a nine.. “That was way better! You’re almost as good as Clover!”
Applejack seemed rather uncomfortable. “As I said, not that there’s nothing wrong with that, but could y’all tone down the romantic stuff a little bit? It’s a might much for me.”
“Sorry, AJ, this train has SAILED.” Dash said with a grin and a saucy wink, leaning over to the earth pony
“Wait, that don’t even work...” started Applejack in mild annoyance, but the rainbow-maned flyer was looking around at her friends for second takers.
“Anyone else want to try?” Dash said in challenge. Twilight had to laugh softly, a smile on her snout. Same old boastful Dash. “Anyone else decide they like the candy vag?”
“DASH!” Applejack burst out, before breaking out in loud laughter. “Damn, y’all will never change...”
“A-actually,” murmured Fluttershy, “Um... I always liked the term ‘moon-kissed mare lips’ better... You know... not, um... c-candy vag.” The other girls paused in their laughter to look at Fluttershy with open amazement, who proceeded to try and hide behind her own mane. “It... it was from one of my favorite comics, ‘Lady Lily’s Finishing School for Fillies’”
Dash almost fainted in shock. “You read that? It’s all... all... well, fillies. With other fillies.”
Arching an eyebrow, Applejack teased Rainbow, “An’ how would you know what that there girly comic is about.”
Flushing, Dash muttered a reply. “It was beside my Pegasus Power Squad comics when I was a kid. I mighta... you know, looked. Once.”
Rarity coughs politely. “Let me suppose there's quite a few unicorns in that as well?”
“Oh yes!” said Fluttershy, smiling a little, her eyes sparkling with shy enthusiasm. Arching a brow, the fashonista merely smiled.
“ARG! Does everywhere in Equestria think we like the... the candy badge?!” exclaimed Twilight. The rest of the ponies broke down in laughter, and they ended up joking until the first light of dawn started to paint the indigo night sky.
The sun was well above them and the birds singing riotously as the camp broke the next day. Twilight was helping Rarity roll up the bedding, their magic making the work faster than hooves, and more neat that AJ or Dash would make their own.
“I have to ask, why did you kiss Dash. You really didn’t seem to like it.” Twilight asked.
Flipping her long violet locks from her eyes, the white unicorn gave a melodious laugh. “Darling, it’s all very nice and well that you’re happy, so don’t worry, but I didn’t do that for me. I did that for you, you know.” Seeing her friend’s puzzled expression, the mare continued. “Dear, the other ponies might not be versed in the ways of the heart, but I am. I saw early in the evening how you looked when Dash reacted so badly and said she didn’t like fillies, even if no one else noticed. And when everypony caught you both, her defences went right back up, did they not? If I hadn’t done that, would you two be together? Would you even have kissed again? I gave her confidence, I gave you a chance at romance and.. well, I managed to save the day, if I do say so myself.” Winking, Rarity added “All for the price of a kiss I didn’t care to make.”
Smiling, Twilight nodded. How could she forget that Rarity, for all her snobbery and sophistication and perfectionism, strove to reflect generosity. She would gladly give of herself to help her friends.
“Thank you. It means a lot to me. I hope you find someone who can appreciate you as much as we do.”
Smiling and chuckling to herself as she moved away to finish packing, Rarity called over her shoulder. “If I do, he’ll be one in ten million. Even I doubt I can find that.”
The sky was clear and blue and Twilight watched the birds soaring across the azure vault, high above them. Surrounded by her friends, their constant conversation is as comforting as any lullaby, and soothing as any balm on her soul. As a single cloud drifted into view, a flash of light, a prism of speed and colour strikes it to the cheers of her friends, keeping the sky clear, their day beautiful. Dash turned around high above to salute them.
She didn’t know how she could report this, because the feelings went deeper than words, and besides, she suspected deep in her heart, her teacher would know without telling. But one thing she did know, she was no longer between the darkness and the light. Not content to be in twilight anymore, she was finally walking in the full sun of her life.