The bell chimed as Rainbow Dash walked through the entrance of Sugarcube Corner.
The inside of the bakery was as hot as ever, but she ignored that in favor of heading for the counter, her pace quickening to a trot when she saw the pony standing there.
"Hi, Dashie!" Pinkie said, her face breaking out into an enormous grin. Rainbow Dash found herself following suit. She couldn't help it; Pinkie Pie's smiles were downright infectious. "What can I get you?"
Wings fluttering idly, Rainbow drifted over to a nearby display, making a show of carefully examining that which the bakery had to offer. It was pretty standard fare, for the most part - cupcakes, cookies, brownies, muffins, scones, cakes. She didn't even know what half of them were, and could only identify them based on the labels carefully affixed to each shelf; they were all heaped beyond recognition with decorative candies and frosting, likely due to Pinkie's influence. But even if she didn't know what to order, that didn't matter. Either Pinkie would happily chirp a suggestion, or Dash would find something that looked cool enough for her to risk sampling.
Today it was the former, with Pinkie hopping out from behind the counter where she'd previously stood and joining Rainbow Dash at the display. She jammed an eager hoof through the air and towards the shelf, indicating some kind of cake piled high with berries.
"You should try one of these!" Pinkie cried, nodding her head energetically. "They're brand new and they're so yummy! I've already eaten six! I bet you'll love them!"
"That good, huh?" And here, Rainbow thoughtfully rubbed her chin, pretending to consider. "Okay, I'll try one."
"Aw! Just one?"
Pinkie Pie's face fell into an adorable pout, and Dash sighed, rolling her eyes exaggeratedly.
"Okay, fine, two. I'll give you one if I can't finish them both."
Humming to herself, Pinkie practically danced back behind the counter to ring up Rainbow's purchase. Dash made a concentrated effort not to follow her with her eyes, instead casting her gaze over the bakery itself and taking note of its interior decorating scheme.
Sugarcube Corner, for it's elaborate gingerbread-house exterior, was actually rather humble on the inside. It had all the standards of a bakery and confectionery, and little else; a simple store-front where customers could easily walk in and make their purchases, a kitchen in the back, and an adjoining room decorated with even more elaborate displays of sweets, coupled with a handful of small café tables where ponies could sit and enjoy their treats.
Most ponies opted to sit outside so they could better enjoy the sunny weather, but Rainbow Dash had had her fill of sunshine and blue skies for the day. Sunny weather did nothing for her anymore. After all, she made it. She knew fully well how awesome it was, and didn't need to remind herself by basking in it any longer than necessary. Besides, she had sights of a different sort in mind that day.
Almost the very same moment she thought of it, Rainbow Dash found her gaze flickering back to Pinkie Pie, and quickly looked away before Pinkie could notice. If Pinkie had been looking up, she might have noticed the slightest hint of a blush on Rainbow's face.
She wasn't wearing her apron. Too bad.
On the days when Pinkie Pie was in the kitchen for the most part, she tended to wear a frilly little beruffled thing; but on those days when she was mostly working the counter, she didn't bother. But if she wasn't going to be needed in the back, then that meant Pinkie could probably slip away during the occasional lull in order to check on the customers in the café part of the shop.
So that was okay. Yeah. Yeah, it was more than okay, it was perfect.
The café area was mostly empty that day - another small blessing. If there had been a crowd, whether Pinkie could snatch a few moments of free time or not, Rainbow Dash likely wouldn't have seen very much of her. Pinkie was a social butterfly at heart, and probably would've made sure that nopony felt neglected in any way, ensuring that they all received equal amounts of her attention - even if it meant neglecting Rainbow in exchange.
Ugh. No. Not neglecting. That sounded too stupid. Ignoring? No, that wasn't it, either. Was it still ignoring if the pony in question was paying attention to you, just not quite as much as you might've liked?
There was a certain table. A table for two, pushed far against the wall by the back window and flooded with the sunlight that poured through the slightly-parted curtains. It was that table that Rainbow Dash sought out upon receiving her order from Pinkie, and it was there that she settled in for the afternoon. For the next little while, at least.
She would make herself comfortable. After all, she wasn't planning on leaving any time soon.
"Just thought I'd hang out for a while," she'd said at the till as she'd given Pinkie the bits for her cake-berry thing. "I don't have anything else to do today."
"What about flight training?" Pinkie Pie had suggested. "Didn't you say once that you could never train enough for the Wonderbolts?"
"Um, yeah, but I've been doing that all morning and I need a break."
Pinkie had been so quick to accept that as an explanation. It was kind of funny and kind of sad at the same time.
When she reached her table, Rainbow settled into her seat by the window, briefly glancing outside. The weather was just as she'd left it; clear blue sky and warm, buttery sunlight. So that was good, too. She didn't have to worry, and could just let herself relax.
The cake-berry thing, whatever kind of pastry it was supposed to be, sat before her untouched. Rainbow Dash eyed it warily.
The warm smell of cloying sweetness was thick in all parts of the baker - except for maybe Pinkie Pie's loft on the top floor - no matter how far away from the kitchen you were. It almost made Rainbow gag; but the smell was just a minor inconvenience, one that the benefits of regularly visiting the bakery easily outweighed. The warmth itself was pleasant enough - it was just the overwhelming scent of chocolate and sugar and baking bread all mixed together that made her nauseous.
It was a good thing Pinkie hadn't slipped away from the counter to come and see her yet. Otherwise, she might've seen the distaste in Dash's eyes as she examined her purchase. The pink pony had a habit of taking offense over the smallest of slights, and probably would've seen such hesitance as a grave insult, whether Rainbow had intended it as one or not.
She'd never been able to make herself like sweets very much. As a filly, Rainbow Dash had been as fond of candy as anypony else, but as she'd grown older and (slightly) more mature, that fondness had dwindled to almost nothing. Even on holidays like Nightmare Night, she couldn't bring herself to partake in the gluttony as enthusiastically as the others, since too much candy made her sick; instead, Rainbow had made it about pranks and mischief so that she had a reason to get excited along with everypony else. She was more of a sour/salty/spicy kind of girl.
But like the smell of the bakery, the sickening sweetness of the food sold at Sugarcube Corner was just a minor inconvenience that Rainbow Dash could easily overlook if it meant having a valid excuse to drop by the bakery and see Pinkie Pie while she was working.
Not that Pinkie Pie knew that, of course. Candy and sweets were her life. She'd probably be downright horrified to learn that Rainbow didn't care for them, maybe even throwing Dash some kind of cupcake-themed intervention until the pegasus was willing to claim them as her favorite foods. But Rainbow Dash might've let her.
Even once she was seated, her sugary purchase begging to be eaten, Rainbow Dash was unable to relax. Instead, she was restless, fidgeting in her seat and ruffling her wings uneasily as she snuck quick little glances around her surroundings.
Rainbow had been in Sugarcube Corner so often over the past few weeks that she probably could've sketched the interior café from memory, so she didn't really need to look around; but even so, Dash itched for something to do, and settled for observing.
Her thoughts wouldn't settle, pinging from topic to topic like a pinball machine.
Pinkie Pie was the same way, though. Neither of them could stand being cooped up indoors or forced to stay still for very long, or else they grew antsy, their natural energy demanding that they somehow stay in motion. How Pinkie managed to hold down a steady job was beyond Rainbow Dash.
She'd once seen Pinkie Pie sleep. It had been at a slumber party, and Rainbow had woken up before anypony else out of pure habit. After all, those on the weather team often had to be up early to prepare for the coming day; that was the only reason Rainbow spent so much of her free time napping.
While the others had been asleep, she'd had the idea to slip outside for a quick morning flight; but that had meant needing to sneak past the slumbering bodies of her friends as quietly as possible, lest Dash accidentally wake them with the careless flap of a wing or a wrong step on a particularly creaky floorboard.
As she'd crept past them, Rainbow Dash had caught a glimpse of Pinkie Pie; and while the others had seemed still and at peace in their sleep, Pinkie had been as twitchy as ever, squirming and wriggling about and mumbling drowsily. She'd even giggled at one point.
It had been so strangely entertaining that Rainbow had found herself growing still, forgetting all about her intention of sneaking in an early morning flight and instead becoming absorbed in watching. Only Pinkie Pie could be just as silly when fast asleep as she was when fully conscious.
Rainbow Dash sighed, and broke off a piece of the cake-berry. It practically melted in her mouth the moment it touched her tongue, and she made a face. There were certainly ponies out there who'd like something so sweet, but she definitely wasn't one of them. It was way too rich for her.
At least Pinkie Pie liked hot sauce, too.
Just then, Rainbow Dash was attacked from behind as a pair of bright pink forelegs threw themselves around her in a stranglehold grip, squeezing the air out of her lungs, their owner giggling maniacally.
"Hiya, Dashie!" Pinkie practically sang upon releasing Rainbow and skipping to the other side of the table to take a seat.
"H-hi, Pinkie Pie," Rainbow Dash managed to wheeze once she was no longer seeing stars. Pinkie beamed.
"Boy, I sure surprised you, huh?" Pinkie Pie giggled.
"Yeah, you sure did." Rainbow rolled her eyes. "Geez. You seriously gotta stop doing that. One day you're gonna kill me that way."
"Oh, pish posh!"
"Yes, pish posh!" Pinkie declared, slamming her hooves on the table with an unusually serious gleam in her eyes; but then she brought a hoof to her chin, frowning slightly. "Or was it pish tosh? Or maybe posh pish? I don't remember. It doesn't matter, though! Whaddya think of the Charlotte?"
"Huh?" Rainbow repeated, blinking. Charlotte? Wasn't that the pony who sold cheese in the market? Or -
"The Charlotte, goofball! The Wildberry Charlotte!" And Pinkie leaned forward, neatly snatching up one of Rainbow Dash's cake-berry things and shoving it into her mouth whole, chewing messily and swallowing with a loud gulp before wiping her mouth and continuing. "Aren't they yummy? They're like little sponge cakes filled with berry mousse and topped with real berries, and they're soooo good! I just knew you'd like them! I picked the berries myself and helped Mrs. Cake make them and everything!"
Pinkie hadn't even asked before snatching up the second cake-berry thing. Or Wildberry Charlotte. Whatever it was called. Was she just used to Rainbow always buying two of everything and never finishing them both by now?
That was okay.
But Pinkie Pie had helped make them.
Without another moment's hesitation, Rainbow Dash picked up the partially-nibbled Charlotte and shoved it into her mouth whole, just like Pinkie Pie had.
The cake itself was small, so it didn't take much chewing, and Rainbow could almost feel herself wince in anticipation of the strength of the wildberry flavor. But to her surprise, the shock didn't come, and neither did her gag reflex. Instead, she tasted only the gentle sweetness of berries and sponge cake, and was able to swallow it without any trouble.
"Good, huh?" Pinkie asked pressingly, looking up at Rainbow Dash with those huge, innocent blue eyes of hers.
"Yeah," Rainbow managed to agree. "Really good. You, you helped make these, huh?"
"Well, yeah, silly filly!" Pinkie said with yet another giggle. She had a way of speaking that made everything she said sound as though she had a laugh bubbling from somewhere deep within her. "I help make everything in here! That's what I do, ya know!"
"Heh. Right. But, yeah, those were pretty good."
Dash almost said something more, but she made the mistake of looking up and meeting Pinkie Pie's eyes right then. Meeting her gaze was all it took for her to become locked in it, unable to speak, unable to pull away.
Luckily, Pinkie broke the gaze first, humming cheerfully as she leapt up from her chair and leaned across the table to collect Rainbow's dishes. Her forelegs brushed against Rainbow's when she did so, causing the pegasus to instinctively leap back as though burned, but Pinkie didn't even seem to notice.
"Will that be all, Dashie?" Pinkie Pie asked sweetly. "Can I get you anything else?"
Hearing her say that did something strange to Rainbow Dash. It was like Pinkie's words unraveled something inside Dash that had been knotted too tightly for her to even noticed. Hearing her name on that tongue was all it took for her to completely melt on the inside, into some kind of pile of pure goo.
It's her job to say that, Rainbow had to remind herself. It didn't mean anything special.
"Nah, I'm good," she said after a moment. "I can't afford anything else today, anyway."
"Wanna hot chocolate or something? It'll be on the house!"
"Okay!" Rainbow Dash blurted instantly, before hastening to backtrack. "I mean... sure, that sounds good. As long as it's okay with Mr. and Mrs. Cake. I don't want to get you in trouble or anything."
"It's no problem at all! They'll just take it out of my pay check!"
"And that's okay?"
"Um, yeah!" And Pinkie rolled her eyes, grinning and sticking her tongue out at Dash to show that she was kidding. "I probably would've spent that money on a party or something for you girls, anyway! Why not spend it on my favorite Dashie?"
Rainbow didn't answer. Pinkie hesitated, as though waiting to see if she would; but when the pegasus didn't, she bounced away, back to the front of the store.
When Pinkie Pie had been leaving over the table, Rainbow Dash had caught the slightest whiff of her mane. It hadn't smelled of bubblegum or candy the way one might have thought. Instead, it had smelled faintly like berries, and for the briefest moment, Rainbow had been seized with the urge to chomp down on it and see if it would've tasted like them, too. Luckily, she had managed to restrain herself. That was the kind of thing that would've seemed crazy even to Pinkie.
Again, she sighed.
She wouldn't say anything, of course, because Dash wasn't like that - the kind of pony who pined and trailed helplessly after others. She was a mare of action, and if she'd felt like it, she could've easily summoned the guts necessary to approach Pinkie Pie.
It wasn't a nerves thing. She just didn't feel like it.
Not yet, anyway.
A moment later, Pinkie Pie returned bearing a tray that carried a mug of fragrant cider. As she skipped closer to Rainbow Dash's table, Dash mouth began to water as she heard it sloshing around in the cup. But Pinkie didn't even spill one drop, setting it down on the table easily.
"Ta-da!" Pinkie practically sang.
"Thanks, Pinkie!" Rainbow said gratefully, eyeing the drink with appreciation. "I didn't know you guys had cider here!"
Pinkie covered her mouth as though trying to suppress the single giggle that burst free, before cupping her mouth with her hoof and leaning close to whisper conspiratorially in Rainbow Dash's ear. Dash grew still as she felt her fur prickle from the warmth of Pinkie Pie's breath.
"We don't," the pink pony hissed almost gleefully. "I bought a barrel from Applejack last cider season to save all for myself! Pretty sneaky, huh?"
"And you didn't share any with me until now?" Dash cried with mock offense; but then Pinkie Pie drew back, looking genuinely upset.
"Nuh-uh!" she protested. "I didn't even drink any myself yet! You get the very first glass, so it's special, got it?"
Before Rainbow could think of a reply, Pinkie's attitude abruptly shifted to one of stern disapproval, even as her eyes sparkled with laughter yet again.
"You know, Dashie, you've been a very bad girl! You've been in here almost every day this month! That's okay for a Pinkie Pie, but for a Rainbow Dash, that's pretty suspicious-looking!"
"Oh, yeah, right! You're the one with some kind of secret cider stash, and I'm the sneaky one?" Rainbow shot back before taking a long, deep drink from her mug. Aah.
"Well, it's not good for you!" Pinkie retorted primly, folding her forelegs over her chest and adopting as serious a manner as possible for a mare like her - a mare who's very existence seemed to revolve around nonsensical silliness. "You never even ate that many desserts before, so it's not healthy for you to be eating so many all of a sudden! What if you get a pudge and can't budge? How'll you be Equestria's best young flier then, missy? Hmmm?"
"Easy-peasy. I'll just go flying as soon as I'm done here and work it all off. Then I can come back and get more of that Charlotte stuff. That was pretty good."
And Pinkie smiled that brilliant smile that could rival the sun. Her cheeks looked slightly pinker than usual, but that might've been Rainbow's imagination. Wishful thinking. That, or she was just hot from having been in such proximity to the ovens, and Rainbow Dash hadn't noticed until just now.
"Okie dokie lokie, then!" Pinkie sang. "That sounds perfect! But you know, I gotta get back to work now," she added, her mood once again shifting abruptly, her ears and mane themselves drooping.
"When're you done?" Dash found herself asking, not meeting Pinkie's eyes and instead focusing on her drink.
"In an hour."
"I'll just wait, then," she declared breezily. "And then when you're done we can go pranking or something. It's been a while since we did that. Applejack's been asking for it lately."
"Oh, yay!" the pink pony squealed. "You're right, it has been a while! Okay, your job while I'm working is to think of the bestest pranks ever for us to do, okay?"
Rainbow saluted, forcing herself to look as serious as possible. Pinkie Pie laughed before hopping away, once again humming brightly to herself.
Pinkie's giggles were constant, underlying nearly every word she said so that she constantly sounded like she was on the verge of laughing, and that was bad enough. Her actual laughter was something else entirely and almost made Dash feel weak at the knees. It was full of such joy, such life.
But Rainbow Dash wasn't the kind of sappy, sentimental mare who could so easily be affected by something like that, so she pushed it down deep inside, trying to ignore it.
As she waited for Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash grew increasingly and painfully aware of just how strange it was for her of all ponies to be in such a situation. She couldn't help but feel grateful that there were so few ponies around to see her.
Not that long ago, she'd been notorious for being one of the rowdiest ponies in Ponyville - wild and spunky and carefree, with a loud and feisty personality, always crashing about and searching for excitement. Now, she was sitting alone in Sugarcube Corner, in a corner, no less, drinking cider and silently reading the new Daring Do book. It was like she'd done a total 180 of who she'd once been and had somehow turned into Twilight.
No matter. It was only while she waited. As soon as Pinkie Pie was done, they could get going and cause some trouble, the way they were meant to. Of course, the stillness wasn't all bad. It gave her the freedom to observe.
"Observe" was such a creepy word, Dash realized. It made her sound like some kind of voyeur.
But it wasn't like there was anything wrong with what she was doing! She was simply patronizing an establishment that one of her friends happened to work at. That was all. Nothing sketchy about that at all. Nope. No matter what Pinkie had said about it being sneaky. Pinkie didn't know.
She hadn't been especially thirsty before, but that didn't stop Rainbow from practically chugging the cider that Pinkie Pie had brought her. Soon her mug was empty, but she just left it where it was. Luckily, nopony seemed to notice or care that she was loitering, if only because she mostly kept to herself. It was best not to draw attention to herself. All Dash wanted was to be there when Pinkie was done, so that they could go do something fun immediately after.
It felt like much, much longer than an hour before Pinkie finally walked through that door again, but it was worth it to for the enormous smile that lit her face upon seeing the pegasus there waiting for her; and almost unwillingly, Rainbow felt her mouth begin to curve into a smile as well.
They left together, trotting side by side. Rainbow could've easily flown beside Pinkie; maybe then they wouldn't have bumped into each other quite so often, tripping over each other's hooves. After all, Pinkie had a habit of really getting in the faces of the ponies she was especially excited to talk to or with whom she especially wanted to share something. Yet Dash chose to walk.
Rainbow Dash didn't like desserts. She really didn't. They were too light, too frilly, too delicate and fluffy and sugary. She preferred more challenging foods - the spicy stuff that lit other ponies mouths on fire, the sour stuff that made their faces twist in agony.
But then she would catch a glimpse of Pinkie Pie walking alongside her; buoyant and cheerful, almost dainty her voice bubbly and light and brimming with utter joy over something as simple as being able to enjoy the sunshine of the day with a friend.
There were some sweet things that she didn't mind so much.