• Published 7th Apr 2012
  • 10,645 Views, 663 Comments

Then Tomorrow Came - PonyAmorous



Twilight falls for Rainbow Dash but finds herself on the wrong end of a love triangle.

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Chapter 4

Chapter 4

The pony-shaped pile of misery and self-pity, formerly known as Twilight Sparkle, continued to sulk. Aside from a brief and unavoidable trip to the bathroom, she spent the rest of the irritatingly pleasant day in bed. She had briefly tried opening the window to let in the breeze, but the disgustingly cheerful chirping of birds had prompted her to shut it again. One would think that spending the day in bed would result in restless energy and an inability to sleep once night came. Instead, Twilight found that her intermittent cycles of brooding and crying all day long had left her quite exhausted.

She awoke the next morning with a severe stiffness and the fear of bedsores motivating her to finally get up. She gave one long stretch before heading downstairs to make some toast. Spike would be returning late this evening, meaning she would have a day to pull herself together enough to be at least somewhat presentable. Hopefully she could be, if not pleasant, at least not a total pain to be around.

After finishing her breakfast, she quickly set about searching for something to do. Anything to fill the time and take her mind off of Rainbow Dash for the day. What would she normally do on any other day before her world had been destroyed? Before she had ever fallen for that stupid, sexy, charming pegasus. What could she do to be herself again? The answer suddenly came to her. Science!

Trotting down the stairs to her basement laboratory, she started pulling various pieces of chemistry equipment from their respective shelves. There was an experiment she had been meaning to run for a while now. First she would need some hydrogen gas. Frowning upon discovering that her tank was empty, she started to set up her hydrolysis equipment to make more. After filling the container with water and making sure the empty tank was securely fastened to the tubing above the cathode, she connected the electrical leads to the power source and waited. And waited. Something was wrong.

Bubbles of hydrogen gas should have been rising up the tubing from one end and filling the tank. Twilight facehoofed as she realized that she had filled the tank with distilled water. Of course it wouldn't conduct electricity. Well she just needed to add some electrolytes. A Rainbow Dash of salt would fix...a dash of...several grams of NaCl would fix that. After adding some salt to the water and waiting a few minutes, she had her hydrogen.

Next, she needed to prepare some solutions of varying pH. Setting up her acids, indicators, and pipettes, she got to work, letting the relaxing monotony of titration spread over her mind. Measuring volumes, running through the familiar calculations, counting the slow, rhythmic drops of acid, all of it brought a sense of calm.

Hmm...needs to be about twenty percent more acidic.

Where had that thought come from? That wasn't right at all. The pH scale was logarithmic, each number down from seven being a tenfold change. Twenty percent was way off. Pushing the thought aside, she finished her last solution and placed it next to the others.

Having absentmindedly used a different indicator for each solution, she noticed that the flasks formed a rainbow across the table. With an irritated groan, she dumped the chemicals down the sink and gave the equipment a quick cleaning before putting it away. She didn't feel like chemistry anymore. Maybe some light reading would be better.

Returning back upstairs, she scanned her shelves, looking for a good book to sink into. Magically plucking a book at random, she levitated it across the room and set it down in front of her to see it was one of her physics texts. Making herself comfortable on the couch, she opened to the chapter titled "Optics for Eggheads".

When light enters a new material, such as water or glass, the speed of the light decreases. As mentioned in the previous chapter, waves entering a slower medium will bend towards that medium, much like a cart with one side on a paved road and one side in the mud will turn towards the mud. This wave bending is referred to as refraction and depends on a property of the medium known as 'index of refraction'. This is simply the regular speed of light divided by the speed in the medium.

Twilight felt the calm returning to her mind as she soaked in the familiar information. Nothing that she hadn't learned long ago, but the descriptions still felt therapeutic. A soothing balm for her stress addled brain.

The index of refraction is a result of the atomic structure of the material. A photon traveling through dense material will encounter more atoms in its path and be absorbed and re-emitted by more of the bound electrons, resulting in a slower speed through the material. Furthermore, frequencies of light closer to the natural frequencies of the electrons are more likely to interact and will do so more often, resulting in slightly different indices of refraction for different wavelengths. This is what allows a prism to split white light into its individual wavelengths, resulting in a beautiful Rainbow Dash.

The book slammed shut as Twilight shoved it unceremoniously back into its slot on the shelf. At wits end, she desperately searched for something else until her eyes came to rest on her complete collection of Daring Do novels.

Memories flooded her mind. The elation she had felt when she had successfully turned Rainbow Dash onto the joy of reading. How Dash had spent the next couple of weeks visiting the library to read the rest of the series. To just sit and read with her. It wasn't until after the third book that Dash had dropped her habit of reading out loud. Twilight hadn't minded at all. She had loved listening to the eager excitement that gripped Dash's voice through every action scene. Had smiled as she watched Dash forget her surroundings, floating in the air as her hooves gripped the binding and her eyes raced through the pages.

On a few wonderful evenings, having nothing important to do the next day, Dash would stay late and read long into the night, falling asleep on Twilight's couch. On those nights, Twilight would spend hours watching Dash sleep, resisting the temptation to lean over and plant the tiniest of kisses on the sleeping mare, and hoping that her resistance would fail. She would gently settle down on the opposite end of the couch, still close enough to reach out and touch, and would try in vain to get to sleep during this sublime torture.

The weight of all these memories, the sight of Dash curled up on the couch, the sound of her gentle breathing, the scent that lingered in the cushions, the faint traces of body heat that Twilight swore she could feel hours later, they all came down on the unicorn's mind like a sledgehammer, crushing her already feeble defenses into dust and restarting the same, well worn patterns of thought that had plagued her all of yesterday.

It's not fair.

She and Dash belonged together. Were supposed to be together. Her own level headed and nerdy demeanor could hardly contrast more with the athlete's fiery arrogance and thrill seeking, but they seemed to complement each other perfectly. They seemed to complete each other, each mitigating the flaws of the other. Twilight had never realized how isolated and withdrawn she had become until her friends had started teaching her about the magic of friendship. Dash had done far more for her than anypony in bringing her out of her shell. Twilight knew she had a positive effect on Dash as well. Though she could hardly admit to Dash having flaws, she knew that their many experiences had smoothed some of the rougher edges to the pegasus' personality.

For all their wonderful contrast, they also had so much in common. Be it in magic or flight, they were both incredibly talented. The best. Twilight, when she wasn't being personally tutored by the most powerful being in existence, had always been at the top of her classes in the academy. Dash, the only one who could pull off a legendary sonic rainboom, had proved time and again that she deserved her self-appointed title of fastest flyer in Equestria. Neither was content to rest on their laurels. Both remained passionately driven to continue improving themselves and surpassing their previous limitations. As Twilight continued to study and experiment with new forms of magic, Dash never stopped training or experimenting with new maneuvers. They knew they could always do better, that if they kept at it for even another hour, they might reach new and untold heights.

It just made so much sense, like the most natural thing in the world. If the universe had any sense to it, had any kind of underlying rationality, any justice, then they should be together. Dash should burst through her door, sweep her off her hooves, and take her soaring through the skies. They should sit on a cloud, watching the sunset, and stay there all night staring at the stars. They should be together, happy and harmonious for the rest of their lives.

Then why?

The answer was simple. The universe didn't care. It didn't care what elaborate romantic narratives a single insignificant unicorn had fabricated for herself. It didn't care what was right and good and meant to be, just what was, and that was the fact that Rainbow Dash loved Applejack.

Applejack. If it wasn't for her...

As they had done multiple times the previous day, dark fantasies began to play through Twilight's mind. Images of levitating Applejack by the throat and slowly squeezing as the earth pony's legs kicked wildly above the ground and her eyes started to bug out. Of silencing that irritating country drawl by shoving her hat down her throat until she choked on it. Unfortunately, Twilight always seemed to ruin her own fantasies by including the logical consequences of every action. None of the scenarios ever led anywhere good. In none of them did hurting Dash's marefriend suddenly make her love Twilight.

Well if Applejack were removed in a more permanent manner, Dash would be single again. Nopony would find a body in the Everfree.

I'm not even sure where to start with how stupidly terrible that idea is. First of all, I'm not exactly an experienced murderer and there are a lot of things to screw up. Given the potential costs if caught, the risk is way too big.

She imagined Dash staring at her with a look of absolute disgust and horror, with those of her own friends and family as an afterthought.

Really wouldn't be that hard. Some pressure on the right spot in the brain, move a vein a few millimeters, and it looks like a stroke. Just a tragic accident.

Applejack makes Dash happy. Her death would leave Dash emotionally devastated. I could never hurt her like that.

You would make her happy too. Far happier even. She would be sad for a while, recover, then find true love with you. If you care about maximizing her happiness, utilitarianism practically requires you to do it.

First of all, that is an absurdly narrow and unrealistic view of the effects of traumatic loss. Second, minimize suffering before maximizing happiness. Rule number one: "Do not do anything to harm Rainbow Dash, or allow her to come to harm." That certainly includes devastating emotional trauma.

Twilight recalled the night she had decided that her dramatic shift in personal priorities had required formal codification, and had stayed up writing "Sparkle's Laws of Love".

Of course, there were the mountains of other reasons she would never kill anypony. Apart from the dozens of philosophical moral reasons why she disapproved of cold blooded murder, she found the very concept sickening and fundamentally wrong. Not being a complete sociopath, she would of course be destroyed by guilt even if she never had to see Applebloom grieving over her sister with the rest of her family. There was no way she'd ever make it through the funeral without cracking. Then there was the fact that, despite extreme jealousy, she didn't actually dislike her personally. She genuinely liked having Applejack as a friend and didn't have any sincere desire to hurt her, disturbingly detailed fantasies to the contrary.

All of these reasons were true, all perfectly valid enough on their own, yet none of them were ever the first to come to her mind and none seemed quite as persuasive an argument as the fact that it would make Rainbow Dash sad. Some part of Twilight thought that she should probably feel more concerned about what those priorities said about her.

It was around this point that her anger would begin to waver. It wasn't like Applejack had ever intended to slight her. All Applejack was guilty of was loving Rainbow Dash, a position Twilight could easily empathize with. She couldn't quite scrape together enough hypocrisy to denounce her for falling for Dash. There was so much there to love.

Maybe her own feelings weren't unique at all. Maybe Applejack had been tormented just as long, or even longer, by feelings just as strong as hers. Maybe Applejack had lain awake at night, her own unconfessed feelings tearing her apart inside. Maybe, after her own nerve wracking night on a hill somewhere, Applejack was every bit as grateful as Twilight would be in her place. Part of her lashed out at the idea.

No! My feelings are special! Unique! Applejack couldn't possibly feel the way I do! Nopony could!

The part of Twilight's mind that was still in the business of making sense scoffed at the thought. The idea that in the history of the entire world, nopony who had ever lived had felt love and heartbreak as much as she had. That she, Twilight Sparkle, had truly plumbed the depths of what was emotionally possible in the universe. It was self-absorbed, ludicrous, pathetic, and she actually managed to believe it for several seconds at a time before dismissing it.

With her seething anger now extinguished, she didn't feel any better. Without Applejack as an effective target, and completely unable to place any blame on Dash, her frustrations inevitably turned back on herself. It was usually at this point in the cycle that she was plagued by the more persistent and unsettling of questions. Was it her fault? Was there something more she could have done? Maybe if she hadn't waited so long. Maybe if she had made a move sooner, Dash would be with her instead.

Probably not. Rainbow Dash and Applejack had known each other for a long time, had probably been close for a long time. Feelings could have been building on both sides before she had even realized her own feelings for Dash. For all she knew, they could have been seeing each other since long before then. It could be that there was nothing she could have possibly done, that it was just a tragically doomed venture from the beginning. That would grant her a miniscule bit of peace. She would still be miserable, but she would know it wasn't her fault. The problem was that she didn't know, and that uncertainty ate at her far worse than any answer would have. Eventually, after a few more minutes of crying and self-pity, her thoughts would turn once again to Applejack.

She probably doesn't even care that much. Probably treats it as just some fling. She'll only end up hurting Dash somehow. She needs to be stopped. For Dash's sake.

Again, the graphic fantasies would come back to restart the cycle ad infinitum.

Twilight had to stop it. Had to quiet down the storm in her mind before she tore herself and the entire library apart. With a quickly forming idea, she hurried up the stairs to the bathroom. She ran over to the bathtub and cranked the hot water valve as far as it would go. A scalding hot bath, as hot as she could possibly stand. It had worked wonders in the past whenever she had worked herself into a stressed panic over an assignment for the princess. She also used it to burn off a cold with the artificial fever.

With the spacious tub filled, she dipped a foreleg into the steaming water, gritting her teeth and forcing herself not to snatch it out. The burning pain momentarily cut through the storm in her mind before subsiding. She brought her other legs in, feeling the hairs on her legs curl under the intense heat. Lowering the rest of herself down into the water, she leaned backwards, leaving only her head above the surface to rest against the edge. She was already sweating profusely, her body desperately trying to regulate its internal temperature in the face of such drastic change. Painful thoughts still raced through her head, but more slowly.

Taking a deep breath, she slipped her head underwater and let out a slow, steady stream of bubbles until she passed neutral buoyancy and sank to the bottom. Curled up on the bottom of the bathtub, safe from the troubles in the world above the surface, she let the heat wash over her and wrap around her mind like a blanket. Her thoughts gradually slowed and finally came to a stop, her mind now blank.

She swished her tail and listened to the microscopic changes in current that rippled across her. Her lungs began to weakly protest, but she ignored them. It was perfect here. Her empty mind was filled with the soothing and rhythmic pounding of her heart, beating at a much faster tempo than normal due to the heat and dwindling reserves of oxygen. The pounding in her ears grew deafening and continued to speed up as her lungs started to burn. Still she ignored them, she would stay down here forever.

Her preservation instincts finally stepped in and overrode her with a flood of panic inducing hormones, forcing her to break the surface and gasp for breath. Riding along the border of heat stroke, she hung her head over the edge of the bathtub and briefly closed her eyes to the lightly spinning world.

***

When she opened her eyes again, the water had cooled and the room was noticeably darker. Pulling herself out of the uncomfortably tepid water, she opened the drain and found a towel. Aware of a painful throbbing in her head, she realized how dehydrated she was and went back downstairs. Just as she finished her sixth glass of water, she heard the front door open.

"Hey Twilight I'm back," she heard her dragon assistant call as he walked through the door. "Anything big and important happen while I was gone?"

Twilight struggled to keep sarcasm out of her voice as she replied. "No, you didn't miss anything here. How was the sleepover?"

"It was fine, well except for the part where Scootaloo suggested they try to get dragon taming cutie marks."

Twilight gave a small giggle at the mental image of Spike being chased around the room, beaten with pillows, and tied up by three schoolfillies. "Well it certainly sounds like you had an interesting time."

"Yeah, and the best part was that I got to help Rarity with one of her projects! She said I was a big help and she couldn't have done it without me." A familiar lovesick look moved across Spike's face.

Twilight suddenly felt the urge to wipe that smile off his face. To reach out and crush his hopes. Tell him that this idiot crush he nurtured would lead nowhere. Even ignoring the age difference, she was a unicorn and he was a Celestia damned dragon! It was never going to work and he should just give up now.

"Oh really? What was this project?"

"Well when Rarity got back from that party she went to, she was all excited to make some new set of matching outfits. Apparently they were a gift for Rainbow Dash and Applejack. Did you know they're dating now? I always thought that there was something between those two."

"Yes. I heard something about that." Twilight replied with a bit more edge to her voice. "Anyway, I haven't eaten dinner yet, so I should get on that. Then I have some work to finish up." As she turned back toward the kitchen, she remembered one last detail. "I'm also thinking about moving you into your own room."

"Whoa! You really mean it Twilight?"

"You are growing quite a bit. I think it's time you got some space of your own. Help me clean out the spare storage room and we can move you in tonight."

While this was true, she had an ulterior motive. She expected she would need quite a bit more time before she was done crying herself to sleep and wanted some privacy to do so in peace.

***

The next week remained rough. The same thoughts returned to her frequently and she needed another one of her scalding bath sessions once or twice a day. She stayed holed up in the library and was constantly on edge, occasionally snapping at Spike when she didn't mean to.

The second week was bad, but at least she had gotten out a bit. Finally giving into Spike's insistence that she needed some fresh air for the sake of both their sanity, she had gone on a nature walk with Fluttershy and almost enjoyed herself. She had also given a genuine smile during a cupcake baking session with Pinkie Pie, and had almost avoided thinking about Dash for the duration. She still stained her pillow with tears every night.

By the third week, things were almost bearable. The pain hadn't diminished much, but her tolerance for it seemed to have increased. It was now a constant background throbbing with occasional flare ups. She was back to interacting with her friends regularly and had even hung out with Applejack and found that they still got along quite well. It was only when leaving after spending time with Dash, or having to watch Dash and Applejack being affectionate that she would spiral into depression.

At the end of the fourth week, Twilight felt she had successfully come to grips with the situation. Had managed some kind of acceptance. She still loved Rainbow Dash, would probably always love her. Still, she wanted more than anything for Dash to be happy, and if it meant giving up her own happiness, it was worth it. She would still carry Dash with her in her heart, but she would move on. She would probably never find another pony who quite measured up, but that was okay. As Twilight Sparkle closed her eyes, drifting off to sleep with a sense of acceptance and resolution, she felt like she had learned something important. Had closed the door on a major part of her life and was about to open the door to a new one.

Then tomorrow came, and she didn't feel a single bit different.

Author's Note:

No this is not the end of the story. This is the end of what I am tentatively calling the first act, of which there will likely be three (four if I ever go back and properly expand on all those events in the first chapter). Secondly, HA! I probably made you learn some science! Guess what I do for a living. Third, writing is hard and takes forever. Still loving it way more than I thought I would. When I started writing this I thought it was just going to be a crappy one shot. Maybe 8,000 words maximum.

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