• Published 1st Sep 2019
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Who Is Pinkie Pie? - Irrespective

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8. - I'd Like to Get to Know Her Better

* * Ω * *

Long Run hummed a happy note as the first rays of sunlight began to tickle his cheek, and he drew in a soft yawn. Waking up in his own house was far preferable to a hotel room, but it would be even better if he woke up in his bed, and not on the sofa in the living room.

But it wasn't all bad. A soft groan caught his attention, and he smiled as Rainbow Dash fidgeted a bit before settling into his shoulder again. It wasn’t the first time she’d fallen asleep in his house, but it was the first time they’d fallen asleep together.

Long Run’s smile turned into a contented grin, and he gently began to stroke her mane with his free hoof. Despite her flirtatious arrival last night, she had returned to her normal self as soon as he’d provided her with pizza and garlic breadsticks, and the two of them had taken some time to discuss their upcoming trip to Mount Ares as the night grew darker and the conversation slowed to a pleasant stop.

The faint scent of garlic and sweat wafted gently over their resting spot, but Long only had eyes for the curves of Rainbow’s resting form. True to her word, she had kept the flight suit on all night, so she was definitely going to need a shower once she woke up, but he did have to admit that her curves were nicely accentuated by the blue and gold that she proudly wore.

A tingle of delight suddenly filled his chest, and he relished the feeling as it worked throughout his entire body. There were many things in his life that made him happy, of course, but he’d never felt this sort of contented joy before. To have a mare there, in his embrace and comfortably resting at his side, filled him with an odd sort of pleasure that bordered on the sublime. This feeling was subdued and subtle, but somehow, that only made it more powerful and more wholesome.

This was something he wanted more of.

But as he pulled some stray bits of mane out of her face, he realized that it was probably best if he did not mention any of his feelings to Rainbow. She was not exactly the most emotionally open pony on a good day, and things between them could quickly become horribly awkward if he started pushing something she did not want.

The last thing Long wanted was to hurt their friendship, after all. In all the years they’d known each other, Rainbow had never even hinted at an interest in romance, so to try to add something that was unwanted would be rather detrimental.

Rainbow let out a small sigh into his chest fluff, and the corner of her mouth twitched up at the probable tickle she'd received in return. Even if she and he were not meant to be, he still couldn’t keep out the thoughts of what life would be like if the two of them ever did move into romance.

It would be quite the contented and fulfilling life, indeed.

Then again, his idle dream of domestic felicity could possibly still be a reality, provided he was willing to think pink. Pinkie Pie—or whoever it was—would be a cheerful and upbeat companion, and she was understanding of his work schedule and the demands that came with it. He didn’t feel like his relationship with her was far enough along to bring in the big M word, but perhaps, with a little more time, the two of them could be something more.

And, even if that completely failed for whatever reason, there was even a remote possibility that he and the local princess could turn into a thing. Off the top of his head, he could think of a few dozen reasons why he should not pursue Twilight Sparkle,⁽*⁾ but despite all that, the two of them had gotten along pretty well during their study sessions. Twilight was far more approachable than he would have expected, and it was easy to believe that their research projects and flight lessons could become something more intimate, given enough time.


⁽*⁾Meeting the parents of your date was nerve wracking enough, so he could only imagine what it would be like to be hauled off to meet with Twilight’s mentor and She Who Brings The Day.


Or perhaps he’d meet some other mare entirely and run away to Las Pegasus to elope, he mused with a light chuckle.

Long took a moment to admire Rainbow’s face, and he decided that, for her sake, he would go slow with her friends, if they showed interest in being more than friends with him.

He felt like, somehow, he owed her that much.

* * Ω * *

On most days, Rainbow Dash usually awoke with her alarm clock blaring, a quick batch of fifty wingups to get her blood pumping, a shower, and then a trip to the kitchen to feed herself and Tank before moving on with the rest of her day.

Today featured none of that, and as she slowly emerged from her slumber, she found that she really didn’t want to get up.

Her current accommodations were far too comfortable.

With a small yawn, Rainbow took stock of Long Run’s front room, but a tingly thrill of delight ran down her spine when she felt his gentle touch as he stroked her mane. His shoulder was a wonderful pillow, his coat felt soft and warm against her side, and somehow, he’d managed to wrap his right wing around her, so she was enveloped in a delicate, feathery blanket.

If there had been any lingering doubts in her mind about her feelings for Long, they were completely obliterated in that instant. She wanted to grab this feeling, pin it to the ground, and then lock it up somewhere so she could enjoy it whenever she wanted. Within his tender embrace, she felt a peace unlike anything she’d ever felt before.

“Good morning, Rainbow Dash.” Long’s greeting tickled her ear and sent more shots of pure delight through her. “Sleep well?”

“Eh, it was alright,” she said. Her eyes met his for a moment, but then her nose wrinkled as the smell of sweat and garlic hit her at full force. “Ugh. You reek.”

“Me?” he said with a laugh. “You’re the one who stayed in a stinky flight suit all night.”

He had a point, and she yawned again while stretching all of her legs. “Yeah, yeah. Whatever.”

“Tell you what: you go have a shower, and I’ll get your suit in the wash. Once you get done, I’ll treat you to breakfast at Sugarcube Corner.”

Rainbow went stiff. “Why don’t you just make something here?”

“I could, I suppose. I just thought you’d appreciate having a meal that was actually cooked properly.”

You gotta play this cool, Rainbow. If you get all weird and demand-y, you’ll push him away and into Pinkie’s waiting hooves. It’s just breakfast, and if you’re with him, nopony else can make a move.

“Yeah, your cooking sucks,” she admitted with a grin. “Let’s go hit Sugarcube Corner instead.”

“You didn’t have to agree so quickly,” he said with a chuckle that made her feel giddy.

“Hey, you said it first,” she said while she stood, much as she didn’t really want to. “We’ll need to stop by my house before that so I can feed Tank.”

“Not a problem. There should be some fresh towels up there, but if not, just grab some out of the closet.”

“Thank you, Mom,” she said with an eye roll and a playful grin. “Be right back.”

Rainbow was up the stairs in three flaps, but she paused at the top to glance back at Long. It was strange that she’d never realized how she felt about him before now, but she also didn’t want to give this up for anything in the world.

Another wave of garlic sweat hit her nose, and she quickly peeled herself out of her flight suit. Next time, she was going to shower before nodding off, even if she did get a bad case of bedhead mane.

Thankfully, Long Run had an extra large hot water heater and one of those adjustable shower heads that could work out the knots that were making their presence known in her back. She’d been meaning to ask him where he’d gotten it, especially since it could be detached from the wall for extra precision and those pesky hard-to-reach places.

A frown came after she shut the bathroom door. She’d completely forgotten that Long had placed that custom-ordered maid outfit on the towel rack, since that was the one place she was sure not to miss it, and she snorted in annoyance as she thought about actually wearing such a ridiculous thing. Even if she did love him, he could be a bit insufferable sometimes, and she was going to have to do something about these lame jokes of his. The offending fabric was banished to the countertop with a flick of the hoof, but as she turned the water on and cranked up the heat, her gaze drifted back.

Maybe she could wear it. Just once, and just for him, but…

“Gah! What is wrong with me?!” Rainbow shook her head. “There’s no way I’m gonna wear that thing! Get a hold of yourself, Dash!”

* * Ω * *

“Well, that took you long enough,” Long quipped as Rainbow flapped down to the main floor. “I was wondering if I had to send a rescue team in after you.”

“Very funny,” she grumbled with an exaggerated eye roll. “Here’s your towels and the flight suit. If you ruin it, I’m gonna make you buy me a new one.”

“No worries; I’ll run it through the delicate cycle. Don’t you have other suits, anyway?”

“Yeah, but they’re expensive.”

“At least you…” Long trailed off, and a confused look overtook him. Rainbow shrunk back, and her ears folded down.

“What? What’s wrong?”

“Your mane. There’s something… different about it.” Long stepped in, stuck his nose in her mane, and took in a deep whiff. The rush of air against Rainbow’s neck gave her goosebumps, but she managed to mostly keep her composure. “Did you use my shampoo?”

“I had to,” she defended. “Not like there was another choice.”

One corner of his mouth twitched upwards. “And, the followup question, if I may: did you just so happen to use conditioner, too?”

Rainbow Dash glanced at everything in the room but him. “Well, maybe some of it kinda-sorta spilled on me. So what if I did, huh? What’s it to you?”

Long chuckled. “There’s nothing wrong with that; I’ve just never seen your mane and tail with that much volume and shine to it. I mean, it always looks nice, of course, but now it looks really healthy and strong. You really should think about using a conditioner more often.”

“Really?” Rainbow reached up and fussed with the end of her mane. “You really think I should?”

“It’d help keep the snarls down, that’s for sure. Shall we be off?”

“Huh?” Rainbow released her hair and tried to pretend like she hadn’t totally been thinking about what would happen if she took his advice. “Uh, yeah. I’m starving. Let’s go.”

* * Ω * *

“So, it’s about, what? A nine hour flight to Mount Ares?” Long asked while they flapped their way towards Ponyville.

“About,” Rainbow replied, and she grinned. “Think you can handle flying that long, Long?”

“If I can’t then I’m in the wrong profession,” he quipped. “Don’t worry, I can carry you too, once you burn out halfway there.”

“Ha! As if!” Rainbow proclaimed. “I’ll get there hours before you do.”

“Sure, sure,” he said before his demeanor turned serious. “So, what’s it like being turned into a seapony? That’s gotta be all sorts of weird.”

“It’s not so bad, once you get the hang of it. Want me to see if Skystar or Silverstream can hook us up? Seaquestria is just right there.”

“Nah, it’s okay. I was just curious, that’s all.”

“Scaredy-cat.”

“I am not. I just… I just like breathing oxygen all by itself, instead of with its two hydrogen buddies.”

“Just try it once, you coward,” Rainbow laughed while they touched down in front of Sugarcube Corner. “It’s easy enough to change you back, and I promise I won’t let you drown.”

“Fine. I’ll give it a shot, but…”

“But what?” Rainbow asked.

“Um, is your butt glowing?” he asked, while pointing to her rear.

“Huh?” Rainbow twisted to look at her flank, and inwardly, she groaned when she saw her sparking cutie mark. “Oh, great. Fine time for this to happen.”

“I didn’t know cutie marks could do that. What’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing’s wrong with it, doofus. This is how the cutie map summons ponies. I guess there’s some friendship problem somewhere that I gotta go take care of.”

“Oh. So, no breakfast?”

Rainbow pouted. “I guess not. Twilight expects us to get going as soon as possible. Better get over to the castle and see what’s up.”

“I’ll grab you something for the road. Trust me, you don’t want to head out on an empty stomach.”

Rainbow couldn’t hide her grin. “Thanks, Long. I’ll see you at the castle.”


“Rainbow! Thanks for coming so quickly,” Twilight said with a quick hug for her friend. “I’m so excited for you! Well, excited and a little envious, but mostly excited.”

“Is this going to take long?” Rainbow asked. “This is kind of a bad time for me.”

“I have no idea!” Twilight happily proclaimed. “Isn’t it great?”

“Yeah, sure. So where am I going now?”

“Applewood!” Twilight clapped her hooves with glee. “Oh, I can’t wait to hear all about your adventure!”

“You aren’t going to make me turn in another essay, are you?” Rainbow asked as she looked over the cutie mark map and scowled at her floating mark.

“Of course not! I mean, I would like a report, of course, and I’d like it to be properly formatted, and it really wouldn’t hurt if you worked developing a stronger thesis statement…”

Rainbow tuned out Twilight while she continued to prattle along on proper essay structure, tone, and theme. While she was irked to be called away right when she was beginning to make her move on Long, there was comfort in the fact that Pinkie Pie, the strongest competitor for Long’s affections, would be with her, and thus unable to score any more points.

“Hey, where is Pinkie Pie, anyway?” Twilight suddenly asked.

“I haven’t seen her.” Rainbow grunted and gave a venomous gaze to the main doors. “She’d better hurry, though. I really don’t want this to drag on for longer than it should.”

“I’m sure she’ll be here shortly. What about Tank? Do you need me to watch him?”

“I’ll just ask Long Run to take him to his house. He owes me after all the times I kept an eye on his stuff.”

Twilight nodded, but then she tilted her head slightly. “Say, did you do something with your mane? It looks… different.”


If Long Run’s list of Reasons to Not Date Princess Twilight Sparkle wasn’t long enough yet, he had at least a dozen more entries come to him as he strode into the extravagant throne room. He’d been out of town during the open house when the Castle of Friendship had first appeared, and before now, he’d never had a reason to enter the crystalline structure before.

Spike had been exceedingly nice, however, and he had cheerfully pointed out the way to the throne room before excusing himself to go check on some beryl scones he was cooking. Now that Long was here, however, he wondered what it would be like to live in a place like this.

“First time here?” a feminine voice called out from somewhere behind him, and Long gasped slightly while turning to face the speaker.

“Is it that obvious?” he replied to the pinkish-purple mare that he found.

“Yeah, but don’t worry. Everypony has the same overwhelmed expression,” she said as she approached. “I don’t think we’ve met before. I’m Starlight Glimmer.”

“Long Run,” he said with a small smile and a shake of the hoof. “I’ve heard a little bit about you from Rainbow Dash. You’re the guidance counselor at Twilight’s school, right?”

Starlight nodded. “And you’re the frequently-absent flight instructor who’s dating Pinkie Pie, as I’ve heard it.”

“Guilty on all counts,” he replied. “Where did everyone else get to?”

“Rainbow and Twilight went down to the library to look up something, but they should be right back. I don’t know where Pinkie Pie is, though.”

“She got called out too?” Long asked.

“Yup.” Starlight motioned to the large, three-dimensional map in the center of the room. “They’re both going to Applewood.”

“Huh!” Long stepped up to the map, his curiosity growing. “I’ve never seen anything like this before. Does it just send out the Princess and her friends?”

“No, it’ll send others. It actually sent me off to Canterlot once, in fact.”

“Really? Wow. That must have been cool.”

“It was… interesting,” Starlight admitted with a light chuckle.

“Care for a muffin?” Long held out the box he’d been holding under one wing. “I got some for Rainbow to take on the road, but there’s a few extras in there.”

“Sure! Thank you.” Starlight looked over the selection and pulled out a blueberry muffin. “That’s very kind of you to offer.”

Long shrugged. “Free food is a great way to break the ice when meeting new ponies, I’ve found.”

A set of doors at the far end of the hall opened, and Twilight glanced around while she and Rainbow Dash entered. “Is Pinkie Pie still not here?”

“Haven’t seen her,” Starlight answered.

“Great. We need to get going,” Rainbow said with a huff.

“Maybe she’s already at the train station,” Long offered, and he held out the muffin box to Rainbow. “Here you go. Take as many as you’d like.”

Rainbow grinned. “Thanks, Long.”

“You should probably head down to the station,” Twilight said. “Once we figure out where she is, we’ll send her straight there.”

“I’ll go check Sugarcube Corner.” Starlight volunteered. “She’s probably there, trying to find somepony to take care of Gummy.”

Twilight nodded, and Starlight disappeared in a flash of magic. “I don’t understand why she didn’t come. She’s never done anything like this before...”

“Hey, Long,” Rainbow said around her oversized bite of muffin. “Can you take care of Tank while I’m gone?”

“Sure. I’ll watch him for you,” said Long.

“Remember, I’ve got him on a lactic acid cleanse right now,” Rainbow went on in a stern tone. “He’ll need his bedding washed in the next few days, and make sure you take him for a fly in the mornings. I don’t want him getting out of practice!”

“I got it, I got it!” Long laughed. “Get going! You’re going to miss the train.”

Rainbow grunted. “Fine. But don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone!”

“Don’t ask me to make a promise I can’t keep.”

Rainbow rolled her eyes, grinned, and took to the air. Long Run took in a deep breath as he watched her leave, but then his attention turned to the other pony still in the room. “Muffin?”

“Thanks.” Twilight pulled out a chocolate chunk with her magic and took a bite.

“Forgive me if I’m overstepping my bounds here, but you don’t seem to be very happy about this whole going to Applewood thing,” he remarked.

Twilight drew in a long breath before forcing out a grin. “I’m fine. I just…”

“Just what?”

“I was kinda hoping the cutie map would send me somewhere,” Twilight said, her gaze moving to said map and lingering on the floating cutie marks. “I’m the Princess of Friendship, but the map has only summoned me a couple of times, at best. I would really like to do more.”

Long Run slid the half-empty muffin box on the map, and he took a moment to make sure his next words would be appropriate. “I can see why that’s frustrating. But maybe you didn’t get summoned because there’s somepony right here who could use some friendship lessons.”

“Really?” Twilight’s whole demeanor flipped, and she lit up with delight at the prospect.

Long nodded and grinned. “You and I still need to get some flight lessons in, and I did have a couple of questions for you.”

There was a brief hint of confusion, but then Twilight beamed at him. “Oh! I see,” she said with a giggle. “I’d love to have another flight lesson, if you’ve got the time, and then I can show you how I teach. I’m not doing anything at the moment.”

“I’d be delighted.”

* * Ω * *

Long Run hummed a happy note as the first rays of light began to tickle his cheek, and he drew in a soft yawn. He had heard legends about Princess Twilight Sparkle’s affinity and aptitude for studying, but yesterday had been the first time he’d experienced the alicorn’s full and unrestrained abilities.

It had been like trying to get a drink of water from a fire hose, but he’d found the whole experience to be exhilarating, to put it simply. As a teacher, he had been blown away by Twilight’s ability to listen, comprehend, and then apply the information he’d imparted, and as a student, he’d been astonished at her ability to take a complex problem, distill it down to a core question, and then to guide him to the answer.

The day had rushed by him in a never ending series of questions, answers, and object lessons until finally his stamina had given out on him completely.

But as he thought over what had happened, he realized that he was a bit fuzzy on where his energy had finally burned out. He couldn’t remember returning to his house, nor were there any recollection of him leaving Twilight’s castle the prior evening.

His heart began to beat a bit faster, and he slowly peeked one eye open. The memories of last night began to return when he saw half-empty bookcases before him through blurred vision, so just to be sure, he slowly moved his left rear leg.

His suspicions were confirmed when he heard the rustling of paper underneath him and felt the corner of a hardbound tome. The study session had been so intense that he’d fallen asleep on a pile of books, right there in the middle of Twilight’s castle.

His other eye opened, and as he surveyed his surroundings and tried to bring his vision into focus, he wondered why he’d never realized how comfortable a bed of books could be. It was a bit counterintuitive, but the lack of any aches or pains only proved the validity of the idea.

A soft groan caught his attention, and his heart began to hammer against his sternum when he felt the soft touch of another pony’s coat against his own. His previous statement was only half-right: the study session last night had been so intense that he and the Princess both had fallen asleep on a bed of books. Together. At the same time.

Long Run swallowed hard as Twilight Sparkle wiggled a bit to push more of herself into him, and to his growing horror, he found that he was comfortably spooning the Princess. He had no idea how they’d gotten into that position, or how he’d managed to get his left wing over her, or how their tails had managed to intertwine.

What he did know was that Rainbow Dash was going to kill him once she found out about this, to say nothing about Twilight’s other friends. Or Twilight's family.

Or Princess Celestia.

Nah, she wouldn’t kill you. There’s a vacancy on the moon that you could fill quite nicely.

Long Run forced himself to take slow, even breaths while he tried to figure out how to extricate himself from this predicament and not rouse the slumbering princess. But after a moment of thought—and once his heart rate began to drop back to something resembling normal—his mind moved from escape to contemplation.

And, in all honesty, this position really wasn’t all that bad. Twilight was somewhere between Pinkie and Rainbow Dash on the curviness scale,⁽*⁾ her mane smelled like apricots and honey, and she seemed to exude a natural warmth that was both comforting and inviting, like a roaring fire in the hearth on a cold winter’s night.

⁽*⁾Twilight was at least a solid seven, but he could argue that she was closer to a seven point five.

If this was what life could be like with the Princess of Friendship, then it would be a pretty decent life, indeed.

But before his brain could really get going on what being Prince Long Run might entail, Twilight began to stir and his heart began to race again. He had no idea how to explain the awkward situation, so he simply froze while Twilight yawned, stretched, wiggled a bit, and then gasped.

“Long Run?” she whispered.

“Yes?” he whispered back.

“Are you spooning me?”

Long hoped that Twilight would be merciful and just incinerate him on the spot, but then he realized she wouldn’t do that, since they were still on her books. “Yes?”

“Did… did anything else happen last night?” she whispered, with no shortage of concern in her words.

“I don’t think so. Last thing I can remember was pulling Thaumics and Flight off the shelf to answer your question, then laying down to read a passage.”

Twilight’s head bobbed up and down slightly. “Me too. I remember laying down next to you while you began to read out loud, but then everything gets fuzzy before going to black.”

“Nothing happened between you two last night,” another voice interjected, and Long Run’s blood froze in his veins.

“Starlight!” Twilight hissed, though she seemed to be frozen in fear as well. “How long have you been there?”

Starlight Glimmer chuckled from the doorway. “Oh, for about fifteen minutes or so.”

“Why didn’t you say something?!”

“Because you two are just so cute together!” Starlight gushed. “I took pictures, don’t worry.”

“You what?!” This news got Twilight onto her hooves, and Long was quick to follow her lead.

“Yup! Spike wants to add them to the Cuddlebug Twilight photo album. I’m just happy that he can show off you and Long Run now, instead of you and me,” Starlight said, then turned to Long with a grin. “Nopony told you that Twilight was a serial cuddler, did they?”

“That’s a thing?” Long asked while Twilight’s face went beet red.

“Go figure, eh? Usually she curls up with a good book, but she’s snagged helpless ponies from time to time. I don’t think Big Macintosh has been able to look her in the eye since they got caught in his barn together.”

“Starlight!” Twilight grunted.

“Anyway, breakfast should be ready in about twenty minutes or so. We haven’t gotten any messages from Rainbow or Pinkie, and if the price is right, I can ensure that no messages get back to Rainbow, either.” Starlight chuckled and turned to leave. “Oh, and Long? For the record, Twilight prefers to be the big spoon.”

With that, Starlight left the two study partners to deal with the fallout of their actions, and Twilight’s gaze moved to her hooves. Long felt his own cheeks burning as well, but he had no idea what he was supposed to say, or what he should do.

“Well, at least nothing happened,” Twilight finally said in an awkward tone.

“Yeah,” Long dumbly added.

“I, um…” Twilight hesitated, coughed, and cleared her throat. “I should take care of the books, and then we should head down to breakfast.”

“Breakfast sounds good,” Long said.

Twilight’s magic quickly picked up, sorted, and reshelved the impromptu bedding, but once she was done, she took a step towards him and blushed a bit deeper. “If Starlight and Spike really do have any pictures of us together, I’ll make sure they get taken care of. I hate to admit it, but Starlight is right. I do like to cuddle, and sometimes I just grab whatever is closest when I’m only half-awake.”

“No harm, no foul I suppose,” Long said.

Twilight took another step in, and she was close enough that Long could see little sparkles in her irises. His heart skipped a beat, and he had to admit to himself that he liked having her that close.

Twilight drew in a breath, like she had just decided something, and then she leaned in to plant a kiss on Long’s cheek. “For what it’s worth, I really enjoyed all of yesterday. If you’re okay with it, I’d like to continue our flight and study sessions.”

Long felt a tingle of delight run down his spine, and a small grin tugged at the corners of his mouth. “I’d like that. But maybe next time we’ll try to avoid the cuddle session.”

Twilight giggled, and her gaze went to her hooves again. “That’s probably for the best, since you’re dating Pinkie Pie. But just between you and me, I actually kinda liked cuddling with you. Maybe, if things don’t work out between you and Pinkie...”

Long hesitated, then grinned. “We’ll just have to see, won’t we?”

* * Ω * *

Long Run had to shake his head once more as he touched down in front of his house. He knew that life was full of twists and turns, but usually he could see them coming and prepare for them.
Dating Pinkie Pie, for example, had provided several interesting developments in his life, but there was no way he could have predicted what had transpired with Twilight Sparkle, nor the first sparks of attraction that he felt deep in his chest towards her. To go from one friend who was female to two potential girlfriends and one that he had to hide his feelings from was not what he had expected to happen on his vacation.

A buzzing noise behind him broke his thoughts, and he grinned while he unlocked his front door. “You don’t realize how easy you’ve got it, do you Tank?” he said to the tortoise flying behind him. “Unless you’ve got some lady tortoise friends that I don’t know about?”

Tank shook his head slightly, but there was a small grin on his face.

“One day, maybe. C’mon.” Long motioned for him to follow. “Don’t tell Rainbow, but I’ll let you cheat on that lactic acid diet while you’re here with me.”

“Good morning, Long Run!”

Long gasped, and he vowed to work on not being startled so easily while he turned. “Oh! Good morning, Fluttershy!”

“I’m sorry if I startled you,” she said while holding out a pink box. “I just came to drop this off to you, since Pinkie Pie is out of town.”

Long’s mouth involuntarily began to water when he caught the scent of the succulent vanilla goodness that awaited within in cupcake form. “Thanks! It’s kind of you to bring this by.”

“Oh, I don’t mind,” she said with a small giggle. “With Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie gone, today was going to be pretty quiet for me anyway.”

“Well, since you have a minute, would you like to come inside?” he asked. “I had—”

“Thanks!” Fluttershy bounded into his house, leaving Long to stare in amazement for a moment. True, his interactions with her had been minimal, but she’d never come across as the leap-into-somepony’s-house type.

“Don’t mind the mess,” he said, with a half-hearted toss of a blanket that Rainbow had left laying around several days ago. “Keep an eye out for Tank, too. He’s flying around here, somewhere.”

“Actually, I think he found a super-nice napping spot.” Fluttershy pointed to his couch, and Long chuckled.

“Figures. That’s where Rainbow usually sits when she comes over to visit.”

“He probably caught her scent, then. Gummy likes to take his naps on Pinkie Pie’s bed, too.”

“I’ll have to get all that flight stuff off him, just so he doesn’t accidently break it. Can I get you something to drink? I’m pretty sure Rainbow left at least one bottle of cider. Maybe.”

“That would be nice, thank you,” Fluttershy said while picking up Tank. “Don’t worry about Tank; I’ll take his gear off. You have a really nice house, by the way.”

“Aw, go on,” Long said with a pleased scoff.

“Really! It’s very cozy and inviting, and I don’t think it’s messy at all.” She hesitated for a moment, glanced up at the ceiling, and then down to the floor. “It reminds me of Golden Oaks Library, in a way.”

“It is somewhat similar. It’s a shame the library got destroyed; I thought it was quite a homely place.”

“Is that why you live in this one?” Fluttershy asked as Long handed her an open bottle of cider.

“Nah. Truth be told, living in a tree is a bit of a hassle,” he said as they both sat next to Tank. “I gotta put a layer of sealant on the walls every year to keep all my stuff from being sapped, and I have to keep the branches trimmed, and don’t even get me started on the cost of tree house fertilizer. At the time, it had been on the market for several months and the sellers were willing to come down in price. I got it mostly because it was cheap.”

“That does seem like a lot of work. Would you ever consider living in another tree, if you decided to move?”

“I might. I do like the views from the upper branches, and the smell. This might sound a bit crazy, but this place has a rich, oaky nuttiness scent that’s really relaxing.”

Fluttershy grinned. “I do too! My friends are always giving me compliments on how my house smells. My animal friends, I mean. I don’t get very many comments from ponies, of course. That would be really, really strange.”

“I suppose it would be.” Long leaned back, and as he took a swig of his own cider, he quickly looked over his guest. He was a bit surprised that the normally reserved mare was such a chatterbox today, but he really didn’t mind. It was like she had a lot of pent-up energy, and he was the one that she was pouring it out on.

That thought led to another thought, and Long bit his bottom lip as he thought it over. “Hey, Fluttershy?”

“Yes?”

Long hesitated, unsure of how to put the thoughts in his mind in the form of an intelligent inquiry. “Do you mind if I ask you something a bit personal?”

“Oh?” Fluttershy’s face went from pleased to nervous in a heartbeat. “Well, um… no. I mean, yes, you can ask. I didn’t do anything wrong, did I?”

“No, nothing like that. I just... ” he snorted. “It’s really hard to explain.”

“What is it?” Fluttershy grabbed Tank and held him like he was a comfort item.

“If there was...” Long paused again. Now that he’d cast the die, he didn’t want to ask his question, but he knew he had to speak his mind, no matter what happened. “Okay. In the past, there were some… I mean, there might have been some deceit between us.”

Fluttershy shrank a little, and she began to pet Tank’s shell. “Th-there was?”

“Unintentionally, but yes. I feel like I need to clear up some things that have happened between us.”

“We do?” Fluttershy stammered while trying to hide behind her mane.

“Yeah. I blame myself for not realizing it sooner, but the truth needs to come out.”

Fluttershy whimpered and pulled Tank into a protective hug. “Long, look. I never meant to—”

“Wait, wait. Let me finish first, please.” Long rubbed the side of his face and exhaled sharply. “Okay. Do you remember that we were in Junior Speedsters together with Rainbow Dash?”

Fluttershy perked up a little with this, her concerned look turning to confusion. “Yes, I remember, but only a little bit.”

“And do you remember the bullies that used to tease you?”

Fluttershy shrank back again. “Yes. I do.”

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I’ve had time to think things over during my vacation, and I’ve realized that I could have been a better friend to you, like how Rainbow has been. I saw them picking on you, but I…” he hesitated, then sighed. “I was a coward, and I walked away when I should have done something. I knew what they were doing was wrong, but I was scared they’d turn on me. I feel horrible because of it.”

Fluttershy sat up a bit straighter, and she patted his hoof. “It’s okay, Long. Their teasing did hurt, but in the end, it helped me to find my cutie mark, and in a way, they helped me to find my friends here.”

“That still doesn’t excuse my inaction, though. I should have said something to somepony.”

“Long, really. I don’t think you did anything bad. You don’t need to apologize, but if it’ll help you feel better, then I forgive you. Friends?”

Long grinned and bumped Fluttershy’s offered hoof. “Friends. Thanks.”

“So! Do you have any super-fun plans for the day?” Fluttershy asked with a playful smile.

“Plans yes, fun no. I’ve got to get some yard work done today. The grass needs to be cut, my flowerbeds need to be weeded, and I need to fix a hole in the fence out back. I don’t want Tank escaping when I let him out to graze.”

“Would you like some help?”

“I wouldn’t mind, but you certainly don’t have to.”

Fluttershy scoffed and waved a dismissive hoof. “Like I said, I don’t have any plans for the day. I would love to help you.”

Long chuckled. “Well, if you insist. Let me put that cupcake in the icebox for later, and then we can get started.”

Fluttershy nodded, and Long was quick to move to the kitchen. He had not been looking forward to doing chores by himself, but with Fluttershy’s help, he’d be done all the faster and have more time to loaf around. For a moment, he wondered if Fluttershy would like to stay for dinner, as that would give him a chance to really start over with their friendship and to fully put his failure to stand up for her in the past.

The aromatic smell of the cupcake still made his mouth water, and before putting it away, he took a peek inside. Sure enough, a richly dressed vanilla cupcake awaited, draped in layers of succulent frosting and with another friendly message spelled out across the top.

See you when I get back!

Long smiled. Even though the treat was from Rainbow Dash, he was pleased that the cheerful implied sentiment could apply to Rainbow, Twilight, Fluttershy, and Pinkie.

And, hopefully, the feeling would expand to many more.

* * Ω * *

Long Run hummed a happy note as the first rays of sunlight began to tickle his cheek, but then the aches kicked in and the note went flat.

He was never going to work on his own yard ever again.

It had started out innocently enough, as all descents into madness do. He’d been able to cut the grass while Fluttershy fixed the hole in the fence, so he was reasonably assured that weeding his flowers would be just as non-eventful and just as quick.

But in the process of removing a stubborn patch of deeproot weeds with a shovel, Long Run made three important discoveries. The first was that the main water line leading into his house had not been buried at the proper depth.

The second, and more important revelation was that the line had been structurally compromised. The geyser of water that had erupted when he’d struck the pipe was nearly as tall as his tree, but that then led to the third, and perhaps the most important discovery of all:

Long Run had absolutely no idea how to shut the water off.

For the better part of two hours, both Long Run and Fluttershy had desperately searched in his increasingly muddy yard for any hint of a shutoff valve, until Fluttershy finally found it out near the edge of his property. The rest of the day had then been spent digging around in the muck and the mire in an ultimately futile attempt to repair the damage, and when night fell, Long finally declared defeat and decided to contact a plumber in the morning to take care of the issue.

He and Fluttershy had then staggered into his house, and with what little energy he still had, Long had reheated some leftovers for both of them before finally crashing on his couch. Since there was no water, he was still coated in a thick layer of dried mud, twigs, grass clippings, broken bits of pipe, and whatever else had been in his yard, and it was going to take forever to get cleaned up, to say nothing about the muddy mess that had been tracked through his living room and kitchen.

A soft yawn drew his thoughts away from the total cost of the disaster, and a small grin came as Fluttershy wiggled a bit, adjusted the position of her head on his shoulder, and then began to softly snore again. Though he had told her several times that she did not need to stay or to help, Fluttershy had adamantly insisted on doing both, and she had collapsed on him as soon as he’d sat down.

He had to snicker a bit as he looked over her sleeping form. The helpful pegasus was coated in so much detritus and debris that she was more brown than yellow now, but somehow, the overall look was somewhat attractive. She was pretty close to Pinkie Pie on the curviness scale,⁽*⁾ and for bonus points, he admitted to himself that he rather liked her long, flowing mane and tail.

⁽*⁾Easily a nine, for sure.

And those wings! Long still had a bit of envy for her perfect muscle control and elegant form, and for a few moments, he tried to figure out how to ask her for photographs without sounding like a creepy serial stalker.

It was a shame he hadn’t tried to have more of a relationship with her before now. Usually, his extremely infrequent interactions with her had been brief, with a few pleasantries shared when they passed each other in the street but not much else. Most of what he knew about her came from Rainbow Dash, but now he had the opportunity to fix that, and he silently vowed to make the most of the opportunity.

A small thrill of delight ran up his spine. If this was what the end result of his attempts would turn into, then the effort was well worth the reward.

Without thinking about it, Long began to run his hoof up and down her chest, and Fluttershy hummed in delight with another snuggling wiggle. For several moments, Long simply enjoyed her steady, even breathing, but then his hoof snagged on something, and his mood soured again.

With gentle and careful movements, Long traced the outline of the thing. He couldn’t see what it was due to the angle he was laying at and the dirt on her, but the feel of it was unmistakable.

Long Run had just found a zipper tab on Fluttershy’s chest.

“Two ponies now,” he whispered to himself. Throughout the entire mess of yesterday, he’d been in the company of a mare that was not who she appeared to be.

Rainbow Dash’s prank ran deeper than he had thought.

He took a few minutes to debate who this mare might be. It obviously wasn’t Pinkie Pie or Rainbow, since they were out of town, but maybe it was Twilight Sparkle. She already had the wings, after all, and it wouldn’t be that hard to hide her horn.

But as he thought back, he realized that Fluttershy had not flown at all yesterday, so that meant the field of potential candidates could be greatly expanded. The wings on this impostor could be fake, and thus, the mare within could easily be an earth pony. Applejack was the first pony to come to mind, given that ‘Fluttershy’ had seemed to be suspiciously familiar with piping and valves, but if that was true, then Applejack was an amazing vocalist. There hadn’t been even a hint of a country drawl in her words during the whole day.

Perhaps Bon Bon was the one now resting on his shoulder. She was a master of disguises and aliases, so impersonating Fluttershy would be nothing for somepony of her talents.

Long shook his head and let out a small snort. He wanted to blame Rainbow Dash for the musical pony parade that was going on around him, but try as he might, he just couldn’t make the accusations stick. Rainbow loved a good prank, but they were usually simple tricks, like putting food dye in cookies and moving beds into pig styes, with the occupant still under the blankets.

And, more importantly, Rainbow Dash operated on her own. Involving others added a degree of complexity that Rainbow didn’t have the patience for, and after the zombie cookie incident, it would be impossible—or, at the least, extremely improbable—that she’d be able to convince two other ponies to aid her.

No, whatever was going on didn’t involve Rainbow, of that he was reasonably sure. But with the elimination of his friend as a culprit, he was, once again, back to having absolutely no ideas on what was going on.

But as ‘Fluttershy’ began to stir, he decided to put the matter on the back burners for now. Getting the water line fixed was a higher priority at the moment, followed closely by dealing with the massive amounts of mud that was both inside and outside his house. The mixed-up pony mystery would just have to wait.

Still, he had to admit that he enjoyed his present company, and hopefully, he’d be able to figure out who this charming young mare was once everything else was taken care of.

* * Ω * *

“I still can’t believe how super-easy it was to solve that friendship problem!” Pinkie Pie cartwheeled by Rainbow Dash, who grunted and rolled her eyes. “I bet we spent more time on the train than in helping those ponies!”

“I’m just glad it’s over with,” Rainbow grumbled. “I’ve got unfinished business to take care of.”

“Me too!” Pinkie Pie proclaimed as they left the train station. “I left a literal pickle of a dessert in the icebox, and I need to gut that gherkin before it sours!”

Rainbow perked up with this. If Pinkie was going to go to Sugarcube Corner, she could go snag Long Run and keep him away from her influence. “Sounds like that’s something that you should really take care of as soon as possible. Guess I’ll see you later?”

“Okie dokey lokey!” Pinkie Pie said with a huge smile. “Just don’t forget to turn in your essay to Twilight! You know how grumple-upagus she gets if you don’t.”

“Yeah, I’ll get right on that,” Rainbow lied as she took to the air. “See ya, Pinkie!”

With that, Rainbow shot towards Long’s house. It was still pretty early in the morning, so odds were he was in bed, since he was so insistent on sleeping in during his vacation. The plan was simple: break into his house, cook breakfast, stuff him full of food when he came to investigate, and then ask him to go steady with her while he was slipping into his usual after-meal coma.

But above all, she had to play it cool. If he got suspicious about her motives, the whole thing could fall apart on her like… like… well, like something that fell apart.

If somepony had been keeping time, Rainbow would have set a new record for shortest flight between Long’s house and Ponyville. Once his house came into view, however, she quickly brought herself to a stop, then hovered over the muddy miasma that had once been his front yard.

“What in the name of Celestia did you do, Long?” she asked herself while looking over the devastation. She then flapped over to the nearest window, and she chuckled when she saw the mud that covered nearly every vertical surface within.

Her view then went to the couch. At first, she wasn’t totally sure that she was seeing what she thought she saw, since Long was covered in an astonishingly thick layer of dirt and debris.

But then the lump on his shoulder wiggled a bit, and Rainbow’s blood turned to ice when she caught a glimpse of yellow.

“Fluttershy,” she growled, her teeth grinding.

The edges of Rainbow’s vision went red, and a deep anger quickly began to build in her chest. Out of all the ponies for Long Run could have picked for his infidelity, he just had to pick her oldest and closest friend! There was no way she was going to let him get away with this treachery! He was going to pay for his insolence! Rainbow hit the ground, lined up her back hooves on the center of his front door, and reared.

But did he really cheat on you?

Rainbow’s imminent assault stalled. The thought had staying power, and as she contemplated it, her legs lowered. Long Run, despite her feelings, had not actually cheated on her. Maybe on Pinkie Pie, yes, but not herself.

As much as she hated to admit it, her anger was not fueled by Long’s actions. Her fury was being incited by the revelation of a second competitor for Long Run.

Clearly, a change in tactics was in order. Since Long was chasing whatever tail that wandered by, she was going to have to be more direct in her intervention. If she could keep him from wandering off in between now and their upcoming trip to Mount Ares, she’d be able to keep him all to herself.

It would take some serious effort, but it could be done.

* * Ω * *