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

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9. - So, When Can I Meet Her?

* * Ω * *

“Mornin’, Rarity,” Applejack called out to her friend. “You’re out and about mighty early.”

Rarity let out a small whine as she crossed the mostly empty marketplace, but she took a moment to adjust her elegant sun hat with her magic when she stopped at Applejack’s cart. “Indeed, though I wish I didn’t have to be. Opalescence has been simply beastly lately, and I haven’t been able to get a moment’s worth of work done with all of her fussing and fighting. I was rather hoping to find Fluttershy, but I haven’t been able to locate her anywhere! Have you seen her lately, perchance?”

“‘Fraid not,” Applejack replied. “Ah ain’t seen hide nor hair of her since yesterday mornin’. You check her cottage?”

“That was my first stop,” Rarity said with a slight huff. “I also checked at her sanctuary, but the staff there didn’t know where she was, either.”

“Huh. That’s a bit odd. Ah don’t know where else she would have snuck off to.”

“Well, she has to be around here somewhere,” Rarity said with a furtive glance over the few ponies who had come early to the market. “What could possibly keep her away from her home and her darling animals?”

Applejack started to reply, but she stopped herself and grinned as her eyes moved to something in the distance. “Ah think Ah could take a wild guess,” she said while pointing.

Rarity followed Applejack’s gaze to the far end of the market, and a small gasp escaped when she saw Long Run walking with their friend.

Or, at least, she was pretty sure it was Long Run and Fluttershy. It was a bit hard to tell, since both of them looked like they had stepped out of a mud bath and then allowed the mud to dry, but the few splotches of yellow that could still be seen were fairly convincing.

“Gracious! I never would have thought that our dear Fluttershy was that kind of a mare,” Rarity remarked.

“Now don’t you go makin’ mountains outta molehills again,” Applejack shot back with a nod towards the pair. “Somethin’ musta happened over at Long’s house, like a busted water line or somethin’.”

“How can you believe that this” Rarity waved a hoof in their general direction “is anything but a shameful dalliance on Fluttershy’s part? You know as well as I do that Mister Run is in a committed relationship with Pinkie Pie!”

“First off, Long ain’t in no ‘committed relationship,’” Applejack replied while making air quotes. “Him and Pinkie have gone on a date or two, sure, but they sure ain’t serious. Secondly, even if Fluttershy was ‘that type,’ why in Equestria would she go saunderin’ about town covered in dried-out mud? Wouldn’t she have cleaned up at Long’s house?”

Rarity spluttered for a moment, as argument after argument failed as soon as she thought of them. “Well, I guess… I mean, it’s possible that could be the case.”

Applejack let out a small sigh and rolled her eyes. “Only one way to know for sure. HEY! Long! Fluttershy!” she shouted while waving a hoof. “Got a minute?”

It took a moment for the two to cross the market square, and Long was the first to speak. “Hey Applejack, Rarity. What’s up?”

“Nothin’ much,” Applejack replied with a cheesy grin. “Rarity here was just wonderin’ what happened to you two.”

“Ah, yeah.” Long lifted one dirt-caked wing, and Fluttershy let out a soft giggle. “There was a bit of an incident at my house yesterday. Fluttershy tried to help me fix the problem, but I’m afraid I need some professional assistance. Speaking of which, do either of you know a good plumber?”

“Why? What happened?”

“Broken water main.”

“Gotcha, say no more,” Applejack replied. “Ah can swing by later today and look at it, if’n that’s all right with you. Supply lines are pretty similar to irrigation pipes, so Ah should be able to get you patched up in a jiffy.”

“Thanks,” Long said with a relieved sigh. “Sooner I get my water back, the better. Fluttershy was kind enough to offer her shower, so if you’ll excuse us, we’ll be on our way. Turns out the mud in my yard is really itchy when it dries.”

“Trust me, Ah know the feeling. Ah’ll see you later, Long.”

“Oh, Fluttershy, dear?” Rarity called out before they could leave. “If you should happen to have a spare moment, Opalescence has been most disagreeable as of late. Would you mind having a few words with her?”

“Oh! Of course,” Fluttershy said with a worried frown. “I’ll come over as soon as I can.”

“Thank you, darling. You don’t know how much I appreciate your assistance.”

Rarity and Applejack said nothing while they watched the two walk away, but Rarity’s gaze remained on them until they were out of sight. “Well! This is a most peculiar development, isn’t it?”

“Huh?” Applejack asked. “What is? The pipes?”

“No, not that! I mean the obvious attraction between Long Run and Fluttershy! Did you see how the two of them stared at each other?”

One eyebrow slid up into Applejack’s mane. “Ah didn’t see nothin’ of the sort. Ah saw two friends, no more and no less.”

“Oh, come now. Surely you could feel the chemistry working between them!”

“Ah swore off feelin’ chemistry a long time ago. Always gives me heartburn,” Applejack shot back. “‘Sides, everypony knows that Long’s got the hots for Rainbow, and vis-a-vis.”

“You mean vice versa,” Rarity corrected.

“Whatever. Point is, if Long is going to get serious with anypony, it’s Rainbow. If the two of them ever figure out they’re attracted to each other, that is.”

“My dear, delusional Applejack,” Rarity said with a scoffing laugh. “I would be willing to wager that the good Mister Long Run will enter into a serious commitment with anypony but Rainbow Dash.”

“Really?” Applejack flashed a wicked grin. “Care to put your money where your mouth is? Fifty bits says Long goes steady with Rainbow by the end of the month.”

“And fifty bits says that he goes steady with some other mare,” Rarity shot back with a knowing grin. “It is so on, Applejack!”

“Shake on it.” Applejack spat into a hoof, then held it out over Rarity’s groan of disgust.

“For the record, that is still absolutely revolting. But if I must, I must.” Rarity tried to spit into her hoof, but it came out as a long line that dangled from her chin until she wiped it away and squished it against Applejack’s hoof.

“The wager is set,” Applejack said. “May the best pony win.”

* * Ω * *

“Thanks again, Fluttershy,” Long Run said as they made the last turn up to Fluttershy’s cottage. “I never realized how much I underappreciated running water up until this point.”

“Oh, it’s my pleasure,” Fluttershy replied with a grin. “Why don’t you go first? You got a lot dirtier than I did.”

“Are you sure?” Long asked with a curious, and slightly devious look. “This is your house, after all. I really think you should go first.”

“Oh, no! I insist. I need to check on my animal friends, so I’d just get dirty again, anyway. I can shower after you.”

For a brief moment, Long fought back the urge to suggest that they shower together. While it would reveal who was hiding in the Fluttershy costume, it would be terribly inappropriate and ruin any chance of any sort of a relationship with the mare within.

“Well, if you insist,” he said instead. “Since you helped me with the pipe yesterday, can I help you at all?”

“That’s very kind of you to offer, but I can handle it,” Fluttershy replied with a small grin.

Rats. Almost had her there. “You sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure. It won’t take me very long.” Fluttershy pushed open her front door, then gestured inside. “The restroom is the second door on the left down that hallway there. There should be fresh towels, but if there isn’t, there’s a small closet with clean linens and some toiletries right there, if you want.”

Long nodded slowly with a grin. “Thanks. I’ll try to hurry and not clog your drain.”

The muddy mare next to him gave him a smile, then turned and trotted away. Long simply watched her for a moment, then turned to make his way to a hot shower and, hopefully, a reduction in the number of aches he felt.

But as he walked, his mind began to work on the mystery mares once more. He pondered over the possibilities for a moment, but the more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that it was one of Rainbow Dash’s friends.

It was a worthy mental debate to have as he turned the shower on and watched the dirt flow off of him in small rivlets. Twilight Sparkle was the most likely suspect to him, given her royal status as The Princess of Friendship. Her every move was watched like a hawk, and her every word put under a microscope for intense analysis. It made perfect sense that she would dress up like one of her friends just to get some ‘me’ time, and to have a chance at developing a relationship without the tabloids having a field day with the news.

Then again, it could have been Pinkie Pie in disguise. The whole of yesterday could have been one big test, to see if he was one of those shameless tail-chasers who didn’t care how many hearts they broke along the way. If that was the case, then she was probably livid with him now, since she knew he had fallen asleep with her friend.

She hadn’t shown any anger, though. Either she had a great deal of self-control, or she understood that what had happened was a result of circumstances and nothing more. That thought didn’t take away the twinge of guilt he felt over his attraction to Fluttershy that morning, or his interest in Twilight.

Long rested his head on the shower wall and drew in a deep breath. It was easy to see why Rainbow Dash had avoided romance; this was getting to be too complicated for him to deal with. And for what? Just because he felt lonely in the mornings? Because he allowed some ridiculous notions to stay in his head and corrupt his thoughts?

“I should just cut them all off,” he muttered to the drain. “Explain the whole thing, tell them I misled them, and then go back to my freelance work. That would take me away from all of this and end all of these stupid feelings once and for all.”

Deep in his heart, he knew he couldn’t do that. He couldn’t go back to the way things had been. There was too much emotion invested in this now, both on his part and on the part of the mares he’d been with. He was going to have to pick, and then he was going to let the others down.

“Easy as that,” he said with a mirthless laugh. “Well, first things first, I suppose. I’ll figure all of this out after I get my water back.”

* * Ω * *

“Applejack! Hey!”

“Rainbow?” Applejack couldn’t keep the confusion out of her words when her friend landed beside her. “Great day in the morning! What in Equestria did you do to yourself?”

Rainbow Dash glanced around, one hoof reaching up to adjust the bright blue bow that was holding one third of her mane up in a very lopsided ponytail. “What? Nothing! I didn’t do anything. Maybe I just felt like using a little makeup and mascara, you ever think of that? Is there something wrong with a mare wanting to look nice?”

“Easy there, Dash,” Applejack said with a grin as the truth dawned on her. “Ain’t nothing wrong with wantin’ to look nice, but you look like you landed face first on one o’ them painting palettes. The clowns on the rodeo circuit look better than you at the moment.”

Rainbow looked like she would protest Applejack’s assessment for a moment, but then her gaze went down to her freshly polished hooves. “Is it really that bad? I spent almost two hours putting this stuff on.”

Applejack leaned back slightly to take in Rainbow’s full appearance, but the playful grin remained. “Well, it ain’t all bad. You might be able to salvage some of it. What’s the occasion?”

“Whatdya mean?”

“Ain’t never seen you try to get this pretty-fied in the whole time Ah’ve known you. You got a date with a special somepony later on or somethin’?”

“No!” Rainbow shot, but then she shrunk back a little. “I just… I just kinda wanted to look nice today, y’know? No reason. There’s nothing wrong with a mare wanting to pamper herself every now and then, is there?”

“Nothin’ wrong with that at all,” Applejack replied with a small laugh. “Come here, sugarcube. Lemme help you out.”

Rainbow Dash followed Applejack to the side of her friend’s cart, and the farmer produced a rag from one of the side compartments. “Thanks, AJ. I always leave this cosmetic stuff to Rarity.”

“Ah can see what you were tryin’ to do, Ah think,” Applejack said while wiping some of the shockingly red lipstick away. “But you don’t need all of this foundation and concealer. If you wanna catch Long Run’s eye, just keep it light and breezy. A few little pops of color is all you need to really sell it.”

“Who said I was trying to catch Long’s eye?” Rainbow asked with a nervous chuckle.

“It’s kinda obvious, sugarcube,” Applejack gently chided. “And Ah, for one, am glad you finally realized that you’re attracted to him.”

“Heh, I guess so,” Rainbow said while Applejack removed the layers she’d painted on her cheeks. “But my biggest problem is that he’s dating Pinkie Pie, and he’s sleeping with Fluttershy.”

Applejack’s eyes widened in alarm. “Uh, when you say ‘sleeping with,’ do you mean…”

“No, not that. I don’t think so, anyway,” Rainbow replied. “I saw the two of them together on his couch this morning.”

“Ah.” Applejack took a moment to find a clean spot on her rag before moving to clean off Rainbow’s nose. “Most likely not, then. The two o’ them probably just got so tuckered out that they went down for the count at the same time.”

“Do you know why they were together, though? It looked like his water line broke or something.”

“Got it in one,” Applejack said. “Ah told him Ah’d swing by later and help him get it fixed. He’s up gettin’ cleaned off at Fluttershy’s place now, Ah think.”

“Huh.” Rainbow grunted. “How’d that birdbrain pull that one off?”

Applejack shrugged. “Find out when Ah get there, Ah suppose.”

The two friends said nothing for a moment, but when Applejack stuck out her tongue while blotting something on Rainbow’s cheek, the lovestruck mare had to ask the question that came to her. “So how did you know how to fix my makeup, Missus Twigs-and-Mud?”

“My Aunt Orange,” Applejack replied. “Ah ain’t forgot all of them froo-froo lessons she taught me; Ah just ain’t got no use for ‘em. Here, tilt your head down.”

“Applejack?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks,” Rainbow replied with a small grin. “I really appreciate you helping me out.”

“‘Taint no problem at all,” Applejack said with a grin. “Ah always got time to help a friend. Now let’s get that mane of yours taken care of. Looks like a pack of possums took up residence in it. Ah think Ah have a brush around here somewheres…”

* * Ω * *

“Good morning, Miss Rarity!”

“Why, good morning Mister Featherweight!” Rarity greeted the young colt manning the newsstand with a pleasant smile.

“Your usuals,” Featherweight said while handing her several magazines and a tabloid paper. “The latest edition of Fashion Design Monthly, Who’s Who in Canterlot, and Gossip Today! Ten bits, please.”

Rarity passed the jingling coins to Featherweight with her magic, giggled as she skimmed through the magazines, but grew serious when she saw the screaming headline banner on the tabloid.

“Twilight? With a secret lover?” she said to herself with a grunt. “Well! What a terrible and simply scandalous thing to accuse our Twilight Sparkle of! Where do these ponyrazzis get the nerve to say such horrid untruths?”

Rarity began to walk, but her focus remained on the tabloid as she studied the article. It was filled with all of the usual trash that one would find in such a distasteful publication, but her forward motion stopped when the article finally revealed who the supposed paramour was.

“Long Run?!” Rarity re-read the paragraph, just to make sure. “Twilight and Long Run are in bed together?”

She didn’t want to believe it. She simply couldn’t believe it. There was no way that sweet, innocent Twilight Sparkle would be involved in such a lewd liaison.

“Can you believe it?” Junebug said from somewhere behind Rarity, and she turned to find June and Roseluck looking at the same tabloid article. “Who would have thought that Princess Twilight, of all ponies, would do something like that?”

“I’m not surprised,” Roseluck said with a haughty sniff. “I caught the two of them doing the pony pokey yesterday, if you know what I mean.”

“You didn’t!” Rarity bolted over to the two and went nose-to-nose with Roseluck. “You must have been seeing things!”

“Well, they were doing something!” Roseluck exclaimed. “I mean, okay, I didn’t actually see anything, but two days ago, the two of them walked past my stall together, picked up some daisy sandwiches from Gustav’s restaurant, and then Long Run said ‘let’s hurry back. I can’t wait to finish what we started.’ If that wasn’t them getting ready to do the tango for two, then what were they doing?!”

“I don’t know.” Rarity took a step back, snorted, and turned to look at Twilight’s castle. “But I’m going to find out.”


“Oh, good morning Rarity!” Twilight greeted her friend with a chipper smile as she walked in the throne room. “I wasn’t expecting you to stop by. What’s up?”

“Good morning,” Rarity replied casually, her steps measured and slow as she made a show of studying the decor of the throne room. “I do hope you’ll forgive my inopportune imposition, but I simply must hear the truth from the pony’s mouth.”

“Huh?” Twilight tilted her head and sat on her throne. “Truth? What truth?”

“Well, you know how I hate to spread gossip and rumors, of course,” Rarity started. “But this is one tidbit that I simply can’t ignore.”

“Oh, brother.” Twilight rolled her eyes. “Now what? Is my relationship with Princess Cadence on the rocks because I didn’t bow deep enough during my last visit to the Crystal Empire? Or maybe somepony found out that I’m Celestia’s secret love child? That one always makes my parents laugh.”

“Of course not.” Rarity scoffed, with a mental note to herself that of course Twilight wouldn’t be Celestia’s foal, despite Nut Graf’s excellent expose in last week’s paper. “I refer to this horrid little article that’s the talk of the town,” she said, finishing with a rather dramatic drop of the tabloid, if she did say so herself.

“What?!” Twilight’s magic picked up the paper. “But… no! This is all wrong! Long Run and I are just friends! We were comparing notes, that’s all!”

“Comparing notes?!” Rarity spluttered.

“Not like that! This tabloid is trying to make it sound like Long’s flight lessons are some sort of… of…” Twilight tapped the tips of her hooves together, then coughed. “Well, nevermind. What’s important is that this is all a bunch of lies! Long and I aren’t in a relationship.”

Rarity studied her friend’s expression intently. “But you want it to be, don’t you?”

“What? No!” Twilight shrunk back and gave her friend a nervous smile. “Don’t be silly. Long Run is dating Pinkie Pie. He and I are just good friends, and that’s all I need. I mean, we’ve had some stimulating intellectual conversations, and he’s very observant, and I… I…” she drifted to a stop, gave Rarity a nervous smile, and then dropped her face into her hooves. “Oh, it’s obvious, isn’t it?”

“Rather transparently, I’m afraid,” Rarity said. “The attraction between you two is as plain as the horn on your head.”

“Oh, but we can’t be anything more than friends!” Twilight wailed. “He’s with Pinkie Pie! I mean, I can’t just swoop in and steal somepony’s stallion! Can I?” she asked with a hopeful glance up.

“Certainly not,” Rarity said with a sniff, and Twilight’s demeanor drooped. “It would be in bad form, to be sure. However, perhaps there is a loophole we can exploit.”

“Loophole?”

“Yes, darling! Long Run may be dating Pinkie Pie, but that does not mean he’s in a serious relationship with her. All you have to do is find out.”

“I’m not going to start asking my friends to talk to his friends,” Twilight dryly remarked.

“Of course not! This is not high school, and we are grown mares! What I am saying is that we go directly to Long Run and confront the problem head on. You know where he is, so go! Confront the problem! Fight! Win!”

Twilight popped onto her hooves with a determined grin. “You know what? You’re right! I’m gonna go to his house, and I’m gonna find out how serious he is about Pinkie, and how he feels about us!” She took a few steps, then stopped and turned to give Rarity a sheepish grin. “Um, do you happen to know where he lives? I’ve never been to his house.”

Rarity hesitated. “Well, to be perfectly honest, I don’t think I’ve ever been there, either. I suppose we’ll need to ask Fluttershy or R—” she cut herself off before the rest of Rainbow’s name could be uttered. If Rainbow Dash learned of Twilight’s interest in her coltfriend, then Rainbow might make a move on Long herself and Rarity’s wager with Applejack would be put at dire risk. “Why don’t we go find Fluttershy?” she hastily went on, before Twilight could realize there was another mare to ask for directions. “I saw her in the market earlier today, and she might still be there.”

“Oh, good idea!” Twilight said, her magic snagging her saddlebags from the corner. “I needed to do some shopping today anyway. Let’s go!”

* * Ω * *

Rainbow Dash burst through the front door of her house, kicked the door shut, and then shot up to her bathroom. While Applejack had done what she could to fix Rainbow’s appearance, there was only so much an old rag could do, and Rainbow needed to hurry and remove what was left before Pinkie or Fluttershy got to Long Run.

Thankfully, May Belle had not asked any questions when Rainbow had crashed into her store and demanded a strong cosmetics remover, but she had given the oddly painted mare a few confused looks and some tips on how to apply mascara without stabbing one’s own eyeball.

Rainbow was quick to open the jar and splash a more than generous amount of remover on a towel, but as she scrubbed away the mess on her cheeks, she took a moment to admire her overall appearance. For somepony who showed no obvious interest in fashion trends, Applejack had done a surprisingly good job with Rainbow’s mane and had fixed most of the makeup mess. Once Rainbow cleaned up the spots that had not yielded to Applejack’s rag and spit, she would be quite stunning, in her own humble opinion, and more importantly, she would be irresistible to Long Run. Her eyeshadow was dark and alluring, her lips held just the right amount of come hither color, and the bright blue bow held her mane up in a flirtatious ponytail.

Or, at least that’s what she hoped. Long had only shown some slight interest in such blatant femininity before, but nothing more than a few remarks about how nice a mare looked, or a direct compliment on appearance if he was speaking to said mare. A small part of her was worried that he’d be more confused than anything when he saw her, but if he had any brains in that empty skull of his, he’d realize that she was doing all of this to win his affections.

Sorry, Pinkie Pie, but this is a fight I have to win, she thought as she finished scrubbing. There’s plenty of other stallions in the sea.

Satisfied with her appearance, Rainbow Dash struck a pose for the mirror and grinned. Sure, this was way out of the ordinary for her, but she was desperate and willing to take the chance. “Looking good, Dash,” she said to her reflection, her wings flaring up and fanning out in the traditional pegasus mating display. “You know what you are? You are a stunner, and a stunning winner! Long Run is as good as yours!”

With that shot of confidence, Rainbow Dash stuck her nose in the air and left to find—and to take—Long Run all for herself.

And after running into the wall, Rainbow took a step back, grumbled in annoyance, and opened the bathroom door.

* * Ω * *

“Hoo-wee!” Applejack tilted her stetson back, stuck the blade of her shovel in the dirt, and scratched her head. “When you break a pipe, you really break it! It almost looks like it exploded, somehow. You’re gonna be pulling all these little chunks and bits of the line out of your yard for months.”

“For the record, I wasn’t trying to kill it. I was just weeding,” Long Run said with a pout.

“Well, it don’t help matters that this pipe is so close to the surface. That’s probably why it was so easy to break,” Applejack went on. “But this is going to be a mite bit more difficult than I imagined. If we’re gonna do this right, we need to replace everything from your house out to the street. Out here in the yard won’t be so bad, but getting around the roots of your tree will be problematic, at best.”

“But you can do it, right?”

Applejack rolled her eyes and gave Long a knowing grin. “‘Course Ah can fix it. Just gonna take longer than expected, that’s all. It’ll go faster if you lend me a hoof.”

“I’m more than happy to help out,” said Long. “How long do you think it’ll take?”

“If we hurry, Ah can probably get you back up and runnin’ by nightfall,” Applejack replied after a moment of thought. “Let’s head into town and get some supplies. When we get back, you can start digging up the pipe in the yard, and Ah’ll work on what’s under your tree. We don’t want to damage the roots and inadvertently kill your house.”

“That’s a sentence I never thought I’d hear.” Long chuckled. “Shall we, then?”

Applejack nodded, then smirked as they began to walk. “Say, you mind if Ah ask you somethin’?”

“Sure. What’s up?”

“Ah know it ain’t really any of my business, but Ah can’t help but be curious,” Applejack said in a slow and slightly smug tone. “What exactly are your feelings towards Pinkie Pie?”

Long Run chuckled and rubbed the back of his head. “Ah, that. Pinkie is… well, how do I describe it? I enjoy being with her, I have to say. She’s smart, she’s thoughtful, she’s an amazing baker, and she’s pretty cute, too. Really, she’s one of those ponies that everypony should know, so I can see why it was so surprising that I’d never met her until just recently.”

“Hmm. So, do you plan on moving your relationship with her up to the next level any time soon?”

“See, that I don’t know.” Long grimaced, his ears drooping. “I like her, I really do. But I’m worried that my attraction to her—or to any other mare, really—is more just because I’m lonely and need a friend.”

“What about you and Rainbow Dash?” Applejack said while fighting to keep a grin down. “Ah always thought you and her were pretty close.”

“Rainbow?” Long perked up a bit, then chuckled again. “Yeah. Rainbow is something else, isn’t she? She’s been one of my best friends since forever, and… I guess, now that I think about it, I have always had her companionship. I’ve joked with her that she should just move in with me, since she’s at my house all the time. Or, she’s there when I’m there, to be more accurate. But she’s not interested in all that romantic, mushy stuff. You know how she is: headstrong, determined, and constantly on the move. She hasn’t got time for silly things like love.”

“Oh, Ah dunno about that.” Applejack’s words were as smooth as butter. “Ah think she’s a lot like you, in a way. She’s just so busy that she forgets to stop and smell the flowers. Ah bet she’d be willing to entertain the notion, if the right fella were to ask her.”

“Really?” Long said, the eagerness in his voice obvious. “You really think she’d be interested?”

Applejack winked. “Ah’m pretty sure. You just gotta be sure to ask her nicely.”

Long smiled, but then a thought came to him and he frowned as his gaze went to the ground. “Well, that’s a nice complication.”

“How so?”

“I don’t… I mean, I’m not sure if… that is…” he stalled out, and sighed. “Ugh. We’ve been friends for so long, how would I even begin to broach the subject without it sounding all weird and awkward?”

“Simple. Just walk up to her and ask,” said Applejack. “‘Taint nothin’ to it.”

“Just that easy,” Long replied with a snort of amusement. “I suppose that’s all there is to it, really. Once I find her, of course.”

If there was ever a time for Rainbow Dash to appear out of nowhere, this was it. Applejack silently screamed for her friend to appear, both so the two of them would finally get this taken care of and so she could claim her fifty bits from Rarity.

Her pleadings that day were answered almost right on cue. Just as the two of them made the last turn leading into Ponyville, Rainbow Dash dropped out of the sky, hit the dirt with a hard wump, and then attempted to strike a pose.

Okay, so her entrances needed some work, but Applejack could work on that later. Despite the lack of grace, Rainbow’s appearance had stunned Long Run, and he stood there, his jaw slack and his eyes nearly popping out of his head, as he obviously tried to process what he was seeing.

“Rainbow?!” he spluttered. “What in the world?”

“Hey there, Long,” Rainbow said with an awkward attempt at fluttering her eyelashes at him. “Miss me?”

“You… but you’re… and that… huh?!” he finally blurted.

“Looks like you’re heading into town. Mind if I join you?” Rainbow sashayed her way over to Long’s side, and he shivered with delight as she ran the tip of her wing along the side of his neck and down his back.

“Okay, wait. Hold it, hold everything,” Long said. “What is going on? Why do you have a bow in your hair, and… is that lipstick?”

“What? Don’t you like what you see?” Rainbow struck another awkward pose and flared her wings.

Long’s mouth hung open again, but only for a moment. “No! I mean, yes! I mean, you look amazing, but you’ve never worn makeup before! What has gotten into you?”

Rainbow Dash frowned. “Really, Long? You can’t be that dense.”

“Rainbow! Long Run!” Rarity’s voice cut through the air, and all eyes turned to the fashionista and the Princess trailing in her wake. “Thank goodness we’ve found you! Twilight and I want to speak with you, Long, and…” Rarity stopped, turned to Rainbow, and gasped. “Good heavens! What did you do to yourself, Rainbow Dash?”

“Why is this such a big deal?” Rainbow shot back with stomp of her hoof. “I want to look nice! Is it some kind of crime for me to brush my mane or something?!”

“Well, of course not!” Rarity shot back. “It’s just not like you to be so…”

“Finish that sentence,” Rainbow growled. “I dare you.”

“All right, all right,” Long stepped between the two. “Rainbow’s being weird, but let’s deal with that in a minute. What did you need, Rarity?”

“Oh! Well, it actually isn’t me.” Rarity pushed Twilight Sparkle up and into Long’s face. “Princess Twilight wanted to talk to you.”

“Uh, hi?” Twilight squeaked. “Um… look, I can see this is kind of a bad time, and I do have some shopping I need to get done, so maybe we should talk later.”

“Now hold on just a cotton-pickin’ minute!” Applejack went nose-to-nose with Rarity. “You’re tryin’ to cheat, aren’t you?”

“What?” Rarity scoffed. “I would never stoop to something like cheating! I am simply trying to help my friend. Besides, it looks like you’re doing the same thing! We’re being just a tad bit hypocritical, aren’t we?”

“What do you mean, cheating?” Rainbow and Twilight nearly asked in unison.

“Oh, Rarity and Ah have a friendly wager on who Long Run is gonna end up with,” Applejack casually said.

“Wait. You’re just helping me so you can win a bet?!” Rainbow said in fury.

“Rarity! I can’t believe that’s why you’re doing this!” Twilight poked the accused with a hoof at the same time.

Long took a step back as the four mares began to squabble and squawk at each other. It was quite the impressive sight, in a way, since Applejack and Rarity were able to both take swipes at each other and defend their actions to Twilight and Rainbow Dash, who were equal parts incensed at the two of them for even having a wager. He had to admit that a part of him wanted to see how this whole thing would end, but the larger part of him just wanted to settle the matter quickly so he could figure out why everypony was acting so strangely.

A flash of yellow caught the corner of his eye, but when he turned to look, Long only managed to catch a glimpse of Fluttershy’s tail as it disappeared behind a nearby building. This was perfect! If there was anypony who could break up this argument it was her, so he quickly trotted over to where she had gone.

His steps slowed when he heard voices, and he stopped just before rounding the corner, his ears twitching to catch everything that was being said.

“...okay? This is super-duper important to me,” Pinkie Pie’s voice carried on the breeze in a harsh whisper.

“I don’t know, Pinkie,” Fluttershy replied, her words heavy with concern and a hint of regret. “This has been going on for a while, and I think he’s getting suspicious. Wouldn’t it be better if you—”

“Are you crazy?!” Pinkie cut her off so forcefully that she yelped. “It’s too soon!”

“But what is he going to think when he finds out he’s been kissing me instead of you?” Fluttershy replied, her tone soft but firm.

“Who am I kissing now?” Long rounded the corner, his curiosity forcing him to ask the two of them what they were talking about.

The sight before him was one that he was never going to forget, even if he somehow lived to be as old as Celestia herself. On his left was Pinkie Pie, who had seemingly turned to stone and was gawking at him with a horrified expression, but with what looked like a replica of her own head in her hooves. On his right was Fluttershy, who was also frozen in place, but she was wearing what looked like Pinkie’s body, her hoof having stopped halfway up with the zipper on the costume.

Long stood there for a moment, staring at the two mares who were staring at him. A small grin began to appear, and a deep chuckle rumbled in his chest.

“Long, wait.” Pinkie Pie held out a hoof. “We can explain.”

“Explain what?” Twilight asked as she and the rest of her friends came around the corner. The whole group froze for a moment, but then Rainbow Dash blurted out a laugh.

“Aha! I knew something weird was going on!”

“This isn’t what it looks like!” Pinkie protested, her hooves flailing frantically.

“I bet not,” Long said with a laugh. “Hang on. I wanna guess.” He rubbed his chin, then pointed to Fluttershy. “Okay. You’re Pinkie Pie, so Pinkie Pie must have been you. That’s the easy one. I’m gonna bet that Rainbow Dash is actually Rarity, and that Rarity is Applejack. So that leaves Dash as Twilight, and Applejack is really Twilight! Right? Wait. Did I say Rarity twice?” he paused, then shook his head. “Well, whatever. C’mon! Let’s see if I’m right.”

“Now see here!” Rarity swatted Long’s hooves away. “I most certainly am not Applejack in some sort of costume!”

“Really? I’m pretty sure I see a zipper line on your neck,” he said with a smug grin. “The game’s up, so you can just show me. Are you Twilight, then? Or are you Pinkie, and Pinkie is Twilight?”

“They’re not wearing costumes, Long Run.” Pinkie Pie stepped up, her face full of shame. “It’s just Fluttershy. She’s been dressing up as me.”

“Nopony else?” Long asked, and Pinkie nodded. “Okay. Forgive me the obvious question, but why in the name of Celestia and Luna are you two dressing up as each other?” Long nearly shouted the question, his hoof moving rapidly to point at both of them.

“Yeah!” Rainbow added. “What gives?”

“It’s my fault,” Fluttershy said as she took a step in front of Pinkie. “I’m the one who agreed to do all of this. I should have told Pinkie no when she first asked me.”

“That doesn’t explain anything,” Long noted dryly.

“When you first moved to Ponyville, Pinkie Pie never introduced herself to you,” Fluttershy began. “She wanted to, of course, but as soon as she saw you, she just couldn’t bring herself to talk to you, being so nervous and all.”

“But how could you of all ponies be nervous?” Applejack asked.

“I dunno.” Pinkie twisted a forehoof in the dirt, and her eyes flitted between that and her friends. “It’s really kinda silly, isn’t it? I saw Long Run at the Welcome to Ponyville party, and he just made my heart do backflips and frontflips and all sorts of sideflips in my chest. I’d never met a stallion that was as handsome as you before.”

Long recoiled a bit, but his chest puffed out and he stood a little taller. “Oh, really?”

“Sure! Most of the mares in town think you’re quite the stud. That’s why all of you are here, isn’t it?” Pinkie asked. “Fluttershy really likes you because of all the time you spent with her when you thought she was me, Rainbow went and got a makeover just so she could get your attention, and Twilight loves that you’re an intellectual, like she is. Right?”

There was a simultaneous blush on the cheeks of Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, and Twilight Sparkle, but then Twilight spoke the question that had just come to the group.

“Wait. So all of us are interested in Long Run?”

“I guess so,” Rainbow said, but then she stood at her full height and sidestepped into Long’s side. “But I knew him first! I get dibs!”

“You can’t dibs a pony!” Rarity objected.

“Can too.” Rainbow Dash stuck out her tongue. “He’s been my friend for the longest time, so I get to claim him. Little thing called ‘Finders Keepers.’”

“But you’ve never shown any interest in being his marefriend before now,” Twilight noted. “So why should you get to claim him? If anything, Fluttershy and I have a stronger claim.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Twilight.” Rainbow flicked her tail in Long’s face and gave him a smug smile. “Like Applejack said: everypony knows he’s got the hots for me.”

“That’s not what Ah said exactly,” Applejack cut in.

“Besides, you’re just interested in him because he’s an egghead like you,” Rainbow went on. “And Fluttershy was just pretending for Pinkie Pie, weren’t you?”

“Oh, well…” Fluttershy glanced at her hooves, but then went back to Rainbow. “Um, actually, I wasn’t really pretending. I really did like spending time with him, and I, um, I did kinda sorta want to go on more dates with him. If he wanted to, that is.”

“See?” Twilight shot. “You’ve got no more claim on him than anypony else.”

“Yeah!” Pinkie Pie added. “What if I want to date him for real now? Shouldn’t I get a turn?”

“Um,” Long started to say, but he got cut off by Rainbow Dash.

“Well, we can’t all of us date him at the same time! So the mare who’s known him the longest should get the first chance.”

“But that just means you’ll steal him away from the others!” said Rarity. “Look at what you’re doing already! Lipstick? Mane Styling? All of your primping is just so he’ll be enamored with you!”

“I am not!” Rainbow defended. “I’m just trying to look nice, like I said before.”

“Look nice for whom, precisely?” Rarity pressed, and when Rainbow was unable to stammer out a reply that didn’t begin with Long and end with Run, she nodded. “Exactly!”

“Well, so what?” Rainbow finally managed to form a coherent sentence.

“It means that you’re trying to cheat!”

“Oh, just like you? Who’s trying to foist Twilight on to Long Run over some stupid bet?”

“I was not doing anything of the sort! Twilight and I were trying to clear up a nasty rumor that is being spread in the tabloids,” said Rarity with a sniff.

“All right, all right,” Applejack waved her hat in the air to break up the argument, then replaced it with a small snort. “We could sit here all day throwin' accusations at one another, but that ain’t gonna fix nothin’. Since the problem is that three different mares want to date Long Run—”

“Four!” Pinkie interjected.

“Fine, four.” Applejack rolled her eyes and continued. “So why don’t we ask the stud in question who he wants to date?”

“Woah, wait a minute.” Long held up both forehooves as six pairs of eager eyes turned on him. “Don’t drag me into this.”

“Long, we can’t drag you into something if you’re the core reason for it,” Applejack said. “Look, it’s a simple question: which mare do you want to date?”

“Oo! Pick me! We still haven’t been formally introduced!” Pinkie said with an eager wave of her hoof.

Long Run stammered, and his heart hammered in his chest. The question was simple enough, and he could seemingly solve all his problems with just a name.

But as his overworked mind worked through the unexpected question, he realized that this was a problem that he couldn’t fully solve. “Actually, I think this is something that the four of you need to work out between yourselves. I could pick one of you, sure, but I don’t want to ruin the friendship you have, and I get the feeling that there would be a lot of leftover animosity.”

“But aren’t you attracted to any of us? Like, more than the others?” Rainbow asked with a sly wink.

“That’s just it. In all honesty, ladies, I’m attracted to all four of you, in one way or another.” The admission made his vision go slightly blurry for a moment, and he took some deep breaths to stabilize himself. “So the real solution to this problem isn’t with me, it’s with you. If dating me is going to cause a rift in your friendship, then I won’t date any of you. But if you can come to an agreement that will allow for no ill will, then I’d love to pursue a relationship with any of you.”

There was a long pause as the mares before him thought this over. Long personally thought his idea had merit, but perhaps it was the worst possible solution to the problem and he’d just ruined any chance at friendship with these mares, let alone anything more than that.

“I suppose he’s got a point,” Twilight finally said, thus relieving the pressure that had begun to crush Long. “What do you think, girls?”

“I think he’s right,” Fluttershy said.

“Yeah, I guess he’s on to something,” Rainbow admitted with a grumble.

“So, why don’t y’all find somewhere to discuss the matter while Long and I get his water line fixed,” Applejack said. “Maybe up at Sugarcube Corner?”

“Once you’ve worked this out, come let me know,” Long added. “Even if the answer is for none of you to date me.”

The four mares nodded.

“I think I’ll join the discussion,” Rarity announced. “I’m not terribly interested, of course, but this conversation is sure to be lively, and you may need a moderator.”

“Or you just want to be the first to hear what our decision is,” Rainbow dryly remarked.

“Why, Rainbow Dash! I cannot believe you would think of such a thing! I most certainly am not trying to find out who will win Long Run.”

“C’mon, Long.” Applejack smacked his shoulder and gestured towards town with a nod of her head. “We’ve already burned enough daylight. If we don’t get started on your water line soon, we won’t get done before dark.”

* * Ω * *

Long Run drew in a long sigh, his hoof idly wiping the last of the dirt off his kitchen countertop. Thankfully, with Applejack’s help, the repairs had been accomplished in what felt like record time, and the apple farmer was even kind enough to help him with most of the cleaning that needed to be done inside. His couch was still a mess—to be honest, he was just going to have to buy a new one—and his carpet was probably going to have a brownish tint to it from here on out, but everything else was now back to the way it had been before.

But getting his house clean was the least of his problems, and one of the last things on his mind at the moment. While he knew full well that he couldn’t rush Rainbow, Twilight, Fluttershy, and Pinkie, his anxiety about their decision only grew with each passing hour. The worries and the fretting had only increased once Applejack had left, and now that night was beginning to appear, Long wondered if he was going to be spending a sleepless night in his own cold and empty bedroom.

A soft knock came at his door, and Long Run nearly jumped out of his own skin with a yelp. His anxiety ramped up to heart-attack inducing levels as he crossed over to the front door, and before he opened it, he forced himself to take several deep breaths.

“Remember, their friendship is the most important thing in all of this,” he whispered to himself. “Respect their decision, whatever it might be.”

With another deep breath that he held in his lungs, Long Run opened his door and looked at the mare standing there. “So…?”

“We talked it over,” she said. “It took some time, and we wanted to be sure not to endanger our friendship, but we finally came to an agreement. I hope you don’t mind.”

There were many answers to that question. Only one was right. “I am honored by your decision, m’lady,” said Long with a sweep of one wing and a bow. “Would you care to join me for dinner this evening at Gustav’s, where we can discuss the particulars?”

And with that, Long Run escorted his date into Ponyville, and the future.

* * Ω * *