“No!” Dr. Negative cried, scrambling backwards on the ground as his own groaning servants swarmed him. He got a short distance across the courtyard before he backed into a wall. “What have you done? Wha-what have you done?” He fumbled through his satchel and seized a small vial with his hoof. His triumphant cheer was cut short though, as the vial was knocked out of his grasp and crushed beneath the hoard of drugged ponies. Frantically, he reached for his bag again, only to find it trampled beneath the hooves of a large red stallion; multicolored fluids coated the ground around it.
“It's no use, Doctor,” Daring Do called out as she watched the physician's struggle from her perch on the balcony above. “You did this to yourself.” She hopped off the railing and started for the door, walking past a fedora-wearing Earth pony.
“You're just going to leave him?” he asked, following her back into the manor. “Seems a little cold for you, Do...”
Daring paused as the door shut, muffling the screams of agony echoing about the place. Her gaze fell to the floor with her wings. “It's not like he doesn't deserve whatever happens to him down there.” She shuddered. “Brainwashing ponies like that... It's... It's just wrong.”
When no response came, Daring's eyes shot up. She could handle danger; give her a crazed doctor with way too many drugs or an ancient temple filled with traps and she couldn't care any less – but him? She needed him. If she upset him – scared him off or ignited his righteous fury – she'd never forgive herself. A quivering desperation seeping into her tone, Daring asked, “You... You don't think I'm a horrible pony for this, do you?”
A brown hoof settled on her shoulder as Manehatten Silver looked her straight in her watery eyes. “No,” he said softly, pulling her into his embrace. “Negative's the monster here, not you.”
Daring choked back a sob as she nuzzled deeper into Silver's chest. “Wh-when he had you – back at the lab... You... a-and the syringe... When you... When you...” Her words failed her and turned into incomprehensible sobs. Gently, a hoof patted her back. Soft words were whispered into her ears, causing her to only hold on tighter to the stallion she'd so nearly lost.
“I was so scared,” she whimpered. Her whole body trembled in his forelegs, but he only held her tighter. “I wanted to kill him – I wanted to rip his throat out and stomp it into the dirt! I-I – ”
“Shh,” Silver whispered, running a hoof down the pegasus's gray-scaled mane. “It's over now,” he said. “It's all over.”
“All I could think about was that night in Fillydelphia,” Daring continued, “And how stupid I was for walking out and... I'm so sorry...”
Biting his lip, Silver shifted his weight and looked away from his long-time friend and rival adventurer. “Look, Dare, you don't have to –” A tan hoof interrupted him and jarred his face down towards Daring Do's. Her eyes shone like rubies in the dim light of the hall.
“Just shut up and kiss me,” she whispered, pulling him closer. Her wings flared as their lips furiously collided in a passionate –
“What?” Rainbow Dash cried indignantly, raising her hooves in the air. She glared at the book before her with furious distaste. “That's... that's...”
“So sweet,” Twilight sighed dreamily. She closed her eyes and smiled, her wings fluttering and her tail lightly sweeping across the wooden floor of the library. “Don't you think so, Rainbow?”
“So stupid!” the pegasus finished, batting the novel aside. It flew across the room and smacked the wall with a ruffled thud. Paying no mind to Twilight's irritated stare, Rainbow paced around the room. “What about Rosetta?” she growled, flapping her wings furiously. She glared out the window at the sunset.
“What about her?” Twilight asked as she picked up her new copy of Daring Do and the Devious Doctor Negative and carefully placed it back on her personal bookshelf. “She's still back at the college, right?”
Dash huffed and blew a stray bit of her mane out of her face. “So?”
“So...” Twilight rolled her hoof in the air, gesturing for her friend to explain further. When Rainbow didn't turn around, she sighed and continued: “What's the problem?”
“Everything!” Rainbow roared, spinning around. Twilight stumbled back in surprise as Dash's hooves slammed into the floor and shook the picture frames on the walls. Nostrils flared, she prowled around the room, circling Twilight like a hungry lioness. “How can Daring just... Why would she...”
Twilight's brow furrowed. “Rainbow?” she said slowly, watching Rainbow curse and kick another book into a wall. “Are you okay?”
“No!” the pegasus exclaimed, bringing her hoof to her forehead. “Yes!” She growled at the floor as Twilight stood up and stepped closer. “Ugh! I don't know! I don't get it!”
“What don't you understand?”
“She kissed him!” Dash spat; just saying the words left a bad taste in her mouth. “I can't believe it!”
Frowning, Twilight gave her friend a curious look. “What's wrong with that? I think it's a very sweet conclusion to the story.”
“But what about Rosetta?”
Twilight brought a hoof to her head and rubbed her temple. “I don't think I understand where you're going with this, Rainbow,” she groaned. “What do you mean?”
Dash rolled her eyes. “I mean that Daring totally belongs with Rosetta – not stinkin' Silver!”
Jerking her head back, Twilight's curious expression quickly switched from bemused to amused. An eyebrow raised as Twilight shook her head. “What?” she snorted. “You're joking, right?”
Rainbow's face hardened. Her wings ruffled. “No,” she said. “I'm not.”
“But there's been no evidence that Rosetta and Daring feel anything more than platonic friendship at all, Rainbow,” Twilight giggled despite Rainbow's steadily growing scowl. “Not a single scrap in the whole series.”
Dash's eyes drifted down to the floor and cursed silently. Without thinking, her gaze shot back to her friend and she protested, “They got milkshakes in the beginning of the book!”
“Oh,” she said, smirking, “Then it must be true love!”
“It was a date!” Rainbow stuck her tongue out. “And that's way better than some stupid kiss!”
“It was not a date!” Twilight countered, “Daring Do has never gone to her for more than advice or to hang out!”
“That's not dating?” Dash huffed, glaring at Twilight. “Daring's totally crazy for her!”
“Just because somepony gets a milkshake with somepony else doesn't mean that they're romantically involved, Rainbow Dash,” Twilight said, a hint of annoyance seeping into her tone. “How many times have we gotten milkshakes on reading days? Or after flying lessons?”
Dash's wings flared and her ears slicked back behind her head as she turned to the side; the sun peered through the window and lit her face, coloring it red. Her cheeks felt warm. “I-it wasn't about the milkshakes, Twi...” she mumbled to the floor. “I mean, I could totally see that... that they were happy together...”
Twilight shook her head. “Rainbow, I'm sorry. I don't know how you got the idea that Rosetta and Daring love each other – let alone the fact that they are both homosexual – but it just isn't there.”
Rainbow's eyes never rose from the floor. There was a crack traversing the length of one of the boards on the far side of the room, she followed it across the floor to Twilight's hooves. “But... but it has to be...” she whispered so low that Twilight didn't manage to catch it. “Daring... Daring totally loves her...”
“Besides,” the alicorn added, tapping her chin with her hoof. “Daring and Rosetta would make for a very strange couple – don't you think so, Rainbow Dash? I mean, Rosetta's a professor at Canterlot University – it'd be awful hard for somepony as adventurous and free-spirited as Daring Do to stick around and be in a real relationship with her.”
Dash jumped to her hooves, her hackles raised. “She could do it if she wanted to!”
Twilight raised her hooves. “I'm not saying that she couldn't,” she reasoned calmly. A scroll on a shelf on the far side of the room lit up in a purple light. It floated over to the duo and presented itself to Twilight, who opened it. An illustration of a unicorn wearing glasses and a lab coat adored the back. “And I guess I don't see any major flaws in their dynamic...”
Rainbow's face lit up for a ghost of a second and she looked at the floor once more. “See?”
“But, there's still the complete lack of anything beyond friendship exhibited in their actions, Rainbow,” Twilight sighed, setting the scroll down on her desk. “Just because they get along doesn't mean that they'd make a good romantic couple. Daring Do has been known to have a soft spot for Manehatten Silver – she is obviously in love with him if she asked him to kiss her.”
Dash’s smile faltered. Her eyes narrowed as she opened her mouth to say something, but before she’d even started to speak, the door to Twilight’s bedroom burst open and a little purple dragon crashed through. He fell to his knees, huffing and puffing as he tried to catch his breath.
“Spike?” Twilight cried out in surprise. The dragon continued to wheeze, but looked up at her when he heard his name called.
“Twilight!” he gasped, clutching his chest. His eyes were wide with panic. “She... they... help! It’s horrible!”
Twilight and Rainbow galloped out the door, and with a short burst of flight, dropped to the library’s ground floor. The alicorn landed with all the grace and deftness of a falling brick, face-planting into the floor and nearly toppling a bookshelf, while Dash expertly touched down beside her.
Rainbow snickered. “Yeah, we’re working on landings for this afternoon’s flying lesson.”
“Now’s not the time for jokes, Rainbow,” said Twilight, brushing dust off her wings as she clambered to her hooves. “Who knows what Spike might have seen?”
“Glad to see you haven’t forgotten me,” Spike said, panting as he ran up behind them. “Some of us don’t have wings, you know.”
The air blurred for a second, and a foot-tall draconequus in a black top hat and tuxedo popped into existence beside Spike. “Ah, Spike, you’re back to watch again?”
Twilight frowned and placed herself between the miniature Discord and the baby dragon. “What did you make him watch?”
Spike reached past Twilight and prodded Discord’s outfit. “And isn’t this my tux –”
“Excellent question, Princess! You see,” Discord began, “somepony in this room is hiding a secret from you, and I think it’s time that the truth came to light.”
Rainbow glared at Discord. “You better not be talking about what I think you’re talking about.” Her voice was menacing but her wings fluttered nervously, and Twilight shot her a curious glance.
“Oh, my dear Rainbow, I’m talking about exactly that.” Discord snapped his fingers, and polka-dotted curtains appeared over the library’s windows, blocking out the light of the midday sun. He strode to the center of the darkened library. “Welcome, welcome, one and all, to the second-ever performance of the Discord Theater Troupe’s latest production: Rainbow Dash’s Deepest, Darkest Secrets!”
Spike burst out, “What kind of secrets could possibly have to do with –”
A zipper closed itself across Spike’s mouth. “Bad dragon,” Discord said, wagging his finger admonishingly. “No spoilers allowed.”
Twilight waved her horn angrily, and the curtains disappeared. “Discord, you have no right to spill anyone’s secrets, and I’m surprised that Fluttershy hasn’t taught you that yet. Now you better take all of this down, or I’m marching right to her cottage and –”
“Cool your horn, Princess, I’m trying to do Rainbow Dash a favor here,” Discord said. Rainbow opened her mouth, but Discord cut in. “Besides, this was all Fluttershy’s idea.” Her mouth clamped shut and her brow furrowed, and Discord took advantage of the silence to turn the windows into panes of red-and-white-striped candy cane, casting the library back into darkness.
A dark khaki pegasus in an olive-green vest burst into the library through one of the windows, sending shards of candy flying through the air. She dropped to the floor, panting for breath, chest heaving. Her disheveled mane hung from beneath her tan pith helmet, grey strands sticking to her sweat-slicked forehead.
“Oh, Rosetta," she said, voice heavy with exhaustion, "you intelligent and kind-hearted unicorn, where are you? I have something I need to tell you, and I... I haven't got much time left.” Her eyes wandered over the bookshelves and tables, and fixed themselves on something on the upper floor.
Rainbow struggled to open the zipper that had spontaneously appeared over her mouth, Spike picked up a piece of candy cane, and Twilight turned to look above her.
Walking down the stairs was a slate-grey unicorn with a rose-red mane, black-framed glasses, and a heavily-stained lab coat. “Daring, you brash and adventurous pegasus, I’m right here. What do you need to tell me?”
Daring flew up the stairs and grabbed Rosetta’s face in her hooves. "Oh, Rosetta, I love you!”
“I love you too, Daring!”
They leaned in and mashed their lips together with such frantic passion that Twilight instinctively put out a hoof to cover Spike’s eyes.
Discord cried, “And... scene!” Daring and Rosetta froze mid-embrace, the windows turned to flocks of hummingbirds and promptly flew away – much to the disappointment of an empty-clawed Spike – and the zippers disappeared.
“Well, what did you think?” Discord asked.
Twilight glanced at the empty window frames. “I think that you’re going to replace those windows, or else I’m having a word with – “
“No no, not that!” Discord paced across the library to Twilight, growing larger with each step, until he was back to his full height. “Don’t you get it? For crying out loud, isn’t it obvious?”
“Discord,” Rainbow interrupted, “this is really uncool of you. C’mon, please, don’t do this.” Her voice was strained, and Spike turned to her with a look of dawning realisation.
“Ah, Rainbow,” the draconequus said, patting her head condescendingly. “Don’t you see? This is all for your own good.” He pointed at Daring and Rosetta, and Daring turned sky-blue and rainbow-maned, and the unicorn in her hooves became a purple-coated alicorn.
Twilight was the first to recover. “Oh come on,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I get that Rainbow thinks Daring and Rosetta should be together, and that these characters superficially resemble us two, but that doesn’t mean she wants us to start dating, right?”
She turned to Dash for support, but the pegasus refused to make eye contact, drumming her hooves apprehensively against the floor.
Twilight froze. “Oh,” she said quietly.
Spike watched on, his eyes wide, but said nothing.
Discord showed no such restraint. “Come on, Rainbow! Ask her out!”
Slowly, slowly, Rainbow dragged her eyes up to meet Twilight’s gaze. “Twilight, do you wanna, maybe... go get some milkshakes after our flying lesson? Except, you know... not like we normally do? But like a date instead?”
“Say yes! Say yes!”
Twilight’s eye twitched and her breathing sped up. “I... I need to think about this. Could you give me some time? Maybe, uh, until tomorrow morning?”
Dash's face fell. “Oh. So... I, uh, guess that means no flying lessons today?”
“Um, no. No, none for today. I, uh, I have to go and panic – I mean think. Yes, think. So I’ll, um, see you later then.” Twilight vanished in a burst of purple light. Seconds later, a clatter of hooves sounded from Twilight’s bedroom, upstairs.
Discord turned to Rainbow, reproach written across his features. “I can’t believe it. Look at all the effort I put in just to get you a date!” He pointed indignantly at Daring and Rosetta, who turned into piles of dried reddish-brown fruit and spilled down the staircase. “But even after all that, you still manage to mess it up. Why do I even bother trying to help you ponies out?”
Rainbow glared at him and flew up to press her face against his. “Help? Help? You call that helping? You just ruined my friendship with Twilight! I oughta buck your face in!”
“You know,” interrupted Spike, “both of you are blowing this way out of prospor – propero – you’re taking this way too seriously. I mean, why do you think that Twilight won’t say yes?”
Rainbow redirected her glare down at him. “What are you talking about? Of course she’ll say yes. Nopony can resist the fastest flyer and all-around awesomest pony in Equestria! No, I’m just worried that she, uh...”
Discord rolled his eyes so forcefully that they kept spinning in his sockets as he talked. “You’re worried she’ll say no. Rainbow Dash, I’ve met ponies whose egos were so huge that they nearly formed gravitational singularities whenever somepony complimented them, and while that would have been delightfully chaotic, it makes your grandstanding look boring in comparison.”
Rainbow crossed her arms and hung sullenly from her wings. “Okay, fine, fine, you got me. I’m just wondering: what if Twilight doesn’t, you know, like mares that way?”
“Well,” said Spike, “I only know of five guys who she’s exchanged more than three words with since she came to Ponyville.” He held up a hand and folded his claws as he counted. “Two of them are in this library, two are related to her, and one enslaved the Crystal Empire. Five, versus dozens of mares. You do the math.”
“Ugh, math. Who needs that?” Discord blew a raspberry. “Come now, Rainbow, wouldn’t she have just refused your offer if she wasn’t into mares?”
Rainbow dropped to the wooden floor, folding her wings at her sides. “Well, just ‘cause she likes mares doesn’t mean she likes me.”
Spike snorted and walked to the library’s checkout counter. “That’s nothing to worry about. You know what Twilight’s gonna do now, right? What does she always do when she needs to make an important decision?”
“I dunno, research?” Rainbow turned to watch as Spike rummaged through the piles of binders and notebooks on the counter.
“Yep. She’s going to look up all of the books in the library on romance. So if we make sure the only romance novels in the library all end up with the main characters getting together...” he trailed off, struggling to pick up a large green binder that looked heavier than he was.
“What, you think Twilight’s gonna date me just ‘cause her books tell her to?”
Spike and Discord stared at her.
“Okay, fine, you’ve got a point. But you seriously think this’ll work?” Rainbow flew over to pick up the green binder, and Spike shot her a thankful look before continuing.
“Rainbow, I’ve made sure over the past year that every edition of The Egghead’s Guide to Corporal Punishment is always signed out, and that at least one copy of The Egghead’s Guide to Positive Reinforcement always stays in the library. When I grew fifty feet tall and nearly destroyed Ponyville, she let me off with a hug. You tell me: do you think it works?”
Discord burst into raucous laughter. “Ah, Spike, you manipulative genius. You’re a dragon after my own heart,” he said, affectionately curling his tail around Spike’s shoulders.
Spike shrugged forcefully, dislodging the tail. “Your approval fills me with shame. But anyway, Rainbow, that binder’s a catalogue of all of our books. Sign out the whole romance section, and come back before the library closes tonight to return the ones you want Twilight to read. I’ll sneak ‘em back in, and she’ll read them overnight –”
“Spike,” Twilight’s voice called from upstairs, “can you bring me Romaneo and Juliet?”
Spike darted over to a bookshelf, pulled out a slim tome, and waved Dash over. He pointed to the book and whispered, “Romaneo and Juliet, Shake Spear’s tragic tale of star-crossed lovers. Definitely not what you want her to read.” He dropped the book into Rainbow’s hooves.
“Sorry, Twilight,” yelled Spike, “but someone’s borrowed it. Maybe you can read The Modern Mare’s Guide to Dating?”
Her reply came a few seconds later. “But I need a full dataset before forming any conclusions, and how can I get that without reading the complete works of Shake Spear?”
“Just hang on a sec Twi! I’ll, uh, sort something out!” Spike sighed and kneaded his forehead with his knuckles. “Tell you what, you two just grab every book even remotely related to romance, and I’ll stick here to deal with Twilight.”
“Wait, us two? Now I’m suddenly involved in this?” asked Discord.
“Well, duh,” snorted Rainbow, already pulling books off the shelves. “If you hadn’t decided to butt in, this whole thing wouldn’t have happened. So to make up for that, you’re gonna help me win Twilight over. Got it?”
“Ugh, the things I do for you ponies.” A second later, a wheelbarrow made entirely of chocolate sprouted out of the floor.
Dash dumped the books she was carrying into the wheelbarrow. “Hey, Spike, why are you being so helpful? Not that I’m complaining, but shouldn’t you be, I dunno, more protective of Twilight or something?”
Spike glanced around the library warily, and beckoned Rainbow to lean in closer before answering in a conspiratorial whisper. “Rainbow, to tell the truth, I’m also in love with somepony, so I know what it feels like.”
Rainbow found the last of the romance novels and dropped them into the wheelbarrow, which conveniently hid her attempts to feign an expression of surprise. When she was sure that she had it, she turned to meet Spike’s gaze. “Wait, you? No way!”
“Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true,” said the dragon, nodding sagely. “And besides, I figure you two would be good to each other. Especially ‘cause ever since you started visiting more often, Twilight has been acting a lot, well, happier.”
And for some reason, even as Rainbow struggled to push the heavy wheelbarrow out the door while Discord watched and sipped a spontaneously-conjured strawberry smoothie, she felt like her day just got a little bit brighter.
That day had so much potential to be a beautiful day in Ponyville. Ponies laughed and chatted in the town square as birds sang and the Sun shone. But the ponies whispered and pointed at Dash and Discord as they pushed the library’s entire romance section through Ponyville, the birds were off-tune thanks to the sudden influx of hummingbirds-that-used-to-be-windows, and the Sun? The Sun was melting the chocolate wheelbarrow.
The handle snapped off in Rainbow’s sweaty hooves, and she brought it up to her eyes and stared at it sullenly. Drops of melted chocolate trailed down its sides, and she felt her own optimism dripping away with it, down into an unfeeling, unforgiving pink mouth –
“Hiya Dashie! Hiya Discord! Whatcha’ doing?”
Rainbow yelped and dropped the handle, and Pinkie Pie swallowed it in one bite.
“Mmmm, thanks Dashie. That really hit the spot. I don’t know if the books will like the chocolate though. I’ve always thought that if I was a book, I’d want something like celery, or maybe squash – have you ever wondered why it’s called squash? I mean, it’s not like you squash it or anything. But squash is a pretty funny word, don’t you think? Squash squash squaaash squashsquashsquash...”
Dash shoved her hoof into Pinkie’s mouth. “Pinkie, what’re you talking about? Books and chocolate?”
Discord donned a pair of schoolteacher’s glasses and glared down his nose at Rainbow. “Oh, don’t be obtuse! If the wheelbarrow’s melting, it’ll get all over the books! Do I have to do all the thinking around here?”
“You made the wheelbarrow out of chocolate!”
“Well, I didn’t know that you wanted to carry the books halfway across Equestria! Where are we even going?”
Rainbow blew a stray bit of sweat-slicked mane out of her eyes. “Rarity’s place. I mean, she’s probably read half these books –”
The world around her twisted for a second, then resolved itself into Carousel Boutique. Rainbow found herself muzzle-to-muzzle with a half-assembled ponyquin. The air was heavy with perfume, and the carpeted floor was soft under her hooves.
“– already. Sheesh, Discord, you couldn’t have given me a heads-up?” Rainbow said. She turned, and behind her were Rarity and Fluttershy, both examining a sequined dress on a workbench.
Rarity glanced up. “Hello, Rainbow Dash. What brings you here today? Not that I’m complaining, mind you, but you’ve never come here before of your own volition.”
With a series of thuds, several dozen paperbacks, a few hardcovers, and a draconequus landed on her workbench. Rarity shrieked and jumped back, and one of the rolls of fabric on the other side of the room gained a yellow-coated, pink-maned shadow.
Dash doubled over with laughter in midair, and Rarity glared up at her. “You visited to pull this foalish, immature prank and scare Fluttershy half to death? I’m disappointed in you two.”
Discord grinned at her and picked at his teeth with a ponyquin’s foreleg. “Oh, that’s not the only reason we’re here. Tell her, Rainbow.”
Rainbow stopped laughing and Rarity’s eyes gleamed. “Oh yes, do tell. Could it possibly have something to do with all of these romance novels?” She glanced down at the workbench. “Cyan Hoof de Bergerac, Mane Eyre, A Chariot Named Desire... I never took you for a romantic, Rainbow Dash!”
Hoofsteps rang out in the Carousel Boutique as Applejack sauntered in, Stetson firmly planted on her head and saddlebags swinging at her sides. “Either ya' just said ‘Rainbow Dash’ and ‘romantic’ in the same sentence, or my ears are lyin’ to me, and I’ll be darned if I know which.”
She turned to a roll of fabric, or rather to Fluttershy, who sheepishly stepped out from behind it. “Fluttershy! I’ve been lookin’ all over for ya’, sugahcube. A flock o’ hummingbirds took up roost in the north orchard, and I was wonderin’ if’n you could get ‘em to skedaddle.”
“Oh, um, I’d be glad to, Applejack,” said Fluttershy. Discord whistled innocently.
“Thank ya’ kindly. And now that that’s taken care of...” Applejack turned to Rainbow Dash and grinned. “The beans, Rainbow. Spill ‘em. You and romance novels?”
“Wait, it’s not what it looks like! I’m only reading them so I can get Twilight to go out with me!”
Applejack blinked, Rarity gasped, Fluttershy beamed, Discord burst out laughing, and Rainbow slapped her hoof to her forehead.
“Ya’ know,” Applejack said, “this is usually the part where ya’ say somethin’ like, ‘Hold up, that came out wrong’, or, “That ain’t what I meant, and y’all should know better’...”
“No, actually, it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. But it’s kind of a long story, so I might as well tell all of you at once.” Dash turned to Discord. “Where’s Pinkie?”
“I left her with the wheelbarrow. And before you ask, I can’t bring her here. She’s busy getting ready for the denouement.”
“Oh, nothing. Say,” said the draconequus, holding an ear-trumpet to his head, “am I the only one who can hear that?”
Rainbow cocked her head and listened, picking out a faint keening noise that grew louder by the second. She looked for, and quickly found, its source: Rarity, whose body was literally vibrating with glee. Rainbow Dash marched up to her. “Rarity, if you try to make us matching outfits or something, I swear to Celestia I’ll dye all of your fabrics lime-green.”
Rarity pouted. “But blue and purple are in this season! Just imagine it, a whole fashion line based on your burgeoning relationship –”
“Hang on, Rares,” interrupted Applejack, “but didn’t she say she was tryin’ to get Twilight to go out with her? What if it don’t work out?”
“Oh, Applejack, I wouldn’t expect you to understand the wondrous magic of true love.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
Dash gritted her teeth. “Can you just let me tell the story?”
“Yes, Applejack, hush and let Rainbow tell her tale of passion and romance, of candlelit dinners and l’amour, of –”
Discord snapped his fingers. Rarity’s fainting couch appeared behind her and zoomed forwards, knocking her knees out from under her so that she collapsed upon it in a heap.
Fluttershy sat beside the couch, and Applejack rolled her eyes and did the same. Discord conjured a large box of popcorn and waited for Dash to begin.
Rainbow paced over to a window, staring across Ponyville. She cleared her throat before beginning. “This morning, I went to the library to read with Twilight like I normally do, when all of a sudden Discord popped up. And he, uh, showed her how I felt about her. Then I asked her out, and she said she needed until tomorrow morning to think –”
“Wait, darling, so you asked her? You’re certain of that?”
Dash shot her an annoyed sidelong glance. “Well, duh! I’m Rainbow Dash! I ask, I don’t sit on my flank and wait to get asked!”
“Drat.” Rarity reached into her saddlebags and hoofed several bits over to Fluttershy, who accepted them with a graceful nod.
Rainbow gaped at Fluttershy. “You bet on me asking her out? I didn’t think anypony else even knew I was into her.”
Discord snorted. “I told you that my getting involved was Fluttershy’s idea.”
“That’s not true! I just, um, said that it would be awfully nice if you two got together. Or if somepony helped you two get together. And I said it while Discord was listening. And I knew that he was listening. Um, because I was talking to him.” Fluttershy hid behind her mane and her voice faded to a whisper. “Please don’t hate me...” Her legs quivered, and Discord wrapped a foreleg around her withers supportively.
Rarity levitated said foreleg back to the ponyquin it belonged to, then moved back to her workbench and lifted a few books in her magical grasp. “But even Fluttershy’s involvement doesn’t explain these, Rainbow Dash, so if you’d care to elaborate?”
“I was getting to that. I realized that she’d probably go look at her books to decide if she should say yes to a date with me, so I signed out all the romance novels, and by tonight, I’ll return the ones where they end up getting together. She’ll read them the next morning and decide to go out with me. It’s foolproof!”
“Darling, you’re planning to read nearly a hundred novels in about seven hours?” asked Rarity.
“Well, I actually wanted you lot to help me out –”
“That’s the most beautifully romantic thing I’ve ever heard!”
“Immersing yourself in Twilight’s world to prove your dedication and, I daresay, your loyalty. It’s so perfectly poetic!”
“Hold up a minute here. Don’t any o’ y’all see that this is just plain wrong?” Applejack’s brow was furrowed and her lip curled contemptuously. “How are all y’all okay with this?”
Rainbow glowered at her. “Listen, I don’t know what your problem is, AJ, but you’d better not –”
“My problem is that you’re fixin’ to trick her into goin’ on a date with ya’! You’re lyin’ to her, RD, and tryin’ to say that it’s oh-so-romantic is just puttin’ frou-frou perfume on a pig! Your whole rotten scheme’s disingenuine!”
“Darling, that’s disingenuous –”
“You’re darn right that this is genius! I mean, I won’t even have to lie to her. She’s not gonna ask me, ‘Hey, Rainbow, did you sign out my entire romance section?’, ‘cause she’ll be too busy saying, ‘Oh, Rainbow, you’re so awesome and cool and radical and of course I’ll go out with you’! It’s perfect!”
Applejack turned and trotted to the door. “I can’t stand by and watch y’all do this. I’ve got apples to buck. Fluttershy, ya’ comin’? Those hummingbirds ain’t gonna leave on their own.” She glanced back. “And just so y’all know, I’m of half a mind to tell Twilight all about this dirty little trick.”
“Oh,” gasped Rarity. “I see it now. It’s all so clear.”
Applejack blinked. “Ya’ mean you’ve come to your senses?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes. I can only wonder why I didn’t see it before, but now I know why you want to ruin Rainbow’s plan. You want to keep Twilight all for yourself, isn’t that right?”
Applejack jerked her head back, and her expression switched from irritated to confused. “What? That don’t even make no lick a’ sense –”
“Yes, yes,” said Discord, “I can see it now. The two level-headed members of this little group of friends, bonding over your shared fondness for things like logic and common sense.” He capered over to Applejack and wrapped his arm around her withers. He swept his other arm through the air, gesturing at the vast vista of the future. “Eventually, if not for Rainbow Dash, you’d have started dating, and one day you’d have gotten married, nobly sacrificing yourselves to remove at least half the boringness from the Ponyville bachelorette pool.”
“Um... and you two would look really, really cute together.” Fluttershy paused and turned to Dash. “Sorry, Rainbow.”
“No, it’s cool. I’m not mad. I mean, it’d be totally unfair for me of all ponies to blame somepony for crushing on Twilight.”
Applejack’s expression switched right back to irritated. “Consarn it, I do not have a crush on Twilight Sparkle, and I’ll thank y’all to quit insinuatin’ that I do.”
“But then why won’t you help Rainbow achieve her heart’s desire? Perhaps your own heart desires a certain chromatic pegasus? Ever at odds in contests of athleticism, you never realised how much you truly looked forward to seeing her napping in your orchards after a long day of applebucking. Oh, how romantic!”
Rainbow crossed the room in a short burst of flight, then leaned in to nuzzle Applejack’s mane, burying her wicked smirk in golden tresses. Applejack’s scowl deepened, but Dash pretended not to notice. “Don’t worry, AJ,” she said, “I’m sure Twilight’d be cool with sharing –”
Applejack jerked away from Rainbow and stomped across the room to the pile of books. Muttering angrily, she picked up one of the novels. She sat against the wall, pulled the brim of her Stetson down over her forehead, and started reading.
Four books from the pile glowed in a blue aura and distributed themselves among the remaining ponies and draconequus. Rainbow and Fluttershy sat beneath the window to read, while Discord lay atop the workbench. As Rarity walked by them on the way to her fainting couch, Rainbow glanced up and nudged her foreleg. “Nice one,” Dash said.
Rarity smiled but said nothing, and Rainbow turned back to her book. She flipped to the first page. The light of the afternoon sun shone on the book from above as Rainbow began reading.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single mare in possession of a good fortune, must...
Daring finished her own milkshake and glanced over at Rosetta. “Hey, you gonna drink that?”
The unicorn gave no response, and her gaze never wavered from the small book that she was scribbling in.
“I’ll take that as a ‘no’,” Daring said, and she leaned across the table and picked up Rosetta’s milkshake. She chugged the milkshake down in one go.
Rosetta kept scribbling.
Daring frowned and rapped a hoof on the table. “Hey, Rosetta, Equestria to egghead, anypony there?”
“Oh, uh, sorry Daring. I’m just busy, you know, taking notes on an, um, experiment,” Rosetta stammered.
Daring smirked and snatched the book out of Rosetta’s magical grasp. The insides were covered with doodled hearts and sketches. “Heh, yeah, sure looks like an experiment to me. Especially the hearts and the lightning bolts, those look really science-y – hang on... did you write ‘RD&TS’ inside these hearts? And are these all drawings of my cutie mark?”
Twilight hung her head and looked away, cheeks aflame.
Dash smiled at her. “Hey, hey, no need to feel embarrassed. I’m not gonna laugh. Is there something you wanna tell me?”
The alicorn’s wings fluttered nervously. “Rainbow Dash...”
“Wake up, Rainbow Dash!”
Rainbow raised her head, blinking groggily. She was sprawled across the floor of Carousel Boutique. Sunlight beamed in through the windows and sparkled off of countless gems, turning the boutique into a kaleidoscope of colours. A white-and-purple blur stood beside her.
“Whuzzgoinon?” Rainbow mumbled. She blinked, and the blur resolved itself into Rarity.
Brooms and dustpans encased in blue auras zoomed through the room, and Rarity watched their progress for a second before turning to Rainbow. “We were reading all night. You fell asleep the moment we finished the last book.
“While you were sleeping, Applejack calmed down and I convinced her to not tell Twilight anything, and then she and I carried the ‘good books’ back to the library. Discord and Fluttershy dumped the ‘bad ones’ in your cloud house. Applejack, Fluttershy and Discord all left, but you looked so tired that I couldn’t possibly have woken you up and forced you to fly all the way back to your cloud house!”
Rarity glanced back at her workshop and nodded in satisfaction, and the cleaning equipment flew back into a closet. “But the Carousel Boutique will be opening in a few minutes, so you’ll have to leave now, darling.”
Rainbow stood and stretched. “Okay. Thanks for letting me crash here, and thanks for, you know, everything.” She flexed her wings, working out the kinks in her back. “Hey, why are you opening the Boutique early today?”
“Early? Rainbow Dash, I’m opening late today because I didn’t want to disturb you. It’s already noon.”
Dash blinked. “Oh.”
Rarity looked up. “Rainbow, darling, not to be rude, but why exactly are you still here? Don’t you have someplace to be right now?”
Dash blinked again. “Oh!” She spun to the window, and a second later the only sign that she had ever been in the Boutique was a prismatic contrail lingering in the air.
Rarity shrugged and walked to her workbench, her mind already focused on dress designs: specifically, blue and purple dresses.
Rainbow flew through one of the library’s windows and landed beside the checkout counter. The library floor, oddly enough, was covered in cushions. Spike, who was sitting cross-legged on one of the cushions, smiled up at her.
“Finally! I thought you’d never get here.” Spike got up off his cushion. “Hey, Twi,” he yelled, “can I head over to Rarity’s place?”
“But Spike,” Twilight’s voice responded from upstairs, “you have to help me out with this!”
“Yeah, well, I think I’ve found somepony who’s a lot more qualified. Come and look, and hey, you might as well get in another jump before I go.”
Twilight glided down from the top of the staircase, and with an awkward twist of her wings, she landed on her hind legs on the cushioned floor. Sunlight haloed her as she reared up, and for a moment she was triumphant and regal, resplendent in her majesty, every inch a Princess of Equestria. She held that pose for a fraction of a second before toppling over.
Spike frowned thoughtfully, tapping a claw against his chin. “I think the problem this time was that you overbalanced when you tried to keep from landing face-first.”
“Yeah,” Rainbow said, “you’ve gotta slow down your flapping in the last few seconds so you don’t tip over backwards, and you oughta curve your primaries right before you land.”
Twilight looked up. “Oh, hello Dashie!”
Rainbow blinked and felt her heart speed up. “’Dashie’? You sure you haven’t landed on your head a few too many times?”
Spike tried, and failed, to hide his laugh. “I think that’s my cue to leave. You two have fun!” He walked to the door and scampered out, still snickering.
Twilight nodded earnestly. “Would you prefer ‘Rainy’? All my books told me that we need cute pet names for each other now that we’re dating, but I agree, ‘Dashie’ doesn’t really sound like... you.”
Rainbow Dash stood stock-still. “We’re dating?”
“Sure!” Twilight smiled at her, and Rainbow’s heart stuttered. “I’m happy when I’m around you, and it’s likely that you reciprocate considering that you asked me out, so why not give it a shot? Or at least, that’s what The Modern Mare’s Guide to Dating says.”
Rainbow felt oddly light, as if she could do a dozen sonic rainbooms on the spot, and it took her a moment to collect her thoughts enough to respond. “Yeah, sure, why not? But what’s with all the cushions?”
Twilight shrugged. “We missed yesterday’s flying lesson, so I decided I’d try to make up for it by practicing how to land on my own.”
“Do you want me to show you how it’s done?”
“That’d be nice, especially if we finished up before seven o’clock.”
“Why, what’s at seven?”
Twilight giggled, tail lightly sweeping across the cushioned floor. “Our date, silly! Seven o’clock is the traditional time for a dinner date, according to at least six different dating guides and thirty-two romance novels.”
Rainbow’s wings flapped reflexively, sending her a few inches into the air. “Wait, we’re going out tonight?”
“Well, not really going out, more like just eating some of Spike’s homemade carrot soup and reading the rest of Daring Do and the Devious Doctor Negative, but I’m pretty sure that still counts.”
Rainbow mentally corrected herself: she felt like she could do a hundred rainbooms on the spot. She zoomed to the top of the staircase, and looked back once she reached the top. “Well, in that case, we better get to work. You comin’?”
Twilight trotted up the staircase and stood beside her, brows furrowed in concentration.
Dash extended a wing and tilted it, the light shining in from the window playing off the myriad feathers. “Okay, so take a good look at my primaries. See how I can curve them back by flexing my wing?”
Twilight examined the feathers critically, and then buried her nose in Rainbow’s wing.
Rainbow snapped her wing back and jerked away. “Whoa, what was that?”
“A spontaneous nuzzle meant to demonstrate affection, physical intimacy and/or familiarity,” Twilight recited. “Why, didn’t you like it?”
“Oh, uh, no, it was fine, it’s just that I was trying to teach, and you kinda surprised me. But it’s okay, it’s not like you did something wrong, so, uh, yeah, I liked it.”
Twilight beamed, and Dash decided that she had been totally wrong.
A hundred sonic rainbooms? More like a thousand.
The setting sun bathed Twilight Sparkle in red rays of light as she soared from the top of the staircase and landed on all four hooves, panting with effort. “All right, I’ve nailed that five times in a row, but I should probably try for ten in a row. What do you think?” A loud growl answered her, and Twilight instinctively lit her horn and dropped into a crouch. “What was that?”
Rainbow grinned sheepishly, patting her stomach. “I kinda skipped breakfast today... and lunch...”
“You should have told me! Here, we can just eat right now. It’s almost seven, right?” Twilight walked over to the kitchen and searched through the cabinets and drawers.
Dash peered at the clock. “Actually, it’s eight-thirty.”
“What?! But that means we’re ninety minutes behind schedule!” Twilight slammed cabinets open and shut frantically with her magic, before catching herself and slowing down. She closed her eyes and inhaled while bringing her hoof to her chest, then exhaled and pushed her hoof out.
Rainbow chuckled as she swept papers and books off of the dining table.
“What’s so funny?” asked Twilight, her expression perfectly serene.
“Ah, just that hoof-waving thing. It’s cute.”
Twilight frowned playfully as she levitated a large pot out of the fridge. “Cute? I’ll have you know that it’s a technique derived from t’ai chi ch’uan, one of Equestria’s oldest martial arts.” She set the pot on the table, followed by spoons and bowls, ignoring Rainbow’s stunned expression.
“Hang on a sec, you know t’ai chi?”
“Not much, actually. But Cadance taught me a bit after my coronation, because apparently ‘a princess must always be prepared to protect herself and her loved ones’. Her words, not mine.”
“Whoa, wait, you mean Princess Cadance? Like, the Princess of Love and Crystals and all that jazz?”
“And one of the diarchs of the Crystal Empire, not to mention the wife of the Captain of the Canterlot Royal Guard. I didn’t expect you to be surprised, though. I’ve seen you teaching Apple Bloom karate, and I’m pretty sure Rarity knows kung fu.”
“Yeah, but I never expected you to do martial arts. I mean, I knew you looked fitter when you came back to Ponyville, but...” Dash shrugged helplessly as she sat at the table.
Twilight smirked as she ladled soup into both ponies’ bowls. “Is that Dash-speak for ‘I was totally checking you out after the coronation’?”
“Hardy har har. Leave the jokes to me, ‘kay?” Rainbow took a sip of soup. ”But the t’ai chi explains how you’ve developed the physical conditioning that you’d need for flying so quickly. Even I, radical as I am, would’ve – mmmmm, I never knew Spike was such a good cook, this tastes awesome – Uh, where was I? Even I would’ve been worn out if I’d spent a whole day learning how to land properly, back when I was new to flying – oh my Celestia this soup is so good.” Rainbow tilted her head back and poured her entire bowl of soup down her throat. “Hey, can I have some more?”
Chuckling, Twilight levitated another ladleful of soup into Dash’s bowl. “I haven’t really made that much improvement in flying.”
“Well, yeah, you’re probably not going to be pulling off sonic rainbooms anytime soon –”
“More like I won’t do a sonic rainboom ever.”
“Hey, don’t be like that! If you keep practising, you might one day be as radical as I am, and then you can be the second pony to ever break the sound barrier.”
“No, I won’t. I did some calculations a while back, and my wings are just too large. They create far too much drag. Your aerodynamic profile is one of the few in Equestria, maybe even the only one, that’s capable of accelerating to speeds greater than sound. Your wing radian is –”
“Wait, is this egghead-speak for ‘I’ve totally been checking you out ever since I saw you do the rainboom’? Because I think it is.” Rainbow grinned, enjoying Twilight’s blush. “But anyway, it was pretty cool how much effort you put into learning how to fly today, and if you keep that up, you’ll be almost as fast as me in no time.”
“Well, it was only fair that I persisted in learning how to land properly.” Twilight’s smirk returned. “After all, you signed out all those romance novels so that you could relate to me, so I had to do something to reciprocate.”
Dash's smile faltered and she jerked back from the table, nearly sending her bowl flying. “Wha-what? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “Believe it or not, I do like to keep track of the library’s books. You signed out over a hundred novels last afternoon and returned about seventy that night, or so the catalogue tells me.” She snickered. “And you call me an egghead.”
Rainbow flew to the other side of the table, leaning into Twilight’s face. “Twi’, before you say anything else, I just want you to know that I never intended to hurt you with what I did. And I know that it was uncool of me and that it makes me a bad friend –”
“Wait, what? You think that I’m mad at you for signing out some library books? Sure, I might be teasing you about it, but I’m proud of you for signing out all those books. It’s actually really sweet.”
Rainbow blinked, guilt and relief warring on her face. “Huh? You’re not mad at me?”
“Of course not! You borrowed all of those books, and you read through at least seventy of them, to prove that you cared as much about literature as I do, and to help make this date as great as it could possibly be. And judging by how it’s going so far, I’d say your plan is working...” She shot Rainbow a wink, but Rainbow was staring down at her hooves.
Applejack’s words echoed in Rainbow’s head. ‘You’re lyin’ to her, RD, and tryin’ to say that it’s oh-so-romantic is just puttin’ frou-frou perfume on a pig!’
Rainbow didn’t feel up to doing a thousand rainbooms anymore. Even one was a stretch with the cold weight of guilt welling up in her gut.
Dash took a deep breath. “Twilight, there’s something I need to tell you...”
“I only borrowed those books so that none of them would make you think that dating me was a bad idea. I gave back the ones that’d encourage you to go out with me, and I left the rest in my cloud house.” Rainbow leaned her hooves on the table and closed her eyes, waiting for the inevitable explosion.
The only sounds to reach her ears were her own rapid breathing and some noise that she couldn’t identify. She opened her eyes, and Twilight was giggling.
“I’m sorry, Rainbow, but you just looked funny trying to be all serious with your eyes closed like that.”
“What?” Rainbow threw her forelegs in the air. “Were you even listening? I only signed those books out to trick you! I didn’t even read all of them – I got other ponies to help out!”
“Oh, I was listening. What I heard was that you borrowed a hundred books, read most of them, encouraged other ponies to read with you, and finished all of the books in a night, just to go on a date with me. Did I hear wrong?”
Rainbow gaped. “But don’t you get it? What I did was as bad as... as... as what Dr. Negative did to Daring Do! He brainwashed all of her friends so that whenever she went to them for advice about why Manehatten Silver was acting so weird, they all told her to trust him. And I set things up so when you looked to your books for advice, they all told you to go out with me.”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “First, I’d like to point out that Dr. Negative kidnapped Silver and replaced him with a cyborg clone, and I seriously doubt that your plans were anywhere near as nefarious as that. And second, I’m a bit disappointed that you thought I’m that easy to manipulate. When I have to make a choice, I don’t just gallop to my books and ignore everything else.”
Rainbow stared, deadpan, and Twilight blushed.
“Okay, it might seem like that’s what I do, but it’s not. At least, not this time. I thought about all the time we spent together, and the way that you’ve always been there for me and the rest of the girls, and how much fun I have on our reading days and flying lessons, and decided to go out with you. I wouldn’t have made a decision like that just because a book told me to.” Twilight drank another spoonful of soup.
Rainbow took a step back, her heartbeat slowing, and sat back down. “What about The Egghead’s Guide to Corporal Punishment? Spike said that he kept it signed out so that you’d never read it.”
Twilight spluttered with laughter, soup spraying out of her mouth, and Rainbow ducked back to avoid being drenched. A second later, a napkin encased in a purple glow wiped the spill off the table. “The Egghead’s Guide to Corporal Punishment, by Harsh Mistress? Rainbow, I’m the pony who’s responsible for that book never being returned. As long as I keep ‘forgetting’ to pick it up from Lyra Heartstrings, I get discounts at Bon Bon’s store. It’s a win-win situation.”
Rainbow frowned thoughtfully, rubbing her chin with a hoof. “But those two don’t have foals...”
Twilight winced. “Yeah, uh, actually, don’t tell them I told you any of that. In fact, could you just forget I said anything?” Rainbow’s eyes widened and Twilight hastened to continue. “So, do you want to finish reading Daring Do and the Devious Doctor Negative?”
“Yeah, sure!” Rainbow leapt up. “Uh, wait, where is it again?” Twilight’s gaze was fixed on something over her shoulder. Rainbow turned to look, and it was the clock.
“Rainbow, it’s nearly nine o’clock. I’m sorry, but if we want to end this date by nine, we can’t finish that book tonight.”
“And why do we need to wrap it up by nine? Because your books tell you to?”
“Well, yes, when I averaged the ending time of a first date among all of the books that you returned, I ended up with three minutes past nine. Please, Rainbow?” Twilight looked up at Rainbow earnestly, eyes wide and bottom lip quivering in blatant imitation of Rarity.
“Are you seriously trying to shorten our date?” Rainbow’s mouth dropped into a harsh line.
“When you put it like that it sounds bad, but when you think about it, this just leaves more things for us to do on our next date.”
Rainbow’s glare softened. “Next... next date?”
“How does tomorrow at seven sound?”
Rainbow scratched her head. “I’m pretty sure there’s some kind of rule that says we have to wait three days or something.”
“That’s what the dating guides said, but the romance novels averaged out to roughly eight hours between the first and second date, and twenty-two hours is a nice compromise. Besides, tomorrow’s a reading day, and that’d probably end up turning into a date anyways.”
“Heh, yeah, I guess it would.” Rainbow smiled, and her heart was so light that she thought it might just fly out of her chest, and Twilight would have to chase after it and catch it. And of course, Dash would have to be there to help her land, and for some reason she was perfectly fine with that.
Twilight moved the pot, bowls, and spoons into the sink, and Rainbow piled up the cushions from the flying lessons. When Rainbow was done, she flew to the window and, hovering outside, turned back for one last glimpse of Twilight. “I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah?”
“No, wait!” cried Twilight, looking up from the sink. “You can’t just fly out! You have to go out the door, so that we can talk awkwardly on the doorstep and then kiss.”
Dash smiled, flew back in and nuzzled Twilight’s mane. “I’m cool with that.”
Rainbow walked with Twilight to the door, opened it, and hovered outside. The night echoed with the chirps of crickets. The stars hung in the black velvet sky. Rainbow breathed in a flowery fragrance: daffodils, but she wasn’t sure if they were real or just from Twilight’s shampoo. She decided it didn’t matter.
“All right,” Twilight said. “Now say something witty, preferably a one-liner –”
“Just shut up and kiss me,” she whispered, pulling Twilight closer. Her wings flared as their lips furiously collided in a passionate –
Rainbow and Twilight spun around and froze, jaws agape. The inside of the library was covered in confetti and brightly-colored balloons. Applejack, Fluttershy, Rarity and Spike stared at them from around the snacks table, while Discord lounged beside a bowl of punch. A banner on the wall read “Congrats-On-Getting-Together-Twi-and-Dashie!”
Pinkie Pie bounced up to Twilight and Dash. “Hey, what do you two think of this party? Isn’t it just super-fantabulous? Wanna play Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Pony?”
Discord grinned and shot Twilight and Dash a wink. “Or, if you want, you two can keep making out.”
And so – an hour of party games, snacks, and good-natured teasing from their friends later – they did.