Who Is Pinkie Pie?

by Irrespective

First published

No, seriously. Who are you talking about?

Pinkie Pie, party planner extraordinaire. Any pony who spends more than five minutes in Ponyville will be introduced to Pinkie with an explosion of confetti and a party. 

So how is it possible for a pony to live in her town and have no idea who she is?

As Seen on Equestria Daily!

Zen and Ponies

1. - Who Is This 'Pinkie Pie' You Speak Of?

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* * Ω * *

“Pardon me, Rainbow Dash,” Rarity said while walking through the market stalls, her shopping list having been put aside for the moment. “I’m not sure I heard you correctly. Are you trying to tell me you know a stallion in Ponyville, who has been here for years, but also has no idea who Pinkie Pie is?”

Admittedly, when Rainbow Dash had tackled her that morning, Rarity had hoped that her friend’s urgent need to talk about what had happened at a stallion’s house last night would be a bit more steamy. This, however, was proving to be quite unusual and just as interesting.

“He’s completely clueless,” Rainbow said while edging away from a stall loaded with ornate materials and patterns. Although, that particular shade of mauve would match Rainbow’s eyes quite nicely, and it was a shame that Rarity couldn’t wrap her colorful friend up in a design that was beginning to come together in her head. Perhaps if she added a bit more lace and frills...

“I see.” Rarity filed the dress design away in her head and focused her attention on the conversation du jour. “Why is this troubling you, if I may ask?”

“That’s just it! He’s lived here for years now! There’s no way he can’t not know who she is!”

It took a moment to translate the sentence from Rainbow-ese into plain Equish. “Perhaps... he is just pulling your tail?”

“Long Run?” Rainbow Dash gave her a long look. “The stallion you said had a face like an open book? The large print edition? And you think he’s trying to fool me?”

“I concede your point,” said Rarity. “He is far too serious to attempt such an obvious ruse. So, how did you uncover this supposed gap in his sanity?”

* * Ω * *

This was freedom.

The crisp mountain air stung Long Run’s nostrils, a forceful reminder of his proximity to Mount Canter and the turbulent, unpredictable updrafts that came with the chosen route and altitude. Most normal pegasi would simply fly around the jagged peak unless they had business in Canterlot, but the allure of the unpredictable brought him back time after time. It was a thrilling rush, a reason to really live.

He smiled with a quick pump of his wings through the icy breeze. The key to long distance flying was a combination of minimal effort, high altitude, strong winds, and a rumpload of endurance. Done in the same way that Long taught his students, a pony could fly for hours on end with only a few sore muscles to show for the effort, and he was proud of the fact that he had been aloft for the eight hours between Trottingham and Canterlot.

Granted, the tradeoff for distance was time. If he had been in any sort of a hurry, it would have been much faster to sprint across the North Celestial Sea to Manehattan and then catch a train to his final destination.

His smile settled into a contented and satisfied grin as the sun broke over the frothing, wispy clouds and filled the entirety of existence with light and warmth. Trains could never capture these unparalleled views.

For several long moments, he locked his wings into a glide and enjoyed the panoramic perfection. This unique scenic overlook was the last important milestone before he reached his humble tree house, and his slightly overworked chicken wings were beginning to cluck something fierce.

“Rest easy, gents,” he reassured Lefty and Rightster. “Home is just a dive away.”

A break in the cloud cover unveiled the dark green canopy of the Everfree Forest, and his eyes focused in on a cluster of colorful dots nestled against the northern edge. It’d been two weeks since he had seen the outwardly unremarkable village known as Ponyville, but by Luna’s left legs, he was sure delighted to see it now.

“So! You finally decided to come back, huh?”

“I’m not back yet,” he shot to the mare who had pulled up on his three. Rainbow Dash had the uncanny ability to be right there whenever he returned from a long absence, and to be honest, it was far better than returning to a cold, empty house. “I could just turn around, you know.”

“You’d better not. I’m tired of raking your leaves, taking your garbage cans out to the curb and turning your porch lights on.”

“Oh, but you do it so well!” he retorted with a cheesy grin. “Please tell me you wore that maid’s outfit I left for you. You did, right?”

“Beat me back to your tree and I’ll show you. I’ll even give you a head start.”

It was a sucker bet, but it was a well-known fact that Long Run was a sucker and that Long Run was an even bigger sucker for a mare with curves. The wager was set when he snapped his wings to his barrel, pointed his nose toward his house, and fell into a steep dive. For a few fleeting moments, Long dared to think that he had a chance at beating the best at her own game as the rush of wind screamed past his ears and tore the feeling away from his cheeks.

That hope was dashed when an earth-shattering boom came from behind and a streak of rainbow colors flooded the sky in front of him simultaneously. Equestria’s fastest flyer was still impossible to beat, but as he flared his wings and glided to the compact dirt ‘runway’ in front of his modest tree house, he vowed to never stop trying.

He couldn’t let her win that easily. Besides, the view from behind was awesome.

“Shucks, what a shame.” Rainbow Dash’s grin was the very definition of smug, and she leaned against Long’s house as he shook the blood back into his legs, one at a time. “No peep show for you.”

“So help me, I’ll get you one day,” he retorted with a few flaps of his wings to prevent cramping. “Did you get my mail?”

“Not today,” Rainbow replied. “The rest is on your coffee table. You wouldn’t believe how hard it was to get it away from Derpy. She thought I was stealing it, and was threatening to sic the postmaster general on me.”

Long pushed his flight goggles on to his forehead before reaching into the mailbox and finding it empty. “Drat, no bills to pay today. I see you also managed to not burn my house down, so I guess I have to actually pay you for your services.”

Rainbow rubbed her chin, and her grin turned lecherous. “Tell you what. You let me get some pictures of you wearing my flight suit, and we’ll call it even.”

“I think it would be just a wee bit small on me in places.”

“That’s the idea,” she said with a low cackle of delight.

“Quid pro quo, my dear,” he shot back with his own leering grin. “Maid outfit for flight suit.”

“Another time, you animal.” Rainbow waggled an eyebrow at him.

“You didn’t drink all of my imported cider again, did you?” he asked. Rainbow Dash didn’t reply, and her forehoof pawed nervously at the ground. “You did. You have a real problem, you know that? I’m going to have to call your friends together and stage an intervention.”

“Shut up! I can quit whenever I want,” Rainbow grumbled while giving the woods to her left a venomous gaze. “Besides, it’s your fault.”

“Oh, sure. Blame me,” he said as he paused at the front stoop. There was a familiar pink box on his welcome mat, neatly tied with white thread and eagerly awaiting Long’s arrival.

He chuckled slightly as he nipped the twine with his teeth and opened the box. As expected, a carrot cupcake twice the size of his hoof awaited inside, dressed in a slimming vanilla frosting and smelling of sugar and spice and everything nice. The whole thing was topped by the words ‘Welcome Back, Long Run’ in bold red letters, and he suppressed the happy sigh that wanted to escape. She never mowed the lawn and she always drank all of his cider when he was out, but he had always thought that Rainbow’s cupcake offerings were a wonderful way to formally end his business trips.

It was also darn impressive that the Cakes could fit that many letters on such a small surface. With a gentle touch, he closed the lid, unlocked his door, and placed his personal effects on the nearest horizontal surface.

“Here.” Rainbow suddenly shoved a six-pack of cider into his chest with a snort. “It’s my last case. You’re welcome.”

Long briefly wondered how and where she had gotten this precious nectar, but the ache in his wings convinced him it wasn’t worth the effort to figure out. “Thanks. Care to come in and share—” he put a hoof on the bottles and chuckled “—a lukewarm one with me?”

Rainbow shrugged, but with a small smile of appreciation on her face. “Yeah, sure. You got anything to eat?”

“I don’t know. Do I?”

Another shrug. “Depends. What can you make with green baking soda and a jar of pickles older than Granny Smith?”

He pondered this for a minute. “Weaponized trots?”

“Epic,” she snorted. “But for real.”

“Tell you what. I’ll get these in the fridge—” he rattled the bottles in his hoof “—and then I’ll head into town and get some takeout from Hào Chī’s. You want chow mein or fried rice?”

“Fried rice. Get some spring rolls, too. I came here straight from Twilight’s place and I haven’t had anything to eat all day.”

* * Ω * *

“...So then Fleetfoot gets all high and mighty, saying, ‘Ith unprofethanal to thow that much thkin in a formal thetting,’” Dash said in a precise—and terribly insensitive—impersonation of her Wonderbolt lieutenant. “She acts like she hasn’t been in Play Colt for three years running.”

Long laughed a bit from the upstairs loft, having just stepped out of the shower for a rinse with a towel wrapped around his withers. “Three years huh?” With a shake, he whisked his mane out of his eyes before cheekily adding, “So, when are you getting your centerfold shoot done?”

The reward for his sass was a pillow, lobbed at maximum velocity but with poor aim. “Yuck it up, you big birdbrain. Why in Equestria would I ever be caught lying belly down in an inch of water, trying to contort into those awkward poses?”

To be honest, Long Run couldn’t really imagine Rainbow Dash ever doing anything like that, despite his teasing and prodding. Sure, she cut a lean figure, and she had a physique that most mares would kill for, but he knew that wasn’t the kind of attention she wanted. He had known Rainbow since flight school, and from day one he had enjoyed a friendly rivalry filled with big egos and bruised wings that had grown into a genuine friendship over the years. When she moved to Ponyville, he had kept in touch with letters and occasional visits, and if he had to tell the truth, Rainbow Dash was the main reason he had decided to move to Ponyville several years ago. Even if he was only in town for a few weeks at a time.

“I haven’t the slightest,” he said with a hop and a flap down to the main level. “You’re too good for that kind of stuff.”

“Thanks for the grub,” Rainbow offered, with a hint of red on her cheeks from the praise. “You know how Twi gets sometimes.”

“Any trouble?”

“Nah, just the same old, same old,” Rainbow said with a scoff as she handed him the carton of spring rolls. “School is closed for summer break, so the girls and I are trying to convince her to just enjoy the downtime for once.”

“Yeah? How’s that working?”

“As well as it always does. She needs to get laid.”

Long clicked his hooves together and offered a crisp salute. “I am willing to do what I must for my Princess and my Country. Just give me the word, General Dash.”

“You?” Rainbow laughed as she popped open the fridge. “Right! She’d throw you out of her castle before you even set a hoof in it. Those old romance novels she reads have convinced her that she needs one of those old-timey, thee-and-thou knights that’ll thow their cloaks over puddles, write her sappy love poems, and run off into the sunset with her.”

“I can thee just as well as anypony else,” he offered as she passed him a perfectly chilled bottle of cider. “I just need to brush up on my thous, that’s all. Yea, verily yea, see?”

“Keep dreaming, Casanova. I’ll let Rarity dress me up in the frilliest dress she can think of if you somehow manage to score with Twi.”

“Well, now I have to,” he replied around a mouthful of spring roll. “You just provided me with a wonderful incentive. Maybe Rarity could help me get in with her.”

“Don’t you dare tell her about this,” Rainbow threatened while shaking a fork loaded with stir fry. “I’ll slug you into next month if you do.”

“Fine, fine. Maybe Fluttershy could help me, then, or that Pinkie Pie pony you keep telling me about. Where did you say she works, again?”

“Pinkie Pie?” Rainbow gave him a quizzical look. “Really, Long? She works at Sugarcube Corner with the Cakes. Blue eyes, poofy mane?”

He paused for a minute as he tried to place the pony with the name. “Do you mean Bon Bon?”

Rainbow’s glare switched from quizzical to annoyed. “C’mon, even you can’t be that dense. If I meant Bon Bon, I would have said Bon Bon.”

“Hey, easy there. I thought Pinkie might be one of Bon Bon’s aliases. She’s got a dozen of them.”

Rainbow started to reply, stopped, then shook her head from side to side in understanding. “Okay, I’ll give you that, but there’s still no way you don’t know who Pinkie is.”

He shrugged and took a swig of cider. “Don’t know what to tell you, then. I’ll just have to ask the Cakes who she is the next time I’m in town. What does she look like?”

Rainbow’s eye twitched. “Dude, this isn’t funny. You know I don’t like it when somepony lies about my friends.”

The tone shift in her voice was unexpected, and he leaned back a bit. Long, like every other pony, knew full well about her loyalty to Twilight Sparkle and the others, but he hadn’t been trying to push any of her buttons. “Dash, honest, I am not trying to be a jerk. I have never met anypony named Pinkie Pie in my life.”

“What?! How could you have never met her?”

“Hey, I admit that Ponyville is no Canterlot, but it’s still big enough that I don’t know everypony by name.”

“No, no. You’re not getting it. Everypony knows who Pinkie Pie is!”

“Everypony except me, apparently,” he said with a small snort. “Look, it’s okay. You have your friends, I have mine. I’ll figure out who she is eventually, it’s not a big deal. Just forget I mentioned it.”

How do you not know who Pinkie is?!” Rainbow shouted.

“Hearing you say that once more doesn’t magically make me know who she is.” Long folded his forelegs and frowned at her. “Drop it, Rainbow. I’m tired, and I really don’t want to fight over something so asinine.”

“Hey, you’re the one who’s stubbornly sticking with this.” She chewed on her bottom lip for a moment, but then brightened with a thought. “Okay. When did you move to Ponyville?”

“It was five… six? Yeah, six years ago.”

“And when you moved in, we had a ‘welcome to Ponyville’ party, remember?”

“Yeah. That was pretty fun, too.”

“Who put that party on for you?”

He shrugged. “I dunno. Applejack?”

“APPLEJACK?!” Rainbow roared. “You think Applejack did that?!”

“I never asked who did it. You all jumped out and yelled, ‘Welcome to Ponyville,’ so I thought it was just what the town did for newcomers. Besides, Applejack seems like the type to enjoy a good shindig.”

Rainbow raised a hoof, but paused. “Okay, well, yeah. She does, but she doesn’t do shindigs. She’s more of a hootenanny kinda mare. Except for that one shindig she put together for Pinkie’s birthday.”

“So she does do parties.”

Rainbow’s hooves began to rub the sides of her head. “No, not like that! She doesn’t do big parties, or welcome parties, or any other kind of party! Only Pinkie does that!”

“Okay, well, I’ll be sure to thank her once I figure out who she is,” he said with another bite, only for Rainbow to all but slam her food down. A chow mein noodle dangled from his mouth as he recovered from the start, but it went unheeded as he tried to figure out what he had done to make Rainbow so upset.

“You Pinkie Promise me you really don’t know who Pinkie Pie is?” Rainbow said in a slow and even tone.

“Dash, I’m sorry. Really, I am. I’m sure she’s a great pony, but no. I really, truly, and honestly have no idea who she is.”

She stared for several long moments, as if trying to detect the smallest amount of deceitfulness in his words or on his face. A few moments later, she snorted and glared at the wall to her right. “It’s cool. I mean, nopony knows everypony… except everypony knows Pinkie! ARGH!”

“Hey, Rainbow. C’mon.” Long held out a hoof as she pushed away from the counter with several grumbles under her breath. “Don’t leave mad.”

“I’m not mad. Something weird is going on here, and I gotta figure it out,” she said as she trotted over to the door. “I’ll see you later, Long.”

“Yeah, okay. I’ll see you, Dash.”

She was gone with one quick flap of her wings, and Long drew in a long breath. That had been a rather odd turn of events, and not at all what he had wanted to have happen. But he knew Rainbow wasn’t going to let this go, now that she had set her mind on it, so all he could do was let her work her way to the logical end of his ignorance.

With that, he stood and moved to the fridge to procure another cold one, only to find the cardboard case devoid of bottles. Or at least full ones. He had to laugh, and he shook his head slightly as he pulled the ciderless bottles out of his fridge.

“Darn it, Dash. You really do have a problem.”

* * Ω * *

“So it would seem he really has no clue at all.” Rarity mulled over the information for a moment before continuing. “You don’t suppose that he could have done something to upset her, do you?”

“Even if he did, Pinkie is not the type to hold a grudge. I mean, she even gave Discord that ‘We Forgive You for Backstabbing Us’ party after the whole Tirek thing.”

“I believe she called it a clemency party,” Rarity gently corrected.

“Whatever. The point is something weird is going on here. He’s been to a lot of Pinkie’s parties. Like, just recently, he was at the afterparty for the Running of the Leaves and I know I saw him at Pinkie’s Ponypalooza party.”

“How peculiar. Pinkie was there for both of those events, and she always tends to the needs of the party participants individually. How could he not know who she is?”

“Exactly! It just doesn’t add up!”

“I suppose the best thing to do is to speak to Pinkie Pie about the matter,” Rarity said with a thoughtful hum. “If she doesn’t know who Long Run is, then we can safely conclude that they really have never met, no matter how improbable that is. Or I’m sure you could get the unadulterated truth out of him if you wore that maid outfit that he commissioned from me, you know.”

“Wait. You made that?!” Rainbow gasped, and Rarity nodded with a giggle. “Rarity!”

“What? It seemed harmless enough, especially when he told me he was only going to tease you with it. I was hoping it might lead to something a bit more, but—”

“That’s it! I’m finding Pinkie!” Rainbow shouted as she shot into the air.

* * Ω * *

2. - I Have No Idea Who You're Talking About

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* * Ω * *

“Pinkie Pie!” Rainbow screamed before she slammed into the ground in front of her friend. “I need a party!”

“Okie dokey lokey!” Pinkie saluted, and then promptly disappeared in a blur of pink.

“What? Wait!” Rainbow shot after Pinkie, but in the half second it took her to catch up, Pinkie had already set up a table, flanked by brightly colored balloons and loaded with tortilla chips, nacho cheese, bean dip, and a chocolate fountain. “I didn’t mean right now!”

“Oh. Well, I had a super-fun party in mind for you, but if you don’t want it...” Pinkie slowly pushed her party cannon off to one side.

“I’ll still take those chips,” Rainbow offered with a hungry glance at the bowl. “But I need this party in, like a couple of days.”

Pinkie nodded, and she produced a pencil and a small notebook from the infinite abyss that was her mane. “You should have told me that first! What kind of party do you want? I have birthday, wedding, funeral, welcome home, have a good trip, winter wrap up, we forgive you for backstabbing us…”

“Just a plain old party. I don’t need a theme or anything.”

Pinkie licked the tip of her pencil and began to write. “Generic party, gotcha. Where do you want to hold it?”

“Right in the middle of town,” Rainbow said with a conniving grin.

“A very popular venue. Hopefully it’s not booked.” Pinkie’s pencil practically flew across the page. “What would you like for refreshments?”

“Whatever. Oh, but there needs to be cider,” Rainbow said with a lick of her lips in anticipation. “As much cider as you can get your hooves on.”

“Oo, that’s gonna cost extra. Okay. Is this going to be a shindig, or more of a hootenanny?”

“Probably a shindig, but I want everypony in town to come. I can’t wait to bust him in front of everypony.” Rainbow rubbed her forehooves together and cackled with delight. “This is gonna be sweet!”

“Bust who, Dashie? I can make it a busted party if you want. I have hoofcuffs, even.”

“No, no cuffs. Just a plain party. Think you can get all of this done in a couple of days?”

Pinkie scoffed. “Are you kidding? I could have this ready in twenty minutes if you wanted.”

“You could?” Rainbow asked eagerly, but then she soured. “Wait a minute. How could you have it ready so quickly and have enough cider for the whole town?”

“Don’t sweat the small stuff!” Pinkie said as she stuffed her notebook and pencil back in her mane. “You let me handle that. Now, where can I get a mareiachi band and twelve peacocks while still avoiding the griffons?”

“Seriously, where is all this cider at?” Rainbow called out to her retreating friend. “Pinkie! Get back here!”

* * Ω * *

“Dash, I gotta admit, I’m surprised you forgot to renew your weather licence,” Long Run said as the two of them walked towards Ponyville’s town hall.

“What can I say?” Rainbow replied, her devious glee building with each step towards Ponyville. “I’ve been so busy with the Wonderbolts that it slipped my mind.”

“That I get, but why are we walking? We could have been there by now if we’d just flown over.”

“Hey, you know how steep the fines get for unauthorized cloud manipulation. I betcha there’s an inspector up there, just waiting to bust me for my naps.”

“Uh huh. Right,” Long replied with an exaggerated eye roll. “You are going to pay me back sometime this year, right? I’m gonna need those bits for my own fees and dues in a couple of months.”

“Oh, I’ll pay you back, all right,” Rainbow cackled under her breath. Once Pinkie revealed that she knew Long, her payback would be complete and perfect.

“That maniacal laugh doesn’t reassure me.”

“Relax, you big cry baby. Have I ever let you down before?”

“No, but you do have a problem with the concept of time. I’m still waiting for you to return my Ogres and Oubliettes compendium, and you said you’d give that back to me months ago.”

“Hey, I’m still trying to figure out how to squeeze more stealth points out of Spike the Stingy. I managed to infiltrate the Squizard’s inner sanctum, and you know what he gave me? A measly plus two! I mean, c’mon!”

“Truly, your suffering is an inspiration to us all,” Long replied. “May all of ponykind draw strength from the noble slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that you endure for the cause.”

“Not helping, Long,” Rainbow grumbled.

“Look, the best way to level up is to play to Spike’s interests. Try rescuing something in the game that he values more than anything else. If he’s somehow worked Rarity in, save her from that Squid-wizard, or whatever you said he created for the campaign. He’d probably give you all the experience points you want as a reward.”

“Really? You think he would?”

“Yeah. He’ll totally—” Long stopped dead in his tracks as they made the last turn before the town hall. “Oh, c’mon. Really, Dash?”

“What?” Rainbow moved to his side, and a hoof went to her chest in faux surprise. “What a coincidence! I had no idea that a party would be going on at this exact moment! How unexpected!”

“Try delivering the lines with a little more emphasis,” Long offered as he rubbed the side of his head. “Saying everything in monotone really kills the believability factor.”

“But this is a complete and utter surprise. I did not know this would happen,” Rainbow said in the same unsurprised voice. “But since we are here, we should go and enjoy the festivities.”

“All right, let’s get this over with,” Long huffed. “Where’s Pinkie Pie?”

“Oh, I bet she is around somewhere. She is always at parties like this. Really, you can’t miss her.”

“I bet not,” he grumbled as they made their way over to the party.

Rainbow had to admit that Pinkie had once again wiped up a nice party, and somehow, she even managed to keep the overall theme generic, just as she had said. The scattered tables were filled with freshly baked cakes, pies, several vegetable trays, bright red balloons, and a cotton candy machine, but Long's eyes lit up when he saw Applejack standing near a brown barrel of Dash’s favorite drink.

“You got more cider?” he asked. “Where did you get more cider from?”

“That’s a good question. I tell you what. Why don’t you go get some, and I’ll have Pinkie Pie come over and tell you where she got it?”

“That sounds wonderful, Rainbow Dash,” Long said with a long-suffering sigh.

“Hey! Since you’ve never met her before, this would be a great time to introduce yourself to her!”

“Right.” Long shook his head and chuckled. “Why didn't I think of that.”

Rainbow’s grin went from ear to ear as Long made his way to the cider and said hello to Junebug. All she needed to do was ‘arrange’ for a meeting between him and Pinkie, and once Pinkie revealed that she did know him, she was going to rub it in Long’s face for the rest of his life.

It would be the perfect payback for his blatant lie.

Rainbow then took to the air and glanced around for Pinkie. The first sweep of the overall party came up with a distinct lack of pink, as did the second in-depth look. After the third attempt at locating Pinkie failed, Rainbow flapped quickly over to Rarity, who was chatting with Lily while enjoying a slice of cake.

“Hey, Rares! Have you seen Pinkie?” Rainbow asked as soon as her hooves hit the ground. “I don’t see her anywhere.”

“Excuse me, Lily,” Rarity said calmly. “I believe Rainbow Dash has a question she would like to ask me, but lacks the manners to properly wait her turn.”

“Have you seen Pinkie or not?” Rainbow huffed.

“Why yes, Rainbow Dash. I do believe she went with Mayor Mare to procure more cider. You should be able to find her at town hall, if I’m not mistaken.”

Rainbow was off in an instant, and burst through the main doors of Ponyville’s town hall half a moment later. Mayor Mare shrieked at the sudden entrance, then gave Rainbow a withering glare as she straightened her glasses and adjusted her collar.

“Miss Dash, I do believe we talked about bursting in unannounced, did we not?”

Rainbow ignored the question and glanced around. “Hey, where is Pinkie Pie? I need her to meet somepony.”

“I’m right here, Dashie!” Pinkie replied with a hop, skip, and a jump. “You wouldn’t believe how hard it was to get these cider barrels here; the customs dues alone were outrageous! I hope you don’t mind that I told them to send the bill to you.”

Rainbow blinked, then shook her head. “Whatever. Hey, I have a pony outside that I want to introduce you to.”

“You do?!” Pinkie Pie lit up with delight, and she wrapped her friend up in a gigantic hug. “This is amazing! Now my Generic Rainbow Dash party can be a Welcome to Ponyville party!”

Rainbow smirked. “I think that’d be great. Lemme introduce you to him.”

Pinkie bounded outside with Rainbow, and the two of them eagerly surveyed the crowd of ponies. After a few moments and a couple of giggles, however, Pinkie turned to Rainbow in confusion.

“So, where is he? I don’t see anypony new here. He is a he, right? Maybe I should be looking for a she. Oh! Maybe he or she is really good and hide-and-seek! Where do you think they’re hiding at?”

“I don’t know, but I’m gonna nail his hooves to the ground when I find him,” Rainbow growled. “Stay here, Pinkie. I’ll bring him to you.”

Rainbow again took to the air, and after a futile moment of searching, she shot over to Rarity’s location once more. “Rares! Have you seen Long Run?”

“Excuse me, Lily. I do believe—”

“Lecture me later, Rarity. I need to find Long.”

Rarity gave a snort of annoyance. “My dear Rainbow, if you want my help, I suggest you rein in that troublesome tongue of yours. Your behavior is most uncouth.”

“Fine, I’m sorry,” she said with a huff. “Now, did you see where he went?”

“No, Rainbow. I did not.”

“Wasn’t he talking to Applejack just a minute ago?” Lily asked. “Maybe he’s still with her.”

“Why’s he talking to her?” Rainbow asked. “Ugh. Thanks, Lily. I gotta go.”

Rainbow began her search once more, and after a few moments, she found Long Run and Applejack near a stack of cider barrels. Her dive towards them was slowed when she saw Applejack’s furious frown, and when she landed, she couldn’t help but feel guilty.

“Hey guys. What’s up?” Rainbow hesitantly asked.

“This here cider is what’s up,” Applejack replied with a growl. “Do you know what kind of cider this is, Dash?”

“Um, it’s apple cider. Isn’t it?” Rainbow swallowed hard.

“This here cider is Criollo cider.”

“And why is that so—”

“It’s imported cider, Dash!” Applejack kicked a barrel with a rear hoof. “Ah can’t believe you’d go behind my back and get some cheap, knock-off, apple flavored water! Ah could have gotten you all the cider you needed for this little hootenanny, if’n you’d just asked me.”

“Wait, wait, wait. I thought you said you were completely out last week. ‘As empty as the desert in June when the snow don’t fall,’ right?”

“That was last week. Granny Smith and I whipped up a new batch after that.”

Rainbow’s eye twitched slightly. “Well, go yell at Pinkie. She’s the one who bought all of it.”

“Pinkie? Shoot, no wonder you got this disgusting slop. Pinkie wouldn’t know good cider if it came up and bit her in the rear.”

“Tell you what. I’ll take Long here and go tell her that she made a mistake. How’s that?”

“You do that. Meanwhile, Ah’m gonna go take this swill and dump it in my pig’s sty. Tragic waste of apples right here.”

“Just bring some of yours back!” Long called out as Rainbow grabbed his hoof and pulled him away. “I’ll pay double your asking price for a cask!”

“That’s a deal, Long!” Applejack called back.

“You’d better share when she gets back,” Rainbow growled as she marched him back to the center of her ‘party.’

“I won’t be able to if you rip my leg off,” he protested in return.

“Look, this’ll just take a minute. Pinkie is right over…” Rainbow stomped a hoof in frustration. “Oh, c’mon! Where did she go now?!”

“I think you’re getting just a bit carried away with this, Rainbow.”

“I am not. You are going to meet Pinkie, right here and right now, or my name is Maud.”

“Hey, Maud? You might want to let me go. The whole town is staring at you.”

Rainbow snapped back to reality, and as she did so, the eyes of the town quickly went to anything and everything but her, with some casual whistles and a few comments about the weather from the ponies nearest to her.

“Really, Dash. You gotta let this go.”

“Absolutely not. Just wait here, and I’ll figure out where Pinkie wandered off to.”

Long shook his head in bemusement as Rainbow went airborne, but she ignored his silent snark and began to search for her wayward friend. This was a matter of pride now; she couldn’t admit defeat without giving Long bragging rights for the next decade, if not longer.

After a search that took twice as long as it should have in Rainbow’s mind, she managed to find Pinkie Pie’s twitching, swishing tail protruding from a bush. With a heavy groan, she touched down, and she gave her friend’s rump a few sharp pokes. “Pinkie, what in Equestria are you doing?”

“I’m searching for your new friend!” Pinkie said. “He’s really good at hide-and-seek. Do you think he’d show me some of his hiding spots, once I find him?”

“I’m going to make him show me, too. That way he’ll quit disappearing. C’mon, I found him. He’s waiting by the pies.”

“Really! I like this new pony already,” Pinkie announced as she bounded away. “Anypony who likes pies is an instant favorite in my book.”

“Figures,” Rainbow grumbled.

“So, who am I meeting, anyway?” Pinkie asked. “Is he rugged and strong? Is he tall, dark, and mysterious? Will he sweep me off my hooves, take me into his tender embrace, and shower me with affection and praises?”

“Uh, you’re kinda scaring me now, Pinkie,” Rainbow said with a wary look.

“What? Don’t you ever dream of romantic candlelight dinners and messy baking episodes that end with both of you licking the frosting from—”

“Whoa, hey!” Rainbow shouted. “Look at that! I had no idea we were running low on pies!”

“What?! Why didn’t somepony tell me! I’ll be right back!”

Rainbow let out a sigh of relief as Pinkie disappeared. This whole thing was spiraling out of control, and for the first time, she began to wonder if this had been a bad idea.

Thankfully, Long Run had finally stayed put, so there was still a chance that her plan could come together. He was chatting with Roseluck at the moment, a piece of carrot cake on the table before him, and that dopey look on his face meant that he was about to launch into one of his long-winded stories. If she could keep him where he was, the two of them would meet as soon as Pinkie returned.

“Hey, Dash,” Long called out. “You gotta try this! You wouldn’t believe how creamy this frosting is!”

“Oh, I’ll show you creamy,” she muttered as she walked over to him. “I’m gonna ram that cake right down that fat neck of yours.”

“Say, Rose, do you happen to know Pinkie Pie?” Long asked. “Rainbow keeps telling me about her, but I haven’t met her yet.”

Roseluck offered a laugh that was clearly forced. “Nice one, Long Run. Of course I know Pinkie! Everypony knows her.”

“Thank you!” Rainbow exclaimed with a smug smile for Long. “See? What did I tell you?”

“How could you have not met her?” Roseluck continued. “I mean, she was there when we had that welcome to Ponyville party for you.”

“I guess I just missed her, somehow,” he said with a shrug. “Dash here is supposed to introduce me to her.”

“Introduce you to who?” asked another voice.

Rainbow cackled with delight, and with two flaps of her wings, she shot over and hauled Pinkie over to within a hair’s breadth of Long Run. “Finally! Now we can settle this once and for all! Pinkie Pie, this is Long Run. Long, Pinkie Pie.”

“Um…” said Pinkie in the oddest fashion. “Hi, Long. Have you decided if you want a pet yet?”

“A pet?!” Rainbow gasped. “You’re asking him about a pet?!”

Long glanced between the two of them, gave up on anything about this whole mess making any sort of sense with a shrug, and obviously decided to just run with the madness. “No, Pinkie. I’m not sure if I want one at all, since I’m gone a lot.”

“Oh. Well, if you change your mind, Fluttershy has a lot of different animals you could think about that are in need of a good home. If you get a bird, you could just leave a window open, and they could fly out and take care of themselves. Or I’m sure Rainbow Dash could make arrangements to stop by and feed your pet, if you want.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. I have to say, it’s really nice to finally meet you,” he said while looking square at Rainbow. “Since this is the first time we’ve met and everything.”

“Oh!” Pinkie stuck out a hoof, and her grin went from ear to ear as Long shook it. “It’s super nice to meet you, too!” She glanced around, then offered an awkward smile as she pointed to his slice of cake. “How do you like the cake Pin—er, that I made?”

“You were serious,” Rainbow muttered, her head hung in defeat. “You really haven’t met her.”

“Nope. Thanks for introducing me, though. Say, Pinkie, since I have you here, I need to ask you something.”

Pinkie’s eyes widened slightly in alarm. “Oh, um, what is it? I mean, sure! I love to help other ponies. What do you need?”

“Well, I have this friend who is probably named Rainbow Dash, and she was telling me that Princess Twilight Sparkle has been really uptight lately because of her responsibilities at the School of Friendship.”

“Long, no!” Rainbow begged.

“So, I thought I might try to help our princess out, being the concerned subject that I am,” Long pressed on, a sly grin growing on his face. “What I want to know is what are a few of Twilight’s favorite things? Warm woolen mittens, perhaps, or bright copper kettles?”

“Well, Twilight likes a lot of things,” Pinkie said with a small smile as Rainbow groaned and keeled over on the spot. “She might be a bit confused as to why you’re doing it, though.”

“Good point. Maybe some food would be better. I could invite her out to a picnic, maybe. Give her a break from the duties of a princess. Do you think she’d like schnitzel with noodles?”

“I think it might be better if you introduce yourself to her first. You have met her, right?”

* * Ω * *

“I still can’t believe you never met Pinkie Pie before now,” Rainbow muttered to the ground. “How does that even happen?”

“Hey, with my frequent absenteeism, it’s not too hard to believe,” Long Run said with a friendly pat on her withers. “But now I have met her, so I know who you’re talking about. She’s pretty friendly, and between you and me, she’s kinda cute, and she really knows all kinds of things about animals. I probably have a better chance of getting a first date with her than with Twilight, anyway.”

“Yeah, well, just please don’t be all stuck up about this, okay?” Rainbow asked. “I went through all this trouble to try to catch you in a lie, and I feel kinda bad that I did. Not to mention the fact that Pinkie is going to send me the bill for the party, and it ain’t gonna be cheap.”

Long took a moment to study his friend’s forlorn face, and with a laugh, he made the motion of zipping his lips shut. “I tell you what. Since it was a nice party, and since you did introduce me to somepony new, I’ll help you with the cost. When you do get the bill, bring it by my place and I’ll give you what I can.”

This brought a smile to Rainbow, and she slugged him softly on the shoulder. “Thanks, birdbrain. You’re not so bad.”

“Long! Hey, Long!”

Long Run turned, then yelped when he found the pink party mare mere inches away from his nose, although she was rapidly bouncing up and down on her tiphooves like some sort of pony jackhammer. “Pinkie?! Sweet Celestia, don’t do that!”

“No can do!” Pinkie cheerfully said, but then she shrunk back, looked down at the ground, and twiddled a hoof. “Say, before you go, do you mind if I ask you something?”


In one rapid rush of air, Pinkie blurted, “Well I was wondering if you’d like to come over to Sugarcube Corner sometime and hang out since we just met there’s a lot of catching up that we need to do it’ll be my treat and I’ll treat you to my famous snickerdoodle cookies!”

Long thought the offer over as Pinkie caught her breath, but then he shrugged. “Hey, I’m down for free cookies. How’s next Tuesday work for you, say around three?”

“It’s a d—excuse me. It’s a da—excuse me.” As every abbreviated word cut off, Pinkie jerked with a sharp hiccup that looked rather painful. “ThanksLong!” she managed between hiccups. “Seeyouthere!”

And with that, Pinkie bounded away in long, cat-like leaps.

“A date, eh?” Rainbow elbowed Long in the ribs and gave him a leering grin. “Careful. Pinkie might just crush on you.”

“What, are we in the Junior Speedsters again?” he scoffed. “Who has crushes at our age? You really need to lay off the cider.”

* * Ω * *

3. - You Should Introduce Me to Her Sometime

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* * Ω * *

“For the last time, Dash, it’s not a date!” Long Run brushed past the smirking mare and checked to make sure he had his coin pouch. “It’s a friendly get-together and free cookies with Pinkie Pie, nothing more.”

“Sure, sure,” Rainbow drawled. “Why wouldn’t you be interested in her cookies?”

Long paused and gave her a flat look. “I don’t quite know how to take that.”

“Just admit it, birdbrain! You’re going on a date! It’s a restaurant, you’ll be with a mare, you’re going to learn things about her by talking, and you’re going to tell her about yourself! If you’ve got all of the ingredients for a batch of cookies, don’t try to say you’re making a pie!”

“Fine, it’s a date,” he huffed. “Whatever it takes to get you to leave me alone about this. I gotta go. If you’re going to stay here, go put on that maid’s outfit and take care of the dishes for me. Make sure you take pictures.”

“No way. I’m not cleaning up your messes,” she replied as she walked outside with him. “Especially since you could care less if I actually clean anything while wearing that. Take care of it yourself.”

“So help me,” he muttered. “One day.”

“Keep dreaming, Long.”

“Are you going to make this a threesome, then?” he asked as they both took to the air.

“Nah, I got a Wonderbolts meeting to get to, actually. But I want to hear all of the juicy details when I get back, okay?”

“Well, that depends on what you’ll give me for the information, doesn’t it?”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “Nice try. Oh, I just remembered. Captain Spitfire wants to know if you’re still coming to teach your class at the Academy next week.”

“Yeah, I still have that on my calendar. I’ll fly in next Tuesday. I think I’ll take your new recruits on a happy little flight over to Las Pegasus and back. That should give their wings a good stretch, right?”

“A cross-country flight will do it for sure. I’ll catch you later, Long.”

Long Run watched Rainbow bank to the right for a moment before he mentally reviewed his upcoming schedule. After the Wonderbolts, he was scheduled to teach a long-distance flight class in Cloudsdale for two weeks, and then he was off to Applewood and a training class for a batch of stunt doubles.

He grumbled a bit and banked towards Ponyville. While he loved being a freelance flight instructor, he did wonder if he was putting too much time into his work, and not enough time into himself. He couldn’t even remember when his last vacation had been, nor where he had gone.

That was a sure sign that he needed to reduce his workload. The last thing anypony needed was to burn out at a high altitude, and the more he thought about it, the more he realized he was reaching his limit.

Long had settled his mind on the matter by the time he touched down in front of Sugarcube Corner. Anything on his schedule after Applewood would be moved, and he was going to take a full month off. It would do him good to unwind, and it would give him a chance to figure out how to score with Princess Twilight, and thus force Rainbow into a frilly Rarity dress.

He chuckled to himself as he pushed the door open. He would never force Rainbow to make good on that, nor would he make any sort of effort to get lucky with the Princess of Friendship for that sole reason. Even if he somehow did manage to defy the odds against his success with the Princess, he wanted a relationship that was based on something more substantial than a one night stand. Besides, Twilight Sparkle was far too uptight and devoted to her studies, from what he had heard. He needed a mare who was more laid back, who was willing to take the time to just enjoy life and not have to dissect every moment of it.

He smiled and waved to the abundantly pink mare who was beckoning to him from a table in the far corner of the store. Maybe he had no chance with Twilight, but Pinkie Pie seemed nice enough. There was a chance the two of them would hit it off, and then he could trade in his wings for a baker’s apron.

Or just enjoy the most amazing baked goods ever. My waistline may never recover.

“Hi, Long!” Pinkie motioned with a hoof to the chair in front of her. “It’s very nice to see you again!”

“Thanks. Good to see you, too,” Long offered. “I didn’t keep you waiting, did I?”

“Oh, not at all! I just got here, actually.”

“You did?” Long asked. “I thought you lived here.”

“Oh! Right!” Pinkie laughed and waved a dismissive hoof. “Silly me! I meant to say I’ve been out shopping, and just got back from that! Gotta make sure there’s enough baking powder and vinegar!”

“Can’t have too much of that,” Long agreed. “So, where are those snickerdoodles you promised?”

“They should just be coming out of the oven now. The Cakes were kind enough to keep an eye on them for me while I waited for you. Let me go check and see if they’re done.”

Before Long could properly respond, Pinkie Pie disappeared, leaving behind a pink cloud that hung in the air for a brief moment. “Well, she’s definitely assertive, I’ll give her that. I wonder if she’s always like this.”

“Yeah, pretty much,” she replied from behind him, and he yelped in alarm. “Twilight says it’s ‘Pinkie being Pinkie,’ but Rarity says it’s ‘unsettling’ and Dashie calls it ‘straight up creepy.’ Still, birds gotta fly and fish gotta swim, right? If I stop being Pinkie, then who am I?”

“That is a rather deep question that I’m not sure I want to get into,” he said.

“Me neither. So, instead of that, let’s talk about something nice while we enjoy my cookies. How about that sky today! Talk about blue. Are you responsible for any of that?”

Long smiled as a plate of delicious-smelling snickerdoodles and a tall glass of perfectly chilled milk was placed in front of him. “I’m not much of a weather pony. That’s more Dash’s thing.”

“You don’t do weather?” Pinkie asked after stuffing a whole cookie into her mouth.

“I can, if need be. I’ve got the permits for it. But I was never much good at cloud manipulation. I prefer to fly around them, if I can help it.”

“So, what do you do for a job? Rainbow Dash has mentioned you fly a lot.”

“Officially, I’m a freelance flight instructor. I travel all around Equestria, mostly teaching long-distance flight and endurance training, but I dabble in stunts and basic flying techniques as needed. That’s why I’m gone so much, sad to say.”

“Oh, isn’t that dangerous?” asked Pinkie.

“Not really.” Long lifted a wing and rotated it carefully. “Done right, the worst danger I face is the occasional sore muscle.”

“It sounds like your work is really super-duper important, though. Are there a lot of pegasi who need to take your class?”

“I hope so! Otherwise I’ll be out of a job,” he laughed. “Truthfully, there’s more than enough work for me, so I’ll never be hurting for employment. On the rare occasion when I don’t have anything to do, I offer free flight classes for foals—or for adults who never learned the right way. You’d be surprised how often that happens.”

“Really? How could a pegasus learn how to fly wrong?”

“The problem is most flight instructors take a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching, but that works about as well as one-size-fits-all shoes. In fact, I suspect that’s what happened with Muffins, and why Scootaloo can’t fly.”

Pinkie leaned in and gave him a quizzical look. “You think Scootaloo was taught wrong?”

“Not wrong,” he said slowly. “Just… wrong for her, if that makes any sort of sense. I can’t say for sure, but I would bet that there’s some sort of abnormality in her flight and control muscles that hasn't been diagnosed, so a cookie-cutter approach to teaching won’t work with her.”

“But the only way that could be is if there’s something wrong with her central thaumic vein,” Pinkie said, her hoof stirring the straw in her milk as she thought. “But wouldn’t have that been caught by a doctor by now? She’s seen, like, every specialist there is.”

“Has she?” he asked. “I’d need to look at her medical file, then. I’ve worked with fillies and colts like her before, and a lot of doctors just pass off their flightlessness as thaumic hypotonia and then tell the parents there’s nothing that can be done. There’s ways to work around it, but it often takes a lot of time and therapy. You have to get down and retrain individual tendons and muscle strands, sometimes.”

“What about somepony like Fluttershy? Do you think you could help her to be a stronger flyer?”

“Fluttershy?” Long tapped the side of his glass as he thought. “I haven't ever really talked with her but she would be an interesting training case. From what little I’ve seen of her flying, her problem isn’t anything physical. It’s all mental.”

“Oh.” Pinkie slunk back, as if she was trying to hide behind her mane. “Why do you say that?”

“For the record, Fluttershy is a sweetheart, and I love her,” he said, but then he blinked. “In a figurative way,” he added quickly. “I’ve yet to meet a pony who is nicer than her. If I were to ever break my leg—or a wing—I’d rather go to her than to a doctor to be patched up.”

Pinkie perked right back up and giggled. “Really? You would?”

“She’s a peach, pure and simple. I knew her back in flight school, but not as well as I knew Dash, and I’m still ashamed to say that I wasn’t very nice to her.”

Pinkie gasped loudly. “You weren't one of those cruel bullies who picked on her, were you?”

“No, no!” he quickly said, and he hurriedly pressed on in the hopes of getting away from that furious scowl. “I didn’t pick on her, but I didn’t try to help her, either. At least not as much as I should have. We talked a bit here and there, and I remember thinking that her shyness was kinda cute. But when the bullies started teasing her, I could never find the courage to say something. I wish I’d been better about that.”

“Oh. Well, I bet she would understand why. Bullies are the worst.”

“Anyway, Fluttershy is actually quite a strong flyer, but not in the typical way. Sure, most pegasi can fly circles around her, but she can’t be beaten for endurance.”


“Yeah. Other than Dash, and maybe the Princesses, I don’t know of anypony who could stay aloft as long as her, myself included. If there was a way to get her over the fears—and with a little bit of training—I really think she could be a member of the Wonderbolts.”

“How do you know that?”

“A quirk of my job is that I can’t watch a pony just fly anymore,” Long said, and he settled into what Dash would call his ‘lecture’ mode. “I watch how they flap their wings, what muscles are being stretched and relaxed, and all of the other little details that go into flying, even if i’m not trying to. So I have inadvertently studied Fluttershy, and her technique is flawless. I would love to capture her method on film, somehow, and then use that to show others how they’re doing it wrong. There are no wasted motions, no inefficient positioning of the wing, no incorrect spread of feathers. A lot of ponies see flying as some crude, mechanical process, but Fluttershy has the process down to a delicate art. It’s poetry in motion, if you know what you’re looking at.”

“Have you ever told her any of this?” Pinkie asked, and Long shook his head.

“No, and I doubt I ever will, so please don’t mention any of this to her. That would be the most awkward conversation I could ever possibly have. ‘Excuse me, Fluttershy. I’m sure you don’t remember me, but we kinda sorta hung out in flight camp years ago and I want to film you flying. Do you mind?’ She’d probably think I’m some kind of psychopathic serial stalker.”

“You never know unless you try!” Pinkie said in sing-song.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said with a chuckle. “But enough about me gushing about other ponies. Tell me about you! It’s only fair that I learn more about my gracious host.”

“Aw, aren’t you just the sweetest thing?” Pinkie said. “Let’s see. It all started on a rock farm, when I was just a itty bitty teeny weenie twinkie Pinkie…”

* * Ω * *

Rainbow Dash idly tapped a rear hoof as she tried to listen to Captain Spitfire’s presentation. At the moment, they were going over next year’s flight shows, and everypony was offering their suggestions on what flight maneuvers should be included in the routines.

Normally, this was a topic that she had great interest in, and she had offered several suggestions during the meeting, despite being the newest member of the group. But whenever somepony else would share their ideas, the dashing young flyer found her thoughts drifting back to her hometown, and specifically to two friends who had just been introduced to each other.

Try as she might, she couldn’t help but wonder how the date between Long Run and Pinkie Pie was going. She had already decided that she would pound Long into the ground like a railroad spike if he had been anything less than a perfect gentlecolt, but she was curious to see what he thought of Pinkie’s flamboyant personality and her gift of unrelenting gab.

Thankfully, this meeting was only to get some preliminary ideas, and it was just about over. She wouldn’t have to wait much longer to get the answers she sought, and to give Long a hard time if it turned out that he actually liked Pinkie.

She didn’t think they would move much beyond friends, though. Long was a patient and tolerant stallion, but Dash knew Pinkie’s extended levels of extreme hyperactivity would probably grate on his nerves. He prefered his energy to be controlled, directed, and Pinkie was anything but.

“Hey, Crash!” Spitfire called out. “Did you decide to check out early on us?”

“I’m here,” she replied. “Fleetfoot is on to something with the double roll-off-the-top, but we’ll have to watch the spacing coming out of it. Soarin will bellyflop onto Blaze otherwise and take the rest of us out while he’s going down.”

Soarin blushed a little as the other Wonderbolts snickered. “That only happened one time, you guys!”

“Crash does make a good point,” Spitfire said with a grin. “We’ll sort that out later. Let’s meet again in two weeks, and I’ll get some flight plans drawn up. You’re dismissed.”

Rainbow took a moment to stretch her wings as she stood, and a smile came as Fleetfoot called out to her. “Hey, Fleet. What’s up?”

“Me and Soarin were going to go get something to eat from the mess hall real quick. You wanna come with us?”

“Can’t.” Rainbow shook her head. “Wish I could, but I gotta get home and take care of a few things. Can I get a rain check on that?”

“Only if you’re buying!” Fleetfoot said with a laugh. “You can take us out when Long Run comes next week.”

“Deal! I’ll see you guys then!” Rainbow said as she took to the air.

* * Ω * *

Rainbow Dash grunted as she closed the front door to Long Run’s house. She had thought that Long’s date with Pinke would be over by now, but his empty abode said otherwise. “He couldn’t still be at Sugarcube Corner, could he?”

Dash took to the air again and shot towards Ponyville. If he was there, then their date had been even more successful than she had thought it would be. The Wonderbolt meeting had gone on for a couple of hours, and Dash had figured Long and Pinkie would be done within half an hour, at best. After all, they were just having cookies together and getting to know each other.

But what if they were getting to know each other a little too well? Dash’s mood soured slightly with the thought. Long Run was a sucker for a mare with curves, after all, and Pinkie’s baking skills meant that she had all of the right curves in all of the right places. One thing might have led to another, and even though it was early in the afternoon, Pinkie did have a private room in the attic of Sugarcube Corner.

Dash put on a little extra speed. While she couldn’t fully believe that Long and Pinkie would hit it off so quickly, the mere possibility that it had worried her for reasons that she couldn’t explain.

A few minutes later, Rainbow Dash skidded to a stop outside the bakery, and a wave of relief washed over her when she glanced through the window of the store. Long and Pinkie were sitting in a back corner, and from the smiles on their faces, the date had been going extremely well. Grateful that her own wild thoughts had been wrong, Dash moved into the shop and towards her friends.

“Ah! Rainbow Dash!” Long cheered, and he motioned to the empty chair at their table. “Come, join us! We were just talking about you.”

“You were?” Rainbow asked with a grin.

“Yeah. We were talking about the Wonderbolts, and how your wingspan is perfect for handling the G forces you endure during your routines. It’s been a fascinating conversation.”

Rainbow’s wings ruffled a bit. “And you’ve been enjoying this, Pinkie? I didn’t know you were that interested in the Wonderbolts. Or flying in general.”

“Normally it’s kinda boring,” Pinkie replied with a shrug. “Especially when Twilight tries to explain how flying works in detail and with flow charts. But Long just has a way of making it interesting, y’know? I’m learning so much, I feel like I could just explode!”

“Please don’t actually do that,” Dash said while leaning away from her. “It took us a whole day to clean up the last time that happened.”

“You really exploded once?” Long asked.

“Yeah, but only a little bit. Twilight has been waaay more explosive than I have. Do you remember that one time, when she spontaneously combusted? She couldn’t figure out how the Pinkie Sense worked, and she finally just snapped! It was hilarious! I never thought she’d believe in it!”

“I wasn’t there for that one, Pinkie,” Rainbow replied. “You and Fluttershy told me about it later. I wish I had been there.”

“Why don’t you tell me about it?” Long pushed the plate of cookies towards Rainbow Dash with a smile. “I don’t think I’ve heard this story before. And what’s the deal with this ‘Pinkie Sense’ you’re talking about?”

“So, you and Pinkie seem to have really hit it off,” Rainbow Dash idly noted with a flick of her tail.

“Yeah, she’s pretty fun,” Long said with a nod. “I can see why you were so surprised that I hadn’t met her. I wouldn’t mind going out with her again, sometime.”

“You wouldn’t?” Rainbow slammed the door to Long’s refrigerator shut and whirled around.

“Why is that so surprising?” Long asked as he looked over his mail for the day. “Were you thinking we’d hate each other for some reason?”

“No, but I didn’t think she was your type.”

“I have a type?” he asked, and Rainbow rolled her eyes.

“All stallions do, even if they deny it. You really didn’t mind all of her—” she stalled for a moment as she struggled for the right word “—Pinkie-ness?”

“Not at all. She’s super sweet, and surprisingly knowledgeable and eager to learn. If that was a date, it was probably the best first date I’ve ever had.”

“That’s a first,” Rainbow muttered. “Usually Pinkie overwhelms a pony with her non-stop energy. I bet she tried to talk your ears off.”

Long shook his head. “Not really. Truth be told, I probably did most of the talking.” He glanced up and retreated slightly when he saw Rainbow’s slack-jawed shock. “What?”

“You outtalked her?! Nopony can outtalk Pinkie Pie! What did you do to her?!”

“I didn’t do anything!” he protested. “We simply had a nice, polite conversation, unlike the one this one is turning into.”

Rainbow Dash began to pace the length of his house. “Something is seriously messed up here. First, I find out you’ve never met her, and now you’re telling me you managed to get a word in edgewise? Pinkie never lets pauses happen! She has this inbred desire to fill every moment with some sort of noise! How did you manage to talk more than her?”

“Well, she’d ask a question, and then I’d answer, and then she’d ask a follow-up question. It’s not that hard to understand. Honestly, I wish the ponies in my flight classes were more like her.”

“So, are you going on another date with her?”

“We agreed to meet up again once my schedule clears up. I haven’t had a vacation in the longest time, so I figured I should take one and just relax for a bit. You and I should go do something, too. We haven’t done anything together for a while.”

This statement brought a halt to Rainbow’s pacing, and she offered a devious smile as her eyes met his. “I thought you were still sore from the last time I smoked you at bowling. I’m all for a rematch. Just give me the time and I’ll be there!”

* * Ω * *

4. - She Sounds Like A Nice Pony; I Bet I'd Like Her

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* * Ω * *

Long Run let out a long, luxurious groan as the first rays of sunlight began to tickle his cheeks. Normally, he would be up before the dawn, as it was a wonderful time to get some exercise in, or to do a last-minute check of his lesson plans for the day. Time was a precious commodity for him, and under different circumstances, he was loath to waste even a few seconds.

He peeked with one eye and evaluated his alarm clock, which he had deliberately forgotten to set the night before. After making a quick note of the hour, he grinned, rolled over, and stuck his head under his wing.

He was officially on vacation, and early mornings were now illegal until further notice.

His joy deepened as he reviewed the plans he had carefully crafted to maximise his nothingness output. Sleep would take up a considerable chunk of the time, followed by lounging, laying about, loafing, and a hearty session of loitering to wrap everything up. There was a brand new lounge chair on his back porch that needed to be properly broken in, and the recliner in his front room had been grossly negligent in supporting his overworked rump.

Both of these problems needed to be addressed immediately, with immediately meaning ‘later today.’

His delight dimmed when he stretched out his legs and touched nothing but sheets. It was a familiar sensation, one that had been repeated hundreds of times in a hundred different hotels in a hundred different locations across Equestria. Here or there, early or late, he still woke up alone and with a deeply lonesome emptiness in his chest.

The sadness that came with that loneliness stimulated his thoughts, and his hoof slowly traced the general outline of the pony form. What would it be like to have a mare there, with bright eyes and an even brighter smile, to welcome him to another day? What would he feel, deep within him, if he had somepony to cuddle with during the long nights, or to have somepony waiting for him when he came home after a long day of work?

The musing was interrupted when a familiar scent began to tickle his nose, and his stomach rumbled out a call for the deliciousness to come closer. There was only one thing in the world that smelled like that, and there was no way he could hold himself back from Rainbow’s custom-ordered-for-him cupcakes.

It only took him a moment to fly down to his front door, and he ripped it open with an overenthusiastic greeting for Rainbow Dash.

The only problem was that it wasn’t Rainbow at his door. Instead, there was a shriek, and a yellow blur bolted from his porch upwards into the low branches of his house.

"Fluttershy?!" With a gasp of his own at the frightened response, he quickly stammered out an apology as he flapped up to her and tried to break her death grip on the branch. “I'm sorry, Fluttershy! I didn’t mean to startle you! Are you okay?”

She meekly nodded with a small “eep,” and in one quick move, her vice-like grip moved from the branch to his offered hoof. Once they were both safely back on the ground, Fluttershy took several deep breaths, but her gaze remained on her hooves. “I’m fine. I, uh… I wasn’t... I mean, I didn’t think you’d be… y’know, um...”

“Up so early?” he gently offered to the slightly trembling mare. “I’m usually not when I’m on vacation. Are you sure you’re okay? I really didn’t mean to scare you so badly.”

“Oh, it’s okay. I’ll be fine. You don’t need to worry about me.”

“Would you like to come in?” he asked with a wave of his hoof towards the interior of his house. “I can get some coffee going real quick, if you’d like some.”

“Oh, no. I couldn’t do that,” she stammered. “I was just dropping this off for... for you.”

Long chuckled, and he accepted the mashed and mangled pink box that was oozing icing out of several seams with a wing. “That’s very nice of you to do so, but I’m a bit surprised that you’re the one making the delivery.”

“Well, Pinkie Pie was… um, busy, and I thought… I mean, I didn’t want her to stress about it, and she was… that is, I mean…” she stalled. “I squished it.”

Long gave a dismissive scoff to that. “Don’t worry. It’d look like this by the time it hit my stomach anyway. You just took out the chewing step for me, so now this delicious goodness can take a straight shot down my throat.”

Fluttershy snickered, and her eyes finally met his. “I guess that’s one way to look at it.”

“Tell Pinkie thank you for me,” he said with a grin. “And I won’t mention the squished part if you don’t.”

“I won’t,” she said with a nod and a soft smile.

“Sure you don’t want to come in? Really, I wouldn’t mind getting you something to drink.”

“Oh, no. I’ve got to get going. My animals will be waiting for me. It’s breakfast time, and Angel gets really cranky if I'm late.”

“Another time, then?”

Fluttershy nodded. “Another time. I’ll see you later, Long.”

Long nodded, and he watched Fluttershy trot away until a glob of icing hit the ground with a rather loud splat. “I guess I oughta do something with this. Maybe if I throw it in a blender and make a cupcake smoothie out of it…”

* * Ω * *

Long Run hummed a happy little tune to himself as he idly glided towards Ponyville. His first day of vacation was off to a roaring start, if one defined ‘roaring’ as ‘eating a smooshed cupcake for breakfast, going back to bed until nearly noon, and then making lunch out of cold pizza and half and half.’ With such a start, he was now ready to actively idle away his time, but there were a few things he needed to do before he could fully commit to his grandiose nothingness.

The first thing was to restock his refrigerator, naturally. Since he was expecting a cyan pegasus with a bottomless pit for a stomach to stop by, he figured he should be prepared for her eventual appearance. After that, he was going to head over to Sweet Apple Acres to arrange for a covert delivery of Granny Smith’s Special Reserve, and to make a payment on Rainbow Dash’s party debts as he had promised.

But as he touched down, his eyes flicked over to Sugarcube Corner. There was a pink party pony in there, somewhere, and he had to admit that he wanted to see Pinkie Pie again. He hadn’t realized how enjoyable it would be to just sit and talk, and he wanted to learn more about her, since he was the one who had dominated the conversation during their first ‘date.’

With that thought, Long moved into the shop, eager to set up another time to hang out with Pinkie Pie. The delectable smells of the bakery washed over him as soon as he did, and for a brief moment, the saccharine seduction in the store made him forget why he was there.

“Good morning, Long!” Missus Cake called out, her back to him as she pulled a batch of cinnamon rolls out of the oven. “Good to see you again! What can I get for you?”

As tempting as the treats were, Long needed to save his bits for his shopping list. “Actually, I was just wondering if Pinkie Pie was here.”

“Oh, she’s not here today. She was scheduled to work, but then her Pinkie Sense went off, and she said she had to take care of it right away.”

“Pinkie Sense?” Long asked.

“You haven’t heard of that?” Missus Cake put the pan of cinnamon rolls down on the counter in front of Long, and it took a tremendous amount of willpower to keep from stealing the succulent goods before him and making a run for it. “I suppose you haven't, since you just barely met her. Pinkie is…” Missus Cake paused in thought as she grabbed the nearby tube of frosting. “It’s hard to explain. She gets premonitions, sometimes, about future events.”

“She’s clairvoyant?” Long asked.

“Yes and no. She doesn’t know exactly what will happen, but whatever it is usually happens fairly soon after she feels it coming on.”

“I didn’t know sompony could feel the future.”

Missus Cake nodded. “They manifest as ‘different little niggly feelings,’ as she describes it. A twitching tail, for example means something is going to fall, or an achy shoulder means there’s an alligator in the bathtub.”

“How often does something like that happen?” Long asked with concern.

“Alligator in the tub? Thankfully, only a couple of times.” Missus Cake chuckled as she moved the freshly frosted rolls into individual boxes. “But if Pinkie Pie ever offers to draw a bath for you, make sure she’s put her pet alligator away. Pinkie Sense or not, it’s still a shock to find that thing when you’re not expecting it.”

“She has a pet alligator?” Long asked. That bit of news did not help his concerns.

“You can ask her about it when you see her next. She was rather looking forward to it, in fact.”

This brought a grin to Long’s face. “Well, I’ll go see if I can find her, then. So long as there wasn’t some sort of friendship problem somewhere, she should be in town, right?”

“I think so. But since you two have a history of not running into each other, I’ll let her know you stopped by, too.”

* * Ω * *

“No, I haven’t seen her all day,” Roseluck said with a shake of her head. “Sorry, Long.”

“It’s okay. Thanks.” Long drew in a deep breath, and his eyes swept over the bustling market. So far, at least a dozen ponies had not seen Pinkie Pie that day, and that fact made him curious. Pinkie Pie should be the easiest pony in the world to find, based on what he had heard, and yet now there was no Pinkie anywhere. For somepony who supposedly served as both the life and the center of any party, she had proven surprisingly difficult to find.

A shadow crossed the path in front of him, and his eyes went up to follow the pegasus casting it. His eyes widened as he found that it wasn’t a pegasus flying by.

Long Run could count the number of times he had personally interacted with Princess Twilight Sparkle with his legs and still have plenty left over. Normally, she was busy with some royal business, or occupied with something involving her friends, and he had never really had a reason to seek an audience with her.

But as he watched The Princess of Friendship flap towards Davenport’s Quills and Sofas store, he winced to himself, and his legs automatically began to move. There was no way he could let what he was seeing continue without correction.

“Princess! Princess Twilight!” he called out as he jogged over to her. “Forgive me, Your Highness, but do you have a moment?”

“Of course, Long Run!” the princess replied. “But please, just call me Twilight. What can I help you with?”

“Okay. This is probably going to be one of the most random questions you’ve ever been asked in your life—”

“I doubt that,” she said with a playful scoff.

“—but have you ever noticed that your supracoracoideus is sore after a long flight?” he finished.

“I stand corrected.” Princess Twilight leaned away from him and gave him a critical stare. “Why are you asking?”

“Wait, wait, hold on.” Long shook a hoof in the air as his thoughts finished forming. “Rainbow Dash taught you how to fly when you got your wings, didn’t she? That explains it. Let me see.”

“Hey!” Twilight protested when Long grabbed her wing, but before she could incinerate him with a bolt of death magic, he rammed his elbow into her wing joint, rolled it down along the muscle, and then gave it a quick yank. Twilight let out a cry of pain with the action, but then her face contorted into confusion as she rolled her wing and her shoulder. “What did you do?”

Long gave her a smug smile. “It was aching just a little, wasn’t it? Nothing bad, but just a little nagging stab towards the shoulder.”

“Yeah. I thought it was just from being cooped up in my castle for too long.”

Long shook his head. “See, when Rainbow taught you how to fly, she taught you how she flies, and she flies at full throttle all the time everywhere no matter what. The problem with that is it overworks the supracoracoideus on longer flights, and that causes a slight dislocation. All I did was realign your wing so it’s back in the proper place. Nothing too drastic.”

“Okay, but how did you know that?”

“By the angle of your wing as you flew by. If I may?” he asked with an outstretched hoof, and with her nod, he gently pulled her wing out again. “For Rainbow Dash—or any pegasus who wants to go fast—the angle of the wing folds inward, like so.” He bent her wing with a hoof slightly. “Now, like this, you increase your thrust, and thus your speed. But here, at this angle—” he adjusted the pitch of her wing “—is where you want to be for extended flight. Feel the difference in pull? The effect is more pronounced for you, since your wings are larger than Rainbow’s. It’s like you’re an albatross that’s trying to fly like a hawk. You want to keep your angles here, and here. This will also give you that smooth, regal flow that Princess Celestia and Princess Luna have when they fly.”

“Huh.” Twilight flapped the wing as Long had instructed a few times. “I had heard you were a flight instructor, but I didn’t realize you knew so much about the mechanics.”

“Comes with the territory,” he said with a shrug, but now it was his turn to lean back in alarm. In any training class that he taught, there were bound to be three types of students: the ones who couldn't care less about what he had to share, those who were engaged but only to a degree, and a few precious ponies who actually wanted to learn. As a teacher, he naturally preferred the third group, and it was always a delight to work with those who had genuine questions.

The Princess was giving him the familiar stare of one who was eager to learn, but the intensity of it was so powerful that it quickly overwhelmed him. It was like she was trying to figure out how to extract the information from his skull and then dissect it under a microscope.

“Say,” she said with a growing smile, “if you have some free time, I would love to learn more about this. Perhaps you could stop by my castle sometime and give me some pointers?”

“Sure? I suppose I could.”

“How about at this time tomorrow?”


“Great! I’ll see you then!”

Long stammered for a moment as Twilight Sparkle turned tail and entered the shop, and he desperately struggled to figure out what had just happened. Somehow, without him having a word about it, he had just agreed to give the Princess of Friendship flight lessons.

Rainbow Dash was going to kill him when she found out.

Rainbow Dash’s ear twitched, and she mumbled out a grunt as she rolled over on the perfect napping cloud she had found.

Somepony was talking about her.

She let out a yawn and fluffed her wings. So what? Ponies talked about her all the time. It was probably just Scootaloo, either because she was with the other Crusaders, or because she was leading a meeting of the Rainbow Dash Fan Club.

Her ear flicked again, and her hoof reached up to scratch the offending appendage. She rubbed it against the cloud as it began to smolder.

“Aw, c’mon,” she grumbled, her forehooves wrapping over the top of her head in an attempt to quell the fiery sensation in both of her ears. “I was just about to take the gold in the Equestria Games.”

Rainbow tossed and turned, but it was all for naught. Her ears were close to combusting, and there was no way she was going to be able to go back to sleep now.

With a large groan of annoyance, Rainbow Dash sprung into the air and her hoof scratched the inside of her ear. There was no way she was going to be able to sleep now, and she had to figure out why she was being talked about.

With another yawn, she idly flapped to the ground and glanced around. There didn’t seem to be anything particularly remarkable going on, other than the normal chatter and movements of a not-currently-under-attack Ponyville.

So if it wasn’t a crisis that had caught her ear, it must be that somepony was regaling another with one of her own daring exploits! Rainbow Dash began to trot among the crowd with an eager grin, her ears flicking and twitching to see if she could figure out who the storyteller was, and then to make sure they got the facts straight.

And to stop them entirely if they were discussing that little Mare-Do-Well incident. Especially if they were talking about that.

After a few moments, she located a rather dumbfounded Long Run, who was standing outside Quills and Sofas and staring at the front door like an idiot. If anypony had been talking about her, it was probably him, but she had to chuckle at the sight.

“So, what happened to you?” she asked with a playful punch to his shoulder.

“I just talked to Princess Twilight Sparkle.”

Rainbow snorted. “I’m pretty sure you’ve talked to her before. You’re not going to try to tell me you’ve never met her either, are you?”

“No, but that was my first individual encounter.” He drew in a deep breath and turned his attention to her. “Is she always so intense?”

“Nah,” Rainbow scoffed. “She’s pretty relaxed right now, actually. You should see her during the school year.”

“Yeah, she gets pretty uptight sometimes,” Pinkie added, and Long let out a screech.

“Pinkie! Gah! Stop doing that!”

“No can do!” she cheerfully replied. “So, what are you two up to?”

“I was taking a nap, but then my ears started burning,” Rainbow said with an absentminded rub of her ear. “Long here was having a close encounter of the third kind, it seems.”

“Ooo, yeah. That explains everything.” Pinkie took Long’s face in her hooves and twisted it to properly look him over. “You got lucky, but if you start carving mysterious mountains out of your mashed potatoes, then you’ll definitely need some medical attention. What did you do to bring this on?”

“I just offered her some pointers on her flying,” he said, but then he winced at Rainbow’s glare.

“And why is that? Are you suggesting that I taught her wrong?”

“Not wrong. Just… wrong for her.”

“Oh, just like Scootaloo!” Pinkie cheerfully added. “Rainbow used the one-shoe-fits-all approach to teaching, and that wasn’t the right way to teach Twilight!”

“I did not!” Rainbow stomped a hoof and glared all the more at Long.

“Um, you did,” he replied, his stance stiffening as he began to bristle. “It wasn’t totally wrong, Dash. You just taught her the way you fly, and that way is incorrect for a pony with her wingspan. All I did was adjust her wing angles for extended flights, nothing more. If she wants to go fast, she’ll use your method still.”

“Oh, so you’re butting in and telling her I taught her wrong?” Rainbow leaned towards him, her wings flaring up. “I do believe you and I have discussed you undermining the way I teach before, haven’t we?”

“I wasn’t undermining it!” he protested loudly, his wings flaring out to accept her challenge. “I just offered some advice, Dash! Quit taking this out of context!”

“Fine,” she snorted with an angry flick of her tail. “What did you tell her, exactly?”

“I told her she was trying to fly like a hawk when she’s an albatross.”

“You called her an albatross?!” Rainbow’s ears folded back as she recoiled. “What kind of insensitive clod are you?”

“Um, I don’t think this is something you two should fight about.” Pinkie reached out slightly with a hoof, but withdrew it when Rainbow went nose-to-nose with Long.

“I’m a clod that tells her the truth, unlike somepony I know!” he shot back with a snort and a stomp of his hoof.

“Are you callin’ me a liar?!” Rainbow snarled. “I gave Twilight the best training that anypony could ever receive! I dare you to do better, you egotistical jerk!”

“Please don’t fight.” Pinkie tried to interject her comment into the conversation, but it bounced harmlessly away as Long gave Rainbow a smug smile and accepted her challenge.

“I think I will! You stop by the castle at this time tomorrow, and I’ll show you how it’s supposed to be done!”

“Oh, I’ll be there,” Rainbow snapped.

“Good. By the way, you’re cute when you’re angry.”

And with no further warning, Long puckered up and kissed Rainbow dead on the lips.

The smooch was so unexpected that her eyes nearly popped out of their sockets, and her tail shot straight out, but she made no effort to pull away or to stop the kisser. After several lengthy moments, Long pulled back and flared his wings outward.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Dash. Better bring your A-game with you, because you’re going to need it.”

Rainbow Dash didn’t move for several more moments, even after Long Run had flapped away. Eventually, her gaze slowly turned to Pinkie, who was giggling behind a hoof.

“Did he just kiss me?” she asked.

“I think I hear Gummy calling,” Pinkie announced with a grin. “See ya tomorrow, Dashie!”

And with that, Pinkie disappeared, leaving Rainbow Dash to wonder what in the wide world of Equestria had just happened.

* * Ω * *

5. - Maybe I Could Show Her Some Of My Moves

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* * Ω * *

“He kissed me.”

Rainbow Dash stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror, a forgotten toothbrush dangling from her mouth and a tube of toothpaste still in hoof. The silken touch of Long Run’s lips on hers had not diminished during her restless evening, and even now, she wanted to reach up and touch her own lips, as if to keep the impression from fleeing.

A swirl of confused emotions tumbled and cascaded through her like a crash landing from a poorly executed stunt, but her efforts to corral them only seemed to scatter them further and make them stronger. Rainbow knew why Long Run had kissed her, of course. He had been trying to mess with her head, get under her skin. It was an old tactic that she, herself, had taught him way back in junior speedsters, and anypony who had been smooched by her could attest to its distracting power. A Rainbow Dash Kiss was like another Rainbow Dash had just snuck up and sucker punched you, and the vibrant mare had lost track of how many races she’d ‘influenced in her favor’ by doing so.

So, she was confident in her own immunity to the effects of the trick when it was tried by somepony else. Twilight Sparkle, for one example, had attempted it once during a particularly frustrating day of speed training, but Rainbow had rebuffed her effort with a grin and with the advice to add more oomph to it.⁽*⁾

⁽*⁾Rainbow had also informed her that a little lip gloss went a long way.

But for some stupidly frustrating reason that she couldn’t quite grasp, Long Run’s kiss had done exactly what hers were supposed to do. Rainbow’s memories of what happened after the surprise smackeroo were hazy and blurred together, and to tell the truth, she wasn’t sure how she had gotten home that night, let alone when. Even sleep had been fleeting at best, as her brain had decided to put the infamous moment—and more specifically, how she had felt during it—on continuous repeat for the entire evening.

“He kissed me,” she repeated to her reflection.

This was stupid. She was Rainbow Miriam Dash, Winner of the Best Young Flyer Competition, Element of Loyalty, and a Wonderbolt, to top it all off! One measly little touch of the lips should not affect her like this!

The thought gave her a shot of confidence, and with a smirk, she boldly grabbed her toothbrush and began to scrub. There was no way she was going to let Long Run, of all ponies, get the best of her!

“Yeah!” she shouted to her reflection as she polished her incisors. “I’ll show him! Nopony pulls a fast one on Rainbow Dash! I’m gonna go to that flight lesson, I’m going to watch as he fails to teach Twilight a better way to fly, and then I’m going to rub my victory right in his smug face! I hope you brought your A-game, Long! Dash is coming for you!”

With that declaration, Rainbow Dash spat out the remaining toothpaste, gargled a large helping of mouthwash, and then gave herself a winning smile in the mirror.

But the stubborn memory of Long’s lips came back, despite her bravado, and her forehoof gently touched her lips.

With a snort and a forceful stomp of that same hoof to the ground, Rainbow Dash darted through her front door.

Then, after extracting herself from the mops and brooms, she closed the closet and vanished out her real front door at record speed.

* * Ω * *

“Okay, I think it’s time I made it official.” Long Run swallowed hard as he tilted his head upwards to find the top of Princess Twilight Sparkle’s front door, but his neck hit its limit before he reached the peak. “I am a certified, grade-A moron.”

What in Equestria had he been thinking when he agreed to give the Princess of Friendship a flight lesson?! Or was the answer simply that he had not been thinking, and now his actions had finally come back to bite him in the flank? How in Luna’s full moon was he supposed to teach anything to Twilight Sparkle?

“I should just go home,” he muttered to himself. “Dash will gloat, of course, but a lifetime of teasing is better than this. This has got to be the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.”

“I don’t think it is,” Pinkie Pie replied, and Long jumped sideways with a yelp. “You’re just overthinking it, silly!”

“I really wish you’d stop doing that,” Long wheezed, a hoof on his chest. “Where’d you come from, anyway?”

“I was in the bush over there,” Pinkie replied with a casual wave to one of the topiaries in front of the castle. “They’re perfect for sneaking. But we’re talking about you, not me. Twilight is super nice and super-duper friendly, but that’s why she’s the Princess of Friendship, of course! Just knock on that humungus door, say hello to Spike when he answers, and Twilight will be here before you can say ‘Bob’s your uncle!’”

“Bob’s your uncle,” Long Run dryly repeated.

“No, my uncle is Chicken Pot Pie, but nice try,” she said with a giggle. “Now get to knocking!”

Long shook his head, took a deep breath, and with none of the courage that he wished he had, he gave the door a few tepid knocks. “Ah, gee. Nopony home. Guess I’ll just have to try again sometime next year.”

Unfortunately for Long Run, the door swung open on surprisingly silent hinges before he could turn tail and flee, and Princess Twilight Sparkle herself emerged from the interior, a large grin on her face. A dozen books floated around her, some open and some not, and she wore a set of saddlebags that were bursting at the seams with an assortment of books, scrolls, loose papers, and who knew what else.

“Hey, Long Run!” Twilight greeted the dumbstruck instructor. “Thanks for coming by today. I’m really looking forward to this flight lesson. I stayed up all night researching everything I could find on the mechanics of flight, and I see what you mean about Rainbow Dash teaching me how to fly incorrectly. I’ve been practicing some new wing positions, too, but not in the air. I figured I should wait until you could double-check my method. So, where should we go for the lesson? The Wonderbolt Basic Training Manual suggests finding a large open area, but Flights O’Fancy’s Aerodynamics: A Modern Study says that it’s best to start in a familiar environment and to go slow. Rainbow mostly had me up in the clouds when she taught me, but that led to a lot of hard landings, so I think I’d rather avoid that.”

Somehow, Long managed to float up to the surface of the sea of words, and he quickly offered his reply before another wave came crashing down on him. “Well, Flights O’Fancy was an idiot, so we’ll not do anything he suggests.”

Twilight gasped, and her wings flared upward. “What?! O’Fancy was one of the pioneers of modern aviation!”

“And showed us all the wrong answers. He was a pretentious egomaniac who stole lousy ideas from anypony in the vicinity and mangled the words so he wouldn’t get sued. His books are garbage that have put more young pegasi in the hospital than tornadoes, and I’d burn them if I were you.”

For one long moment, Long worried that he had turned Twilight Sparkle to stone. Her eyes were open wider than he thought possible, a faint whiff of steam was coming out of her ears, and he could hear the distant echo of thunder somewhere in the background.

Then came the screech, and Long tumbled backward, down the stairs, and into a bush with its volume. “How could you say something like that?!”

“Yeah, you probably don’t want to suggest that something bad should happen to a book,” Pinkie said as she helped him out of the foliage and back to his hooves. “Like, any book, really.”

“Look, Princess, forget I said anything about the books,” Long quickly offered. He didn’t need his lesson getting derailed before he’d even started, to say nothing of the fact that Twilight stood at the top of the stairs with her wings flared and her horn sparking with magical rage. If he didn’t act fast, she was likely to pounce on him and then banish him to the moon for the heresy of suggested book destruction. “In fact, why don’t you leave all of that stuff inside. Things will go a lot smoother if you do.”

Long Run had the feeling that he’d just asked the equivalent of ‘please chop off one of your legs for me,’ but it was true. With a great deal of reluctance, Twilight Sparkle levitated the books and the saddlebags back into her castle, and with a long breath, she stepped outside.

“No books?” Twilight asked.

“That’s right.”

“Not even a brochure?” asked Twilight, her lower lip quivering ever-so-slightly.

“No,” said Long.

“How about a pamphlet?”


“A few loose notes I put together?”


Twilight Sparkle took in another deep breath, put a hoof to her chest, and then drew it away from herself. “Okay. No books. So where do we start?”

* * Ω * *

“Rainbow Dash!” Pinkie called out with a wave of her hoof. “Down here!”

“Pinkie Pie?” Dash dropped down to her friend, who was comfortably seated on a cumulus cloud. “What are you doing up here?”

“Long Run invited me to watch the flight lesson. He’s going to explain what he’s doing while he teaches Twilight.”

“Oh, really?” Rainbow folded her arms and glared at Pinkie. “He wants to turn you against me too, does he?”

“Easy there, Rainbow,” Long quipped from behind her. “Green is not your color.”

“Shut up,” Rainbow grumbled, her wings rustling as she touched down on the cloud.

“Testy this morning, aren’t we?” Long landed in front of her, waggled his eyebrows, and gave her a smug grin. “Does this mean you’ve already realized that I’m right?”

“I did not teach Twilight wrong!” Rainbow stomped her forehoof and snorted. “Where is she, anyway? Did you lose her already?”

“Not at all.” Long pointed with a hoof. “She’s flying through my obstacle course at the moment. I want her to be familiar with the layout before we get started.”

Rainbow’s eyes followed to where Long was pointing, and it only took a moment to pick out where Twilight was amidst the scattered and variously-shaped clouds. The Princess was humming a little tune to herself as she glided around a pillar, but she waved once she saw the new arrival. “Hi Rainbow! Glad to see you made it.”

“You’re making her run the Vol en Palier en Douceur, aren’t you?” Rainbow asked Long as Twilight landed in front of them.

“It’s all the rage amongst the nobility nowadays,” Long answered. “Normally, I charge extra for these lessons, but I’ll let it slide this time since you’re the Princess, Princess.”

“So, what kind of obstacle course is this?” Twilight asked. “I didn’t see anything like this in any of my books.”

“A simple test,” Long answered. “I want you to fly over the tops of the clouds, but I want you to fly as close as you can without touching them, and without disturbing them. Once you do that, come back here.”

“Got it,” Twilight said with a determined grunt.

“This isn’t a race, so don’t rush your way through it. Speed is Dash’s thing, and I’m sure she taught you that right. What I’m looking for is form and control. Go ahead and start, when you’re ready.

“Pinkie, you should come up here.” Long patted the cloud to his left as Twilight took off and moved to the first cloud. “You won’t fall off, I promise.”

“I hated this test in flight school,” Rainbow grumbled.

“Well, duh. Speed junkies like you don’t care about looks. You just want to shave fractions of a second off your time,” Long said.

“Yeah, but Missus Gusty always made me run a dozen of these for warm ups. ‘Form first, Dash! Speed later!’” Rainbow dropped her voice to properly imitate the scraggly and rough tone of the ancient flight instructor, and she waggled a hoof with an exaggerated tremor. “‘You’ll never be a Wonderbolt flappin’ your wings around like a drunk hummingbird!’”

Long Run snorted in amusement. “Yeah, that sounds like her. She was always yelling, wasn’t she?”

“I don’t think she knew how to talk in a normal tone,” Rainbow Dash said with a scoff. “But she did show me how to pull off a lag displacement roll.”

“Watch this, Pinkie,” Long pointed to Twilight, and a wing slowly reached out to wrap around Pinkie’s shoulders. “This is why Rainbow hates this test. Twilight is going too fast to clear both lower and upper clouds, so once she gets over the one, she’ll run face first into the next.”

“Why are they so close together, then?” Pinkie asked.

“To teach balance and coordination,” he said, but then he grinned and sat up a bit straighter. Sure enough, Twilight soared over the lower cloud, yelped when she saw how close and how high the next cloud was, and promptly went face first into the puffy column. “Too fast, Twilight! Slow it down! You’ll destroy half the course if you keep doing that!”

“I was going slow!” Twilight shouted back as she freed herself.

“Not slow enough! Hang on.” Long took off with a flurry of flaps, leaving the party pony to wilt under Rainbow Dash’s intense glare.

“Um, Dashie? You’re kinda freaking me out,” Pinkie said. “You really should try blinking every now and then.”

“I am blinking,” Rainbow curtly replied unblinkingly.

“Why are you staring at me, anyway? Do I have something on my face?” Pinkie rubbed one cheek with a hoof, then checked to see if anything had transferred. “Don’t tell me I have a booger in my nose!”

“You don’t have a booger,” Rainbow snorted, and she forced her stare off of Pinkie and onto Long. If she was being honest, Rainbow Dash really wasn’t sure why she was glaring at Pinkie Pie, or why her vision had started to go red when Long had wrapped his wing around her friend.

All she knew for sure was that she didn’t like it. She didn’t like it one little bit.

“Remember, take it slow!” Long touched down next to Pinkie with a grin. “Think about the move before you make it! She’ll get there, eventually.” Long turned to Pinkie, but nodded towards Twilight. “I do have to admit, she’s not as bad as I was expecting. Dash only taught her a little wrong, not a lot wrong. It shouldn’t take too much to get the Princess set.”

“I think that means you owe Rainbow Dash an apology,” Pinkie said with a grin.

Long groaned, but his grin remained. “You had to say it. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to confess. Fair is fair, though. Rainbow Dash, I humbly concede that you mostly taught Princess Twilight Sparkle how to fly correctly. I offer my most heartfelt apology for my egregious mistake.”

“Don’t you forget it, either,” Rainbow huffed playfully. “But it's all right. You were right, too. I can’t show her how to fly like a proper Princess, so I’m sorry I got upset. Forgive and forget and all that?”

“What were we talking about?” Long smirked and gave Rainbow a friendly hoof bump. “It never... happened...”

Rainbow glanced with Long to Pinkie when his eyes moved to her. Though she couldn't see it now, she thought that, just for an instant, she had seen a hint of pink in the cloud behind Pinkie Pie, and a glint of light from a reflection.

Pinkie Pie's sudden cry of pain stopped Rainbow from wondering what she had just seen, and when Pinkie jumped up with the yelp, Long quickly leapt into action to keep her on the cloud.

“Woah, careful!” Long twisted sideways and upwards, wrapped Pinkie up in his hooves, and pulled her back from the edge. “It’s a long way down from here. Are you all right?” he asked, his nose dangerously close to hers.

“Oh, I’m fine,” Pinkie answered in a soft and grateful tone. “Thanks for catching me.”

Rainbow’s tail lashed at her haunches as Long slowly stood but kept Pinkie in his embrace, and a forehoof tore a large divot from the cloud beneath her.

“What happened?” he asked. “Are you hurt?”

“No, I’m not hurt,” Pinkie said as she got lost in Long Run’s copper-colored eyes. “I don’t know what happened.”

“You probably just had a near-miss with a bird,” Long said. “They’ll fly up in the clouds sometimes and end up hitting you when they come out.”

“Yeah,” Pinkie murmured. “That must have been it.”

“All right!” Rainbow snorted, and she separated the two by forcibly inserting herself between them. “That’s enough of that! You’re supposed to be teaching Twilight how to fly like a Princess, birdbrain. Get back to work!”

“Oh, don’t mind me,” Twilight giggled from behind them. “This is far more interesting than the flight lesson.”

“You got through the course already?” Long glanced over the obstacles and grinned. “And you only displaced two clouds! Not bad. Come land over here, and let me show you something.”

The princess did as she had been asked, and Long helped Pinkie to stand before moving with her and Rainbow to Twilight’s side. “Okay. So, let’s work on your form. Hold your wings straight out to your sides, please. Good. Pinkie, let me show you what I was talking about the other day about angles and gliding. In this position, Twilight can…”

Rainbow lost track of the conversation as Long Run casually put a wing over Pinkie and pulled her in closer to himself. The edges of her vision began to go red again, and inwardly, she seethed in silent rage. If there was any sort of rational or coherent thought in her head, it was promptly drowned in a sea of righteous anger that felt like it would make her explode.

But somehow, Rainbow Dash remained in control of herself as Long Run showed Pinkie Pie and Twilight Sparkle the wing angles and controlled motions that provided the other Princesses with the elegant grace that was expected of ponies of their rank and stature. The thrumming, pulsing pressure in her ears prevented her from hearing what was being said, and her eyes remained locked on the lack of a gap between the pink mare and the tawny stallion’s sides.

“Here, I’ll show you what I mean.” Long Run stepped away from Pinkie, and the world suddenly rushed back to normality when he reached out and pulled one of Rainbow Dash’s wings straight out. “It’s a simple issue of surface area. Rainbow’s wings are pretty typical for a pegasus, but as you can see, they’re smaller than Twilight Sparkle’s wings.”

“And the smaller surface area means that Rainbow—and most pegasi—need to flap their wings more to obtain lift,” Twilight added, with just a hint of smugness coloring the words.

“Right. This translates all the way up, so Princess Celestia hardly has to flap at all to obtain the same lift that Rainbow needs to stay aloft. If Princess Celestia ever flew anywhere, that is. Now, the trick to extended flight is all about the conservation of energy. The Princesses could probably fly around the world twice and never break a sweat, but for us small-winged pegasi, the increased wing beats means we need to be more judicious. That’s where wasted motions and incorrect positions really come into play; cut those down and out, and you have more energy to use.”

Rainbow inhaled sharply as Long gently spread the feathers of her wing apart. “Hey, hey! Watch where you’re putting those hooves!”

“My apologies,” Long quickly offered, but with a grin. “I thought you liked having your feathers ruffled.”

Rainbow Dash suddenly felt an intense burning in her cheeks, and she had to avert her gaze from the other three to keep from totally embarrassing herself.

“Now, Princess, when you run the course this time, try to focus on keeping the spread of your feathers outward, like Rainbow is demonstrating for us. The extended spread will give you more lift, and that should be enough to get you over those tricky low-to-high obstacles. Get it?”

“I got it,” Twilight said with a determined grin.

“Good. When you’re ready,” he said with a wave of his hoof.

Twilight took off once more, and Long released Rainbow’s wing. “Did that answer your question, Pinkie?” he asked.

“Yeah, it makes sense now,” Pinkie said with a vigorous nod. “Thank you for explaining that to me. If I had wings, I bet your explanation would help me be the bestest flyer since Rainbow Dash!”

“Why yes, I do believe it would,” Long Run said with a cheesy grin for his pegasus friend.

“Uh huh, yeah. Sure,” Rainbow absentmindedly replied.

“Say, Pinkie, when we get done, do you wanna go get something to eat?” Long asked, and Rainbow’s attention snapped back to the two of them so quickly that there was an audible pop.

“Sure!” Pinkie said with a vigorous nod. “I can tell you all about Holder’s Boulder. Just don’t touch it, whatever you do!”

“I gotta go,” Rainbow suddenly announced, and without further warning, she jumped off the cloud and fell into a steep dive.

Pinkie and Long said nothing as they watched Rainbow Dash streak away, but once she had become a small cyan dot in the distance, Long drew in a long breath.

“Well, that was unexpected. I wonder what’s gotten into her.”

* * Ω * *

“Stupid Long Run,” Rainbow Dash muttered. “With his stupid kisses and being friendly with Pinkie. I could blow in one of his ears, and the other one would flap in the breeze.”

It was all his fault. It had to be. Rainbow Dash had never been flustered like this before, and it had to be because of Long Run’s annoying antics. Oh, sure, he looked like he was harmless and innocent, but Rainbow knew better. He clearly was trying to mess with her, on a level that was far beyond anything that could be considered reasonable. The innocent requests for lunch after playing with her feathers was all just a game, a ruse that he was using to toy with her.

Well, she wasn’t going to fall for it. It would be a cold day in Tartarus before Rainbow Dash let Long Run get the best of her! She refused to let his antics affect her anymore, and she was going to march right over to Sugarcube Corner and give him a piece of her mind. Once he knew exactly how she felt about his inappropriate stunts, the matter would be settled and everything could get back to normal.

Unless he wasn’t trying to mess with her…

Rainbow refused to let that thought stay, and she snorted the ridiculous notion out. If he wasn’t trying to mess with her, then the only other reasonable explanation for what she was feeling was…

“No!” she barked to herself. “That’s just dumb!”

“What’s dumb?”

Rainbow yelped, lept backwards, and promptly fell into the fountain in Ponyville’s town square. She shot out of the water half a second later, and landed on the edge of her impromptu bathtub with a coughing wheeze to clear the water from her lungs.

“Oh! I’m so sorry, Rainbow!” Fluttershy patted Rainbow’s back with a hoof in an effort to help Rainbow breathe again. “I didn’t mean to frighten you!”

“Well, don’t sneak up on a pony like that,” Rainbow groaned with a large cough.

“I’m sorry.” Fluttershy stepped back so Rainbow could hop back to the ground, and her forehoof pawed at the dirt while her eyes watched the motion. “But, um, what did you mean when you said ‘that’s dumb?’ It sounded like something was really upsetting you.”

“It’s nothing,” Rainbow said. “It’s just Long Run. He’s trying to mess with my head, y’know? But he’s being dumb about it, and I’m going to go talk to him.”

“Oh.” Fluttershy bit her bottom lip. “This isn’t because he’s been dating, um, Pinkie Pie, is it?”

“No!” Rainbow shot the answer out with more force than she would have liked, and Fluttershy cringed. “I mean, no. It’s not that. I could care less about that. He wants to date Pinkie Pie? Let him. It’s no feathers off my wings.”

Fluttershy flashed a happy smile. “That’s good to hear. You two have been such good friends for a long time. I’d hate to see you two fighting over who he dates.”

“He’s not dating Pinkie,” Rainbow said defensively.

“He’s not?” Fluttershy tilted her head to one side. “I heard that he was. Pinkie, um, told me yesterday about their first meeting at Sugarcube Corner, and it really sounded like they went on a date to me. In fact, I think they’re on a date right now.”

“What?!” Rainbow shouted, but then she cleared her throat and turned her gaze towards a stray puff of cloud in the sky. “I mean, good for him. I’m sure he and Pinkie will have a wonderful time together, and... and…”

“Um, Rainbow Dash?” Fluttershy hesitantly put one hoof on Rainbow’s shoulder, but she stood off to one side to keep from getting kicked by Rainbow’s rear legs. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine. I gotta go,” she announced, and she took off without another word.

And once the stars cleared slightly from her sudden impact into the nearby light pole, Rainbow slowly flapped towards Sugarcube Corner.

* * Ω * *

6. - What Can You Tell Me About Her?

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* * Ω * *


It was Rainbow Dash's Element, after all. She was loyal to her friends and to all of Equestria, but now she had encountered a problem with her very core beliefs.


It was not something she was very familiar with, much like proper punctuation or patience, nor could she solve this one by simply going faster. This little stunt of Long Run’s was bringing up all sorts of new feelings that could broadly be called conflicted, and Rainbow hated that. Her relationship with him had always been of the good friend variety, somepony who she could hang out with and shoot the breeze, so to speak. Long had been her go-to guy friend since they were both young, and even if she would never outright admit it, she did respect his teaching abilities and his willingness to help others.

His hints and tips had helped her to achieve her lifelong goal of becoming a Wonderbolt, after all. He was the one who had shown her how to streamline her flying, how to achieve the maximum amount of thrust with each wingbeat, and how to correct her angles of attack for her acrobatics. She still would have become a Wonderbolt eventually, of course, but with his help, she had achieved her goals all the sooner.

But none of that explained why her stomach began to do barrel rolls in her gut whenever Long got too close to Pinkie Pie, or why she felt so deeply annoyed over the time he was spending with her. There was no rational reason for it—or, at least none that was coming to mind—but she couldn’t really figure out why he was trying to mess with her head, either. He wasn’t really much of a prankster, preferring to snark and offer dry, witty commentary on the goings-on around him. The only thing that could possibly explain why Long Run was acting like a jerk was because he was upset with her about the whole ‘I don’t know who Pinkie Pie is’ thing, but even then, he was the one who had been right all along, so he’d already won that fight.

“I just need to talk to him,” she muttered as she touched down in front of Sugarcube Corner. “Once I tell him to knock it off, everything will be fine.”

A cheerful bell announced Rainbow’s entrance with a jingle, and it only took a moment for Dash to locate Long Run and Twilight Sparkle. The two of them—and just them—were sitting at a table towards the back of the store, with a half-eaten pile of snickerdoodle cookies between them and a heap of books spread across the surface, some open and some closed. Long Run laughed at something as Rainbow approached, but Twilight saw her coming and waved her over.

“Hey, Rainbow! Where did you run off to?” she asked as Rainbow sat down.

“I had some… stuff, yeah. Stuff to do,” she said with a glare for Long. “So where’s Pinkie Pie, huh?”

“She said something about having some errands to run,” Long Run replied with a shrug. “So the Princess and I have just been chatting about this and that for the last half hour or so.”

“Please, Long. Call me Twilight,” Twilight insisted.

“Fair enough. Care for a cookie, Dash?” Long nudged the plate towards her with a grin. “They’ve cooled off a bit, but they’re still fresh. Pinkie made them before she had to leave.”

It was impossible to say no to a Pinkie Pie snickerdoodle, and Rainbow took a moment to savor the taste once it hit her tongue. “So, what have you two been chatting about? Trying to see if there’s something else I showed Twilight how to do wrong?”

“We did discuss that a little, but I doubt there’s anything else I need to fix,” Long Run replied. “It’s mostly just form that we need to work on, and those wing positions. Honestly, I think you taught Twilight better than I could have.”

Rainbow sat up a bit straighter, and her chest puffed out with pride. “Naturally. You are talking to Equestria’s best flyer here, after all.”

“And I doubt you’d let me forget it,” Long said with a roll of his eyes. “As you can see, I’ve been showing Twilight where Flights O’Fancy was wrong, and I think she’s slowly starting to see the light.”

“I admit O’Fancy got a few things wrong, but he still was a pioneer in the field of aviation,” Twilight said. “I mean, look at the contributions he made to our understanding of fluid dynamics.”

“Oh, yeah, sure.” Rainbow scoffed. “We owe a debt to him for incorrectly copying Glide Wing’s dynamic pressure equations and sending dozens of pegasi plummeting to the ground when they miscalculated their maximum altitudes.”

“Right,” Long said. “And that’s just one of the errors he introduced into modern thinking. How about that ‘Skipping Stone’ philosophy of his?” he added with a playful nudge of Rainbow’s shoulder.

“Yeah, that one was thought out well,” Rainbow said with a scoff. “‘It’s just like skipping stones across a lake! That’s what gives wings lift!’ I mean, at least the Equal Transit Theory sounds like it could work.”

“That’s true.” Long nodded. “The only problem with that is you can’t assume that molecules arrive at the trailing edge of your wing at the same time.”

“You have to account for temperature as well,” Rainbow added. “Higher temperatures are going to affect pressure, and… and what’s so funny?” Rainbow asked the giggling Twilight.

“Nothing. It’s just cute to watch you two work off each other like this,” Twilight said.

“Cute?” Rainbow leaned back. “How is this cute?”

“The way you both complement each other. You’re picking up right where he stops without missing a beat, and that little smile that comes out when he’s talking is adorable!”

“I’m not smiling,” Rainbow huffed. “I’m just… gassy. That’s all.”

“Right.” Twilight bobbed her eyebrows.

“Twilight, do you mind if I ask you something a little bit personal?” Long interjected.

“I don’t mind. What’s your question?”

“Well, I’m curious about Pinkie Pie,” he said. “I’m sure you’ve heard all about how I just barely met her, but I’d like to get to know her better. What can you tell me about her? What does she like? What are her interests, her passions?”

“Those are some interesting questions,” Twilight said, and she leaned back in her chair as she thought. “I’m not sure where to start. I guess the main thing to know is that Pinkie Pie is… energetic.”

“That’s putting it mildly,” Rainbow snarked.

“But she’s also very friendly,” Twilight went on, despite the interruption. “Honestly, I wish I had her enthusiasm and her ability to see the good in everypony. She’ll drop everything to help out somepony in need, and she lives to see others smile. She wants everypony to be just as happy as she is, and she’ll do whatever it takes to bring happiness to anypony who needs it. She just… well, you can’t really describe her in just a sentence or two. Once you get to know her, you find she’s a lot more complex than her exterior would suggest.”

Long nodded thoughtfully. “That’s pretty much what Rainbow has told me about her, too.”

“The main thing with Pinkie is to expect the unexpected,” Twilight went. “I nearly drove myself nuts trying to figure her out when we first met, and then I realized I just needed to accept that Pinkie is Pinkie. I don’t want to suggest that’s a bad thing, but she says and does a lot of stuff that will seem random and nonsensical at times. It’s hard for her to contain all of her energy, so it just kinda explodes out of her every now and then.”

“Yeah,” Rainbow added. “Frequently.”

“I’ve found it’s best to not ask ‘why’ with her and her antics,” Twilight said. “It’s almost impossible to figure out what’s going on in her head, since half the time, she doesn’t know either, so just be patient and roll with whatever comes along. It might take some time, but eventually, and inexplicably, Pinkie Pie will make sense.”

Long laughed a little. “Got it. She’s been pretty friendly with me, and I love how curious she is. I’ll keep all of that in mind when I talk with her next.”

“Good,” Twilight said as she stood and gathered up the books with her magic. “But I need to get going, too. Long, thanks for the lesson; I appreciate the tips. Maybe we can meet up again and practice more?”

“I’m free until the end of the month,” Long replied. “Just let me know what works best for your schedule.”

“I’ll get with Spike and see where I can fit you in at. I’ll see you both later.”

Rainbow watched her friend leave, then reached out to grab another cookie. “So, what else do you have planned for today, Long?”

“That was it, actually,” he said with a shrug. “I intentionally made no plans for my vacation. I wanted to decompress more than anything.”

“Really? Why?” she asked, little bits of cookie escaping from her mouth. “It’s not like your job is all that hard.”

“Well, yeah, it’s not like I’m out bucking apples out of trees all day long, but travelling that much can wear on you all the same,” he said. “I mean, it doesn’t seem like it, but imagine what it's like to wake up in a hotel bed every day. Pretty much nothing in the room is really yours, the smells are strange and sterile, and believe or not, but rock-hard bagels and day-old coffee for breakfast gets old pretty quick. I’ve enjoyed being in my bed at night, with my blankets and pillows and surrounded by my stuff. There are times when…”

“When what?” Rainbow pressed, but in a soft voice.

“Don’t laugh, but there’s times when I think about what it would be like to wake up in my own house every day.” His gaze went to the table, and a forehoof ran around the edge of the cookie plate. “I mean, maybe it sounds stupid to you, but I get lonely sometimes. It’s hard for me to make friends since I’m gone so much, and… well, I just… I’d like to settle down a bit, I think. I still want to teach my long-distance flying classes, but I just don’t know how long I want to keep travelling around. Honestly, I’m a bit envious of what you have here, you know.”

“You are?” Dash asked.

“Yeah. You have all your friends here to hang out with, and you have enough time to be a Wonderbolt, teach at Princess Twilight’s school, and still be on the weather team. You get to go home to your own house every night. You even have a flying pet tortoise! How cool is that?”

“Tank is pretty awesome,” Rainbow agreed, and they both chuckled. “So, what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.” Long drew in a deep breath, held it for a moment, and then let it out slowly. “But I’m not going to worry about it for right now. I want to enjoy what time off I have, and just relax for once. Maybe you and I can go for a fly sometime, like we used to way back when. Do you remember when we went to Vanhoover together?”

“I got in so much trouble with my parents for that,” Rainbow said with a wry smile as the memories of the trip came back to her. “Funny thing is, they were more mad that I took off without telling them. They were totally cool with me being on my own.”

“They didn’t care that you were with me?” he asked, and she shook her head.

“Nah. They actually were happy that I went with you. They said they knew you’d keep me from doing anything really dumb.”

“It wasn’t easy,” he quipped, and he laughed when Rainbow slugged his shoulder. “But it was fun, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah. We could go do something like that again, if you’d like.” Rainbow said, a warm feeling of joy slowly spreading out from her chest. “But if we did, who’s gonna take care of things at your house?”

“I bet it would be fine, so long as I lock the doors,” he said thoughtfully, but then a small grin came. “Or maybe I could ask Pinkie Pie to keep an eye on it. I bet she’d wear that maid’s outfit for me.”

The good feeling was gone in an instant, and Rainbow scowled. “You wouldn’t dare.”

“Ask her to wear the outfit? Yeah, probably not. I just met her, and that’d be creepy.”

“But it’s cool to pester me about it?”

“Yeah. That’s what best friends are for, right?” he asked.

Rainbow’s heart began to pound in her chest, and her eyes went wide. “Me? Uh, I mean, yeah! Totally! That’s what best friends are… wait a minute! I’m not going to wear that!” She slugged him again, but the punch did not abate his laughter. “You jerk!”

“I almost had you there!” he chortled. “So close!”

* * Ω * *

“Good morning, Golden Harvest!” Long Run said with a cheerful smile. “How are you doing today?”

“I’m doing fine, Long,” Golden replied with a matching smile. “You’re in luck! I just harvested these carrots this morning, so you get first pick of the freshest bunch.”

Long looked over Golden’s carrots, and he took a deep whiff of the scent. “Those do smell good. I’ll take two dozen, if I may.”

“Of course! I think somepony is shopping hungry, though,” she said with a wink.

“Maybe a little, but I’m enjoying eating homemade meals for once,” he replied as she began to package his order. “At least, I am when I don’t burn everything. I haven’t had to cook for myself in a while,” he added with some embarrassment.

“Hey, it’s understandable,” she replied. “I like to travel every now and then, but I don’t think I could do it as often as you do. I’m sure eating out all the time is expensive, too.”

“Yeah, it’s a sizable part of my budget,” Long admitted over the jingle of bits passing from his hoof to hers. “But it is what it is. Thanks for the carrots.”

“Anytime. Enjoy!”

Long took the bundle of carrots with a nod, and he slid them into his saddlebag before moving on to the next shop in the farmer’s market. He had a few ideas in his head for some meals to try out, and he still had three weeks left before his vacation would be over.

Though as he looked over the bustling stands, he had to admit that he was going to miss all of this when he did go back to his regular routine. It was nice to see the same friendly, familiar faces each day, to know their names and how they were doing. He liked how inclusive Ponyville was, and how each of the ponies there genuinely cared about his well-being and his activities.

“Hey, Long!”

And, perhaps most of all, he enjoyed seeing Rainbow Dash on a daily basis. With a small grin, he turned and watched as she landed, and he shared a hoof bump with her. “Morning, Dash. What’s up?”

“Just dropping in to get some food for Tank,” she replied. “What are you up to?”

“Restocking my icebox,” he said. “Somepony keeps coming over and eating my food.”

“Hey, you’re the one who’s been offering,” she replied. “You don’t like it, then quit sharing.”

“I doubt I could do that,” he said, and he felt a little jolt of happiness run up his spine when Rainbow smiled. “Do you happen to know if Applejack has any more cider?”

“I think so,” she replied. “Let’s go check. I wanna get some too, if she has any.”

“And here I thought you were just going to steal all of mine,” he quipped.

“I don’t take that much,” she said with a snort.

“Uh huh. And who, exactly, was the pony who downed a six-pack two nights ago all by herself?”

“Shut up,” she muttered, and he laughed.

“You wanna just keep what you buy at my place? It’ll save you the trouble and the teasing, you know.”

“I might just do that, since you’re being all whiny about it,” she shot back as they approached Applejack’s stall.

“Morning, Long. Dash,” the chipper farmer offered with a knowing grin. “Before you ask, Ah saved a couple of cases of my finest cider just for the both of you. They’re back at the farm, but Ah’ll swing by with them later today, if that’ll be all right.”

“You are a lifesaver, you know that?” Long said with a grin.

“Ah know,” Applejack replied smugly. “Dash, Ah’ll drop off your order at Long’s place. Save me the trouble of getting up to your house.”

“That’s fine,” Rainbow said, and she glared at the giggling Long. “Shut up, you.”

“What’s so funny?” Applejack asked.

“Absolutely nothing, nothing at all.”

“Oh, hey! Has Pinkie Pie found you yet, Long?” Applejack went on. “She was lookin’ for you earlier. Seemed like she was pretty anxious, too.”

“Really?” Long said with a thoughtful grunt. “Well, I’ll head over to Sugarcube Corner after this and see what’s up. But I need a dozen of your finest apples, if I may.”

“‘Course. Comin’ right up,” Applejack said, but then she hesitated. “Uh, Dash? You okay?”

“I’m fine,” she grumbled. “Why wouldn’t I be fine? Everything’s fine.”

“Oooh kay. You were just looking a mite bit irritated there for a moment.”

Applejack shrugged, and Long Run studied Rainbow’s face as the farmer began to fill a sack with his order. The stunt mare did seem perturbed, but he had no idea why. Unless she was angry at Pinkie for some reason, but he couldn’t fathom why she would be.

Whatever the reason, it was probably for the best to stay out of it, but maybe he could cheer Rainbow up all the same. “Hey, Dash, would you like to stay for dinner when you come by to pick up your cider? I was thinking of trying out an apple berry salad.”

The sour look instantly changed into a pleased grin. “Sure! Somepony has to make sure you don’t burn it, after all.”

“I’d be offended, but it is true,” he said with a laugh. “I’ll see you later, then?”

“Count on it,” Rainbow said with a nod.

* * Ω * *

Sugarcube Corner was surprisingly busy, but Long Run realized a bit belatedly that it would be, given that it was Friday afternoon. A sizeable crowd of ponies stood in a line that stretched from the front door to the counter, and every table was filled with customers enjoying the wares that Mister and Missus Cake had to offer. It was nice to see the steady stream of business, in a way, but as he glanced over the assembled crowd, Long Run couldn’t see Pinkie Pie anywhere.

With a shrug, he turned and walked back outside. Pinkie was probably busy helping take care of the rush, so he wouldn’t be able to talk to her at that moment anyway. He’d just have to come back at another time, and then maybe he could order a few pies and some other sweets for—

“Pinkie?” he called out as he caught sight of her across the street.

It took half a second for Pinkie Pie to turn her head, but as soon as her eyes met his, she let out an alarmed gasp, shot four feet into the air, and then zipped away so quickly that she left a small pink cloud in the spot where she’d been.

Long recoiled slightly with the unexpected reaction, but then he took to the air and tried to follow her. Why in Equestria had she run off? She’d never done this before; in fact, she usually went out of her way to at least say ‘hello’ to him and chat for a minute or two, even if she was doing something.

Had he said something that had offended her? That certainly would explain why Rainbow Dash had suddenly grown grumpy earlier when Pinkie had been mentioned. If that was the case, then he wanted to clear up the misunderstanding as quickly as possible.

“Pinkie?” he called out again as he slowly flapped his way around the backside of Sugarcube Corner. “Is everything okay?”

“Just fine!” Pinkie called out. “Gimme just a teensy—ow!—weensy minute! That doesn’t bend…”

“Are you sure?” he asked while glancing around and into the bushes. “Look, if I said something that hurt your feelings, I certainly didn’t mean to—”

“You didn’t do anything wrong!” Pinkie suddenly popped up right in front of him, and he gasped and retreated all in the same instant. “Sorry! You just caught me at a bad moment, that’s all.”

“I did?” he asked, but before he could ask why, the conversation he had shared with Twilight Sparkle came back to him.

“I've found it best to not ask ‘why’ when dealing with Pinkie Pie and her antics. Just be patient and roll with whatever comes along.”

With that in mind, Long touched down and drew in a breath. “Well, hey. I didn’t mean to startle you. Applejack said you were looking for me, so I was just checking to see…”

Long trailed off as his eyes drifted down, and more specifically, to the small silver zipper tab that was hanging right where her body connected to her neck. A small spot of yellow was visible just above that, and if he didn’t know any better, it looked like it was the same soft yellow of Fluttershy’s coat.

But since he didn’t know any better, he forced his eyes back up to Pinkie’s and rapidly began to speak again, before he aroused any suspicion. “I just wanted to see what it was you wanted to talk about.”

“Oh, that.” Pinkie reached up with her hooves and began to play with the end of her mane. “Well, I was wondering if you wanted to go out on another d—excuse me,” she said with a hiccup. “A da—”

“Date?” he finished over her hiccup, and she nodded.

“Yeah, that. I’ve really enjoyed hanging out with you, and I thought we could, maybe, just hang out again sometime.”

“Sure, I’d like that,” he said with a smile, despite the burning desire to ask about the zipper. “Since right now is a bad time for you, maybe we could meet up tomorrow and go bowling or something.”

“That would be nice,” Pinkie said with a pleased smile. “See you tomorrow, then?”

Long nodded. “Tomorrow. I’ll pick you up here.”

Pinkie giggled a little as she walked away, and Long blew out the breath he felt like he’d been holding. What in Equestria was all of that about? What was going on with that zipper? If he didn’t know any better, he would say that the pony he’d just been talking to wasn’t actually Pinkie Pie, but some other pony who was wearing some sort of Pinkie Pie costume and impersonating the party planner.

But who would want to do that, and why? Long took to the air again as he pondered over the question, and he began to fly back towards his house while he thought. The flight offered no answers, however, and he kept repeating the question over and over in his head until he reached his house, unlocked the door, and stepped inside.

“Maybe she wanted to talk to me, but was busy and couldn’t, so she asked somepony else to dress up like her and take her place?” he asked himself. The idea made absolutely no sense, but it was the most sensible nonsense that he could come up with to explain what had just happened.

“Hey!” Rainbow Dash shouted down from the upstairs loft. “Where have you been?”

Long glanced up, and more questions came as she quickly flapped down to him. “Why are you here?”

“Uh, dinner? Hello?” she replied. “It’s already six o’clock. I’m starving.”

“It is?” Long glanced at the clock in his front room and quickly confirmed Rainbow’s statement. “Wow, I didn’t realize it was that late. Let me unpack my stuff, then I’ll get it started.”

Rainbow rolled her eyes and smirked as she followed him into the kitchen. “You forgot, didn’t you?”

“No,” he said. “Well, yes. But… well… nevermind. It’s complicated.”

“You? Complicated?” she snorted. “That’s a first.”

“Why do I feel like you just insulted me?” Long laughed.

“Did you find out why Pinkie Pie was looking for you?” she asked while putting his carrots in the icebox and pulling out two bottles of cider.

“I did. She, um…” he trailed off as he tried to think of the best way to explain. When that failed, he decided to leave out the part about the zipper. “She wanted to go on another date, I found out.”

“She did?” Rainbow slammed the icebox door shut and glared at him.

“Yeah. So we’re going to go bowling tomorrow, I think.”

Rainbow snorted, and her tail lashed at her haunches. “Sounds like fun. I’m sure you two will have a wonderful time.”

Long Run had never thought of himself as an overly intelligent stallion, but he had considered himself to be a pony who was generally on top of things. That assumption, however, was now being seriously challenged, and he had no idea how he’d even gotten into this odd turn of events. First it was Pinkie-who-wasn’t-Pinkie, and now Rainbow was getting all huffy and sour. What was going on?

No answers came, so Long decided to put all of that aside and worry about it later. At the very least, he did know how to cheer up Rainbow, and that was as good a starting place as any. “So, any thoughts on where you want to go for that fly?” he asked as he pulled out a cutting board and a knife for the salad.

He smiled as Rainbow’s frown went upside down, and she popped the lid off a cider bottle as he began to wash the lettuce. “You still want to do that? For real?”

“Sure! I was thinking maybe we could go see Mount Aris. I’ve wanted to check it out for a while now, but I’ve never had the time. We could go there for my last week of vacation, see the sights, all that kind of stuff. What do you think?”

“Not bad,” she said. “I bet Silverstream and Princess Skystar would love to show us around the place. Just don’t tell Twilight, whatever you do. She’ll write a book about all the things you should do and see while you’re there, and then demand you write a three thousand word essay on what you learned when you get back.”

Long chuckled, and as he put the cleaned lettuce on the cutting board, he took a minute to look over his friend. He loved how she lit up whenever she was eager to do something, and her enthusiasm had always been infectious. It was just one of the many reasons why he enjoyed her company, and a trip with her sounded like a perfect way to renew his spirits and strengthen his resolve for when he had to go back to work.

“What?” she asked with a nervous chuckle. “Do I have something stuck in my teeth?”

“No. At least, I don’t think so,” he said. “What should we do when we get there?”

“Well, there’s all sorts of stuff to do,” Rainbow started, and Long slipped into a peaceful state of mind to properly enjoy what she was going to say. “Let’s see…”

* * Ω * *

7. - Do You Think She’d Like to Hang Out Sometime?

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* * Ω * *

“Good morning, Long Run!”

By some stroke of sheer dumb luck, Long Run managed to keep from spilling his coffee when he bolted in alarm, but it was a near thing, especially given the angle and velocity he took to launch himself into the corner of the Coffee Hutt’s booth. “Good morning, Princess Twilight! I wasn’t expecting you.”

“I could say the same thing,” Twilight retorted with a small giggle. “I know I heard you say that you wanted to sleep in as much as possible during your vacation.”

“And I would,” he said with a slight huff. Part of him wanted to ask Twilight about the zipper and the yellow patch that he’d seen on Pinkie Pie yesterday, but the other part was quick to remind him that Twilight had said to just roll with whatever comes along with the pink party mare. After a brief moment of debate, he decided to tactfully avoid the subject and instead focus on what was on the table before him. “But I wasn’t able to sleep last night. So, rather than tossing and turning in futility, I decided to tackle a research project. But I always have to have some sort of caffeine in me when I get to studying, and the Coffee Hutt is the only place open at this hour.”

“Research?” Twilight Sparkle’s eyes lit up, and she levitated one of his books off the table. “What are you researching? Maybe I can help you.”

“Thanks, but I couldn’t impose on your time with my little curiosities,” he said while she flipped through the pages of his book. “You must have a lot to take care of, being the Princess of Friendship and all.”

“Actually, my schedule is pretty open this week,” Twilight said. “I always have more free time than normal during the summer break.”

Long stole a quick glance out the window, and his confusion grew when he saw Ponyville still snuggled in the embrace of the pre-dawn darkness. “If this is your free time, when do you sleep? It looks more like you're working on a project.”

“Well, I was on my way to take care of something else, but it can wait,” Twilight said, a small frown crossing her features. “I’ve been collecting geological samples from the surrounding area, but Spike somehow managed to mislabel all of my specimens.”

Long Run had the distinct impression that the ‘mislabeling’ had been rather intentional, given Twilight’s tone, but he said nothing about the matter. Instead, he offered a small smile and motioned to the empty seat across from him. “Well, if you’d like to help, I wouldn’t mind some assistance, especially from the star pupil of Princess Celestia herself. I’ll even buy you a latte or something, if you’d like.”

“That’s very kind of you to offer, but you don’t need to do that,” Twilight said as she sat, but Long Run held up a hoof as if he was cutting off any further argument.

“I insist. What would you like?”

“Well, since you’re offering, I would like a double-double espresso latte with seven pumps of chocolate syrup, sprinkles, and low foam.” She paused, but after a moment of thought, she added, “On second thought, make it eight pumps.”

Long Run nodded, stood, and moved to procure Twilight’s order while the Princess looked over the various books and notes that he had spread out on the table. When he returned a minute later, she smiled at him, took the offered beverage with her magic, and propped her head in her hooves while he sat.

“You’re trying to figure out why Scootaloo can’t fly,” she said in a smug and knowing tone.

“Yes and no,” he replied. “I mean, I am looking into the specifics of her case, but to be professional about it, it’s not her, but a theoretical pony who just so happens to have her exact issue. I used to do this all the time in college with my buddies for research papers and stuff.”

“So, Doctor Long Run, what is your initial diagnosis for this hypothetical pony?”

Long Run huffed, and his wings ruffled slightly. “That’s been the most infuriating part of this whole thing. I can think of at least a dozen different conditions.”

“Well, start with the most likely reason, and then work your way from there,” Twilight said while floating one of Long’s medical books over to the center of the table. “My first hypothesis would be that she has some form of thaumic hypotonia.”

“That’s what I thought at first, too,” he said, and he pointed to the open page in the book. “But it doesn’t quite add up. A patient with hypotonia, in most cases, is unable to generate either lift or thrust, but not-Scootaloo has absolutely no problem with thrust, if Rainbow’s stories about the Cutie Mark Crusaders are true. But that made me wonder if not-Scootaloo experienced some sort of physical injury during her infancy, and that stunted her wing development. Here, look.” Long picked up another book, flipped through the pages for a moment, then placed it down so Twilight could see the illustration he was pointing to. “Damage to the growth plates here, on the lateral anterior humerus, would explain her smaller wingspan. That could also be the cause of a thaumic deficiency, since the tractus magicae runs right alongside the supercoidious.”

“But injuries like that are normally unilateral, and only affect one wing,” Twilight countered. “Unless she somehow injured the plates on both sides. I suppose it's possible, but it's not really plausible.”

“You’re right,” he agreed. “My next best guess would be there is an underlying mental condition. There are several documented cases of flightlessness being caused by phobias and post traumatic stress disorders.”

Twilight nodded, and her magic winked a half-dozen books into existence before Long Run had even realized her horn had lit. “That could be it. As I recall, post traumatic stress disorders usually occur when parents allow their foals to attempt flight at an extremely early age, and the resulting trauma from the failure imprints on them. I thought I read something about that in Caregivers’ Your Mind is Your Friend, Not Your Enemy. Let me see…”

“Page two hundred twelve,” Long helpfully added with a grin. “Three paragraphs down.”

Twilight glanced up to him, a large grin overtaking her face. “You’re familiar with Caregiver’s works?”

“Of course. Caregiver was the foremost authority on mental and behavioral issues. Besides, her stuff was required reading in my anatomy classes back in college. Professor Tibia believed that you needed a firm understanding of the mental before you could truly appreciate the physical.”

Twilight sighed in appreciation. “Pure poetry. So, if you studied under Tibia, you must have attended the University of Canterlot.”

“I wish. The Professor taught an adjunct course at Cloudsdale University one year, and I was lucky enough to get in.”

“Cloudsdale? Ah! Volantibus in altum volare fortis eris, right?”

“You know the creed? Wow,” Long said. “But usually, we translated it as ‘please don’t crash into anything, we’ll be held liable for it.’”

Twilight snickered. “I see. But I think we’re getting off-topic.”

“Maybe just a bit. Do you happen to have Caregiver’s Normal is an Illusion? I remember reading it back in college, but it’s been out of print for years and I can’t find a copy of it anywhere.”

“Of course!” Twilight produced said book from the stack she’d summoned, and Long snatched it out of the air with a gleeful laugh.

“Ha ha! Of course, it makes sense that you would have it. I’ve heard legends about the expansive library in your castle. I’d do almost anything to have a library like that.” He paused, then grinned. “Princess Twilight, will you marry me?” he asked.

“WHAT?!” a third voice broke in, and Long Run was smacked in the back of the head by a wing.

“Rainbow Dash?!” Long Run turned to her and rubbed the spot where she’d struck him. “What are you doing here?”

“You’re going to marry Twilight?! You hardly even know each other!” she raved.

“Relax, Dash. I’m just marrying her for her enormous tracts of tracts,” Long shot back.


“How about I just give you a library card instead?” Twilight said with a small laugh. “There’s no lifetime commitment, my brother won’t send the royal guard to interrogate you, and it’s a lot cheaper than a wedding.”

“And Rainbow Dash won’t throttle me, either,” Long added. “I can go for that.”

Rainbow snorted, her tail lashing at her haunches. “That wasn't funny. I can’t believe you would even suggest something like that, Long.”

“I think someone needs an espresso,” Long shot back with a waggle of his eyebrows. “And you didn’t answer my question.”

“Uh, duh.” Rainbow gestured to her flight suit. “Wonderbolts meeting?”

“Ah, right. You’ve got the flight routine to hammer out,” Long said. “Well, why don’t I buy you a drink for the trip? Then the Princess and I can get back to our little nerd session over here.”

“What are you two eggheads doing, anyway?” Rainbow glanced over the mess of books and papers. “You’re not trying to create some kind of Frankenpony, are you?”

“Tempting, but no. Just some hypotheticals, that’s all.”

Rainbow glanced at Twilight, and the Princess nodded. “Honest, Dash. We’re just debating and discussing some medical possibilities, nothing more.”

Rainbow glanced over the mess again, blinked, then shook her head. “Well, whatever. I gotta get going. Long, you can get me a blonde roast, with a pump of hazelnut and three creams.”

“You are not going to sleep for the next week, but whatever,” Long said as he stood. “One blonde roast coming up!”

* * Ω * *

“Ugh, this is why I didn’t become a doctor.” Long Run rubbed his face with both of his forehooves, then drew in a deep breath while looking over the notes he’d written. “But, I do have to admit that this has been quite informative, and—dare I say it—yes, even one of the most enjoyable study sessions I’ve ever been a part of.”

“I don’t think we’re any closer to figuring out Scootaloo, however,” Twilight noted while Long began to close books and gather his papers.

“Probably not, but unless we get her medical records and conduct our own interviews, we’re never going to be able to come to a definite conclusion. Still, it’s nice to know I didn’t lose everything I learned in college.”

Twilight nodded. “That would be quite the shame. So, where are you off to now?”

“I have a date with Pinkie Pie I need to get ready for,” he said while stretching his wings. “I’m supposed to meet her at the bowling alley in half an hour or so.”

“Really? I didn’t think Pinkie was much of a bowler.”

“She probably isn’t. I just threw the suggestion out there yesterday and she agreed.” Long’s memory again offered up the image of the yellow spot and the zipper, but he didn’t say anything about it.

“Well, since it’s Pinkie, you’ll have fun no matter what,” Twilight said with a bright smile.

“That I’m sure of,” he said with a matching smile. “But I certainly wouldn’t mind if you and I had more study groups in the future. I’ve got a few other questions about other various things that I’d like your thoughts on.”

“I’d love to! We could throw in another flight lesson while we're at it. Maybe we can meet again tomorrow sometime?”

“I’ll have my ponies contact your ponies,” he said.

“Deal.” Twilight giggled. “Good luck on your date!”

* * Ω * *

“Hi Long!”

“Hello again, Pinkie Pie,” Long Run said as the perky pink mare trotted over to where he had landed. “Sorry to keep you waiting.”

“Oh, it’s fine,” Pinkie said with a grin. “I just got here, actually.”

“Good. Looks like the bowling alley is pretty busy this afternoon.” Long nodded to the crowd of ponies that were walking towards the main entrance. “We should probably go get in line.”

Pinkie nodded, but her gaze went to the hoof she was twiddling on the ground. “Actually, I was thinking that, maybe, we could go do something else. Only if you want to, that is.”

Long shrugged. “What were you thinking? I don’t mind a little spontaneity.”

“Well, if it’s okay with you, maybe we could just go for a walk.” Pinkie’s eyes moved up to meet his, but she still looked nervous. “There’s a nice little trail in White Tail Woods that’s full of beautiful flowers right now, and I kinda-sorta thought that it would be kinda relaxing to go see them. Kinda.”

Long nodded, but as he did so, he tried to locate the zipper on Pinkie’s neck without making it look like he was looking. He had spent most of last night trying to figure out the puzzling development that had been unintentionally presented to him, but the effort had only yielded two possible and logical conclusions. Either he had just imagined seeing a zipper and a spot of yellow on Pinkie Pie yesterday, or, for some odd reason, there was another mare inside some sort of Pinkie Pie costume, and she had forgotten to check her disguise during her hasty dressing.

The first one was pretty easy to dismiss. His last perfect visit to the optometrist had only been two months ago, and yesterday had been the typical, almost patented bright and sunny day that Equestria was known for. Unless there had been some sort of weird reflection or bizarre atmospheric event—or, more likely but just as confusingly, Discord had been involved for reasons known only to him—there had been a zipper on Pinkie Pie.

But for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out why any mare would dress up as Pinkie Pie and then ask him out on dates. The only thing that had an ounce of sense in it was the notion that Rainbow and Pinkie were pulling some kind of prank on him, but that ounce got used up pretty quickly once he thought more about it.

“That does sound rather enjoyable,” Long replied, his eyes stalling for just a moment when he thought he saw a seam line on Pinkie’s chest. If it was a costume, then it was one of the best costumes he’d ever seen. The line was so thin and so fine that it would only be seen if somepony stared intently at it, and even then, he wasn’t totally sure if it was a seam. “Besides, I’m terrible at bowling. You’d beat me by several hundred points, hooves down.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” she said. “I’m not much of a bowler, either.”

“Well, lead the way, then,” he said with a soft smile. Pinkie or not, he was going to enjoy his time with this mare, and maybe he could get some answers while they walked, too. “I’m not very familiar with White Tail Woods.”

“It’s just this way,” Pinkie said with a large smile.

* * Ω * *

“Y’know, this is nice,” Long said with a deep sniff of the fragrant aromas that danced in the wooded glen around him. “I’m glad you suggested coming here.”

Pinkie beamed brightly, but her gaze went to her hooves once more. “Thank you, but what’s really surprising is that you’ve never been here. This is a popular hiking trail, so I thought that you already knew about it.”

“I wish I had known,” Long replied, his left wing easily sliding over Pinkie and pulling her in close. “Sadly, there’s a lot I’ve missed out on with my hectic schedule.”

“It’s too bad you don’t get more time for yourself,” she said as they continued to walk and admire the woods. “But your work is really important, from what you’ve told me.”

“It is and it isn’t,” he said. “I mean, at the end of it all, I’m just a glorified travelling flight instructor. I enjoy teaching the more advanced flight methods, but…” he trailed off, then sighed. “Pinkie, we’re friends, right? Even though we just met each other?”

“I think we are. Honestly, it feels like I knew you before we met.”

“So, if I tell you something personal, would you keep it between us? Y’know, as friends?” he pressed.

“Of course!” Pinkie grinned and paused to sit. “Cross my heart, hope to fly, put a cupcake in my eye!”

Long Run chuckled as Pinkie pantomimed the motions with her promise. “All right. Between you and me, I’m really starting to wonder about my choice of employment.”

“Why?” Pinkie asked as they resumed their walk.

“Ever since we met, I’ve had this… feeling, I guess.” Long Run usually didn’t have a problem with words and phrases, but at that moment, he found he was at a loss to describe his inner thoughts and emotions. “It’s a bit hard to explain, but I’ve had this nagging desire to settle down, or to stay home more often. I still want to teach, of course, but maybe… maybe I should cut back on how many classes I give, or maybe I should make ponies come here to me, instead of the other way around. I’ve really enjoyed waking up in my own bed every morning, and seeing familiar friendly faces instead of hotel staff. I’ve been eating healthier, too, and I actually think I’ve lost a little bit of weight, now that I’m not eating out all the time,” he said, but then he chuckled. “This probably all sounds really dumb, huh? Like I’m just whining or something.”

“I don’t think so,” Pinkie said in a soft and thoughtful tone. “Travelling is nice, but it does get tiresome if it’s the only thing you ever do. At least, that’s what I think. If I were in your situation, I’d want to stay home more, too.”

“Do you think that’s bad?” he asked. “It always seemed like ponies tend to look down on those who enjoy just being at home, y’know?”

“I don’t think that’s bad,” Pinkie said. “Lots of ponies like to stay home. Princess Twilight spends most of her day in her library—if she isn’t busy with something else—Rarity lives and works out of her house, Applejack stays on her farm, and I’m usually home, too.”

“Really?” Long asked. “You didn’t strike me as the stay-at-home type, what with your parties and your job at Sugarcube Corner.”

“Huh? Oh!” Pinkie chuckled nervously. “Right, of course. I still have my job with the Cakes, of course, and my parties. But there are times when I don’t have any of that, so I’ll just head up to my room and work on my party plans by myself.”

“I guess everypony needs some downtime, eh?” he said with a playful nudge.

Pinkie nodded. “For what it’s worth, the downtime is nicer when you’re around.”

Long’s heart skipped a beat, and the tips of his hooves suddenly felt tingly. “Really? You think so?”

“Oh, yes. You’re very kind, and you’re patient when you explain things, and I like how you smile all the time,” she said with a giggle as he blushed and grinned. “But mostly, I really like that you’re such a good listener.”

“I think that’s the first time anypony has said that about me,” he remarked.

“It’s a wonderful trait,” Pinkie went on with a pleased smile.

* * Ω * *

“Looking good, Fleetfoot!” Spitfire called out from her vantage point on the ground. “Soarin, watch your angle of attack coming out of the roll! Rainbow Dash, what in the name of Celestia are you doing?!”

“I was just… um…”

“Get down here! Now!”

“Yes, ma’am.” Rainbow dropped like a rock, and when she landed, her ears were splayed back and her gaze was on her hooves. “Sorry, ma’am.”

“You do realize you’re supposed to invert after the knife turn, right? Or did I not make that clear enough?”

“You did, ma’am. I just…”

Spitfire snorted, but she shook her head in dismay. “Look, Crash. I know you know the flight plan. You just need to get your head in the game.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Spitfire grinned. “So, who is it?”


“C’mon, fess up.” Spitfire gave Rainbow’s shouler a playful nudge. “It’s obvious you’re thinking about a special somepony. Who is it? Soarin? Wind Waker?”

“What? No! Ew.” Rainbow Dash gagged a little. “Not Wind Waker. He’s a nice pony, don’t get me wrong, but… no. Not him.”

“Ah ha!” Spitfire poked Rainbow in the chest with a hoof. “You didn’t deny it! That means you are daydreaming about somepony! C’mon, tell me!”

“I’m not daydreaming about anypony,” Rainbow snapped.

“Right. Wait!” Spitfire slapped her forehead with a hoof. “Of course! You’re all a flutter for Long Run, that ad hoc flight instructor we use!”

“I am not!” Rainbow stomped a hoof. “I mean, yeah, sure, he and I are friends, and we’ve known each other a long time, and we hang out whenever he’s not travelling, but we’re just friends! Nothing more!”

Spitfire’s grin stretched from ear to ear. “Sure, whatever. Deny it all you like, I don’t care. What I do care about is when my Wonderbolts can’t remember the flight routine because of their personal relationships. So figure out how to keep your lovercolt out of your head, or I’ll be forced to ground you. Is that understood?”

“Perfectly, ma’am,” Rainbow Dash said with a sharp salute.

“Look, why don’t you go take five,” Spitfire went on. “Get a drink, catch your breath, and do whatever you gotta do to clear your head. I want your full and undivided attention when you get back here, got it?”


“Good.” Spitfire began to walk away, but she stopped after a few steps and glanced over her shoulder. “Oh, and Crash? For the record, I approve.”

“Approve of what?”

“Long Run.”

Rainbow snorted, and her cheeks began to burn as Spitfire giggled and walked away. While it was true that her mind had been elsewhere that morning, it didn’t have anything to do with Long Run.

No, he wasn’t the problem at all. It was all Pinkie Pie and Twilight Sparkle’s fault.

Rainbow pulled her goggles and flight mask off as she entered the empty mess hall, and she paused for a moment once the door shut behind her. Ever since she had left Ponyville that morning, her thoughts had been stubbornly stuck on the sight of Long Run comparing notes with Twilight, his joking marriage proposal, and the scheduled date he had with Pinkie Pie.

“Hypotheticals, my hoof!” she said with a snort. “I saw the way the two of them were ogling each other. The only hypothetical he’s interested in is hypothetically scoring with Twilight so I’ll have to wear one of Rarity’s frilly fru-fru dresses. And Pinkie! I still don’t know what his game is with her, but I’m gonna figure it out!”

Rainbow punched the bathroom door open, marched herself to the nearest sink, tossed her goggles and mask on the counter, and proceeded to splash herself in the face with cold water. She then rubbed her face for a moment with a moan of annoyance, and when her gaze went to her reflection in the mirror, she gave it a deep frown.

“This is stupid,” she said to the glass. “Why is this even a problem? Long and I are friends. We’ve been friends since junior speedsters. I’ve never cared about what he does before now. Why should I care if he studies with Twilight and hangs out with Pinkie?”

Her reflection offered no answers, so she simply stood and stared at herself, her mind a swirl of thoughts and emotions. She pondered over her feelings for what felt like hours, puzzling and attacking the problem from every angle she could.

"Okay. Twilight always says to simplify complex problems down to a core question," she said to herself at length. She chewed on her bottom lip for a moment in thought. “So, I guess the real question is why this is irritating me. And that’s easy to answer! This is irritating because he’s being a jerk.”

The expected feeling of resolution did not come. Rainbow defiantly stared at herself for several long moments, but once she was sure that she hadn’t solved her problem, she dipped her head. “Fine, fine, fine. It’s because he's betrayed me, right?”

That wasn’t quite the right question, either, and Rainbow sighed. “Ugh. Okay. Why do I feel like he’s being disloyal? And who is he being disloyal to?”

Those were the right questions, and she was able to answer the latter question after a moment of thought. Long Run was being disloyal to her, Rainbow Dash.

The answer to the former was more elusive. She’d already used up all of her other excuses and justifications for this whole mess of events, so what else was left?

“It’s just cute to watch you two work off each other like this,” Twilight’s voice echoed in her head. “You’re picking up right where he stops without missing a beat, and that little smile that comes out when he’s talking is adorable!”

“No.” Rainbow whispered the half-hearted denial. “We’re just friends. That’s impossible.”

Rainbow Dash refused to accept the truth that was bearing down on her. She fought against it, denied it, and refuted it by any means possible.

But her efforts died as quickly as they started, and with a shuddering gasp, Rainbow recalled how she had felt when he had kissed her.

She, Rainbow Miriam Dash, was in love with Long Run.

The truth slammed into her like she had just flown head first into a brick wall. She was irritated with Pinkie Pie because if Long was dating Pinkie, he wasn’t with her. He wasn’t supposed to have study sessions with Twilight because one thing could lead to another, and Twilight could take him away.

Rainbow Dash drew in a long breath. Fine. She was in love with Long Run, even if she didn’t really want to say it out loud. She was afraid of losing him, and that was the root cause of all of her problems.

But as Rainbow studied her face in the mirror, a thought came and she smirked. She then went airborne, and she took several long moments to look over her whole self in the mirror. It was a well-known fact that Long Run was a sucker for a mare with curves, and Rainbow Dash was a mare with all the right curves in all the right places, in her own humble opinion. She was lithe and lean, and with just a bit of work, she could make herself irresistible to Long Run.

Rainbow slid a hoof down her barrel, and her grin grew. Pinkie Pie may have won the first round for Long Run’s affections, but now it was time for Rainbow Dash to strut her stuff and win him back.

* * Ω * *

“Oh, so that’s what happened,” Long said with a distant, thoughtful look. “I always wondered why Fluttershy just disappeared, then reappeared on the ground two weeks later. Rainbow Dash never bothered to give me the details.”

Pinkie nodded. “She’s been in Ponyville pretty much since then.”

“So, you and Fluttershy have been friends for quite a long time then, haven’t you?” Long reached out, plucked a nearby pink daisy from among the selection in the meadow they were sitting in, and began to weave the stem into the circular bouquet he was creating.

“She was the first one to greet me when I moved to Ponyville, way back when I came to work for the Cakes,” Pinkie said. “I thought that was just the nicest thing, so I promised to make sure I’d always greet every new pony with a smile, at the very least. I prefer to throw a party if I can, though.”

“Yet, somehow you missed me,” Long noted with a chuckle. “How did that happen?”

“I’m not sure,” Pinkie said. “Maybe I just heard about you from Rainbow Dash, and what she told me made it feel like I already knew you when you moved here.”

“That does make some sense,” he said. “My crazy schedule probably didn’t help matters, either. I’ve been gone more than I’ve been home, I bet.”

“Can you forgive me for not meeting you sooner? I still feel so horrible about not giving you a proper greeting.”

“Hey, there’s far worse things that can happen in the world,” Long said, and he gently placed his floral creation on Pinkie’s head. “No harm done.”

“Thanks,” Pinkie stammered, her gaze firmly on the ground. “For the flowers, and for the forgiveness.”

“Nothing to forgive; you didn’t do anything wrong. Besides, we’re friends now, and that’s what really matters.”

“Yeah, it is,” she said with a small snort of delight, and she wiggled a bit so she could properly lean over and rest her head on his shoulder. “I didn’t know you were a florist, too.”

“Picked it up from my mom,” he said with a wry smile. “She runs a floral shop in Cloudsdale, and I was always helping her with the orders and procuring fresh supplies. I like to joke that she forced me into becoming a long-distance flyer since she always sent me off to the ends of Equestria for rare and exotic specimens.”

Pinkie giggled. “Does she still run the shop?”

“She does. Dad and my sisters get sent on flower runs now, but Mom always complains about how long Dad takes, which then leads to a discussion about how he needs to lose weight.”

“Your family sounds nice,” Pinkie said with a hum. “How many siblings do you have?”

“All together, there’s nine of us.”

“Goodness! And I thought P—er, my family was big!”

“We all blame my mom,” Long said with a chuckle. “She claims it was cheap labor for the store, but really, she’s just one of those ponies who loves being pregnant. There is still a risk she’ll try to make it an even dozen. Officially, it goes me, twin girls, twin boys, single boy, and three girls.”

“Your younger sisters must be really young, then.”

“The youngest is probably about the same age as the Cutie Mark Crusaders. But we’re all still pretty close.”

“Do they all still live in Cloudsdale? Most of my, um, sisters still live with my parents on the rock farm.”

“About half of us are still there. The twin girls moved to Peachtree Grove, and if you know where that is I’ll be amazed,” he quipped. “One of the twin boys is in college, and me, obviously.”

“Maybe I’ll get to meet them one day,” Pinkie softly said, and she hummed when Long began to stroke her back with the tips of his primaries. “This has been a wonderful afternoon. Thank you for sharing it with me.”

“My pleasure, entirely,” Long replied with a pleased grin. “And who knows? Maybe I’ll get to meet your family one day, too.”

Pinkie stiffened slightly, but then relaxed. “Maybe. I think you’d like them.”

* * Ω * *

Long Run hummed a happy tune to himself as he strolled into his house and looked over the day's mail, and he hit a high note as he kicked the door shut with a rear hoof. He and Pinkie Pie had spent the afternoon chatting about nothing in particular, and it had been so enjoyable that the only reason they’d stopped was because night was approaching and Pinkie had some evening errands to run.

In fact, there had been several times when the two of them had simply sat in comfortable silence, and Long really couldn’t say if those moments had lasted for minutes or hours.

In the end, he really didn’t care. Pinkie’s presence was calm, relaxing, and quite pleasurable. The two of them had good chemistry together, and—

Long’s thoughts ground to a halt. He’d completely forgotten about the zipper during the afternoon, but now the obvious question was staring him in the face.

Who, exactly, did he have good chemistry with? Had he really been with Pinkie Pie that afternoon, or had the mystery mare dressed up as her again? He had seen a seam, but now that thought back, he found he wasn’t completely convinced that he’d seen what he thought he saw. It was possible that he’d just projected the line onto Pinkie, or that the hairs of her chest had just so happened to give the impression due to shadows and lighting.

Besides, Pinkie Pie was the type of mare who would wear a zipper just because she liked the word.

Long huffed and tossed his mail on the kitchen counter. This whole thing just had to be some sort of elaborate prank that reeked of Rainbow Dash. There was no other plausible reason to explain the oddities. She was trying to mess with his head, make him question his sanity.

Well, two could play this game, he decided. He wasn’t going to let Rainbow get the better of him, and he knew exactly how to beat her.


It was the one thing that Rainbow never had much of, nor much use for. She was all about the thrill of the hunt, the shot of adrenaline, the big payout when she beat the impossible odds. Waiting dulled the intensity of the win, until eventually the rush had been sapped away completely.

Rainbow Dash wanted him to think he was going nuts, but if he didn’t react or question the insanity around him, it would take all the fun out of the stunt.

“Hey, Long!” Rainbow Dash burst through his front door, slid to a stop, then jerked slightly when her eyes met his. “There you are. You eat yet?”

“No, I was just figuring out what I should make,” he said with a grin. The game was afoot, and Rainbow didn’t even realize it.

“Good, I’m starving.” Rainbow casually tossed her flight goggles aside, moved to his icebox and helped herself to its contents. “You got any of that sriracha stuff left over?”

“Second shelf, next to the cider.” Long hesitated as his gaze remained on Rainbow’s sweaty tail end, despite him not fully realizing it. “Did you fly straight here from the Wonderbolts meeting?”

“Yeah.” Her voice was muffled by the icebox, and she kept rooting around as she continued. “We got a few more things settled, but there’s still a lot of planning to get done.”

“Why didn’t you change out of your flight suit?”

Rainbow glanced over her shoulder and flicked her tail. “Because I knew you’d like the view.”

Long swallowed hard, and his cheeks felt hot all of a sudden. Usually, he could take her teasing without reacting, so why was this getting to him? “You aren’t worried about spilling something on yourself?”

Rainbow backed out, popped the cap off a bottle of cider, and shot him a smirk. “Nah, I’m good. You’d lick it off for me, I’m sure.”

“Somepony is feeling frisky tonight,” Long quipped in a vain attempt to get the situation back under his control. “What did they feed you at that meeting?”

“Carrot dogs with all the trimmings and hay chips. Speaking of which, where’s the grub? Pretty sure I said I was starving.”

“Well, since it’s late, I’ll just order a pizza,” he said. “You want your usual?”

“Throw some pineapples on there this time. And get the stuffed crust.”

“Stuffed crust, huh? You really must be starving. I’ll get some of those garlic bread… sticks…” Long trailed off as Rainbow slowly pulled off her flight mask and whisked her mane with a dramatic swoop.

“You do that,” she purred as she tossed the mask on top of his mail and put a hoof on his chest. “But I’m keeping the suit on, you animal. Get those wings down and go get the food.”

Long shook his head and snickered in amusement, but he continued to trace Rainbow’s lines as she moved to his living room. “That mare is going to be the end of me, I swear.”

* * Ω * *

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

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* * Ω * *

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

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

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

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

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

This was something he wanted more of.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * Ω * *

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

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

Her current accommodations were far too comfortable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * Ω * *

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

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

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

“Yeah, but they’re expensive.”

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

“What? What’s wrong?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * Ω * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“Fine. I’ll give it a shot, but…”

“But what?” Rainbow asked.

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

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

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

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

“Oh. So, no breakfast?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She got called out too?” Long asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Haven’t seen her,” Starlight answered.

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

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

Rainbow grinned. “Thanks, Long.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just what?”

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

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

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

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

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

“I’d be delighted.”

* * Ω * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or Princess Celestia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Long Run?” she whispered.

“Yes?” he whispered back.

“Are you spooning me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why didn’t you say something?!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Starlight!” Twilight grunted.

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

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

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

“Yeah,” Long dumbly added.

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

“Breakfast sounds good,” Long said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * Ω * *

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

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

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

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

“Good morning, Long Run!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Would you like some help?”

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

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

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

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

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

See you when I get back!

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

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

* * Ω * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

⁽*⁾Easily a nine, for sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * Ω * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fluttershy,” she growled, her teeth grinding.

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

But did he really cheat on you?

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

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

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

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

* * Ω * *

9. - So, When Can I Meet Her?

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* * 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.”



“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.”


“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 * *

10. - It's Nice To Finally Meet You

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←Chapter 10-A: The Bad Ending→

* * Ω * *

“That was quite the exquisite meal, wasn’t it?” Long Run patted his tummy and dabbed at the corners of his mouth with his napkin. “Gustav never fails to impress.”

“Nope, he sure doesn’t,” Twilight Sparkle agreed in a distant tone, her gaze firmly on the mostly untouched meal in front of her.

“Is there something else I can get for you?”

Twilight shook her head, sighed, and then sat up straight. “Okay. You’ve been more than patient, and it’s not fair to keep you waiting any longer. I appreciate your patience, even though you must want to scream at me for not telling you what we decided.”

He did, but he wasn’t about to, nor was he going to admit it. “I would like to know, obviously, but there’s no pressure on my part. When you’re ready.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever be ready, so here it goes.” Twilight hesitated and closed her eyes. “Long Run, we talked it over, and the four of us decided that none of us should date you.”

It was like all the air had suddenly been sucked out of the restaurant, and Long slumped in his seat. “Really? None of you?”

“I’m sorry, I really am.” Twilight put a hoof on his and gave him a sympathetic smile. “But after everything that’s happened, we all agreed that it would just be too awkward and too weird if any of us tried to have a relationship with you. You understand that, right?”

Long nodded, though his lips suddenly felt dry. “I suppose I do.”

“Hey, we all still want to be your friend, though.” Twilight offered in an obvious attempt to cheer him up. “Rainbow wanted me to tell you she’s still planning on that trip to Mount Ares, and Fluttershy wants to come over and let you get those photographs you wanted of her flying.”

“Oh, sweet Luna.” Long groaned and dropped his face into his hooves. “I thought that was Pinkie! That must have sounded so creepy.”

“She said you’d say that, so she says that it wasn’t, and that she insists,” Twilight went on. “Pinkie also wanted me to say you’re welcome to come by Sugarcube Corner whenever you like, and she’ll take care of you just like she would any other customer. She also wants to formally introduce herself to you still, but she agreed that now wasn’t really the best time for that.”

Long glanced up to Twilight. “And what about us?”

“Well, I’d still like to have our study sessions, but maybe we’ll do them in a public place, so nopony gets the wrong idea. But you don’t have to if you don’t want to, Long.”

“No, it’s okay.” Long sat up and took a moment to regain his composure. “I knew this was a possibility, but I had hoped that…”

“Hoped what?” Twilight asked after a few moments.

“Nothing.” Long shook his head and offered a weak, lopsided grin. “Twilight, I would be honored to be your friend, and to be friends with all of your friends. I appreciate your honesty with me, and I’m sorry for the undue stress that I caused. Friends?”

Twilight’s grin matched his, but she bumped hooves with him and nodded. “Friends.”

* * Ω * *

← Chapter 10-B: The One with Pinkie Pie →

* * Ω * *

“So, you’re sure that your friends are okay with this?” Long Run asked.

“Well, to be completely honest, no,” Pinkie Pie said with a grin that could give a grimace a run for its money. “Rainbow Dash still wants you, so I’m super-duper extra sure she’s gonna do something to snatch you away, and Fluttershy says she’s okay with me dating you, but she said it with this really kinda creepy distant look in her eye, like she was hoping it would still be her somehow, and my fetlock is all tingly, my ears are droopy, and my mane is bouncy, so you know what that means.”

“Um…” Long waited for Pinkie to sit before pushing her chair up to the table. “Actually, I don’t know what that means,” he continued while sitting himself.

“Oh! Right.” Pinkie giggled. “It’s my Pinkie sense. When my fetlock tingles, and my ears droop, and my mane bounces, that means that there’s other ponies who want to date the pony I’m on a date with.”

“Ah. Does this happen a lot?”

“No, just three other times.”

“I see. Well, I suppose we ought to start at the beginning then. If your Pinkie sense is right, you should at least have a fair shot at me, so we need to get you caught up and level the playing field.” Long sat up as straight as he could, smiled, and offered a hoof. “Hello, I don’t believe we’ve met before. My name is Long Run. Who might you be?”

Pinkie giggled. “I’m Pinkie Pie! It’s super nice to meet you, Mister Long Run.”

“Likewise.” Long motioned to the menus in front of them. “Feel free to order whatever you’d like. It’s on me, since this is our official first date and all.”

“Can I ask you something, Long?” Pinkie asked, and he nodded. “Are you upset with me at all? Y’know, since I had Fluttershy disguise herself as me and date you in an attempt to have a vicarious relationship?”

“No. Confused would be closer, but my ego sure enjoyed hearing that you had an instant crush on me.”

Pinkie Pie blushed. “It started out with that, but after I didn’t talk to you at the ‘Welcome to Ponyville’ party, I felt horribly awful about not saying ‘hi.’ So, since I felt so guilty, I avoided you, which made me feel even more guilty, so I started farewell and welcome home cupcakes for you --”

“Those were from you?” Long interrupted, and Pinkie nodded. “Huh. I thought Rainbow Dash was getting those for me.”

“Nope, all me. I felt a teeny tiny bit better when I’d make them for you, but after a while, I’d feel all yucky again. When Rainbow Dash tried to throw that surprise party to introduce us and prove you wrong, I had to do something to avoid you, so I grabbed Fluttershy and asked her to be me. I was hoping that, by having her as me date you, I would feel better, and eventually I could swap and talk to you for real without you ever knowing it.”

“That… is not a bad plan, actually.” Long rubbed his chin in thought. “I probably wouldn’t have realized it, either. Until the whole zipper thing, that is.”

Pinkie Pie nodded. “I knew the jig was up when you saw that little bit of Fluttershy under the costume, but I still couldn’t bring myself to talk to you about it. I really, really should have listened to Fluttershy. She told me right from the beginning to introduce myself, and that you’d understand.”

“I think I would have, but what’s done is done. No hard feelings, Pinkie. In fact, this is gonna be a funny story to tell later, won’t it?”

“Yeah,” Pinkie said with a snort of amusement. “It sure will be.”

* * Ω * *

← Chapter 10-C: The One with Twilight Sparkle →

* * Ω * *

“Does this feel awkward to you?” Twilight Sparkle gave Long Run a sheepish grin as they walked towards Gustav’s restaurant. “I can’t help but think it is. You have four mares who wanted you, after all, and here you are, going on a date with me.”

“Hey, I’m flattered, to be honest,” Long Run replied. “My ego is absolutely loving this. Four mares are vying for my affections? Yes, please!”

Twilight laughed with Long, but then he went on. “But, in all seriousness, I maybe feel just a bit awkward, but only because I’m still concerned about how this affects your relationship with your friends.”

“It was an interesting conversation,” Twilight said. “Pinkie still wants to meet you formally, of course, but after talking it over, she realized that she’s over the crush she had on you now. Fluttershy is still interested in you, but she’s being her usual kind self and giving me a chance to get to know you better. Rainbow is…”

“That’s what I was afraid of,” Long said. “I had no idea she was interested in me like that.”

“She didn’t either,” Twilight said with a thoughtful frown. “She says she’s over you, that she knows she had her chance already and she blew it, but I don’t believe her. I think she’s always going to have a little spot that pines for you in her heart, even though she’s stated that she won’t pursue you.”

“The one who got away,” Long said with a small sigh. “I admit, if I’d known that she felt that way about us, I probably would have reciprocated. But meeting Pinkie—er, Fluttershy set my heart off in another direction, and while I can still be her friend, I just don’t think I’ll ever be able to see her as anything other than that now.”

“What about Fluttershy?” Twilight Sparkle asked. “You spent a lot of time with her and got to know her pretty well. Aren’t you still attracted to her?”

“Oh, sure. I won’t lie, Fluttershy is really cute and attractive,” Long replied with a shrug. “But as I’ve thought about everything that’s happened, I’ve realized that there’s something altogether different about you.”

“Gee, that couldn’t be the alicorn princess thing, could it?” Twilight dryly remarked with a waggle of her wings.

“I had that thought too, but that’s not it,” Long instantly replied. “Honestly, I get the feeling that there’s… I dunno. This might be a bit trite and lame, but I feel a certain spark when I’m with you. I feel so at ease when you’re around, so warm when we talk and when you fly. I enjoy how we seem to intrinsically know what the other is thinking. I…” Long stalled, then let out an embarrassed laugh. “Would you listen to me? I sound like some hormonal teenager who’s trying to impress a girl with every overused cliché in the books.”

“Maybe just a little,” Twilight agreed with a grin. “But it’s kinda cute, too.”

“Better than hopeless,” he quipped with a roll of his eyes. “Let me try this, then. Twilight Sparkle, when I’m with you, I feel like I can be completely open. I don’t feel any hesitation to share with you my thoughts, my feelings, or my desires. You may be an alicorn, but quite honestly, when I look at you I don’t see that. I see a mare who is witty, intelligent, expressive, and elegant in ways that I’d never thought before. I’ve loved what I’ve had with you so far, and I’d love to see if there can be more.”

Twilight stopped walking with those words, and she turned to face him head on. Her cheeks were a bright red, and a dopey grin was on her face, so he must have said something right. “That’s still pretty corny, but you’re getting better,” she said.

“Good thing I have the best teacher in Equestria to help me with my elocution,” he replied with his own matching grin. “And, hopefully, with much more beyond that.”

The Princess of Friendship blushed deeper and playfully bit her bottom lip. “That might be true, Long Run, but I was a student long before I was ever a teacher. I certainly hope there’s some things you can teach me, too.”

“I would be honored.” Long leaned in, and his heart ran wild in his chest when her eyes closed and her lips puckered. “And maybe,” he whispered as he brushed her lips with his, “we can learn a few things together.”

“I can hardly wait,” Twilight whispered back as their lips locked and their passions blazed to life.

* * Ω * *

← Chapter 10-D: The One with Fluttershy →

* * Ω * *

“I am so sorry about tricking you, Long Run,” Fluttershy said with a wince as she walked towards Gustav’s restaurant with Long. “I really, really didn’t mean for things to get so out of control.”

“That’s five now,” Long replied with a grin.

“Five what?”


“Sorry,” Fluttershy offered.

“Six.” Long’s grin turned into a good-natured smile, and he put a hoof on Fluttershy’s shoulder. “And you don’t need to apologize for anything in the first place. You were trying to help a friend. I can’t think of a good reason why I should be upset about that. It just goes to show how truly kind you are.”

Fluttershy’s gaze went to the ground, but she giggled a little and let a warm smile out. “Thank you, Long.”

“I do have to admit that I thought you’d change out of the costume,” Long went on with a bob of his eyebrows. “Seeing your head on Pinkie’s body is quite the interesting contrast.”

Fluttershy glanced back and over her pink body and poofy tail, and the same color touched her cheeks. “I’ve been wearing it so much that I’m used to it now. I didn’t even think about it while we were discussing you with the other girls.”

“You certainly don’t have to keep wearing it,” Long offered. “I like you just the way you are.”

“I think I’ll step into the restroom and take it off when we get to the restaurant. You still need to get that film of me flying, after all, and I certainly can’t do that with my wings trapped in this suit.”

Long stopped dead in his tracks. A horrified expression came to his features, but half a second later, he promptly sat and dropped his face into his hooves. “Sweet Sisters in Canterlot above, that was you! That must have sounded so incredibly creepy and weird!”

“Actually, I was flattered,” Fluttershy said with a cheerful titter. “Nopony has complimented me on my wing positions and movements before. That’s one reason why I started asking you about flying. Do you… do you still think I could be a Wonderbolt?”

“Y’know, I really should have realized that something was up when you casually mentioned the central thaumic vein.” Long shook his head in disappointment with himself. “But yes, I still think you could be a Wonderbolt, if that’s what you really wanted. However—and forgive me if this sounds a little insensitive—I don’t think you ever will be a Wonderbolt. Your heart would never fully be into it.”

Fluttershy nodded. “I’m amazed by their acrobatics and skill, but you’re right. I’m happy here, with my pony and my animal friends.” Her gaze went to a spot of grass to her left for a moment, then flitted back to him. “And with you,” she softly added.

A tingle of delight ran up Long’s spine as his wing effortlessly slid over Fluttershy and pulled her into his side. “Me too. I don’t feel so lonely when you’re around.”

“You’ve felt lonely?” she asked as they began to walk again.

“I didn’t really realize it before I started dating you-as-Pinkie,” he said, his tone thoughtful. “Or, maybe I did, but I could ignore it because of my schedule. I’ve had time to think during my vacation, and I’ve realized that I don’t like waking up alone in some strange hotel room, with nothing but stale coffee and fast food wrappers to keep me company. Even when I’m home, I’ve had this longing for a mare to be beside me, and…” Long trailed off again and groaned. “And I sound like some super creepy stalker again.”

“I think I understand what you mean,” Fluttershy offered. “Even though you meet lots of new ponies and see lots of neat places, you’ve never really had friends before now, and especially a marefriend.”

“I’m glad you get what I’m trying to say, instead of the mess that I’m actually saying,” said Long. “But, you know what? Last night, when we both fell asleep together on my couch, I didn’t feel that loneliness anymore. It felt… right, somehow.” Long paused, and a concerned look came. “Wait. That wasn’t you last night, was it?”

“That was really me,” Fluttershy said. “When Pinkie left with Rainbow Dash, I realized that I could spend some time with you without the costume. I really enjoyed spending the day with you, too. Even with the broken water pipe,” she finished with a playful smile.

“But what about the zipper?”

“What zipper?”

“This morning, when I woke up, I felt a zipper on your chest,” he said. “So I thought that you were one of your friends.”

“Oh, that.” Fluttershy’s hoof reached up and touched the zipper on the costume she was presently wearing. “That wasn’t actually a zipper. That was a piece of your water pipe. I had a lot of them all over in my coat and feathers. I still have it at my house, if you want it back.”

“That was a huge chunk, then.” Long snorted in amusement. “So, was anypony else wearing a costume at any point, or was that just you?”

“It was just me,” Fluttershy said with a bit of shame as they rounded the last corner to the restaurant. “Pinkie was going to start dressing up as me, but you, um, ‘busted’ us before she could start.”

“You both did an amazing job,” Long offered. “If I hadn’t gotten the drop on you two that one time, I bet I never would have figured it out. Tell you what. Let’s get something to eat, and if you don’t mind, I’d like to hear the whole story from your perspective. I’m curious for details now.”

* * Ω * *

“Pinkie Pie seriously stabbed you with a pin?” Long Run asked in shock, the bite of eggplant lasagna dropping off the end of his fork and hitting his plate with a splat.

“She did.” Fluttershy giggled a little, her gaze on what remained of her broccoli for a moment as she recalled the details. “Pinkie wanted to have a relationship with you through me, and at that point, she wanted us to ‘move up to the next level,’ as she put it. She thought having you rescuing her from falling off the cloud would be romantic.”

“Well, I admit that I rather enjoyed that moment,” he said with a wistful grin. “It was nice having you so close to me.”

Fluttershy blushed furiously, but her eyes remained on him. “I liked it too, but she said afterwards that it wasn’t as romantic as she thought it would be.”

“How did she even get up there?”

“A balloon. She floated up to us by riding on the top of a really big one.”

“That explains the hint of pink I saw just before you yelped.” Long scooped up his bite of lasagna again and stuffed it in his mouth as he thought. “Heh. And I thought Twilight had cast some sort of cloud-walking spell on you before I got up there.”

“She did put one on me, since she thought I was Pinkie,” Fluttershy admitted. “I couldn’t really tell her not to.”

Long leaned back in his chair, and he let out a pleased groan. “That’s it, I’m officially full. Do you want any dessert?”

“Oh, no, thank you. I’m fine.” There was a brief lull, but Fluttershy’s cheeks went a deeper red as she noticed him looking her over. “What? Did I spill something on me?”

“No, no. I’m just being a creepy stalker again,” Long said. “I was just thinking that it’s nice to actually talk to all of you, instead of a half-you, half-Pinkie.”

“Rainbow Dash said that you were a stallion who liked a mare with curves. Does this mean I’m curvy enough for you?”

Long recoiled a bit, laughed, then sat up straight. “Why, Miss Fluttershy! I’ve never heard you say anything like that before!”

“But am I?” she pressed with a sly grin.

“I think the costume added a few pounds to your frame, but yes, I’d say your curves are just right. As is the rest of you, I might add. That was kinda lame, wasn’t it?”

“Maybe a teency weencie bit,” Fluttershy replied. “But I’ll take it as a compliment.”

“Well, the night is still young, and I don’t really feel like going home yet. If you’re up for it, I do have an idea for something to do.”

“Really? What?”

* * Ω * *


Long Run smiled, and his wing gently pulled his date into a soft hug. “I was hoping you’d like the view.”

“It’s really pretty,” Fluttershy said, her head resting on her shoulder. “We see Canterlot all the time from Ponyville, so it’s easy to forget how beautiful it really is, especially in the moonlight.”

“This is one of the main reasons why I became a flight instructor,” Long said with a slight wiggle to keep the cloud they were on from slipping away. “When we were in Junior Speedsters, I fell in love with the views from the higher altitudes, and it’s stayed with me ever since. You should see White Tail Woods in the fall, just before the Running of the Leaves. The patchwork of reds and oranges is really quite spectacular.”

The pair slipped gently into a comfortable silence, and Long Run took that time to simply enjoy the warm, silken touch of Fluttershy’s coat against his own. A few stray thoughts passed through his mind, but they were quickly pushed down by the complete serenity he was reveling in as soon as they came.

If this what was in store for his future, then it was going to be amazing.

“Long?” Fluttershy whispered. “Do you really think that… well, that we can be more than just friends?”

“Why do you ask?” he replied in the softest and kindest tone he could possibly muster.

“Oh, no reason. I was just thinking that you thought you were dating Pinkie Pie, so maybe that meant our relationship was all fake.”

Long nodded slowly in understanding. “I see. Let me ask you a question before I answer. When you were dating me as Pinkie, how much of the time were you acting like her, and how often were you just being yourself?”

Another long silence came, but Long didn’t say anything about it. Fluttershy needed a moment to think, and he didn’t want to force her musing.

“I guess most of the time I was being me,” she finally said. “I maybe acted a little more, um, energetic than normal, but other than that…” she trailed off.

“That’s why I think you and I can be more than friends,” he said. He paused to let her sit up, but the two shared matching smiles when their eyes locked. “You looked like Pinkie, but in all that time, I got to know you, the sweet, kind, and compassionate pegasus who obviously would do anything to help her friends. I love what I’ve learned about you so far, and I’m looking forward to learning much, much more.”

The joy that radiated from the beautiful mare at his side could have illuminated Ponyville all by itself. “I am too. But there’s one thing I need to know, before we go any further.”

“And what’s that?” he cooed as he leaned in.

“How do you feel about animals?” she hummed as her lips came within a hair of his.

“I had a pet goldfish when I was younger. He lived to the ripe old age of twelve, too.”

“Then we'll start from there,” she whispered before moving in for the kiss and setting his entire world ablaze with delight.

* * Ω * *

← Chapter 10-E: The One with Rainbow Dash →

* * Ω * *

“Thanks again for the meal, Long,” Twilight Sparkle said with a note of sadness in her voice.

“Are you sure you’re going to be okay? This seems to have really affected you,” said Long as they exited the restaurant and were embraced by the cool evening air.

“I will be. Just… just promise me we can still be friends? Even if we don’t get into a serious relationship, I’d still love to continue our flight lessons.”

“I’d be honored, m’lady,” Long replied happily. “I would be a fool to throw away the friendship that has formed between us, and I still want to pick your brain on a few other matters, too. I wish my college professors could have explained things as clearly as you do.”

Twilight giggled with that, which filled Long with a deep joy. “Anytime. I’m looking forward to it.”

“Friends forever?” Long held out his hoof, and the Princess cheerfully bumped it.

“Friends forever.”

“May I walk you home?”

“No, thanks. I appreciate the offer, but since it’s literally a stone’s throw away, I think I’ll manage.”

“If you insist, then. Any ideas where I might find Rainbow?”

Twilight shook her head. “I wish I did. Maybe she went back to her house?”

“I’ll check there first. That seems to be the most likely place, doesn’t it?”

“It does. When you do find her and explain everything, can you pass along that we’re sorry for the misunderstanding?”

“I’ll be sure to explain the whole thing,” he said with a nod.

“Thanks. Rainbow is a lucky mare.” Twilight paused, offered a lopsided smile, and then leaned in to kiss Long Run’s cheek. “And you’re a lucky stallion, too. Good night.”

“Good Night, Twilight,” he offered. He held the kiss to his cheek with a hoof as she walked away, and he was grateful that the Princess was still willing to be his friend, even though she had not been the one to ‘win’ the competition.

He did wish he’d realized there was such an interest in himself before now, however. It felt like he could have saved a lot of heartbreak if he had.

Shaking himself from these thoughts, Long took to the air and made his way to his house. According to Twilight, Rainbow Dash had vehemently argued that she should be the one to date Long Run, even going so far as to shout down her friends when they tried to offer a counterpoint to her positions. Eventually, the verbal abuse became too much for Twilight, and after a shot of magic to mute Rainbow’s rantings, she had accused Dash of being needlessly selfish and cruel.

It was then that Rainbow Dash finally confessed her long-suppressed love for Long, but before the other three mares could talk to her about it, she had shot off into the night with tears streaking down her cheeks and with some vague threat about taking Long Run away from any pony who would stand between her and him. After getting over the shock of the statement and her threats, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, and Twilight Sparkle had talked at length over the matter and, eventually, they had agreed that Rainbow Dash really was the one who should have Long.

Twilight had then accepted the responsibility to inform Long, and she had been so worried about Rainbow that she’d hardly eaten a thing. Dinner had been a rather quiet affair, but with his promise to explain all, the Princess had noticeably perked up.

Long knew that Rainbow wasn’t serious about her threat, of course, and that she probably felt terrible about yelling at her friends already. She was just lashing out in frustration, as she tended to do when she felt like she was losing control over a situation. A bottle of chilled cider would help to calm her down, and then the two of them could discuss what had happened.

The corners of his mouth twitched upwards as he thought of this. Once she figured out that her friends had stepped out of the way, she was going to feel even more horrible over her actions. There was a good chance that the two of them would be making some late night house calls for some lengthy apology sessions.

His thoughts were interrupted when he glanced ahead and noticed that all of his house lights were on. He was sure he’d turned them off before he’d left, so who had broken in?

“Probably Rainbow,” he murmured with a small laugh. “She’s on the hunt for me, I bet.”

But on the off chance that it wasn’t Rainbow, Long decided to peek in a side window before he entered. Even if it was her, it would be helpful if he could see what emotional state she was in before he walked blindly into a figurative rainbow-colored bear trap.

With two quick flaps, he moved to the window, gazed inside, and then nearly froze in shock at what he was seeing. Somehow, his wings held him in the air, but his eyes were unable to move away from the open window.

Yes, he had teased and tormented Rainbow Dash about that maid’s outfit, but he had never expected her to actually wear the ridiculous costume!

But there she was, in all of her prismatic glory and draped in the tight embrace of the sexy servant’s attire.The black and white of the cloth made the colors of her mane and tail all the more vibrant, and the light makeup that she still wore brought out the passion in her magenta eyes, even though they were twisted into what looked like embarrassed anger as she gently dusted the lamp before her. Rarity had cut the skirt at a length that left a fabulous rear view for Long to admire, and his throat went dry as Rainbow tugged at the hem of the outfit with a grunt.

She had actually done it. Rainbow Dash had willingly gotten herself into that maid’s outfit for him.

He was completely dumbfounded that she’d gone to such lengths in her pursuit of him, and he felt a twinge of guilt deep in his chest because of it. In all of that time, they both had been oblivious to the feelings that they had for one another, and now she was trying to get him back, to claim him for herself.

He grinned as a thought came to him, and he quickly moved to the window for his bedroom.

“Dash?” Long called out from the upstairs loft. “Is that you down there?”

“Don’t you dare say a word about this to anypony else,” Rainbow threatened, waving her feather duster towards the source of his voice like it was a sword. “I feel so stupid wearing this.”

“So why are you?”

“Because you like it,” she said in a soft, slow voice, and her stocking clad forehoof pawed at the ground she was staring at. “I know you and Pinkie have really hit it off together—or, I guess it was you and Fluttershy, but anyway, I just…” she stalled. “I’m probably just being dumb, but I can’t stand it when you’re with them. I lo… lo...” she snorted. “Gah! Forget it. I’m just going to go. You’ve already got your sights on Fluttershy, and—”

Her words abruptly cut off when Long Run came into view and slowly descended the stairs. She snorted, and she put both forehooves on her mouth to stifle her laughter.

“What?” he asked.

“You big dummy,” she said, a tear of joy trickling down her cheek. “You actually went and stuffed yourself into one of my flight suits?”

“Quid pro quo, my dear,” he snarked with a waggle of his eyebrows, and he struck a pose on the staircase. “Maid outfit for flight suit. Though it is just a wee bit tight in places.”

“So I see,” Rainbow said as Long finished descending the stairs and walked over to her. “But you look better in it than I do.”

“Well, that’s a factual lie,” he said, and he gently took the feather duster away from her. “Rainbow Dash, you are amazing. It doesn’t matter if you’re dressing in style, or if you’re performing a sonic rainboom, or even if you’re just talking to your friends. I’ve been blind to the awesomeness that has been right in front of me this whole time, but now I see the multihued light. You’ve been my best friend for years, and I’m sorry that it took me this long—and that it took a Pinkie Pie—to get me to realize what and who is important in my life.

“Rainbow Dash, please forgive me,” he went on in a soft and pleading tone. “I don’t want to lose you, or what we have. I’m willing to do anything to keep you, but if you don’t want me anymore, I’ll understand. I am a rather thick-headed clod a vast majority of the time.”

Rainbow Dash hesitated for just a brief moment, but then her hoof reached up and traced a line from Long Run’s cheek down to his neck. “I think we’re doing this backwards. I’m the one who made your life miserable, and all because I was jealous. If anything, I need you to forgive me.”

“You don’t need to be forgiven,” he whispered into her ear, and her breath shuddered in delight. “You need to be loved. Is there any chance that you would let me be the one to love you?”

“I think it’s too late for that,” she said, her lips gently brushing his.

“LONG RUN!” Pinkie Pie exploded through his front door, and she skidded to a stop just as Rainbow finished tumbling over the couch behind her. “We need to go find Rainbow Dash! She loves you, and you love her, and I can’t keep true love apart any longer! This is a cruel injustice to the world, and I can’t take it anymore! Just think of what Princess Cadence would say if she found out what I’ve done to you two!”

“Pinkie, she’s right here,” Long dryly said.

“Oh, hey Dashie!” Pinkie said, but then she tilted her head. “Why are you dressed up like a maid? And why is Long wearing your…” she suddenly stopped, and a huge grin overtook her face. “OooOOoh! I see what’s happening here!”

“Yeah, and you just kinda killed the mood,” Rainbow grumbled.

“Oh, just pretend like I’m not here!” Pinkie waved a dismissive hoof and retreated a few steps. “Go back to what you were doing.”

“I dunno, Pinkie,” Long said. “Rainbow Dash doesn’t like public displays of affection.”

“Shut up and kiss me,” Rainbow ordered, and she took his cheeks in her hooves. “The sooner we do this, the sooner she’ll leave.”

Pinkie Pie squealed in delight as Rainbow Dash and Long Run locked lips. “Best! Day! EVER!”

* * Ω * *

← Chapter 10-F: The One with Everyone →

* * Ω * *

“So, what did the four of you decide?” Long Run had tried to be patient, but he was absolutely dying to know what the future was to hold for him.

“Sorry, but I can’t say,” Twilight Sparkle said with an ill-hidden grin. “I promise I’ll explain everything once we get to Gustav’s, but I can’t tell you anything before that.”

“You are killing me, Princess,” Long said. “You know that?”

“It’ll be worth it. Trust me.”

“It’s you, isn’t it?” he flatly said. “Just admit it. The four of you talked it over, and it was decided that you should be the one.”

“Can’t say.”

Long let out a groan. “Augh! You should be the Princess of Torture, you know that?”

“Maybe,” Twilight said with a light giggle. “Here we are!”

Long let out a grunt of relief as they rounded the last corner, but his frustration switched to confusion as they walked to the front door. “Fluttershy? Rainbow? Pinkie? What are all of you doing here?”

The three of them all had the same devious smirk, and Long didn’t like it one bit. “Why wouldn’t we be here?” Rainbow offered. “This was a decision that all four of us made together, after all.”

“Yeah? Then why do I suddenly feel like there’s four sharks in the water—” he swallowed hard “—and that I’m the chum?”

“Do you want to hear our decision or not?” Rainbow huffed.

“Yes,” he slowly drawled while his head screamed at him to say no.

The mares glanced between each other, nodded, and then slowly moved to encircle him. “It wasn’t easy to decide,” Rainbow said. “Each of us have a good reason to date you.”

“And we all agreed that, no matter what, somepony’s feelings would be hurt,” Fluttershy added.

“And!” Pinkie bounced behind him. “We were extra sprinkles on top sure that you were serious when you said you were attracted to all of us.”

The four stopped, and Long’s heart began to attack his ribcage as they all slowly advanced on him. His tail tucked up, his ears flattened, and when Twilight touched his nose with hers, he let out a small whimper.

“So, at the end of it all,” Twilight said with wicked delight, “we concluded that there was only one course of action to take. Long Run, you’re just going to have to date all of us.”

Fear turned into confusion, and Long took a step back. “All of you?”

All of the mares nodded.

“Oh.” Long perked back up and ruffled his wings with a smile. “That’s not so bad, actually. So, how should we do this? I know you like schedules, Twilight, so should we say Tuesdays are your day, and then maybe Rainbow can have Thursdays? Or would it be better to date Pinkie on Tuesdays? I hear that’s usually a slow day for bakeries.”

“No, no, no, you birdbrain.” Rainbow ran the tip of her wing down his right side while Twilight did the same to his left, and the shiver of delight that ran through his body made his right rear leg jackhammer against the ground. “You have to date all of us.”

“All of you?” Long repeated, the confusion dancing on his words. “Like, all of you together? At the same time?”

“That’s what we’re saying!” Pinkie confirmed with a slightly manic giggle.

“I can’t date all of you! Isn’t there some kind of law against that or something? How in Equestria am I supposed to pursue a relationship with the four of you all at once?”

“You’ll just have to figure it out, won’t you?” Rainbow snarked. “You didn’t seem to have a problem with it before now.”

Long stammered for a moment, and all of his efforts to refute Rainbow’s statement came to naught. In a way, he had already dated all four of them, and he had outright admitted that he was attracted to all four of them in one way or another…

“You’re all serious about this?” he finally managed to say. “You all want to date me all at once?”

“We’re as serious as the plague, Long Run,” Twilight said. “We even sorted out how all of us can move into your house together.”

“Huh?” Long blurted. “Now you’re moving into my house, too?”

“We have to,” Fluttershy said. “That’s the only way we can be sure that we’re all getting the same amount of Long Run time, and that one of us isn’t sneaking over in the middle of the night.”

“But… that… how?” was the best sentence he could come up with.

“It’s simple, really,” Rainbow cut in. “Your master bedroom is, like, gigantic, so we’ll all pitch in to buy a Celestia-size bed to share. Pinkie, Twilight, and Fluttershy will move some of their personal effects into your spare room, and I’ll just park my house out back and leave my stuff there.”

“What about your animals?” Long asked Fluttershy. “Don’t you need to take care of them?”

“Actually, most of them live at the sanctuary now,” Fluttershy replied. “Angel Bunny can move in here with Gummy and Owlolicious, and my cottage is only a few minutes away by air, so I can still stop by and make sure everything is fine.”

Long had once wondered what a panic attack felt like. He decided right then that he didn’t like them. “And you, Princess?”

“Starlight and Spike can take care of the castle, and it’s just as far to there as it is to the cottage. Spike even said he’s looking forward to having the whole place as his own personal bachelor pad, which started a lively debate with Starlight that I had to walk out of. I’ll still go there during the day to fulfill my role as the Princess of Friendship, but there’s no reason why I can’t spend nights with you in your house.”

“Pinkie?” Long was sure he knew what she’d say, but he asked anyway in desperation.

“Easy peasy rice with cheesy,” she scoffed. “I’ll leave all my party supplies in my room in Sugarcube Corner, so I really don’t have much of anything to bring to your digs.”

“Good gravy, it’s like I’ve married all of you already,” he murmured with a deep breath. “Okay. Let me…” he held up a hoof and shook it slightly in thought “let me just think this through. All four of you want to date me. You’re all going to move in with me, and we’re going to try to balance five different personalities all at once.”

“But think of the rewards,” Rainbow cooed in his ear as all four of them closed in and snuggled up against him. “Aren’t we worth it, Long Run?”

Long thought that question over for several long moments. He pondered it, internally pontificated about it, analysed and scrutinized it. There was so much that could go wrong with this arrangement, and yet…

If it actually worked out…

Long Run made eye contact with each of the mares. He studied their faces, he tried to feel their true intent.

“I suppose if that is your decision, then I will abide by it,” he said, his own smirk growing. “I hope the four of you can handle all of this,” he added with a quick gesture to himself.

“Don’t worry about us, Long Run. We’ll put you in your place soon enough.”

“I can hardly wait,” he happily replied.

* * Ω * *

← Chapter 10-G: The One From Left Field →

“Thank you for being so patient, Long Run,” Twilight Sparkle offered with a sheepish smile. “I can only imagine how hard it’s been for you to wait.”

“Thankfully, I’ve been able to keep myself busy,” Long said. “But I do want to clear all of this up as soon as possible.”

“We all do,” Twilight answered. “The other girls are waiting in town for us. We agreed that it would be for the best.”

“That it is.” Long let out a long breath, and his gaze drifted to the ground.

“Is everything okay?”

“Hmm? Oh, yeah,” he scoffed. “I just… I just have a lot on my mind. Once we all talk, I’m sure things will be a lot better.”

The two of them rounded the last corner into town, and sure enough, Long found Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie waiting for him.

The corners of his mouth twitched up when he caught sight of the additional mare who was standing there, and a jolt of joy hit him square in the chest.

Twilight Sparkle, however, let out a nicker of confusion, her wings flaring upwards in surprise and slight alarm. “Sunset Shimmer? What in Equestria are you doing here?”

“Hey, Twilight!” The trans-dimensional traveller gave her friend a quick hug and a warm smile. “It’s good to see you again! I was just catching up with everypony while we waited.”

“I don’t know why she’s here, either,” Rainbow cut in. “I mean, it’s not like we’re not happy to see you or anything, but…”

Sunset held up a hoof. “I know, this is all a bit of a surprise. But I figured I should be present for Long’s announcement.”

“What announcement?” Fluttershy asked.

Sunset sauntered over to Long’s side, and a dopey grin came to his face as his wing slid over her withers. “Girls, I’d like to introduce you to Sunset Shimmer, my fiancée.”

“Your WHAT?”

“Yup!” Sunset gave Long a nuzzle, and she beamed at the gawking, flabbergasted mares. “You’re looking at the future Missus Long Run!”

“But how? When? Where? What?!” Twilight vocalized the frantic thoughts that were obviously on everypony’s minds.

“It’s all a bit sudden, I realize,” Long offered. “And I’m sorry I couldn’t warn all of you, I truly am. I wanted to, but I didn’t have the chance.”

“Back up, buster,” Rainbow Dash demanded. “You better start explaining yourself, and fast.”

“Of course, of course. It all started this afternoon, after the four of you left to talk things over. Applejack and I came into town to buy supplies, but lo and behold, Sunset was also here for a friendly visit.”

“Applejack and Long gave me the thirty-second version of what was going on when I asked where you were, Twilight,” Sunset added. “I didn’t want to interrupt, so I offered to help them in the meantime.”

“I figured many hooves make light work, so I accepted her offer,” Long took over again. “She levitated the new pipes all the way back to my tree, and her magic was extremely helpful, especially when we were trying to work around the roots.”

“Naturally, we started to chat while we worked, and Long filled me in on the details,” Sunset said with a small laugh. “I have to admit, it’s pretty funny. Fluttershy dressed up as Pinkie? I was blown away by what you did to help a friend.

“But as we talked, I started to feel this odd burning feeling right here.” Sunset tapped her chest, then looked at Long with a deeper grin. “At first, I thought it was heartburn or something, but then I realized I wasn’t feeling something physical. This is,” she laughed. “This is gonna sound really stupid, but the more I talked with Long, the more I realized that I was in love with him.”

“But you just met him!” Rainbow shouted.

“I know!” Sunset laughed with Long. “I never would have thought, in a million years, that love at first sight would happen to me, but here we are!”

“Are you serious right now?!” It was Twilight’s turn to shout a question.

“I’m really, really sorry, ladies.” Long said in a deeply contrite voice as Sunset nuzzled him again. “I truly and honestly have enjoyed every moment I’ve spent with all of you, but Sunset’s right. As crazy and as impossible as it all sounds, Sunset Shimmer and I are passionately in love. We’re going to be married at the end of next month. You’re all invited to come, of course.”

“Right,” Sunset added with a nod. “However, it’s getting pretty late. Long and I need to start working on the details of the wedding, and we need to decide if we’ll have a ceremony in the human world, too.”

“I bet we could,” he replied with a nip to her ear. “Maybe we can all sit down together once we have some plans drawn up, and I’ll buy you all dinner then, I promise. Shall we, my dear?”

“Lead the way, love,” Sunset purred. “Good night, everybody. We’ll see you tomorrow.”

The four jilted mares could only stare in shock at the suddenly-a-couple as they walked towards Gustav’s restaurant. After several minutes, Fluttershy managed to speak.

“Um, what just happened?”

“I have no idea,” Rainbow Dash answered.

* * Ω * *

← Chapter 10-H: The Other Bad Ending →
The Georg Ending

* * Ω * *

“Come on out of there, you two-timing Casa Nova!”

“Um. Technically, Twilight, he was four-timing us,” Fluttershy noted. “And I think letting Hairy Bear discuss things with him might be the correct response.”

Hairy nodded, cracked his knuckles, and bared his fangs with a guttural growl.

“And don't try flying out of your responsibilities!” bellowed Rainbow Dash from above a fairly substantial thunderhead that loomed over Long’s tree house with the rumble of impatient lightning. “I've got a couple gigavolts of electricity and I'm not afraid to use it!”

“Not with my books in there!” shouted Princess Twilight Sparkle, whose eyes had gone white and little crackles of magical power were dancing across her wings spread wide behind her. “I'm sending him to the moon the moment I get a clear shot!”

“I really think all of you are taking this a little bit too personally!” Long Run called out with the bare singed tips of his ears poking out just barely above an upper window. “If we can all just calm down, I’d be more than happy to discuss how I ended up sleeping with most of you, and YIPE!” His ears disappeared when the confetti bomb detonated mere inches away from his head.

“Step aside, everypony!” Pinkie announced while shoving a large, cylindrical streamer round in the barrel of her party cannon before taking aim at his front door. “You can’t hide in there forever, Long Run! It’s Party Time, and you’re the main guest!”

“Don't you think we oughta do something?” asked Applejack.

“Don't be so eager to push your nose into other ponies' business,” said Rarity, who was sitting at a fairly safe distance, carefully using a hoof file to polish out one ragged edge on her forehoof. “Besides, it would be interfering with our wager,” she added.

* * Ω * *