“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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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
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.
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.
“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.
“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!”
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.
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.”
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.
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…”