The time was early afternoon. The place was Canterlot; specifically, the town's outdoor sports arena. Normally, the venue played host to a game of professional hoofball or served as the training grounds for the Equestria Games. Today, however, the Canterlot Megadome hosted a different kind of athletic display: an aerial performance by the Wonderbolts.
As ponies of all ages watched the intricate display of speed, grace, and agility, one pegasus mare had thoughts of what would come after the show. The mare, Rainbow Dash, was a lifelong fan of Equestria's premier flying squad and jumped at any chance to watch them perform, or at least hang out with them. However, on the day preceding the anticipated event, Rainbow got a personal letter from the Wonderbolt captain, herself, Spitfire, asking her to stick around after the show, but gave no reason why.
Under normal circumstances, Rainbow would accept without question. She accepted the invitation; however, the acceptance was made with curiosity at the sudden and vague message. Rainbow continued to ponder the circumstances, eventually zoning out. This gesture didn't go unnoticed; the group of ponies seated closest to her eyed their friend with concern—she never zoned out at an airshow, which meant something was seriously wrong.
"What's on your mind, Dashie?" asked the hyperactive Pinkie Pie.
"Huh?" mumbled Rainbow in confusion.
"You alright, sugarcube?" the southern Earth pony, Applejack, asked.
Rainbow smiled, nodded, and looked back at the majestic skydance.
"Rainbow Dash, what is on your mind?" asked the lavender alicorn, Twilight Sparkle, sternly.
Silence was the initial response.
Not one to forfeit, and also aware of her friend's history of ignoring such interrogation, Twilight tried a new tactic: telepathy.
Rainbow Dash, what's bothering you? Twilight mentally repeated.
Twilight? What the heck? Rainbow mentally asked, her face now lit up in surprise.
I just wanted to know what's bothering you, Twilight answered.
Yeah, I got that, Rainbow replied, rolling her eyes. I'd like to know what the hay you're doing inside my head!
To a spectator, it looked like Rainbow was scowling at the ponies she idolized while Twilight concentrated on a spell aimed at her friend. However, something quite different was happening.
You're hiding something, Dash, Twilight thought, accusingly.
So what if I am? Rainbow challenged. I'm a grown mare; I have full rights to hide stuff if I want to… Her eyes narrowed. …even from nosy little eggheads.
Real…freaking…mature, Rainbow Dash. Twilight's lip quivered as she forced herself to remain silent.
"What's goin' on, you two?" Applejack asked, hoping to ease the tension between her friends.
"I've got an egghead in my head!" Rainbow spat, pointing a hoof at her head.
Pinkie laughed at Rainbow's remark; Twilight felt content aiming a death glare at her would-be button-pusher.
Just wait 'til we get home, you rainbow-headed freak… Twilight thought.
"Freak?!" Rainbow shouted. "I'll show you 'freak'!"
"Alright, now…" Applejack said, holding the agitated pegasus back. "That's enough o' that!"
"Let go of me, AJ!" Rainbow Demanded.
"Not 'til you calm down, Rainbow Dash," Applejack replied in a tone she had used when easing her sister's temper.
"Well…Twilight called me a freak," Rainbow said, breathing heavily.
"You started it by calling me a 'nosy little egghead'," Twilight shot back.
"It don't matter who started it," Applejack said, firmly. "I'm endin' it before you get us thrown out o' here."
"Fine," Rainbow muttered. "I just don't take too kindly to being called a freak; it's right up there with that…other nickname I got stuck with."
"Oh, you mean 'Rainbow Crash'?" Twilight asked, earning a death glare from both Rainbow Dash and their shy pegasus friend, Fluttershy.
"Don't you ever call her that again, Twilight Sparkle," the yellow pegasus warned.
"I'm sorry, Dash," Twilight apologized. "Also, I'm sorry I called you a rainbow-headed freak, but at least you know how I feel every time you call me an egghead."
"Yeah, whatever," Rainbow muttered. "Apology accepted, and all that jazz."
"There we go," Applejack said, calmly releasing Rainbow Dash from her bear hug. "Now tell us what's goin' on with you, Dash. It ain't like you to just black out. I can't help but think Twilight knows somethin' we don't."
"Alright, fine," Rainbow whispered. "Since I'm backed into a corner, I'll tell you. Yesterday, I got a letter asking me to stick around after today's airshow, but it didn't say why. I'm happy, yet suspicious at the same time. I know they have autograph sessions and stuff after a show, but this is the first time I've actually been asked to make an appearance."
"Maybe you finally made it in," Fluttershy said, happily.
"Oh, how I wish…" Rainbow laughed. "But they'd send me an official letter if that were the case."
"Well, you'll just have to wait and see, darling," noted the white unicorn, Rarity.
"Don't remind me," Rainbow grumbled. Waiting was the one thing she hated the most.
"Oh, look at that!" Pinkie exclaimed, pointing at the Wonderbolts.
The other five followed their friend's gesture to find the stunt team beginning the show's epic conclusion. Rainbow Dash was especially mesmerized by the intertwining corkscrews and near-collisions the Wonderbolts were now doing. At the pinnacle of the heart-pounding finale, Dash's eyes fell upon one pegasus in particular.
"Soarin…" Rainbow whispered as the stallion dramatically flared his wings before flipping around and taking a close flight over the bleachers, headlining the act by taking a vertical dive toward the ground at top speed; at the last possible second, Soarin made a corkscrew turn skyward and ended the ascent with a sudden stop in the midst of the wind tunnel the whole display created.
"That was…amazing…" Applejack managed.
"Why, if I didn't know any better, I'd say he was showing off for someone," Rarity mused.
"Aw, he's just showing off for his fans," Rainbow quipped, dismissively.
"Then why be so reckless?" Twilight asked, worriedly. "That dive he did had enough velocity behind it to be fatal had he not made that turn in time."
"What?" Rainbow asked, flatly.
"He could've killed himself with that stunt he just did," Twilight clarified. "No fanbase is worth that."
"No, it ain't," Applejack agreed.
"Yeah! Being a recklessly suicidal stunt flier is Rainbow Dash's job!" Pinkie noted, laughing greatly.
"Hey!" Rainbow cut back.
"Why, you don't think—?" Rarity mused, mischievously.
"Rarity, don't you dare finish that thought," Rainbow interrupted.
"Alright, if you insist," Rarity replied with a dejected sigh.
"Why don't we watch the rest of the show?" Twilight offered.
The other five silently agreed, and the group of friends enjoyed the last few moments of the performance just as a foal would enjoy Hearth's Warming Day. With the last set of tricks done, the stadium erupted in the deafening roar of cheering fans, some even asking for more.
With the show now fully concluded, Rainbow Dash and friends made their way out of the seating area. Just like many others in the ocean of Wonderbolt fans, the motley crew made the journey to where the ace flying squad was supposed to gather backstage.
Wonderbolt autograph sessions were always a picture of insanity, especially when they came after a show, but this was a new level of crazy. Promotion for the show said it would be one worth waiting for, and the team certainly delivered on that. The place was now packed virtually wall to wall with ponies, mostly preteen and under, hoping to meet their idols.
"Oh, my stars…" Applejack whispered; the words were lost in the commotion.
Rainbow Dash, I feel like we should just go somewhere quiet until this storm dies down, Twilight telepathically suggested.
No way! It's now or never! Rainbow impatiently thought back, spreading her wings and gaining height in the midst of the crowd confining her and her friends.
In the span of the next second or two following Rainbow's swift movements, the pegasus found herself face-to-face with the mare who wrote to her recently.
"Spitfire!" Rainbow blurted.
"Rainbow Dash!" the Wonderbolt captain replied, recoiling from the surprise encounter. "You about gave me a heart attack! Warn me next time!"
"Sorry. I got your letter. I just wanted to know what was up."
"Give us a moment here, and I'll explain everything."
Rainbow Dash did as requested, rejoining her friends after spotting them in an empty hallway.
"What'd she say?" Twilight asked, sensing her friend's annoyance.
"Told me to wait for 'em to finish up here; Spitfire'll explain everything to me then," Rainbow answered.
Were it a different scenario, Rainbow Dash would have bolted from the scene in an instant, preferring to sleep than to wait on someone. However this was Spitfire, captain of the Wonderbolts; Rainbow Dash would wait any length of time to speak to her, especially if it was an invitation to join the team.
Some time later, the crowd had dissipated and the Wonderbolts were finally left to their own devices.
"They had better have a good reason for making me wait this long," Rainbow muttered.
Her concern was about to be addressed by the ponies in question as one of them called to her, snapping the rainbow-maned pegasus out of her stupor.
"Hey, Rainbow Dash!" a female voice called.
"Hey, Spitfire!" Rainbow replied, taking a step back upon noticing that the captain wasn't alone.
Maybe a couple inches behind Spitfire was the ever-cheerful stallion, Soarin.
"Hey, Soarin," Rainbow said, calmly smiling.
"Hey," Soarin replied, returning the gesture with a warm smile of his own.
"So, Spitfire," Rainbow began, suddenly, "what was with that letter you sent me?"
"Ah, that," Spitfire replied with a quiet laugh. "Yeah, that letter wasn't actually my idea; it was his." She gestured to Soarin. "Come on, you silly guy."
"Now…I'm really curious," Rainbow said, looking at the stallion in front of her.
"Go on…" Spitfire urged, playfully nudging her teammate and friend.
"Uh… I-I…" Soarin stammered.
"Soarin? What's going on here?" Rainbow asked. "Are you…blushing?"
"N-no…" he said, smiling.
"Oh, my…" Fluttershy whispered, meekly.
"It seems like he is," Rarity observed.
"I am not!" Soarin defended.
"Oh, there's no need to be so ashamed, darling," Rarity noted. "It's perfectly normal."
"I-it's…the heat… Yeah! That's what it is. I over-worked myself doing that last set of tricks." Soarin ended his personal explanation with a wave of nervous laughter and a glance somewhere overhead. Twilight felt the urge to lecture him for his recklessness, but pushed the matter to the back of her mind, especially with the continuation of their current conversation.
"Come on, Soarin!" Spitfire said, noticing that her friend's face was an even brighter shade of red and that he now looked everywhere except at Rainbow Dash. "Quit fooling around; you're not really hiding anything, you know." Soarin didn't respond. "If you won't say it, then I will." Soarin, still blushing, gave his friend a fierce glance; said glance was met with a laugh, which intensified when the flustered stallion snorted, rolled his eyes, and turned away.
"He wanted me to write that letter," Spitfire revealed.
"Seriously?" Rainbow asked, flatly. "He couldn't write to me himself?"
"Dead serious," Spitfire answered. "He's been thinking about you a lot lately, so I asked for an explanation. He didn't say too much, so I suggested that he go to you about it." Soarin looked back for a split second, his face burning under Rainbow Dash's gaze. "That was more or less his response, so I made the suggestion of writing to you. He liked that, but then he faltered." Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow in confusion. "Yeah, crazy, right? So I was the one who wrote to you. I kept you in the dark so you could get a proper explanation, courtesy of Prince Charming." Spitfire smiled at her own wit.
"Well, Soarin? What's going on here?" Rainbow asked. "If you've got something to say to me, then say it."
Soarin was still avoiding Rainbow Dash's gaze and was still blushing heavily, but this time, he was smiling calmly.
"Alright, Dash," Soarin said, quietly. "But I'd rather discuss it privately." He found the nerve to smile at the rainbow-maned pegasus before him. "That OK with you?"
"Yeah, sure," Rainbow responded after a sigh.
Soarin pointed to an unoccupied location a short distance away and cleared his throat.
"How about we go over there? Should be safe from…wandering ears. Heh, heh…"
"Yeah…" Rainbow replied. "Lead the way."
The two walked away from the crowd, some of its members giggling softly and earning a glare from Rainbow Dash, and found the desired—for Soarin—place to talk.
"OK, Soarin, spill it," Rainbow sternly ordered. "Why go to all this trouble for me?"
"Because I like you!" Soarin blurted, louder than intended, his face bright red again.
"Come again?" Rainbow asked.
"Let me start at the beginning," Soarin sighed. "All those times I bumped into you, I wanted to be able to hang out or something; hard to do that with all the…craziness that kept happening, but I got to know you, regardless. I like you, I respect you, and I think you're amazing; easily one of the most talented fliers I've ever met."
"Not a problem. Keep up with everything you're doing, and you'll make the team in no time flat."
"Heh heh… Thanks! By the way, what was that trick you did toward the end?"
"You liked that? It's a secret technique I've been working on for…a while; I call it the 'Skyward Strike'! Cool, right?"
"I figured you'd like it."
"I always like watching or doing a new trick, though Twilight said you could've killed yourself with that dive you did."
"Yeah, Spitfire gave me an earful when she caught me practicing that dive; thought I had…lost it."
"No offense, but you don't seem like the type to 'lose it,' or whatever."
"So what led up to this…letter business?" Rainbow asked, suddenly.
"Well…" Soarin sighed as he rubbed the back of his neck. "That feeling of liking you turned into something…more…especially after I saw the way you got along with your friends. Long story short, it's not your athleticism I admire the most, it's what's in here…" He rested a hoof on Rainbow Dash's chest. "…your undying loyalty and respect toward those closest to you, and that inherent sense of love and kindness that goes with it."
"Wow, Soarin… I…had no idea you felt that way…about me."
"Well, now you know. I had hoped to spend time with you so I could get to know you as a friend, but then…I just began thinking of you as something more. Spitfire caught on and gave me those suggestions to talk to you, but I was legitimately afraid, which of course brings us to where we are now."
"What could you be afraid of?"
"That you'd say 'no'… That you'd reject me… That you'd hate me or think I'm an idiot…" Soarin's voice wavered as tears started to fall from his eyes.
"What in Equestria would make you feel that way? What did you want to talk about?"
Soarin met the question with a sincere honesty that would make Applejack proud.
"I would like to spend…an evening or something…with you because…" He sighed. "…because I love you, Rainbow Dash."
The silence that now hovered over the two pegasi seemed to last an eternity; it was actually just a few seconds.
"How long?" Rainbow cleared her throat. "How long have you felt…this way?"
"About a couple months; two months of wanting to open my heart to you, but being too much of a coward to go and do it."
"So as much as Spitfire pressed the issue, you just couldn't follow through."
"Yeah. I was about to write to you, but at the last second, I fell apart. I ran to Spitfire and…you know the rest." Soarin then fell back to his haunches and cried softly.
"Aw, Soarin…" For once, Rainbow Dash didn't know what to say; this whole scenario confused her greatly. As Rainbow watched the crying Wonderbolt, she could almost feel her own heart break, which was a rare occurrence for her. "I never thought you were so…fragile…"
"Love'll do that to a pony, especially if it's their first time feeling it, like with me." He managed a smile through his tears.
"Just…calm down…" Rainbow Dash was torn; she wasn't one to get emotional, but at the same time, she couldn't help but feel sorry for the infatuated stallion.
Soarin wiped his eyes and stood up. Suddenly, his expression changed; as he looked Rainbow Dash in the eyes, his gaze was now a serious one. His breathing was rather relaxed, but the way he flicked his tail said otherwise.
"Right; no more games," he said. "I've never felt this way about anyone before all of this happened. I'd still like to get together with you, but I won't force you to make a commitment; let it be your own choice. I love you, and I'd be the happiest stallion alive it you were to be my girlfriend, but I also respect you; I'm willing to settle for just being friends."
"I'll…think about it," Rainbow Dash sighed. "But for now, I'll accept your offer of friendship. I wouldn't mind hanging out with you; 'the more the merrier,' as they say. Anything beyond that… I'm truly flattered, if not a bit surprised; you're the first guy that's come to me with confessions of love rather than insults. Thanks for that, Soarin."
"Thank you for your honesty and your consideration, Rainbow Dash."
"Now that that's sorted out, what happens next?"
"You tell me. I've got plenty of free time, so we could still get together if you wanted."
"I feel like I should tell my friends about this, actually."
"Then tell them. Get their opinions, but let the final verdict be your own."
With a nod of mutual understanding between the two, and a quick hug from Soarin, they rejoined Spitfire and company.
"So…how'd it go?" Twilight asked.
"I'll…elaborate when we get home," Rainbow answered.
"I guess we should let you get going, then," Spitfire noted. "Come on, Soarin."
"See you around, Rainbow Dash!" Soarin happily said as he and Spitfire went to rejoin their teammates.
"Well, let's head back," Twilight suggested. "Spike's probably worried himself silly."
With that, the six friends left the sports arena behind.
Afternoon made way for the evening as the group of friends made itself comfortable inside Golden Oaks Library. Initially, they ecstatically shared their favorite moments of the athletic display they had witnessed just hours ago. However, that merriment fell flat when they remembered the encounter after the show, and the internal conflict it sparked in one of their number.
"Alright, we had a blast in Canterlot, socialized a bit after the show, and now we're back home," Twilight summarized. "What went on between you and Soarin, Rainbow Dash?" She calmly looked at the pony in question with concern.
"The guy's in love with me," Rainbow answered, wanting to get the matter resolved as soon as possible.
"I knew it!" Rarity cheered.
"So Soarin's got the hots for you," Applejack noted. "What're you going to do?"
"I don't know," Rainbow confessed. "I've never been in love, and I've never had anyone in love with me. Rarity's the hopeless romantic; not me."
"Hey!" Rarity cut back.
"Tell him how you feel," Twilight calmly suggested.
"I did; I thanked him for his feelings, told him that I'd be fine with plain old friendship, and promised him that I'd…think about…being with him."
"Do you love him?" Twilight asked.
"Considering this situation on top of the…mess that I've lived through, I respect him and I like him, but I don't love him; not now, anyway."
"So you could love him?" Twilight asked.
"I…guess so," Rainbow confessed. "If I had to, I could…probably…go for it…"
"Don't do it because you 'have' to, darling," Rarity advised. "Do it because you want to."
"That's the problem, Rare," Rainbow replied. "I want friendship, but I've never really wanted anything beyond that. I never felt like I needed that, either. I seriously don't know what to do."
"Follow your heart," Rarity suggested.
Rainbow Dash placed a hoof over her chest, right where Soarin had touched her earlier, and sighed.
"I think I can do that," she said, calmly. "Just…tell me where to start."
"Very well," Rarity replied. "Start at the beginning and go from there. Get to know each other as friends, just as you wish to do now. See how that works, and then you can start talking about committing to a relationship."
"So just keep things as they are for now, and in time, I might share Soarin's feelings," Rainbow summarized. "Sounds easy enough…"
"But it's so much more complex than you realize," Rarity replied.
"You know," Applejack began, "it's funny hearin' Rainbow havin' an open conversation about love." She punctuated the statement with a laugh.
"Stop laughing!" Rainbow commanded.
"Aw, look at her," Applejack teased, noting the red tint on her friend's face.
"Cut it out, AJ!" Rainbow replied.
"Our little Dashie's growin' up," Applejack noting the red tint on her friend's face.
"On a serious note," Twilight cut in, "as your friends, we are all here to listen to what you have to say and to cheer you on. But no matter what you decided in the end, you have our support, Dash."
"Thanks, guys," Rainbow replied.
After a brief silence, Twilight noted the late hour and the group of six parted ways for the night. Each one, after reaching their respective place of residence, prepared for bed and drifted off to sleep—each one not named Rainbow Dash, that is.
"Ugh…!" the exasperated pegasus shouted. "Darn it, Soarin! Why did you wait? Why did you rely on Spitfire?"
Rainbow Dash pulled her blanket up to her chin and stared at her bedroom ceiling. When the remnants of the chat with Soarin faded, Rainbow Dash's mind replayed the conversation in the library.
Tell him how you feel, Twilight suggested.
Follow your heart, Rarity advised.
Our little Dashie's growin' up, Applejack teased.
Rainbow Dash turned and looked out her bedroom window and gazed at the night sky.
"I wonder if Soarin's having trouble sleeping," Rainbow muttered.
Having her fill of stargazing for the moment, Rainbow Dash turned her back to the window and shut her eyes, desperately wanting to sleep.
As your friends, we're here to listen to you… Twilight calmly offered.
"That's it!" Rainbow declared as she sat up. "I need a different opinion…" With that, she grabbed a pencil and piece of paper from her bedside drawer and went into the kitchen. After sitting at the table, she placed the paper in front of her, placed the pencil in her mouth, and began writing.
Dear Mom and Dad,
Just had something really weird happen to me, or at least unexpected.
From there, she described her talk with Soarin, the discussion with her friends afterward, and the feelings of utter confusion she felt toward the whole ordeal.
With the letter finished, Rainbow Dash got an envelope, addressed it, and sealed it after placing her message inside. With a sigh, she went out long enough to place the letter in the mailbox. Feeling suddenly relieved, Rainbow returned to her bed and made herself comfortable. With a sigh of contentment, she closed her eyes and fell asleep.