Soft music drifted through the air, lightening the atmosphere of the dingy drinkery. Silky moonlight beamed its way through the windows, probably the most radiant of the lights in the building. Only a few ponies were around, and only one was sitting at the bar itself.
"Hey, barkeep!" a scratchy, tired voice called out. Across the counter, a brown stallion glanced up at its owner, his hoof still making small motions on the mug he was drying off. "Another one!" The barkeep nodded politely and obliged her, placing a fresh mug of golden-brown liquid before his customer, who grunted her thanks and brought it to her lips.
How long had she been here? Truthfully, she didn't know. What she did know was that she'd spent a good portion of the day sitting on this very stool, sipping cider and sighing. On a normal day, she never would have been here so long; she'd never been one for sulking, but today, the bitterness of cider reflected her own state of mind, and that was good enough for her. She'd stay here until she passed out if she had to, just to get rid of the horrible feeling.
She set her mug down on the counter and let out a long, melancholic sigh. I guess this is it then, huh? she thought grumpily. Stupid filly, why does she have to be so... so... Her thoughts were interrupted when an orange mare in a Stetson hat sat in the stool beside her.
The newcomer didn't give her a second glance; she just waved down the barkeep and placed her order. A few moments later, a second mug of cider sat upon the counter, complementing the first. The ponies sat in silence, casually sipping from their drinks every now and again. Finally, after a good ten minutes, the newcomer spoke up.
"So, what's eatin' ya, Dash?"
"Hm?" The sudden introduction of conversation surprised the pegasus, who cocked her head to the side, her brow furrowed. "Nothin'." She propped her head up with a hoof and stared into her drink. "Nothin' at all."
"That right?" The newcomer smirked. "Then why would ya be in here on a night like tonight? Ain't you usually hittin' the clubs with Pinkie Pie 'round this time?"
"I said nothing's wrong, Applejack!" Rainbow Dash snarled, spinning around on her stool and glaring at her friend. "Who cares if stupid Twilight wants to go to some stupid fancy-schmancy magic school in Marizona! I sure don't, okay? So just leave me alone!"
A few more minutes of silence passed between the two. Dash's head pounded furiously; her eyes stung and her jaw trembled. She shut her eyes tightly, but a tear still fell onto the counter, dampening the soft pine. She felt broken; the cornerstone of her world had been ripped out and the once sturdy structure was now threatening to topple over in a great, violent mess.
A pressure came down on her shoulder, and Rainbow opened her eyes to find Applejack's hoof resting on it reassuringly. "Look, sugarcube," she said softly. "Ah think it's high time we talked about this."
"I don't wanna," Rainbow grunted. "There's nothing to talk about."
"Yes, there is!" the farmer replied. Suddenly, Rainbow found herself eye to eye with Applejack, unable to move her head—probably because she had placed a hoof on Dash's chin with the express purpose of preventing her from doing so. "Lookie here, Dash, everypony who's ever seen you 'round her kin read ya like a book! Especially after today! The only pony who can't seem to see it is—"
"I said I don't wanna talk about it!" Rainbow huffed, ripping herself free of Applejack's grasp. Scowling, she grabbed her glass and took a mighty swig of her drink. "If Twilight wants to go, let her go! Good riddance, I say!"
"Aw now, sugarcube, ya don't really mean that!"
"Sure I do! Who cares if she's gone?" Rainbow crossed her forelegs on the counter and set her chin on them. "She can stay gone for all I care! Stupid Twilight!"
"Lie to yourself all ya want, Dash," Applejack sighed. "But ya can't lie to me. Ya want her gone like ya want the Wonderbolts to reject you. We both know what the real problem is here, so why dontcha stop beatin' 'round the bush an jus' say it?"
Applejack's challenge hung in the air for a moment, silencing the pegasus. The words wormed their way through her ears, tearing at her thoughts until she finally broke the silence with a choked sob. "What if she meets somepony special over there?" she whispered dejectedly. "What if... what if she forgets about us? About... me?"
The corner of the cowpony's mouth perked up in an advisory fashion. "And why do you think that?"
Rainbow's gaze averted from her friend's. She lowered her head in shame. "'Cause... 'cause I never told her how I feel..."
"And why is that?"
"...Because I'm a coward..." The pegasus muttered into her drink. "She leaves tomorrow, and I'm still too afraid to tell her."
"Well, Dash," Applejack coached, leaning back in her seat and swiftly draining the last of the cider from her mug. "Ya know what ya halfta do, dontcha? Pony up! Or are you jus' gonna sit here an' feel sorry fer yerself like some kinda loser?"
Again, Applejack's words hung in the silence. Every sentence punched deeper into Rainbow's soul, resonating until she felt she might explode—with what, she didn't know. Sadness? Anger? Frustration? Still, it wasn't enough to motivate her. She was just about to tell Applejack that that was exactly what she planned to do, when her friend continued.
"Losers sit on the sidelines and watch their dreams go up in smoke. You ain't a loser, are ya Dash?"
That did it. Rainbow slammed a hoof on the bar. "No!" she screamed. All her life, she'd been a winner. Rainbow Dash didn't lose—she despised losing! It was the bane of her existence, her greatest enemy, her worst fear! If there was one thing that Rainbow Dash wasn't, it was a loser!
"No?" Applejack scoffed. "Well, what are ya then? Winners don't mope around in bars, wishing that life was easy! They grab their world by the horns and make it that way!"
"So, what are you gonna do?"
Instead of responding, Rainbow Dash downed the rest of her cider, dropped a mouthful of bits on the bar and raced out of the room, pulling so hard on the door that it still swung back and forth long after she was gone.
Rainbow Dash raced through the streets as fast as her legs could carry her. She would have used her wings, but after about eight rounds of hard cider, she didn't exactly trust her coordination. Besides, her chances of crashing into somepony at this time of night on the ground were minimal versus crashing into buildings while flying drunk.
Hard breaths, long strides, aching muscles and lungs were all her enemies: they wanted her to lose. Well, she was done with losing. Quitters never win, and winners never quit! Rainbow would get to that library and unleash two years of pent-up emotions tonight!Every hoofstep, every aching breath, every unfocusing of her eyes only brought her closer to her goal. And even though Twilight wasn't scheduled to leave for another eight hours, Rainbow still felt as if every single second counted.
Two years. For two whole years she'd been hiding her feelings, masking them behind a veil of arrogance and egotism. For two years she'd tried in vain to impress and awe Twilight with her abilities. Nothing seemed to work on her—not heroism, not book reading, not even research assistance! Well, all of that was going to change. She was about to find out if any of her deeds at all had made the barest impression, because tonight was the night she either fulfilled her dreams, or shoved them aside.
It felt like it took forever to reach the library, though in truth it was probably only about a five-minute run. Only after knocking frantically on the door did Rainbow realize she had a problem: she had absolutely zero plans. Not a huge issue—Rainbow Dash was more of a "just wing it" pony anyway. Still, it would have been a good idea to at least get a rough outline of how to approach this situation. A simulation played through her mind.
Twilight answered the door, her beautiful mane bedraggled and her eyes drooping. "Rainbow Dash?" she yawned. "What the hay? It's like, two o'clock in the morning!"
"Sorry Twi," Rainbow responded quickly. "But I just wanted to say one thing before you left for Marizona."
"I love you." She reached a hoof forward and laid it gently on the side of the unicorn's face. "Ever since we got rid of that big sleeping dragon, I've loved you..."
"Oh, Rainbow!" Twilight gasped. "Kiss me now!"
Without hesitation, Rainbow obliged, pulling Twilight's face towards her own. On the doorstep of the library, at two o'clock in the morning, Rainbow Dash finally achieved her biggest dream: Twilight Sparkle was kissing her, and enjoying it.
Yeah, right, like that would ever happen in a million years! As if the universe wanted to prove Rainbow right, it wasn't even Twilight that answered the door in the first place, but a young dragon. He gazed out of the doorway sleepily, rubbing the tiredness out of his eyes.
"Rainbow Dash?" he said, surprised. "It's two o'clock in the morning! What's wrong?" He paused. "And why do you smell like alcohol?"
Without a plan, Rainbow felt a bit intimidated by the youngster's barrage of questions. She felt like something had a hold of her tongue and wouldn't let go. "Uh..." Dash tore her brain apart, searching for something to say. "Can I talk to Twilight, please?"
Spike's brow furrowed. "She's sleeping," he deadpanned.
Dash shifted her hooves uncomfortably; she suddenly found it hard to meet the drake's eyes. "Look, Spike," she pleaded. "Don't ask questions. I just... really need to talk to her."
Spike rolled his eyes before motioning for her to enter the library. "Whatever. She's upstairs in her bedroom."
Rainbow didn't need any further direction—she knew the library inside and out; Twilight's room was the last door on the left side of the hallway adjacent to the stairs. Despite never having actually set hoof in it, her more... provocative dreams often took her there. Quietly, she made her way down the hall to her destination. Steeling herself for whatever lay beyond, she took a deep breath and knocked on the final door between her and the mare of her dreams.
There was no answer.
Rainbow knocked again, this time a little louder. A few moments later, a tired mess of a unicorn opened the door. With a large yawn, she took a look at her visitor. "Rainbow? What are you doing here?"
It was amazing how, even though she had just woken up, Twilight still looked as pretty as her namesake. Her mane was scattered, strands of hair boldly rebelling against gravity, sticking straight up and out of the sides of her head and neck. Her eyes were dull and lethargic, yet still managed to maintain that spark of wonder that had first caught Rainbow's attention. But the coup de grace was her spirit: most ponies would immediately turn away anypony that visited in the middle of the night—not Twilight! Most ponies would get frustrated and annoyed with Rainbow's characteristic boasting—not Twilight! Most ponies would be grumpy, irritable, or down-right mean after being woken up at two o'clock in the morning—not Twilight!
"Uh, hey Twilight," Rainbow stammered. Gosh that mare was pretty. "Look, I... I really want to talk to you about something..."
"And it couldn't wait 'til morning?" Twilight grumbled callously.
"No," Rainbow answered, her voice weak. She stared at the floor, wondering how exactly she should broach the subject. "Look, you can't go to that school," she said finally. "I mean... I-I don't want you to..."
"What?" Twilight cried, suddenly wide awake. "And what the hay is that supposed to mean?"
"Uh..." The hostile tone took Rainbow off-guard, forcing her to take a step backward. "I-it's just that—"
"I've worked my flank off for eighteen years to get a spot at the Starswirl College of Advanced Magics!" Twilight rumbled. "And you show up drunk in the middle of the night, the morning I'm about to get on the train, to tell me I can't go 'because you don't want me to?'"
"Um..." Put that way, Rainbow felt very selfish. Part of her brain rationalized it as Twilight's ignorance of her feelings, but the other part told her that she should just apologize and leave. Unsure of how she should answer such a challenging question, Rainbow decided to take the simple route: "Yes?"
This, apparently, was the wrong answer. Twilight released a growl deep enough to make Rainbow briefly consider that the unicorn might actually be part dragon. "Well, Rainbow Dash," she rumbled, "You certainly didn't seem to have a problem earlier today when I told you all. In fact, the phrase 'That's awesome, Twilight!' comes to mind!"
"W-well, um..." Rainbow gulped, unconsciously digging a circle into the floor with a hoof. "Th-that was, uh... before..."
"Before what?" Twilight growled. "Before it was just the two of us? When we were surrounded by friends who were actually happy for me? Didn't wanna seem uncool, huh? Is that it?"
"What?" Rainbow panicked. "No! I really was—am—happy for you Twi! It's just that—"
"That you're jealous?" Twilight said coolly.
"Yeah, actually," Twilight mused, pacing across the floor. "That makes sense. You want to be a Wonderbolt, but right now you're just a plain old weather captain. I managed to reach my dream, and you're still striving to catch yours! That's why you've been drinking, am I right? How sad..."
"No!" Rainbow cried. Oh, shoot, Twilight was mad! Nothing Dash was saying was coming out right. She had to think of something fast before things got even worse! "Twilight, I just want you to stay here, in Ponyville! I'll miss—"
"You know what, Rainbow?" Twilight grumbled. "I thought I was ignorant in the ways of friendship, but it looks like you're the one that should be writing to Celestia every week. Friends are supposed to support their friends in their endeavors, not convince them to let them slide by! I don't want to be some stuffy old librarian! I want to be a scientist! I want to discover things, develop things that will better ponykind! When you went to the Best Young Fliers competition, I developed a cloud-walking spell just so that we, as your friends, could support you!"
Rainbow nodded; she didn't think that Twilight would ever truly understand how much her appearance that day had meant to her. "Look, Twi, I'm trying to exp—"
"And if you were really my friend, you'd do the same!" Twilight continued, turning her back to Rainbow. "But I guess you came here tonight to show your true colors; it's all about you, isn't it?"
Rainbow's jaw dropped. She didn't know how to counter those words. Those hurtful, evil words. Her tongue felt limp—it wouldn't move no matter how much she asked it to, wouldn't help her out the one time she needed it the most.
Twilight's shoulders dropped. "Don't bother coming to the train station tomorrow," she said quietly. "You're no friend of mine."
Rainbow felt something deep inside her shatter instantly. She felt like she'd swallowed something cold and runny. She opened her mouth to say something, but no sound came out. Twilight doesn't want to be my friend anymore. The realization of the full impact of what she'd done here tonight hit her like a ton of bricks. This was way worse than anything other than coming here tonight would have led to! If she'd kept her stupid trap shut, she would have seen the beautiful unicorn again in a few short years! Now it looked like it'd be one long forever. For the first time in what might have been years, Rainbow felt like she was going to start crying. And not just 'tears down the cheeks, I'll be fine in a minute,' crying, but 'somebody call a fire pony, I've found a hydrant and a siren,' crying.
"The door's over there," Twilight grumbled. "I suggest you use it."
No. Not like this! This couldn't be the final goodbye! "Twilight," she started hurriedly. "I just wanted—"
"Go," Twilight sniffled. "Just go."
Something wet slid down Rainbow's her cheek. She raised a hoof to wipe the tear away before admitting utter and complete failure. Tail hanging limply, Rainbow took one final glance at the object of her affections, then walked out of Twilight's room and through the library she'd learned so well over the years. It looked like she'd never again be welcomed within its walls.
"Twilight? Hey, Twilight!" a voice shouted. "It's time to wake up!"
"Eh?" The voice pierced through the veil of thick darkness that had taken control of Twilight. Well, that, along with the shaking.
"Twilight! If you sleep much longer, you're gonna miss the train!"
Train. Train. What train? Why was a train so important? Train... Oh my gosh! Twilight sat bolt upright, flinging her young assistant across the room. He landed with a crash against the wall, collapsing in a heap on the floor as dozens of shaken books fell upon his head. "The train!" she cried.
Frantically, Twilight searched for her clock, relieved to find it exactly where it always was: on the wall. "Oh, Celestia! I only have twenty minutes!" She jumped out of bed and grabbed her pack. "Spike, why didn't you wake me up?" she shrieked.
"I tried and I tried," Spike grumbled as he picked himself up off the floor. "It's not my fault that you take an hour to wake up!"
"This is the most important day of my life!" Twilight exclaimed, rooting through her bags. "You know I need to have time to triple-check my list before I double-check my bags!" She yanked open the closest zipper she could reach and started shoving piles of pre-organized items into it.
"Well forgive me for being gentle!" he growled. "I know how you can be when you wake up!"
Twilight stopped and turned around to face her assistant. He was rubbing his forehead gently. Suddenly overrun with guilt, she wrapped him in a hug. "I'm sorry, Spike," she said. "You're right, I can get pretty crabby when I first wake up. Are you okay?"
"Good." She released him from her embrace. "But nevertheless, we're late! Help me get these bags packed!"
"Right!" He began grabbing anything he could reach, indiscriminately stuffing random items into whatever bags he could fit them in. They scrambled about the room for a few minutes, making sure that nothing would be left behind.
When the floor space was clear and every single bag was bursting at the seams, Twilight threw her saddlebags on. Picking several up by use of her horn, she thundered down the stairs. "No time to check them, Spike! We have to go!"
The duo charged through the streets of Ponyville, nearly mowing down other pedestrians in their mad dash to the train station. At one point, Spike had tripped over a hoof and his bags went flying. Luckily though, Twilight managed to catch them with her magic.
Twilight breathed a sigh of relief as her friends came into view, and noticed the town clock still gave her five minutes of breathing room for good-byes. Dropping her bags onto the ground, she approached her friends. Well, most of them.
One, two, three, four... Where the heck is Rainbow Dash? she thought worriedly. With a pang of realization, she suddenly remembered the events of the previous night... morning... whatever one calls two A.M. No... no! A tear came to her eye. Applejack noticed and came to investigate.
"Uh, Twi?" she said gently. "Twi, are ya okay?"
"I didn't mean it!" Twilight cried out suddenly. The force of her voice drove the farmer back a few steps.
"Uh, beg pardon?"
"Rainbow Dash!" she choked. "Last night she woke me up and told me she didn't want me to go!"
Pinkie Pie pricked up. "Really?" she said excitedly. "She did?"
"Yes!" Twilight groaned.
Rarity charged forth with a wide grin, unraveling a spool of questions. Amongst them, Twilight managed to make out a "What happened?"
"I told her she was being selfish and that I didn't want to be her friend anymore!" Twilight exclaimed. The words rocketed out of her—every syllable was like a punch to the gut. Element of Loyalty, a snide voice whispered in her thoughts. She's not here because you told her not to be!
Her friends, for the most part, stood around in utter shock. "You what?" Pinkie shrieked. Her jaw dropped and her eyes glistened deeply in the mid-morning sunlight. "How could you?"
"I agree, darling," Rarity added. "That is most... barbaric."
"Oh dear," Fluttershy admonished, "I'm... I'm very disappointed in you, Twilight Sparkle!" She paused. "Um, if that's okay with you..."
"I didn't mean it!" the unicorn protested. "I'm always—"
"All aboard!" came the Conductor's voice. A few last-minute riders charged by, squeezing through the doors and taking their seats.
The friends stood in silence, unsure of what to do. "Look," Applejack said quickly. "That was Twilight's choice, an' she made it. There's no use gettin' up in a tizzy over it."
Twilight blinked. "But I didn't—"
"This is her last time here fer a while! Let's send her off right!" There were some murmurs of agreement all around.
Suddenly, Twilight was swarmed. Her friends had all enveloped her in a great cocoon of forelegs. They stood there for a moment, each friend sharing their love for one another. They said their good-byes and Spike handed Twilight the final bag he hadn't managed to load onto the train.
"I'll be back soon, okay?" she said quietly. "It's not good-bye forever."
"I know," he answered, giving her one last hug. "But it'll feel like it. Write, okay? It's gonna get lonely around here."
Twilight smiled, but it felt empty. "I will."
She clambered up onto the train and found her room, happy to discover that it gave her a view of her friends. Not all of them... the snide voice whispered. There's one missing. It was enough to pull a tear out of Twilight's eye, but as she waved back at those that were on the platform, she vowed to make things right as soon as she returned.
The train began moving forward, carrying her away from her friends. Slowly, their figures became silhouettes, then specks, and finally, all of Ponyville faded from view.
Mmm... Celestia that's bright! What is that?
Smell... smells like... garbage...
Rainbow Dash opened her eyes, but quickly wished she hadn't. "Ow!" The sunlight powered through her eyelids and bored into her brain like a jackhammer. She felt like somepony had replaced a hoofball with her head, and then played a full game with it.
"Rrrg..." Something fell out of her grip and clanged emptily on the ground. Carefully, she tried to open her eyes once more. "Wow, that's bright!" she slurred, cringing in pain.
Once her vision cleared, Rainbow was happy to discover that she was looking at... a brick wall? "What the..." Blinking a few times, Rainbow observed the rest of her surroundings. Concrete floor, no roof, mountains of trashbags—she cried out sharply and jumped away when she realized that she'd been snuggling with one of them—and dozens of empty cider bottles.
"What the hay happened last night?" Blurred memories of stumbling around town with a case of cider that somehow managed to grow lighter by the minute filled her mind. They seemed to end with her crying in this alley. At least, that's what she gathered from them—she may have died last night for all she knew.
With a heave, she brought herself up onto her hooves, and fell straight back down as vertigo set in. "Ugh," she grumbled through a mouthful of garbage. "No more cider, ever."
It took a few minutes for Rainbow to pull herself back up onto her hooves, and still more to regain her balance. Once her head stopped spinning, she decided that the best course of action would be to return home and take a cold shower. She stepped out of the dark alleyway and into the sunny town square, squinting intensely. She got a few strange looks from passersby, but paid most of them no heed. "Oh, like you've never passed out in an alley before!" she snapped at one stallion, who quickly stopped staring at her and carried on with his day.
Rainbow would have taken off to go straight home for her shower; however, one side effect of a serious hangover was aching everything. Spreading her wings right now seemed much akin to sticking a needle in her eye: painful and unnecessary. Besides, a short walk would give her time to stretch out and get some air in her lungs.
High above in the town hall, the clock chimed. Rainbow glanced up to see what time it was and gasped in horror when she read "ten thirty."
"Oh my gosh, I'm gonna be late for Twilight's train!" Then she remembered something else—the reason she'd drank so much to begin with. She doesn't want you there! her inner voice laughed. And you've already missed her train anyway, it leaves right now!
Suddenly, the bright new day turned downcast. Rainbow's whole world seemed to shatter. She felt empty and alone. Never before had a sadness filled her so completely. She'd always been one to hold her head high through anything, thick or thin! Now though, her nose was only inches from the ground as she trudged down the road to her cloud home.
She imagined Twilight boarding the train, hugging each of her friends and wishing them well, a bright, happy smile upon her face. She imagined her riding down the line, reading her books without a care in the world. She imagined her getting off the train in Marizona, and walking excitedly to the college. Worst of all, Rainbow imagined Twilight getting mushy-eyed over some handsome stallion classmate.
Twilight would never know how Rainbow felt or how much she cared. A few years from now, the unicorn would come back to Ponyville, a special somepony in tow, as a freshly educated mare. Try as she might, Rainbow would never again be accepted as a friend. Or maybe she would, and she would be doomed to live a life as simply a friend of the mare she loved.
Rainbow had tried to play the game and she'd lost miserably. Something about last night had not happened right at all, but Rainbow had either been too drunk or too passionate to see it properly, and now she was paying the price. Actually, she didn't feel like she'd played the game at all, she felt like a silly foal that had picked up a deck of cards and made up her own rules. Rainbow didn't know what she was doing! She had no prior experience with love! It was an abstract concept to her! A game with hidden rules and unlimited pitfalls. A game that had played her. A game she'd lost. Now, she just wanted to go home and lick her wounds. She really was a loser.
"Losers sit on the sidelines and watch their dreams go up in smoke. You ain't a loser, are ya, Dash?"
She didn't know where the memory had come from, but Applejack's voice was all she could hear. A new vigor seemed to seep its way into her veins. Rainbow Dash wasn't a loser! At least not so easily! She could take a loss if she'd really well and truly played her heart out, but Rainbow Dash did not quit! Quitting was the ultimate form of losing! The way of the coward! The escape route for those that got in over their heads!
No. Rainbow Dash could not—would not—give up so easily! She hadn't even told Twilight how she felt! Her best friendship was on the line! Quitters didn't deserve ponies like Twilight—as friends or lovers! But Rainbow did because Rainbow Dash. Never. Gives. Up!
Her aching joints and headache completely forgotten—or perhaps just ignored—Rainbow took to the skies. She flew as fast as she could for the train station, not even bothering with altitude, much to the annoyance of the pedestrians in her path. The train station wasn't far away, but she knew that every second she lost increased the distance between her and her mission.
Soon, her friends came into view. Swooping in low, Rainbow hovered just before them. If the ponies were surprised to see her, they didn't show it. "Has the train left yet?" she asked hurriedly.
"Yeah," Applejack grunted.
"It went that way," Pinkie said, pointing down the tracks.
Rainbow nodded. "Thanks, guys!" She paused, thinking about Applejack's advice. She really owed that earth pony. Rainbow hadn't quite been herself since she'd realized that she liked Twilight, constantly worrying about whether or not she'd be liked back, or if her feelings might destroy their friendship. She'd spent nearly all of yesterday in a bar after Twilight told them she was leaving! Whether or not this whole thing with Twilight got sorted out, she owed Applejack big for reminding her who she was. "Look, A.J.," she said. "I—"
"Later!" the orange mare roared. She took off her hat and threw it at Rainbow, who ducked out of the way. "Go git her durnit!"
"Right," Rainbow agreed. With an unusual lack of bravado, Rainbow dashed off. I'm coming, Twilight, she thought. Whether you like it or not!
Trains were predictable; after all, they could only go where there were tracks. Twilight was going to Marizona—far to the southwest—therefore, all Rainbow would have to do is follow the tracks against the sun. Let's see, she thought. A train traveling sixty miles per hour leaves the train station. Ten minutes later, a pegasus pony traveling up to Mach five starts chasing it... Rainbow gave the problem a few cranks in her mind. "Oh, forget it!" she growled frustratedly; she'd hated math class for a reasonback at school. Anyway, with Rainbow's speed, it wouldn't take very long to catch it. At least, on a normal day.
The pegasus's wings flapped vigorously despite the dull ache that was beginning to creep back into her body. Though her adrenaline was more than powerful enough to help her fly through it, the pain kept growing, and it was becoming harder and harder to accelerate. Much as Rainbow wanted to catch the train as soon as she could, she was forced to pace herself or risk a cramp that might lead to crashing and injuring herself further.
Minutes flew by, and for a scary moment, Rainbow was afraid that she'd simply arrived too late to catch the train. She may have been fast, but she was still only a pony. There was no possible way she could outrun a train! Trains were machine: coal and fire and steel. They couldn't get tired, they didn't experience pain or have limited amounts of stamina. They simply went wherever they were told to go, whenever they were told. Their speed was determined by the ponies riding aboard, not by health, weight and strength.
If Rainbow Dash had been any less of a mare, she may have just called it quits after rounding three mountains and still finding nothing on the horizon. But that was just it, she was Rainbow Dash. Rainbow Dash couldn't just outspeed a train, she could give one a head start in a race and still win! And as she ducked under one more deep, dark tunnel and came out the other side, her efforts were rewarded; she could finally see that the Friendship Express was no more than a few miles away!
The closer Rainbow got to the train, the louder the chugging of the engine became. The noise increased to nearly unbearable levels, and she wanted so badly to cover her hypersensitive ears with her hooves, but they were required for flight balance. Rainbow cursed alcohol and its effects, calling death on all bottles of cider, and vowed never to drink the stuff ever again.
The noise reached its worst when Rainbow finally caught up to the caboose. It raged in her ears and wreaked havoc on her mind. Every bump and grind of the wheels on the track sent a jolt of pain rocking through her skull. Desperate to escape the pain, Rainbow ripped at the door of the car, but it held fast, locked.
"Argh! Come on!" In a flash of anger, she flew up over the car and landed on the roof. Through squinted eyes, the pegasus examined the surface for... there! A hatch! She was saved!
Rainbow latched onto the bar and pulled with all her strength, fighting the wind. Slowly but surely, the cover came up and caught the wind, slamming it against the roof of the caboose. With an exited cry, she leaped through the exposed hole.
She landed on a precarious pile of cloth. Bags of luggage had all been stacked up neatly, until the exposure to the outside had depressurized the room. Now, all of the lighter objects and fabrics were flying around the place, bouncing and ricocheting off of the walls. Suddenly, Rainbow's vision was blocked by a sheet of red. Stumbling backwards in surprise, she fell off of the pile, dragging everything with her. Suitcases, saddlebags and various carrying cases of all shapes and sizes tumbled to the ground with a cacophonous roar.
A cyan hoof stuck out of the mess on the floor and began pulling objects off of its owner's face. "Ow." Rainbow sat up and examined the destruction. Nothing that had been put away neatly was where it started. Granted, she'd managed not to knock over a few bags, but almost every one of them had fallen to the floor and spilled their contents. "Oh, man," Rainbow groaned. "I am in so much trouble..."
The door at the front of the cart opened to reveal a tan stallion in blue coveralls and an engineer's cap. "What's going on in here?" His jaw dropped upon witnessing the carnage within the room, his eyes finally settling on the pegasus sitting in the center of it. "Who are you?" he growled. "What are you doing here?"
Rainbow gulped and picked herself up off the floor. "Uh... funny story, really," she said nervously. She gestured to the luggage. "I'm really sorry about this..."
The stallion growled roughly, his eyes flaring up violently.
"What the hay is going on back there?" somepony behind him shouted out.
"We've got a little stowaway!" the stallion fired back. "She got into the luggage!"
"What?" Rainbow gasped. "No! I just... I was..." She didn't know how to explain, or even if she was capable of it. The events leading up to this moment had been so frantic, so hurried, that she didn't know if she could properly explain them to a stranger. Especially a big, angry engineer stallion!
"Stowaway?" the pony up front questioned. "It costs five Bits to ride this train—who can't afford that?"
"I don't know," the stallion answered. "But I'm taking her to the Conductor." He stepped forward and hauled the struggling pegasus out of the mess of bags.
"No, wait!" she pleaded.
"Quiet, thief!" the stallion growled. "We'll see what the Conductor has to say about all this."
"But I'm not a thief!" Rainbow protested as he dragged her down the hall. The stallion didn't respond.
They traveled down a few carts, making their way towards the front of the train. Rainbow tried a few more times to convince the large engineer pony that this whole situation was just one big misunderstanding, but he was having none of it, so she resigned to struggling against his iron grip.
They walked through another compartment door, and into a nicer-looking cart. This one was finely furnished and decorated with big comfy couches and poofy cushioned chairs. Ponies lounged about, some reading, others simply napping, their mouths covering the seats with drool. One such pony glanced up at the scene before her. "I say, what is the meaning of this?" she asked roughly. "I was under the impression that you ponies treated your customers appropriately!"
"She ain't no customer," the stallion growled. "Caught her rifling through all o' y'all's luggage. But if it matters that much to you, I can let her git back to it."
"I told you already!" Rainbow groaned, annoyed. "I'm not a thief for pony's sake!"
At the sound of her voice, another pony lowered her book. "Rainbow?" she said, surprised. "What are you doing here?"
"Twilight!" Rainbow cried—she'd never been happier to see her crush. She struggled harder to escape the engineer's grasp, but he still held her tightly. "I'm sorry! I'm so, so sorry!"
The stallion shifted his weight as he turned to look at the purple unicorn. "You know this thief?"
"She's not a thief," Twilight said matter-of-factly. "She happens to be the bearer of the Element of Loyalty, and a personal friend of Princess Celestia. I suggest letting her go before I'm forced to write a letter to her explaining the situation."
The stallion seemed to jump a little at Twilight's declaration. Rainbow watched him slowly glance back and forth between his prisoner and the unicorn giving him orders. Slowly, he set Rainbow Dash down on the floor and excused himself. As he left, the pegasus stuck her tongue out and blew him a raspberry. "Thanks, Twi," she said with a soft smile.
The unicorn set her book down. "How did you even get here?" she asked.
Rainbow shrugged. "Flew."
Twilight cocked an eyebrow. "After a train?"
With a shake of her head, Twilight dismissed the topic. "Never mind," she said. "Actually, I'm glad you're here—"
"Hang on, Twi," Rainbow interrupted, placing a hoof over the unicorn's lips. "I know you said you don't want to be my friend anymore, but I have something to say."
Twilight's head turned sideways in her grasp, but stayed silent. The pegasus didn't notice the glisten in her eyes—she was too busy steeling herself.
Rainbow removed her hoof and took a few steps back. She took a deep breath. Okay, she thought. Here we go!
"Twilight," she said. "I don't want you to go to Marizona."
The lavender pony's expression darkened a little, and she opened her mouth to say something, but hesitated when Rainbow held up a hoof.
"I don't want you to go because..." She twisted a hoof on the floor and cursed her cowardice; this was harder than she thought it would be! "...Because I'll miss you too much," she finished softly.
If Rainbow hadn't just said something so personal, Twilight's confounded expression would have been comical. Her eyes flashed from annoyance to confusion, her nose scrunched up and her brow furrowed. Her jaw bounced slightly as her brain frantically chewed over her words. All together, it was a sight that would have melted Rainbow's heart on any other day, but at the moment, Rainbow was more worried about Twilight's response than anything else.
"Well, I'll miss you too," Twilight said, her brow still very furrowed. "But nopony else told me to stay because they'd miss me. I don't understand... Do you think your feelings are special or something? That'd I'd stay just for peace of your mind, and nopony else's?"
Rainbow's face grew hot at the mention of "special feelings." Twilight of course, was simply using it as a figure of speech, and not truly delving into Rainbow's emotions quite like she'd planned. "No, Twi," she said quietly. "You don't understand."
Now Rainbow understood how Fluttershy must feel. She wanted so badly to speak up, to talk with resonance and confidence, but the sound just wasn't coming. It was like somepony had turned the volume down on her voice box like one would a radio. As Twilight deciphered her last few words, she tried to force the decibel count up, the result was a high-pitched squeak jumping out of her mouth.
"Rainbow?" Twilight gave her a concerned look. "Are you okay?"
"I-I'm fine," Rainbow countered, watching the floor. "Just a little nervous."
"About what? What don't I understand?"
Dash closed her eyes; this was so much easier in her fantasies. In those, she just walked right up to Twilight, belted out her feelings and kissed her. There were never any nerves, quakes or tremors. Her heart had never visited her throat and her stomach never did back flips! "Um..." she gulped. A bead of hot, salty sweat rolled down her cheek. "I meant that I'd miss you more."
"What do you mean?" Twilight asked. "Like, more than Applejack? Or Rarity?"
"How do you know that?"
She bit her lip and inhaled deeply. "Because they don't like you the way I do!" she declared, not even noticing that the ponies in the room were watching them like a tennis match.
Twilight shook her head gently. "I don't understand," she said. "What are you getting at?"
Rainbow's jaw dropped. "Oh, for pony's sake, Twilight!" she exclaimed. "Do I have to spell it out for you to read?"
Said unicorn gave her an offended look. "Just because I can't decipher every nuance of your harebrained psychology does not mean—oof!" A lesser pony would have waited for Twilight to finish her rant. A lesser pony would have sat her down and calmly explained to the scholar the finer points of love. A lesser pony would have been patient enough to do either.
Rainbow Dash was not a lesser pony.
And as Twilight's stunned face was invisible to Rainbow's closed eyes, she imagined her melting into her grasp, suddenly overcome with joy and love. She felt warm, soft skin play under her lips, a feeling which she'd longed for for years. Sure, this was probably a bit selfish, maybe even a little mean, but it was worth every second. And as Rainbow pulled away and opened her eyes, she saw the realization flood into her crush's flabbergasted eyes. "Get the message?" she asked sheepishly.
Slowly, Twilight's head rocked up and down.
Looking back down at the floor, she elaborated. "I've wanted to do that for a long time now. And I'm worried that if you go to that school, that you'll find somepony special..." Rainbow closed her eyes tightly, fighting back tears. "And it won't be me...
"Look, Twi," she continued. "I know you're still mad, and that you probably still don't even want to be my friend anymore. But I just wanted to tell you that I really am happy for you." After a brief struggle, Rainbow managed to pull her face up to make eye contact with Twilight. "And I wanted to know if... maybe... you might want to be my friend again?"
Twilight's face was, for the most part, still frozen in complete shock. She managed to nod once more, eliciting a grin from the young pegasus.
"Really?" Rainbow exclaimed. Eagerly, she wrapped Twilight up in a big hug, not caring that the unicorn was still too stunned to do anything but stand there. "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"
They stood there for a few minutes, Rainbow's forelegs wrapped tightly around Twilight's neck. Eventually, the unicorn managed to find her voice again, and she gently removed herself from Rainbow's embrace. "I've never dated anypony before..." she said quietly.
The cyan pony again found her gaze directed at the ground. Her face felt warm, but she didn't care. "Me neither," she admitted. Suddenly, her actions seemed wrong. She'd just violated her best friend! Stolen her first kiss for no good reason! "I'm sorry Twilight..." she whispered. "For everything..."
"Don't be. I'm always grumpy in the morning. It was my fault."
Rainbow nodded meekly; she'd long since given up trying to be confident. It was too hard. Especially in these stupid, sappy moments that seemed to follow her around like a parasite that enjoyed feeding off of her uncomfortableness. "You don't think I'm weird now, do you?" she asked.
Twilight shook her head. "But I don't know if I feel anything back," she said. "This is all so sudden... It's like my head's spinning around in circles. I need to think about this."
"Oh..." Well, what were you expecting, dunderhead? she berated herself. Did you think she was just going to suddenly love you back or something? "Okay, then..." At least she agreed to be your friend again.
Rainbow was too busy studying her hooves to notice, but Twilight hadn't finished speaking yet. Obviously uncomfortable, she continued. "But I'll be coming back to Ponyville for Hearth's Warming Eve Vacation," she said softly. "Maybe we can try something then?"
Dash's ears pricked up. Did she just... "Really?" she gasped disbelievingly. Her head was suddenly poised and ready, her wings springing up excitedly. "You mean it?"
"I don't see why not," Twilight chuckled. "There are worse ponies to date than your best friend."
Rainbow beamed with pride and elation at the statement. She felt like melting into a puddle of her own happiness and staying there for eternity. Me and Twilight, she thought warmly. On a date...
As the two fillies made their way down the hall to find a room where they could hang out, the other ponies in the lounge area watched them. The middle-aged mare with the newspaper leaned in close to the young earth pony in the seat next to her. "It's so nice to see young love blooming in these trying times," she said. The earth pony nodded her head and adjusted the bow in her hoof. She thought about a certain brazen deejay she was going to pay a visit to as soon as she arrived at her destination.
The rest of the train ride was quiet. Twilight talked about her new school, and how she couldn't wait to learn all there was to learn. For once, Rainbow truly had nothing to say, she listened contentedly as numbers and magic laws flowed through her ears. At one point, the Conductor came by Twilight's room to apologize for the actions of the first, and informed them that he was being punished by picking up and reorganizing all of the spilled luggage in the caboose.
Rainbow had insisted on traveling all the way to the back of the train to help the poor pony. As rottenly as he'd treated her, she told Twilight, it was her mess to pick up. Not his. The look Twilight gave her afterward filled Rainbow with so much warmth, she thought she might burst.
With the luggage all cleaned up, and one engineer's ears talked off, Rainbow quickly ran back to Twilight's room. Despite the unicorn's hesitance to accept her friend's feelings, Rainbow still enjoyed spending time with her more than anything in the world. Well, maybe anything in the wold minus flying.
Naw, it was definitely spending time with Twilight.
Actually... maybe it was flying...
Hm... she thought. Why don't I just combine the two? And suddenly, she had a great idea for their date. I'll take her flying! With that conundrum taken care of, Rainbow proudly opened the door to Twilight's room and stepped back in.
It didn't open again until the train stopped.
Rainbow Dash felt a deep melancholy begin to fill her as she walked Twilight down the aisle... of seats. The other passengers were still filing out of the doors, exiting the cool atmosphere of the train, and entering the hot, arid world that was Marizona. She followed Twilight out of the cart for a moment, springing another hug on the purple pony.
"Don't forget me, okay?" she spoke into to Twilight's ear.
The unicorn returned her hug and then stepped back. A smile played on her lips. "Now, how could I forget a friend that outran a train to tell me how she feels?"
"Outflew, Twi." Rainbow snickered. "Get it right!"
They shared one final laugh before the whistle blew on the train platform. "You'd better get back on," Twilight said, motioning to the train. "You don't want to miss the train you just got off, do you?"
Rainbow glowered at the ground. Of course this moment couldn't last forever. "Okay," she said, turning around. She clambered back up onto the train and looked out once more at her favorite unicorn. "Don't forget Hearth's Warming Eve!" she called out. "I've got something special planned!"
Twilight laughed as the doors began to close on the train. "I won't!" she shouted back. Then, more quietly, so that only a lip reader could see, she added, "I promise."
The train started rolling forward, beginning its circuit back to Ponyville. Rainbow watched as Twilight turned around to walk to the college. Soon, all she could see was the Marizona train station, and eventually, even that disappeared over the horizon. Rainbow sighed, she already missed that unicorn, but she wasn't gone forever.
She'd be back soon.