By noon Ponyville was usually busy, but there were some areas which remained free of traffic. Scootaloo had chosen one of the areas to practice flying.
While not yet adept at flying, she was an excellent climber, so it wasn’t hard to reach one of the upper branches. She looked to the ground and told herself that the grass was soft enough to provide a decent landing before spreading her wings and leaping off.
She flapped with all her might, but she hardly moved forward at all. She actually fell, quite quickly in fact. She let out a yelp as she realized what was happening, and began to brace herself for impact.
As it turned out, the impact came from a cyan-colored blur that caught her just before she hit the ground.
“Geez, kid, what were you thinking?” Rainbow Dash snapped. She looked angry, though not deeply so.
“I… I was just trying to fly,” the filly answered sadly, looking away from her idol.
“Without an adult around? Without anypony to teach you?”
“I-I’m sorry! It’s just that my parents are so busy, and…”
“And I offered to teach you,” she reminded, putting her back on the branch. “You should have come and gotten me. Now, you’ll never fly like that.”
“But I’m flapping my wings as fast as I can…”
“And that’s the problem, first off,” Rainbow Dash said sternly. “Now spread your wings out.”
Scootaloo obeyed, still looking a little nervous.
“Now, listen to my voice. I want you to move your wings to the rhythm. Up, down, up, down…”
Once again, the instructions were obeyed, and soon Scootaloo was moving her wings at the speed one would have during normal flight.
“Up, down, up, down…”
“How much longer do I have to keep doing this?” she asked. Her voice had some of its usual spunk again, but she was still more timid than usual.
“You have to crawl before you can run, squirt. Getting that rhythm down is part of it. Now listen, in addition to flapping, you also have to remember tilting. You need to tilt your wings in relation to airflow. Too low, there’s not enough lift. Too high, there’s drag.”
“How will I know the airflow?”
“You learn to feel it, and that comes with practice. Okay, I think you’re ready for a quick try.” With that, Rainbow Dash flew about five feet away, and then lowered herself another foot. “Alright, fly to me.”
Scootaloo looked at the ground again, then gulped.
The elder mare gave a sympathetic smile. “I’ll catch you, don’t worry. Come on, it’s even safer than before I got here. You weren’t afraid then.”
Feeling reassured, the filly leapt of the branch. She kept the flaps in a better rhythm, and tried to tilt her wings where she felt air. She moved erratically, but managed to make it to Rainbow Dash.
“That was very good,” she said, giving her student a smile.
“But… I barely stayed up! And I was falling before the end…”
“Scoots, rule number one on anything: you have to be bad before you can be good,” she said gently, setting her back on the ground. “Now, let’s go again. This time, don’t tense up so much. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“Well, Twilight, the solution to your problem is simple,” Aloe assured.
By this point the three guests had been lifted out of the tub and onto three massage tables. Lotus had begun kneading Applejack’s back, getting moans of pleasure from the earth pony, while Roxie began working on Twilight.
“What do you have in mind?”
“Well, dearie, you’re a very logical pony, aren’t you? We have a very simple solution to your problem. Tell me, what frightens you the most? What do you worry about most?”
It didn’t take long for her to answer. “Disappointing Princess Celestia, letting my friends down, something happening to Spike…”
“Very good. Now tell me, when was the last time you were worried about upsetting the Princess, what happened?”
Twilight paused. The citizens of Ponyville were very vague on what happened during the Smartypants incident. They only knew of the riot that broke out in the park, and not what caused it.
“Well, I ended up making things worse trying to fix something that the Princess turned out not to really care about in the first place.”
“So, the next time you start worrying about what’s going to happen, try thinking about…”
“I’ve tried that,” Twilight said bluntly.
Aloe blinked. “You what?”
“I already do that. I still end up worrying about it. She’s the ruler of Equestria, after all. I have high standards to work up to.”
“Well, what do you think would happen if you let her down?”
“A lecture at worst,” she admitted. “It’s easy to see that now, but when I’m panicking, I don’t exactly think straight.”
“Well, try taking deep breaths…”
“I took a hundred of them last time.”
“…You’re going to be a tough nut to crack.”
“Alright, that’s enough,” Rainbow Dash said. She carried the now visibly tired Scootaloo up to a cloud to rest. “We can take a break now.”
“Finally!” the filly panted. “We must have done that a hundred times.”
“Repetition is the mother of learning, kid,” the elder mare explained. “I do all my flight tricks a million times, Twilight reads all her books a million times, Rarity studies every sewing technique a million times, it’s why we’re the best at what we do.”
“I guess,” she said, rubbing her wings.
“Scoots, I’ve got to ask, why didn’t you take me up on my offer for lessons back at the wedding?”
Scootaloo blushed, rubbing the back of her head. “I… I was embarrassed. I mean, I’m so clumsy...”
“Clumsy?” Rainbow Dash asked incredulously. “Kid, I’ve seen you do tricks on that scooter of yours that would make some ponies jealous. Where’d you get the idea you were clumsy?”
The filly blushed, suddenly finding the cloud they were resting on interesting. “…Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara,” she said at last, looking up at her teacher. Her face was scrunched in confusion. “Two fillies in my class,” Scootaloo clarified.
Rainbow Dash nodded in understanding. “Don’t let ponies like that get you down. There were these three idiots in my school who used to call me ‘Rainbow Crash’. Look at me now.”
Scootaloo gave a weak smile. “Thanks, I feel better,” she said.
There was silence for a moment as the two pegasi enjoyed the view. Finally, the younger one spoke. “Why did they call you ‘Rainbow Crash’ anyway? You’re the greatest flyer I’ve ever seen!”
The cyan pegasus’s expression was half smile at the compliment, half scowl at the question. “In one of the obstacle course runs, I choked and made a crash landing. They never let me forget it.”
“Did you ever fight back? I always want to give Diamond Tiara a good smack, but Miss Cheerilee says that’s wrong.”
“I did, but only once.”
”Nice landing, Rainbow Crash,” Hoops laughed at the young filly on the cafeteria floor.
Rainbow Dash stood up, hay fries and cupcake frosting in her mane, and glared at the colt that had caused her to trip. “Hey, that’s no fair!”
“Life’s not fair when you’re a loser, Crash!” he laughed again before trotting off. Grumbling, Rainbow Dash stood, trying to block out the snickers coming from around the room. Grudgingly, she sat at the end of a table, looking at her tray of now ruined food.
“Um, excuse me,” a quiet voice said. The filly looked up and saw a butter-yellow pegasus sitting down next to her.
“What do you want?” she snapped.
“Um, I saw you don’t have anything to eat now,” she said slowly. “You can have mine, if you like.”
Rainbow Dash blinked, caught off guard that a pony was actually treating her kindly. “Kid, that’s your food. I couldn’t take it…”
“Oh, I’m not really hungry anyway. You can have as much as you want.”
The cyan filly thought for a moment, then smiled. “Why don’t we share it?” She picked up the fork on her tray and used it to get a few hay fries from her new friend’s meal. For a few minutes the pair ate, introduced herself, and made small conversation. This however, promptly ended when Hoops came up to them again.
“Well, lookie here. Rainbow Crash and Klutzershy. It’s a match made in Celestia's Paradise!”
“Get lost, Hoops!”
“Um, please go away…”
“Oh yeah? Who’s going to make me!” he sneered, pushing Fluttershy off her seat. She landed with a pained squeak, then began whimpering.
“Hey, leave her alone!” Rainbow Dash demanded, hopping out of her seat. “Don’t pick on her like that!”
“Oh, and what are you going to do about it, Rainbow Crash?”
At that point, Rainbow Dash showed Hoops exactly what she was going to do about it. Namely, putting a hoof to his face. The colt staggered back, and just as he was registering his bloody nose, she leapt onto him, punching every part of him.
“It took three teachers to pull me off of him. I got detention for a month,” she finished, a smile of fond remembrance on her face.
“What? But Hoops was picking on Fluttershy! Shouldn’t he have got in trouble?”
“He did, but it was only a week’s detention. Besides, I don’t regret that day one bit. That’s when I met Fluttershy, and the next time she was picked on, I couldn’t fight, so I raced. I discovered my cutie mark, and I knew a good way to keep Hoops quiet. Now look, I’m a contender for the Wonderbolts, and he’s still working an entry-level position at the weather factory.”
“I let my actions speak for themselves. Every time that blowhard made fun of me, I did the flying drills better than him, I did the obstacle course better than him, I did everything better than him. He could call me names all he wanted, but I still knew I was better than him.”
Scootaloo was confused. “But… I see you threatening to beat up anyone that makes you mad!”
Rainbow Dash shook her head. “No, I threaten to beat up anypony that’s putting Equestria in danger. That’s something else entirely. School bullies? Not worth the effort. They never are.”
Scootaloo nodded. She looked away a bit before speaking again. “How long did it take you to fly?”
“Only a few days, I was a natural,” the elder mare bragged. She immediately regretted it when she was Scootaloo’s head drop a bit. “But don’t think that means there’s anything wrong with being a late bloomer. You know Spitfire was about your age before she got off the ground.”
“Really?” the filly asked, tilting her head.
“Yeah, she had a slow start. Now she’s the best of the best. Don’t let setbacks discourage you, kid. They’re temporary.”
“Did you have any setbacks?”
“I had to drop out of Flight School with only six months left to go. My…” she paused for a minute. “My mother died that year. I had to quit and get a job to support myself. I’d probably be in the Wonderbolts now if that hadn’t happened.”
Now Scootaloo felt uncomfortable. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you bring that up…”
Rainbow Dash ruffled her mane affectionately. “Don’t worry about it, kid,” she assured. “The point is, I’m still getting in the Wonderbolts because I didn’t let something like that get me down.”
The filly nodded, now smiling once again. She was forgetting her nervousness that Rainbow Dash would think less of her for bad flying. She was forgetting her parents being too busy to spend time with her. For a while, everything seemed peaceful.
“Hey, kid, have you ever read Daring Do?”
“Take several deep breaths…”
“Count backwards from ten…”
“Breath into a paper bag…”
“Tried it three times.”
The Spa Ponies had a rare look of exasperation on their faces. Twilight had tried nearly every technique they could suggest already, and it was beginning to seem that the trip was a waste of time.
“Look, I appreciate you trying,” Twilight assured. “I was really hoping you would have something that I haven’t tried. But ever since… ever since a certain incident, I’ve been trying them all. Don’t feel bad.”
By now, Twilight, Rarity, and Applejack were ready to leave. Rarity left the bits on the counter as her friends tried to assure them.
Aloe shook her head. “I’m still sorry we couldn’t help you, Twilight. If I come up with anything else, I’ll let you know.”
The lavender unicorn nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks anyway.”
With that, the three friends walked out, feeling slightly dejected.
“Sorry, Twi,” Applejack sighed. “I guess we just wasted your time.”
Twilight shook her head. “Believe me, you didn’t. I actually feel better than I have in days. Ever since I found out my brother was getting married, I’ve been kind of tense, and with everything that happened afterward… well, I just feel better.”
“But you’re still worried about Spike, I take it?” Rarity asked.
“Yeah… I’m sorry, but I think I better head home and try to talk to him again.”
“Yes, I need to get started on that order for Fancypants anyway,” Rarity said dismissively. “We can try again some other time. Good-bye, darlings!”
The remaining two waved her goodbye as she trotted off.
“Hey, Twi? You remember that apple pie Spike liked so much? Maybe a few slices of that will get him talking.”
“That’s a great idea!” Twilight said. “Do you have any made?”
“Granny should be pullin’ some out’a the oven right now. Why don’t ‘cha pop on by and get one?”
Picking up her pith helmet, Daring Do dusted it off and placed it on her head before giving the cliff one final look. Grinning that a good deal of Ahuizotl’s cats had just tumbled over it, she couldn’t help but mutter one final line.
“Next time, try taking the stairs.”
“This is so cool!” Scootaloo squealed, squirming with excitement. Something told Rainbow Dash it was only the fact that the filly was in her embrace that she didn’t start jumping around in excitement.
“I know, isn’t it? Twilight got me hooked on those books while I was in the hospital. I can’t get enough of them.”
“Are these all in Twilight’s library? Do you think she’d let me borrow them?”
“That’s what libraries are for, squirt!” Rainbow Dash answered, sitting up. The day had worn on into afternoon, and the heat was beginning to cool a little. “Why don’t we get back to flying? Your wings should be rested enough to get back to work.”
“Can we just read one more chapter?” Scootaloo begged.
“I’ve already read you six chapters, kid. You can read anytime, but learning to fly is something special. We need to get back to it. You were doing great, don’t stop now.”
“I guess you’re right…”
Applejack and Twilight walked up the dirt path towards the Apple Family home. The lavender mare stifled another yawn, earning a look from her companion.
“Uh, Twi… are you sure you’re okay?”
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Twi… is there anythin’ you’re not tellin’ us? About why you didn’t sleep last night?”
“There isn’t,” Twilight answered, a little too quickly.
“I’m not buyin’ that,” she answered flatly. “I think your keepin’ somethin’ from us. You never told us you’ve been tryin’ all them remedies.”
“I didn’t want you to worry,” Twilight snapped. She immediately regretted it and sighed. “Look, this whole thing with Spike is stressing me out. Let’s handle one crisis at a time, okay?”
By this point, they were nearly at the front door, so the cowpony merely nodded. “Just… just don’t be afraid to let me know if somethin’s botherin’ you, alright?”
“Don’t worry, I won’t,” she assured, though to Applejack it sounded hollow.
Before the earth pony could dwell on it anymore, a large explosion caused both of them to jump three feet in the air. They managed to land on their hooves, but were so stunned they couldn’t react for a few seconds.
“What in tarnation?” Applejack uttered. In a flash, she opened the farmhouse door and charged inside, Twilight close behind her.
They both ran to the kitchen. They immediately stopped dead, their eyes widening and irises shrinking.
The entire kitchen was covered with apple and baker’s dough. And in the center were two ponies covered in the same: Granny Smith, who looked like she was having a heart attack, and Apple Bloom, giving a sheepish smile.
“Uh… hey sis…”
“Apple Bloom, what happened?”
“I… we were just makin’ some pie… Granny said I could help. I’m sorry.”
“You kiddin’?” Granny Smith lit up. “My ticker hasn’t beat so fast since the cider makin’ competition! I feel great!”
Every other mare present breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, I’ll get a mop and we can start cleaning up,” Twilight offered.
“No, Twi,” Applejack interrupted. “You’ve got Spike to worry about. You go on home, we can handle it.”
“Well, if you’re sure…”
“Positive. I’m sure between us and Big Mac we can handle this.”
“He was out workin’ the fields,” Granny Smith explained. “He should be in soon.”
“Heck, he probably heard the explosion from way out there,” Applejack laughed.
“Um, do you mind if I used your bathroom before I left?” Twilight asked.
“Sure Twi, it’s right upstairs.”
“Thanks,” the unicorn answered, hurrying to the stairs at a noticeably quick pace.
Applejack turned back to her family, who were scraping the dough off of themselves, making at least some progress at getting themselves clean. “You two go on out the back and we’ll hose you off. Then we’ll start worryin’ ‘bout the kitchen.”
At that point, Big Macintosh burst into the house, making it to the kitchen in record time. “What the hay happened?”
“Just a little mess. Go get the mop and stuff while I hose these two off.”
As the eldest child obeyed, the youngest fumed. “Can’t we get Twilight to use her magic to clean us off?”
“Now Apple Bloom, Twi’s got things to do…”
“Twilight’s here?” Big Macintosh yelled, stopping in place and widening his eyes.
Applejack arched an eyebrow. “Uh, yeah… she’s upstairs, usin’ the…”
“You let her upstairs?” he cried in alarm.
His sister’s eyes widened in realization. “Oh my… sorry, I forgot.”
“No!” he cried, barreling out of the kitchen and to the stairs. In a flash he had climbed the entire flight, and in another he was in front of his bedroom door. With great strength he knocked it in. He was just quick enough to see a purple tail with a pink stripe exit through the window.
“No!” he cried again, running to the window. Looking out, he saw Twilight recover from the fall and race out of Sweet Apple Acres, clutching a familiar prize in her teeth.