That was a good word. To take everything right to the top, push as far, as fast, as hard as you could, until it just wasn't possible to do anything more.
Today was the day.
No matter what happened, she’d get it done. She’d said the same thing yesterday when she and the girls had gone kayaking, and the day before when they’d tried learning brass instruments, and the day before that, when they’d tried to help Bon-Bon make candy.
But despite their constant failure, she kept her spirits up; one day, something they tried would get her that most coveted of prizes - her Cutie Mark. Her special calling in life, the thing she was most good at, for like... ever.
Sometimes one of them would be surprisingly good at something they tried, but you could just tell it wasn’t their thing. Apple Bloom was pretty good at building and fixing stuff, but she still didn't have her Mark, so it was obviously not right for her. Same with Sweetie Belle and singing - boy, that filly had a voice, but again, the lack of a Cutie Mark was evidence enough that she was not a pop-star to be. Similarly, there were things they tried that clearly none of them were cut out for. Sweetie Belle was never meant to be a hang glider, and Apple Bloom was in no way good at caring for animals.
But Scootaloo could just feel it. Every time she took to the air on her scooter, and every time she almost managed to glide instead of fall, she just knew.
She was meant to be a flier.
She was meant to be extreme.
Scootaloo tapped her helmet, making sure it was in place and steady. Today was the day for sure.
Weeks of preparation had gone into this day, and not even the girls knew about it; she was gonna get her Mark today, and it was gonna be the best surprise when she rocketed up to the clubhouse with awesome branded all over her flank. She’d mapped out the perfect route through Ponyville to get to the highest speed, without having to worry about dodging ponies or turning heaps of corners; she’d go from here, the tall hills just outside town, right through the straightest low-traffic streets in Ponyville, and then onto Mane Street where hopefully, this late in the afternoon, there wouldn’t be so many ponies around. But it was a wide street, anyway - she could just dodge them. Easy peasy. From Mane Street, out the other side of town, and a little to the right, there was a huge cliff with a fairly big drop to the ground below, but nothing she’d get too hurt by if that thing happened that she wouldn’t let herself mention.
As an extra precaution, she’d asked Derpy to lay some clouds there in exchange for a muffin, so if it didn't work she could at least aim for them and not have to worry.
Yeah. This is it. Not gonna fail today – gah! I said it anyway!
Oh well. It’s not happening. I won’t even need those clouds - I'm not gonna fail.
With that, she flared her wings, traced a hoof across the ground, and took off with a buzz, gaining good speed thanks to the steep slope. She knew that, if she flapped hard enough, she’d be able to keep all of the speed she gained here as she scooted the level roads of Ponyville, and she could already tell; if she kept pace she’d be flying by nightfall.
In moments she’d entered the town’s boundaries and, as predicted, the streets were practically deserted. It was a strain to keep up her speed on level ground, but she couldn’t lose any momentum or it wouldn’t work. And it would be so worth it.
Soon enough she found herself on Mane Street. There were a few ponies around, but it was nothing she couldn’t handle - she found it easy to weave a path through them, keeping her turns wide to avoid losing precious speed.
This was definitely her day; she could practically feel herself starting to float into the air, or at least become a little lighter. If she concentrated, she could almost feel the scooter taking a little more time to touch the ground each time it bounced.
Maybe if she just shut her eyes and tried, she’d take off, just like... No, have to keep focused, or else-
Ah horseapples. This might be tight. “Gangway!” she called, but she was already too close to swerve around them without crashing; it was go between them or lose speed. On second look, she saw that it was Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle. She knew Dash would understand. Especially once she came back and showed off her new Cutie Mark.
Yeah, so worth it.
Positioning her scooter just right in order to zip between the two ponies, she realised her mistake - far too late. There were three ponies, not two; Fluttershy was right there between them. There was no time to waste; Scootaloo reversed her wing-beats and hit the brakes as hard as possible. She could be sad later, she guessed. Right now, she had to make this crash as small as it could be.
There was nothing dramatic about it, really. She'd slowed down as much as she could have, and she'd been in a couple of collisions worse than this one would be. She felt her scooter hit Fluttershy, watched as she flipped over the other pegasus' back and grimaced as her scooter slammed her head hard into the ground with a crack. That was about it, really.
Her ears rang, but that didn’t stop her. She got up again, swaying and disoriented, but still trying to come up with a decent apology. She should have been more careful. If she’d just been quicker on the brakes...
She began to head back towards Fluttershy, bracing herself for a scolding from probably everypony. Then she realised that the ringing hadn’t stopped, and that... that wasn’t ringing. That was Fluttershy screaming. She was hurt, a lot.
“Whoa, are you okay?” she called, rushing straight to the older mare’s side, but she could barely hear herself speaking. “What’s wrong? Come on!”
She reached out with a trembling hoof, offering what little comfort she could, when suddenly Rainbow Dash leapt straight towards her, an expression of fear and unrepressed anger twisting her face. “Out of the way!” she growled, shoving Scootaloo harshly away. “And don’t touch her!”
She fell hard on her side and didn’t move again, feeling numb, helpless and cold. Fluttershy’s shrill cries of pain chilled her to the bone. A normal crash didn’t turn out like this; she’d hit way harder things going way faster than she had been, and come out with nothing more than a scratch... or maybe a broken leg.
So what happened this time? Why was Fluttershy in so much pain? And why was Rainbow so angry at her?
Why? she asked herself, as she watched Rainbow panic, flitting haphazardly around the screaming mare, calling her name again, reaching out to touch her and pulling her hoof back at the last moment.
Then Rainbow Dash turned her way again.
And Scootaloo was afraid.
“You!” she’d shouted. "It's your fault!"
What came after that?
Rainbow Dash barely remembered. It had all been a blur. One second she’d been fretting over Fluttershy, as helpless as she’d been when she started this whole mess – the next second, with a single stroke of her wings, she’d been towering above Scootaloo. The filly’s eyes had narrowed in fear as she looked up at her lifelong idol.
With her hooves raised, angry at everything, furious at the one who had hurt her Fluttershy - the next step had been obvious, if brutal. Hurt the filly, too. She’d been so close to doing it. And she'd wanted to - to really hurt her.
She remembered thinking, if only Twilight hadn't stopped her...
Thank Celestia and Luna that she had.
She jerked, beating her wings a few times to steady herself in the air. After everything she’d been through, she should have known better... and yet she’d been just one more second from hurting somepony again. Somepony who looked up to her. A friend.
She could still feel Twilight’s gaze on her as she was gripped tightly with magic, torn away from Scootaloo and forced to meet the eye of the most powerful unicorn there was, as far as Dash knew. “I’m going to count to three,” Twilight said, keeping calm in the face of adversity; keeping cool for her friends’ sakes. “Then I’m taking Scootaloo and Fluttershy to the hospital."
"And Rainbow Dash...” Her eyes weren’t cold, weren’t angry, as they might have been. Or even should have been, given what she’d been about to do. It definitely wasn’t the reaction Rainbow had expected. No, Twilight’s eyes were full of sadness and compassion as she said, “Come and see them later, when you’re feeling better.”
Twilight had counted out three seconds, looking her dead in the eye - three agonisingly long seconds, showing guts Rainbow had only seen in her a few times before - and then with a flash, she was alone in the street with nothing but aimless fury, and maybe a little later some bystanders who came to see what the screaming was about. But by the time anypony else arrived, the place would have been empty. Twilight, Fluttershy and Scootaloo were gone, and she’d been in up in the air, flying away to... wherever the heck she was now.
Technically, she had tried to follow them, to make sure Fluttershy was okay, and see her into the hospital. But she’d been angry, and Twilight hadn’t let her.
“Is this really how you want them to see you?”
Now afternoon had turned to evening; the sky was growing darker and the light grew more golden as time wore on. As she flew through skies she'd rarely ventured into before, she found herself exploring parts of herself that she thought she could hide, too - and even parts she hadn't realised were there.
Now, with some cool air in her lungs, some energy used up and some innocent clouds brutally murdered, she understood. Twilight didn't stop her from hurting a friend. She saved her from hurting herself.
She found herself pondering the same questions, over and over. Could she have forgiven herself if she’d gone through with it? Could Scootaloo or Twilight?
And now, she'd come full circle. Fluttershy...
What was it that had come between them this time? She’d seen it in her eyes - and in the way she had glanced away, hesitating to answer. “We’re fine now, right ‘Shy?”
Anypony could have seen how much she'd wanted to say yes. How desperately she wanted that to be true. She probably hated that she couldn’t, but something had stopped her anyway. Dash remembered thinking that maybe ‘Shy didn’t forgive her at all.
She couldn’t think of anything else it could be. For one thing, ‘Shy was pretty much the nicest pony in existence. No way in heck would she ever let anypony off for being mean. Adding to that the fact that all of Fluttershy's problems since she'd woken up had been her fault, one way or another... Dash could just tell. This was her fault too.
There was nothing worse than waking up in a hospital. Except maybe waking up in a hospital, only to find that you can't move your wings anymore, you’ve had about ninety good night’s sleeps straight - not including the days - and that one of your best friends nearly destroyed herself. And she was pretty sure little could come close to waking up and finding out that the same friend had been a tear-streaked, psychotic stalker pony the whole time you were gone, sneaking in to watch you sleep for the past few months. Then to find out she’d been living in your place, too. And then she goes and tells you that she loves you.
Looking back, Dash knew it had all been pretty dumb on her part. And hard to justify.
Heck, for all she knew, Fluttershy might just have been playing along this whole time. Element of Kindness, and all that - Shy’d never do anything to hurt her friends if she could help it. However much she didn’t want to admit it, it was possible that everything up till now had been trying not to hurt her feelings.
With a jolt, Dash remembered how much time Fluttershy had spent hanging out with Twilight in the last few days. She’d even told the unicorn all about their... situation.
Did Twilight know something she didn’t?
She resolved to ask her about it later, when she saw her. But first, she had to thank her; not only for intervening, but for helping Fluttershy get straight to the hospital. She knew there was no other way they’d have gotten her there without hurting her even more.
And maybe... maybe for helping Scootaloo, as well. She'd heard a pretty loud crack, just a moment after the crash itself. While she’d only had eyes for Fluttershy, Twilight must have seen the whole thing. Protection from the crazy rainbow pegasus couldn’t be the only thing that made her take Scootaloo, too.
Rainbow sighed, doing a barrel roll to clear her thoughts. She took a deep breath of the cool, fresh air, forcing a smile onto her face. Pinkie Pie said even a fake smile can turn into a real one sometimes, and Celestia knew she could do with a real smile.
Scootaloo was just like her. Headstrong, excitable, obsessed with coolness. She’d always laughed at how closely she saw herself reflected in the little filly, but that made the differences between them all the more prominent. She’d been an excellent flier all her life, and she was good enough at everything else that she didn’t need to worry about much at all - she could work hard at what she wanted to, do the work she had to do and then spend the rest of a day sleeping in a tree without anypony being worse off for it. But Scootaloo was different; while she dreamed of the Wonderbolts, the Squirt just dreamed of being able to fly. And if anything, that made her more determined than Rainbow Dash - absolutely adamant that she could be as good as anypony else. Not being able to fly, she pushed herself to prove that she could be just as strong, just as fast - that she had a right to be just as proud, even with her disadvantages.
And Dash knew exactly who the younger pegasus wanted to prove herself to the most. All the times when Scootaloo came to watch her practice, or gushed on and on about how awesome she was - Dash could just imagine the thoughts running through her head at the same time.
Look at me, Rainbow Dash! You’re everything I want to be. I can’t even fly yet, but you just wait! One day, I’ll fly higher than you, faster than you, better than you. I'll prove to everypony that I can be as good as them; but I’ll to prove to you that I can be better. And I’m gonna do it. You watch. Soon, I won’t be that little orange filly you used to know - I’ll win my first race, my tenth, my thousandth. I'll be the next Best Young Flier, and I'll be the next Captain of the Wonderbolts, too! After you, of course. So you just wait.
Rainbow Dash was still waiting, but maybe Scoots was right. Maybe she would be beaten eventually, surpassed by the same kid who used to get covered in tree sap all the time. It was a competitive world, but if anypony could surpass her, it'd probably be Scootaloo.
To be honest, she wasn’t really the best pony to look up to. That filly thought she was the best of the best, but really - what did she have to her name but a boring job, a bad temper and a marefriend who she couldn't stop hurting? She was no hero. She wasn’t even a Wonderbolt yet.
But maybe it wasn’t about that.
And so she decided. She'd be the best she could be, even if that wasn’t as good as some other ponies. Because what really mattered was that that little filly said she was the best and she meant it - cause there was no way in heck that Rainbow Dash wasn’t going to at least try to live up to that kid’s expectations of her.
Even if she didn’t quite believe it herself.
It was dark. Shadows danced on the walls, flickering in the soft glow of the moonlight that sifted through the leaves of the tree outside. Judging by what she could see, she was in the hospital again. And she was all alone.
The solitude made the dark seem... darker. Not oppressive, though. She wasn’t scared. But in the quiet, with nopony to talk to and no solace in their company, the light seemed to just drain out of the room, and so did the warmth.
Fluttershy wished Rainbow Dash were there with her. She wished she had been able to tell her that they were ‘fine now,’ especially when Rainbow had so clearly been hiding her own uncertainty all day - pretending to be happy for her sake. What would she think now? That she didn’t forgive her at all?
She regretted being the cause of so much pain - her cruel words ran over and over in her mind, echoing back and forth off the walls of her mind. She was the reason she was alone. Not even Rainbow Dash could stand to be around her, now.
She remembered the explosion of agony as something hit her, and could only wonder if it was some sort of justice; the world’s special way of telling her that if others couldn’t forgive her, she shouldn’t even try to forgive herself.
But suddenly, none of those things mattered.
As she lay alone in the empty hospital room, she just wished it would all be over.
Everything was happening so quickly. She just wanted to run and hide; back to her cozy little cottage and under her comfy little blankets so she could just lay there, where nopony could find her, and take a big, long break.
She also wanted her friends. She wanted Angel Bunny to tell her she’d put too much cucumber in his salad, and Rarity to tell her she was oh-so-beautiful with all her ‘natural grace’. Pinkie Pie would make her laugh - she always did, somehow. And maybe Applejack would bring over a bushel of apples and say hello, like she often did. And Twilight... she could talk to Twilight, and be treated with respect rather than judged. And Twilight would almost always give her a straight answer.
But most of all, she wanted Rainbow Dash. She wished that she could be the mare Rainbow deserved. She wanted to catch up to the filly who’d changed her life, who’d turned her world upside down in a single flash of colour. She wanted to be with her, to fly beside her - to be able to keep up with her and not have to worry that she’d be left behind one day. That, or she wanted to be the solid, dependable thing that Rainbow would always remember and come back home to. One day, she wanted to be able say ‘I love you’ and know that Dash already knew that. That it was everything they were, so much that the words themselves were just a habit and didn't even need to be said.
Soon, her eyelids began to droop, but it seemed sleep wasn’t on the schedule. She busied herself with counting the shifting faces made in the shadows on the wall. Some were happy, some sad. Most were neutral, or barely resembled faces enough to tell. But the faces soon became entire ponies, and the ponies became branches, and the branches became trees, and the trees became clouds, and onto those clouds she flew, in the dead of night, waiting patiently for the sun to rise and become a rose, while a Rainbow made its way towards her.
And with a start she awoke, alone in the wards once more with nopony to greet her. Nopony to throw her a party, or tell her she was loved, or just comfort her with their presence. Nopony to sleep at her bedside and wait for her to wake up. Alone, with nothing but endless thoughts spinning in circles forever, and the faces on the wall that wouldn't let her sleep.
Twilight wandered through Ponyville, wondering why the rain was falling only on her. There were no clouds in sight, and thus the rain itself was an anomaly which really deserved to be studied. But she had other things on her mind, and her stomach agreed.
Oh, what she would do for a daisy sandwich. Those delectable, scrumptious white petals, and some good mayonnaise… But no. This rain would never allow it. Maybe when she got back to the Library, Spike would offer to make her one from the goodness of his cold, draconic heart…
She jerked herself awake, looking about the same as any other pony who’d woken up from an uncomfortable sleep; drool leaked from the corner of her mouth, her eyes were somewhat bloodshot from trying to stay awake, and her hair somewhat resembled a porcupine. Of course, only the young nurse-in-training knew that - Twilight herself was ignorant of her new appearance.
The filly shuffled on her hooves, doing her best to remain professional and not laugh, as Twilight’s bed-mane swayed lazily in the air currents circling the waiting room. “You asked me to make sure you were awake exactly one hour before you were allowed to see Fluttershy and Scootaloo, remember? And, uh, there’s uh... There’s a bathroom down that hall and to the right, if you want to, you know. Fix yourself up.”
She saw where the Nurse-To-Be’s eyes were trying not to linger, and past experience told her exactly what it was. She looked up, struggling to catch a glimpse of her mane, knowing already that it was futile. “Is it that bad?”
“Well... yeah. You look like a squatter.”
Twilight Sparkle - Town Librarian, Bearer of the Element of Magic, and newly appointed Squatter of the Hospital Waiting Room - headed straight to the bathroom, led by the younger nurse. What was her name again? Oh well. It didn’t matter.
As she made herself presentable, Twilight reflected on everything that had happened the previous afternoon. In a show of loyalty that Rainbow Dash might be proud of – loyalty, or just plain stubbornness – she had planted her plot and refused to move when they’d said she had to leave. They could at least be grateful she wasn’t sneaking in; in truth, she was there to make sure Rainbow didn’t try exactly that in the middle of the night. She’d decided that to best not disturb the other patients, the first thing she’d do if she saw Dash would be to teleport away with the pegasus in tow, multiple times if need be. She’d been ready to do so all night, just in case. Luckily, it hadn’t been necessary.
Twilight soon found her thoughts wandering to her other friends. Fluttershy was perfectly fine – aside from the obvious, of course. The doctors said that besides the pain she had only sustained a couple of bruises, and nothing that couldn’t be easily take care of - news that Rainbow would no doubt be glad to hear. Scootaloo’s condition had been a bit more serious; as she’d had suspected, the younger pegasus had gotten a concussion, and going into shock couldn’t have helped either. Both of them were fine now, more or less; a good night’s rest was all they had needed.
With her mane at least partially pacified, she left the bathroom and began the long trek back to the waiting room to squat for a while longer. Not long into the journey, a flash of rainbow streaked up beside her.
“Hey,” Dash said, and with a sudden flash of purple magic they found themselves not far from Sugarcube Corner.
Oh no... Twilight sighed as she realised that she’d gone ahead and teleported anyway. She could have said good morning first at least. As soon as the slight disorientation went away, she could see Dash charging up for something. She interrupted whatever it was with a cheery, “Good morning!”
Dash paused, exhaled, and whatever irritation she’d had seemed to dissipate quickly enough. “Yeah, hi. For Celestia’s sake, Twi’, what was that?”
“That was me being startled after spending all night prepared to teleport you out of here - there - so that you don’t wake anypony up. Judging by what nearly just happened, I’d say I wasn’t entirely wrong. ” She laughed as a small blush sprang up on Rainbow’s face. “So, how are you feeling?”
“Better. Besides, that was your fault. I was fine until you zapped us like that.” Suddenly, Rainbow let out a small chuckle. It was a good sign. If she could laugh now, she wasn’t still angry - or she had it mostly under control, which was just as good as far as anypony was concerned.
“They’ll let us in to see them in a little while. You were a bit early.” Nodding to Sugarcube Corner, she asked, “Would you like to get something to eat?”
After a long glance in the direction of the hospital, Dash sighed. “Sure.”
They walked in silence, and as they did Twilight took a moment to observe. There was definitely none of the anger from last night there - at least none she could see. Aside from seeming a little more introspective, Dash appeared to be more or less back to normal.
The bell rang as they walked in, and Rainbow was immediately glomped by a pink ball of joy. “Dashie!”
“Uh, hey Pinkie,” she managed to say, after giving up on any thoughts of escape.
“It’s been so long since I saw you! Where’ve you been? Wait, never mind - you’ve been with Fluttershy. I remember because I was gonna come and visit, but Rarity said you guys needed some special alone time and if anypony knows anything about special things it’s me, and I could just tell that Rarity knew what she was talking about too! So instead of going to visit you I made a surprise party instead, and it’s tomorrow!” Something about that didn’t sit right with her though, and after realising that she’d completely spoiled the surprise, she launched into a tsunami of apologies to herself.
“Pinkie,” Twilight interrupted, breaking her out of the odd little funk she’d been in. ” Do you think you can get Rainbow and I something to eat?”
“Sure!” She put on a gruff workhorse’s voice. “What can Ah do ya for, missy?”
Put off by the sudden change, Twilight took an extra moment to decide. “I’ll just have a cupcake.”
Suddenly Pinkie slipped back into her normal voice, and turned to face her winged compatriot. “And how about you, Dashie?”
“Uh... Do you have anything other than cupcakes?”
“Not today!” Dash facehoofed. “I could make you something if you want.”
“Alright - how quick can you make an apple pie?”
“As quick as a ninja-pony can turn into a lamp!” With that she sped off into the kitchen, leaving her friends to wonder...
“What the heck was she talking about?”
“I have no idea.”
They moved on from that soon enough, instead returning to the subject that had been swirling away in their minds since the day before. Twilight decided to take a seat at one of the tables, while Dash stood nearby, looking around at nothing in particular.
Twilight broke the silence. “Would you like to talk?”
Dash sat down beside her and sighed. “Alright. What do you want to know?”
“First of all; why were you so angry last night?”
“I guess I was just afraid.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, pretty much this whole time I’ve been trying to protect Fluttershy from everything - and then just yesterday I find out that she’s had this problem with her wings since her operation, and she’s been hiding it from me. It kinda changes everything; her recovering is important. She should have told me, instead of trying to do everything herself. I mean, that’s my job! I’m supposed to do everything for her!” She tapped her flank, where the relatively new addition to her Cutie Mark still sat - three small, pink butterflies, just like Fluttershy’s. “Anyway, right after she told me, this stupid crash happened and I couldn’t even do anything about it. And then I blew up.”
Twilight nodded. She had been doing some thinking after all. “But what were you angry at?”
Dash sighed. “Me, I guess, and... maybe with Fluttershy just a little.”
“...Yeah.” She looked away, not meeting her eye, and Twilight could sympathise.
“But I’m not angry anymore! It was an accident; she’s too much like me, and I wouldn’t crash into somepony on purpose. Something happened, or she made a mistake, and it just sucks that she hit ‘Shy instead of me or you. But stuff happens that we can’t really control – I know that better than anypony, I guess.”
“What about before that? You asked Fluttershy if you two were ‘okay,’ and she couldn’t answer.”
“I don’t know. I was hoping you’d know – she did tell you what was going on, right? I mean, she didn’t just... you know, say it happened and then chicken out on the story?”
“She told me everything,” Twilight replied. “I know why she couldn’t answer you, but to be honest, I don’t think you’d believe me.”
Rainbow Dash flatlined, levelling her eyes as if to say, ‘Are you kidding me?’
“If I could guess I wouldn’t have asked you for help in the first place.”
“Okay, let me put it this way; you two had an argument and, as a result, something isn’t right between you - things aren’t quite as good as you want them to be.”
Rainbow nodded. That was easy to follow.
“Let’s say, also, that whatever the cause of your trouble is, it lies with either you or Fluttershy. Whose fault is it, whatever this is?”
Twilight smiled wryly, hardly surprised at all. “How do you figure?”
“She could never do anything I wouldn’t forgive her for. It has to be something I did.”
“Of course. And in any other case, that might be true. But she also forgives you, Rainbow Dash.” She nodded and took a bite from her cupcake, thinking intently about how to prove what she was trying to say. “The thing is, you have moved on. But has she?”
“I don’t know! Geez, why can’t you just tell me straight out?”
“I’m in the process! Just listen. I’ll lay it out again; you argued, you kissed and made up, and you both forgive each other and love each other, and everything should be perfect.”
With a grumpy huff, Dash said, “So, what’s wrong? We should be cool, right? The whole thing is in the past.”
“That’s where you’re slightly wrong. It’s just water under the bridge for you, but for her, it’s different.”
“What do you mean?”
“Fluttershy is, for all intents and purposes, the Spirit of Kindness, Rainbow Dash. She can’t just say something she considers cruel, or even simply unkind, and let it go like you can. She still hasn’t forgiven herself.”
For a while, Rainbow didn't reply, just letting it sink in. It was a lot to think about.
It was also incredibly obvious. She’d thought earlier about how ‘Shy never let anypony off for being mean - it just hadn’t occurred to her that Fluttershy had done something mean, because it wasn’t even her fault in the first place. But of course she’d be the one to get angry at herself over it, even if she wasn’t to blame. As a matter of fact, that was probably a fault in itself – one of very, very few, as far as she was concerned.
Minutes passed, and she pondered all the implications of that. She realised that, between this and her thoughts the night before while she was cooling off, she was learning a lot about Fluttershy and their relationship - things that had really skipped her mind the first time around. It was just sad that this had to be the reminder for it all.
Suddenly, Pinkie popped up and dumped a steaming hot apple pie at their table, smiling as she said, “One pie, a bunch of apples and a whole lot of heart! At least, that’s what Applejack says apple pies are made of. I put some sugar and honey in there too, just in case.”
“Thanks,” Dash said. “Do you have a bag or something? I want to take some for ‘Shy, too.”
“Uh-huh!” As she scurried off, Twilight stood.
“We should probably go. We’ll be able to visit Fluttershy and Scootaloo soon.”
“Oh, right.” They headed towards the door, waiting for Pinkie to return.
She did, and as they said goodbye and left she called out, “Dashie! Forget everything I said about the surprise party tomorrow!”
Dash struggled to remember it in the first place. To be honest, she hadn’t been listening anyway. “Uh... what surprise party?”
Pinkie winked. “I like the way you think.”
As they walked back to the hospital, Twilight asked, "So what are you going to do?"
"With Scootaloo,” she continued. "I'm leaving it up to you to handle it. After all, you’re practically a big sister to her. She’ll listen to what you say. So again; how are you going to deal with this? That filly needs to learn her lesson - a trip to the hospital might do the trick for some ponies, but if she's as much like you as we both know she is..."
Dash nodded. "If she's anything like me there's no way she'll learn just from a bump on the head.”
"Right. I trust you'll do the right thing."
It wasn't often that these sorts of things fell on Rainbow Dash's shoulders, but she knew why why it had to be the case this time. Being one of the few people Scootaloo truly looked up to, whatever she said would be taken seriously. Anything she told the filly to do, she'd likely do it; any advice she gave, or any criticism, would be taken to heart for better or worse. She wondered if this was how parents felt all the time. It was an odd feeling.
A thought struck her, and she turned again to the unicorn beside her.
"Are Scootaloo and Fluttershy in different rooms?"
"I think so. Why?"
"Uh... who should I go and see first?"
“That's a tough question. You need to talk to both of them, I think, but at a guess I'd say you'll choose Fluttershy anyway."
She was probably right. There were things that needed to be worked out between them - and, you know, she really wanted to see her marefriend again. She wasn't even gonna deny it - no matter what Twilight or anyone said about it just being a scare, or told her that ‘Shy was okay, she had to see for herself. Also, while she wasn’t worried about anything she herself had done anymore, she was definitely worried about ‘Shy. That filly filly had been getting too worked up about everything - they both had, really. They just needed to slow down and take a breather. get things back on track.
And then there was Scootaloo. There was no lack of things to clear up there, either; she'd just about scared the feathers off the poor filly. And who could blame her for being afraid, when her hero blamed her for something that was really just an accident? Aside from that she'd actually been injured, not just hurt. Beneath her mostly dissipated frustration was a film of worry, which she’d only noticed hours after the incident. It had been too late then, though - she'd been off in the sky, while the Squirt was sleeping all her troubles away.
It was a large responsibility that Twilight had given her - to teach a filly a lesson. To tell the truth, she had no idea what to do about it. She needed time to think - and who better to think with than Fluttershy? After they cleared the air between them, Fluttershy could help her figure some stuff out. Or if not, even just having her there would probably help.
"Yeah, you're right. I'm seeing 'Shy first."
Twilight chuckled. "Then I'll go and keep Scootaloo company until you get there."
Dash nodded, and they continued on to the hospital, where their friends were waiting.
Rainbow Dash would be here soon. And when she was, everything would be okay. Rainbow made everything okay, and even if things went bad she always tried her best to fix it.
Fluttershy had been up all night, she realised. Waiting, waiting, watching the sun rise slowly. Promising herself that Rainbow would come. Because to be honest, she really wasn’t sure anymore. The sunlight was like the exact opposite of her thoughts; pure and clear, as opposed to murky and muddled.
What could she say? She'd hurt Rainbow Dash because of something she couldn't deal with herself, and doing so found yet another way that she could wound her closest friends.
What kind of comfort could she offer? How could she apologise? "I'm so sorry, Rainbow - it's not you. It's me." True, but terrible. It was like one of those badly written romance novels she and Rarity loved to laugh at on their spa days. Nothing that cheesy could ever achieve anything worthwhile - it’d probably just make things worse.
Perhaps a simple "I love you," might do. But no - It wasn't as if those three words fixed everything. If only it were that simple.
She wished her thoughts were like the sunlight was now, aside from the headache it was causing her. Maybe if she could think straight, she could figure out what to do. Or maybe, she thought, as her eyelids began to droop and she felt the onset of sleep again, it would all become clear after a short nap.
"Knock knock," Dash called, entering the room slowly.
She looked around for a moment, before her eyes finally rested on her marefriend, bedridden and probably a mess. But, while she couldn't keep the worry out of her expression, a small, weary smile still crept onto her face. Fluttershy was okay, and nothing else mattered right then.
"Hi," she replied, immediately regretting it - it sounded so awkward. "Um... How has your day been?"
For some reason Rainbow's smile got a little bit bigger, and she let out a little laugh. How she could smile at all when she was standing in the same room as a pony she had every right to ignore, Fluttershy had no idea.
"Better, now that I'm with you." That made even less sense. Nevertheless, Dash trotted around to the bedside and gave her a tentative but warm hug. "I love you."
Her breath hitched. I love you.
That was a good thing, right? But then, why did it seem... bittersweet? It was lovely to hear them - those three words she’d come to adore, the ones she looked forward to every day...
But for some reason she couldn’t explain, she felt afraid. Suddenly, she didn’t want to let go, and so she didn’t let Rainbow pull away from the hug.
"I love you too." For a while they just held each other. It was nice, not having to worry about anything. But of course, it couldn’t last forever.
Rainbow was here, and she was going to make everything better... or was she? It seemed like she was avoiding something. A very important something. Maybe something she didn’t really want to talk about.
It must be something terrible, she thought, scrunching her eyes up and trying to prepare for the worst.
“I got you some apple pie.”
Fluttershy’s jaw nearly dropped at the absurdity of that statement, even as Dash managed to leave her hooves, serve a slice of pie, and put it on the table beside her. The polite thing to do was to thank her - which she did. But she could tell she was still avoiding whatever it was.
“Uh... yeah. Oh man, how do I say this?"
"Say what?" Fluttershy was so nervous that even those two words were hard to get out. She was really afraid now; what was it, that Rainbow Dash herself was scared to talk about?
"Well, I think..." Rainbow took a breath, trying to choose her words carefully. "We need to talk about some things, I guess."
Her heart skipped a beat, and she took a moment to reply. "Um, w-what sort of things?”
"It's just... just something that I need to do, okay?"
That wasn’t helping at all. A lump formed in her throat, and she looked away. She feared that if she looked into those pools of magenta and saw rejection...
"I'm sorry," Rainbow said. "Not for yesterday, or the day before - well, yeah, I still am sorry for that. But I mean for... well, for pushing you so hard, so fast."
She tried to keep a level head, even as thoughts of terrible, terrible things blitzed her tired mind. She and Rarity had always laughed at how badly written those romance novels were, but this was exactly how the break-ups always went. If just one of them was even a little bit realistic...
“I’m sorry I took things so quickly,” he said, but his apology had come far, far too late, and she humphed, turning away so that she didn’t have to look at his big ugly face. For what had come after his ‘quickening,’ there could be no forgiveness. Ever. “I never should have drunk all of your booze, or slept with your sister. I realise now that I’m really not fit to be with anypony, so... I’m leaving. I hope you find somepony better than I was. This is goodbye.”
Goodbye. The thread of fear wound itself a little tighter. If this became like one of those stories... If Rainbow Dash said that word...
She might never be able to laugh again.
"Twilight's helped me realise some things, and I’ve had a lot of time to think anyway. Kinda. Can you believe that with all that’s gone on, we've only been marefriends for like a week or two? After I nearly lost you, I told myself I'd tell you I love you no matter what, whether you loved me or not. It was pretty much the first thing I said to you, after three months. How were you meant take that, when you pretty much just came back from- you know, just woke up?”
“B-but I did love you,” she said, but she still couldn’t look out from behind her curtain of pink. “I... I do love you.”
“It still wasn't fair on you. You needed some time to adjust to everything; you were gone for so long, and with everything that happened... I mean, you still can’t even fly! And then I had to go and put myself into all that, too? I haven’t exactly been thinking of you as much as I should have been, and I’m sorry."
“I-it’s not your fault,” she replied. Like so many times before, she was glad of her mane’s length - but she was sad, too. She’d never expected to have to hide from Rainbow Dash.
“It wasn't the best thing to do. I rushed you into everything - being with me, deciding to have the operation, your therapy stuff - I was even rushing myself, trying to get you back to normal as soon as possible. And you wanted that too. We just went speeding ahead together, off to who knows where. And look where a tiny little bump in the road has gotten us. Thing is, ‘Shy… I think we need to slow down a little."
“I wasn’t thinking of you at all, and that’s my fault. So, you know, I think we should take some time off. You know... not with each other.”
The lump in her throat suddenly became a good deal larger, and her eyes began to tear up. Those poorly-written stories were more realistic than she’d ever realised - here she was, taking the brunt of something she’d laughed at so many times before, and it was heartwrenching and painful.
Rainbow laughed and patted her on the back. "One day we’ll get you back in the air, for sure. But it doesn't have to be any time soon. What do you say we just take it easy? Heck, look how tired we are just getting everything ready for you to learn to fly again. And we didn't even hit the hard stuff yet. For now you just need to rest. Go see Pinkie Pie or Rarity. They’ve been wondering where we've been all week."
She didn’t want to ask. She didn’t want to get her hopes up, and have them dashed. Was this breaking up and trying to be nice about it, or was it just like Rainbow said - that they just needed a breather? She didn’t want to ask. But she did anyway.
"W-what about us?"
"Well, I think I sorta skipped a few steps when I moved in with you before we even started dating, and I kinda technically still have to rebuild my place as well.” Dash laughed suddenly, quite happily. "There's another thing we should be doing. Going on dates and stuff! We haven’t done that even once. Seriously, what kind of marefriend am I? I'm screwing everything up."
Fluttershy sniffed, prepared to cry, and then stopped dead in her tracks. Should be going on dates?
She couldn’t help it - she peeked out from behind her mane, looked into her best friend’s eyes, and all of her fears unwound themselves. This time, to Dash’s worry and astonishment, she did cry. But she definitely wasn’t sad. As Rainbow fretted, wondering what the heck she’d done this time, Fluttershy hugged her again and smiled.
“I love you.” That was all that really needed to be said.
Rainbow Dash relaxed, then leaned in a little and kissed her forehead. “I love you too.”
Perhaps those three words were more powerful than she’d thought. They might not fix everything, but they were definitely a good starting point.
Deep down inside, there was a part of her that was still sad and bitter and regretful - locked inside a cage with everything she wished she never done. It was the same part that still cried about what she’d done at the Grand Galloping Gala, and that time with Rarity and Pinkie Pie and all those other ponies she’d been horrible to, the day she learned ‘assertiveness’ from Iron Will.
But something was changing.
She loved Rainbow Dash. And what was love? Trust, maybe? It definitely needed that to last long. If love was offering up her heart and soul, trusting somepony else with everything she was, good and bad, wasn’t that just like giving them the keys to that cage of regret? If she wanted to give all of herself to somepony, didn’t that give them right to forgive her… for her?
Maybe she was wrong. Maybe she’d have to live with her regrets for a while longer. But at least, in Rainbow’s warm embrace, they were easy to ignore. Rainbow Dash didn’t care what she’d done - she loved her, regardless. Rainbow Dash would protect her, and make everything better. She’d not been wrong in thinking that.
And soon, melting into Rainbow’s arms, Fluttershy at last fell into a good, long sleep.
"Hey," Dash called as she walked inside the room. At the sound of her voice both Twilight and Scootaloo looked her way. They both looked happy enough, but Scootaloo also seemed a touch apprehensive. It wasn't all that surprising.
Normally she might have squealed, or yelled, or been otherwise excited that Rainbow Dash herself came to see her in hospital - but there was none of that now. Just a passive look that probably hid a whole storm of worries.
"I'll leave you two alone then," Twilight said, moving from the bedside to join Rainbow at the door. "I hope you're feeling better soon, Scootaloo!"
With that she left, and Rainbow made her way into the room, looking around before meeting Scootaloo's eyes and smiling a little too widely. Even after working out her own worries with Fluttershy, this was far more awkward than she'd imagined it would be.
"Heya kiddo." At least that had come out right.
Scootaloo was looking a little the worse for wear, but nothing terrible - a little pale, maybe, with a fairly nasty bruise on the back of her head. She could relate; she'd had no shortage of those.
"Hey Rainbow Dash," came the reply at last, after a pause that was a bit too long.
"Look, uh... I..." Darnit. This really wasn't going well. Even worse, Scootaloo was meeting her eye - it was hard enough to apologise face to face, but this... Something about today and awkward topics was killing her usually sterling social abilities. But maybe if, like with Fluttershy, she could at least get the important part out, then it might get easier afterwards.
"I'm sorry. For last night. And I'm not angry with you - it was wrong that I was angry at all. Uh... yeah. Sorry."
Scootaloo sat observantly, scrutinising Dash’s sincerity from what could only be every possible angle.
"It's cool, I guess. I'm sorry for hitting Fluttershy, too. Is she alright?"
"She's fine - she's just down the hall actually. And it's not your fault - we both know it was an accident, so we'll just leave it at that."
There was a slightly awkward pause in the conversation. "Saying sorry is tough," Rainbow huffed.
Scootaloo broke into a smile. "Who cares about all that anyway? Stupid namby-pamby apologies." She faked a gag, and then sat back proudly. "You came to see me! That's awesome."
"Yeah," Dash said half-heartedly - and then, realising that was a good thing, she adjusted her tone. "I mean, heck yeah!"
"You know what? This totally makes my headache worth it."
They both laughed. "So we're cool?"
Scootaloo sputtered, as if it was something completely incomprehensible to her. "You're like, the top of the Cool Chain! How can you not be?"
"Heh, got that right!"
They were silent again for a while, but it was friendlier this time. Both of them were genuinely enjoying each other's company, now that the air was clear between them.
Dash was actually thankful it had all gone smoothly. She still hadn't decided what to actually do about all this – her own worries had been fairly prominent all day long. Seriously though, how could she teach a lesson she'd not really learned herself? She'd always learned through evasion; if the streets and cramped airspaces of Ponyville weren't the best places for flying, then a field on the outskirts would have to do instead. No reason to change her behaviour, only where she practised - and for the most part, it worked. And she couldn’t really punish the filly that badly; accidents were accidents, and even when she'd been hurt herself, Scootaloo had tried to help Fluttershy as well. This wasn't something that bad - it just needed to not happen again.
"What were you scootin' through the streets for anyway?"
Scootaloo blushed lightly, her slightly pallid face showing a little more red than it probably would have, if she'd been in better condition. "I was trying to fly."
Dash already knew where the story was headed. Regardless, she played oblivious to lighten the mood a little. "You know scooters don’t fly, right?"
"No! Gah!" The filly sat back, before meeting her eye, and they both started to laugh. "You know the cliff at the edge of Ponyville? You saved that foal in the carriage there one time, remember?"
"Yeah, I know the one."
"I was gonna go over it at top speed, and maybe learn to fly. Maybe get my Cutie Mark too."
Dash nodded. She'd suspected something like that. Anyway, this was perfect - maybe she couldn't teach a lesson after all. Maybe she didn't have to. What worked for her would definitely work in Scootaloo's favour too - all they had to do to make sure she never crashed into anypony on her scooter again was to take out the scooter. If she could fly, there was nopony in her way to worry about - most of the time at least. And maybe this could work to her advantage as well.
"Thing is, Scoots... Pegasi aren't like birds. We don't learn to fly by falling out of trees, or off cliffs in your case. You might have gotten some pretty good air, and I know you can glide a little, but it wouldn't have worked. You need to have your wings at just the right angle, with just the right spread - you've gotta adjust for air currents and all that. It takes time. It takes practice. Stupid birds can do it from like the day they're born, but we're just ponies with wings. We don't need ours to live like they do. So anyway, moral of the story; no more jumping off cliffs."
Scootaloo blushed again. "Yeah, yeah, I got it."
"Good. Second thing is that this can't happen again. Twilight explained what happened with Fluttershy, right?" At the Squirt's nod, she continued. "That's not always gonna happen. Probably. But you still can't go scooting through the streets like that, because crashing into other ponies just really isn't good."
"Good. Last thing - even though you were hurt as well, and you tried to make it better, there's still gotta be some consequences. Nothing major, of course - it's not like you killed anypony or anything."
"What is it?"
"Me and Fluttershy are in the middle of some serious stuff - she can't fly, so it's my job to help her learn how again. And the way I figure it, I could probably use an assistant. That's you, kiddo."
She fought to keep a straight face as Scootaloo pouted, then shot her a look about as flat as Applejack had been when she planted her face into the ground from the top of that tower.
She barely held back a laugh at the memory. Celestia, that was funny.
"How could I help? I can't fly either you know."
Okay, back in gear.
"That's just the thing, isn't it? I'm pretty sure you're gonna help me no matter what goes down, but you're right - I can’t really use anypony who can't fly."
When the filly's face suddenly turned crestfallen and not just slightly hurt, Dash decided to stop fooling around and get to the point. "Yeah, that settles it I guess. No can do - no way, no how. Not when you’re stuck on the ground like you are.”
One final pause, for awesome dramatic effect.
"So we're just gonna have to fix that."
For a moment, neither pony said a word. Their eyes were locked together for what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was just a few moments.
Scootaloo raised her eyebrows disbelievingly.
The best pony in existence nodded.
All was right with the world.
With a flurry of nervous activity, Redheart roused herself from what had previously been a rather slow day. Something was wrong - seriously wrong.
“Somepony’s screaming! Where’s it coming from?”
Nursery Rhyme, the youngest nurse on staff, beckoned her over and pointing up a hallway. “It’s coming from over here! Come on!”
They rushed corridors, unsure what they’d find - but they feared the worst. That scream was... bloodcurdling. When they stopped in front of Scootaloo’s room, Redheart spoke, her nurse’s authority kicking in. “Rhyme, go and get the doctor. I’ll see what I can do here.” The filly galloped off, and she nodded, preparing for whatever she’d find in there.
Just as she entered the room, the screaming stopped. What she saw definitely hadn’t crossed her mind as a possibility, but upon seeing the room’s other occupant it wasn’t really a surprise.
Rainbow Dash was stretched as far forward as she could possibly go, her hoof shoved into the filly’s mouth to shut her up and a shocked expression plastered onto her face. Scootaloo herself looked trapped in complete and utter bliss, her eyes wide and sparkling like the night sky.
Nopony moved. Slowly, the shock drained away from Dash’s face, leaving it mostly blank. She removed her hoof carefully, but the screaming started again and she put it back.
Redheart stood still, caught in a mixture of astonishment and frustration, and watched as a moment later Rainbow tried again - but it was no use. A moment later, she tried again. And again. And yet again.
Finally, she appeared to give up, and turned to the open window.
Redheart didn’t even bother trying to stop whatever ridiculous plan was forming Rainbow Dash’s mind. She doubted she’d achieve anything, even if she did.
“Scoots,” the pegasus said. “I’m gonna take my hoof away one more time.
The filly nodded, seeming to calm down just a little.
“Whatever you do... Do. Not- COME ON FILLY, GET ON MY BACK! WE GOTTA SCRAM!”
Out the window and into the air they flew, laughing like foals. Redheart sighed, went back to her desk, and checked the filly out from the hospital’s books. Scootaloo would’ve been allowed to leave soon anyway.
Elsewhere Dash dipped in the air, repositioning her passenger to balance herself. She looked back at the filly, who grasped her tightly even as she looked down at the ground so far below in wonder. Finally when they were a good distance away, they set down in the grass. There they sat motionless for a while, until their eyes met.
They just couldn’t help it - they broke out laughing.
Laughter was good.
How's that, folks? A chapter ended nicely for once!
I'd like to extend a huge hand of thanks to Ariamaki, Professor Piggy, ALSilvertongue, and of course, each and every one of you for sticking with me so long - especially after such a bad cliffhanger.
I do apologise.
Also, if anyone's interested, ALSilvertongue is putting his services as an editor up for grabs:
"First story free to all writers! Anything but scat! Tasteful vore only! Dark okay, but prefer happy endings! Pie!"
Thanks so much for reading, everyone - it wouldn't be the same without you.