Sweet Apple Acres was as noisy as ever. The animals cried out for food, Winona barked at a passing butterfly, and a sharp thud sounded amongst the apple trees, a sure sign that one of the Apple family members was hard at work.
Wiping her brow, Applejack glanced at the sky as she moved towards the next tree. A patch of grey was visible in the swath of blue, and the farmer squinted as she focused on the speck. She grinned as it came into focus, revealing itself as none other than Derpy, the local mailmare.
Applejack inspected her surroundings, and huffed as she noticed the lack of any other Apple family pony, forcing her to interrupt her work to get the mail herself. She quickly trotted up to the pegasus, grinning amicably; it wasn’t Derpy’s fault that neither Big Mac nor Granny Smith were anywhere to be seen. “Whatcha got for me, Derpy?”
Derpy just smiled, before completely shoving her head into her bag. After a short bout of rummaging, she pulled a letter out and offered it to Applejack, whose eyebrows lifted as she read the address. She hadn’t heard from her family in Stalliongrad in years, and now here was a letter from them. She tore it open and started to read, slowly smiling as she reached the end. “Well, Ah’ll be…"
She shifted her eyes from the words as she finished the letter, remembering that she wasn’t alone. “Thanks, Derpy, I…" The words trailed off as she glanced around. Apparently she was alone after all.
Applejack frowned as she took stock of the farm, counting off the remaining unbucked trees. She was loath to leave a job unfinished, but that simply meant she’d have to work harder when she got back home. She shrugged to herself and hurried inside, grabbing the first saddlebag she found, and placed the letter within.
A few minutes and a short trot later she found herself in front of Fluttershy’s cottage, and lifted a hoof to knock. Applejack’s eyes widened as the door opened, not seeing her friend’s usual elegance, but instead a disheveled and tired Fluttershy.
The yellow pegasus smiled, glad to see a friendly face. “Oh, hello Applejack. How are you?”
Applejack blinked, realizing she had been staring. “Howdy, Fluttershy. Ah’m good, but Ah figure Ah should be the one askin’ you that. You okay?”
Fluttershy nodded, glancing back to the interior of her home. “Oh yes. I just have a sick fox keeping me up. I can’t leave him alone until he gets better!” Her eyes focused once more on Applejack. “Um. What brings you here? If you don’t mind my asking…"
“Well, some cousins from Stalliongrad are coming to Canterlot in a few days to organize a charity and get the princesses’ blessings. Ah thought Ah’d give them a visit since Ah haven’t seen them in ages.” She pointed a hoof at Fluttershy. “Ah was wondering if you wanted to tag along?”
The pegasus shook her head, her eyes wide. “I’m so sorry! I’d love to, but that fox needs my attention. I can’t leave him here. I hope you understand…"
Applejack’s smile dipped. “And you can’t get somepony else to look after him?” Fluttershy’s shaking head and pleading eyes were answer enough. “Shucks.”
“Maybe the other girls want to go?” Fluttershy suggested.
“Yeah, Ah’m gonna ask them too.” She turned around to head to town, but paused and gave her friend another glance. “You sure you don’t want to come?”
Fluttershy shook her head. “I’m sure. But thank you for asking.”
This, unfortunately, set the tone of Applejack’s visits. She’d headed to Carousel Boutique next, while keeping an eye on the sky for a certain blue pegasus, but she had not seen Rainbow Dash anywhere. Upon her arrival at the unicorn’s home, she’d discovered Rarity frantically working away, cloth flung in all corners of the shop. She hadn’t even turned away from her craft to face Applejack as she politely declined the invitation, unable to tear herself away from her work for at least the next few days.
Pinkie Pie was no better off, having been drafted by the Cakes into assisting their numerous catering orders, including a massive order of muffins for one birthday party. Once she’d finished listing off every single course of every order, she’d shaken her head and dived back into the kitchen, leaving Applejack with one more stop: the town library.
Applejack lifted a hoof to the door, knocking slightly harder than common courtesy allowed for. As Twilight’s magic surrounded the door, she wiped the frown off her face. No sense in taking her frustration out on the unicorn. It wasn’t her fault the others had refused. Applejack silently hoped she’d have more luck here. She spotted the librarian at her reading table, her attention drawn to her visitor. “Howdy Twilight!”
Twilight beamed, happy to see one of her friends. “Hey Applejack, what’s up?”
“Got a letter from cousins in Stalliongrad,” she drawled out, tiring of repeating this a fourth time. “Coming to Canterlot next week to organize a charity. They want to get the princesses’ blessing. Ah thought Ah’d give them a visit. Want to come along?”
“Sure thing! I’ve never met Stalliongradites before. I can visit the princess too!”
Applejack sighed in relief. “Good! Ah was worried Ah’d have to go alone.”
Twilight tilted her head in confusion. “Alone? What do you mean? I’m sure the rest of the girls would want to come.”
The orange pony shook her head, briefly recounting the three refusals she’d received so far. “–and that leaves you and Rainbow Dash.” Her ears drooped as she continued. “Ah didn’t want to be alone with all those highfalutin’ ponies from Canterlot,” she grumbled, before glancing at her friend. “No offense, Twi.”
“None taken.” Twilight grinned. “I know how bad some of them can be.” She paused as she processed part of what Applejack had said. “But I don’t know if Rainbow would be interested in any of that.”
Applejack grinned. “Well hold on there. Mah cousins tell me they’re fixing to ask the Wonderbolts to perform for the charity. That aughta spark her inter–”
A crash interrupted the conversation, as both swung around to look at the source of the noise. There, hanging on the ledge of the now open window she had burst through, was Rainbow Dash. “Did you say the Wonderbolts are performing?!”
Twilight stared at the weather pony. “Rainbow Dash, why are you here? How did you know what we were talking about?” For a moment, Twilight wondered if Rainbow Dash had copied Pinkie’s ability to pop out of nowhere. The very thought terrified her.
Rainbow shrugged. “I was napping! Your tree is pretty comfortable, you know?” She waved a hoof in dismissal as she jumped off the ledge to join her friends. “So I thought I heard something about the Wonderbolts…"
Applejack spoke up as Twilight relaxed. “You sure did, R.D.. They might be doing a special performance in a few days in Canterlot. Interested?”
“Absolutely!” she gushed, flipping in the air with enthusiasm. “This will be awesome.”
“Oh!” Twilight exclaimed, drawing the attention of the other two. “Maybe I can use that new teleportation spell I learned! We’ll get there in a flash.”
“That settles it, then,” Applejack said, nodding. “Ah’ll write them back and let them know.”
“Twilight! Wake up already!”
The purple unicorn groaned as her friend and assistant’s voice pierced through the fog of sleep. The realization that Spike—who was still just a baby dragon and needed his sleep—had actually woken up before her dispelled those last remnants of the sleepy haze. However, she still felt tired.
Spike eyed her as he took stock of her frazzled mane and runny nose. “Twilight? Are you okay? You don’t look so good.”
“I don’t feel so good either,” she answered, punctuating the remark with a wet sniffle. “I think I’ve caught a cold.”
Spike glanced past Twilight’s bed. “You left the window open, and it rained last night. You probably got showered on.”
“You sleep right next to my bed! Why aren’t you cold and wet?” Twilight asked, as she dragged herself out of bed and headed towards her mirror. Her mane felt as frazzled as it had during the poison joke disaster, but her horn was thankfully all right, as proven by the perfectly levitated brush.
“Er, hello? Baby dragon? Emphasis on dragon? Fire in my belly?” Spike said, rolling his eyes. “Keeps me nice and toasty.” He winced as Twilight sniffed loudly in an attempt to control her running nose. “Maybe you should postpone your trip?”
“Trip? What trip?”
Spike smacked his forehead. “Your trip to Canterlot, remember? You, Applejack and Rainbow Dash were going today?”
“Oh! Right! No! I don’t visit Canterlot enough, and this is too good a chance to visit the princess and my family!” The brush moved to the other side of her head, tugging out the knots in her mane. “And I can’t let Applejack and Rainbow down, they’ve been looking forward to this. I can’t let a little co-oh-oh-achoo!” The sneeze interrupted her train of thought, sending the brush flying. “Sorry. What was I saying?”
“You were talking about Applejack and Rainbow Da–”
“Oh yes! Applejack’s visiting family, and Rainbow–”
“–wants to go see the Wonderbolts Charity performance–”
“–so of course she wants to go! I just wish Pinkie, Fluttershy and Rarity weren’t so busy, it’s not as fun without–”
“Wh-what?” she stammered, Spike’s yell having finally gotten through.
“You’ve already told me all of this. And you’ve only got thirty minutes before Applejack and Rainbow Dash arrive.”
“Thirty minutes?” cried Twilight. “Why did you let me sleep so late?!” Her mane forgotten, she ran down the stairs to quickly prepare her breakfast, completely ignoring her assistant’s response.
“I’ve been trying to wake you for the past half hour… oh forget it,” Spike grumbled, as the mare disappeared down the stairs. Sighing, he started making the bed Twilight had left in disarray. On the bright side, Twilight was leaving him in charge of the Library during her visit, which could only mean one thing for Spike: more sleep!
“So where are your folks visiting from again?” Rainbow Dash asked the farm pony walking next to her. The two had met on the road from Sweet Apple Acres and were now trotting to the library.
“From Stalliongrad,” Applejack replied. “They own the biggest apple farm there.”
“Neat! You must be looking forward to seeing them.”
“Ah sure am, but probably not as much as you are to seeing the Wonderbolts, am Ah right?”
The pegasus grinned, a bounce appearing in her gait. She looked ready to fly off then and there. “Are you kidding? They’re gonna put on a special performance! This is gonna be awesome. Maybe I can show them some moves afterwards!”
“Whoa there, Nelly. It’s a charity thing, remember? Not tryouts!” Applejack chided.
Rainbow Dash’s demeanor deflated, her ears lying flat on her head. “I know, I know. Still, I can hope, can’t I?”
Applejack grinned, and nudged the pegasus. “Of course you can, Sugarcube. Tell ya what,” she said, pausing in her stride, “Ah’ll join ya at the event. We’ll see if the two of us can herd them towards ya after the show.” She emphasized her statement by rearing up and waving her front hooves in the air.
“That I’d like to see!” said Rainbow Dash, and both laughed at the mental image. The hilarity was abruptly interrupted by their arrival at the library. Or rather, the crashing sound that came from inside.
“What in tarnation…?” Applejack asked, before charging into the Library, Rainbow Dash hot on her heels. As the door flew open, the pair took stock of the situation.
Twilight was wiping her nose, clearly still under the weather. Surrounding her at various distances were broken plates.
Rainbow flew up to the unicorn, a look of worry painted on her face. “What’s happening? Are you okay Twilight?”
Twilight nodded, levitating the cloth away from her nose. “Just a cold. I’m fine.”
“What’s with these plates?” Applejack eyed the debris.
“Oh, um… sneezing and levitation don’t mix?” Twilight grinned sheepishly, before sneezing once more. Rainbow’s vaunted reflexes kicked into gear, dodging the soiled hoofkerchief.
“Maybe you should stay here Twilight. You don’t look so good.” Rainbow fluttered back to the unicorn, putting a hoof on Twilight’s back. Applejack nodded in agreement.
“Nonsense! I feel fine!”
“But nothing.” Twilight shook her head vehemently. “I’m not making you miss this trip because of a little cold!”
Applejack and Rainbow Dash shared a look, a slight frown on their faces. The farm pony then refocused on Twilight. “If you say so, Sugarcube.”
The trio stood outside of the library, finally ready for their trip. As the new teleportation spell tended to take the ground beneath their hooves along with it's pony targets, Twilight had insisted on taking her casting outside. “Are you girls ready?” she asked the mares standing on either side of her. When they both nodded, she lifted her head up. “Then let’s get going!”
Twilight closed her eyes as she concentrated, gathering a large amount of magical power at the tip of her horn. The tip glowed, growing in brightness as the power increased. A bubble started to form, slowly descending from the tip of her raised horn to surround the three ponies. Applejack and Rainbow Dash eyed the edges warily, careful not to touch the them or even move.
The bubble finally inched towards the ground, the spell having gone smoothly. A testament to Twilight’s skill, she had controlled the arcane powers perfectly. Suddenly, a sneeze blew out of her, as the bubble hit the ground.
“Bless–” Applejack started reflexively, an instant before the teleportation effect took hold. After what felt like minutes, but was only seconds, the trio reappeared. “–you!” A fine coating of dirt hissed as it settled at their hooves, having been transported with them from outside the library.
“Thanks,” Twilight sniffed, and opened her eyes. Her expression mirrored her friends’ as she looked around. They were in a small clearing surrounded by trees, none of which looked anything like the types found in Canterlot. “Uh-oh… where are we?”
Applejack answered immediately. “This looks like… the Everfree Forest? But Ah don’t recognize what part… where did you bring us, Twilight?”
“I don’t know,” Rainbow Dash answered before the unicorn opened her mouth, “but let’s find out!”
Applejack felt Dash bunch up for a leap into the sky beside her—then winced as she heard the pegasus crash immediately into the ground. Rather than embarrass her friend by looking, she continued staring ahead at the trees around them. "You okay there, Dash? My back hurts just listening to that."
“Yeah,” Rainbow Dash replied, “I’m fi–” Applejack frowned and glanced over as the pegasus’s voice died. The cyan mare was staring at her in shock, her expression quickly matched by Twilight as the purple unicorn followed Rainbow Dash’s gaze.
“Er, Applejack?” Twilight whispered hoarsely. “I don’t think that’s why your back hurts.”
“What?” the earth pony asked, before turning and gazing behind her. A splash of color on her haunches caught her eye, and she focused her gaze on herself.
That’s where she discovered the pair of blue wings adorning her sides, and the rainbow-hued tail on her rear.
Applejack stared in shock, turning back to her friends as Rainbow Dash’s body cleared the tall grass she had landed in, a body whose smooth sides distinctly lacked a pair of wings, and whose rump had gained a very familiar blond tail. This second shock gave Applejack’s brain a pause, providing the orange pony with only one thing to say.
The silence was broken by the sound of Rainbow Dash scrambling to Applejack’s side, her rising panic clear in her eyes. “What in the hay is going on?” she yelled, poking and prodding Applejack’s flank, causing the farm pony to wince in pain.
Twilight could only continue to stare in shock, but her analytical mind still managed to notice the connection. “Wait… Applejack, you can actually feel those sensations in the wings?”
“Yup,” Applejack replied, trying to inch away from the ever more frantic prodding by Rainbow Dash. “It—ow—sure feels weird with these—stop it R.D.!—things…"
This caused Twilight’s eyes to widen in surprise. “So there’s even a nerve connection? Amazing! I’ve never heard of something like this happ–” Her voice faltered as the pegasus’s efforts reached a peak. Rainbow Dash was now practically wrestling with a wing, almost knocking Applejack down in an effort to make sense of the situation and ignoring her protests.
Suddenly, the wing in her hooves gave a strong twitch, as she hit the area where the blue feathers connected with the orange shoulder. It flared up in a swift motion, knocking the pegasus away, and sending Applejack to her knees.
“What was that for?!” Rainbow Dash demanded hotly, glaring at the orange pony as they both picked themselves off the ground.
“Ah didn’t do that on purpose!” Applejack answered, motioning to the still flared wing with her head. “Ya hit something and it jus’ moved!” She paused, gazing at the appendage. “It really feels weird with these things!”
“Hey! My wings aren’t weird!”
“Ah wasn’t saying that! Ah jus’ can’t control these!”
“Then give them back!” the rainbow-maned pegasus yelled, jumping back towards Applejack. Her movement was suddenly interrupted as she was surrounded by a purple glow, stopping her in her tracks.
“Rainbow, stop it!” Twilight cried, as she held her friend with her magic. “We can’t rush into things like this! We’ve got to think it through!”
Rainbow Dash’s glare turned towards the unicorn. “Fine! Just let me go!” she said, struggling in the magic’s hold. “I don’t want you to send me crashing into some tree!”
Twilight blinked at this response, releasing her hold. “What? What are you talking about?”
“Sugarcube…" Applejack interjected softly, trying to ease the tone of the conversation. “You’re still sick. You broke those plates, and Ah reckon this,” she said, nodding towards the wings on her back, “is because of that too. Maybe you should hold off on magic until you’re better…"
Oh Celestia, she’s right. Applejack’s words hit her like a hoof to the gut. Twilight turned to face Rainbow Dash, her expression twisted by guilt. “Dash, I’ll fix this,” she promised, before unleashing the worst string of sneezes she had ever experienced. Each one was punctuated by a bolt of magic flying from her horn, toppling trees and sending the two other ponies diving for cover.
As the fit passed, the pegasus peeked out from her shelter, looking worried instead of angry and panicked. “Is it over?” Rainbow asked, as Twilight sniffed, then nodded. “Sorry for snapping like that, Twilight. I… guess I panicked. I know you’ll fix this.”
Twilight smiled gratefully at her friend’s understanding, still feeling a knot in the pit of her stomach. Applejack’s answer to her question had given her a vague idea of the scale of what she was dealing with, and it scared her.
By then, Applejack herself had popped out from where she had taken cover. “Then we should get back to Ponyville, lickety-split. You might find somethin’ ta help in your library, no?” She glared at the still open wing, then glanced back at Twilight. “It’s jus’… Ah hope you don’t mind if we walk behind ya?” Twilight hung her head, aware of the logic of her friend's statement and unable to refute it, even if it hurt.
Rainbow Dash nodded frantically in agreement while approaching the orange mare, and paused beside her. “A.J., relax. You’re gonna strain it like that,” she said, motioning towards the wing. “Let me help.”
She reached towards it, and gently pushed it down to a relaxed state, taking care not to hurt the wing—her wing—in any way. The earth pony gave a small sigh of relief, and nodded in thanks. “That feels better… Thanks.” She looked off in the distance, squinting as she noticed something that caught her eye. “There’s a big hill that way; we should get our bearings from there.”
The three ponies made their way through the forest in silence, each lost in thought. Twilight led the group, making sure to keep her horn straight ahead. She did not want to cause any more problems than she already had. Applejack followed her, keeping an eye on her friend and their surroundings, occasionally glancing to the pegasus that brought up the rear. Thus she noticed how Rainbow Dash’s gaze seemed fixed on one spot… her own rump.
“… Rainbow?” she asked, startling her friend. “Can ya… stop staring at my rump?”
The question earned a slight blush from both ponies. “I-I wasn’t!” Rainbow stammered. “I was—I was keeping an eye on my tail!” This was a slight twisting of the truth, as she had indeed been staring at her own tail adorning Applejack’s flank, wondering how the rainbow-hued hair would look with Applejack’s customary hairband.
“Yeah, well don’t get used to it. Twilight will get this fixed in no time!” the farm pony said, her statement punctuated by a sneeze from the unicorn. “Once she gets better, that is…"
The group eventually reached the top of the hill, giving them an unimpeded view of their surroundings. Rainbow Dash was the first to find a landmark, her sharp pegasus eyes taking in the landscape around them. “Look!” she said, pointing. “There’s the castle where we fought Nightmare Moon! We’re just a few hours from Ponyville.”
Twilight and Applejack squinted in the direction she was looking. “Are you sure, R.D.? Ah can’t see a darned thing.”
“It’s there! Come on, let’s go!” Rainbow said as she sped down the hill, the gravity of their situation forgotten. The other two quickly followed suit, chasing the now-yellow-tailed pony down the hill.
Night had fallen by the time they emerged from the forest to the welcome sight of their homes. “Ah’m telling you Rainbow, taking it slow was better! Twilight’s still sick, she couldn’t have run all the way home!”
“She did beat us during the race, remember?”
“By taking it slow!”
The subject of discussion shook her head in bemusement. “I’m still exhausted. I’m no iron pony like you two.” She paused, her mouth opening in a massive yawn. “I’ll just head back to the library and start to figure out how to fix thi–”
“Oh no you don’t!” Applejack interrupted. “You jus’ said you’re tired! Sleep; you can start tomorrow.”
“No buts. Don’t make me tie you to the bed,” the farm pony said, frowning at Twilight. Rainbow Dash nodded in agreement. “In fact, we should all head to bed.”
Twilight relented under the gaze of her two friends. “Okay! I’ll sleep. I’ll see what I can find out tomorrow if you want to drop by.”
With that, the three ponies each went their way, heading home. As Rainbow Dash trotted towards her home, she stopped in her tracks at a sudden realization, staring into the distance at her cloud-home, floating in the sky.
“Wait… where am I supposed to sleep?!”
“Hey, A.J.! Wait up!”
Applejack stopped as she heard the voice, turning to see Rainbow Dash galloping down the path she had been following. “Rainbow? What’re you doing here? Ah thought you were going home!”
The pegasus trotted the last few feet to her friend, lightly out of breath. “I was, but I don’t think I can do that.”
“Why not?” The orange pony tilted her head in confusion before the realization hit, swiftly followed by her own hoof on her face. “Oh. Right.”
“It does make it kinda hard to get up there,” Rainbow said, pointing to her home floating in the distance. “Could I maybe sleep at your place?”
“Sure thing, R.D.! You can use the guest room. Ah’m sure nopony will mind!”
“Great!” Rainbow Dash grinned. “You’re a lifesaver.” She fell in beside Applejack, trotting beside her as they started towards the farm. The grin faded as her thoughts turned to events earlier in the day. “Listen, Applejack… I’m sorry I went crazy back there. I could’ve hurt you…”
Applejack eyed her friend, and shook her head. “Don’t you worry about it, Sugarcube. Ah’d have probably done similar in your position.” She motioned towards the blue appendages on her back. “I mean, you not having these things is like me not having… um.” Applejack frowned, failing to come up with a good example.
“Your hat?” Rainbow suggested, smirking.
The farm pony chuckled, shaking her head. “Ah do love this thing, but this is a bit more important than that!”
The pegasus thought for a moment. “Your bucking?”
This made Applejack shudder. “Ah don’t know what Ah’d do if I couldn’t buck them trees… Ah’d feel completely useless.” She winced as she realized what she’d just said. “Oh horseapples, Ah’m sorry Rainbow. I didn’t mean–”
Rainbow shook her head, putting a hoof to Applejack’s mouth. “Don’t worry about it, it’s not your fault. Heck,” she said, lifting her head high, “it’s not even the first time, remember? Even Discord couldn’t keep these babies away from me!”
Applejack could hear the strain in her friend’s voice, trying to hide just how scared she was. “Don’t you worry, Twilight will fix this lickety split! Ah reckon you’ll be back in the skies by tomorrow,” she said, as they arrived at the farm. Seeing no lights on in the farmhouse, the pair silently made their way to their individual rooms for the night. Both were asleep the instant their heads hit the pillows.
Rainbow Dash looked around, standing on one of Cloudsdale Stadium’s highest platforms. The stadium was filled to the brim, every pegasus staring with rapt attention where she stood, and with good reason: Every pony on the platform wore the famous blue outfit, complete with goggles and a lightning bolt on their flank.
And right in their midst, one of these Wonderbolts had a distinct rainbow mane. She stood with her heroes—her companions—ready to show all of Equestria what she was made of. As if that thought was a signal heard by the whole team, they all took off in a blaze of speed, the rainbow contrail surrounded by multiple thunderclouds.
As they flew through their routine, one of the fliers turned her head towards Rainbow Dash, her yellow and orange mane flowing in the wind. “What the hay are you doing, Rainbow?” she yelled, sounding angry.
“W-what? Did I do something wrong?” Rainbow stared at her wingmate, confused. On her other side, Soarin’ turned to her as well.
“You shouldn’t fly without wings!” he yelled. “It’s dangerous!”
What were they talking about? Her wings were fine. She glanced back, and stared in shock at her smooth back. Not a feather to be seen anywhere. She looked around, her forward motion suddenly gone, and now floated alone in the sky, the Wonderbolts having left her behind. She glanced downwards, immediately knowing this to be a mistake, and yelled as she plummeted through the air…
And fell headfirst onto a wooden floor. She stayed there, upside down, legs still on the bed. Oh, yeah, I’m at A.J.’s… She remained in that position, blearily trying to clear cobwebs and the dream from her sleep-deprived mind until Applejack opened the door and poked her head in a few seconds later. The earth pony’s eyebrows shot up as she saw her friend on the floor.
Rainbow Dash glanced in Applejack’s direction, noting the bags under her eyes, surely matching those under her own. “Itching all night?” she asked, pointing at the wings on her friends back.
“Eeyup,” Applejack answered with a nod, then raised an eyebrow as the upside-down pegasus laughed. “What’s so funny?”
“Oh, nothing, you just… sound like your brother there!”
“Wha—hey! Ah do not!”
Applejack shook her head. “If you ever decide to stand straight, breakfast is ready,” she said, which elicited an immediate reaction. Rainbow Dash slipped off the bed in a jumble of legs, quickly rising up to follow Applejack to the kitchen. As they walked, she noticed the empty rooms.
“What time is it?” Rainbow asked. “Everypony’s awake already?”
“Still jus’ morning. We get up early down on the farm!” Applejack glanced at Rainbow as they entered the kitchen. “Well, most of us do.”
Apple Bloom’s intended retort died on her lips as she saw the two older mares. Her sister had explained the situation to her a few minutes ago, but seeing the wingless pegasus really drove the point home, not to mention seeing her sister’s tail on another pony. “Now that’s jus’ plain weird.”
“Apple Bloom! Don’t be impolite!”
“But it is! Those wings! Your tails! You can’t tell me that ain’t weird!”
“That don’t mean you can mouth off about it! Now finish eating and get to school!”
The filly grumbled as she shoveled the last of her meal into her mouth, then left the room, still grumbling. Applejack sighed as she turned to Rainbow Dash. “Ah’m sorry you had to see that.”
“Don’t sweat it. I’d probably react the same way in her place.”
“At least Big Macintosh and Granny Smith didn’t make a fuss.” The orange pony sighed, munching on her meal. She continued as she noticed Rainbow’s raised eyebrows. “Ah explained it to them, and they just shrugged! Like they expect weird stuff to happen to us.”
“It does kinda follow in our hoofsteps…”
“Yeah, well, we’d better eat quick. Ah still have some chores to do this morning, then we can visit Twilight. Ah bet she’ll have this fixed by now…”
As it so happened, Twilight Sparkle did not. In fact, she was in no condition to do any sort of research. Spending several hours in the Everfree Forest had not helped her cold, nor had a night of rest improve her condition.
Spike had opened the door, his grateful expression at seeing Twilight’s friends quickly turning into confusion as he looked them both over. “Huh. That’s a new one.”
Rainbow Dash and Applejack sighed; the dragon’s reaction was one they had seen in varying degrees on every pony’s face on their way to the library. The pegasus glanced about the library. “Where’s Twilight?”
Spike shrugged, pointing his thumb over his shoulder. “Still in bed.” A hacking cough coming from the staircase, however, quickly proved him wrong.
“Spike!” the unicorn called out as she made her way down the steps. “Was someone at the door? Oh! Hi girls…” She leaned against the wall, holding a hoof to her head. Seeing this, the two ponies at the door rushed over.
“Are you alright, Sugarcube? You look like something the cat dragged in.”
“I’m fi–” A hacking cough interrupted her. Before she could react, Rainbow Dash had put a hoof to her forehead.
“You’re burning up!” the pegasus exclaimed, eyes wide with concern. “We’ve got to get you to the clinic.”
Applejack shook her head. “But nothing! You look ready to fall down on the spot! I’ll carry you there if I have to.”
“Okay! Okay! You don’t need to do that, I can walk.” Getting her bearings, she turned to Spike. “While I’m gone, can you find any books we have on teleportation? Especially the one I was reading last week.”
The baby dragon saluted, closing the door as the ponies exited the library, and set himself to the task.
What should have been a fairly quick trip instead proved to be a lengthier journey, as the trio slowly made its way to the clinic. Twilight’s pace was sluggish at best, her lack of energy clear in every step she took.
Ponyville itself seemed to want to slow them down even further, as everypony stared at them. A few inquisitive souls even approached them, asking what had happened and offering help. Applejack spoke for the three, politely refusing the offered aid. She repeatedly explained that it was all just “a little magical mishap” and that everything was well under control.
As they passed Sugarcube corner, a loud crash from within halted them in their tracks. Pinkie Pie came bursting through the door, tail first, her entire body shuddering in a display of Pinkie Sense the likes of which Twilight hadn’t seen since Froggy Bottom Bog.
She had little control of which direction she was heading, bouncing first past Rainbow Dash, then the rest of the group. As she pony caught sight of them, the shuddering grew more intense, culminating in an intense set of twists and shakes that eventually settled down, leaving Pinkie to stare at the three dumbstruck ponies.
“Oh, that’s what that was! I felt another one of those doozies coming along but I couldn’t see anything or hear anything at all and I couldn’t see Twilight anywhere so it couldn’t be her! And then I saw you guys and it all makes perfect sense now!” Pinkie paused for breath, trotting towards Applejack and Rainbow Dash. “So what do we call you now? Appledash?” She grinned at Applejack, then faced the pegasus. “Rainbow Jack?”
Rainbow pressed a hoof on the bridge of her nose, sighing as she once again relearned an important fact about her friend. “Pinkie, you’re so random…”
“Sorry we can’t stay, Pinkie, but Twilight’s sick,” Applejack interrupted, hoping to stop Pinkie before she started another endless monologue. Unfortunately, this didn’t have the intended effect, as Pinkie gasped and rushed over to face Twilight.
She stared at the ailing unicorn, and giggled. “Oh I know what will help! One of my super cupcakes!” Pinkie disappeared into the bakery, reappearing moments later with a cupcake balanced on her snout. She flipped it into the air, caught it on the flat of her hoof and proffered it to Twilight.
The tired unicorn eyed the cupcake and its maker, unsure what to expect. She could have sworn reading something about how sugar was bad when you were sick, but it really looked good. Plus, she hadn’t eaten anything all morning. She shrugged, biting into the cupcake, her eyes widening in surprise. “Wow, Pinkie!” She was actually feeling a bit better! “What did you put in that thing?”
The pink pony giggled, shaking her head. “Nothing, silly. It’s just tasty! And tasty always makes you feel better!”
Twilight laughed, her friends chuckling along with her until a loud gasp interrupted them. They were quickly joined by Rarity, who was whipping her gaze back and forth between Applejack and Rainbow.
“My dears! Whatever happened to you?”
Twilight opened her mouth to explain, but the only noise that came out was a hacking cough, which left the purple unicorn shivering as it subsided. Rainbow simply pointed at Twilight. “That happened, really.” She leaned closer to Rarity, dropping her voice in a conspiratorial whisper. “Don’t let a sick Twilight do magic. Ever. It’s not pretty.”
“I can see that,” Rarity glanced at her friends. “Just look at your tails! These colors clash with your manes, it’s dreadful! And those wings! Blue and orange simply don’t go together!”
“Don’t mind her, R.D..” Applejack shook her head. “It’s jus’ her silly fashion sense talking!”
“My fashion sense is perfectly fine, thank you very—Twilight!” Rarity gasped again as she finally had a good look at her fellow unicorn. “Darling, are you alright? You poor thing, you’re shivering!”
“Er, I did mention she was sick…” Rainbow muttered, but it fell on deaf ears.
Rarity dug through her saddlebags, quickly producing one of her finer coats. A quick flash of magic had it snugly around the sick pony. “There you are! That will keep you warm.”
Twilight shook her head as she looked at the numerous gems on the coat. “I can’t accept this, Rarity!” she croaked, her throat sore. “It’s too nice!”
Rarity stomped a hoof to the ground. “Tut-tut. I won’t take no for an answer! Now hurry along to the clinic.”
“You’re not coming?” Applejack asked.
“I cannot, I simply have too much to do at the boutique. But I insist you keep me up to date!”
“Will do, partner. Pinkie, you coming?” Applejack turned to the party pony as Rarity trotted away.
“Of course I’m coming! What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t?”
“The kind who forget something in the oven?” Rainbow pointed a hoof at a stream of black smoke coming out of Sugarcube Corner’s kitchen window.
Pinkie gasped, eyes widening in surprise. “Oh no!” She rushed back into the shop, and momentarily poked her head back out. “Don’t wait for me!” She disappeared back into the kitchen.
Shaking their heads in mutual bemusement, the trio continued on to the clinic.
Fluttershy nodded as she listened to Nurse Tenderheart. The medical pony had often given the yellow pegasus advice on the care of living things, be they ponies or animals, and today was no different. Fluttershy had recently put a badger’s broken leg in a splint, and she wanted to be sure she was doing everything she could for it. Her own self-taught skills were considerable, but she prefered to consult the clinic’s more professional knowledge, since the vet was not in that day.
As the front door opened, Nurse Tenderheart glanced towards it, abruptly ending her monologue as she caught sight of the group entering the establishment. Curious, Fluttershy turned to face the newcomers, a smile lighting her face as she recognized her friends. She made her way to them, but froze as she noticed something wrong. “Rainbow Dash? What happened to your wings?”
Rainbow gave a silent grimace and pointed at Applejack.
“Oh my…” Fluttershy’s eyes widened. Her ears caught the sound of movement behind her, and she stepped aside to let Nurse Tenderheart approach the group.
“Are you two alright?” The nurse’s head turned from the orange pony to the blue. “We must examine you immediately! When did this happen?”
Applejack lifted a hoof as she stepped back, confused. She hadn’t expected to be the one getting questioned. “Er, yesterday?” She glanced at Twilight; the unicron was the sick one, not her.
Her reply was met with an exasperated huff. “Why didn’t you come by immediately? This could be a very serious condition!”
“We were stuck in the Everfree forest all day! We jus’ fell in bed when we got back!” Applejack frowned. “Begging your pardon, but Ah think Twilight needs the most attention here.”
Nurse Tenderheart blinked, her attention having been drawn by Applejack and Rainbow Dash’s more visible issue. She examined Twilight with a critical eye, and snorted as she turned back to the other ponies. “That may be, but you’re not getting out of an examination. Fluttershy,” she turned to the yellow pegasus, “I’m sorry, but we’ll have to continue later.”
Fluttershy nodded demurely. “Of course. I’ll… wait here.”
The next hour seemed to pass in an blur, with the three friends being subjected to a veritable barrage of tests. Even nurse Redheart was drafted into helping, the medical ponies splitting the workload more efficiently. Temperatures, heart rates, and blood pressures were checked, blood tests were performed, X-rays were taken, just to name a few. A reflex hammer ended up embedded in a wall when the wing it was testing knocked it out of Nurse Tenderheart’s grip, proving without a doubt that the appendage had responded normally, if a bit forcefully, to the examination.
Eventually, they ran out of tests to perform, and the patients were left to wait on the results. Twilight, who was clearly the sickest pony present, had been assigned a bed to rest in during the examinations. Applejack and Rainbow Dash were sitting next to her, preferring to hear the results together, and even Fluttershy had joined them, wanting to be with friends rather than waiting alone in the lobby. She listened as her friends took turns explaining the events of the previous day.
“The worst part about all this,” Applejack was saying, “is that Ah haven’t even been able to tell mah cousins why Ah wasn’t there yesterday! They must be worried sick.”
“I can ask the princess about that, Applejack,” Twilight suggested. She had been given some cough medicine which had helped her throat, but she still felt utterly spent, and was grateful to be in a bed surrounded by friends. “I’ll have Spike write a letter when I get home.”
Rainbow Dash remained silent, lost in her own thoughts. She, like the others, had missed out on their planned trip with all it pertained, and she was disappointed that she had missed seeing the Wonderbolts. However, her wings remained foremost in her mind. The numerous tests the nurses had performed did not help to alleviate the concerns. Without her wings, the Wonderbolts were a rather moot point.
Her musing was interrupted by the arrival of Nurse Redheart, carrying a chart in her mouth. She then held it against her hoof and faced Twilight. "Miss Sparkle, you have a mild case of pneumonia. It's not serious enough to keep you here, but I'm giving you a prescription and will see you back here in a week. Until then, bed rest, and no magic." Twilight opened her mouth to argue, but the nurse continued right over her. “Considering what all three of you have told me about your magic while you’ve been… under the weather, be glad I'm not adding a magical inhibitor to the prescription!"
Twilight shrunk back under the covers of the bed, thoughts of a week without magic already haunting her. Applejack and Rainbow Dash‘s ears flicked backwards, betraying their nervousness as the medical pony turned towards them. “As for you two,” Nurse Redheart began, “you’ve got clean bills of health. As much as I want to keep you here for more examinations, I can’t think of what else we could do. You’re free to go home.”
The two ponies stared in shock and confusion. “Wait, what?” Rainbow asked, speaking for both.
“Physically, I cannot find anything wrong with either of you. Bones, muscles, ligaments, tissue, nerves, blood vessels… everything is where it should be. Every feather is in place, from primaries to down.”
“Except that they’re on the wrong pony!” Rainbow could not believe what she was hearing.
“I realize this, Miss Dash. But medically, that is not something we can cure. Magic is likely to be the best solution.” She glared at Twilight. “Which, I repeat, should not be performed during convalescence. Now, let me give you some medicine and your prescription, and you’ll be free to go.”
Despite some more arguing from the rainbow-maned mare, the four ponies soon found themselves standing outside of the clinic, ready to go home. As they prepared to set off, a buzzing sound made itself heard from a nearby street, soon revealing itself as coming from an orange filly on a scooter, speeding through town.
As Scootaloo spied Rainbow Dash amongst the group, she skid to an abrupt halt, tore off her helmet, and galloped up to her idol. “Hey, Rainbow Da…” The words faded as the young pegasus took in what she saw. Scootaloo stared at Rainbow's smooth back; the distinctive blue wings were just… gone. The shock spread to the rest of her body, locking it up in a rigid embrace, causing her to tip over. Nearby, a goat bleated.
The older ponies just stared, the whole scene having happened too quickly to react. Fluttershy came to her wits first and approached the filly. She gave the young pony a quick check, and signed as she faced her friends. “I’ll bring her inside the clinic. She might need help.” She bent down to lift Scootaloo onto her back. “You should head home. Get Twilight into her bed.”
Unable to see a flaw in that logic, the ponies bid Fluttershy goodbye, and headed back to the library.
Dear Princess Celestia,
Today I learned that one should pay attention to the suggestions of your friends when it comes to matters of health, even if it means they will miss something important to them. Their concern for your well-being outweighs your concern for their disappointment. The fact that they’re currently staring at me while I have this written has absolutely no bearing on that statement. At all. Really.
In a related lesson, I’ve also learned to take responsibility for my mistakes. My being sick and not heeding my friends suggestion of recuperating resulted in a… terrible magical mixup. Thankfully, nopony was hurt, but two of my friends are nonetheless significantly affected. With their permission, I’m sending a copy of the Ponyville Clinic’s medical charts with details of the condition, in hopes that you may know of a solution. Also, Applejack would like to make sure her cousins in the Caring Hooves Charity delegation know she’s alright.
Your Faithful Student,
Spike looked at the three mares around him, waiting for a nod from Twilight, who sat ensconced in her bed. She gave her okay, and Spike’s flame vaporized the letter, watching it vanish into the sky.
Only a few minutes passed until Spike’s cheeks bulged, the ensuing belch forming the princess’s letter in mid air. He grabbed it and rolled it open, clearing his throat as he prepared to read its contents.
My Most Faithful Student, Twilight Sparkle,
You have always been a responsible pony, and I am glad to hear that you are continuing to discover more facets of responsibility. It is a never ending lesson, and I have no doubt you will continue to learn about it in the future.
Bearing that in mind, I believe that you are the best suited to resolve this situation. I have full confidence that this is within your capabilities, and that your friends are in good hooves. The Royal Library is at your disposition should you require any materials. And I will of course inform Applejack’s cousins of her whereabouts; she may be interested to know that Red Astrachan made an eloquent, if terse, petition and received considerable support from the Canterlot nobility. He and his delegation will be departing this evening, and I understand they consider the trip a great success.
I have faith that you will find an answer, my trusted student.
The young dragon lifted his eyes from the letter and glanced worriedly at the three friends. Sure enough, all three shared a look of horror. Rainbow had even fallen onto her haunches, staring at the ground. “Oh horseapples, I’m stuck as a boring earth pony?”
“ ‘Earn my keep’? What the hay is that supposed to mean?”
Applejack winced at Rainbow Dash’s raised voice. She’d certainly expected it, but she could swear her ears were now ringing. “Ah’m just saying, Sugarcube… you can’t exactly do your weatherpony duties right now, and the farm could always use another helping hoof. Think of it as a trade for food and shelter!” Her hopeful grin felt strained, and she hoped it wouldn’t show.
Big Macintosh chose that moment to walk past, offering a piece of his wisdom. “She does eat an awful lot for such a small pony…"
The pegasus glared at the stallion, remaining unconvinced. “It’s not my fault I can’t do my job! I don’t see why that should change anything!” She crossed her forelegs as she sat on her haunches, muttering under her breath.
Applejack frowned, unwilling to let the matter drop. Rainbow was one of her best friends, and she truly didn’t mind letting her stay at the farm, but the pegasus’s behavior had started to fray at her nerves. Not so much because of anything she had said or done over the past few days, but… the lack thereof. True to form, she was often found napping in some part of the farm. More often than not, the guestroom bed remained unused; Applejack had found her friend napping in the barn, lying in a pile of hay, and even once sleeping on a tree branch, a feat she hadn’t thought possible without wings.
Maybe she could appeal to Rainbow’s athleticism. “Ah figure those legs of yours would do a fine job at applebuckin’. And it’s good exercise for them! Think of how fast you could take off if they were stronger.” Applejack paused, observing her friend’s expression. She pressed her luck, having noticed Rainbow’s expression waver at the mention of improving herself. “Well, Ah guess the Iron Pony can’t do real hard work.” She shrugged, turning to leave.
“Wh—Now wait just a second!” Rainbow sputtered. “I can do just as much work as you!”
It took all of Applejack’s self control to keep the grin off her face. This was too easy. “Then Ah hope you don’t mind proving it!” She nodded towards the door, beckoning the pegasus to follow. “C’mon. I’ll even show you how it’s done.”
Rainbow snorted, but nonetheless matched the farmer’s stride. “Oh puh-lease. I’ve seen you kick enough of those trees. I don’t need help!”
The grin was becoming increasingly tougher to fight off. “That so? Well then, be my guest.” Applejack waved to the tree they’d just stopped at, and took a step back. This was bound to be good.
Applejack watched as Rainbow tilted her head upwards, frowning at the apples above her. She brought herself a few steps closer to the tree, turned around, then lifted her rear hooves off the ground. They quickly shot backwards, slamming into the trunk, causing the entire tree to shake. But to the pegasus’s consternation, not a single apple fell. Applejack chortled as Rainbow gave the tree another buck, again to no avail. “Having problems, Sugarcube?”
“Yeah, your stupid tree is broken!” Rainbow glared at the offending fruits, still hanging from the branches above. “Stupid apples. Fall! Already!” She punctuated each word with a buck, but only shook leaves off the tree.
Applejack placed a hoof on Rainbow’s shoulder, giving the angry mare pause. “Hold on there Rainbow. You’ll damage the bark like that.” She nudged the pegasus aside, taking her place in front of the tree. “Tree ain’t broken. You got power, Sugarcube. You’re just lacking the technique.” She ignored Rainbow’s mumbled retort, and spun around to give the tree a kick. “Now, for a tree like this, y’gotta aim high. Then y’all just turn and give a kick like this!”
With a smoothness that stemmed from years of practice, Applejack’s legs flew backwards, heading straight towards their target. However, her hooves struck only air as they overshot their mark, leaving the farmer precariously balanced on her front hooves. She cried out as her body tilted forwards, then came crashing to the ground. Once the world stopped spinning, she blinked as she found herself on her back, staring up at the sky.
“Just like that, huh?” Rainbow’s wasn’t laughing, but Applejack could hear the mirth in the other’s voice. “That’s an awesome technique.”
“Shut it,” Applejack growled, getting back to her hooves. “Your wings messed up my balance something fierce.”
Rainbow rolled her eyes, unable to fight the grin anymore. “Oh sure, blame the wings…"
“Ah’m serious!” Applejack snapped. “Ah’ve only had this problem since Ah got them!” She winced as she moved, as one of the wings gave off a slight twinge.
Rainbow caught the wince, and stepped closer to the farmer. “Stand still a sec.”
“Huh?” Applejack stood still, more out of confusion than following the pegasus’s order. She watched as Rainbow inspected the wing closest to her, her eyes roving over every feather, every contour of the muscles beneath. Satisfied, Rainbow reared up, and draped her body across Applejack’s back, to the farmer’s grunted surprise. From that angle, Rainbow inspected the other wing with just as much attention to detail as the first. “You could’a gone ‘round me, you know.” Applejack raised an eyebrow at her friend.
Rainbow grinned as she finished the inspection, still leaning on Applejack “Why? This way’s faster.” The pegasus’s smile faltered as she moved, feeling the feathers brush against her stomach. The sensation of feeling her own limbs against her skin, warmed by another pony’s body, was… weird. Very, very weird. She quickly dropped off the mare’s back, and looked away.
“So? What’s the verdict?”
“Wha?” Rainbow’s head snapped back to face Applejack, as the latter looked her in the eye.
“You were checkin’ your wings. Any reason for that?”
“Oh. Thought you might’ve hurt them when you fell.” Rainbow grinned, thankful that Applejack didn’t seem to notice her unease. “All good though! So how about you show me how to buck for real this time?”
Applejack snorted and rolled her eyes. “Fine. Round two!” Maybe this time, she’d be able to keep her balance, and not fall flat. Again. It wasn’t just mortifying, it was downright bothersome. She constantly felt tense, annoyed at having to relearn something she’d been doing for most of her life. She hoped she’d get used to the wings quickly.
She really, really hoped.
Rainbow eyes wandered as Applejack set herself up for another attempt. She looked over the rows of trees, stretching into the distance, almost as far as she could see. For once, she was looking forward to a full day of hard work. She’d been unable to sleep right during the night, kept awake by phantom itches from her missing wings, driven crazy by the nagging feeling that they were still there and the equally distressing reality that they weren’t. Sleep had only happened in two or three hour spurts, leading to all those naps to try and catch up.
Her eyes settled back on the farm pony as Applejack gave the tree a good, solid buck, causing all the apples to tumble down. Rainbow smiled to herself. Hopefully, tonight, she’d be so exhausted, she’d sleep like a rock. And that was just the way she liked it.
Applejack sighed, staring at the wood that made up her room’s ceiling. Her eyes traced the patterns in the grain, jumping back and forth between the various pieces until they landed on the window. She sighed again as she took in the sunlight, her head resting on her pillows. She ran the previous afternoon’s conversation through her head for what felt like the hundredth time.
“Applejack, you’re barely even standing straight!” Rainbow had put both hooves on Applejack’s shoulders, holding the farmer still. It had been several days after the pegasus had started helping in earnest. Now that she kept herself busy, Rainbow’s rampant napping had ceased.
Applejack, on the other hoof, had not dealt with her own lack of sleep quite as well. While her body was used to the rigors of bucking, the addition of the constantly twitching wings kept throwing of her rhythm. They had even recently begun to spasm briefly, which worked to wake her in the middle of the night.
“Consarn it, Rainbow! Ah’m fine! And work needs to be done!” Applejack had tried to shrug Rainbow’s hooves away. She’d shaken her head, in an attempt to clear the near constant cobwebs that clouded her mind.
However, Rainbow had immediately latched on to that. “And remember how that went last time? Or do I need to drag you to Twilight’s to remind you?”
Her nerves had been so frayed she had indeed forgotten that particular series of events, much to her chagrin. But the reminder had allowed Rainbow to convince her to take a day off. The pegasus had argued for more, but Applejack would not budge, and they’d compromised on a single day. The realization that Rainbow would still be working on the farm and that Big Macintosh wasn’t shouldering the entire workload only slightly relieved the guilt Applejack felt.
But after so many years of waking up early, Applejack couldn’t fall asleep once sunlight hit her eyes. Eventually she abandoned the pointless attempts to go back to sleep and forced herself out of bed. She was fully awake, and the recurring aches in her wings made it impossible to even consider a nap. It had, however, reminded her of the liniment Granny Smith used for her rheumatism. Maybe that would help alleviate the pain she’d normally just try to ignore. No pain meant more sleep, and more sleep meant she’d be able to get back to work.
This was priority number one.
Unfortunately, it seemed Granny Smith had forgot to restock on liniment, as the only jar Applejack found was completely empty. Applejack ran through a mental list of possible other sources. Her first though, Zecora, was quickly dismissed; while the zebra was likely the best brewer around, she simply lived too far. The prospect of a walk through the Everfree didn’t appeal to Applejack right then.
The Ponyville Spa, on the other hoof, was much closer. She’d only been there a few times herself, like when they’d all been hit by poison joke. The sisters who ran the establishment had helped the zebra mix the cure, and Rarity had mentioned on one of their more recent visits that they sold their own mixtures as well.
It seemed, then, that Applejack was about to pay the Spa another visit.
Applejack pulled down the rim of her hat, hoping to shield her eyes. For once, she grumbled at the sunlight, wishing for—of all things—rain.
That way, at least, she wouldn’t have to see any other ponies.
She wasn’t what Twilight would call an ‘antisocial’ pony. She was, in fact, downright friendly, second only to Pinkie Pie in terms of how many ponies she knew in town. She was always happy to chat with anypony, or offer help as needed.
On the other hoof, she didn’t like being the center of attention. That was more Dash’s thing. It wasn’t even overt, as nopony was doing anything more than a friendly hello.
It was the stares. And the whispers.
She could feel the eyes of everypony on her. Specifically, on her back. When she turned to face the stares, none of the eyes seemed to meet hers, always conveniently choosing that moment to look elsewhere, until she shifted her attention away. She could feel the glances settle right back onto her—Dash’s—wings. The whispers were no better, as even her flattened ears couldn’t drown them out. Especially not the sound of a young filly loudly asking her mother why the wings didn’t match Applejack’s coat.
The farmer knew that she hadn’t been in town for a few days, but this was ridiculous… oh. Oh, wow, she snorted in realization. This must be how Fluttershy feels—all the time.
“Applejack! Wait up!”
She jumped at the voice, then relaxed as she saw who it was. “Howdy Spike! How ya doing?”
“Eh, as usual,” the dragon shrugged as he caught up to Applejack. “I’m just taking care of some errands for Twilight while she’s in bed.”
“How is she?”
“We went for the weekly checkup yesterday; she was better but still needs rest. And,” he added, “still no magic. Sorry.”
Applejack shook her head. “Don’tcha worry about it. Getting Twilight back on her hooves is more important.”
“Doesn’t stop her from reading though. Should have seen her a few days ago… practically yelled at me!” He cleared his throat. “ ‘I can at least read, right?!’ ” His attempt to mimic the librarian’s voice was dubious at best, and it sent him into a fit of laughter.
Applejack grinned, chuckling with Spike. “Ah don’t think anything could prevent her from reading.” Her laughter died off as she remembered where she was and once again became aware of the looks she was attracting. “Say, Spike, I gotta get going. Tell Twilight I’ll stop by in a while?”
The baby dragon nodded. “Sure thing! See you then!” He scurried away, heading back to the library. As he turned around a corner, he glanced in Applejack’s direction, pausing as he noticed her entering the Spa. He briefly pondered the rare occurrence, then shrugged and resumed his duties.
Applejack glanced around as she entered the building, momentarily confused. It seemed distinctly smaller than she remembered… She shook away the confusion and moved up to the counter, where one of the proprietor sisters was standing.
“Hello! How may I help you?”
“Ah’m looking for some liniment; do you have any?”
The blue maned pony nodded. “Of course!” She vanished into a side room to fetch the item. As she sat waiting, Applejack heard a familiar voice from one of the Spa’s rooms, from which promptly emerged a familiar white unicorn.
“Thank you again, Lotus, for a wonderful ti—Applejack!” Rarity lifted a hoof to her chest in surprise. “Whatever are you doing here?”
The farm pony frowned, having picked up on Rarity’s tone. “What, can’t Ah come to the Spa once in a while?” she snapped, somewhat more forcefully than she had intended. Rarity often unintentionally said things that got under her skin, even after they had made up during the sleepover at Twilight’s.
Rarity seemed taken aback at the response. “Well no, I mean…" she hesitated, looking for the right words. “This is simply not a place I would expect to find you…"
Applejack’s temper simmered down at her friend’s expression. “Well, that’s true. Ah’m just picking up some liniment,” she said as Aloe returned with a jar. “For the wings,” she added, seeing Rarity’s raised eyebrow.
The unicorn smiled, a gleam in her eye. “Since you’re here, Applejack… you really should let me do something with those wings. And that tail!”
“Ah’ve told you Rarity, I don’t like that frou-frou stuff!”
“I’m not trying to put you in a dress, dear! I’ll even… pay for the liniment for you!”
Applejack paused, tempted. Savings were always good for the farm. “Hmmm. Nah.”
Rarity tisked. “Well then, at least let me do something about the color, so everypony will quit staring!”
Applejack winced inwardly. The fashionista had cut to the heart of the matter. Was her discomfort really that visible? “… fine. But nothing fancy, you hear!” she grumbled, but her voice fell on deaf ears. Rarity was already behind her, forcing her forwards into the depths of the Spa, prattling along about how much fun they would have, all the things they could try out… Applejack gulped, suddenly worried about what she had gotten herself into, eventually finding herself surrounded by Rarity and the twins.
“My dear, I haven’t seen you in a few days.” Rarity hummed as she sorted through a selection of makeup colors. “How has living with Rainbow Dash been?”
“Well–” The farm pony winced ever so slightly as Lotus extended one of the wings, letting Rarity begin her work. She started gently applying foundation to the feathers, paying close attention so as to not miss a spot. Aloe took hold of the Applejack’s tail, braiding the multicolored strands. “Since she’s stopped napping all over, she’s been a great help to the farm! Ah don’t think we’ve ever had such a good applebucking season.”
Rarity paused as she moved on to the next set of feathers. “She has? That’s… unexpected. Hasn’t she gotten bored of it?”
“Nope.” Applejack shook her head. “Ah’m as surprised as you. Took a bit to convince her, but she’s come around. She even took over for me today,” she added, once more causing Rarity to stop. Applejack frowned as the unicorn put a hoof on her head.
Rarity’s eyes couldn’t have gotten any larger. “Are you alright? I can’t believe I’m hearing this from you! Miss I-can-do-it-all-myself?”
Applejack glared at the teasing, her ears drooping. “Ah know, Ah know. Rainbow brought that up too, or I’d be on the farm right now.”
Rarity smiled as she returned her attention to the wings. “Well, it’s good to get away. After all,” she teased, holding back a smile, “you two have been so close for a while now!”
“Beg your pardon?” the orange pony asked, tilting her head in confusion.
“You’re practically attached at the hip!” Rarity’s grin kept getting bigger.
“What, like you and Fluttershy?” Applejack retorted, leaving Rarity flustered. “You two are here every week!”
This momentarily left Rarity at a loss for words, but she quickly recovered, firing another salvo. “Well yes, but… It’s not everyday you see a pony pinning their tail on a special somepony. Literally, in this case!” The unicorn gently stroke the multicolored strands with a hoof. “It’s all so intimate!”
This left Applejack more confused than ever, a blush spreading on her cheeks. Was she implying…? "Wh—n-no!" she sputtered. "It ain't at all like that!"
Rarity simply laughed as she continued her work on the other wing. “Like what, my dear? I mean Rainbow Dash’s wings!” She paused, an impish grin on her face. “Why, what did you think I was talking about?”
Applejack’s hoof met her forehead, the blush matching her cutie mark’s coloring in intensity. She’d walked right into that. Open mouth, insert hoof… “Rarity… you know full well that stuff was just magic. Nothing more!”
Rarity sensed she had gone too far, but decided on one last jab before lapsing into silence. “Oh yes.” She smiled. “Definitely magical…"
She lapsed into silence as she continued working, but eventually broke the quiet. “Applejack… can I ask you a question?”
“What, you haven’t been already?” Applejack answered, eyebrows raised.
Rarity chuckled guiltily. “I deserved that. No, I mean something a bit different.”
“Sure, what’s on your mind?”
“How…" Rarity hesitated. “How does it feel to have wings?”
“What do you mean? Didn’t you get some from Twilight?”
The white pony shook her head. “I mean real wings. What I had was made out of… morning dew, was it?”
“Oh.” How does it feel, really? “It’s… itchy.”
“Itchy?” Rarity repeated. That had not been what she had expected.
“Eeyup. Keeps me up at night, too.”
“I… see. So no flying, then?”
“What? No! There’s just the itchin', Ah suppose… Ah haven’t really done anything with them… too busy taking care of the farm. Plus Ah don’t really know how to move them. See?” Applejack strained a bit. The wings barely moved in response. “So Ah just let em rest.”
“Ah.” Rarity nodded, unable to think of anything else to add. She eventually finished applying the foundation, adding a bit of powder to the wings, just a hint to match the coloring of Applejack’s coat. While she wished she could have done a more comprehensive job for her friend, she was nonetheless satisfied with her work. Eager to be on her way, Applejack bid Rarity farewell, and left the building.
The latter smiled as she watched her friend leave. She’d noticed a hint of the blush still remaining on her friend’s face.
On the way to the library, Applejack reflected on her conversation with Rarity. She truly hadn’t even thought of the wings as being… real, to use Rarity’s exact wording. To her, all the wings represented were a source of discomfort and, lately, some pain. Flying was the last thing that was on her mind. As her thoughts wandered through the conversation, the blush returned with full force when she recalled what her friend had been implying. Intimate…? Dangit Rarity, why’d you have to talk about… that… kind of stuff? Shaking her head to dispel images she’d rather ignore, Applejack almost missed the turn leading to the library.
Once at the foot of the tree, she knocked on the front door, waiting for Spike to usher her inside. The baby dragon didn’t disappoint, and she soon found herself trotting up to Twilight’s room. As she crested the top of the stairs, she stopped and stared. Even bedridden, Twilight seemed to have the power to create a veritable carpet of books. Some formed stacks, but many were strewn haphazardly, a few even appearing to have been discarded with some force. Currently the bedridden unicorn seemed surrounded by small towers of books, creating a fort around herself. She naturally had her nose in a large tome, and had not noticed Applejack’s arrival until the latter cleared her throat.
“Wha–” Twilight cried out, startled. She beamed at the sight her friend before devolving into a series of coughs. “Applejack! What brings you here?” she asked once she caught her breath, placing a bookmark in the tome seated before her before noticing the change in Applejack’s appearance. “Er. What happened to your… I mean, Rainbow’s wings?”
Applejack rolled her eyes. “Rarity.” The name alone was enough explanation. “Wouldn’t really let me hear the end of it until she got her hooves on me. And Ah’m jus’ checkin’ in on ya. I hear you had a checkup yesterday? You still don’t look so hot.”
Twilight nodded. “Yes. They still say I need to rest. And I still can’t do magic. It’s… frustrating.”
“Ah can imagine. Being your special talent and all, it’s like… Pinkie without parties,” Applejack said, suppressing a slight shudder at the thought. She eyed the tomes surrounding her friend. “Are you sure you’re okay? This seems like a mighty big load of work for a sick pony like you.”
At these words, Twilight’s left eye gave a slight twitch. “Applejack,” her voice sounded strained, “I’m cooped up in bed all day and night, I can’t do anything without Spike’s help, and I can’t even use my magic… For Celestia’s sake let me at least study?!”
Applejack took a step backwards as her friend’s voice rose. She was reminded of Spike describing a nearly identical situation… “Sure, Ah didn’t say you couldn’t! Just… take it easy, ya hear?”
“Oh. Right,” the unicorn mumbled, her eyes drooping to her reading material, then snapping back up. “But if I had, I wouldn’t have found out so much about teleportation! I don't know how to fix this mess yet, but here's what I've found out! You see,” she started, her voice shifting to a preaching tone, “teleportation moves the object within folds of time and space. The magic simply drills a hole into these folds and allows you to pass through instantly.”
Applejack’s ears flattened, recognizing the start of Twilight’s lengthy discourses on magic. This usually sailed right over Applejack’s hat; being an Earth Pony rather than a Unicorn, magic wasn’t her forte. “That’s mighty interesting Twi, but–”
“It’s easy to transport inanimate material through this stuff, but somewhat trickier with living material. It seems the holes are tiny, far too small to allow anything bigger than, say, a parasprite through. Obviously, this means ponies won’t fit–”
“–so the spell has to change the size and shape larger objects to pass through these holes. If I’m right, my sneeze happened at the critical reconstruction junction after passing through the folds–”
“–and did not restore the objects, or rather, us, in the correct way. This is is complicated by the fact that it’s not just one object, but a three body problem. So the issue now is to figure out how to recreate this error, and control it–”
“Don’t make me get an apple!”
“–which is infinitely harder to do… wait, what? An apple?” Twilight tilted her head, her train of thought finally interrupted. Applejack smiled guiltily. She had indeed been tempted to shove an apple in Twilight’s mouth.
“Ah-heh. Sorry, Sugarcube. I’ve just gotta head back to the farm.”
“Oh. Right. Say hello to Rainbow Dash for me, will you?” she asked as the farm pony turned to the stairs.
“Sure thing! As long as you take it easy!” Applejack chortled as she ducked a book sailing past her head. The sound of sneezing following her all the way down the stairs.
As she made her way to the farm, Applejack examined the near innumerable rows of trees dotting the Sweet Apple Acres. A much larger share than was custom for the time of year were denuded of their fruit, a testament to how much work Big Macintosh, Rainbow, and herself had put in lately.
She’d have to do something special for her pegasus friend, as, on her own, Rainbow had helped more than most farmhooves Applejack had hired in the past few years. She thought that they might even be able to take a few days off of bucking, the current ripe crop being nearly completely gathered. The next batch of trees still had some weeks to go until they were ready, and it wouldn’t do to have an over-eager Rainbow Dash gather them all.
Hearing the distinct sound of hooves striking a trunk, Applejack angled towards it. She recognized it as Dash’s, having grown up with the sound of her brother’s applebucking. This sound had a lighter touch, a quick and sharp hit rather than the resounding thump of Big Macintosh’s much stronger legs. Applejack herself had a method similar to her brother’s, but she couldn’t argue with Dash’s results either.
Tracking down the sound, she eventually spied her friend at the foot of a tree, getting ready to give it a good whack. Grinning mischievously, Applejack hid behind a trunk and waited until the right moment.
“Hey Rainbow!” she hollered, and laughed as the pegasus jumped in fright, her rear legs completely missing the tree. However, she managed to stay steady on her forelegs, moving a few paces before her body leaned forward. She flexed, jumping up and performed a forwards flip, landing safely on all four hooves. Rainbow Dash grinned at Applejack, sticking out her tongue in defiance.
The farmer pony shook her head in amazement. She’d always known Rainbow was a fantastic athlete, but that had still been pretty impressive. “Is that a new practice move?”
“Nah. Should be though!” Rainbow trotted up to Applejack, eager to chat. “What’s up? You been resting all riAAAAGH!”
Applejack jumped at her friend’s shriek, looking around for the source of Rainbow’s panic. “What?! What is it?!”
“What did you do to my wings?!” Rainbow pointed at the now orange appendages, until she caught sight of the multi-colored tail. “Braids? Seriously? Wait…" The gears in her mind spun, and clicked. “Let me guess,” she said, her voice significantly lower, “Rarity?”
“Eeeexactly.” Applejack grinned, trying to keep a jovial tone to mask her feeling of guilt. She had not expected Rainbow Dash to react like this. The pegasus growled in frustration, and smacked a hoof to her forehead.
“That… argh, I’ll deal with her later.” Rainbow sighed, then started pushing Applejack towards the barnhouse.
“Wha—Hey! Where are you taking me?”
“Back home. We’re getting that stuff off of my wings!”
“You’re taking a bath!”
Granny Smith, Apple Bloom, and Big Macintosh busied themselves around the kitchen, having just set up lunch. Two seats were conspicuously empty, as neither of the young mares had arrived yet. This was odd, as Applejack tended to be pretty punctual when it came to farm schedules, and you could practically set a watch by Rainbow Dash’s stomach. Soon, however, voices could be heard from outside, steadily increasing in volume as the owners approached the farmhouse. The door crashed opened, displaying the ongoing argument for everypony to hear.
“Dangit Rainbow, Ah know where the bath is! Stop pushing me!” Applejack planted her hooves into the floor, in an attempt to stop the relentless forward motion. Noticing the other family members’ presence, she tried changing the topic in hopes it would distract the pony pushing her forward. “Hey, lunch is ready! Ya gotta be hungry after all that bucking!”
Unfortunately for her, Rainbow was determined to keep the Applejack moving. “Lunch can wait! This is an emergency!”
Her last hope dashed as she stared in shock at Rainbow’s statement, Applejack put a hoof on the door frame to stop herself, twisting her head to look at her family. “Start without us!” she cried, her tone tinged with what sounded like fear. She lost her hold on the door frame, and disappeared into the corridor’s depths in much the same way prey found itself pulled into the cavernous maw of a predator.
Three sets of eyes blinked as the last orange hoof disappeared behind the corner, then glanced at each other in mild bewilderment. All shrugging in perfect synchronization, they sat down to begin their meal.
“Listen, Rainbow, Ah’m sorry,” Applejack began as the pair found itself in the bathroom. The pegasus had already opened the tap, letting the hot water start filling up the bath. “Ah should have asked you first. But you know how Rarity just can’t take no for an answer.” She carefully omitted the details of her own desire to escape scrutiny, not trusting it to be an acceptable excuse to the pegasus.
Rainbow shook her head as she glanced along the selection of mane care products, dismissing the alarmingly numerous bottles of Apple Spice coat wash before settling on the basic Head and Withers brand. If that didn’t work, there was a surprisingly large number of different products in the bathroom, making her wonder just who was using them all. “I’m not angry about that!” Rainbow answered, hesitating. “Well, not entirely about that. But you just don’t put all that… stuff on wings! They’re delicate!” Rainbow turned to face Applejack, and found her staring back with a raised eyebrow.
“Sugarcube, those things survived a rock landing on them and all you did was wrap it with a bandage.”
“That’s different!” the pegasus retorted, trying to think of how to best explain it. “It’s just… they’re not like bat wings, there’s a lot more smaller stuff going on. Each feather has tons of little… hairs, I guess, that are close but split from each other…" She paused, searching for words a non-pegasus would understand. “All together, this helps with air control and all that.” Rainbow then pointed at the wings. “And that… stuff… on there messes up those hairs! It’s gooey and sticky! And I’m not leaving it on my wings a second longer!”
Applejack interrupted before Rainbow could continue her rant. “That reminds me, Twilight’s still not casting magic. Does it matter if this stuff stays a while?” The coloring had done its job, cutting down on numerous stares, but the wings did not feel comfortable covered in all the various products Rarity had used. She had not minded at first, but the wings turned out to be far more sensitive than she’d imagined, and she was now acutely aware of the powder covering the feathers.
However, considering she was about to be forced to take a bath by Rainbow, she thought that dealing with that discomfort might be the better option. Unfortunately, her friend was emphatically shaking her head. “No! Who knows what this oily stuff will do to my feathers if it stays?” Rainbow leaned over and stopped the still gushing flow of water. Pointing a hoof at the tub, she stared at Applejack and frowned as she saw the farm pony hesitate. “Am I going to have to throw you in?”
Applejack threw her hooves in the air and surrendered. “Fine! Fine!” she grumbled as she removed her beloved hat, then took the hair band off her mane. Giving one last withering glance at her friend, she stepped into the piping hot water, settling in until it rose to her neck. Despite her misgivings, she let out a pleased groan. Rainbow had somehow managed to get the water at the perfect temperature, and she already felt it working wonders on her sore muscles.
That calm did not last, as she heard Rainbow grunt approvingly. “Oh good,” she mumbled, the words muffled by the sponge in her mouth, “That stuff is washing away on its own.” She stood beside the large copper bathtub, her forelegs leaning on the edge as she watched Applejack, unaware of the latter’s slight blush. For a split second, Applejack had forgotten the other pony was there, far too submerged in blissful relaxation. That notion was now dispelled, and the reality of there being another pony in the bathroom struck her with full force. She had not experienced this since she was a little filly, having long ago stopped bathing with her brother or her sister.
Mind you, she was no stranger to a dip with friends; that one session at the Spa during the Poison Joke incident came to mind. But this… this was in the comfort of her own home, her own bathroom, her own bathtub. And there was somepony else here. Somehow, she still couldn’t quite wrap her head around that. Hearing Rainbow move about, and feeling the pegasus’s stare on her back served as a constant reminder.
“A.J., can you sit up?” the pegasus asked. “I’m gonna start cleaning this stuff off.” Grumbling, Applejack sat up, facing one side towards Rainbow, who started wiping off what had now become a gooey mess with the sponge. Applejack shifted slightly as her friend’s hoof applied more pressure, giving some sections of the wing a more vigorous rub. The coloring started to bleed away, staining the water with a cloud of orange as the substances were removed from the wings. Feeling the scrubbing stop, Applejack glanced at Rainbow Dash as the latter spoke up once again. “Can you extend the wing? I need to reach the underside.”
The farm pony shook her head. “No can do.”
“Oh come on,” Rainbow groaned, “don’t make this difficult!”
Applejack frowned at that. “It’s not because Ah don’t want to, you goof. Ah just can’t,” she said, straining herself in vain attempting to move the wings.
“You… can’t?” Rainbow repeated, disbelief etched on her face. “Whaddya mean, you can’t? Did you hurt them?” she asked with mounting panic.
“No, Ah just wasn’t born a pegasus if you hadn’t noticed.” Applejack rolled her eyes, unable to hold back on the sarcasm. “Ah’ve never used those muscles before, so Ah don’t know how!”
“Oh.” Rainbow sagged in relief before tensing once again in realisation. “Wait, does that mean you haven’t moved them at all since… then?”
“Nope.” Water splashed every which way as she shook her head. “Farm’s been taking up all mah time.” She paused as she saw her friend’s expression. “Why, is that bad?”
Rainbow remained silent for a second, then shook herself as she noticed the worry on Applejack’s face. “It’s not bad, but it isn’t great either. The wings are probably twitching and aching, aren’t they?”
“Yeah, they are,” Applejack said, surprised at the accuracy of Rainbow’s guess. “Is that why? Lack of use?”
The pegasus nodded. “It’s like the rest of your body. If you don’t use it, it complains. Wings are no different. No wonder you aren’t sleeping.” She eyed Applejack as the orange mare started laughing. “What’s so funny?”
“Oh, nothin’.” Applejack waved a hoof as she kept chortling. “You just sounded like Twilight there with all your fancy pegasus knowledge.”
“Hey, it happens!” Rainbow grinned until a splash of water hit her face. Sputtering, she wiped it out of her eyes. “What was that for?”
“Jus’ coolin’ your head down before it gets too big.” Applejack grinned and stuck her tongue out.
Rainbow simply bent over the edge of the bath, splashing back at her friend. “You’re going down!”
Soon, more water found itself on the floor than in the tub, ending up as a major disadvantage for the pegasus. In an attempt to dodge one of Applejack’s splashes, Rainbow slipped, tipped over the edge of the bathtub and landed head first into the water. She lifted her face out of the water, coughing, and sat down within the tub itself. “Ah think Ah won.” Applejack grinned, earning a mock glare from the other pony.
“That was unfair! The floor betrayed me!” Rainbow shook a hoof at the floor. After a little searching around, she picked up the sponge and turned back to Applejack, who was watching with raised eyebrows. “What?” Rainbow asked, pointing at the wings. “We’re not done cleaning you yet.”
Sighing, Applejack turned and faced a wing towards Rainbow, who gently used a hoof to extend it. Despite Rainbow’s efforts, Applejack still winced at the twinge that ran through the appendage, a reaction that didn’t escape the other pony’s notice.
“I can try teaching you how to move them later, if you want,” Rainbow offered, washing the underside of the wing. “That’ll keep the aches away. Heck, give me a few days and I’ll have you flying!” She grinned, the idea of Applejack flying amusing her far more than it should.
However, the earth pony didn’t share her amusement. “Whoa there Dash, are you sure that’s a good idea?” Applejack turned her head to face Rainbow. “Ah mean, Ah understand givin’ the wings a workout, but flyin’ sounds a mite dangerous…"
“It’ll be fine! Don’t worry, you’ll have the best teacher ever!” Rainbow grinned, a hoof on her chest.
Applejack smirked. “Who, Fluttershy?”
“Exac—huh? No! Me!” Rainbow glared as Applejack. That was the second time she’d been tricked. Staring at the wings in her hooves, she smiled widely as an idea started forming. Slowly, she moved her hooves towards the spot where the wings connected to Applejack’s withers.
Then, in one swift motion, she placed them under the wings and brushed the skin beneath the coat, nearly causing Applejack to leap out of the bath. Her jolt of surprise was significant enough to send water everywhere, splashing the entire bathroom as Rainbow continued to relentlessly tickle her friend. Peals of laughter could be heard from both, with the occasional plea for mercy from Applejack, eventually subsiding as Rainbow Dash eased off.
Rainbow pumped a hoof into the air as Applejack fought for breath. “Revenge is mine!”
“Revenge for what?” the earth pony gasped. “And Ah’ve never been ticklish there before…"
“For making the floor betray me!” Rainbow grinned. “And you’re not, I am. I had to see if that got switched too!” Her joviality faltered as she noticed Applejack wince again. “Are they still aching?” she asked, concerned.
“Yup,” the farm pony replied, wiping her blond locks out of her eyes. She raised a questioning eyebrow as Rainbow remained silent, her expression wavering between uncertainty and concern, before settling on determination.
“Turn around and lay down on your stomach,” Rainbow ordered, smiling apologetically as Applejack looked askance. “I think I can help with that.”
Still wary, Applejack followed the instructions and lay down flat in the tub, curling her legs up beneath her. She stared forwards as Rainbow extend the wings, briefly wondering why the water now only reached to her shoulders. She felt the pegasus gently move her hooves until they reached Applejack’s back, where they started to apply a bit of pressure. Applejack shifted, turning her head to the other mare. “Hey, what are you doing?”
Rainbow’s cheeks took on a faint scarlet shade as she blushed. “It’s a massage, okay? Best thing for it right now.” The blush deepened as Applejack seemed to remain skeptical. “What? It’s the best way to get kinks out of your muscles, and you can’t really do it on your own!”
“Really, now.” Applejack’s eyes narrowed as Rainbow shrugged. It seemed like her friend knew what she was doing, and she did feel mighty tense… Might as well let her do it, she thought.
“Yeah. But this is the first time I’ve done it with anypony other than a practice partner.”
Rainbow nodded, as her hooves started moving again. “They taught this in flight school. I was teamed up with Fluttershy but I’ve never really had the chance to use it since then. She was always much better.”
“You ain’t doing too bad, Sugarcube. This does feel pretty good.” Applejack sighed as she relaxed.
The pair lapsed into silence as Rainbow continued her ministrations, her touch becoming almost excessively gentle when they moved over the wings. These were, after all, her own wings, and she couldn’t be too careful with them. Applejack wasn’t wrong in thinking that the wings were pretty solid. They really could take impressive beatings, but injuries were not uncommon. Feathers could still be broken or torn off, and missing primaries could easily throw off the aerodynamics of flight, not to mention how uncool one would look with bald patches.
Concentrating on her task, Rainbow moved along the wing, applying pressure to the muscles and tendons as she went along. She’d pause whenever she found a knot, spending more time on it to ease it out. She switched from one wing to the other, working down and eventually reaching Applejack’s back. As she pressed down on one particular spot, Rainbow heard a sound she had never thought to hear from the farmer.
Rainbow blinked, and pressed the spot again, not noticing the wings flare open with a quiet pomf as Applejack squeaked again. She opened her mouth to ask what was wrong, but Applejack interrupted her, keeping her face away from the pegasus.
"… Y-yes, right there. A-Ah've been sore there all day."
"Yeah? You're not helping by holding them so s… stiff. Uh… huh." Rainbow’s hooves stopped moving, as she recognized the telltale signs. A blush bright enough to rival the red strand in her hair appeared on her cheeks, and unbeknownst to her, it was matched by the one on Applejack’s.
While Applejack usually didn’t have wings, and thus had no reference point as to why the wings seemed to act on their own sometimes, she did understand what she was feeling right now. Maybe not why, but certainly what.
And it left her utterly confused.
Rainbow, her wits similarly addled, did the only thing she could think of and resumed the massage. She kept her focus on her friend’s back, avoiding that particular spot as much as she could, until she could no longer do so. The muscles there felt the stiffest and had the most knots, and loosening those would bring great comfort to Applejack. Swallowing to dispel the nervousness that seemed to pool in her throat, Rainbow returned her focus to that one area.
Applejack had kept her eyes scrunched closed the entire time, hoping that her friend couldn’t see her face right now. She gave a slight sigh of relief as Rainbow avoided the traitorous area on her back, only to hold her breath as she felt the hooves reach it once more. She lifted a hoof to her mouth and bit on it, hoping it would help her keep quiet. She gave a slight jump as Rainbow applied the pressure, but thankfully remained silent as the pegasus worked her magic. She could feel it loosening up, the tension slowly easing away under all the attention being lavished upon it.
Feeling more relaxed than she had in days, Applejack didn’t even register the fact that Rainbow had stopped. The pegasus was just sitting in the bath, glancing at the earth pony. She barely even heard what Rainbow was saying. “Whassat?”
“I said, I think I’m finished. How do you feel?”
“… Much better, actually. Thanks,” Applejack mumbled. Her stomach chimed in, rumbling to remind her that she hadn’t eaten since leaving that morning. The smell of lunch wafting through the house just emphasised that fact. “We should get out. Food’s probably cold by now."
The pair grabbed a pair of towels and dried themselves off, before using them to soak up the majority of the water that had splashed around the bathroom, subconsciously putting as much distance between each other as they could while moving around the room. With the cleaning done, Applejack opened the door and headed to the kitchen, studiously staring straight ahead. Rainbow followed in her wake with a matching expression, seemingly staring at a far-off point in the distance.
The general mealtime noise faded as they entered the kitchen, as three sets of eyes turned towards them. Blinking, the pair almost glanced at each other, but simultaneously turned their heads away, a blush reappearing on their cheeks. They each took a spot at a table, unable to meet each others eyes.
The innocence of youth couldn’t help but make the smallest pony see the wrong thing. “Did you two have a fight?” Apple Bloom asked, looking worried. She ducked as Rainbow Dash spat out the water she had started to sip.
“N-no!” Applejack stammered, forcing a smile on her face. “Everything’s fine! Just dandy!” She laughed nervously. Rainbow remained silent, wiping away her mess.
Meanwhile, the largest pony watched in silence, hiding a smile as his sister’s nervousness grew. Big Macintosh faced his sister, his face impassive. “So.”
“Nice bath, huh?”
“… Shut up.”
Applejack munched on her fritters as she gave the farm’s ledger a second, then a third look. “Ah can’t believe Ah’m saying this, Big Macintosh, but we’re actually ahead of schedule. Way ahead!” She grabbed another bite of her food and smiled widely at her brother.
The big stallion nodded in agreement to his sister’s statement. For the first time in longer than he could remember, the apple groves had been bucked in a fraction of their usual time. While a goodly portion of the trees still carried their fruits, those particular ones would not be ripe for another couple weeks, leaving the family with only the most routine chores left to do, most of which only took an hour or two a day at most.
“Ah guess we’ve earned ourselves some well deserved time off.” Applejack’s voice broke Big Macintosh out of his reverie. He nodded again, deferring to his younger sibling. He might have been the eldest, but Applejack usually made most of the decisions concerning the farm’s well being. Before he could add any comment, another voice interrupted him.
“Awesome!” Rainbow face was lit up by a huge grin. After the past few weeks of applebucking, a respite from the work was more than welcome. “I know exactly what we’re gonna do!”
Applejack flinched at the words, looking up from her breakfast-filled plate. She frowned at Rainbow who was staring at her. “Ah dunno, Ah still think it’s too risky…" She frowned as her argument was waved away by the pegasus.
“Since when did you turn into such a worry-wart? You’ll be fine! It’s not like I’m gonna start by throwing you off a cloud.”
Applejack snorted. “Ah sure hope not.” Though it wouldn’t have surprised her. Rainbow wasn’t the most restrained of ponies.
Meanwhile, Big Macintosh just stared at the two mares, totally lost. “What’re you two talking about?” he asked, eyeing the pair. Applejack seemed to wilt, her ears drooping.
Applejack glumly pointed to the blue wings adorning her side. “She wants to teach me to use these things!”
The stallion’s mouth gave a small upward quirk. “She wants to teach ya how to fly?”
“I sure as hay do!” Rainbow nodded. “If I can’t put those babies to good use, somepony else has to!”
Applejack’s glare switched to her brother as he gave her a reassuring pat on the back. “Ah’m sure it’ll be fine,” he said, hiding his expression by digging into his plate. She eyed the other two ponies one more time, her gaze lingering on the big stallion. She just knew he was laughing behind that plate. Sighing, she put her face in her hooves. This was going to be a long day.
“The first element of flight is wing movement!” Rainbow stated, pointing a hoof at Applejack as the pair stood on a small hill. The pegasus had chosen the spot as the small incline would be perfect for the most basic type of flight: a glide. Plus, it was out of the way, so nopony would be around to disturb them, which suited Rainbow just fine. This day was going to be awesome.
Since she had realized that Applejack wasn’t keeping her wings active, Rainbow had insisted on spending time every day just moving them, which had allowed Applejack to get used to the feeling of the muscles being used and the appendages’ movement. Determined to help Applejack fly, Rainbow had helped with the movement herself, showing by demonstration the way things would go. This meant she had handled the wings in her hooves once again. Every free moment she could scrape up found her at Applejack’s side.
Thankfully, the awkwardness of that first massage had faded after a few days. She doubted her face could have kept blushing that long if it hadn’t. She was glad she was finally able to look her friend in the eye once more, though she found her gaze lingering in Applejack’s a lot more often these days. Feeling the heat rise to her cheeks once more, Rainbow pushed those thoughts to the back of her mind, and focused on the task at hoof.
“I spent the last week and a half helping you move those things,” she said, a training cap on her head and a whistle dangling from her neck. “Now let’s see you move them yourself! Show me what you’ve got!”
Applejack sighed, knowing she had no choice. She’d attempted to make many excuses while on the farm, fabricating tasks she knew didn’t need doing. Unfortunately, Rainbow was very much like herself in one respect: stubborn to the core. The pegasus had been relentless, even helping out in the tasks that Applejack had made up, until she had simply run out of ideas. At this point, it was probably easier to just go along with the demands.
Closing her eyes, Applejack tried get a feel for the wings on her body. The time Rainbow had spent helping her move them had slowly increased her awareness of them; they felt like a part of her now, rather than just being a presence she sensed but was unfamiliar with. Straining, she felt the wings give a twitch, then slowly start to move. They unfolded, the wingtip reaching out as far as it could, the wings stretched out to their limit. Opening her eyes, she stared in surprise. They actually moved!
“Good!” Rainbow grinned. “Now try moving them down,” she ordered, stifling a laugh as she watched the orange pony close her eyes, scrunching her face in concentration with her tongue sticking out. It looked so adorably silly that she was almost distracted from Applejack’s efforts, but Rainbow’s grin widened into a real smile as Applejack managed to lower the wings. “Okay! That was your first wing flap. In ultra-slow motion maybe, but still a wing flap! Now keep going!”
Applejack frowned, choosing to ignore the backhooved compliment. She continued to move the wings, feeling them tingle as she flexed them in ways she had not even considered before. Each flap required a considerable effort, burning more energy than she had thought possible. Grimacing with effort and with sweat beading on her head, she redoubled her efforts to increase the speed. If those lightweight pegasi could make it look so effortless, she could do it too!
Suddenly, the shrill sound of a whistle interrupted her concentration, leaving the wings to drop down at her sides, still unfurled. Rainbow was staring at her, a concerned look on her face.
“You okay there A.J.?”
“Yeah,” the farm pony gasped, panting for breath. She was more winded than she’d realized.
“Are you sure?” Rainbow asked, stepping closer to her exhausted friend. “You didn’t hear me when I told you to stop,” she explained, lifting up the whistle. “Had to use this to snap you out of it.”
Applejack simply nodded, sitting down on her haunches. “Ah think… Ah just… got too into it…" she panted, trying to slow down her breathing.
Rainbow chuckled. “Good, at least you’re not worrying anymore! But don’t overwork yourself,” she said, putting a hoof on Applejack’s shoulder. “You’re doing great though. Just gotta get used to the motions!” She eyed her friend’s face, beads of sweat clearly visible on her coat, and used her… well, Applejack’s tail to wipe it off. “You wanna stop for today? You look pretty beat–”
“No!” Applejack vehemently shook her head. “Just gimme a few minutes. If you pegasi can do this, so can Ah!”
Rainbow could only grin as she watched. She hadn’t expected Applejack to get so absorbed in this, especially after her initial complaints, and now the fruits of her labor were showing. Spending the time to exercise the wings by hoof was paying off.
Things were going awesomely.
Okay, things were not going awesomely.
What had started out as a great rate of progression had tapered off on the following days, reducing the sessions to a mere crawl. Applejack had spent the time repeating the first day’s exercises, strengthening her understanding and control of the blue appendages. They had even attempted a short glide, but it failed when Applejack couldn’t focus on being in the air, or feeling the wind, or controlling where her hooves were pointing. Trying to keep the wings straight with all everything else happening at the same time had just been flat out impossible.
Rainbow just didn’t know what to do.
She had never been in that situation; having grown up with the wings, every last inch of them were familiar, every little sensation and feeling was known and identified—if not at a conscious level, then at a subconscious one. She just knew the limits of her body, and kept striving to overcome them.
But Applejack… she couldn’t even begin to imagine what she was going through. The wings were fully grown, and strong. She just couldn’t control them well enough for real flight. It reminded Rainbow of something else…
No… of somepony else, she thought, her gaze shifting in the direction of a familiar cottage near the Everfree Forest. She frowned, the idea forming in her head not being one she really wanted to consider. But… as much as she didn’t want to admit it, she was at the end of her rope.
Mastering the sky, performing tricks, she could explain at length how that worked. But just getting into the air in the first place? That was… more than second nature. It was like breathing. She never even thought of it. She never even considered that there was any thought to it. It just happened.
Applejack halted her wing-beats, noticing how quiet Rainbow had gotten. More than just the quiet, she had noticed the pegasus’s mood over the last couple days. Rainbow was growing increasingly frustrated, and Applejack was quite sure she knew what was the cause. She trotted over to her friend, and sat down next to her. “You okay there, Sugarcube? You’ve gotten pretty quiet…"
“Huh?” Rainbow blinked, turning her head to end up face to face with Applejack. Their eyes locked, the gaze holding for what seemed like an eternity. In them, Rainbow could almost see what the earth pony was feeling. Strength, determination, but also worry and concern. Concern for her. “Yeah,” she replied, breaking the gaze and facing away. “I’m just thinking…"
“Ah’m not doing too well, am Ah?” Applejack asked quietly.
“What? No, you aren’t! I mean, you are!” She stopped, trying to sort out her thoughts. “I mean, you’re doing great… it’s just…" she said, faltering.
“I just don’t think I… I can teach you right,” she finished, her ears drooping.
Applejack sat quietly, watching Rainbow. She had never imagined the brash, loud and cocksure pegasus would admit something like this. Not without being prompted. “Ah’m sorry…" she mumbled, sure that her lack of progress was to blame. To her surprise, Rainbow shook her head vehemently.
“It’s not your fault. I’m just missing a step here. I’ll get you flying yet!” Rainbow said angrily, determination returning to her attitude. She stood up, facing the forest. “And I think I know who can help.”
Applejack smiled, glad that Rainbow’s spirits seemed to have returned, and followed her towards their destination.
The cottage was alive with the sound of fauna, the various creatures and critters filling every nook and cranny of the home. Not a one was sleeping, for it was the most important time of the day: feeding time.
Fluttershy smiled as she drifted through her living room, doling out seeds to the various birds nesting within. With that done, she fluttered back to the kitchen, seeking a bag of carrots. With the birds fed, the bunnies were next. Focused on her daily ritual, she did not catch a glimpse through the window of the two mares approaching along the path.
Rainbow gulped as she and Applejack trotted up to the door, a knot forming in the pit of her stomach. She wasn’t scared, never scared. She didn’t think Fluttershy could even do anything to scare her, come to think of it.
She simply found the idea of needing help hard to swallow. She was certainly not above asking for help, or as the case may have been in Ghastly Gorge, shouting for it. But those circumstances had been extreme. This… somehow felt harder to do. She stared at the door, almost willing it to open on its own, then gathered her courage and knocked.
Fluttershy squeaked at the unexpected noise, dropping the carrots she had been carrying. Gathering herself, she trotted over to the door, flinching as whoever was outside started knocking again. Cracking the door open a mere inch, she sighed in relief to see Applejack and Rainbow on the other side, and opened the door wide. “Hello, girls. How are you?” She smiled.
“Hey Fluttershy. We’re doing good. Uh…" Rainbow started before hesitating. Fluttershy’s smile wavered as she looked at the fellow pegasus, sensing that she seemed troubled. Rainbow closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. “I—We need your help.”
Fluttershy’s eyes widened in fear. “D-did something happen? Are the others all right? Are the Crusaders okay?” She gasped as a thought struck her. “Is Discord back?!” she squeaked, covering her head with her hooves as she started trembling.
The other two ponies stared at the spectacle, still unused to it even after knowing Fluttershy for so long. Rainbow sighed, putting a hoof on Fluttershy’s shoulder. “No, silly. I’m trying to teach Applejack to fly but…" Rainbow paused once again, struggling with the words. As much as she was loath to admit it, she was out of options. “I don’t think I can do it on my own. I need your help.”
Fluttershy stared at her friend, dropping her hooves from her head. She glanced at Applejack, who was staring at Rainbow with an unreadable expression, then back at the cyan pegasus. “H-how could I help?” she asked, confused. “You’re the best flier in Equestria!” she exclaimed, immediately regretting the statement. “Oh… I’m sorry…" she whispered, her eyes wandering to Rainbow’s conspicuously wingless sides.
The blue pegasus frowned momentarily, then shook her head. “Whatever. I just remembered you having some, uh, trouble flying during our summer flight camp. You’re fine now, so I figured you might have some ideas…?”
“Oh!” Fluttershy exclaimed. “I’d be glad to help! If you’re really sure, I mean…"
“Don’t ya worry, Sugarcube,” Applejack said, speaking for the first time since their arrival. “Ah’m sure your gentle touch will help!”
“Okay… if you’re really sure…" Fluttershy said, to which Applejack nodded. “Let me just finish feeding the animals.”
A few minutes later, the trio left the cottage and made their way back to the practice hill, where the pair of pegasi sat, observing the winged earth pony. Applejack demonstrated how she flapped the wings, earning a quiet cheer of approval from Fluttershy, and silence from Rainbow.
Lining up at the top of the hill, Applejack took off in a short gallop, and leapt into the sky. She flapped her wings, the feathers catching air, and held them steady. For a merest second, she was once more airborne. That second seemed to stretch forever, the sensation of defying gravity robbing her breath away. But all too soon, her eyes traced downwards, and her legs locked up. Her wings refused to make the minute corrections that would keep her aloft, dropping her hooves to the ground. Thankfully, she had not crashed again, as she had the first few attempts. But she could not prevent feeling some disappointment in herself at her inability to do better.
“That was amazing!” a voice exclaimed softly, causing Applejack to turn towards the source. Fluttershy was trotting towards her, a look of wonder in her eyes.
Applejack glanced past her, noticing the frown on Rainbow’s face. Their gazes met, but soon broke as the blue pony turned her head away. What’s wrong with her? Applejack thought, confused at Rainbow’s attitude. Focusing once more on Fluttershy, she gave the timid pegasus a wry grin. “Honey, I glided for maybe one second. That there’s not really flying.”
Fluttershy shook her head. “But it is! You’ve only been trying for a few days, haven’t you? That’s great!”
“Ah still need to do better though,” Applejack replied, glancing once more at their silent companion.
Fluttershy noticed the glance, and turned her head to follow Applejack’s gaze. Rainbow was still facing away, seemingly lost in thought. Fluttershy smiled as she turned back to the earth pony. “I did notice some things you can change… if you want to hear them.”
Applejack blinked, then nodded emphatically. “Spit it out, Sugarcube!”
Fluttershy nodded, and took a deep breath. “Well, your wings seem strong enough you don’t need a running start for it; just try to jump as high as possible instead. Also, your legs are splayed out; they need to be tucked in a bit for better aerodynamics. You keep your wings too stiff when trying to glide; you can flap them a little to keep airborne without trying to get lift. Oh, and try not to look down, look straight, or even up.” Fluttershy blinked, shrinking back into herself as she saw Applejack staring at her in shock. “I mean… you don’t need to follow my advice if you don’t want to…"
Applejack’s mouth hung agape, her mind still catching up to everything Fluttershy had said. Once she did, her open mouth changed into a wide smile. “Well now, you sure ain't pullin’ no punches. And here Ah thought this was gonna be easy! Ah’ll give it a try!” She turned back to the top of the hill, but paused before taking another step. Looking back at Fluttershy, she grinned sheepishly. “Um… can you list all that again?”
Giggling, the yellow pegasus stepped in next to Applejack as they trotted to the top of the hill, explaining each point in further detail.
Applejack sighed as she eased herself—alone, this time—into the bathtub. The warmth seeped into her, loosening the tight wing muscles. She thought she could even feel her tension bleed away, for which she was grateful. Who needed the Spa, when you had your very own bath at home?
She scoffed at the idea. While she did occasionally enjoy the luxury of such a trip, her own bathtub had a coziness and familiarity that was absent at the Spa. The water was warm and she felt relaxed. What more did she need? She even had a pair of cerulean hooves that had eased the tension in her back.
Applejack felt her cheeks grow hot as her mind wandered a few days back. That massage had felt better than Rainbow could possibly have thought it would, and definitely more than Applejack was willing to admit. Way, way more.
… Best not dwell on that.
She winced as she tried to find a more comfortable position, attempting to ease some of her current aches, all of which were caused by her new ‘hobby’. Her initial reluctance towards the flying lessons had long since faded away as she got caught up in the challenge. She’d eagerly thrown herself at it, determined to overcome the difficulties and make Rainbow proud.
But she hadn’t. Despite her best efforts, despite all that energy spent trying to fly, or even glide, she’d made no headway. It had frustrated her, more than she cared to admit, either to herself or to Rainbow. Especially Rainbow. Deep down, Applejack beleived that hard work and tenacity was usually rewarded. She’d lived her life that way, and she tended to be proven right. She knew that Rainbow felt the same. The pegasus’s dedication to her training and her dream proved it.
Their lack of progress, however, had been unfamiliar territory. ‘You can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it.’ So went the saying. It seemed, however, there were some exceptions, and flying was one of them. Even after several lengthy sessions, her flight—or rather, glide—time had not improved. Applejack had been able to see Rainbow’s mounting frustration. See it, because she had felt it herself.
Which was why Fluttershy’s help had been such a blessing.
Rainbow had guessed right. Fluttershy’s old difficulties in flight camp had given her an insight into, and a more academic knowledge of, the mechanics behind flight, something the gifted blue pegasus completely lacked. A word here, a touch there, and the gentle encouragement had worked wonders.
Fluttershy had spent that first day coaching Applejack on her wing control, helping her to notice how the wings caught and interacted with the air around them. And as the days went by, the exhausting training sessions would end up with Applejack’s airtime increasing ever so slightly. It seemed like a tiny amount, but to a normally-earthbound pony, a few seconds of controlled flight let her glimpse at a world she had never considered outside of daydreams.
Most importantly, Fluttershy had one advantage that made a world of difference: she could actually show what she meant by providing an example, fluttering around Applejack and demonstrating techniques and tricks she had learned.
Applejack snorted as she started washing the wings. It wasn’t like she didn’t still have difficulties. Her new limbs were surprisingly maintenance-heavy, requiring considerable stretching and cleaning every day. Especially since there plenty of tight spaces and sharp corners on a farm—and she kept forgetting that these wings made her ever so slightly wider, which made for painful scrapes and bumps.
She wasn’t surprised that more pegasi weren’t farmers. Wings were oversized dirt traps, picking up all the dust and filth that a day of hard work entailed. That also meant she had to wash about three times as often as before.
On the plus side, her room wouldn’t need dusting this month.
Over the next several days, Dash found herself giving less and less input, mostly content to watch Applejack’s efforts.
At this point, her only role was as a ‘landing advisor’, as Fluttershy had delicately put it. The yellow pegasus had brought up the point that Rainbow had a fair amount of experience with high-speed, rough landings.
And so, ‘Rainbow Crash’ found herself at the bottom of the practice hill, ready to offer her expertise on the subject.
She’d probably have bucked a tree in frustration, had she been alone.
A yell from above tore her out of her thoughts, as Applejack signaled the start of her next attempt. The earth pony took a running start, and leapt into the air, extending her wings near the apex to catch the air in her feathers.
Despite her annoyance at Fluttershy’s successful teachings—which had been Dash’s own idea in the first place—Rainbow found herself impressed with the results. Applejack’s flight time had significantly improved, even if it remained a simple glide. And it was far more stable than what the farmer had achieved under Rainbow’s own tutelage.
So stable, in fact, that Rainbow barely registered the fact that Applejack had landed, smoothly segueing into a trot before stopping next to her, smiling widely.
From start to finish, that flight had been practically perfect.
Fluttershy clearly agreed, beaming as she landed next to the pair. “Applejack, that was perfect!”
The earth pony’s smile turned bashful at the praise. “Aw shucks, you’re jus’ sayin’ that…"
Fluttershy shook her head. “No, that was really good! We could probably start on powered flight now, if you want?”
Applejack’s eyes widened. “Powered flight? You mean…?”
“Flapping your wings to fly, yes.” Fluttershy nodded, before pausing. This might still be too fast for the normally earthbound orange mare. “I mean, only if you want to–”
Her words died in her mouth as she watched Applejack launch herself at the blue pegasus beside her, sending both to the ground. Applejack was beaming as she stared down at Rainbow. “Dash, ya hear that? Powered flight! Real flight!” Still smiling, she bent down and quickly nuzzled her friend’s cheek.
Rainbow’s first reply vanished as she felt herself blush. There was an odd fluttering sensation in her stomach as her mind processed the nuzzle, and Applejack’s proximity. “I-I heard!” she stuttered, her mouth finally catching up with the situation. She stared into the green eyes, which widened as Applejack apparently realised how compromising their position was. The farm pony almost jumped off of the blue pegasus, her face as red as Rainbow’s own.
She stared at the ground, trying to figure out why her stomach still felt like it was buzzing, and almost missed hearing Fluttershy begin to explain the basics of powered flight to her eager student.
Rainbow smirked as she listened, old memories of flight school drifting to the surface. Or at least, memories of her goofing off, as she’d never listened to any of the teachers. It had all come naturally to her, and she’d spent her time in most of those classes daydreaming, or, more likely, fast asleep.
Lucky her, she thought as she gazed at the farmer. She’d get to learn how to really fly.
Rainbow’s smile faded as realization struck her. The buzzing in her stomach shifted, turning into an uncomfortable knot in her gut. All her time spent teaching, spent watching her friend, it all soured in an instant as she finally figured out what had bugged her since Fluttershy started helping out.
She was jealous. Of Fluttershy, for being able to help where she could not. Of Applejack, for being able to take those lessons and put them to the test.
Of them both, for one simple thing. Something she’d been born with.
Being able to fly.
She needed to fly. It wasn’t so much a desire as a need, a craving, a hole that had to be filled somehow. It was an itch that couldn’t be scratched, that wouldn’t go away.
Living on the farm and spending her time applebucking had been a welcome distraction, but she was a pegasus. It was in her flesh, her bones, her very soul to fly. And she couldn’t.
But I know somepony who can help.
Rainbow Dash blinked blearily as an errant beam of sunlight zeroed in on her face. She’d hoped to sleep in, as the next harvest was still weeks away, and the remaining chores tended to be taken care of by one of the early-rising Apple siblings.
Obviously, the sun had other ideas. She briefly wondered if the princess had a hoof in the matter, grumbling as she wriggled out from under the covers. She would have loved to go back to sleep, but her mind was abuzz with her plans for the day.
That, and the smell of delicious apple pancakes would have been enough to wake even the dead. Rainbow quickly hopped in and out of the shower, and trotted down to the kitchen. The cooking, at least, was something she was still looking forward to.
But as much as Rainbow enjoyed the food, she ate it slowly, in uncharacteristic silence.
Applejack frowned as she made short work of her own food, watching her friend the entire time. She’d noticed the gradual change in the pegasus's demeanor, but this was worse than anything she’d seen before. She had to do something.
“So!” She cleared her throat, placing her now empty plate in the sink. “Ah just gotta take care of the animals and the cornfield. Should be done in ‘bout an hour.” She grinned at Rainbow. “See you on the hill then?”
Rainbow shook her head. “Actually, I need to take care of something in Ponyville,” she replied. “Dunno how long it’s gonna take.”
“Oh. Anything I can help with?”
“Nope!” Rainbow waved a hoof dismissively. “I’ll be back later, don’t wait up for me.”
“You sure you don’t want some company?” Applejack asked, wondering what her friend was up to. She’d not mentioned any errand previously. Hopefully it would get Rainbow out of her funk. The blue mare had gone from an enthusiastic ball of energy to glum and glowering, which confused Applejack all the more since the flying practice had been the pegasus's suggestion in the first place.
From all the time and effort spent trying to convince Applejack to go along with the idea, Rainbow had made it sound like it would have been the best thing ever, short of getting the wings back herself. Seeing her like this disturbed Applejack. She had put her all into this training, hoping that the pegasus would see, and appreciate, the effort. She’d even cooked some of Rainbow’s favorite food for dinner the previous night, which seemed to work, but only for a short while.
She couldn’t think of what else to do, and the the worry gnawed at her.
“Nah,” Rainbow smirked, “I’m a grown mare, I can handle it on my own. Plus Fluttershy will be waiting if you don’t get your chores finished on time.”
Applejack frowned. She could see that the smile was forced, yet her friend had made a good point. She had things to do, and would soon have Fluttershy waiting to continue their lessons. Applejack couldn’t just stand her up.
But neither could she leave Rainbow like this. Applejack cut the pegasus off at the door, and pulled the startled mare into a hug. “Ah can tell something’s bothering you, Sugarcube,” she said quietly, resting her head on Dash’s shoulder. “Y’know you can talk to me, right?”
Rainbow had stiffened at the sudden hug, then slowly relax in the farmpony’s grip. Applejack felt Rainbow lean her head against her own. “I… yeah. I know.” She pulled away, easing out of Applejack’s hold. This time, her smiled reached her eyes. “Thanks. I’ll be okay. Honest!” she added, as she read the doubt in Applejack’s eyes.
The farmer held Rainbow’s gaze, searching the other’s eyes. The pegasus did look better, but that nagging feeling remained. She’d have to talk with her later. “All right. Catch you later, then?”
Rainbow nodded, and trotted out of the kitchen. Applejack grunted as she glanced out at the fields. Dash had been right about one thing: she’d better get started on her chores if she wanted to meet Fluttershy on time.
It was difficult not to keep glancing at the sky as Rainbow walked down the path to Ponyville. Apart from apple trees and even more apple trees, there wasn’t much else to look at until she hit the town proper.
That, and she couldn’t help looking up to where she belonged. The open air, the clouds… She briefly wondered who had been assigned to fill in for her while she was, for lack of a better word, grounded. Cloud Kicker? Blossomforth? Maybe even Thunderlane?
It didn’t really matter, though—well, as long as it wasn’t Derpy. She shuddered as she remembered a half-destroyed City Hall, and a bolt of lightning that had nearly taken off her head. Derpy was a nice pony, one of the sweetest around. But she couldn’t handle weather to save her life.
Still, Rainbow couldn’t help eyeing the skies critically. She took pride in her job, and performed it well. Like that cloud over there, it was entirely too big and bulky, especially this close to Sweet Apple Acres. She knew the trees needed their sun, and a cloud that big would cast a huge shadow. On top of that, some idiot seemed to have put a rainbow fountain–
Her steps faltered, then stopped, as she stared at her house.
She realized, with a shock, that she hadn’t even thought of the place since she’d started living on the farm. As she kept staring at it, she had another startling revelation. She didn’t even miss the place. Life on the farm had been pretty good, she had to admit. The food in particular was just awesome. She could even call it a place of her own. Apple Bloom had crafted a sign, shaped and colored like a zap apple, which read “Rainbow’s Room”, and hung it from the door of the guest bedroom.
She didn’t want for anything there.
Well. That was a bit of a lie. She did miss the view from her cloud-home; it was hard to beat being able to see all of Ponyville and beyond. And even the best earth pony mattress couldn’t compare to her cloud-bed. That’s what she missed the most.
With a snort, she started walking again. She couldn’t dwell on that. Cloud-beds were for pegasi. For ponies with wings. Could she even stand on clouds now?
She’d have to ask Fluttershy to check on the place. Make sure it didn’t float away.
Eventually, Rainbow found herself staring at the Library door, her trip from the farm now complete. For the merest moment, a sense of unfamiliarity presented itself to her, as she considered that she rarely seemed to use the front entrance. Usually, she’d be flying in through an open window. But that was currently impossible, so she simply raised a hoof and knocked. Moments later the door opened, revealing the shape of a baby dragon.
“Hey Dash!” Spike grinned. “What’s up?”
“Heya Spike,” she answered, giving him a friendly noogie. Unlike most, he actually enjoyed them, as it scratched the occasional itch between his scales. Letting him go, she looked around. “Is Twilight in?”
“Yup, she’s reading.” He rolled his eyes. “Not that that’s new.”
Dash laughed, for what felt like the first time in days. She walked into the Library, aiming towards the stairs to Twilight’s room, but paused as she caught a glimpse of purple out of the corner of her eye. There stood Twilight, nose buried in a book, in the middle of the library proper. She hadn’t noticed that a guest had arrived, still intent on her reading.
“Hey, Twilight!” Dash said, but got no reaction. She cleared her throat, and tried again. “Hey, Twilight!” she yelled, causing the unicorn to cry out in surprise.
“What in the hay—oh, Dash!” Twilight relaxed at the sight of her grinning friend. “You almost scared my horn off.”
Rainbow stared at Twilight in utter confusion. “Scared your… is that even possible?”
“No!” Twilight paused a moment, thinking. “Well… no, at least I’ve never read about it! It’s just an expression. Don’t you pegasi have something like that?”
“Uh…" Rainbow racked her brains. “Oh! Yeah, scaring the feathers off your wings,” she said, flaring her wings for emphasis. Or, rather, trying; she had momentarily forgotten her situation.
Twilight’s ears drooped, noticing the shift in her friend’s attitude. “Um. Sorry… anyway! What are you doing here?” she asked, tilting her head. “You’re always at Sweet Apple Acres lately. I haven’t seen you in days!”
“Well…" Rainbow rubbed her hoof on the back of her head. I am spending all my time there, aren’t I? She then caught herself. “Wait. Never mind me, why aren’t you in bed?!”
Twilight glared at Rainbow, sighing loudly. “Oh please. I’ve been in there almost three weeks now. I’m fine.” She held up a hoof up to stop Rainbow’s interruption. “I’ve been fine for a few days now. Even went to the clinic yesterday. I’ve recovered. Clean bill of health!” She stared at the pegasus, as if daring to be contradicted.
Rainbow perked up at this. “So this means you can do magic again?” she asked, a hopeful tone creeping into her voice.
Twilight remained silent, and instead simply let her horn do the talking. Rainbow yelled in surprise as she felt a tug on her tail, and was lifted off the ground. She glanced back, noticing the purple glow surrounding her—Applejack’s—golden tail, and yelped as it disappeared, sending her tumbling back to the ground. “Sorry.” Twilight smirked, her point proven. “But I hope that answer your question?”
Rainbow nodded emphatically as she got back to her hooves. “Yeah! Good. I wanna ask you something.”
“Well, I… I kinda need a favor.” She glanced down at her hooves.
Twilight waited, watching her friend. Why was she being so hesitant?
“I need you to help me fly,” she said, looking up at the unicorn.
Twilight shook her head. “I can’t, Rainbow. You know I haven’t figured it out yet. You’d be the first to know if I did.”
“Not that.” Rainbow shook her head. “I just… need to fly,” she said, a wild gleam in her eye. “Can’t you magic something up?”
“Well, there’s always Tank’s machine. You could wear that as a hat!” Twilight’s grin faltered as she saw the unamused expression on her friend’s face. She continued after clearing her throat. “Well, I could levitate you again but that wouldn’t last long; you’re heavier than you look.”
“No, not like that. I need to get higher!”
“How about my balloon? That’ll get you plenty high!”
Twilight struggled to think of solutions. “Uh… Pinkie’s copter?”
“No!” Rainbow snorted. “I need… the wind in my hair. I need the adrenaline,” she said quietly, a manic tone in her voice. “I need wings!”
Twilight frowned. “I just told you I haven’t figur—oh!” Realization struck her. “You… want magic wings.”
“Yes!” Rainbow almost shouted the word. “I need to fly, Twilight. You don’t understand how it is after all these weeks!”
“Actually… I kinda do, Dash.” Twilight pointed towards her horn.
“Oh. Right.” Dash grinned guiltily, then stared at Twilight again. “So, can you get me wings?” she asked, her face lighting up with an eager glow.
“Cool, thank–” the pegasus paused as her brain caught up with her ears. “What?” She sputtered, now yelling at full volume. “Why in the hay not?!”
“Rainbow, I’ve already messed you and Applejack up enough with that teleportation accident. Even if the nurses say you’re fine, I’m not risking it until I’ve figured out how to reverse this! I have no idea what the consequences would be if I tried adding even more magic.”
Rainbow sat still, shell-shocked at the refusal. “But you just levitated me…"
Twilight shook her head. “Not the same. Levitation just moves your body around; the wings would have to connect to where your real wings used to be.” She looked at her friend, pity in her eyes. “I’m not going risk crippling you for life, Rainbow.”
“Crippled, Rainbow,” Twilight repeated, now glaring. “That means no flying. Ever again. I’m not willing to risk that!” Her voice softened as she saw Rainbow cringe. “Please. Just give me time to figure this out…"
The blue mare’s ears drooped as she gulped “I—But… Okay. I-I’ll wait.”
The pair sat in silence for a minute, one pony staring dejectedly at the floor while the other watched her. Eventually, Rainbow stood up, clearing her throat. “Thanks, Twilight,” she said quietly. “I… I guess I’ll see you later?”
Twilight nodded. “Sure… And I’m sorry, Rainbow. Really.”
The pegasus just nodded, then turned away and left the library.
Rainbow wandered aimlessly through town, unwilling to go home just yet; the prospect of returning to the farm did not entice her. Her brain didn’t even register the fact that she had thought of Sweet Apple Acres as her home, rather than her cloud-home.
Instead, her mind was too focused on the storm of emotions she was feeling. Dejection was foremost, as her best chance at scratching her itch, her need to fly, had been shot down. She did accept Twilight’s reasoning, and understood the fact that Twilight was, truly, looking after her.
Yet she still couldn’t help a simmer of anger from bubbling up. Twilight being as smart as she was, why couldn’t that egghead find a solution? Why was Rainbow forced to wait this long?
Why, for that matter, wasn’t Princess Celestia helping out? She had saved the town from Twilight’s doll with what seemed like a wave of a hoof. This… this couldn’t take more than a few minutes for the princess to fix.
But no. It had been dumped on Twilight. Rainbow knew her friend was smart, scarily so at times, but the princess had an army—a kingdom—of eggheads that could be put to work.
Why did the princess put it all in Twilight’s hooves? Was this another one of her lessons?
Was that what this pain amounted to? A ponyfeathering lesson?
Rainbow’s dejection had turned into anger, and had now reached a boiling point. She acted on impulse, lashing out at the nearest solid object with a strong buck. Her hooves connected solidly with a tree, resulting in a crack that rang through the street. Shocked at its volume, Rainbow turned to see what she had done. The tree now leaned at a precarious angle, some of the roots ripped out of the ground. As doors and windows started to open, Rainbow made her escape, avoiding the startled ponies poking their heads out in an attempt to trace the source of the noise.
Slowing down as she reached the park, Rainbow angled towards a bench, and draped herself onto it. Calm down, she thought. Property damage was not a good way to vent. Not that she should have had the need to vent. Some friend I am. Blaming Twilight. Blaming our princess.
Even if Twilight was, truly, the cause of her current situation, she was also trying her utmost to fix it. And Rainbow, for all that she called Twilight an egghead, had faith in her friend. She’d get to the bottom of this. Rainbow just wished Twilight would manage to do so sooner, rather than later.
She took a deep breath and sighed, stretching out on the bench. Maybe a nap would help. She hadn’t had one in a while.
Rainbow quietly closed the door behind her, as she exited one of Manehattan’s tallest buildings. Over time, she had worked her way up the company ladder, each greater position earning her new responsibilities and titles, as well as a new office on a higher floor. It worked well as a motivation for pegasi, as the more important you became, the closer you got to the sky where every pegasus belonged.
Plus, the view from her office was pretty awesome, she had to admit. She had one of the keenest eyes in the business, able to glance at the sky and formulate a work plan for the weather ponies in moments. Her coverage of Manehattan had increased as her view expanded ever higher, and had she still been able, she would have managed entire cities and regions.
But she wasn’t able, was she? She knew that, just as she knew why many promotions that should by rights have been given to her were instead handed to other ponies. She certainly understood it.
But it still hurt.
She angled towards her home, amongst the innumerable apartments dotting the city. She walked into the shopping district, stores lining both sides of the road with every kind of product, restaurants vying for attention with countless different aromas wafting from their kitchens.
A splash of color caught her eye, attracting her gaze to a toy shop’s display. The Wonderbolts had a new plush toy added to their list, to commemorate an important event, the promotion of a new captain. Spitfire had retired many years before, along with Soarin’ and many of the members Dash had been familiar with. These days, the wonderbolts were young ponies she did not recognize nor know the names of.
Except the captain. The young filly had trained long and hard, devoting years of her life to the goal. It had taken her several tries, and thus several years worth of waiting, but she had eventually been accepted into the ranks of the elite fliers. And she had worked even harder after that, a testament to her skill and determination. Her plush stood proud, the purple mane looking windswept, purple eyes staring straight ahead, the dark orange coat visible around the edges of the Wonderbolt uniform. She sure had graduated from that little scooter of hers.
Rainbow couldn’t help but feel a pang of jealousy, but she had lost her chance long ago. She gazed at her reflection, thinking how her chance had never really existed at all. The reflection stared back. The blue coat still had its luster, but the chromatic mane was becoming faded. The years had taken their toll. She was old. Wrinkly.
Gasping for breath and biting back a cry, Rainbow jolted awake, almost falling from the bench she had been lying on. She looked around, trying to recover her bearings. She blinked as the sun shone in her eyes, the Ponyville park stretching out before her. She’d apparently slept away half the day.
A dream, she thought, shuddering in relief. It was all a dream. But it had shaken her, badly. It had been so vivid, felt so real. Sliding off the bench, she started walking back to Sweet Apple Acres. She needed someplace familiar, someplace welcoming. She needed the sanctuary of home.
Meanwhile, Twilight continued to busy herself around the Library. As much as she had found the weeks quarantined in her bed annoying, she felt no desire to be outdoors. Her talk with Rainbow had reinforced this, sending Twilight diving back into her books in an attempt to fix her mistake. She’d even requested numerous advanced references on teleportation from the Royal Canterlot Archives, which had arrived during her convalescence. Unfortunately, they had not helped at all. She had gleaned a few snippets that filled some blanks in her knowledge, but nothing that was of use to her.
Sighing, she cast her magic towards one of the tomes, preparing to read it once more in the vain hope of finding something she had missed, but was interrupted by the sound of her front door crashing open. Startled, Twilight dropped the book, and spun around to face the invader.
A pink blur sped towards her, causing Twilight to instinctively teleport away. As she reappeared a few feet away, she surveyed the damage that had resulted from her avoiding none other than Pinkie Pie.
Books were piled in a heap, entirely covering Pinkie until her head popped out of the mount, grinning at Twilight. “Twilight! Rarity told me you were better! Are you better? You look better!” she asked in her usual cheery manner.
Twilight couldn’t help but smile at her friend. “Yes Pinkie, I’m fine. Though I’m still working on–”
“Yay!” the party pony shouted as she leapt at Twilight. “This calls for a party! A ‘Twilight’s not sick anymore’ party! Oh, I gotta invite everypony!”
Twilight shook her head. “That’s nice Pinkie, but I’ve really got to work on this… I’ve got to help Rainbow and Applejack get better as well.”
Pinkie gasped, shocked. “Why, are they sick too?!”
Blinking, the unicorn tilted her head in confusion. Sometimes she truly did not understand how Pinkie’s mind worked. “Uh, no? I mean Dash’s wings…"
“Oh yeah!” Pinkie exclaimed, then shrugged. “Maybe a ‘Twilight’s not sick anymore and is going to fix everything’ party?”
Twilight smiled, unable to help it. As much as Pinkie confused and sometimes even annoyed her, she was always able to make her smile and laugh in the end. “I’ll think about it, Pinkie. Just give me a few days.”
“Oki doki loki!” Pinkie bounced up, pausing in mid-air as she looked around the Library. “Hey!” she said as she landed. “I just noticed something!”
Twilight blinked. What was Pinkie on about now? “What’s that?”
“This place doesn’t have several walls!” the pink pony said, pointing as she spun around. “Look! It’s all just one big round wall!”
That was probably the last thing Twilight expected to hear. In fact, she hadn’t expected it at all. “And you’ve been here how many times now…?”
“Silly, I was just wondering where I’d have to drill a hole for my party cannon! I’ve got to find the best angle after all!”
“Drill a…" Twilight started, then facehoofed. “Pinkie, there’s a door. Why would you have to drill… a hole in a wall…"
Twilight’s voice faltered as she stared at the walls in realization. She sat there, thunderstruck at an idea that weeks of study and research had not produced. Her horn started glowing, levitating a quill and parchment, on which she furiously started scribbling. I have to do a bunch of tests, but… this could work. This could work!
Pinkie stared at Twilight, wondering what had set her off. “Twilight?”
The unicorn spun around, momentarily startled at Pinkie’s presence. She had completely forgotten about her. “Oh, Pinkie! You’re a genius!”
“No I’m not!” Pinkie grinned happily. “I’m a pony!”
“Yes you are! And I’ve made up my mind! Let’s get a party going!”
“But… in a few days, if possible,” she asked, hesitant. She didn’t know how long these experiments would take.
“Still yay!” the pink pony shouted, then bounced out of the library.
As the quiet once more filled the Library, Twilight shook her head, and set to work.
“Applejack! Are you okay?”
The orange pony shook her head, attempting to clear the numbness that the impact had caused. She’d started practicing powered flight, flapping a few times as she’d leapt into another glide. She’d just completed the longest one yet, and her control had been on target throughout its duration, until a sudden gust of wind sent her veering. Unable to correct her trajectory fast enough, she had drifted into a tree, getting tangled in the branches and knocking her head on the trunk. Momentarily stunned, her eyes locked onto Fluttershy as her vision cleared. “Am Ah on the hay?” she shouted, her ears still ringing. “Ah don’t think so. Ah’m in a… tree?”
Ignoring the confusing reply, Fluttershy put her forelegs around Applejack’s midsection, and gently lifted her out of the tangle of branches. She flew back down to the ground, setting Applejack on the grass, and inspected her friend until Applejack’s wits returned. Thankfully, none of the branches had caused any significant damage. A few scrapes here and there, but on the whole the bump on Applejack’s head was the worst injury. “Are you okay?” Fluttershy repeated, as she watched Applejack relax.
“Ah think so,” Applejack replied, lifting a hoof to her head. She hissed in pain as it brushed the bump. “Though Ah’ll probably have a headache for a while.” She took a deep breath, and started to trot back up the hill.
“Uhm… Applejack?” Fluttershy asked quietly, causing the other pony to pause. “Where are you going?”
Applejack stared in confusion at the yellow pegasus. “Ah’m lining up for another try! That one didn’t end too good, now did it?”
“Oh no, no no no…" Fluttershy said, rushing over to Applejack’s side. “You need to rest after a crash like that!”
“But Ah feel fine!” Applejack insisted, flaring her blue wings for emphasis. “See?”
But Fluttershy would not be swayed, and gave Applejack a stare that had made a dragon back down. “No! You need to put some ice on this and cool it down! It’s a big bump.”
Being much smaller than a dragon, Applejack had little chance of resisting The Stare. Gulping, she nodded frantically, wincing as that made her head ache. “Yes ma’am! Ah’m goin’! Ah’m goin’!”
Insisting that she could manage the walk home on her own, Applejack bade Fluttershy goodbye, and made her way back to the farm, the watchful eye of the yellow pegasus following her until she disappeared behind a hill.
The sun dipped closer to the horizon, bathing Equestria in a warm orange glow as the day drew closer to its close. The clouds in the skies took on a pink hue, benign but eerily reminiscent of Discord’s brief reign in Ponyville. These were, however, mere tricks of the light, and were not filled with chocolate rain, a lack which would have greatly saddened a certain pink pony had she been paying attention to them.
Applejack was distracted as she trotted back to her home. She was too busy trying to ignore her aching head to notice the beautiful display in the sky, and she thanked her lucky stars that she had not gotten a concussion, considering how strong the impact had been. As she turned the corner of the path, she sighed, her mind wandering on the events of the past few weeks since the incident. Even now, she still occasionally woke up long before her normal hours, momentarily confused at the weight and presence of the wings, before remembering where they came from.
The harvest also came to mind. Applejack had worried that it would be late this year, the several days of poor performance lowering her normal bucking numbers. Big Macintosh had tried to take up the slack, but as Applejack knew all too well, one pony versus hundreds of trees just did not add up. She felt a small pang of guilt as she recalled how she had, for lack of a better word, tricked Rainbow into helping out. But she quickly dismissed the guilt. Rainbow had been slacking off, spending her days relaxing, sleeping, or being bored while she was unable to perform her weatherpony duties, or her usual practice sessions. Applejack had stepped in and given the pegasus something to do, turning the freeloader into workforce.
It had even been a mixed blessing, as Rainbow was a quick learner, and had performed well beyond any expectations. On the other hoof, things had worked out so ‘well’ that Applejack now found herself in her current situation: no trees to buck left her with far more time on her hooves than she was used to, and she had been at a loss as to what to pass the time with until Rainbow’s had insisted on flying lessons.
Applejack had to admit she enjoyed them; the sensation of even mere gliding was intoxicating. She couldn’t imagine how true, powered flight would feel. But it had taken a herculean effort to get to where she was, nearly as bad as her attempt to harvest all the trees on her own all that time ago. Perhaps not as exhausting, but certainly more stressful. Rainbow’s increasingly despondent attitude only served to exacerbate this, and had turned what should have been enjoyable days and family dinners into headache-inducing hours and silent meals.
One of Applejack’s eyelids twitched at the thought, and she lowered her head as she sighed. It was a wonder, after these past weeks, that the stress hadn’t taken a bigger toll on her. Perhaps she was simply too stubborn to let it get to her—or just to let it show. What she truly wanted to do was talk to somepony. As stubborn as she could be, a good talk with her best friends always helped her immensely, and the weight of these past weeks was driving her to the point where she would do just that.
However, her list of available ponies to talk with did not look promising. Pinkie… was Pinkie. She was a special case, devoting her body and soul to making ponies happy, with a single minded fanaticism that made Applejack’s head spin. Pinkie’s boundless energy and bubbly attitude only served to make it spin faster, and Applejack already felt wound up enough without her mind going in circles. Her fellow earth pony was definitely a last resort.
Rarity, under that surface of grace and poise, was almost as devoted to ponies’ well-being as Pinkie. When she wasn’t being fussy, she was a devoted friend, selflessly giving of herself to help out wherever she could. The unicorn was smart, and even if she was often a bit too dramatic she usually knew what she was talking about. Even after all they’d been through, though, they still didn’t always see eye to eye.
Applejack’s mind wandered to the comments the fashionista had made at the spa, and rolled her eyes. Rarity would probably try to insinuate more of her crazy ideas. She’d probably twist anything Applejack said against her to fit her little romantic fantasies, and in her current state of mind, Applejack didn’t think she’d have a good retort.
No, Rarity definitely was off the list.
Fluttershy… was a sweetheart—and a worrier. The yellow pegasus would hover around Applejack if she even so much mentioned the stress, and the earth pony would probably find herself in a bed, under Fluttershy’s watchful eyes. She’d already felt the effect of that stare not too long ago, and didn’t feel like going for another round.
No, her first choice boiled down to two ponies, whose situations denied Applejack the chance to talk to them. Twilight, last she knew, was still sick and needed her rest, and was still burdened with the task of trying to fix the incident, which was certainly eating up the librarian’s time and energy.
As for Rainbow… Applejack’s mouth twisted into a wry grin. The pegasus probably wouldn’t be very receptive to Applejack’s problem of having too many wings. The grin faded as she thought of her friend. If the past few days were any indication, she was more in need of help than in any condition to give it.
Hopefully, Rainbow would take her up on that offer to talk. If not, Applejack might have to take the first step.
She sighed as she came to the end of her list. She didn’t feel right talking to any of her friends about this problem. But maybe she could talk to her family. Big Macintosh always had an ear open for her.
She was drawn out of her reflection as her stomach growled, causing a slight blush at the sheer volume of it. She was always famished after the flight sessions. It explained why Rainbow always ate so much.
Applejack smiled in relief as she reached the edge of the farm, angling straight towards the farmhouse and its promise of food. She headed for the kitchen, her mind focused on a crucial debate: what to eat. Fritters? Pie? Or a bushel of plain ol’ apples?
Any further thoughts on the subject fled her mind as she crossed the kitchen’s threshold. She had not expected anypony to be present, least of all the cyan pegasus sitting at the table with what looked like a bottle of Applejack’s home brewed apple cider. Normally hidden away from Apple Bloom’s prying hooves, the elder sister had shared her hiding place with her friend a few days after Rainbow’s arrival, hoping it would serve to raise her spirits. The resulting bawdy songs had certainly shown the success of Applejack’s idea, even considering the ensuing hangover. The pegasus had since refrained from touching the drink, preferring to avoid a repeat ‘performance’.
Rainbow took another swig of the bottle, then let out a loud sigh, her entire body seeming to droop. Applejack frowned at the sight, her worry for her friend reaching new heights, prompting her to step forward.
“Dash, are you alright?”
Twilight Sparkle’s horn glowed as she levitated a checklist in front of her eyes. She had to make absolutely sure to track every step of the experiment, and was attempting to map them out in advance. She was proud of her ability to break things down into checklists, and gave this one a third check. Everything looked to be in order.
The same couldn’t be said of the rest of the library. Books lay strewn all over, sure to result in grumbling from the one who would have to clean everything up. But Spike was not in at the moment, as Twilight had sent him on an errand in order to keep him out of the area. She didn’t imagine the experiments to be in any way dangerous, but she wanted to minimize any possibility of distraction. The largest pile of books stood behind her, every single one on the subject of teleportation. She had perused them one more time, eager to glean any further hint on her new insight, the result of which she was about to test. The list was checked. The experiment was set. Calm reigned in the library.
She could now begin.
Twilight stared at the table set before her, containing the object of her first experiment. A simple, hoof-sized rock sat on a small block of wood, with another, bare block sitting a few feet away. Giving her checklist one final glance, she closed her eyes and focused her magic at the tip of her horn. A glow appeared, brightening as she applied the necessary amounts of magic, forming the familiar teleportation bubble around the rock. It matched the shape and color of the one that had put them in this mess, if not the size. She opened her eyes as she reached the necessary levels of power, keen on observing every detail of the spell.
The edges of the bubble reached the wood, completely enclosing the rock in its cocoon. In the next instant, it disappeared in a flash, clattering on the second block as it reappeared a moment later. Twilight let the magic dissipate, then approached the table to investigate the results. The rock sat on the second block, a small layer of wood dust lying underneath it. She glanced at the first block, noting the slight discoloration where the teleportation spell had included part of the wood beneath the rock. But this was expected. This had been her control experiment, giving her the baseline information she needed, and had gone off without a hitch… unlike her dramatic first attempt which had resulted in the situation Applejack and Rainbow Dash found themselves in.
She levitated the rock back to its initial position, mentally adding a new line to her checklist: a further test, when possible, to alter how much of the space beneath the teleported object was included in the spell. However, that could come later. For now, she had to focus on her current experiment: alteration of the transported object.
Her horn lit once more, focusing the magic required on the rock. She kept her eyes open the entire time, watching as the bubble descended, waiting for the key moment. As the edge approached the wooden block, Twilight added a surge of magic in an attempt to halt the process, which would make everything infinitely easier. Immediately, the bubble’s progress stopped. Twilight allowed herself a smile, pleased at the results. This looked promising.
Suddenly, the bubble of magic burst, sending a spray of dust in all directions. Twilight closed her eyes, coughing as she breathed in some of the dust before she could hold her breath. She waved a hoof in an attempt to clear the air, and carefully opened an eye to check her surroundings. Past the grey dust, she could see the table and wooden blocks, no worse for wear. But of the rock, there was no sign.
Unless… she thought, glancing at the dust surrounding her. She coughed once more, frowning in disappointment. A couple days might have been a somewhat optimistic estimate…
Sighing, she levitated a duster and set about cleaning the testing table. She wanted the best conditions for the next attempt.
Big Macintosh glanced upwards, his eyes settling on the sun’s position. While the farmhouse did have a clock or two, he’d always had a knack at telling the time from where the Sun stood in the sky. Or, as the case may be, by the lengthening shadows. Chores still needed doing, even without any applebucking scheduled for a while, and he had shouldered not only his own chores, but Applejack’s as well. He had needed to argue with her before she’d relented, helped in part by Rainbow Dash’s at the time vocal and enthusiastic support. With their combined assault, his sister had finally given in, allowing her more time to practice flying.
He knew she enjoyed these sessions more than she let on, but his reasons for helping weren’t entirely unselfish either. With so much time on his hooves, he truly would not have known what to do with himself. One could only venture into town so often, and the path back and forth did take a fair amount of time to cover. No sense doing that when there were many things left to do at the farm.
As he wandered the farm grounds, his thoughts wandered to his family. The past few weeks had been… good to them. Very good, in fact. The arrival and stay of his sister’s friend had brought much joy and laughter to the farm, which had been quite a surprise. He knew that Rainbow Dash was one of Applejack’s best friends, but he had not truly known her past those few times they had crossed paths. In fact, those few times had shown her to be a loud, brash, self-confident mare. Applejack had often commented on the pegasus's personality, and not always in the best of lights.
But now that he had spent a longer period of time with the weatherpony, he could see hints of why Applejack spent so much time with her. In fact, the entire family seemed to react well to her stay. Apple Bloom saw her as another big sister she could talk to and play with, Granny Smith often gave Rainbow Dash a smile she normally reserved only for the three younger Apples, and he himself was glad to see the effect she had on the family. Plus, she had proven herself to be a hard worker, bringing them to their current state of relaxation.
As for Applejack… Big Macintosh grinned and wryly shook his head. As bizarre as the situation was, what with his sister having sprouted her friends’ wings… he had never seen Applejack as happy as she had been since the pegasus's arrival. When she wasn’t worried about the situation itself, she seemed to have an extra spring in her step, her smile wider as she laughed with her friend. He had seen the looks the two gave each other, almost-unconscious gestures that seemed to linger for longer than either realized.
However, he was unsure that his suspicions about the two would end up being on the mark, now. In the recent week, the atmosphere between the two had taken turn for the worse. Rainbow Dash had seemed to close in on herself, not responding with the same strength she had in the previous weeks. In fact, she seemed almost… depressed, if he had to put a word on it. He couldn’t imagine why, as neither she nor Applejack seemed to be willing to talk. He sighed, hoping that Rainbow Dash would break out of her funk. Keeping his sisters smiling and happy was one of his constant goals in life, and he was failing that job. Perhaps he needed to talk with the pegasus.
He broke out of his reverie as he approached the barnyard, his ears twitching as he picked up a pair of voices. They were loud, and only getting louder. He thought he recognized their owners. A worried frown on his face, he approached his home, the words becoming clearer as their volume reached new heights.
“Dash, you all right?”
Rainbow jumped, not having heard the other pony’s approach. She turned to face Applejack, sizing up the pony who had interrupted her drinking. “I’m fine,” she replied, a slight slur marring her speech. She then noticed the bump on Applejack’s head. “Wha’ happened?” Rainbow asked, as she waved a hoof at the farm pony.
“What, this?” Applejack asked, glancing upwards in a vain attempt to see the top of her own head. “Glidin’ troubles. Some wind caught me and sent me into a tree.” She gave a slight chuckle as she shook her head. “Man, you make this flyin’ stuff look too easy, Sugarcube.”
She knew flattery worked quite well on the pegasus, and had hoped it would raise her spirits, but the resulting snort threw that idea out of the window. “Yeah?” Rainbow asked, her voiced laced with annoyance. “At least some of us can fly…" Her voice dropped to a mumble, but still loud enough for Applejack to hear. “I can’t even remember what it feels like…"
Applejack frowned, not liking the tone she was hearing from her friend. She trotted to the table, and put a hoof on Rainbow’s shoulder. “What the hay is the matter with you?”
To her shock, Rainbow lashed out, knocking Applejack’s foreleg away. Her bottle tumbled across the table, spilling its contents all over. “Oh, nothing!” Rainbow started as she wheeled about to face the farm pony. “I just need to fly, Applejack! Need to! Or I’ll go nuts!” She stared into Applejack’s eyes, anger burning brightly in the pegasus's magenta irises. “And Twilight refused to give me magic wings!” Rainbow spat, slamming her hoof on the table for emphasis.
Applejack stood rooted to the floor, shocked at what she was hearing as well as Rainbow’s actions. “Now hold on there!” she retorted. “Why are you blaming her? What’s this about giving you wings?”
“I’ve gotta fly, A.J.…" Rainbow stared at the earth pony, her eyes wide. “I asked her if she could magic me Rarity’s wings.” She shook her head angrily. “But she said no… something about not mixing up that magic and the one that stole my wings…" Rainbow frowned as she tried to remember past the alcoholic haze. “I don’t know! Some stupid reason! So I’m stuck because somepony has my real wings!”
Applejack’s voice rose to match the pegasus's own rising volume. “That sounds like a plenty good reason to me! Twilight’s just looking out for you!” She paused, having noted the emphasis in Rainbow’s speech. “That’s what’s been eating at you? Ah don’t even want these wings!”
Rainbow Dash stumbled off the chair, catching herself before she landed in a pile of hooves. She glared daggers at Applejack as she regained her balanced. “Oh what, you don’t like them? You’re too good for them, are you?” Rainbow hissed with narrowed eyes.
Applejack sighed as she put a hoof to her face. Rainbow was making no sense at all. “Ah don’t know where you’re getting these stupid ideas. Ah never said that!”
“But that’s wha’ happened!” Rainbow slurred, approaching Applejack. “You’re just a thief!”
“Thief?!” Applejack thundered, her front hooves slamming the floor as she lashed out in anger. “Takes one to know one! When am Ah getting my tail back?!” She could take a lot, but being called a thief… to an honest pony like herself, it was the gravest of insults. “Ah ain’t no thief! Take that back, you lazy ass!”
“Lazy?” Rainbow Dash snorted. “Get that bit out of your teeth! Being this awesome takes work!”
“Awesome?” Applejack yelled into Dash’s face as the two ponies stood so close that their foreheads were touching. The twinge of pain from her bump only fueled her anger. “You jealous nag, Ah can do whatever Ah want! But you can’t do anything without your wings! You’re worthless without them!”
Rainbow Dash stared back into Applejack’s eyes, her muzzle twisted in fury. After a few seconds, she turned away, breaking eye contact. “I’m leaving before somepony gets hurt,” she said, still not facing Applejack. “If I didn’t hold the Element of Loyalty, I’d buck you in the face right now.”
“Fine with me!” Applejack spat, glaring daggers. “Don’t let the door hit your rump on the way out!”
Still shaking in anger, Rainbow Dash stormed out of the kitchen and the barnhouse, slamming the front door in her wake. She failed to notice Big Macintosh, who had stood outside a kitchen window, hearing every word. As Rainbow made her way out of the farmlands, the large earth pony trotted back inside. He made his way to the kitchen, where he found his sister cleaning up the mess Rainbow Dash had left behind.
“Sis?” he asked, causing her to look up. “What the hay just happened?”
Applejack stared at the ground as Rainbow left the kitchen, stomping her hoof in frustration. Her ears flicked backwards as she heard the front door slam closed, causing her frown to deepen. Chances were, that fool pony had damaged the door. She’d have to check it later. But first, she trotted over to the counter, grabbed a cloth with her rainbow tail and began wiping the cider off the floor. She really shouldn’t have mentioned the cider’s existence, but that cat was long since out of the bag.
She was so focused on cleaning that she failed to hear her brother’s approach until he addressed her directly. “Sis? What the hay just happened?”
Applejack growled, flinging the cloth away. “What happened?” she spat, glaring at her brother. “Ah’ll tell you what happened!” She opened her mouth, ready to say what she was thinking, what she was feeling. But nothing came out. She was at a loss for words. “Ah… Ah don’t rightly know.”
“Do ya want to talk?” Big Macintosh asked, watching at his sister. She was angry and confused, and he hated seeing her like this.
“No,” she replied, shaking her head. “Ah don’t reckon Ah can talk about it right now.” She yawned, suddenly exhausted. “Ah think Ah’ll just go to bed.”
Big Macintosh sighed as she brushed past him. Both of his sisters could often be too stubborn for their own good. Especially Applejack. She might not have been willing to talk, but he’d eventually have to confront her.
Applejack put a hoof to her head as she reached the top of the stairs, gently probing her injury. She hissed at the sudden pain, pulling her hoof away, then made her way to the bathroom, intent on cleaning the bump. A riot of color caught her eye as she passed a bedroom, causing her to stare at what was hanging off of the door.
Unable to quell the wave of anger that surged up, she spun around and bucked the offending object, then continued on her way to the bathroom.
Behind her, the rainbow-colored sign lay on the floor, a large crack splitting it in half.
Rainbow slowed her pace to a walk as she approached Fluttershy’s cottage. She had not planned on running but she’d felt too angry, and had broken into a brisk gallop as soon as she reached the farm’s fence. Minutes later, she arrived at her fellow pegasus’s home, glad to have expended at least some of her pent up energy.
She glanced back to where she had come from and spotted a few apple trees in the distance, causing her to frown. She had never realized just how close Fluttershy’s cottage was to Sweet Apple Acres. Right now, she wanted nothing more than to be as far away from the Acres as possible, but… she couldn’t think of where else to go. Fluttershy was her oldest friend. Rainbow couldn’t think of another pony that she could deal with presently.
But right now, Rainbow didn’t need a pony to talk to… she needed a place to stay, as she was now bereft of her home. She blinked as that thought crossed her mind. Home? Why did I think of it as home? She snorted, dismissing the idea, and made her way to the front door of Fluttershy’s cottage. Rainbow banged on it, wincing as she realized she was hitting it with perhaps a bit too much force, and hoped she hadn’t frightened the pony within.
Thankfully, this didn’t seem to be the case, as Fluttershy peeked over the windowsill. The timid pegasus gave a sigh of relief as she saw her friend, disappearing for a moment before opening the door wide. “Rainbow!” she said, smiling. “You gave me a fright… I thought some monster was beating on my door!”
“Sssorry ‘bout that…" Rainbow slurred, scratching the back of her head with a hoof. Fluttershy immediately noticed the oddity of her friend’s speech, and gave her a closer look.
“Rainbow… are you drunk?”
“No!” Rainbow answered, vehemently shaking her head. This caused her to nearly lose her balance, sending her a few steps to the side as her body tried to keep itself straight. Rainbow wilted as Fluttershy frowned at her. “Okay… maybe I’m a little tipsy.”
“Come in… I’ll make you some tea,” Fluttershy said, stepping aside. She watched Rainbow make her way to the couch, then closed the door and headed to the kitchen. Rainbow flopped onto the cushions as Fluttershy prepared the brew, closing her eyes in hopes of resting. Unfortunately, her mind wouldn’t let her, looping the fight over and over again. She quickly opened her eyes as she heard the clink of the teacup touching the table, then sat up and lifted the beverage to her mouth.
Fluttershy sat down on her haunches at the opposite end of the table, watching Rainbow as she drank. Something seemed off about the other pony, more than just the fact she seemed inebriated, which was itself a rare occurrence. The athletic pony didn’t indulge very often, and, in fact, usually tended to abstain entirely. Dash was well aware of the effects of drink, and preferred to remain in control of herself. A drunk pegasus was entirely too prone to meeting the ground headfirst.
But this? This was different. She had never seen Rainbow as drunk as this, regardless of of her denial. Maybe something happened…?
“Rainbow… is something the matter?” Fluttershy asked, jumping as the other pony forcefully slammed the cup onto the table, causing the remaining tea to spill.
“Heck no, everything’s fine!” Rainbow replied, grinning and waving a hoof in the air. She hoped that would be enough to fool Fluttershy. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
Unfortunately, Fluttershy was not fooled. She sat, staring at Rainbow, a slight frown on her face. The latter fidgeted, looking down at her hooves, unable to meet her friend’s gaze as Fluttershy waited for her to talk. Finally, as Fluttershy made no move to break the silence, Rainbow couldn’t hold it in any longer. “I mean, I’ve gotta be fine, right?” she snapped, facing away from Fluttershy. “It’s not like I’ve been horribly maimed or anything.” She pressed on before Fluttershy could say anything. “Nah, just my best friend stole my wings. Other than that, everything’s fine!”
Shocked at the venom in Rainbow’s voice, Fluttershy struggled for words. “Rainbow…" she started, trying to decide what she wanted to say. “You know as well as I do that she didn’t do anything of the sort!”
Rainbow leaned back on Fluttershy’s couch, her muzzle pointed at the ceiling as she let out a growl. “Oh yeah? She called me useless without them. Worthless.”
Fluttershy gasped, unable to believe what she’d heard. “Oh… but surely she didn’t mean it?”
Rainbow snorted. “She wasn’t drunk, Fluttershy. Meant every word.” Rainbow snorted, waving her hooves in the air. “You know, ‘Honest Apple’?” she mocked. Rainbow sobered up once again as she considered her next words. “Worst part is… she’s probably right.” Seeing Fluttershy start shaking her head, she continued. “What good am I if I can’t fly?”
“Well,” Fluttershy started, caught off guard at the question, “you’re…" She faltered, trying to think. As self-deprecating as Rainbow was being, Fluttershy honestly couldn’t think of other things Dash was good at. She’d devoted her entire being into physical performance, and flying was her entire soul. There was, however, one thing that did come to mind. “You’re loyal. And a good pony. That’s what counts.”
Rainbow’s frown, which had grown deeper as Fluttershy seemed unable to respond, eased up marginally. “… Whatever,” she mumbled. Sighing, she looked at her friend. “Fluttershy… do you mind if I crash here tonight?” Rainbow asked, wincing as she reflected on her choice of words.
“N-no, not at all!” Fluttershy replied, glad that she had at least somewhat gotten through to the other pony. “Stay as long as you want. You can use my bed…"
Rainbow nodded her thanks, sliding off the couch and making her way to the steps leading up to Fluttershy’s room. Fluttershy watched silently, then glanced to her front door, in the direction of Sweet Apple Acres.
She had to get to the bottom of this.
Night had fallen, and all seemed silent on the farm. The farmhouse was dark, all the ponies within fast asleep, both young and old.
Outside, however, two shapes could be seen sitting under an apple tree, deep in discussion. The larger of the two, a stallion, kept talking as his companion, a small pegasus mare, listened to his every word.
"… and then Miss Dash headed off. I reckon she went straight to your place."
Fluttershy’s face fell as Big Macintosh finished telling her what he’d heard. "Oh dear. This is bad. What do we do?"
“Ah can give Applejack a talkin’ to,” Big Macintosh suggested, “but you know how mighty stubborn she can be.”
Fluttershy nodded, well aware of the fact. “Rainbow is the same way…" She sighed, feeling dejected. “How could this have happened? They seemed to have such good times together lately…"
Big Macintosh nodded silently. “They did. Ah’ve never seen Applejack’s this happy before. Ah think Miss Dash means a whole lot to her.”
Fluttershy beamed as she realized what the stallion meant. "Really? You think they're…" The yellow pegasus trailed off, her expression falling as she remembered just what they’d been talking about. "Oh. Oh, dear. I thought Rainbow was too upset for just another one of their little spats." When she looked back up at Big Macintosh, her eyes were filled with determination. "We can't let them fall apart like this. It isn't fair to either of them."
The stallion’s response was direct, and to the point. “Eeyup.”
Fluttershy stood up, extending her wings in preparation for flight. “Thank you for telling me all this, Big Macintosh. I think I need to let the girls know… I’ll tell you if we can think of anything we can do.”
Big Macintosh nodded, and watched as Fluttershy took to the sky, heading towards Ponyville.
The next morning, Applejack found herself waking to the glare of sunlight making its way through her window. Unlike most days, where she woke up with the dawn or even before it, the sun now stood high in the sky, pointing to a near-noontime hour. Ah must’ve been plum tuckered out, Applejack thought, blinking blearily. She couldn’t remember the last time she had woken up so late, even on days with little to do. Momentarily confused, she wondered what happened the previous day which could have tired her out so much. Oh. Right, she thought as the memory surfaced, that happened. Her mood instantly took a nose dive, only getting worse as her wings got caught in the blanket. Untangling herself, she glared at the offending appendages, then snorted in frustration.
She made her way down the stairs, listening for telltale signs of activity, but heard nothing from within the farmhouse. She sighed with relief, thankful that she would not have to face her family just yet. She knew Big Macintosh would be after her, but she did not feel like talking at the moment.
Or, in fact, that talking would help at all in the first place. It certainly hadn’t last night.
Big Macintosh would likely talk to Granny Smith, too. Their grandmother would give a piece of her mind as well, and Applejack would be hard pressed to refuse the matriarch of the family. But Applejack was especially thankful that Apple Bloom was in school. As strict as Applejack sometimes had to be with the filly, she still often found herself unable to deny her little sister anything. To top it off, she had noticed the disappearance of Apple Bloom’s hoof-made rainbow sign this morning. Applejack just didn’t have the heart to face her sister regarding that subject.
Eager to escape the farm and reduce any chance of meeting the rest of her family, she wolfed down a few apples, then took off in the direction of Ponyville. While she did not feel like talking to anypony, she definitely needed to check on one in particular.
A short while later, she arrived in the center of town, having run at a brisk pace. Directly in front of her loomed her destination: the Ponyville library. As she lifted her hoof to knock, a violent bang made itself heard through the door. Foregoing courtesies, she shoved the door open, standing ready to give whatever had made the noise a taste of her hooves.
What she found instead was a cloud of dust, and a unicorn coughing in the middle of it. Recognizing her friend, Applejack spun her tail to help clear the air. “You okay there Twilight?”
“Appl–” Twilight started, but was interrupted by another series of coughs. When the air cleared and she had gotten her breath back, Twilight focused on the other pony. “Applejack!” she said, suddenly nervous. “What brings you here?”
“Ah’m just checkin’ on a friend! Ah see you’re out of bed?”
Twilight rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Yes, yes, I’m fine. I told Rainbow the same thi–” She froze, mentally slapping herself. Fluttershy had visited her last night, and had shared what she’d learned from Big Macintosh. Too caught up in her experiments, she had completely forgotten what they’d agreed on: if either Rainbow or Applejack showed up, don’t mention the other until they could come up with a plan. It hadn’t been a minute, and Twilight had already failed spectacularly.
Thankfully, Applejack had not noticed the pause. Instead, she’d frowned, looking away as soon as she heard Rainbow’s name. The silence stretched uncomfortably, until Applejack sighed. “Ah’m actually here about that, Twilight. Have you figured out anything yet?”
Twilight hesitated, unable to think straight. Fluttershy had not only told her about the fight, she’d also mentioned her suspicions. More than ever, they had to help Rainbow and Applejack make up. And she’d completely blown it.
Applejack watched in silence, a grim expression settling on her face. “Ah see.”
Twilight blinked as she heard Applejack’s words. “What? Oh, no no no…" she stammered, frantically shaking her head. Applejack had completely misunderstood her silence. “I, uh, I’ve actually got a few ideas, and I’m working on them.” She glanced at her experiments table, where some of the dust was still settling. She was definitely making progress, but at an agonizingly slow rate. Seeing Applejack now, she wanted to elaborate… but she couldn’t. She didn't know how long it would be, and she refused to make a promise she might not be able to keep.
Applejack followed her gaze, then glanced back at Twilight. “Well, Ah’ll leave you to it then.” She nodded her farewell, and trotted out of the library. As she closed the door behind her, she let out a snort of frustration. Yeah, that looked real promising… Twi never would admit when she was plain stumped.
Her day now even worse, she wandered through town, letting her hooves take her where they wanted.
Inside Carousel Boutique, a light humming could be heard. The source was none other than the residence’s owner, as she moved about in her inspiration room. Several sheets of paper floated around her head, covered with designs and recent ideas. Yet as she rolled them up and placed them into a basket, Rarity could not help but sigh. None of these designs had been created today, as she was simply too distracted to sketch anything new.
Besides, the issue at hoof was far more important. She thought back to the day Applejack had stumbled into the spa. She had only been teasing the poor dear with that talk of being attached to Rainbow’s hip, but if Fluttershy’s hunch was right… she had been more on the mark than she could possibly have imagined.
Yet, as much as she wanted to gloat, she just did not have the heart for it. Not now, after hearing about the fight. She could barely even imagine what might have caused a clash of that magnitude. Having had several ‘heated discussions’ with the farmpony herself, she knew how argumentative Applejack could be about things. But it was always minor fights, however loud they might have gotten during the conversations. Even during the sleepover at the library, they had never truly had a fight that could risk their friendship.
This, though… she had never imagined that things would get so out of hoof. Admittedly, Rainbow and Applejack had a history of fighting. The running of the leaves in particular came to mind; by the end of the race it had actually come to blows. But if Big Macintosh’s report was accurate, this fight was far worse than any that came before.
That simply would not do.
Yet as determined as she felt, she could not think of what to do to help. Wanting to was one thing, coming up with a plan was an entirely different thing. That tended to be Twilight’s field of expertise.
The jingle of the shop’s doorbell interrupted her thoughts, forcing her towards the main room of the boutique. She was about to launch into her welcoming speech when a mass of pink fur and hair materialized in front of her face.
“Hi!” Pinkie exclaimed, a large grin on her face.
“Hello Pinkie,” Rarity replied, smiling at her friend. “What brings you here?”
“I need your help! It’ll take no time at all with you there, and I just know everything will be perfect if you’re helping!”
“Help with what?” Rarity asked as she watched Pinkie bounce around her.
“With the party, duh!” Pinkie replied, as she kept bouncing.
“A… party? Whatever for, Pinkie?”
Pinkie paused in mid-air to stare at the other pony. “You don’t need a reason for a party!” she said, before landing once more. “But in this case, it’s a party to celebrate Twilight’s recovery!”
Rarity blinked. She could think of a number of retorts to the first statement, but only one thought was relevant right now. “Are you sure this is a good idea, Pinkie? Haven’t you heard of Rainbow and Applejack’s fight?”
“Of course I did! That’s why I want to organize a party! It needs to be the bestest party ever, to make them feel better! So I need your help!”
Rarity could only stare in disbelief at Pinkie‘s eager smile. Sighing, the unicorn put a hoof on pink pony’s shoulder. “Pinkie, dear… I don’t think a party is going to help.”
Pinkie tilted her head in confusion. “What? Parties always help!”
“Pinkie… if you invite them both, neither will come,” Rarity said, shaking her head. “If you invite just one of them, the other will be insulted. And a party without either would just be… sad.”
Pinkie’s expression fell as she processed Rarity’s argument. “No… party?”
“I’m afraid not,” Rarity replied. She winced as Pinkie simply stared at the ground, before standing up and slowly leaving the boutique. She hated to see her friend like this, but a party was probably the worst idea possible in this situation. Alone once more, she headed to her room, hoping a bit of sewing would help ease her mind.
Outside, Pinkie sat under a nearby tree, clearly despondent. The very idea of a party not helping was an alien concept. Parties fix everything! Even when there’s nothing to fix! She stared at the ground, a hint of tears forming at the edge of her eyes.
No! she thought, frowning, then stood up and stared straight ahead. If a party can’t fix it, somepony needs to take it into her own hooves! And that pony… is me!
Were a stranger to accost a Ponyville resident on the street, and ask them about Sugarcube Corner, they could be told many, many things. Such as the fact that the Cakes were the best bakers they knew, and that their many confectioneries could almost bring a tear to the eyes with sheer deliciousness.
They could also be told that if they were seeking the town’s resident party pony, Sugarcube Corner would be the first place to look. She worked and babysat for the Cakes, and was often found planning her next event there.
If, however, they asked whether it was the residence of a mastermind, bent on formulating plans to get two ponies together, they would have been answered with a blank look and a laugh.
Yet that was exactly what Pinkie Pie had been doing all night. She had thought at length, and even discussed the details with her partner in crime, Gummy. Now everything was set, all the details worked out.
It was Go Time.
Big Macintosh’s morning had been… interesting, to say the least. First had been the family breakfast, the air thick with tension, all of it stemming from Applejack. Apple Bloom hadn’t helped either, peppering her sister with questions.
“Sis, where’s Rainbow Dash?” Apple Bloom had asked, dropping the broken sign onto the table. Big Macintosh was surprised that the filly had kept quiet as long as she had, but after two days without the colorful pegasus around, she had started to suspect things. “Did you two fight?”
The orange pony remained silent, both too angry to speak and unable to think of what to say. A number of excuses came to mind, but every single one simply sounded too weak. But before she could reply, Big Macintosh’s deep voice made itself heard.
“Don’t you worry none, Apple Bloom. Miss Dash just went to visit Miss Fluttershy for a while,” he explained, keeping his features neutral. This statement earned him a glance from both of his sisters. Apple Bloom’s was filled with doubt and confusion, whereas Applejack’s expression seemed to be one of surprise. She apparently hadn’t known where Rainbow had gone.
“So what happened to my sign?” Apple Bloom asked, staring angrily at the broken object.
“Ah think that was my fault,” the stallion said. “I might’ve bumped into it…"
“Bumped into it,” the filly repeated, holding the two parts in her hooves. She didn’t seem to be buying it.
“Ah’m a big pony. I bump things hard,” he explained. He glanced again at Applejack, seeing the grateful expression on her face.
Thankfully, Apple Bloom had needed to run off to school, cutting off any further discussion on the subject. Like Applejack, he didn’t like lying, but unlike her, he could actually do it convincingly. In this case, Applejack’s plight had overcome his natural prejudices.
After that eventful breakfast, Big Macintosh had expected a relaxing day of farmwork, and an eventual meeting in Ponyville with Miss Fluttershy. They were, after all, still trying to think of ways to help his sister and Miss Dash.
He hadn’t, however, expected to see another of Applejack’s friends on the farm. But there was Pinkie Pie, playing with Winona. Well… perhaps playing was the wrong term, as he observed the pink pony pull out a bag of treats and whisper to the dog. Shrugging, he turned around to get to work when he felt a hoof on his side.
“Hi, Big Mac!” Pinkie chirped, bouncing to face the stallion. “Where’s Applejack?”
Always a pony of few words, Big Macintosh simply pointed at the farmhouse, from which the pony in question was just exiting. With a word of thanks, Pinkie bounced over to the orange pony, and Big Macintosh entered the barn. Work had to be done.
“Well howdy, Pinkie!” Applejack replied, momentarily startled. She hadn’t even noticed her friend’s arrival before the pink pony had spoken. “What brings you to the farm?”
“Well I was just gonna say hi and see what you’re doing but you look fine so that’s all right and hey, what’s up with Winona?”
“Eh?” Applejack asked, as she looked in the direction Pinkie was pointing. There sat Winona, her tongue lolling out, a pitiful look on her face. She quickly trotted over to her pet, leaning down to take a close look. “What’s wrong, girl?”
“Maybe she’s sick!” Pinkie gasped, as Winona rolled over onto her side.
“She looks fine to me…" Applejack said, her face nonetheless lined with worry.
“You should have her looked at!”
“Maybe…" Applejack hesitated, until Winona gave her the most soul-rending look a canine could give. “You’re right. Let’s get her to the vet.”
“Good idea, the ve—wait, not a good idea! Why the vet?” Pinkie asked, tilting her head.
Applejack blinked in confusion. “Err… because she looks sick?”
“No, I mean, why the vet? Fluttershy’s is much closer!”
“Good idea,” Applejack agreed, before gently lifting Winona onto her back. “Let’s go!”
Big Macintosh, having just left the barn, watched the two mares head off towards Fluttershy’s cottage. But only a few seconds later, a squirrel crossed their path, speeding towards a tree. Unable to resist, Winona scrambled off of Applejack’s back, barking as she gave pursuit.
“What in tarnation… she’s fine!” Applejack said as she watched her faithful companion run off.
“Wow, she got better fast! Oh hey, I gotta go, see you later okay Applejack?”
Big Macintosh’s eyes narrowed in suspicion as the pink pony ran off, leaving a confused and speechless Applejack behind. He blinked and planted his face is his hoof as he recalled the doggy treats and put it all together. Treats. Illness. Fluttershy. All these pointed to one single conclusion. Ah'd better tell Miss Fluttershy. This just got a mite more complicated.
“I don’t know how I can help, Rarity!” Twilight sighed, as she sat across from her friend in the library’s kitchen. “I already screwed things up when Applejack came by…" she said, planting her face onto the table’s surface.
Rarity placed her hoof on Twilight’s shoulder. “There, there. You’re already doing more than any of us are, dear,” she said, motioning towards Twilight’s experimentation table. “You can’t beat yourself up over everything.”
“I feel like I’ve almost got it… it’s just out of my reach…"
Rarity grimaced as her friend seemed to reach a new level of despair. “You know I’d help you if I could, but… I believe I would just slow you down.”
The purple unicorn lifted her head to look at Rarity in the eye. “The thought counts. Thanks, Rarity.” She smiled in appreciation.
“But getting back to those two… Honestly, Twilight, I think we’d just get in the way.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“Think about it. Fluttershy is Rainbow Dash’s oldest friend… and Big Macintosh is Applejack’s brother. There’s no one better suited to help them sort this out.” She shrugged in defeat. “If anyone can fix this, it’s them. I’m sure they’ll think of something if everypony just stays out of their way.”
Twilight sighed, laying her head back on the table. “I hope you’re right…"
Rainbow Dash grunted as she woke up, taking a few seconds to recognize her surroundings. Where she had expected a familiar sight of wood and floorboards, she instead found herself surrounded by various miniature dwellings, each housing a creature of some sort. Oh right, she thought, I’m at Fluttershy’s, not…
Rainbow quelled that thought with a frown, having no desire to be reminded of that place. She groaned as she dragged herself off the couch, where she’d insisted on sleeping. The first night of her arrival, she’d been too emotionally exhausted to argue against Fluttershy’s offer, but after the first day of lounging around and unsuccessfully attempting to help with the animals, she’d insisted on leaving the bed to its proper owner. She didn’t want to abuse Fluttershy’s hospitality. And without wings, she didn’t have to worry about twisting and turning to get comfortable.
Thinking of her fellow pegasus made Rainbow Dash remember a conversation they’d had the previous day. Fluttershy, ever the caring soul, had tried to broach the subject of… Applejack. Or rather, she had questioned Rainbow herself. She’d woken up that morning with a terrible headache, clearly the aftereffects of the cider.
That had been Fluttershy’s point. The cider might have been responsible for more of what happened that night than Rainbow Dash was willing to admit. Still, she thought, Applejack wasn’t drunk. What she said was unforgivable.
A sudden loud grumble from her stomach distracted her from her thoughts, and as she started to make her way to the kitchen for some breakfast, she heard a commotion coming from outside. Curiosity gaining the upper hand over hunger, she opened the door to have a look.
Several groups of critters seemed to be gathered around a number of spots on the ground, completely covering whatever it was they had discovered. Many of them scattered as Dash approached, finally revealing… the remains of a cupcake. And not just any cupcake, she noticed, but her favorite kind: The Chocolate Stampede. Slathered in frosting, bits of chocolate both outside and inside the treat. She knew they were terribly unhealthy, but could only rarely resist the temptation whenever she found herself at Sugarcube Corner.
Rainbow Dash looked around, suddenly wondering where this cupcake might have come from. Obviously the bakery, originally, but she saw no sign of another pony in the vicinity. Shrugging, she trotted over to the next pile of critters, confirming her suspicions: there lay the remains of yet another cupcake.
Stomping her hoof, she wondered who would be so cruel as to leave something so tasty for animals to eat, until she glanced down the road, noticing a number of cupcakes on the ground, most of them untouched. She charged towards the closest one, her stomach growling as if to spurn her forward. She scooped it up in her hooves, consuming the delicious treat in two bites.
Oh… that tasted so good. Hey, there’s another!
Focused as she was on devouring the cupcakes, she failed to notice the direction in which she was heading, until she glanced around in search of the next. Facing her were dozens of apple trees, and in the distance, the farmhouse could be seen. What the…? Rainbow thought, realizing for the first time just where she was. She crested over the short rise she was climbing, and paused as she saw the source of the cupcake trail.
There stood Pinkie Pie, dropping treats as she cantered towards the farm. She hadn’t noticed the pegasus yet, intent on her path.
Not wanting to spend a minute longer in the area than she wanted to, nor wanting to give the pink pony a chance to notice her, Rainbow spun around, and trotted back to Fluttershy’s cottage.
She didn’t notice Pinkie glance behind her, spotting the pegasus’s escape. Pinkie’s grin faded momentarily, only to spring back into place. She was at Sweet Apple Acres already…
Time for plan C.
Twilight looked at the stone fused halfway through the table again, and sighed. She hated doing this—it felt like cheating on a test—but with the way her experiments had been going recently…
She couldn't make her friends wait on her pride. Rarity’s offer of help had been sincere, but she was right: she couldn’t help. But the comment had struck a chord within Twilight.
"Alright, Spike. Send it."
Dear Princess Celestia,
You know me. I love solving problems, searching for solutions, and coming up with answers to quandaries…
But I think I need help. I don’t want to impose, or take up too much of your time… but I must still ask. I’ve attached my notes on what I’m working on.
This is not for me, Princess. This is for my friends. I can’t in good conscience leave them suffering like this.
I beg of you, Princess, can you help?
Your faithful student,
Big Mac blinked as he stepped around the farmhouse corner. His eyes went from Pinkie Pie, to her Party Cannon, currently aimed at Applejack’s room, to the lasso held determinedly in her mouth.
“Miss Pie, you’re plannin’ ta lasso Applejack. Think about it.”
Dear Twilight Sparkle,
My faithful student, know that you will never, ever have to beg to receive my help. I will not allow my subjects to become unnecessarily dependent on me, but when a friend is in genuine need, as you are, I will do everything in my power to aid them.
I cannot simply give you the answers you seek, for I do not know them myself. I suggest you join me in Canterlot, and we can work on a solution together. I do have a kingdom to administer, but for such a matter, I can clear my schedule for a while. I believe it is time to introduce Luna to the wonders of modern Court bureaucracy. It has been too long since I have engaged in proper magical research, anyway.
“Spike?” Twilight yelled, momentarily forgetting that the dragon she had snatched the letter from was standing right beside her. She grinned sheepishly as he covered his head. “Sorry. Pack up, we’re heading to Canterlot!”
Her assistant saluted, and ran off in search of their luggage.
Plan D would work. Plan D was a doozie, Pinkie told herself, having spent the rest of the day waiting for her chance to implement it. Plans A, B, and C had failed, but she knew that they were only her first attempts. This time… this time, it would work.
Under the cover of darkness, Pinkie took off, pedalling her copter in the direction of Fluttershy’s cottage. She had been certain the cupcakes would do the trick, as Dashie had never been able to resist them, but her lack of success proved that hope wrong.
For this plan, the copter had been reworked: a sling-bed hung under the framework by a pair of ropes, gently swinging in the breeze. If Dashie couldn’t be led to Sweet Apple Acres… she’d have to be brought to Sweet Apple Acres.
Grinning at her brilliance, Pinkie kept her speed and direction, soon finding herself hovering over the cottage. The windows were dark, but she kept herself a fair height above the home, so as not to disturb either pony or animal within. She tossed a rope over the edge, and lowered the sling-bed to the window where she knew Dashie was sleeping. After her failed attempt at capturing Applejack, she had scouted Fluttershy’s home and seen the cyan pegasus asleep upstairs in Fluttershy’s bed, and the yellow pegasus on the couch.
With her preparations complete, Pinkie jumped over the side, quickly shimmying down the rope to land on the window’s ledge. She took a moment to push the window open, thankful that Fluttershy never seemed to lock them. Inching forward, she stood over the sleeping Rainbow Dash, when suddenly a loud crash made itself heard from outside.
The entire house seemed to wake up at the same time, critters loudly clamoring their fright, and Rainbow Dash jumped up in surprise. “Wha—Pinkie? What are you doing here? What are you humming? And why are you in a tuxedo?"
Pinkie wheeled about, about to return to her copter and make her escape, only to see it lying upside-down on the ground. Silly me! she thought. I forgot there was no one pedalling!
Thankfully, the crash had not done any significant damage, which in and of itself was a shock. For some reason I expected it to explode on impact…
Ah, well. The plan had failed, and she needed to make her escape one way or another. She simply struck a pose without turning around, switched to a different tune, leapt to the ground and sped off.
As Pinkie disappeared into the distance, a confused Rainbow took a look at the crashed copter. Twice now, Pinkie had seemed to have targeted her in these schemes, and it was clear they weren’t just her normal pranks. Rainbow didn't know what was going on, but she knew she had to talk to Pinkie, or the party pony would keep trying.
She jumped out of the window—landing without injury, thankfully; she had forgotten her wingless state for a moment—leaving behind a confused Fluttershy watching her from the couch, and took off in pursuit of the pink pony.
“You sure you’re alright, sis?”
Applejack glowered at her brother’s question as they made their way home. Darkness had long since fallen, but she had remained outside, stubbornly practicing her flight. She didn’t even know why she was even practicing, considering what, or rather who it reminded her of. Yet it had become a routine, and she’d always found those hard to break. After years of the same morning chores, anything repetitive had tended to become a habit.
She just wished that she could show any sign of improvement.
“Ah’m jus’ fine,” she muttered, an eye on the numerous trees surrounding them. She knew every tree almost individually, spotting details that nopony else could see, except perhaps Big Macintosh. She didn’t even need to be able to see the farmhouse to find her way home.
“Ah’m just saying, that landing didn’t look pretty…"
Applejack snorted. That’s an understatement… She’d managed to avoid crashing into another tree, but had landed in a jumble of limbs at the foot of the hill. If anything, her performance seemed to have become worse. “Ah figure it’s because Ah’m trying this on my own. Ah could still use some tips from Fluttershy…"
Big Macintosh remained silent, keeping his thoughts to himself. No, sis, Ah don’t think it’s Fluttershy that’s the problem… "Well, we both know we can't ask her for help now."
Applejack flinched at the comment, her face pointing towards the ground. “Ah know…" she mumbled, too low for anyone but herself to hear.
The pair paused, their ears flicking about as they caught the sound of hooves pounding the earth.
“What in tarnation–” Applejack began, before being interrupted by the source of the noise: Pinkie Pie, running at a good clip, with Rainbow Dash in pursuit not far behind.
As the party pony caught sight of Applejack and her brother, her face broke into a wide grin, and she came to a complete stop next to them. Shortly thereafter, Rainbow Dash skidded to a halt and glared at Pinkie.
“What the hay Pinkie, what’s the matter with you?” she asked, not having noticed the company as she glared at the pink pony. Fluttershy landed beside Big Mac, having decided against her better judgement to follow her friend. Given who was gathered here, the decision had possibly been a good one.
“Oh hey, what’s up Dashie?”
“Don’t you ‘what’s up’ me, why are you trying to get me to the Acres?”
“I’m not trying–” Pinkie started, before Rainbow’s yell interrupted her.
“You tried to kidnap me in your copter! How is that ‘not trying’?”
“–I succeeded!” Pinkie finished, grinning even wider.
“You—wait, what?” Rainbow Dash blinked, finally noticing the other ponies surrounding them.
“Ah’d appreciate if you didn’t yell; Apple Bloom’s asleep,” Applejack interjected, glaring at Rainbow Dash. “Now get out of here.”
“Not before I figure out why she dragged me here!”
Before Pinkie could answer, Applejack continued. “Maybe she brought you here so you could stop being such a stupid filly and apologize!”
“Apologize?” Rainbow shouted, rearing up in anger. “For what?! You’re the thief!”
“You take that back you stuck-up nag!”
“Then gimme back my wings!”
“Sorry, but Twilight was just plain stumped when Ah checked in on her! Believe me, Ah’d love to be rid of them if Ah could!”
“Will you two stop that?!”
The two arguing ponies cringed as a pair of voices thundered at them, and turned to see Big Macintosh and Fluttershy glaring at them. Before the pair could resume their argument, Fluttershy stepped forward. “Listen to yourselves,” she said, much more quietly. “What’s happened with you two?”
Rainbow Dash, who up to that point had been on the verge of cowering away from Fluttershy, drew herself up and pointed towards the wings on Applejack’s back. “That happened!”
“That was almost a month ago! You’ve been living and working together happily for weeks now!”
“Then she became Little Miss Moody…" Applejack muttered, loud enough for everypony to hear.
“Hey–!” Rainbow started, before Big Macintosh interrupted her.
“Can you blame her, Sis?” he asked, staring at Applejack. She’d never heard him like this. He sounded angry, and… disappointed. “Think of what she’s going through. How would you feel if you lost your legs?”
“Hey, this isn’t much better for me either!” Applejack retorted. “Getting a couple extra limbs isn’t that much easier to deal with!” She glanced at Rainbow Dash as the words left her mouth. She’d suddenly remembered the conversation they’d had when Rainbow had asked for a place to stay. Ah don’t know what Ah’d do if I couldn’t buck them trees, she remembered saying. Ah’d feel completely useless. Which was exactly what she’d told the grounded pegasus.
Rainbow’s frown had faded as she listened to the siblings. She had been so focused on her own suffering, she’d forgotten she wasn’t the only pony affected. She remembered how exhausted Applejack had seemed for the first few days, the changes to her body robbing her of any sleep. Rainbow thought she’d had it easy, but…
“Listen, Dash, Ah–” Applejack started as she turned to face Rainbow Dash. “Applejack, I–” Rainbow began just as the other pony spoke. They paused, realizing they had both tried to speak at the same time.
Before either could finish, Pinkie grinned, bouncing with joy. “There, you see? Now you two lovebirds just make up and we can all go home and I'll throw a party tomorrow–”
Oblivious to the look of shock on the two ponies’ faces, and the shared look of horror on Big Macintosh’s and Fluttershy’s, Pinkie simply nodded. “Yeah! You two make such a cute couple!” she said, causing a matching pair of blushes.
“Couple?” Applejack repeated. “Ah can barely stand the sight of her right now!”
“I don’t really want to see your face right now either, you know!” Rainbow Dash said as she glared at the earth pony.
“Then you can get right off my farm!”
“Maybe I will!”
“See?” Pinkie interrupted, grinning. “You two are adorable!” She giggled happily as she watched the two ponies stammer. Catching each other’s eyes, they frowned at each other once more, then spun around and went their separate ways.
Pinkie was quickly left alone with a pair of ponies each holding one of their hooves to their face, until they turned to glare at her as one. Tilting her head in confusion, Pinkie simply blinked.
“What? What’d I do?”
Spike put a finishing touch on the letter as Twilight frantically ran through the library behind him. “Spike!” she called out, levitating numerous books at the same time and frantically stuffing them within her saddlebags. “Did you finish the letter?”
Spike jumped down from the pedestal he’d been using. “Yep! Got it right here,” he said, and scanned over the page once more. “Heading to Canterlot, check. Getting princess’s help, check. Will come back when we have answers, check.” He looked up from the note to address Twilight.
“I’ll go drop this off at Rarity’s, then?”
“No time,” she yelled. “The last train is leaving in… oh no! We’ve got to go now!”
“What about the note?” Spike asked, as he ran behind the frantic pony.
“Just post it on the door! Now let’s go!”
The princess of the night smiled as she heard her sister use the old, familiar pet name. It was a term of endearment, but Celestia often used it when she wanted something from the younger alicorn. Luna wondered if Celestia even realized this. “Yes, ‘Tia?”
“Twilight Sparkle will arrive at the palace tomorrow. I will be spending time with her doing some magical research, and I was wondering…"
“You have need of my help?” the dark alicorn asked, frowning. “ ‘Tia, you know how behind We are on such matters these days…"
Celestia shook her head, smiling. “No, I had something else in mind. Since I will be occupied, the throne will be vacant…" she trailed off, grinning as she caught her sister’s expression.
“You want Us to…" Luna gasped, shocked. Upon her return from exile, they had both agreed that she needed time to acclimatize herself to the changed times. Ponies had changed in a thousand years, more than she had thought possible. Where they had once slept the night away, which had once partially been responsible for her downfall, they now enjoyed the later hours, some ponies even spending their entire waking hours in her darkness. But these were the least of the changes. Their civilization had transformed, along with everything that went with it: entertainment, agriculture, science, magic, politics… just to name a few.
And it seemed like she was about to get a taste of the last one.
“You’ve asked me several times lately,” the elder alicorn replied, nodding. “I believe this is a perfect opportunity for you to try your hoof at ruling.”
“Oh thank you, ‘Tia!” Luna said, sitting on her haunches to ecstatically clap her front hooves together. “We—I cannot wait!”
“You won’t have to,” Celestia said, nodding her head towards a window, where the sun was dipping closer to the horizon. “I must prepare for Twilight’s arrival. You can start right after you raise the moon.”
Luna stood up, smiling widely at her sister. “You won’t be disappointed in me, sister! I know exactly what I’m going to do!” she said, then ran off to find a balcony. She had a moon to raise.
Celestia stared at the vanishing contrail of stars. Luna had not said ‘what to do’, but ‘what I’m going to do’. She sighed softly, shaking her head. This was her sister, after all. Surely things would be all right.
It took all of Applejack’s self control to not slam the door as she arrived at her home. Apple Bloom and Granny Smith were asleep, after all, and it would just not do to wake them up. Even if she felt like kicking something into next week. She made her way to the kitchen, and sat down at the table, sighing as she let her head rest on its flat surface.
What little peace she was feeling shattered like glass as somepony spoke up.
“Applejack? Are you okay?” the quiet voice asked. Lifting her head off the table, Applejack saw the concern on Fluttershy’s face. Big Macintosh stood next to her, his face as impassive as ever, but she could see the worry in his eyes.
“What do you think, Fluttershy?” she snapped, more harshly than she intended. “Ah just found out that Pinkie thinks Ah been makin’ eyes at a mare Ah can't even think 'bout right now without gettin' madder than a wet hen. Honestly,” she asked, planting a hoof on her face, “where in the hay did she get that idea from?”
The two other ponies shared a slightly nervous glance, and pressed on. "Can you really blame her, Applejack?” Fluttershy asked, sitting at the table. “You two have been nearly inseparable for ages…"
"Only because she can't fly home!” Applejack retorted. She frowned. “What kind of pony would Ah be if Ah refused to let her stay?" But Fluttershy’s words had a core of truth. Since Rainbow Dash started staying at the farm… Applejack was hard pressed to think of many moment the two hadn’t spent together.
"I don’t just mean since… all this happened,” Fluttershy answered, waving a hoof at the pair of blue wings. “You two are usually inseparable. You’re always around each other."
Applejack shook her head. “Nah, not that often…" The little private contests, our joy at accepting each other’s challenges…
“It’s weird to not see you two together, Sis,” Big Macintosh added, nodding. When Applejack stared at him, he simply shrugged. “Ah ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but it ain’t hard to see. You two act like an ol’ married couple. Bicker like it too.” He stood impassively as his sister glared.
"Even when it's all six of us together… you two are in your own world," Fluttershy continued. “I never really thought about it before, but now…" The yellow pegasus put a hoof on Applejack’s shoulder.
The orange pony barely even noticed the touch. “Wh-what… Can’t friends hang out together without ponies thinking somethin’ is going on?” All of Pinkie’s parties, every adventure together… we were always right at the front. Always next to each other.
Fluttershy gave her soft smile. “Applejack… I’ve known Rainbow for a long time. I’m her oldest friend. But I’m not her best friend. You are. Um… Please don’t tell her I told you this. When we first came to Ponyville, she used to spend time with me a lot. She was a bit shy. Really!” Fluttershy insisted, as Applejack snorted in disbelief. “But you changed that, Applejack. Once she met you, she opened up. You changed her.”
The orange farmpony stared at Fluttershy and Big Macintosh, then shifted her gaze to the ground. More images flitted through her mind, just adding to her confusion. Rainbow Dash casually draped on her back while Pinkie marched the Parasprites out of town. Rainbow Dash finally released from Discord’s control, and launching herself at Applejack. Running side by side with Rainbow Dash, leaves falling all around them.
Rainbow Dash, tears in her eyes, as she left the farm in a fury.
Ah… Ah can’t think straight.
Applejack abruptly stood up, startling Fluttershy. “Ah’m sorry. Ah… can’t think right now. Ah’m going to bed.” She made her way to the door, where she paused, still staring forwards. “Thanks for stopping by… Ah’ll be all right,” she mumbled, and left the kitchen, leaving two worried ponies behind.
Twilight launched herself off the train as it ground to a halt, not waiting for the machine to stop before rushing off towards the palace. She ignored the complaints of the baby dragon on her back as he clung on for dear life as she made her way through the streets of Canterlot.
She realized it was late at night, and there was no true need to rush, but something beyond her control drove her legs forwards at a brisk gallop. Before she knew it, she had arrived at the palace gates, and slid to a stop, ejecting Spike from her back onto the ground. He came to a stop at the feet of what had caused Twilight’s abrupt stop.
Sitting at the gates were not just the usual pair of guards, but Princess Celestia herself, in all her regal glory and poise. The princess smiled down at Spike, lifting him back to his feet with her magic, then faced Twilight.
“Twilight, my dearest student! It is good to see you.“
“P-Princess?” Twilight stammered, not believing her eyes. “What are you doing here?”
Celestia raised an eyebrow as she pondered the question. “I do believe this is my palace, can I not choose to go where I wish?”
Twilight blushed at the statement. “W-well yes, but I meant–”
The words died in her mouth as her mentor laughed. “I thought you might want to get started as soon as possible, Twilight,” she said, as if that explained everything. She opened her mouth to say something more, but was interrupted by a sound that drowned out her voice.
“THUS, NOW AND FOREVERMORE, UPON EVERY SUNDAY… THE PALACE CAFETERIA SHALL SERVE APPLE SALAD! LET THIS TERRIBLE SUBSTANCE CALLED TOFU CURSE OUR PLATE NO FURTHER! SO WE HAVE SPOKEN, SO MOTE IT BE!"
“… and I wanted to escape that,” Celestia muttered, then cleared her throat. “I do believe the western wing should give us a modicum of peace and quiet. How about you guide me through the process?” she asked, to which Twilight nodded eagerly.
Spike followed them as the two mares made their way through the palace hallways. “Apple Salad sounds good right now…" he mused, as he listened to his grumbling stomach.
“… WHAT DOTH THOU MEAN, ‘PAPERWORK’?”
In the Apple farmhouse, ponies slept, and ponies dreamed. The innocent dreams of the youngest took her on grand adventures with her friends. The dreams of the old mare wandered through the memories of her youth. The stallion had not started dreaming yet, still lying awake, trying to count sheep. But he was too worried, and wasn’t having much success. Sighing, he got up and headed to the bathroom. On his way there, he heard the sound of somepony muttering. It was coming from… Applejack’s room?
Curiosity getting the better of him, he approached the room and put an ear to the door.
“Consarn it, Dash… not now!”
Big Macintosh blinked, pulling his head from the door. He wasn’t expecting to hear something like that. Especially not the giggle that followed. Unable to help himself, he bent closer again.
“Don’t make me get mah rope!” he heard. Now she sounded angry. “You’re not helping…" she continued, then devolved into alternatively moaning or growling the pegasus’s name. Cheeks burning, Big Macintosh steeled himself. As much as he valued everypony’s privacy, especially his family’s… Applejack was getting a bit too loud. Apple Bloom really didn’t need to hear any of this.
He lifted a hoof, and quietly knocked on the door. He blinked again as he heard a muffled thud and a cry of shock.
“Sis?” he asked, before opening the door. Big Macintosh raised an eyebrow as he took in the scene: his sister upside down on the floor, tangled up in her sheets.
“You need help getting out of that?”
After a moment of struggling, Applejack sighed and relaxed. “… Yep.”
“So, what happened?” he asked as he grabbed one edge of the sheets with his teeth, and gave a hard yank. The motion spun Applejack around, freeing her but sending her eyes spinning.
“Um… A nightmare?” she replied, holding a hoof to the side of her head.
Somehow, Big Macintosh’s raised eyebrow rose further. “You’re all sweaty. So is your bed.”
Applejack hoped the darkness hid her blush. “Yeah, it was a bad one.”
“And your wings are stiff,” he added, nodding to the appendages flaring out from Applejack’s back.
She stared daggers at her brother. “Ah told you, it was a nightmare!”
“Ah thought Ah heard you calling out Miss Dash’s name…"
“It. Was. A. Nightmare.”
He stared quietly at his sister. Her glare would have sent any other pony packing. He let the silence hang for a few moments longer, then shrugged. “A nightmare. Right. Well, Ah’m going back to bed. So should you.” He turned around and left the room, closing the door behind him. Before it had fully closed, he heard a final mutter from his sister, which made him grin.
“… Stupid sexy Dash…"
“See? You two are adorable!”
Rainbow Dash’s mind kept repeating Pinkie’s words as she made her way to Fluttershy’s home. She couldn’t even begin to imagine the thought process behind the statement. Not that this was saying much, considering it was Pinkie, but this…
“You two make such a cute couple!”
It was something else entirely, and she just couldn’t understand it. Arriving at the cottage, she stomped her way back to the bed. No point in thinking about it now, she thought. A good night’s rest would help clear her mind. If, of course, she managed to fall asleep in the first place. The way the entire conversation kept floating through her head might complicate that.
In fact, it was completely impossible to fall asleep. Her mind was simply not letting what had just happened go.
Why had Pinkie even said that? Nothing came to Rainbow Dash’s mind. Even thinking of the farmpony made her mad right now. Not like there’s anything good about her anyway!
Nevermind her amazing work ethic, so at odds with Dash’s own. Sure, Rainbow was passionate when the occasion called for it, but Applejack was the most hard working pony in Ponyville, bar none.
Nevermind the fact she was one of the friendliest ponies anywhere, always eager to help others… even to the detriment of her own health.
Nor the fact that, when it looked like Applejack would not come back from her rodeo contest, Dash had been the most desperate of them all to get her back, even leaving Rarity and Pinkie behind to chase ahead after her. She’d even let tears flow when the farmer had been reunited with her friends for good.
Forget how Applejack was always up for some fun. The friendly challenges, the athletic competitions… the Iron Pony contest.
And… just how amazing Applejack looked. While nothing like Rainbow Dash’s polychromatic self, which was impossible to match, Applejack’s simple style shone past the rest of their friends. The ever-present hat, covering a mane with a golden hue that put Rainbow’s own swath of yellow to shame. The green eyes that could almost let you see her innermost thoughts.
The orange coat, covering the well toned body Applejack had obtained from years of farmwork. Watching her applebucking was like watching a mastercraftspony at work, and it had been a joy to see when Applejack had been teaching her the finer points of applebucking. Rainbow Dash had felt it first-hoof, when she had given Applejack that massage.
Rainbow Dash’s cheeks burned as she realized she’d practically felt Applejack up. In a bath.
Dash blinked, and turned her head towards her tail. She wasn't really up-to-date on earth pony body language—Pegasi tended to express things with their wings that Unicorns and Earth Ponies displayed with tail and leg—but… I hope that doesn’t mean what I think it means, she thought, staring at the now-rigid yellow tail. Stupid sexy Applejack.
She looked around for anything to change the path her traitorous mind seem set on. Anything at all. Anything to escape the ache that seemed to gnaw at her stomach whenever she thought of the farmpony.
As she looked out of the window, she noticed a dark shape that seemed out of place, and gasped as she recognized it. She’d forgotten all about it in her pursuit and the ensuing situation, but there it was.
Luna’s glare was so intense, it could have set fire to whatever fell under her gaze. In fact, her desire to burn what she was staring at was very, very strong indeed.
"When We last ruled at Our sister's side, there were some 30 pages of documents each day which required Our personal attention. In these thousand years, the realm has grown a third again as large. Allowing for a further 100% increase due to the greater industry of these times, We should see some 80 pages now.”
Luna paused, glancing at the assistant that had materialized with the paperwork. “You have brought Us 300.” She lifted her gaze to the sky, as if beseeching the heavens. “Things were so much simpler before you invented writing…" Sighing, she levitated the first few pages and started reading. After a mere half dozen pages, Luna’s horn suddenly flared with magic, sending the stacks of paper flying into the middle of the throne room, where they landed in a jumbled mess.
“This… is the current system? We almost fell asleep a dozen times while reading those few pages, and it is nighttime! No,” she said, slamming a hoof onto the floor, “these abominations shall not stand!” Her horn flashed, and the papers caught fire.
Luna spread her wings, lifting herself off the ground, raising her forehooves in the air as her eyes glowed with conviction. “WE… SHALL FIX THIS FOALISHNESS.”
On the other end of the palace, Celestia smiled to herself. One of the lesser known perks of an alicorn was being blessed with fantastic hearing. Things are going swimmingly, she thought, having heard Luna’s words.
Celestia noticed with relief that Twilight did not seem to share her gift of hearing, as the smaller mare nodded off, then jerked herself awake. The poor thing was spent, having driven herself to exhaustion in her desperation to help her friends. “Twilight?” she said, nudging her student with a hoof. The younger mare snapped awake, staring around in confusion before settling on her mentor.
“Oh Princess I’m sorry! I fell asleep and–” she started, before being interrupted by a hoof on her muzzle.
“Twilight, you’re exhausted. Go to sleep.”
“No buts, Twilight,” the princess said, shaking her head. “You’re of no use if you’re tired. I can make that a royal order, if needed,” Celestia added, seeing how Twilight seemed about to argue. “We will resume this in the morning.”
Mollified by the promise, Twilight finally nodded and pulled herself to her hooves. Bidding the princess goodnight, she made her way to her quarters, carrying an already fast asleep Spike on her back.
Applejack stared in shock as the rope unfurled itself from Rainbow Dash’s body. Free from the restraints, the pegasus grinned and leapt into the skies in an attempt to win the Running of the Leaves. The two had mostly been neck and neck the entire race, apart from a few delays caused by the other. But with Dash’s wings free, she’d be able to pull ahead in a heartbeat.
Making a split second decision, Applejack leapt as Rainbow took to the skies, crashing into the pegasus and sending both crashing into the ground. They both continued to tussle, trading blows on the move until they’d somehow crossed the finish line. Applejack stood over Rainbow Dash, triumphantly holding her head high.
“Ha! Ah won!”
“Only because you cheated, you thief!” Rainbow spat, glaring at the farmpony.
“Cheated? Thief? What the hay are you on about, Rainbow?” she asked, before blinking at the strangest sensation on her back. Like part of her body was moving… Turning her head, she gasped at the pair of blue wings on her body.
Turning back to Rainbow Dash, she looked around in confusion at her friend’s sudden disappearance. In Rainbow Dash’s stead, dozens of pegasi stood around Applejack, staring at her with star-struck expressions.
“Did you see that?” she heard one voice say. “She overpowered Rainbow Dash!”
“Oh my Celestia!” another voice gushed. “She’s so… strong! And dreamy!”
Applejack wheeled about as the pegasi kept talking, desperately trying to escape. But she was surrounded by ponies… no, by wings. All the ponies had disappeared, leaving dozens of wings flying around on their own.
Now utterly terrified, Applejack made a break for it, attempting to run away from the wings. But they followed her relentlessly, keeping pace with her.
Suddenly, Applejack spotted the princess, who had arrived to observe the Running of the Leaves. As Applejack opened her mouth to cry out for help, the princess just vanished, leaving behind the biggest pair of wings of them all.
With nowhere to run, Applejack tried to grind to a halt, but felt no grip. She looked down and saw only blackness, and first felt a falling sensation… then a sharp pain to her head.
Applejack’s eyes flew open, finding herself staring once more at the ceiling of her room. She looked left and right, making sure that it had all been a dream, and sighed in relief. Thank Celestia, she thought, that it was just a normal nightmare for once. She relaxed, still in her fallen position, then frowned as a thought struck her.
Wait… since when was that a normal nightmare?
Applejack sighed, putting a hoof to her forehead. This was going to be a long, long night.
Twilight steadied herself, sparing a glance at the two ponies beside her. On her left stood Applejack, her eyes wandering all over the place before catching Twilight’s gaze. The farm pony smiled, settling down. Her fluttering wings belied her understandable nervousness, and she didn’t attempt to hide it.
On Twilight’s right, Rainbow Dash made a stark contrast. She stood rigidly, staring straight ahead, a determined look on her face. But underneath the stoic demeanor, Twilight could see the facade’s cracks. If you looked long enough, you could see the pegasus trembling. She was scared, and that was something she would never admit to.
No sense in dragging it out any longer, Twilight thought. “Okay, girls,” she said, causing the other ponies to flinch, “I’m going to start.”
Twilight took one last look at her friends before closing her eyes, and willed her magic into existence. The now-intimately-familiar feel of the teleportation spell filled her consciousness, its power building at the tip of her horn. Concentrating, she let the magic take its course, the teleportation bubble descending until it touched the ground. At that precise moment, she wove a new layer into the spell, modifying it slightly to, hopefully, get the results she wanted. A sharp intake of breath was heard from both her sides, extending into infinity as reality twisted itself to accommodate the spell’s power. What felt like an eternity lasted only a split second, the magic releasing itself from her grip as she ended the spell.
Twilight released the breath she had been holding, and cracked her eyes open. She spun her head to face Applejack, to see the fruits of her labor.
She found… nothing. Applejack was nowhere to be seen. Twilight turned to face her other side, her bewilderment increasing as she saw the complete lack of her pegasus friend. Somehow, both ponies had disappeared.
Oh no… she thought, with mounting panic. Did I send them somewhere? Are they alright? What happened?
Twilight frantically ran around the library, calling out to her friends in a desperate hope of getting an answer. To her dismay, only silence answered her. She was about to rush outside to get help, when she suddenly felt a breeze. She paused in mid-stride, utterly confused at its source: all windows had been shut to lessen the risk of any outdoor interruption. There should not have been even the slightest breath of wind.
And just beneath the sound of the wind, she heard what sounded… like a faint whispering. She couldn’t make out any words, but it was distinctive enough to not mistake it for the wind.
“Applejack?” she called out, hoping it was merely her friends playing a bad prank on her. “Rainbow Dash?”
A flash of color appeared at the corner of her eye, making her whirl around. Whatever it had been had vanished, leaving her trying to process exactly what she had seen at the edge of her vision. But she could make no sense of it.
The gust of wind made itself felt again, even stronger than before. Twilight squinted as it rose to near gale force, sending books and pages in every direction. Suddenly, a bright flash of light lit the room, momentarily blinding her. She squeezed her eyes shut, but could still make out the sounds of of fluttering pieces of paper as the wind died down, and… the sound of breathing that wasn’t her own. Twilight cracked one eye open, looking at the source of the noise… and stared in shock.
Before her stood… a pony. Or something looking like one. She didn’t know what part of it to look at first, as everything seemed to clash with itself. The pony’s coat was a mess of color, a mixture of orange and cerulean blue which was constantly shifting under her gaze. A pair of wings jutted from the pony’s sides, the only part of its body that did not shift color. One stayed orange, the other, blue.
The mane and the tail seemed split in half, rainbow-colored on one side, a bright blonde on the other. And finally, the pony’s eyes… the upper half was green, but faded into magenta on the bottom half. Its gaze bore into her, staring into her soul.
It spoke, sending her mind reeling as she recognized two familiar voices speaking as one.
"I/we am/are Appledash…"
The princess of the night grinned as she peered into the dreams of her sister’s favored student, bursting into outright giggles as she heard a distant scream of terror as Twilight Sparkle woke up, fleeing the words her nightmare had conjured.
Luna quickly quelled her laughter, chiding herself for it. This was clearly an important issue for Twilight, and Luna should not be laughing at her plight. Especially considering that the unicorn was one of those responsible for freeing her from what she had become. Perhaps the most responsible, as a matter of fact. She should, and did, feel eternally grateful for what the little pony and her friends had done.
Yet… the dream was simply irresistible. Her mouth quirked upwards as an idea formed. Silently, she tapped into one of her lesser-known powers, diverting Twilight’s dream towards another’s sleeping mind.
Within a few minutes, another scream made itself heard, this time from Celestia’s royal quarters. Luna abandoned any attempt at control, breaking down into a fit of laughter as Celestia woke up from the dream, terrified at the thought of two Elements of Harmony being fused into one being, and what repercussions it could bring.
And that's for not warning me about the paperwork, Luna thought, devolving into another fit of giggles.
Rainbow Dash breathed in deeply, savoring the cold air. It had taken her a few tries, but she was finally airborne, and in decent control of Pinkie’s copter. The first thing she had done was shoot straight up, flying as high as possible. She kept pedalling, maintaining what she felt was a good altitude.
Flying… this is what she needed. The breeze, the clouds, the night sky, everything was there.
Except… not everything was. Something is missing, she thought. Something important.
The itch wasn’t getting scratched. She needed more. More height, more wind, more adrenaline…
After her brief stint on Pinkie’s copter, sleep had eluded Rainbow Dash for the rest of the night. She’d landed back on solid ground, and had made her way back to bed to grab some shut-eye.
But as she lay on the mattress, listening to the sounds of Fluttershy’s sleeping critters below, she realised that her short flight, rather than helping fill a void, had in fact made it wider. After weeks of being grounded, she’d gotten the barest whiff of her craving.
And she wanted more. So much more. Rainbow closed her eyes, not to sleep, but instead to get a better picture for her memories. She tried conjuring up every instance of flight, trying to recall what she had felt during those times. The ghost of a smile tugged at her lips. Her entire life revolved around flying. She had a lot of memories to go through. So many, in fact, that she didn’t even notice as Fluttershy returned home.
The yellow pegasus climbed the steps to her room, eager to talk with Rainbow, but paused as she saw the prone form on the bed. Fluttershy stifled a sigh, not wanting to wake her friend. She felt she’d managed to get through to Applejack, and had hoped to do the same with Rainbow. But it could wait until the morning. Rainbow needed her sleep. Quietly, Fluttershy made her way back to the couch.
Oblivious to her host’s presence, Rainbow continued wandering through her thoughts, conjuring up her numerous tricks, running them through her mind over and over again, as she usually did when not actively trying them out. She even let her imagination loose, adding the Wonderbolts to her tricks, the adulation of fans…
Rainbow Dash shifted in an attempt to get more comfortable, and flinched. The feeling of the mattress touching her sides directly was a sharp reminder that she sorely lacked a key component for being a Wonderbolt. Desperate to escape the reminder, she turned back towards tangible memories, rather than impossible fantasies.
Her thoughts inevitably turned towards what was possibly her greatest moments: the Sonic Rainboom. Her feat was still unmatched by any other pegasus, and she would go down in history as having performed what many thought of an old mare’s tale not only once, but twice. Her earliest display had even been as a young filly, causing a revelation of a love of speed, and had been the source of her cutie mark.
Not only hers, as she’d later learned, but of all her friends. All six had earned their cutie marks within hours of each other, creating a bond that they wouldn’t discover until much later. The thought caused her to smirk, being reminded of another set of fillies desperate to get their own cutie marks, who had instead discovered a bond not too dissimilar to Rainbow’s own. She’d even tried to help them occasionally, which had turned out to be quite useless.
Her eyes suddenly snapped open as she remembered one such attempt. That’s it. That’s it!
She closed her eyes, relaxing for the first time in days. She knew exactly what she was going to do.
She was going shopping.
That afternoon, Rainbow trotted out of the Ponyville bank with a sack of bits in her mouth. She’d had to dip into her savings, as most of her cash tended to be at home. And that was out of reach.
After the best night’s sleep she’d had in a week, Rainbow had snuck away from Fluttershy’s cottage, intent on her goal. Thinking about the three fillies who tended to terrorize the town had made her remember the youngest Apple’s desperate quest for a cutie mark before the cute-ceañera. Rainbow herself had attempted to help in the best way she knew: try everything possible as quickly as possible.
Amongst those had been… hang gliding. It had failed rather spectacularly for the filly, but it was the perfect solution for Rainbow. It was basically like gliding with wings that weren’t your own. How hard could it be?
With a determined spring in her step, she marched into the Ponyville sports shop, an establishment she had visited more than once for her various sports equipment and apparel needs. This was, however, the first time she’d be getting anything directly flight related. She glanced to the ceiling, from which half a dozen different gliders were hanging.
As she took them in, a pegasus stallion approached her from the counter. “Need help with anything?” he asked. He wore a shirt colored after the shop’s logo, his cutie mark showing off a tennis racket, a bowling pin, and a baseball bat leaning on each other. She’d seen him on previous visits, and recognized him as the shop’s owner and manager.
Rainbow spat out her bag of bits and held it in her hoof. “Yeah, I want the best glider you have. Bits are no issue.”
Had she been looking at his face, she would have seen the stallion’s eyes light up in glee. “You’re in luck, we’ve just gotten a new shipment. See that one?” he asked, pointing towards a blue glider with a familiar yellow thunderbolt symbol. “That’s an official Wonderbolts-endorsed glider right there! Top of the line. They’re the best flyers around, you know?”
Rainbow Dash nodded, a grin playing on her face. “Believe me, I know,” she said, before frowning. “But wait… why would the Wonderbolts need a glider? They’re pegasi!”
The owner’s ears flopped downwards as his face betrayed a vague worry. “Well, I…"
“And for that matter,” Rainbow continued, ignoring the stammered attempts at an explanation, “the colors are wrong. The blue is darker than that, and the logo’s the wrong way around!”
“T-tell you what,” the owner said, after clearing his throat, “I’ll give you a discount on it, if you don’t tell anyone about all that?”
Rainbow snorted. A discount was tempting, but… she paused as she spotted a glider nearly hidden away amongst the rest. It was sleek, and looked like it could cut through the air like a knife through butter. The entire thing was a bright orange, with hints of gold flames on the wings, ending in red wingtips. It looked… awesome.
She pointed a hoof towards it, and grinned. “Gimme that discount on that one and we have a deal.”
She left the shop a few minutes later, pulling a cart the owner had generously decided to donate to her, her purchase sitting within. She glanced around, and sped out of town, heading to the hills.
She was going to need plenty of height for this.
Fluttershy blinked as she made her way up the stairs. She’d made breakfast for herself and her friends, both animal and pony, and was bring up Rainbow’s portion. But as the bed came in sight, she realized that it was empty.
Her brow furrowed in consternation. Oh dear… she thought. Where did she go? She hasn’t even eaten yet! For Rainbow Dash, even suggesting skipping breakfast was like asking Pinkie Pie to not smile. It was unthinkable.
Yet here she was. Or, rather, wasn’t. Fluttershy sighed as she turned back to her animals, who had started jumping in impatience. She quickly bent to the floor, having forgotten the bowl in her mouth, and looked out of the window as she straightened.
She wanted to talk to Dash. She felt obligated to, especially after what seemed like a small but significant success with Applejack. She stepped forward, intent on heading to Ponyville, but stopped as she heard a whine.
Fluttershy trotted over to the couch, next to which sat a basket. Though Rainbow had, after that first night, insisted that Fluttershy use her own bed, Fluttershy had taken over the couch that night to watch over a squirrel with a badly infected cut, whose condition seemed to have taken a turn for the worse. She frowned, glancing back at the door, then rushed to find some medicine.
Rainbow Dash would have to take care of herself for a while longer. Right now, her smaller friends needed her.
Rainbow sat back, her haunches on the ground as she beheld her hoofwork. She wasn’t one for building or crafts, and following directions bored her to tears, but she felt she could be proud of what she had made.
She pushed a strand of hair out of her eyes, and stared at the glider’s design. The glider stood proudly on its struts, the metal gleaming in the sun. It looked solid, ready to take on every trick she planned on putting it through. The wings’ orange fabric stretched taut across the frame, spanning the entire fifty hoof wingspan, wrapping itself over and under the metal, creating the aerodynamic shape that would cut through the air.
She grinned, and would have patted herself on the back if she could. Rainbow, that’s a job well done. She was especially glad she had not gone for the lame attempt at a Wonderbolt glider. She was the first to admit she was totally gung-ho about anything related to them, and had nothing else been available, she would have given in and bought it, but…
The golden yellow flames spreading from the glider’s nose, stretching across the orange material, and ending with the bright red wingtips… the entire thing had caught her attention and hadn’t let go.
Finally ready, Rainbow stood up, and began strapping herself into the glider. Time to get serious. Time for action.
Time to fly.
“Ah’m telling you, this is silly!” a voice grumbled, as a trio of young ponies made their way through the Whitetail Woods. “What kind of cutie mark do you get for stalkin’ anyway?”
“It’s not stalking, Apple Bloom! It’s tracking!” Scootaloo replied as she pushed her scooter along, and glared at her friend.
“Ah don’t see the difference…"
“That’s easy,” the young pegasus replied. “The difference is… uh… Sweetie Belle, help?”
The third member of the group answered as they moved through a bush. “Stalking is following ponies around, and tracking is following their hoofprints!”
“… Still don’t see the difference,” Apple Bloom muttered, glancing at the sky. The light was starting to dim, the day starting to draw to a close. “We should probably head back girls; it’s startin’ to get late!”
Scootaloo smirked at her fellow crusader. “What, are you scared of the dark?”
Apple Bloom’s ears flattened on her head as she glared. “No, Ah just don’t want Applejack yellin’ at me for stayin’ out late,” she said, before being interrupted by a growl. “And Ah’m hungry.”
“But we’re almost there!”
“How could you possibly know that?!”
“Because the tracks are… um… getting deeper?” Scootaloo grinned sheepishly, pointing at the tracks. Apple Bloom looked at them, then back at her friend, raising an eyebrow.
“Y’all have no idea what that means, do you.”
Off to the side, Sweetie Belle’s voice attempted to interrupt the two arguing fillies. “Um, guys…"
“I do too!” Scootaloo retorted, glaring at the farmfilly.
“Guys?” Sweetie Belle repeated, attempting to get a word in edgewise.
“Do not! We’re lost again, aren’t we?”
“I know exactly where we are!”
Apple Bloom snorted. “Yeah? So where are we?” she said, waving a hoof at her surroundings.
“We’re right on target!”
“What?!” the other two yelled, rounding on the interruptor.
“The tracks lead up this hill, and there’s something on top of it!”
The argument temporarily forgotten, the three charged up the hill, intent on discovering just what they had spent their day following. Arriving first, Apple Bloom looked around at the objects strewn all over. “So we came all this way for a cart, some tools, and a box?”
Scootaloo shook her head in confusion. “I don’t understand, somepony must have pulled it here! Keep looking for tracks!”
“There’s nothin’ here, Scoots!” Apple Bloom said, exasperation evident in her tone. “We’re on a cliff and there’s no sign of anythin’ else here!” She poked a hoof towards the box, checking the packaging exterior. “Just some box for a… hang glider?”
As one, the three fillies looked up, starting to scan the darkening sky. Eventually, they spotted a large object skimming under the clouds, gracefully riding the air currents only it could feel. Apple Bloom squinted, attempting to make out who the pilot could be. “Who is that?”
“It’s Rainbow Dash!” Scootaloo enthusiastically replied, her sharp eyes picking out more detail than either of her friends.
“Do you think she sees us?” Sweetie Belle asked, keeping her eyes trained on the flying pony.
Scootaloo shrugged. “I don’t know. Let’s ask her!” she said, drawing a deep breath. But before she could yell at her idol, a hoof lodged itself in her mouth. She turned on its owner, utterly confused.
“Don’t…" Apple Bloom answered the questioning look. “She hasn’t felt very good lately.”
“What do you mean?” Scootaloo asked, once the yellow hoof had been spat out of her mouth.
“She had a big fight with my sis,” Apple Bloom explained, looking down at the ground. “And she seemed pretty down ‘fore that.” She looked up, staring at Scootaloo. “Ah think we should leave her alone.”
“But…" Scootaloo replied, conflicted. “We could cheer her up?”
“Hey guys,” Sweetie Belle interrupted, “is that normal?”
Three sets of eyes locked onto the glider, which was no longer soaring through the air. Instead, it was spinning, the nose pointed downwards in what looked like an uncontrolled freefall. The fillies could only stare as the glider kept falling towards the earth, picking up speed the whole time.
“Pull up…" Scootaloo whispered, unable to look away. “Pull up pull up pull up…"
But her pleas landed on deaf ears as she watched the glider plunge into the mass of trees below the cliffs. They gasped in shock as the snapping of branches were heard, followed by a resounding crash and the sound of breaking metal. The three fillies glanced at each other in horror, then sped down the hill in the direction of the crash.
It took them longer than they would have liked to arrive at the scene of the accident, as the thick woods hid the crash from view. But when they got their, the sight took their breath away. The glider was on its side, one wing twisted at almost a right angle, holes torn throughout the fabric.
Rainbow Dash lay on her side on the ground, still strapped into the glider, and wasn’t moving. The three fillies rushed forwards, yelling the older mare’s name.
“Dash! Rainbow Dash!” Scootaloo yelled, frantically looking for a way to undo the straps. For a moment, despair filled her as there was no reply, until she heard a groaning sound from her idol. “Rainbow! Are you okay?!”
“She just crashed, Scoots! Of course she ain’t okay!”
“M’fine…" Rainbow Dash mumbled, cracking an eye open. “No need t’yell…"
Scootaloo blinked away tears of relief as she heard the older pony talk. “Rainbow!”
“Tha’s me…" Rainbow replied, opening her eyes and lifting her head. She looked at the three fillies staring at her, then ran her gaze over her surroundings, ending on the glider’s pitiful state. “Aw man… I just bought this thing…"
Sweetie Belle cleared her throat, drawing Rainbow’s seemingly wandering attention. “Um… do you need help?”
Rainbow shook her head, weakly struggling against the straps. She winced as she tried to move her forelegs. “Eh… maybe a little help…" she said, closing her eyes, still a little groggy from the impact. They opened once more what felt like moments later, as the straps supporting her loosened their hold.
“Okay, you’re free!” Scootaloo said, stepping back. “Do you need help getting up?” she asked, as Rainbow struggled to rise.
“I’m okay…" the older pony replied, lifting herself on three legs. The fourth hung limply, dragging on the ground.
“Are you sure?” Apple Bloom asked, eyeing the leg in question. “That don’t look so good…"
“Yeah!” Rainbow replied, wincing as she lifted the leg up. Gently, she lowered it to the ground to put some weight on it. “See, all gooAAAGH!”
The three fillies jumped as Rainbow yelled, watching her collapse before they had a chance to move. Scootaloo rushed forward, the scene having scared her badly. “Rainbow? Rainbow?! She passed out…" Sweetie said. “She must be hurt bad!”
“Scootaloo!” Apple Bloom yelled as she saw the young pegasus run off. “Where you goin’?”
Scootaloo stopped running, lifting her scooter off the ground. “I’m gonna get help! You guys stay here!”
“It’s getting dark! You can’t leave her alone! And don’t let her move again!” she said, before speeding off in the direction they had come from, intent on one goal: the Ponyville hospital.
Behind her, the two fillies stood guard above the fallen pony.
For what felt like the fiftieth time, Fluttershy lifted her eyes from the novel she was reading. She just couldn’t concentrate on the words, nor on anything else. Every hour after she had discovered Rainbow’s absence had just made her increasingly distracted. She’d almost ruined her animals’ dinner not too long ago through inattention, and only a nut launched at her head by Angel had snapped her out of it.
Fluttershy sighed, shaking her head. Rainbow will come back when she wants to come back, there’s no point in getting worried… Her train of thought was suddenly interrupted by a knock. Momentarily startled, she picked herself off the couch and headed to her home’s front door. “Oh Dash,” she chided as she opened it, “you know you don’t have to kno—Oh!” She paused, eyeing the decidedly non-Dash pegasus at her door. “Hello… can I help you?”
“Are you Miss… Fluttershy?” the pegasus asked, after consulting a clipboard he had handy. She blinked, nodding at the stranger who seemed to know her name. She then noticed the white smock he was wearing, and the name tag from the Ponyville hospital.
Her nervousness suddenly became intense worry. “Oh my… has something happened?”
The orderly glanced up from his clipboard. “Ma’am, you are listed in our records as the next-of-kin for a certain Miss… Rainbow Dash. She’s currently in the hospital after a glider accideACK!”
The poor pegasus’s words were cut off as Fluttershy launched herself into the air like a rocket, bowling him over. He blinked in confusion at what exactly had just happened. He blinked again as he heard a muted “I’msorryI’msorryI’msorryI’msorry!” from the pegasus that had knocked him over as she came back and helped him up, before flying off once more, making a beeline for the hospital.
Fluttershy took a deep breath as she landed in front of Twilight’s library, attempting to calm her breathing. She’d been in a mad rush since leaving the hospital, after having briefly looked in on Rainbow Dash in her room. Once she was certain that Rainbow was in good hooves, she’d left the hospital, intent on informing all their friends as fast as she could. The Cutie Mark Crusaders had stayed behind, to guard Dash’s door until somepony came to bring them home (or the hospital staff chased them away).
Fluttershy had already been to Sweet Apple Acres. No matter how the two felt right now… Applejack had to be told. Unfortunately, she hadn’t been home. Instead, Fluttershy had found Applejack’s brother.
“Howdy, Miss Fluttershy… what’s got you all worked up?” the stallion asked as he eyed Fluttershy’s slightly disheveled mane.
“Where’s Applejack? Rainbow Dash got hurt!” she said, pacing around in a panic.
“Calm down… How bad is it?”
Fluttershy paused as she tried to recall what the orderly had said. “She was in a … glider crash? It looks serious. She’s in the hospital right now… I’ve already told Rarity and Pinkie.” She suddenly stomped a hoof in frustration. “Oh, where is Applejack! There’s only her and Twilight left!”
The stallion blinked at the uncharacteristic display from the normally quiet pegasus, before regaining his normal unflappable attitude. “She’s out trainin’ again.”
Fluttershy heaved a sigh of relief. “Oh, then I’ll just fly there and tell her,” she said, turning around, but paused as she felt a large hoof on her foreleg.
“Not that way. She’s been trainin’ on a different hill since the fight. Ah think you can guess why.” He let his hoof drop back to the floor as he continued. “You go see Miss Twilight. Ah’ll go tell her,” he said, as he trotted out of the farmhouse.
Fluttershy walked up to the door, briefly wondering why the library was dark. It wasn’t that late, and Twilight generally stayed up until all hours of the night anyway. But then Fluttershy spotted the note hanging from the door. She quickly scanned it, her ears drooping as she read the contents. Of all the times to not be home… Fluttershy sighed as she turned around, lifting off into the air once more.
Minutes later, she landed at a small cottage. An extra trip had been in order; she couldn’t wait until Twilight’s return, whenever the unicorn decided that would be. Since Spike was also absent, there was only one way to get a message to her. She gently knocked on the door, hoping she wasn’t waking anypony up. Fluttershy knew Derpy’s job could be fairly exhausting, so the mailmare might already be asleep. The lights shining through the window gave her hope, however.
The door promptly opened, giving Fluttershy a momentary shock as nopony seemed behind it. She then glanced downwards, spotting the small shape holding the door open. “Oh! Hello Dinky, is your mother around?”
The young filly nodded. “She’s asleep though…"
“Oh…" Fluttershy replied, at a loss. “Um… can you wake her up? I need to send an urgent letter to Canterlot.”
Dinky shook her head. “I’m sorry… She just got back from her Las Pegasus delivery run. I don’t think she can make another long flight tonight. I can wake her up if you want to ask her yourself…"
Fluttershy deflated slightly. “Oh dear… can you take a message then? This needs to be sent as soon as possible!”
The filly nodded, rushing into the house, and returning moments later with a quill and some paper. Fluttershy nodded gratefully, and sat down to write a letter to Twilight. She just hoped it would reach her soon.
“Ah told you guards have to be quiet!” Apple Bloom hissed at Scootaloo, as the Cutie Mark Crusaders sat in the waiting room under Rarity’s watchful eye. They had volunteered to guard Rainbow Dash’s room, which an eye-rolling nurse had allowed them to do. The nurse, however, had come to regret this decision.
Instead of quietly standing in front of the door, as any normal guard would do, the three fillies had become a whirlwind of motion, grabbing any loose piece of furniture or object not bolted down. Within a few minutes, they had constructed what could only be described as a fort next to the door to Rainbow Dash’s room, complete with guard posts and a rotating shift.
It had taken all the nurse’s self control to not shout at them, and they had mercifully been spared any punishment by the arrival of Pinkie Pie, who had distracted the nurse with her pleas of direction towards Rainbow Dash’s room. Shortly thereafter, Rarity had walked through the door. The two had stayed with Rainbow a while, but had since left the room. The nurses had informed them that Rainbow Dash was under sedatives, and would not be waking up for some time yet, but would be informed of their visit upon waking. They were now just waiting for Fluttershy to return, as she’d promised.
“Yeah well, that pony looked suspicious!” the young pegasus retorted, crossing her forelegs.
“It was a patient goin’ to the bathroom!”
“How could I know that?!”
“Girls!” Rarity interrupted, glaring at them. “Please be quiet. There are ponies resting here!” Before she could berate them some more, Fluttershy walked through the front door. Rarity caught sight of her and trotted over to her friend, where she and Pinkie Pie, who had appeared out of nowhere, talked to the pegasus quietly. The fillies strained to hear what was being said, but they were too far to make out anything past the occasional glance in their direction.
Eventually, the three mares split up. Pinkie headed out of the hospital, while Fluttershy and Rarity made their way to the Crusaders. “Girls!” Rarity said, beaming at them. “How would you like a sleepover at the boutique?”
“Huh? Can’t we stay here?” Sweetie said, eyeing her sister suspiciously.
Scootaloo nodded in agreement. “Yeah! We want to be there when Rainbow wakes up!”
“Now, now,” the fashionista replied, shaking a hoof, “it’s getting late and you three need to get in bed soon!”
“But–” Apple Bloom started, confused.
“Don’t you worry, Apple Bloom. I’m sure your family will be fine with this. Now come on, visiting hours are almost over. Let’s get you home.”
Rarity gathered the three complaining fillies and herded them out of the hospital, giving Fluttershy a final nod. The pegasus would remain here until Rainbow Dash woke up, visiting hours be damned.
Big Macintosh slowed to a leisurely pace as he approached Applejack’s training spot, wondering again why his sister was still attempting flight. It had started out as a desire to impress the grounded pegasus, to make her happy, but since the fight… He’d have thought that the reasons would have vanished along with Miss Dash’s presence. But no, his sister was still here, every day. Stubborn to a fault, that one.
He caught sight of her, halfway up the hill. She must have just made another attempt, if the scratches and scrapes he saw on her were any indication. He sped up, catching up as he called out to her.
The wings on her back fluttered momentarily as she turned her head to face him. “Big Macintosh? What’re you doin’ here?”
“Ah’m bringing you some news, that’s what.”
“Well then spit it out!” she said, as she kept walking up the hill.
“Miss Dash was out flying a glider, and got into a nasty crash.”
Applejack pace froze for a second, a hoof remaining in the air before she kept walking forward. She snorted in response. “Ha! Let me guess, tricks and stunts with no supervision, right?”
This time, it was Big Macintosh’s turn to stop in shock. “Applejack!” he cried, the force of his voice giving her pause. “Ah’m surprised at you. Miss Dash was sorely hurt!”
Applejack frowned, eyeing her brother suspiciously. “What the hay are you talking about? It’s Dash. She’s never hurt. She blew up our old barn without getting a scratch!” She pointed at him angrily, trying to make sense of his words. “She spent a single day in the hospital for a break that would'a put anypony else down for weeks!”
"Well, something went wrong. She's laid up in the hospital again. And even if she weren't hurt, since when have you laughed at the misfortune of your friends? Pa didn't raise us like that." He glared at her, something he didn’t do often, and didn’t like doing. “Ah’m disappointed in you.”
At the mention of their father, Applejack’s angry expression simply melted away, replaced with shame as her brother’s words washed over her. He’s right. What the hay am Ah doin’, she thought, staring at the ground, laughin’ at my friend's’ expense? She squeezed her eyes shut. That ain’t me. Ah can’t keep this up.
Big Macintosh remained silent, wondering if he’d been too harsh. It was true, however. He’d never expected Applejack to react like she had. That was not how she was. But before he could think of anything else to say, she abruptly looked up, a determined look on her face. She grabbed her hat and flung it at him. He caught it in his teeth by instinct, not having had time to think.
“Hol’ on to that for me, will you?” Applejack asked, looking away as he nodded. “There’s somethin’ Ah’ve got to do.”
Big Macintosh watched as his sister charged down the hill, galloping at full tilt. She raced down to about halfway down the hill, and then… lifted off. Big Macintosh smiled, lifting the hat to his head as he watched the sight.
She didn’t jump. She didn’t glide. She just flew.
Fluttershy sat in the hospital’s waiting room, surrounded by peace and quiet. This was good, as it soothed her rather frayed nerves. She had been in a frantic rush to inform all her friends, and with the exception of Twilight, this was done. She could now relax and… wait. Truth be told, waiting wasn’t that much better. While Fluttershy was one of the most patient ponies in Ponyville, this wait was becoming excruciating. Not knowing what one of her friends was doing set her on edge, and not knowing the extent of Rainbow’s injuries just made her all the more worried. The doctors had set the leg, but they were still looking over the data, trying to figure out just how severe Rainbow Dash's injuries were, and had not yet shared any of their findings with Fluttershy.
Fluttershy sighed once more, wishing that her nerves would allow her to sleep. She glanced out of the window, hoping to see the telltale signs of daylight, which would signify Derpy’s departure for Canterlot. Unfortunately, Fluttershy knew that nighttime had only fallen within the past few hours. The wait would stretch on for some time still.
As she tore her gaze away from the windows, she spotted a shape in the air out of the corner of her eye, and turned back. It looked like some pegasus, out for a midnight flight. But the speck grew in size, implying the flyer’s destination was the Hospital itself. Fluttershy squinted, trying to make out just who the pegasus was.
No… not a pegasus, she realized, gasping as the pony came into focus. The orange coat and flowing golden hair were already unmistakable, and the blue wings adorning the pony’s back just confirmed her suspicions.
Fluttershy watched as the figure unexpectedly stayed aloft, not coming in for a landing at the Hospital’s doors, but instead seemed to fly straight into the building itself. She gasped in shock, expecting to hear the sound of a pony hitting a wall, but no such sound made itself heard. Did she…? Quickly glancing at the front desk, Fluttershy noted the nurse’s absence. She had managed to convince them to let her stay here and wait, but visiting hours had ended, and no one was allowed in the patient’s rooms.
However, they also didn’t expect visitors entering from a window. Fluttershy crept past the desk, making her way towards the first floor, where she knew she would find Rainbow Dash’s room. As she approached the door, she paused as her ears caught an unexpected sound. Voices. Specifically, the unmistakable sound of… Rainbow?
Fluttershy slowed to a crawl, approaching the door as quietly as possible. She felt bad listening in like this… but something inside her told her not to interrupt. Silent as a ghost, she put her ear to the door, and listened.
Applejack cursed as she clambered through the hospital window. She’d slowed her speed as she approached the hospital, having spotted a familiar rainbow mane in the room from afar. However, she’d reduced her speed too much, and was hanging by her forelegs along the windowsill. Her wings flapped a few times, giving her enough lift to find purchase with a hind leg, and she finally managed to climb through into the hospital room.
She shook her windswept mane away from her eyes, her beloved hairband having been lost sometime during the flight, and looked at the bed. Rainbow was sleeping, her face not contorted in anger or rage, but simply… relaxed. That was an expression Applejack hadn’t seen in what felt like a long time. She snorted and rolled her eyes. They probably have somethin’ in that IV…
As she approached Rainbow’s bed, Applejack eyed one of the pegasus's legs, completely covered in a cast. She then spotted the patient chart hooked to the end of the bed, and gave it a glance. It was filled with typical medical mumbo jumbo, and she couldn’t make heads or tails of most of what was there… but ‘comminuted spiral fracture of the forelimb’ sounded bad enough. “You idiot…" Applejack sighed. “What the hay were you doin’?”
A groan answered her question, freezing the farmpony where she stood, the chart forgotten. As she looked up from it, her gaze locked onto a pair of magenta eyes, which were opening ever so slowl
The slightly glazed orbs travelled around the room, unfocused. Rainbow blinked as she took in her surroundings. She felt… great. Well. Not great, but the pain was… kinda not there. It just didn't matter. She blinked once more before her gaze settled on Applejack, focusing on the emerald eyes peering at her. She tilted her head in mild confusion, then grinned. “This has gotta be a dream…" she said, completely deadpan. “Because wow, you look hotter than I ever remember.”
Applejack’s mouth dropped open as a fierce blush lit up her face. Anything she might have said just vanished from her mind at that moment. How do you even respond to that? But before her brain could start working again, Rainbow Dash continued talking.
“Well, I guess it doesn’t matter if you’re a dream. You can still listen,” the pegasus said as she sat herself a little straighter. She squinted at Applejack, her eyes still unfocused, and frowned at what she saw. “I’m still mad. I hate how you have what’s mine… and it hurts. It really hurts.”
Rainbow paused as she rolled her head to face the window, and stared at the night sky. “You probably don’t get it, but… I don’t know who I am without flying. It’s everything to me.” She turned her eyes back to Applejack, her gaze pleading and slightly unhinged. “I can barely remember what it even feels like. And that scares me.” She hugged her cast-free hoof to her stomach. “Stuff like… that thing… what d’ya call it…" she slurred, her brain trying to catch up. “The young flyers competition! I want to keep that feeling forever. But I’m not. It’s all just… going away.”
Rainbow tore her gaze away from Applejack as tears started to form in her eyes. “And you know what I did to my friend? Y’know, the one that stuck around? That gave me a bed, and food? Awesome food, too.” Rainbow smirked for a moment, but the expression smile faded as she kept going. “The friend that tried to keep me happy all this time?”
Rainbow lifted her good hoof, and hit her mattress. There was no force, but an infinite amount of emotion adding weight to it. “I treat her like dirt. I shut her out, act like a total jerk when she tries to help. I wouldn’t listen.” She looked up once more, tears flowing freely.
Applejack stood rooted to her spot, unable to reply. She’d come here intent on checking on her friend, something long overdue. She hadn't expected anything but the usual exchange of platitudes with an injured friend, if they even spoke at all. And now that she was here, listening to… this? Try as she might, she couldn’t think of anything to say. All she could hear was the beating of her own heart, and Rainbow’s voice.
As Applejack’s brain furiously tried to catch up, the pegasus kept talking, not expecting any response from the other pony, nor caring. She was beyond caring. She needed to vent, to let this all out. She needed to do more than that.
“I’m sorry, A.J.. Sorry for everything. You've been so awesome to me this past month and I treated you like garbage.” She gave the earth pony a lopsided grin. “Heck, you've always been good to me. Always there when I needed it.” She dropped her gaze once more, unable to look at Applejack even in a dream. “I wanna come home, A.J.. Back to Sweet Apple Acres. My cloud-house doesn’t even count anymore. I don’t know where I’d be if you hadn’t taken me in. Not sure I’d have stuck around Ponyville.” Rainbow giggled to herself.
Applejack’s blush, which had faded earlier, made a reappearance as she continued to listen to Rainbow talk. “I know the other girls would’ve let me stay with them, but… they’re not you. I mean, obviously they're not you, Twi and Rarity are unicorns, Flutters is a pegasus, and I'm not even sure if Pinkie’s a pony at all half the time, and… I'm babbling, aren't I?” Rainbow said, her eyes slowly regaining focus. She shook her head sharply; she seemed to have realized something, and was just now coming to grips with it. “You’re like a rock, A.J.. You’re always there for me. You’re my rock. Or as we pegasi say… You’re the cloud under my hooves.” She gave a short laugh. “I always thought that was totally sappy… see what you make me do?”
She relaxed once more, resting her head on her pillow as she lifted her gaze to the ceiling. “Flying is my everything. My life is all about my flying. Well, and you, these days,” she said, and frowned. “That’s why what you said hurt so much. But I’m sorry for that too. I was stupid. That whole fight was so stupid, and all my fault.” Her voice became laced with anger as she berated herself. “I was drunk, but that’s no excuse.”
Rainbow Dash fell silent once more, her face scrunched up as if trying to make up her mind, instead of remaining angry at herself. Her gaze still on the ceiling, she opened her mouth once more. “I guess what I’m saying… you’re more than a friend to me, A.J.,” Rainbow said, her voice thick with emotion. “You mean so much to me. And I guess I owe Pinkie an apology,” she continued, and chuckled, “because… I think I love you.”
Rainbow heaved a great sigh, then closed her eyes once more. “Thought being in a dream would’ve made that easier…" she mumbled, talking to herself. She didn’t pay attention to the sound of hooves approaching her bed, nor to the sound of another pony’s breathing next to her.
She did, however, feel the weight of a hoof as it was placed on her own.
“Do… do you really mean all that, Dash?”
The pegasus's eyes flew open at the words, staring at the one who spoke them. The pony who had lain a hoof on hers.
“Oh horsefeathers… this isn’t all in my head?”
Applejack shook her head, smiling. “It sure ain’t, Sugarcube.”
A million thoughts passed through Rainbow Dash’s head, and her expression flashed through dozens of emotions before settling on a single one: resolve. “Ah, to hay with it.”
Quicker than expected, but still a far cry from Rainbow’s usual speed, the pegasus's head approached Applejack’s. She stopped halfway, crying out as she put weight on her wounded foreleg, the painkillers unable to keep up with the sudden movement. But the pain was utterly forgotten when Applejack’s head closed the distance, her lips locking onto Rainbow’s.
It felt… right. No more, no less. There were certainly no fireworks exploding in Applejack’s head, like Rarity’s books tended to mention. Nor did she feel any great revelation, no profound sense of something magical. It did feel different from other kisses, but those had tended to consist of friendly pecks, or hesitant smooches given to some colt in her younger years. No, this… this was just right, she realized, and pushed further into the kiss.
Neither could tell how long it lasted, nor did they care. The kiss simply broke at what mutually felt like the right time. Unwilling to separate contact, Applejack leaned closer to Rainbow, her forehead touching Rainbow’s own. “Ah can’t say this is what Ah expected when I came here…" Applejack said, chuckling.
This caused the pegasus to pull away, worry filling her magenta eyes. “Wh-what do you mean?” Rainbow asked, suddenly confused.
“Ah was comin’ to check on you… and apologize,” Applejack replied, her ears drooping.
Rainbow Dash shook her head, laying her good hoof on Applejack’s shoulder. “No, it was my fault, you did nothing wro–”
“Ah did!” the farmpony exclaimed, slightly louder than she’d intended. She looked away, the guilt leaving her unable to look at Rainbow. “Ah did do somethin’ wrong. I said horrible things, Dash. And Ah meant them.” She laid her head on the bed, covering her eyes with her forelegs. “Ah wish Ah could take that back.”
She stayed like that, unable to face her friend, until she felt the touch of a hoof gently caressing her hair. She moved her forelegs, uncovering her eyes, looking up at Rainbow’s face. “I forgive you, Applejack,” Rainbow said, still caressing the blond locks.
“How… how can you say that so easily, Dash?”
Rainbow grinned. “Uh, hello?” She smirked, leaning closer to Applejack. “Because I love you.”
Applejack stood back up, lifting a hoof to her eyes to wipe away the tears that had started to fall. “Ah missed you, Dash. More than you know. The house feels empty without you.”
Rainbow Dash leaned forward, more cautiously this time, and pulled Applejack up into a hug. “I missed you too… I missed Big Macintosh, and Apple Bloom, and Granny Smith, and Winona…" She pulled out of the hug, holding onto Applejack with her good hoof. “Heck, I even missed applebucking!”
Applejack chuckled. “Them painkillers must be messin’ with your head…"
Rainbow Dash grinned, blushing lightly. “Yeah… maybe a bit.”
The two ponies lapsed into silence, staring at each other, completely oblivious to their surroundings as they leaned forwards once more. They didn’t hear the voices coming from the corridor, getting louder as they approached the room. “I must insist, Miss Fluttershy! Please move aside! I have rounds to make!”
The door opened, letting in one of the nurses, who paused at the sight that welcomed her. Rainbow Dash, still on the bed, was pressed up against the headboard. Applejack was in the air, fluttering a few feet above the ground. Both of them wore shocked expressions, not having expected any disturbances, and they had both jumped back when the door had opened.
The nurse glanced from one pony to the other, trying to make sense of what she had interrupted. She sighed, mentally shrugging. I’m not paid enough for this. “Miss Dash,” she said, facing the startled bedridden pegasus, “I’m glad to see you are awake! But you must stay in bed. You need to rest.” She frowned, facing Applejack. “And you! Please stop flying, that is strictly forbidden indoors! For that matter,” she added, pointing a hoof at the now flying farmpony, “visiting hours are over. Please leave now.”
“She can stay!” Rainbow Dash blurted. “I want her to stay.” She looked at the nurse, a desperate look in her eyes. “Can she stay?”
The nurse put a hoof to her face, sighing again. “Fine. But don’t make me regret the decision,” she said, and turned around. She briefly entertained the thought of asking Fluttershy to leave, but dismissed the idea. All these ponies were all crazy, and she wanted nothing to do with them this late. She paused at the door, suddenly remembering the news she carried. “Oh, by the way, Miss Dash, we’ve analyzed your injury. You’re going to be fine,” she said, smiling at the look of relief on the pegasus's face. “You should thank those three fillies. If they hadn’t notified us so quickly, you might have been much worse off.”
“… How much worse?” Fluttershy asked, concerned.
The nurse hesitated before answering. “The leg might have been crippled.”
Rainbow stared in shock, her expression slowly changing to one of relief. “Yeah… I guess I do need to thank them.”
The nurse nodded in agreement. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I must continue my rounds,” she said, and left the room.
Fluttershy stood in the doorway, looking at her friends. She smiled as they stole glances at each other. “I think that means I’ll leave you two alone, then,” she said, causing the two to blush.
Applejack stared back, her brows knitted. “… The nurse said somethin’ about movin’ aside, Fluttershy. How long you been out there?”
Fluttershy’s smile dropped as she attempted to hide behind her own mane. “Oh… um… a few minutes?” she squeaked, unable to look Applejack in the eye.
“And how much did you hear?”
“… everything?” Fluttershy whispered, now cowering on the ground.
Applejack and Rainbow Dash stared at Fluttershy, then glanced at each other. Sighing, Rainbow Dash put a hoof to her face. “Fluttershy…" she said, exasperation clear in her voice.
Applejack walked over, and put a hoof on Fluttershy’s shoulder. “Y’all got nothin’ to be sorry about, Sugarcube. Can you just… give us some time alone?” she asked, glancing at Rainbow, then back at Fluttershy.
The nervous yellow pegasus nodded, relieved not to be yelled at. “O-of course,” she replied, smiling at the pair. She bid them goodnight, and closed the door behind her.
Applejack turned back to Rainbow Dash, a grin on her face. “You wanted me to stay, Sugarcube?”
Rainbow nodded slowly, staring at her hooves. “I… don’t want to be alone right now.”
“I ain’t going anywhere,” Applejack said as she approached the bed. She grinned as Rainbow lifted her head, a relieved smile on her face. As the pegasus started lifting herself to move closer to Applejack, the farmpony stopped her with a hoof. “The nurse was right though. You need your rest.”
“I’m not tired!” Rainbow complained, before a yawn betrayed her true condition. She blushed under Applejack’s stare, completely caught in the lie. “Fine…" she said, before scooting over. “But you’re joining me! You look exhausted.”
“Are you sure, Dash?” Applejack asked, eyeing the bed critically. “We won’t both fit…"
“Please?” the pegasus pleaded.
Unable to resist, Applejack climbed onto the mattress, tucking her legs underneath herself as she lay down. She raised an eyebrow as Rainbow scooted closer, dragging the blanket over both. Rainbow pressed herself against Applejack, making sure her cast-encased leg remained secure. She leaned her head into Applejack’s neck, giving a satisfied sigh as she settled in. “Good night, Applejack…" she mumbled, exhaustion washing over her. Within minutes, she was asleep.
“Good night, Rainbow…" Applejack replied, closing her eyes. She soon followed the pegasus's lead, closing her eyes. Lulled by Rainbow’s breathing, she fell into a deep slumber.
The brief letter had passed through many hooves on the trip to its destination. A unicorn filly had given it to her pegasus mother, who had added an early-morning Canterlot Castle trip to her normal delivery route that day. The guards had received it at the gates, investigated it for any possible magical risks, and, once declared all clear, it had been given to one of the castle’s many attendants.
Finally, it arrived at its recipient’s room, the busy purple unicorn barely aware of the knocking on her door. After having nearly fallen asleep under Celestia’s care, she’d made her way to her old room, and had awoken under the covers of her old bed. She briefly felt like a small filly again, in awe of all the books in her room. Even though she now lived in a library, this personal collection was nothing to sneeze at either.
She found herself lost in her books once again, having spent the morning with the princess until Celestia had been called away by her duties. Busily munching on a sandwich as her eyes ran over the pages, she didn’t hear the knocking on her door until a voice made itself heard through it.
“Miss Sparkle?” the voice asked, hoof striking the door once more.
Twilight turned, her horn lighting up to open the door. “Oh sorry!” she exclaimed as she trotted to the door. “I got distracted by my old books…"
The attendant noted the various piles around the floor, and nodded. “I’ve a letter for you, Miss Sparkle,” the attendant said, holding up the letter in question until Twilight grabbed it with her magic. The attendant then bowed, closing the door behind her as she left.
“A letter?” Twilight mused, eyeing it suspiciously. “Who could this possibly be from?” She shrugged, turning it around. A signature caught her eye. “Ah, Fluttershy,” she said, brightening. Any letter from her friends could only be good news. She opened the envelope, and began scanning the contents. “Rainbow… glider crash?” she gasped as she kept reading. “In the hospital?!” Dropping the letter, she spun around, looking for her attendant. “Spike? Spike!”
The baby dragon poked his head out of one of the large book piles, having fallen into his habit of cleaning up after Twilight. “What? What’s going on?”
“PackupwegottagotoPonyvillenow!” she yelled, frantically dancing from one hoof to another.
“Whoa whoa!” Spike replied, holding his hands up. “Stop yelling and slow down! I can’t understand what you’re saying!”
“Yes, what hath thee so troubled, Twilight Sparkle?” another voice interrupted from the door.
Two heads turned to face the source, jaws dropping in shock as they beheld none other than Princess Luna herself. The younger sister was rubbing an eye with a hoof, attempting to clean away the remnants of sleep.
“Princess Luna!” Twilight gasped, kneeling before the larger mare. “Did I wake you? I’m sorry!”
Luna smiled at the younger pony’s frantic apology. “ ‘Tis of no consequence. Now, what troubles thee?”
Twilight pulled herself up, suddenly reminded why she was so frantic in the first place. “Oh! Rainbow Dash is hurt! She’s in the hospital; I’ve gotta go see her!”
“Rainbow Dash? Was this the… pranking pegasus with the lightning cloud?”
Twilight stared blankly at Luna, before memories of Nightmare Night came flooding back. “Oh! Yes. That’s her! I’ve got to go see her now. I’m gonna teleport to the hospital right away!”
“Neigh!” Luna exclaimed, the Royal Canterlot Voice poking through, sending some papers flying. “Thou art in no fit state of mind to perform such long teleportation thyself. I will take thee,” she said, her expression brooking no argument.
“But… Princess?” Twilight asked, her head tilted in confusion. “Do you know any place in Ponyville well enough to teleport there?”
“No,” the alicorn replied, shaking her head. “My time during Nightmare Night did not provide enough time to familiarize myself with it.”
“But then–” Twilight started, dozens of questions coming to mind. They were all interrupted as a field of magic took hold of her body, levitating her into the air where she began struggling.
Luna spoke gently as she levitated the younger unicorn to face her. “Calm thyself, Twilight Sparkle.” The words had an immediate effect, ceasing Twilight’s struggles, allowing Luna to move Twilight onto her back.
“P-Princess?” Twilight asked, beginning to see what was going on. Luna turned her head, flashing a grin.
“I know of but two ponies who art faster in the air than I." The grin turned into a gentle smile. “T’is the least I can do for one of my saviours.” She turned back to Spike, having not forgotten Twilight’s assistant. The young dragon had guessed Luna’s intention quicker than Twilight, and held his hands up as if to ward off any ideas.
“Oh no, I’ll pass,” he said, shaking his head. “I’ll take the train with the luggage.” He noted Twilight’s expression, and made a shooing motion before she could think of any argument. “You’ll be faster without me. Just go!”
Twilight nodded, her gaze shifting to Luna. The princess trotted to the adjacent balcony, flaring her wings wide open. She glanced back to her passenger, and smiled. “Hold on, Twilight Sparkle,” she said, then took to the air, her path followed by a high pitched sound.
As they disappeared from view, Spike turned back the the pile of books and sighed. He had his work cut out for him.
Meanwhile, in the Castle’s throne room, Celestia’s ears twitched as she heard a high pitched sound, briefly wondering what the cause could be. As it quickly disappeared, she put it out of her mind, focusing on the day’s petitioners.
Eventually, as the line dwindled, she allowed herself a brief smile. Normally by now, she'd have been awash in a sea of paperwork, desperately trying to keep up with it all. Not that her ever-benevolent expression would have betrayed this, of course.
Now, however, the paperwork was in conspicuously short supply, and what she had received had been both concise and genuinely in need of her Royal attention. She allowed herself a small smile of triumph. Allowing Luna her brief stint at ruling had paid off more handsomely than Celestia could ever have hoped.
Speaking of… the white alicorn mused, as she heard a familiar set of hoofsteps from the corridor. Luna strode in, smiling to herself as she trotted over to her sister.
“Where have you been, Luna?” Celestia asked, smiling as her younger sister lay down next to her.
“We have just returned from Ponyville, ‘Tia. We had brought Twilight Sparkle there so she couldst visit an injured friend,” she replied, before filling Celestia in on what details she had gathered from Twilight.
“I see,” Celestia said as Luna finished explaining. “You flew her there? Was that the noise I heard a while ago?”
The question gave Luna pause, her cheeks briefly coloring. “Yes, well…" she started, hesitating. Celestia made no comment, simply letting the silence urge the younger alicorn into speaking. “We heard this loud squealing while flying, but could not figure out whence it came.” She paused once more, looking at her hooves. “It was not until it had become whimpering did We realize that the noise was Twilight Sparkle, screaming like a cat tied to a performing Wonderbolt.”
Celestia sat quietly for a moment, then burst out laughing. Lifting her head in surprise, Luna couldn’t prevent a grin from reaching her own face, eventually joining her sister in laughter.
The breeze blew through the trees, the leaves swaying with its passing. It continued on its path, flowing into the only open window in Ponyville’s hospital, and gently caressed the heads of the slumbering ponies.
Unused to sleeping with open windows, Applejack found herself waking up thanks to the airborne disturbance. She blinked slowly, lifting her head off of her forelegs, and took stock of her surroundings. Sometime during the night, her head had shifted away from Rainbow’s, ending on her outstretched legs which had clearly been used as an uncomfortable pillow. Rainbow Dash, on the other hoof, had been robbed of the support of Applejack’s neck, and had shifted as well. Applejack could only smile as she looked at the slumbering pegasus, her blue head resting on Applejack’s back, completely tucked under a wing like a feathered blanket.
Applejack yawned, attempting to clear the cobwebs from her brain, and thought back to the previous night. It had been draining, both physically and emotionally. She once again had to admire Rainbow, for having the energy to fly as much as she did. Applejack prided herself on her stamina, but that flight had still considerably winded her, and it was at nowhere near the speed or distance that Rainbow routinely traveled.
The emotional drain, however, had been greater. She thought about the blue pegasus, and how she had laid her heart out for Applejack to see. Even though Rainbow had thought Applejack was only a dream, the words had still poured out of her, baring her thoughts to the one she… loved.
Love. The word echoed in Applejack’s mind. Rainbow had repeated it several times. But had Applejack? As she ran the conversation through her mind again, she realized that she hadn’t. Well… not directly. Her body had moved on its own, shifting forward when Rainbow had tried to launch herself at Applejack, and when she had leaned in to deepen the kiss. She hadn’t thought, but simply… acted. Even if she hadn’t said the words, she’d been honest with herself. That had to count for something.
Her inner musings paused as she felt Rainbow shift beside her. The still slumbering mare seemed to be nestling closer to Applejack’s body, and was in fact… cuddling. Applejack grinned, shaking her head in amazement. “Ah never pegged you as a cuddlebug, Dash…"
“Wazzat, A.J.?” Rainbow replied, somehow hearing Applejack while remaining asleep. “Birthday present? … Soarin and Spitfire?” she mumbled, grinning pervertedly as she cuddled closer to the farmpony. “You shouldn’t have!”
Applejack raised a questioning eyebrow. “… Ah’m gonna assume this is just cuddlin’, at least.” She then froze when Rainbow’s cuddling became something… different. She felt a tongue on her neck, licking her happily, then felt an ear become trapped by Rainbow’s teeth. "Ack! Dash! Get offa me!” she exclaimed, trying to escape Rainbow’s grasp while at the same time attempting to not wake her up. “Ah'm pretty sure this is a marriage proposal in some places!"
The demand seemed to get through to Rainbow, who stopped nibbling Applejack’s ear. Instead, she turned her face towards Applejack’s, and cracked an eye open. “Gotcha,” Rainbow whispered, grinning. The grin faded as Applejack glared at her. “S-sorry… it’s just a joke,” she said, her ears flat on her head.
“Is it now?” Applejack asked, as she leaned closer to Rainbow face until their foreheads were touching. Suddenly she smiled. “Only if you want it to be, Dashie,” she said, leering suggestively.
Rainbow Dash’s mouth fell open as the gears in her head spun frantically, and she sputtered incoherently for a moment before her brain caught up with the world. She then noticed the cheeky grin Applejack was sporting. “… You win,” she admitted, her eyes still wide open.
“ ‘Course Ah do,” Applejack replied, fluttering her wings to get a few kinks out of them. The motion caught Rainbow’s eyes, reminding her of something she’d heard last night.
“Hey, A.J.…" she asked, giving the orange pony a look. “Did you fly? I heard the nurse say something like that last night…"
“Hm? Oh! Uh,” Applejack stammered, blushing as she realized what Rainbow meant, “Ah guess Ah just jumped when she came in, and stayed up there…"
“That’s awesome!” the pegasus gushed, grinning widely. “How did it feel like?”
“Ah can see why you love it, Sugarcube… It felt amazin’ soaring over the apple trees. Mighty tirin’ flyin’ that long though…"
“Wait wait…" Rainbow said, holding up her good hoof. “You flew from the Acres? Not glided, but flew?”
Applejack nodded, wondering why Rainbow was getting so excited. Flight was flight, wasn’t it? “Yeah? Why, what about it?”
“What about it?!” Rainbow repeated, staring at the farmpony. “Applejack, that’s a crazy first flight. Last time I saw you, you were still gliding!” Rainbow said as she continued to stare.
Applejack felt her cheeks coloring again under Rainbow’s gaze. “Aw shucks. Ah didn’t realise it was such a big deal… it just clicked, Ah guess.”
“Big deal?” Rainbow almost shouted. “It’s a huge deal! You’re a natural at this.”
“Really?” Applejack grinned. “Well then, how ‘bout you take care of the farm, and Ah join the Wonderbolts?” she joked, poking Rainbow in the side.
“H-hey!” the pegasus replied, her ears dropping slightly as her mood took a sudden nosedive. Applejack noticed immediately, and put a hoof on Rainbow’s shoulder.
“Ah’m sorry, Sugarcube. That was thoughtless of me…" she apologized, before a knocking interrupted her. Both ponies looked at the door, where they found a unicorn mare wearing a white doctor’s coat.
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” she said, nodding to the pair. “I’m Doctor Saddlebags. I’m the staff psychologist for the hospital, and I’m just here on a routine post-accident checkup. If I could take a few minutes of your time?”
Rainbow frowned at her, and looked away with a sullen look on her face. She didn’t feel like dealing with anyone else at that moment.
Doctor Saddlebags smiled gently, not letting such a reaction hold her back. “I’m glad to see you’re feeling better. Although…" She paused, her smile turning into a grin. “I don’t think you’ll be applebucking anytime soon.”
Rainbow’s head spun back towards the doctor, and stared at her angrily. “You were snooping around? Well you can take your saddlebags and shove them right up your–”
“Dash!” Applejack interrupted, drawing Rainbow’s attention. “Stop. Think about it,” she said, and continued as the pegasus looked at her blankly. “Think about all this. You could probably use a pony like her right now. Heck,” she added, pressing the point, “we both could. Ah think we’ve hurt each other enough in the last few days by tryin’ to do this on our own…"
Rainbow glanced between Applejack and Doctor Saddlebags. “But I… She…" She sighed, closing her eyes. “Oh for Pete’s sake… Fine,” she muttered, still dubious at the prospect.
“I take it, then, you would like her to stay, Miss Dash?” the medical mare asked. Rainbow blushed, and simply placed a hoof on Applejack’s own, staring at the doctor as if to dare her to comment. The latter simply raised an eyebrow, and forged ahead. “So, tell me about the crash. What happened? A problem with the glider?”
Rainbow shook her head. “No… I… I think I just pushed it too hard. I’d just bought it. But those tricks are– … were effortless with my wings.”
“I see. I assume you’d had glider training, and just got your own?”
“Uh, not really…" Rainbow admitted, having the decency to look ashamed. “I didn’t think I’d needed any training. Pegasus, ya know?”
“Speakin’ of that…" Applejack interrupted, unable to hold on to her curiosity any longer. “Ah’ve seen you walk off being hit by rocks, crashin’ into a library, and demolishin’ my barn without a scratch on you,” she said, listing off Rainbow’s various feats. “You even healed a broken wing in just one day. What makes this crash different?”
Rainbow shrugged. “I dunno. I once asked Twi’ about that once; she said something about ‘Pegasus Protection Magic’ or something weird. The same thing that lets us walk on clouds protects us while flying.” She shook her head in confusion. “I don’t really remember. All I know is that she started talking about wanting to do tests on me. I got out of there before she started poking me with things. She’s scary when she gets all Sciency on you, ya know?” she said, to which Applejack nodded.
“Back to the issue at hoof,” Doctor Saddlebags ventured, “Miss Dash, what do you think may have lead to the crash?”
Rainbow rolled her eyes. “I told you. I pushed it too hard and lost control.”
"Yes, of course, what I meant to say was… what do you think made you go up there in the first place?"
Rainbow blinked, having not expected such a direct question. “I… I needed to fly, I guess. It hasn’t been easy being stuck on the ground… I just had to do something!”
Doctor Saddlebags nodded, the pegasus’s response confirming what she’d guessed: Aggravated Cutie Mark Failure Syndrome. Ponies who found themselves unable to live up to their special talent often had quite adverse reactions. In extreme cases, such as this one, where the ability was lost entirely, the reactions tended to be even worse.
“I’ve been briefed on your… situation,” the doctor continued, pointing towards Applejack, or rather the wings on her back. “It has been a few weeks, I believe?” she asked, to which the other two nodded. “Frankly, I am amazed that you haven’t done anything more drastic, Miss Dash. There are other ponies who, one way or another, lost their ability to perform their talent; the very reason their cutie mark appeared was taken from them. The fact that you managed to last this long without doing anything more drastic is nothing short of brilliant.”
Rainbow shook her head, still trying to understand what she had just heard. It explained a lot of what had happened over the last few weeks. She glanced at Applejack, who was still watching her, then back to Doctor Saddlebags as the mare spoke up again.
“So… you were frustrated that you couldn't fly,” the unicorn stated. “But why did it take so long? It seems you were fine for weeks, and then this happens?"
Rainbow’s expression soured as the conversation tread into uncomfortable territory. She remained silent, not looking at either pony, until she felt her hoof being squeezed by another. She glanced at Applejack, giving a slight nod in thanks. “I had a lot of support, Doc. It… She kept me going, I guess.”
“I lost that support, Doc. Made me do stupid things.”
The doctor nodded, making mental notes. “May I ask what caused the loss?”
Rainbow glanced at Applejack again, a guilty look on her face. “I… we kinda fought.”
“ ‘Kinda’?” Doctor Saddlebags repeated, hoping for a clarification.
“We almost came to blows, Sugarcube,” Applejack said, looking and feeling as guilty as the pegasus did. What she hadn’t expected were the tears glistening in the corners of Rainbow’s eyes.
“I’m sorry, Applejack!” Rainbow cried out, staring at the covers, unable to meet Applejack’s eyes. “I was drunk and feeling horrible… Oh Celestia, I’m a stupid foal…" She squeezed her eyes shut. “I know how drinking makes me act… and I still did it.” She lifted her head to stare at Applejack, a desperate note in her voice. “It’s all my fault…"
Applejack shook her head, feeling tears in her own eyes. “Ah said some mighty awful things too, Dash. Ah’m just as much at fault as you.”
The doctor just sat there, waiting patiently for both mares to unload the worries and fears they’d carried with them for the past few weeks. It was important for them to let these feelings out.
Applejack took the lead, giving Rainbow a bit more time to collect herself. "Ah didn't really blame you, Dash. Not after Ah'd had a chance to sleep on it. Ah knew you weren't yourself. But ya did start that fight. If you'd come to me and said it was the drink makin' you say things you didn't mean, Ah'd've accepted that, and apologised—Ah'd said some pretty unfair things back."
Dash shook her head. "Oh, A.J.… I knew I owed you an apology. But the way I saw it… I was drunk, you weren't,” she said, her ears drooping. “I felt like, why should I apologise when I had an excuse, if you weren't going to when you didn't?” She gave a quiet, hollow laugh. “It was pretty stupid, looking back, but it was kinda like a point of honour or something."
Doctor Saddlebags nodded, feeling they had finally discovered the nub of the issue. “So, as far as I understand it, you both knew that you were wrong to have said what you did, but felt that the other was was to blame for the fight? And that it was their responsibility to apologise first?”
Applejack nodded. "That's exactly it. It was really dumb… Refusin’ to apologise ‘less the other did first?” She shook her head in exasperation at the whole situation and waved a hoof in frustration. “What are we, schoolfillies? Ah'm sorry, Rainbow. Not just for the fight, but for not apologisin’ sooner. Even if Ah did feel like that, Ah should've just sucked it up and said it first. Then maybe you wouldn't have gotten into this mess," Applejack said, leaning forward to give Rainbow an apologetic nuzzle.
Rainbow smiled as Applejack pressed against her. “No, it's my fault too. I'm supposed to represent Loyalty, and I couldn't even put making up with my best friend over… trying to make a stupid point? I'm sorry, Applejack. Really," she said, returning the nuzzle. She then briefly leaned back, staring into Applejack’s eyes, and slowly leaned forward to kiss her mare.
A quiet cough interrupted them, reminding the two that they were not alone. They both blushed fiercely, feeling mortified, as the doctor kept talking. “Yes, well, I think that topic has been covered enough,” she said, the vaguest hint of color on her own cheeks. “Moving on. You’ve had quite a few visitors, Miss Dash. I assume these are all your friends? Have there been any issues with them lately?”
Rainbow shook her head. “No… Fluttershy has been great, she’s been nicer to me than I deserve. She took me in after the fight. I should really thank her for that…" she said, smiling at the nodding Applejack. “I haven’t seen much of Rarity lately. Pinkie… kinda tried to push us together. And we yelled at her for that.” She grinned sheepishly. “Gotta apologize to her too.” Rainbow paused as she considered the last pony on her list. “And Twilight… I guess I was kinda mad at her. I asked her to help me fly but she refused,” she said, shaking her head. “I know she meant well and didn’t want to screw me up more but… it still hurt, you know?”
“I see. But you didn’t fight with them, then?”
“No… I don’t think it would have been the same, Doc,” Rainbow answered. “I know they’d take me in in an instant, but… Fluttershy’s place is too relaxing, I’d be bouncing off the walls if I stayed there too long. I’d probably get bored at Twi’s… And staying with Pinkie or Rarity would probably drive me insane,” she said, giving a small laugh.
“You’d probably get right back to prankin’ with Pinkie,” Applejack suggested, grinning. “Ah haven’t seen you do that in a while.”
“I… didn’t really feel like it, A.J..”
Doctor Saddlebags nodded in understanding. “I think that’s understandable. You felt the need to keep your friends close, and didn’t want to push them away if a prank that went too far, so you just didn't prank at all.”
Rainbow shook her head sharply. “No way! I know they’d never leave me hanging like that just over a prank.”
The psychologist raised an eyebrow. “But if you knew, intellectually, that they wouldn't hold it against you… why didn't you prank them?"
Rainbow was silent as she considered her words. “I… I just felt… not okay.”
“Vulnerable?” Doctor Saddlebags offered.
Rainbow nodded. “Yeah. Vulnerable.”
Applejack just stared at Rainbow, then the doctor. Those were words she’d never expected to hear from the pegasus, but the unicorn had teased it out of her like it was nothing. “And that’s what makes her a psychologist, Dash. She’s good!” She chortled, then paused as she recalled how they’d woken up. “So wait. She tried pranking me earlier… what does that mean, Doc?” Applejack asked.
“Trust. She feels safe enough with you to do so without fearing you’ll take it badly,” the doctor answered, smiling. “Well, it sounds like my concerns are all cleared up. You've got an excellent safety net, Miss Dash,” she said, giving Applejack a significant look. “Just don't throw yourself off of it again and you should be fine until your situation gets reversed.”
Rainbow, however, didn’t look convinced. “But Doc… what if this is permanent?” she asked, seeming to shrink into herself.
Doctor Saddlebags dipped her head in acknowledgment of the possibility. "Then I suggest you make a weekly appointment. The long-term fallout of such a change isn't something I can help you handle now, or even in a single session," she answered, smiling. “You can get my contact details at the front desk.” She turned to leave, but caught sight of Rainbow’s expression. “Yes? Is there anything else?”
“Um… should Applejack come with me if I do this?”
“If you want,” the doctor answered, shrugging. "It's up to you whether you think it will help or not. I should mention, though, I'm not a relationship counselor—the only advice I can give there is just to go with the flow, but to be honest and loyal to each other.” With no further questions forthcoming, she nodded to the pair, and bade them farewell.
The couple stared at where Doctor Saddlebags had been, then looked at each other for a few moments before bursting into laughter. Once their breathing had settled back to something resembling normalcy, they shared a knowing grin. “Honest and loyal, eh?” Applejack said, chuckling. “Ah think we’ve got that covered.”
Rainbow nodded, giggling at the thought. “No kidding!” she said, her smile fading as her thoughts sobered her mood. “Do we, though, A.J.?”
Applejack’s own grin faded, sensing the seriousness of Rainbow’s question. “What d’you mean, Dash?”
“I mean… us,” Rainbow answered, looking straight at Applejack. “All this is kinda… sudden.” She grinned, attempting to hide her fears. “Don’t get me wrong, this is awesome, and I don’t want it to stop…" she said, hesitating once again. “But… it came right after a huge fight.”
“Rainbow…" Applejack said, placing a hoof on Dash’s.
“I’m scared, A.J.. I don’t wanna go through that again!”
“Dash. Dashie. Listen to me.” Applejack scooted closer to Rainbow, the use of the nickname getting the pegasus’s attention. “Yeah, we fought. And yeah, it was pretty nasty. But… it turned out okay, didn’t it?” she said, nuzzling Rainbow’s neck.
Rainbow smiled at the feeling of Applejack’s coat against her own. “It did…" she mumbled. “I just don’t want to lose this.”
Applejack pulled back, staring hard into Rainbow’s eyes. “Y’wont, if Ah have anything to say about it.”
Rainbow nodded, smiling as her eyes took in all of Applejack. She leaned closer, closing her eyes in anticipation of sharing a kiss, when a loud thump in the corridor interrupted her thoughts. “Oh for Pete’s sake… will you ponies stop interrup—Twilight!” Rainbow gasped, as she noticed the new arrival.
“Are you alright, Sugarcube?” Applejack asked, moving off of the bed. She rushed over to the unicorn’s side, and helped her up. “What happened to you?
“Yeah, you look worse than I do!” Rainbow added, having crawled to the edge of the bed for a better view.
“I’m okay… Thanks, Applejack,” Twilight said, having been lifted back to her hooves. “But if a princess ever offers you a lift?” she said, and gave a shudder. “… Close your eyes.”
“Princess? Lift? Where’ve you been?” Applejack asked the still woozy pony.
“Canterlot, but I came as soon as I heard!” Twilight replied. “Are you okay Rainbow?”
Rainbow nodded, waving Twilight’s worries away with her good hoof. “Nothing a little stay at the hospital won’t cure.”
“Oh thank goodness…" Twilight breathed, relief flooding through her body. She grinned at Rainbow, knowing how to cheer up the pegasus. “I’ll bring you some books if you want. Daring Do, perhaps?”
Rainbow nodded eagerly, beaming. “Sure! Thanks Twi!”
“It’s the least I could do for not coming sooner!” she said, then blinked as she realized just who the two ponies sharing the room with her were. “Hey… you two are acting different,” she noted, her eyes narrowing in suspicion as she smirked.
“You kinda missed a bit… or a lot,” Applejack said, scratching the back of her head with a hoof. “In fact, you just missed some psychologist talkin’ to Dash…" she said, glancing at the pegasus before amending her statement. “Talkin’ to us.”
“Oh, so that’s who helped me up the stairs…" Twilight mumbled, before brightening. “What did she say? I’ve always been fascinated by the profession!” she asked, briefly wondering why her friends looked so hesitant. Realization struck, making her want to hit herself for asking the question. “I’m sorry. Doctor-Patient confidentiality. It’s completely insensitive of me to ask you that…" Good going, Twilight, she thought, thinking of a situation she had messed up not too long ago. You just can’t keep your mouth shut, can you?
Rainbow glanced at Applejack, who had turned to look at her in turn. She hated seeing Twilight beat herself up over this. “Don’t worry, Egghead… it’s no big deal.” She grinned. “I’m gonna go talk with them, see if she can help with… this,” she said, nodding her head towards her back.
Twilight tilted her head in confusion. “Huh?” What is she talking about?
Applejack nodded, agreeing with Rainbow. “Don’t you worry about it, Sugarcube. Ah’m startin’ to get used to this anyway.”
“What?” Twilight asked again. Neither of them are making any sense!
Applejack frowned at Twilight, not understanding why the unicorn seemed so confused. “Y’know. Since it doesn’t look like you’ll be solvin’ this any time soon…" she started, looking at Rainbow. It affected her more.
Rainbow nodded, catching Applejack’s look. “She’s gonna help me deal with… not having wings anymore,” she said, her voice catching in her throat.
Everything clicked into place as Twilight listened to the pair. They think that I… “Wait,” she said, holding up a hoof, “didn’t you get my note?”
Applejack looked at Rainbow, who just shrugged, then turned back to Twilight. “What note?”
“The one I left on my door?” Twilight asked. “Saying I was going to Canterlot to do some research?”
“Ah ain’t been to the library since we last talked,” Applejack replied, shaking her head.
“Me neither,” said Rainbow. “Nopony else mentioned it, either. Guess no one's been by to read it.”
“Oh,” Twilight replied, nonplussed. “Well then. I went to Canterlot to get some help from Princess Celestia. It was tiring, but we did it, girls!” she said, beaming at her friends.
“Did what?” Rainbow asked, her brows knitted in frustration. What on earth was Twilight going on about?
“I figured it out, Rainbow!” Twilight said, almost bouncing in place.
“Figured what out, Sugarcube?” Applejack asked, just as confused as the pegasus.
Twilight, unable to contain herself, jumped up, her hooves on the edge of Rainbow’s bed. “I figured out how to fix the problem!”
“Problem? What pro–” Rainbow trailed off as she realized what Twilight was talking about.
“Your wings, Dash!” Twilight grabbed the wide eyed pegasus’s head in her hooves. “I figured out how to get your wings back!”
“I figured out how to get your wings back!”
The words seemed to echo in Rainbow Dash’s mind as her jaw slowly fell open. There was no room for anything else; her brain had simply stopped working. She continued to stare in shock as Twilight let go of her face, having been pulled away by an orange hoof.
Applejack stared at Twilight, her expression a mixture of joy and disbelief. A tremor in her voice betrayed the emotions she felt. “Are you serious, Twilight?”
“Of course!” she answered, tilting her head. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Because last time Ah asked you, you seemed… well, stumped.”
“I… was,” Twilight admitted, her eyes downcast. “I even begged Princess Celestia for help…" Her smile was tremulous as she lifted her eyes back to Applejack. “And she did. Help, I mean.” Twilight’s smile grew as she kept talking, almost gushing about the princess. “She’s really amazing… it took me forever to even come up with the idea… and with her help, we completely worked out the theory!”
“Theory?” Applejack repeated. She didn’t like the sound of that.
Twilight nodded. “More than a theory, really. The whole process is outlined, all the steps are clear, I just didn’t have the time to practice it.” Her ears drooped at the admission. “It’s probably still going to take awhile before I can cast this…" Twilight said, counting off the reasons. “I still want some trial runs first, and some practice… and Rainbow needs to get better first. I’d rather eliminate any variable…" she said, stopping as a new sound reached her ears.
Both she and Applejack turned towards the source of the sound: a light sobbing, coming from the pegasus on the bed. “Rainbow!” Applejack cried, rushing over to her side. “What’s wrong?”
Twilight edged away, terrified of Rainbow’s tears. Once again, it seemed she had done something terribly wrong to the pegasus. “I-I’m sorry Rainbow, I can’t go any faster… it’s just too dangerous!”
Rainbow shook her head, a smile on her face even as tears ran down her cheeks. “I-I’m just so happy!” she sobbed, burying her face into the bed’s covers. Weeks of tension, worry, and emotion just seemed to flow out of her, unrestrained. Applejack put a hoof on her shoulder, her own eyes starting to water.
Twilight sagged with relief, her heart resuming its beat, albeit in an erratic fashion. For a moment, she thought she’d managed to hurt her friend yet again. She’d been terrified, unable to process the sudden onset of guilt. The relief she felt was replaced by surprise as she watched Rainbow Dash pick herself off the bed and practically throw herself at Applejack, burying her muzzle in the farmer’s mane. Something definitely happened… she thought, making a mental note to ask about it later. Right then, she was satisfied to bask in the glow of finally, finally being able to give these two ponies some good news.
Eventually, Rainbow’s tears stopped, and she lifted herself away from Applejack. “Sorry…" she mumbled, seeing the now damp spot on the orange coat.
Applejack smiled, shaking her head and briefly nuzzling Rainbow. “Ah figure you needed that, Sugarcube…" She turned to Twilight, a big smile on her face. “Thanks, Twilight…"
The unicorn shook her head, but was unable to stop her lips from quirking into a small grin. “Don’t thank me yet. Like I said, I still need to practice, and you,” she said, pointing to the pegasus, “need to get better. I don’t know what effect something like that might have,” she explained, pointing at Rainbow’s cast-encased leg.
Rainbow wiped her nose with her good hoof, and grinned at Twilight. “Yes, ma’am!” she said, punctuating the exclamation with a salute.
The three ponies in the room quieted as the sound of small hooves echoing down the corridor made itself heard. The culprits, completely unconcerned by the noise they were making, arrived at the door in a jumble of limbs as they skidded to an abrupt halt. One of them quickly disentangled herself, and rocketed towards Rainbow Dash in an orange and purple blur, knocking her off her sitting position and into her pillow. “What the… Squirt?” she said, looking at the filly in her arms.
“Rainbow Dash!” Scootaloo gushed, a gigantic smile on her face. “You’re okay!”
Rainbow shook away her surprise, then flashed Scootaloo a grin, including the two other fillies who had made their way to her bed. “Of course I’m okay! Nothing can stop me!” she said, a touch of her usual bravado returning to her demeanor. Rainbow Dash blushed slightly as she noticed Applejack chuckling, shaking her head in wonder. She turned her gaze back to the young ponies, clearing her throat in an attempt to get rid of the knot that had suddenly appeared there. “I hear I owe you three for that,” she said to the beaming fillies, as Rarity trotted through the door, slightly out of breath and looking a bit haggard. Her beauty sleep had been utterly ruined by her offer to house the Crusaders, who had been unable to lie still, too busy worrying about the pegasus. And if they hadn't slept, neither had Rarity.
“Girls! You can’t run through a hospital like that!” Rarity huffed, until she caught sight of Rainbow. “Rainbow Dash! You’re awake!” she said, glancing first at Twilight, then at Applejack, keeping her gaze on the farmpony and her slightly disheveled state. She fought to keep a knowing grin hidden as she looked back at Rainbow. “And I see you have company!”
“Yeah, I do…" Rainbow agreed, completely missing Rarity’s expression as she looked back at the three fillies crowding her. “Thanks, girls. The docs said it could’ve been much worse if you hadn’t gotten to me so quick.”
Apple Bloom blushed, as did the other two. “Aw shucks…" she said, scratching the back of her head. “We didn’t do much. Scoots was th’ one to rush to the hospital an’ get help.”
“Really?” Rainbow asked, her eyebrows raised. She looked at the grinning filly, then pulled her into a hug. “Thanks, kid.”
For a moment, Scootaloo was frozen in shock, not believing what was happening. Coming to her senses, she hugged Rainbow back, basking in her hero’s presence as she attempted to ignore the chorus of ‘Aawww!’s coming from the other two Crusaders.
Rainbow released her hold on the young pegasus, and grinned at the fillies. “I gotta make this up to you guys somehow…" she said, trying to think of what she could do.
“Ohh! How about a party?” exclaimed Pinkie Pie from behind Rainbow and Applejack, ignoring the two ponies’ shocked recoils. “I know! The ‘You girls are awesome and totally deserve a party’ party!”
“Oh, hi Dashie! I knew you were awake, so I came to visit! And now everyone’s here and it’s even better!”
Twilight’s eyes narrowed with suspicion. “How did you know she was awake?”
“Combos, silly! Two of them! Tingly spine and floppy ears mean a sick friend is feeling better! And the other was floppy ears, itchy nose, and scratchy back!” She giggled, lifting a hoof to her chin. “You know, the scratchy back ones are weird. I can never tell if it’s my Pinkie Sense or if I just need a bath or–”
“What does that one mean?” a bemused Twilight interrupted, adding yet another entry to her ever-growing mental list.
Pinkie blinked, then bounced happily next to Dash’s bed and grinned widely. “That there’s going to be good news shortly!”
“Good news?” a soft voice interrupted from the door. “What good news?” Every eye turned on Fluttershy, who shrank back from the attention and inquisitive stares. “Um… a little birdie told me Dash was awake, so I thought I’d visit.” Receiving only blank stares, she nodded at the window.
All heads turned, facing a blue jay perched upon the windowsill. Unaccustomed to so many eyes on him, the bird chirped in alarm and flew away. “What’s the good news?” Fluttershy repeated, drawing attention back to herself.
Twilight gathered her bearings after the two sudden arrivals. “Oh! Right.” With all her friends here, she could give the news without having to repeat herself for everypony. “I figured out how to move Rainbow’s wings back!”
Fluttershy beamed. “Oh, that’s wonderful!” Pinkie bounced towards Twilight, giving her a hug as the Crusaders cheered.
Rarity gasped with delight. “That is truly marvelous news!” She paused in thought as she gazed at the two affected ponies. “It is a bit of a shame though; that blue works wonderfully with your orange coat.”
“Now wait just a cotton pickin’ minute there.” Applejack pinned Rarity with a confused stare. “Weren’t you sayin’ a few weeks ago that they don’t go together?”
Rarity raised a hoof to her chin as she continued to peer at Applejack. “They work wonderfully together as colours, with cloth and fabric for instance, but in a pony’s coat? It just looked so out of place, like a bad dye-job,” she explained, completely ignoring the pair of disbelieving stares pointed her way. “But I must admit… I’ve warmed up to the idea.”
Applejack and Rainbow glanced at each other, utterly speechless, then rolled their eyes.
Turning her attention back to her friends, Rainbow felt a pang of guilt as she watched Pinkie bounce around. She still had something to do, and she felt the best time was now. “Pinkie?” Rainbow asked, trying to get the pink pony’s attention.
Pinkie grinned at the pegasus. “Yes, Dashie?”
“I… I’m sorry,” Rainbow said, fighting to not look at her hooves. Applejack moved closer to Rainbow, having a good idea what the pegasus was talking about.
Pinkie, however, tilted her head in confusion. She couldn’t think of anything Rainbow would have to apologize for. “What for?”
“For… for yelling at you. At the Acres,” Rainbow answered. “You were right.”
“I was? Yay!” Pinkie cheered, leaping into the air. Mid-jump, she paused. “What was I right about?”
“Y-you know!” Rainbow blushed, finding it harder than expected to voice the subject. It had been easier with Fluttershy, as she had basically eavesdropped on the entire conversation. Outright admitting it, to all her friends, was suddenly an entirely different matter.
Applejack saw Rainbow’s predicament, and smiled slyly as she came to the pegasus’s rescue. “Ah think it’s easier to show ‘em, Dash,” she said quietly, but still loud enough for everypony to hear. As Rainbow turned her head towards Applejack to ask what she meant, the farmer leaned forward, planting her lips on the unsuspecting mare. She ignored the resulting gasps from the other ponies, focusing on just the one in front of her. After what felt like too long, and not long enough, she released her hold, chuckling at Rainbow’s dazed expression. “About that, Pinkie.”
The party pony was vibrating with excitement, trying not to bounce off the walls. “Oh this is awesome we can have a ‘yay you’re better and now you’re together and you’re getting your wings back’ party!” She paused, lifting a hoof to her chin. “Hmm. That doesn’t rhyme. I’ve gotta work on that.” Returning to her senses, she waved a hoof at Rainbow. “No need to be sorry, Dashie! And it wasn’t just me. Fluttershy was the one who told me!”
Fluttershy squeaked as the conversation suddenly shifted to her. “Um. I suspected it… Big Macintosh was the one to confirm it.”
“Big Mac did…?” Applejack said, mortified. “Oh he ain’t never gonna let me live that down…"
“It has been somewhat obvious lately,” Rarity added, thinking back to that wing-dyeing session in the Spa. Even then, Applejack’s reactions had been enough to raise Rarity’s suspicions.
Her head turning back and forth between the nodding ponies, Twilight lifted a hoof. “If it helps, I didn’t have a clue until Fluttershy told me.”
Both Applejack and Rainbow Dash looked at each other, blushes still going strong on their faces. The farmpony cleared her throat, and put a hoof one one of Dash’s own. “Ah guess we were too stubborn and angry to see it…" she said, turning a mock glare at her friends as they answered with a chorus of “Yep”, “Duh!”, “Indeed”, and a silent nod.
“Twilight, when did you get back?” Fluttershy asked, as the room grew quiet.
“Get back?” Rarity repeated, looking at Twilight. “From where?”
“Canterlot. I got Fluttershy’s letter about twenty minutes ago, and came straight here. I just arrived a few minutes before you did,” Twilight replied.
“Twenty…?” Fluttershy boggled, looking askance at the unicorn. “The train usually takes hours to get back.”
Pinkie bounced up and down, waving a hoof. “Ooh, I know! I know! Did you teleport?”
Twilight shook her head. “Princess Luna wouldn’t let me. She, uh…" She hesitated, still not quite believing what had happened. Then she thought of the flight itself, and shuddered. “She flew me here herself.”
“Flew you?” Rarity asked. “But the chariots aren’t that fast…"
“No, no… she carried me on her back,” Twilight said, earning several shocked gasps.
A moment later, Scootaloo broke the uncharacteristic quiet the fillies had lapsed into. “That’s sooooo cool!”
“Not from where I was…" Twilight muttered, holding a hoof to her stomach. It still felt like it was doing flips.
Rainbow shook her head in wonder at the unicorn. “Twi, you don’t know how lucky you are! How many ponies can say they've flown like that?" she asked, grinning. “Carried by a princess! I bet she was going really fast…"
Twilight smiled sheepishly. “No need to be jealous, Rainbow. You’ll be flying circles around her soon enough.” Her smile turned sly as she remembered something the princess had said. “In fact, Princess Luna mentioned that she knew of only two ponies who flew faster than her. I’m sure that one of those is Princess Celestia, but I wonder who the other could be…" Twilight wondered, pantomiming being in deep thought.
Everypony in the room laughed as Rainbow Dash’s jaw dropped. They were all eager to finally see their friend back as she should be, living up to Twilight’s words. But none more than Applejack, who mulled over what the unicorn had just said. Jealous? she thought, glancing at Rainbow Dash. No matter how much the pegasus had said that Applejack was helping fill that void, the desire to fly was still clearly there, and its fulfillment was still many days away.
As the conversation drifted to other topics, the gears turned in Applejack’s head. She might have been helping… but she figured she could help a little more.
Even without their protective magic, modern-day pegasi were a hardy race. As the descendants of the pony warrior tribes, physical injuries never held them down for long. And so, a few days after her arrival, Rainbow Dash was wheeled out of the hospital on a wheelchair, grumbling as Applejack pushed her forward. Despite her insistence that she felt well enough to walk on her own, the doctors had been adamant; she would have to wait another day or two before even trying.
Rainbow’s hospital stay had given Applejack plenty of time to think, as she travelled to and from Sweet Apple acres. She’d initially wanted to stay with Rainbow, but her… marefriend had vehemently argued against it. As much as she appreciated the attention, Rainbow also knew that the farm was Applejack’s life, and chores needed tending to—more than Big Mac could handle on his own, with the next crop of apples starting to come ripe. “Plus,” she’d added, pointing at the wings on Applejack’s back, “you’re only a few minutes away with those babies.” The farmer had relented, seeing both the wisdom in Rainbow’s words, and the ease with which she had used them. If she was making a joke about her wings, she really was feeling better.
Marefriend, Applejack repeated to herself. Despite the kissing, the night together at the hospital, all the talking, and everything else… she’d needed to come to terms with the word. It was not one she had expected to use, ever. Glancing down at the multicolored mane below her, she decided that the word sounded just fine. And maybe, it didn’t quite live up to what she actually felt.
She shook her head, chiding herself for letting her thoughts wander. She’d done enough thinking over the past few days. Right now, she needed to act. As the pair arrived at Sweet Apple Acres, Applejack turned the wheelchair off the path, leading them both deeper into the orchard.
Rainbow Dash, who had closed her eyes during the trip and tried to relax, opened them back up as her ride became slightly bumpier. “Hey, where’re we going?” she asked, looking around.
“You’ll see, Sugarcube.” Applejack grinned, as she directed them past the many trees. She eventually got the wheelchair-bound pony up a hill, where she eventually stopped. “We’re here!”
Rainbow shot her a confused look after taking stock of her surroundings. They were still in the middle of the Acres, trees surrounding the hill on all sides. The hill itself was bare, of both trees and anything else that might have counted as a surprise. “Okay, I give. What’s going on?”
Applejack grinned, moving to the front of the wheelchair, where she lay down on the ground, facing away from Rainbow. She looked back over her shoulder, her grin growing wider. “Hop on.”
Rainbow stared, her jaw falling open, before a fierce blush lit up her cheeks. “Whoa there, ponygirl. I know I’m all about speed, but this is maybe a bit too fast…"
Applejack blinked, not following what Rainbow was saying, until she spotted the blush. Her face suddenly sported one of her own as Rainbow’s meaning clicked in her mind. “Wh—no!” she said, jumping to her hooves and facing the pegasus. “You dirty filly, that’s not what Ah meant!”
“Then what?!” Rainbow asked, growing more confused by the second.
“Ah want to take you flying!”
“Oh,” Rainbow deadpanned, her still distracted brain taking a moment to process what Applejack had said. “Oh! Um. You sure?”
Applejack had not expected Rainbow to resist. “Of course Ah’m sure! Why wouldn’t Ah be?”
“You’re still new to flight. Carrying another pony is pretty hard even for experienced flyers.”
Applejack mulled this over, thinking back to the best young flyer competition. “Didn’t you carry four, while going supersonic?”
Rainbow puffed out her chest, grinning. “Yeah, but I’m pretty strong. And awesome,” she said, getting a chuckle out of the farmer.
“Yeah, but you ain’t that much stronger than Ah am. So come on!” she said, her voice dropping as she kept going. “Ah want to do this for you, Dash. Please?”
For a moment, Rainbow didn’t move, then she lifted herself off of the wheelchair, her mind made up. She stepped over to Applejack, careful to keep her wrapped leg off the ground. The orange pony bent down once more, and waited until she felt Rainbow press herself against her back, her hooves wrapping around her neck. She stood up and flared her wings, attempting to ignore how eagerly they seemed to do so, and definitely trying to ignore the feeling of Rainbow’s coat on hers, the feeling of the pegasus’s breath in her mane, the heartbeat thumping against her chest, going as fast as her own…
Clearing her mind of all that, she started beating her wings, giving herself the lift needed to take off. True to her words, she had the power to carry both of them into the air, as they rose ever higher. She heard Rainbow laugh as they cleared the trees, lifting her head to take in the view. Applejack grinned, leaning forward. She wasn’t satisfied with just hovering, and couldn’t imagine that Rainbow would be either. She started moving forward, slowly at first but picking up some speed.
For all her strength and stamina, she just hadn’t expected another factor to throw her off course: her lack of experience in the air. As she’d picked up speed, the wind resistance had increased, catching at the additional surface area of Dash’s body, disrupting her balance. An experienced pegasus could have corrected this with ease, but for an earth pony with wings, it proved to be more than she could handle.
Their altitude started dropping, and they wobbled as she desperately flapped her wings in an attempt to get more lift. Rainbow was shouting in her ear, trying to help her gain control as they plummeted, but panic drowned out her words. As they approached the trees, she suddenly felt a tongue on her left ear, sensually licking it from the bottom to the tip. Her wings flared wide open, as she found herself completely unable to control them. But the results spoke for themselves.
The outstretched wings caught the air more easily than her inexperienced wingbeats had, and the pair soon found themselves in a stable glide. But it had been too little, too late. They tumbled into a tree, shielding their faces as the branches around them snapped and broke. This slowed them down even further until a large branch hit Applejack in the chest, completely stopping them. It knocked the wind was out of her, and she gasped for breath through aching lungs as she lay draped on the branch like a pony-shaped sheet.
Rainbow quickly scrambled off of the farmer’s back. She was totally unharmed, the blow cushioned by Applejack’s body. “A.J.!” she yelled, laying on the branch beside the orange pony. “Are you okay?”
Applejack wheezed as she attempted to catch her breath, interrupted by an occasional cough. Eventually, her labored breathing slowed to a more normal pace, and she picked herself up from her dangling position with Rainbow’s help. “I’m fine…" She coughed, holding an arm to her chest. Seeing Rainbow’s concerned look, she took a more comfortable position on the branch, and waved Rainbow off. “Ah’m a sturdy pony. Just a little winded.”
Rainbow sat back, the adrenaline from the fall now draining away. “Thank Celestia…" she whispered, grateful for whatever piece of luck had let them escape grievous injury.
Applejack shook her head. “The princess didn’t save us, Dash. You did. That was some mighty quick thinking there,” she said, a faint blush on her cheeks, causing Rainbow to chuckle and scratch the back of her head with her hoof. “Wish ya hadn’t needed to…" Applejack mumbled, staring at the ground.
Rainbow let her hoof drop as Applejack’s expression clouded over. Seeing her marefriend’s mood take a sudden nosedive, she crawled closer to Applejack, nuzzling her cheek. “Hey…" she murmured, as close to the other pony as she could get. “What’s wrong?”
Applejack had initially responded to the nuzzling by leaning into it with a sigh, but pulled away as Rainbow spoke. “Ah almost got us hurt, Rainbow! Ah almost got you hurt again!” she burst, her eyes blazing with anger… at herself. “Just ‘cause of my stupid ideas…" She trailed off, burying her muzzle under her hooves.
Rainbow frowned, and bent down closer to Applejack’s head. With her good hoof, she pulled Applejack’s arms away from her face, and leaned in closer. But the farmer’s famous stubbornness was showing, her eyes staying shut and unwilling to look at Rainbow. Undeterred, the pegasus lifted Applejack’s face up, and pressed her lips against Applejack’s own.
The earth pony’s eyes had momentarily opened when she felt her head lift, but she closed them again as she lost herself in the kiss. It wasn’t passionate, but instead just… soft. Comforting. As their lips parted, her gaze locked with Rainbow’s. “Why… why aren’t you angry at me?”
“Why would I be?” Rainbow asked in return, putting her good hoof on Applejack’s lips to stop her retort. “A.J.… you just flew with me. I don’t care if it was just for a minute,” she said, kissing Applejack once more, “I love you for even trying. So thanks. That was awesome.” Then she smirked, looking looking at the branches surrounding them. “And it’s not like crashing is new to me, ya know?”
Applejack chuckled, her mood lifting. “Not new to me either, really,” she said, thinking back to some of her practice sessions. She took a moment to look around the tree, then at their perch. “Ya know, it ain’t so bad sitting up here.”
Rainbow’s laugh burst out in a great guffaw, then kissed Applejack on the cheek. “See? I told you they’re comfy!”
In the mysterious time of night, when the moon flowed on its downward path, and the sun invisibly creeped towards the horizon, Equestria’s two princesses sat together in Celestia’s chambers. It was the rare time in a day where they were both awake, and briefly free of any of their royal duties.
In the distant past, this had been their time of amusement, leading to many a prank in the old castle in the Everfree forest. It was the prime time, as Luna had once described it, “for shenanigans”. In more recent times, after the return from exile, those secluded moments had been a bridge between the two estranged sisters, helping them mend a thousand years of separation.
And right now, it was the prime time for a friendly chat, in preparation for Pinkie Pie’s celebration. The letter from Twilight the day of her return had been a great relief, easing their worries regarding the young unicorn’s abrupt departure.
Luna sat on the edge of the bed, as Celestia languished on the larger part of the sizeable mattress. The sisters’ shared time was the half hour or so after Celestia tended to wake, during which she indulged in the private, guilty pleasure of lazing about in bed while the rest of Equestria got about its business. She listened to Luna’s breathing, and the sound of pages being turned as the Princess of the Night perused various magazines and catalogues.
Luna placed a hoof on a specific page, focusing on one section. “How about a honeymoon at Neighagra Falls?” she asked, looking at Celestia. “It would make a lovely wedding gift!”
The Sun Princess’s eyes remained closed as she shook her head. “This isn’t an engagement announcement, Luna,” she answered. Although, she thought, the corners of her mouth tugging upwards, some things are likely just a matter of time.
“Hmph,” Luna grunted, turning back to the catalogue. If Twilight Sparkle’s descriptions were any indication, such a thing was a foregone conclusion. But custom demanded that such gifts only be offered after the official announcement, even if the gift came from royalty. She sighed, briefly wondering when she would ever close that thousand year gap. Momentarily ignoring the reading material in front of her, she lifted her head back towards Celestia. “We believe We still hold lands in the kingdom? Perhaps We could bequeath them titles… Baroness, perhaps?”
This time, Celestia raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t that a bit over the top?” And the nobility would hate it, she mused.Tempting.
Luna lifted a hoof to her chin, giving the argument some thought. “… Perhaps thou art right. ‘Tis but a party gift We seek now,” she said, and resumed flipping pages with her magic.
Celestia’s amusement had only grown, but she felt that Luna could use a nudge in the right direction. “Luna, have you thought of–”
“Neigh!” Luna interrupted, holding up a hoof. “If We are to continue adapting to this age, We–” She paused, making a conscious effort to correct herself. “… I. I must do this on my own.”
Celestia smiled, dipping her head in acknowledgement. Luna’s speech was still often an issue, but hearing it gave Celestia a certain amount of pleasure. It reminded her of older days, especially of the two of them together. And it was adorable, of course.
“Oh!” Luna gasped, her nose buried in yet another new catalogue. “Replica armor of the great ponies of antiquity… Did this Rainbow Dash not play Commander Hurricane during the Hearth’s Warming Eve celebration?”
“She did,” Celestia answered, wondering where Luna was going with this.
“Perhaps We could have armor crafted for her in the same style…" Luna mused. “The smithies would be pleased.”
By now, Celestia’s eyes were wide open, displaying her vague confusion at where Luna’s ideas were coming from. “That’s… not quite applicable anymore, Luna. Only the guards wear armor these days. Those replicas are meant as decorations.”
Luna frowned, tossing the magazine away. She tilted her head at the next one, grinning as she flipped the pages. “Aha! They are new to this type of relationship, are they not? How about this?” she asked, levitating the magazine towards Celestia.
Catching the magazine in her own magic, Celestia glanced at the page in question… and gasped, her eyes widening, a blush appearing on her face. “N-no! That’s… not really appropriate,” Celestia said, her face still burning. Even after thousands of years, she still managed to be shocked by some of the more… ‘creative’ tastes of her subjects. Not that she was foreign to them, but a few things still surprised her.
The younger princess sighed, mumbling as she resumed her search. “Ponies have become such prudes in the last millennium…"
Celestia eyed her sister, suddenly reminded that this was quite typical of her. She hadn’t quite expected it to come up in a discussion, however. “Where did you even get this?”
Luna glanced at Celestia, a sly grin on her face. “Under thy bed! Why?”
“What?” Celestia sputtered. “No, I keep mine in–” she said, stopping herself. But the damage was done, sending Luna into giggling fits. Celestia was just about to berate her sister, when the latter suddenly sprang up and jumped off the bed.
“Oh! I know!” she exclaimed, galloping out of the room. Celestia looked on, her mouth still open, and ever so slightly worried.
What could she possibly be thinking of now?
Pinkie’s party was, as always, full of life. Ponies were dancing to the blaring music, ponies were eating snacks that were being offered, and ponies were huddled in separate groups, merrily chatting away. A certain pair in particular found themselves accosted by everypony, as the banner hanging from the ceiling caught all eyes.
“ ‘Yay you’re better and now you’re together and Dashie’s gonna be refeathered’?” Rainbow asked, eyeing it for the tenth time. “How did she even fit that all on the banner and still make it readable?”
Applejack shrugged. “She’s got really neat hoofwriting.” The two were sitting together, attempting to escape the numerous ponies either congratulating Rainbow on her release from the hospital or stating that they couldn’t wait to see her back in the skies once her wings had returned to their rightful place.
Most embarrassingly, they also often walked over to congratulate the couple, wishing them well in their relationship. The thought of making a public announcement had never entered their minds, but Pinkie had well and truly let the cat out of the bag. The only thing they could do was take it all in stride. But as embarrassing as it was, the clear outpouring of support from everypony was humbling.
The pair only wished that they could have a moment to themselves. Thankfully, a knock on the door drew everypony’s attention. Or rather, Pinkie’s sudden blur of movement drew attention, as the music had muffled the noise from the door. Before anypony could wonder how on earth she had heard the knock, their jaws fell to the floor as Equestria’s princesses walked in, shocking all conversations into silence and hurried bows.
“P-P-Princess Celestia? Princess Luna?! What are you doing here?” Twilight stammered, as the two alicorns strode into Sugarcube Corner.
As Celestia nodded her head in acknowledgement of the bowing, Twilight realised what she had said. “Wait! I don’t mean you shouldn’t be here I wouldn’t dream of telling you what to do but why are you here?” she asked in a rush, doing an impressive imitation of Pinkie’s usual tirades. She flinched as she reviewed her words once again. “Wait, that sounds even worse…"
Pinkie Pie giggled as she bounced away from the door. “I put an invitation in with your last letter!”
“You what?” Twilight cried, thinking back to the letter. She’d taken the time to write it herself, as she occasionally felt like doing, and it had not left her sight until she’d handed it to Spike, who had immediately sent it to the princess. Pinkie couldn’t have added an invitation without her noticing. “But… What… How… Huh?!”
“Are we not welcome?” Luna asked, ears drooping as her lips formed into a pout.
Every eye turned to Twilight, pinning her with accusing stares, silently demanding to know why she thought she could question the joint rulers of Equestria. She wilted under the ocular assault, facing the princesses in an attempt to evade the looks. “No! I mean, yes! I mean, you’re welcome! You’re never not welcome! You’re always wel–” She rambled, before Applejack shoved a hoof in her mouth.
The farmer chuckled at her friend. “Slow down there, Sugarcube!” She turned to face the princesses, and tipped her hat. “Welcome to the party, your Highnesses!” she said, before leading the princesses to join her friends around the conspicuously large table that Pinkie had set up. Life returned to the rest of the room, with ponies partying left and right.
Later, after some pleasant conversation, Fluttershy voiced a question that had been on her mind for a while. “Um… Applejack?”
“Hm?” the farmpony mumbled, around a sandwich she had been eating. After the confusion she’d gone through during the last such visit, she’d decided she might as well just tuck in. Made life a whole lot easier than worrying what to eat first.
“I was wondering… how did it feel to fly?”
Applejack swallowed her food, and gave Fluttershy an odd look. “Er, shouldn’t you know that? Bein’ a pegasus and all?”
Fluttershy’s cheeks colored slightly, realizing how silly her question had sounded. “S-sorry… I mean, I’m used to flying,” she explained, giving her wings a slight flap in demonstration. “You’re not. It must feel different?”
“I agree with Fluttershy. I’m dying to know myself!” Rarity gushed, reminded of the conversation she’d had with Applejack several weeks prior. “Real wings, I mean; the ones from the spell just aren't the same.”
Applejack glanced around, suddenly nervous at being put in the spotlight, then turned to face Rainbow Dash as she felt a hoof touch her leg. She looked into Rainbow’s eyes, and smiled at the love she saw there. She turned back to the rest of the table, her nervousness dispelled, and gave the question some thought.
“Well… Ah just want to say Ah still prefer being on the ground,” she started, forging ahead as she saw the looks of surprise around her. “Ah’m an earth pony, not a pegasus. My home’s down here. But…" She trailed off, looking for the right words. “It’s like a different world. Ah felt free up there. It felt amazin’. Ah really can’t describe it. It’s still mighty tirin’ though,” she added, causing chuckles. She then looked at Rainbow once more. “Makes me appreciate the crazy stuff this daredevil can do.”
Rainbow grinned at the comment, puffing out her chest. As she opened her mouth to boast, she felt a peck on her cheek from Applejack, causing Rainbow to blush and close her mouth, her train of thought completely derailed.
“The gift of flight is indeed a glorious thing,” Luna commented, nodding at the loving pair. “We cannot imagine how you must have felt these past few weeks, Rainbow Dash.” She then turned to Twilight, who had been fidgeting. “We are glad you have been able to find a solution, Twilight Sparkle.”
Twilight smiled sheepishly at the attention. “It was my fault all this happened. I couldn’t just sit there and do nothing!” She glanced at the elder princess. “Princess Celestia helped me with it though. I couldn’t have done it without her.”
Celestia bowed her head in acknowledgment of the praise. “Magical studies have always been a great fascination of mine, as you should know, my student.” She grinned at Twilight’s blush.
“Um, about that…" Rainbow hesitated, unsure how to approach the princess with her question. But as she saw only kindness in Celestia’s eyes, she made up her mind and forged ahead. “I’m not trying to question you, you’re the princess and all that, but–”
Celestia interrupted her with an accepting smile. “Why didn’t I help sooner?” she asked, earning a sheepish nod from the pegasus. “That is a fair question. The answer is that, even in all my years, I had never seen such an effect before. Had I known how to undo the accident, I would have done so immediately. But I had no more idea how to repair this than anypony else,” she explained. “Investigating this problem from scratch would have taken far more time than I could spare from my duties, so I decided to assign it to one of my best magical researchers—Twilight Sparkle.”
The young unicorn in question blushed furiously under the praise, as Pinkie gave her a friendly nudge of encouragement. The princess smiled as she continued. “And it’s a good thing I did, too. I might never have come up with the insight which allowed us to solve it myself.” She paused as a thought struck her. “You never did tell me how you came up with the idea, though. Care to share?”
Twilight nodded eagerly as she recovered from her burning cheeks. “It’s all because of Pinkie, actually,” she started, completely missing the confused expressions on her friends’ faces. She sat straighter, and launched into her explanation. “I realized that the teleportation spell, as with any other spell, consists of several different steps that all work together, usually too fast to notice there’s more than one process going on. So I attempted to see if I could identify and distinguish those individual steps, and further analyze them.” She paused to grin. “Needless to say, I did. In the case of the teleportation spell, I found a number of different layers of ethereal energy fields, each of them controlling a different aspect of the spell. All of them together results in the spell that I’d tried to cast.”
Before anypony could interrupt, Twilight continued, closing her eyes in thought, listing off the various steps. “The first layer controls the position of the teleported object in space. Basically, where you are and where you want to go. The second layer is a snapshot of the base components of the object. For instance, a rock stays a rock, instead of turning to wood. The third field is where the manipulation of the spell’s energy happens, directing it all to the right places.”
Twilight paused, glancing around the table with a big smile. She stood tall, one hoof on the table, the other pointing in the air. “The fourth field is the important one here. It controls the position of the teleported object, not in relation to space, but to itself. It keeps the shape of whatever is teleported. So a sphere stays a sphere and not a cube… or wings stay on one pony and don’t land on another,” she explained, glancing at Rainbow Dash and Applejack. “That’s what went wrong. My sneeze caused the third layer to mess with the fourth layer, and it switched the wings and tails around.” She turned back to the rest of the table, smiling. “And it's all thanks to Pinkie’s comment about drilling a hole into my library! All I need to do now is practice the control, and I can fix this.” Twilight beamed at a nodding Princess Celestia, then turned to the rest of her friends… who sported looks of pure confusion.
“Er, Twilight?” Applejack ventured, not sure how to phrase what she wanted to say. “I’m not sayin’ that wasn’t a fancy and detailed explanation, but… could you repeat that? In Equestrian this time?” she asked. “And what the hay does drilling a hole in your library have to do with this?”
Twilight’s smile faltered as she considered Applejack’s words. She thought she’d been perfectly clear, and was at a momentary loss as to how to rephrase things. “Uh. Well. In layponys terms… Pinkie’s comment about drilling a hole in my library’s walls for her party cannon made me think that the spell layers were the same. They’re walls my magic need to break through so I can control the spell. Basically,” she said, finding a good way to put it, “I need to break through the spell’s fourth wall so I can put the wings and tails at the right place.”
Everypony nodded, finally grasping what Twilight had meant. “Most fascinating. We look forward to all the details when you publish the book.” Luna smiled, completely missing Twilight’s stunned expression. “After all, it's not often even one such as Us gets to see the invention of a whole new branch of magic. Why, the medical applications alone…"
Celestia chuckled as Twilight sputtered, her brain trying to process this new idea. The princess then leaned towards the new couple. “Speaking of things in the right places,” she said with a nod at the blue wings on Applejack’s back, “the spirits of harmony you all represent are tenets of love itself.” She cast a glance at each pony in turn as she spelled it out: “Love is magical. It is generous, kind, and filled with laughter… when you are honest and loyal to each other,” Celestia finished warmly, earning blushing smiles from the pair. “I have always found the last two to be particularly strong aspects of love. I am very glad to see you have found each other.”
Applejack and Rainbow shared a thought as they glanced at each other. Does she mean this was bound to happen? they thought, unsure how they felt about the idea. But as they lost themselves in the other’s eyes, they both came to the same conclusion. It doesn’t matter.
Luna’s voice dragged the two back into the real world as she asked them a question. “Would you miss those wings, Applejack?”
The orange pony blinked, caught off guard. “Ah… Ah can’t say Ah’ve thought about it, your highness. These things are still pretty new to me,” Applejack said, considering. “Like Ah said before, Ah’m an earth pony. My home’s on the ground.” She glanced at the pegasus sitting next to her, and smiled. “But my heart’s in the sky.”
The group, as a whole, ignored Pinkie’s “Aaaaaw!” and sparkling eyes, their attention instead focused on a package that Luna began levitating as Applejack finished speaking. “As is custom for such parties,” she began, floating the package towards the two lovers, “I have brought a gift for you. I believe you will like it.”
Celestia eyed the package suspiciously. It was long and thin… and reminded her of the last suggestion Luna had made a few days earlier. Before she could open her mouth to warn the couple, Rainbow Dash had already attacked the wrapping, tearing it apart with gusto. Celestia bit her lip and closed her eyes. She did not look forward to the coming reaction.
“Um… Princess?” she heard the pegasus ask. “What is this?”
Twilight voice answered from the other side of the table, having apparently recovered from her thoughts of publication. “That looks like… a wand?”
Is that the current euphemism? My dear student, what have you been studying?
“Indeed it is,” Celestia heard Luna answer, and blushed.
“We’ve enchanted it with a spell you and Rarity should be familiar with, Twilight Sparkle.”
Celestia opened her eyes and took her first look at Luna’s gift. It turned out to be literally what her student had described it as: a wand, made out of wood from the Everfree forest. It looked old, the shape reminding her of designs she had seen several centuries ago. In fact, the wand itself looked to be that age, she noted, as she inspected it further—an original, from the Castle vaults.
“Really?” Twilight asked, confused. “What spell?”
“Wings of Dew,” Luna answered, earning a gasp from the white unicorn. “Albeit… a modified version. The wings are stronger, amongst other things,” Luna continued, a private smile tugging at her lips. “However, they are not the real thing,” she said, opening a wing for emphasis. “They are only temporary, and the spell will take several days to recharge.” She smiled at Applejack, awaiting her reaction. “We—I hope you like it?”
The farmpony stared back at her, utterly speechless. Beside her, Rainbow was similarly affected. Seconds dragged by as the two tried to find a way to express their thanks. Finally, Applejack spoke, the knot in her throat finally untying itself. “Th-thank you, your Highness. This is mighty kind of you…" she said, to the agreement of everypony around her. Even Celestia nodded, a faint blush still remaining on her cheeks. She should have known to trust her sister.
“You can’t use that yet though,” Twilight warned, looking at Dash. She then glanced at Luna, who looked crestfallen. “I’m sorry, Princess!” Twilight quickly apologized. “I don’t want any other magic to affect them before I put Rainbow’s wings back at the right place! Something like this could jeopardize things!”
Unfortunately, Twilight’s words didn’t have the effect she desired. Luna sat staring at the table, looking sadder than ever. But it didn’t last long, as Pinkie jumped onto the table, and trotted over to the princess. She sat down in front of the darker alicorn, and threw her forelegs around Luna’s neck. “Don’t worry, Princess!” she said, her voice as cheery as ever. “Your gift is superduperawesome! Twilight is just being extra über-careful!”
As she continued to hug the larger pony, she glanced back at the rest of the group. She motioned them to copy her, snapping them out of the stares they had been caught in. Rainbow was the first to move, hugging the princess’s chest. Applejack soon joined her, hugging both her marefriend and the princess. Fluttershy soon joined the pile, hovering above the table until she came to a rest near Pinkie, hugging everypony she could.
Only the two unicorns remained, staring in shock at their friends. As Pinkie glanced at them, she grinned again. “Come on, you two!” She beamed. “Join the Princess-Snuggle-Pile!” Her smile grew even wider as Celestia joined the group.
Rarity picked her jaw off the floor, then trotted over to join the pile of hugging ponies. If the princess was doing it, who was she to complain? Twilight quickly followed suit, once again marvelling at Pinkie’s ability to improve anypony’s mood. Luna’s smile was the proof, as she looked at every pony around her.
“Th-thank you,” she whispered, a tear falling from her eye. “Thank you all.”
Eventually, the group broke up, but remained surrounding the princesses in a display of support. Celestia chose this moment to clear her throat, drawing attention to herself. “I also have a gift, but we need to move the party outside for that.”
“Oki doki loki!” Pinkie chirped, bouncing towards the door to usher everypony out. Twilight trotted over, stopping next to her while watching the various guests walk outside. “Pinkie, do you know what the gift is?”
Pinkie gave Twilight a conspiratorial grin, and leaned closer. “Nope!” she said, her smile wider than ever. “But I bet it’s great!”
Eventually, everypony found themselves standing in front of Sugarcube Corner, wondering why there were there. The questions stopped as Celestia moved amongst them, coming to a halt in the middle of the street. Her horn suddenly shone, then shot off a bright spark of light into the air. It rose past the top of the highest buildings, then slowed down until it came to a stop. As suddenly as it had appeared, the spark exploded in a shower of blue and yellow.
The audience remained quiet, awaiting to see what else would happen. This allowed some of the sharper ears amongst the group to pick up a high pitched sound coming from afar. It came closer and closer, until a trio of blue suited pegasi flew overhead, twisting and turning in the air.
Everypony cheered, enjoying Celestia’s gift: a Wonderbolts show, for Ponyville alone. One pony in particular felt like it was her own private show, all for her, and cheered louder than anypony. Every turn, every daring stunt was a feast for her eyes, burning their every movement into her brain.
The performance eventually wound down, and the Wonderbolts landed in front of the princesses, bowing in respect. She nodded in return, which was their signal to mingle with the crowd. Many pegasi mobbed them, eager to talk with them, or simply wanting to obtain an autograph. Even unicorns and earth ponies surrounded them, having been impressed by their performance. The Wonderbolts took it all in stride, entertaining the crowd even out of the air.
Rainbow Dash pressed on the outside of the group, eager to get closer, cursing her inability to fly right then and there. As she opened her mouth to tell the other ponies to move, Pinkie’s voice rang loud and clear over the din of the crowd. “Rainbow Dash? Oh yeah! She’s right over there!”
Elation filled Rainbow upon hearing that her idols were headed her way, but it was quickly replaced by terror. During the show, she’d managed to forget a very important detail of her current state: her lack of wings. Now, with the Wonderbolts—only the best fliers ever, her childhood idols, and something she’d wanted to be part of since she could talk—looking for her, that fact came crashing back down on her.
I can’t let them see me like this!
As quickly as her bandaged leg allowed, she ran back into Sugarcube Corner and dived under a table, hoping no one would find her under the tablecloth. With everypony ogling the Wonderbolts, her chances of discovery would indeed have been low… were it not for one particular pony.
“Dash? Daaaashie? Where are you?”
Rainbow froze as she heard Applejack’s voice. She remained silent, hoping the farmer would give up, but her hopes were dashed as the sound of hooves got closer, stopping right next to her. She jumped as she felt a hoof poke her golden tail, soon followed by the tablecloth being lifted to let a stetson-wearing, orange head through.
“Dash? What’s the matter?”
“I can’t let them see me like this, Applejack!” Rainbow whispered, hiding her eyes beneath her hooves.
“What, shivering under a table?”
Rainbow glared at her marefriend. “You know what I mean! What would they think of a pegasus without wings trying to get into the Wonderbolts?”
Applejack looked at Rainbow, choosing her words carefully. “That this pegasus is a brave pony, and won’t let anything stop her dreams,” she said, leaning forward until their foreheads met. “That she’ll keep chasing them no matter what happens.”
As Rainbow stared into the green eyes boring into her, her retort died on her lips. All she could see was the love, and the trust in those eyes. Doctor Saddlebag’s words rang through her mind. You've got an excellent safety net, Miss Dash. Just don't throw yourself off of it again and you should be fine.
Rainbow sighed, closing her eyes and leaning forward, pressing against Applejack muzzle. “Thanks…" she whispered.
“You okay now?”
Applejack pulled Rainbow out from under the table. “Then let’s get back to the party. Ah think that’s Spitfire back there. And Soarin’,” she said, naming Rainbow Dash’s two favorites from the team.
Rainbow gasped, her face lighting up with glee. “Really?” She couldn’t stand still, practically bouncing in place.
Raising an eyebrow at the sudden 180 degree turn of emotion, Applejack grinned slyly. “Yup. Ah can’t wait to tell them what you want for your birthday.” She snickered, and trotted out of the door.
Rainbow stood frozen, her eyes wide with shock. “Y-you wouldn’t dare!” she croaked, and chased after the laughing Applejack.
It’s still dark out… why the heck am I awake?
Rainbow Dash stared at the ceiling as she considered the question, her eyes tracing over the patterns in the wood of Applejack’s room. Since Rainbow’s release from the hospital, she’d taken to sharing the room with the farmpony. It had just seemed right, especially after the first few nights, where both Rainbow and Applejack had taken turns sneaking into each other’s rooms, seeking out the comfort of each others closeness.
As if to make it official, the 'Rainbow Dash's Room' sign that had once adorned Rainbow’s door had mysteriously appeared on Applejack’s, skillfully repaired and accompanied by a new apple-shaped sign reading ‘Applejack &’. Neither mare knew who was responsible for this, but considering the difference in hoofwork between the two signs, they had a suspicion. A large, red suspicion.
Rainbow quietly laughed to herself at the thought, then turned onto her side to look at the pony beside her. Applejack was facing her, her expression relaxed and serene, her golden mane framing her face. The freckles on her cheeks stood out as they always did, three islands of white in a sea of orange. For a moment, Rainbow wished Applejack would wake, just so she could once again stare into those green eyes, then once again laughed at herself. The longer she stayed with Applejack, the sappier she became. But, she thought as she looked at her love, maybe that isn't such a bad thing after all.
Rainbow sighed as she closed her eyes. If she thought about it, she knew exactly why she couldn’t sleep. Twilight had given them a date for when she planned to put Rainbow’s wings back in place, and it was fast approaching. In fact, it was tomorrow. The pegasus shivered, nervousness, anticipation, and a little fear all clashing together.
But there was another reason, she realized. And the culprit was Princess Luna. The gift she had given them had caused much discussion amongst her friends. But for Rainbow, it had been the cause of a lot of thinking. As she drifted back to sleep, she came to a resolution. She’d ask Applejack today, before it was too late.
Rainbow woke up later, with the sunlight illuminating her surroundings as it shone through the window. Blearily opening her eyes, she discovered the spot next to her was empty. She let out a yawn as she clambered onto the floor, and slowly made her way to the kitchen, where she noticed the slice of pie on the table and the note next to it. As she munched on the food, she glanced at the message scribbled on the paper.
Doing my chores! Here’s some breakfast, sleepyhead.
Rainbow grinned as she scarfed down the last of the pie, then slowly walked out of the farmhouse. With her bandaged leg, she still couldn’t go very fast, but she was at least mobile. The doctors had given her the all clear to walk before the party, which was good enough for her.
Thankfully, her walk ended up being a short one, as she spotted Applejack leaving the barn. The orange mare caught sight of her at the same time, and trotted up to Rainbow with a grin on her face. “Mornin’! Sleep well?”
“Kinda…" Rainbow replied, yawning once more. She saw the unvoiced question on Applejack’s face. “Woke up a few times, couldn’t stop thinking.”
“ ‘Bout what, Sugarcube?” Applejack asked, stepping closer to the pegasus.
“I want to see you fly.”
Applejack frowned. “But you have already,” she stated, earning a headshake from Rainbow.
“I’ve seen you through the window, but not really seen you fly. I want to see that,” she said, motioning towards the trees as she started walking. Applejack quickly fell in beside her.
“Where’d this come from, Dash? Seems kinda out of the blue.”
“Luna’s gift,” Rainbow answered, staring ahead. “And tomorrow. This is my last chance to see you fly for real, A.J..”
“But… what about the wand?”
Rainbow frowned, looking at Applejack. “They won’t be real!” she said, coming to a stop. She moved closer until their muzzles almost met. “They won’t be mine. You’re mine, A.J.,” she said, vehemently. “And I want to see you soar with them.” She pressed up against Applejack, their lips meeting in a kiss. Unlike those that had come before, this one was fierce, filled with need and want, leaving both mares momentarily breathless as it ended.
Rainbow gulped, feeling the heat on her face, then turned away and resumed walking. For a moment, she’d wanted to stay and push things further, but seeing Applejack fly was more important. She heard her mare’s hoofsteps catch up to her, and felt the stare on the back of her head as they kept walking.
Before long, they reached the hill where Applejack had first attempted flight, and climbed to the top. As she finally stopped, Rainbow turned around and faced the winged earth pony, who was still staring at her intently. “Show me.”
Applejack wordlessly took off her hat, placing it upon Rainbow’s head, then took a few steps to the side. She extended her wings, gave them a few limbering flaps, then leapt into the air with a mighty beat.
Rainbow had wanted to see her soar… and soar she did. Laying down on the ground, the pegasus’s thoughts just drifted away, leaving her to focus purely on the pony in the skies. While Applejack lacked the grace of a pegasus, her flight was still a breathtaking sight. The golden mane flowing in the wind, mixing with her own rainbow tail. The orange contrasting with the sky’s blue, borne along by cyan wings.
The Wonderbolts couldn’t compare to this.
Up in the sky, Applejack glanced down at the hill. Unlike the pony below, her mind was racing as she flew, focusing both on keeping herself aloft, and on Rainbow. Applejack realized she’d miss the wings, miss the freedom they offered.
But freedom at what expense?
It simply was not worth it, she decided, stowing away the stray thought of keeping the wings. Even something like this was not worth the pain or suffering of the pegasus below. It would be like crushing her and her dreams. She couldn’t do that to anypony, much less the one she loved.
Love. She truly did love the mare below, with all her heart. Rainbow filled a void Applejack hadn’t even realised existed, and filled it with a love and passion that almost threatened to overwhelm her. It was a sense of belonging and togetherness that was impossible to describe, or put in words.
Love. She hadn’t said it since Rainbow’s confession, instead letting her action speak louder than words. But that wasn’t enough, she realized. Not once had she told the pegasus those words. Applejack had lost count of how many times Rainbow had used them, often several times a day, and Applejack had responded to them as best she knew how.
No more, she thought, as she banked once more towards the hill, her altitude dropping smoothly. She landed a few pony-lengths away from the now standing Rainbow, and closed the distance at a trot. She kissed the waiting mare, pushing her back with the force of the embrace in a reversal of their previous kiss not long ago.
Applejack pulled away, breaking the kiss first. “Ah love you, Rainbow Dash,” she whispered, nuzzling the pegasus. Finally saying it felt… good. “Ah’m sorry Ah haven’t said it before…" she said, frowning as Rainbow chuckled in response.
Catching Applejack’s expression, Rainbow leaned in and nuzzled the farmpony. “I hadn’t even noticed…" she said, kissing Applejack once more. “ ‘Cause I hear you loud and clear when we do that.” She wrapped her forehooves around Applejack’s neck, pulling her closer. “I wouldn’t mind hearing it again…" she whispered, staring into Applejack’s eyes.
The orange mare was more than happy to comply.
Finally, the big day arrived.
Seven ponies found themselves near Fluttershy’s cottage, in very nearly the same spot where five of them had watched the dragon migration a few months prior. Twilight had initially planned to perform the spell in front of her library, where it had initially gone wrong. However, a certain young, scaled blabbermouth had let slip the day and time of her planned attempt, resulting in a mass gathering of ponies standing around her home, eager to watch the spell in action.
Unfortunately for them, the three mares in question did not want an audience, and made their escape through one of the library’s windows. Twilight was nervous enough just performing the spell, even with the confidence she was expressing about it, and a large audience would have made things much worse.
However, the rest of her friends, as well as Spike and Big Macintosh, were a source of comfort and support. They knew to stay quiet and not crowd the trio as Twilight ran down her checklist, watching from the safety of the very same ditch they had dug for the dragon migration.
Following the unicorn with their eyes, Applejack and Rainbow waited as patiently as they could as Twilight trotted back and forth while reading, ignoring the fact she was digging a groove in the earth with her pacing. They withheld any comments as she went through the checklist what for what felt like the twentieth time, but was, in fact, the thirtieth.
Finally, Twilight levitated the scroll away, stowing it in the saddlebags she had brought with her, and setting these next to her watching friends. She turned to Applejack, then Rainbow, and nodded. “I’m ready.”
The pair nodded back, stepping next to her in the very same manner they had been on that day, hoping for a quick trip to Canterlot. Glancing at each other, they shared a brief smile, taking support from each other as Twilight’s horn began glowing. They then faced forwards once more, closed their eyes, and waited.
Once more, the glow brightened, causing the four watching ponies to squint. The bubble started forming, slowly inching downwards as the spell’s energy flowed through Twilight’s horn, finally hitting the ground a few moments later. As a blinding flash shone out, the ponies in the ditch took cover, following Twilight’s instructions to the letter. Now they simply needed to wait for Twilight to give the all clear.
Meanwhile, the other trio stood standing where they had started, eyes still closed. Not hearing any noise and feeling no different, Rainbow voiced the only question on her mind. “Did it work?” she asked, her eyes still shut.
“Dunno,” Applejack replied, her voice sounding hesitant. “Haven’t opened my eyes yet…"
“Me neither,” Twilight’s voice added, sounding even more jittery than before. “I know everything felt right and the spell went off perfectly and there’s no reason to worry you should be fine–” she babbled, before cutting herself off. “I’m still scared,” she whispered.
Rainbow knew exactly how the unicorn felt. Her entire body felt so wired she couldn’t tell if anything was different, if anything had changed. But still, her eyes refused to open.
Applejack shook her head in frustration. “This is just plain silly… On three?” she asked, to the agreement of the other two. “Okay. One… Two… Three!”
And as one, they opened their eyes.
Rainbow quickly glanced at Applejack, unwilling to look at herself yet. She immediately noticed the lack of wings, and the blond tail back with its owner. She looked at Twilight, seeing no difference there. She did, however, notice both of them looking at her… and smiling.
Rainbow quickly turned her head, her own face breaking into an ever wider smile as she saw her rainbow tail, and the pair of blue wings adorning her back. She flexed them tentatively, flapping them a few times.
Finally, she could hold it no longer and blasted into the air, yelling with joy the entire way up. She blew past the cloud cover, momentarily wobbling as she righted herself into a horizontal flight. Her entire life’s worth of flight instincts kicked in, quickly correcting any awkwardness leftover from those weeks on the ground.
She couldn’t believe she’d almost forgotten how this felt.
Rainbow kept flying a few minutes longer, completely revelling in her natural habitat, until a splash of color on the ground caught her eye: all her friends together, watching as she flew about. She banked their way and sped towards them, barely slowing down until she was almost right upon them.
Her hooves touched the ground and with what remaining speed she had, she barreled into Twilight, tackling her in the biggest hug she’d ever given anypony. As they both laughed, their friends joined them, all hugging each other. Even Big Macintosh was dragged into the pile, after Pinkie noticed the stallion standing off to the side. This moment needed to be shared with everypony—and dragon—present.
Because everything was right with the world.
A pair of ponies found themselves making their way towards Sweet Apple Acres. They’d just parted ways with the rest of their friends, having left an impromptu party organized by Pinkie Pie. They had briefly wondered where the cakes and beverages had come from, but decided not to think about it too hard. Some things couldn’t be explained, despite Twilight’s efforts. Big Macintosh had opted to stay behind, choosing to chat with Fluttershy, giving the homeward-bound pair some time alone.
Applejack grinned as she watched Rainbow flit about, unable stay aground for longer than a few seconds, if at all. As the pair got closer to the farm, Applejack glanced at the sky, noting a familiar large cloud-building floating around.
“Ah bet you can’t wait to get home, right, Sugarcube?” Applejack asked, coming to a stop.
“Heck yeah!” Rainbow gushed, twirling in the air. “Come on, let’s go!”
The earth pony chuckled. “Ah don’t have wings anymore, Rainbow. Plus Ah don’t think Ah can walk on clouds.”
Rainbow came to a halt, landing on the ground. “Wha–?” she said, following Applejack’s gaze. There, sitting in the sky, was her cloud-house. Her home. “Oh.”
Applejack watched as Rainbow, rather than start flying, instead sat down and kept staring at her mansion. “Rainbow?”
The cyan pony took a deep breath, then exhaled, before turning to face Applejack. “Don’t you remember what I said at the hospital?” she asked, and continued when Applejack gave a slight shake of her head. “That’s not my home. Hasn’t been since a month ago.” Lifting a hoof, she pointed along the path they’d been following. Sweet Apple Acres, and the farmhouse, were just visible beyond the hills. “That’s home.”
Rooted to the spot, Applejack could only smile, wiping a lone tear that had fallen from her eyes, and stepped forward to nuzzle Rainbow. “Then let’s go home, Dashie,” she murmured.
The earth pony started back on the path to the farm, but found herself grasped by four strong legs only a few steps into her journey. “What in tarnation—Rainbow, what are you doing?” she asked, struggling briefly.
“Quit struggling!” the pegasus exclaimed, getting the desired reaction. “I saw how you were looking at me. I think you need this just as much as I do.”
“Need wha—whoa!” Applejack yelled as the pair took off, shooting into the sky. Rainbow’s legs were wrapped around her torso, giving her own legs freedom of movement. Yet whereas a few weeks, even a few days ago, the earth pony would have been terrified of being in the air, right now, she only felt a vague sense of worry.
She knew that, without wings, a fall from the ever increasing height would be very bad.
But she also knew just how strong the hooves holding her were. And just how strong the wings holding them up were.
Silently, they flew onwards to the farm.
“Hey, Applejack?” Rainbow murmured, as the pair laid stretched out on Applejack’s bed, the sun slowly setting outside the window.
“Wanna try out the wand?”
“… Now, Sugarcube? I just got comfy.”
“C’mon,” the pegasus said, lifting herself off the bed. “I wanna see.”
Applejack rolled her eyes at Rainbow’s eagerness, then sat still on the bed, waiting for her marefriend to grab the wand in her mouth. “Go ahead then.”
Following Luna’s instructions, Rainbow took a deep breath and closed her eyes, the wand pointed at Applejack. She concentrated, focusing her thoughts on the pony in front of her, and on flying. She felt the wand grow warmer, then stepped back as it jolted in her grasp. She opened her eyes, watching as the magic surrounded Applejack. A few moments after engulfing her completely, the magic dissipated, leaving only the orange pony.
An orange pony with a magnificent pair of blue, ethereal pegasus wings.
The wand dropped from Rainbow’s mouth as her jaw fell open. A few seconds later, she uttered the only words her brain could provide.
“Best. Princess. Ever!”
...43 weeks ago. That's at least how long I started this. Wow.
First off, I apologize for the lengthy delay. Blame one of the commenters for suggesting a "photo finish". I liked the idea so much, I wanted to finish the fic with art. So I contacted one artist, who accepted, but before he could start work on the pic, his RL work got very, very busy. I waited a month before we both decided that it would be best to look elsewhere (he hasn't done any art in months now :( )
I then found my current artist, who as you can see did a magnificent piece for a photo finish, indeed.
What a journey this has been. My inspiration for this was seeing numerous... NUMEROUS "Dash loses wings" fics at the time, and then seeing several body swap fics. I basically thought... well, what about meeting them mid-way? I haven't seen that before.
Little did I know that the "twilight messes up a spell" and "dash loses wings" things was fairly frowned upon by prereaders and so on. Still, my first chapter got through on EQD.
None of these chapters, up until chapter 6 or so, were planned. I just wrote down what came to mind, and what me and my numerous prereaders brainstormed. Then one of my prereaders spent so much time and effort into looking at stuff, and we spent so much time brainstorming that he practically turned into a co-author. So since then, chapters 7 and onwards began to turn into something I feel was of higher quality, but still mostly me writing it on the fly.
Chapter 8 and onwards were outlined, planned and hashed out in advance, THEN written. Though many changes happened and revisions were done before the chapters were published.
For example, chapters 11 through 13 used to be one single 12.6k word chapter. The outline had 16 bullet points, with sub-points for each.
...by the time I hit the third bullet point, the chapter was already at 5-6k words. It kinda got out of hand XD
And you know what the scariest part of all this? My "plan" initially stopped at chapter 7. Rainbow and AJ would fight, Dash would run away. AJ would go chasing her and they'd make up in the same chapter.
I am so glad my prereader/coauthor talked me out of that.
However, this does leave one issue.
Chapters 7 onwards are, in my eye, of rather high quality. Especially 11 onwards. However, in comparison... chapters 1 through 6 are not. After submitting Mood Wings to EQD, I realise that those early chapters would not pass the muster of current pre-readers.
So I'm gonna revise them. Not a complete re-write, but more an expansion, an addition of content to early chapters to make the overall story better. I want to bring the quality of those chapters up to par with the later ones. I'll likely add another author's note later to update you all when those edits are done, as I'll be tackling it one chapter at a time :)
Thank you all for reading, and I must thank numerous people for prereading.
Obscurica, for prereading/brainstorming since early chapters. Synfony and Moltare likewise.
Whiteout, likewise an early prereader and brainstormer. And great help with AJ's southern expressions :P Go comment on both of their pages, they need to get writing! :D
Kits, for prereading/commenting on some of the later chapters. Was a great help, even if he likes the heathen Pinkiedash ship. Hmph!
And finally, Macdjord for being a prereader extraordinaire and at this point, practically a co-author. I write the fic, but we both have the ideas, and he does the edits. Considering these later chapters, and Mood Wings... I say we make a good team, no?
Thanks to all the artists I commissioned to make the art for the various chapters, or those who let me use existing ones. I feel it injected a bit more life into the chapters :)
Please, if you have any questions, ask them in the comments. I'll respond to what I can :)
Aaaaand revisions are complete.
All chapters have gotten minor wording edits/rephrasings.
Several chapters got scene expansions, if not entirely new scenes in the first place.
Overall, the fic is much, MUCH improved. The early chapters stand up to the quality of the later ones. It feels MUCH less rushed. And much, much better. I am a lot more satisfied with it now.