Crimson skies, deep blue seas ... the air wavers and shifts colours and clouds form at the corner of vision ... existence itself seems to warp, wrinkle, as -
Rainbow Dash's hoof hit an empty pillow. Her eyes flickered open to darkness as her dream faded from her, never to be revived in memory. The warmth of the wool sheets almost compelled her to return to her sleep, but her willpower compelled her otherwise.
She sat up slowly, stretching her stiff muscles and popping a few settled joints. Her vision grew more clear as she became accustomed to the moonlight; the small bedroom was devoid of life, save her and a small kitten sleeping peacefully at the foot of the bed. She squinted at the pillow next to her, before clearing her throat. "Fluttershy?" she asked the darkness, calling out through the open door.
When there was no response, she slid out of the covers and had a final stretch before beginning her trot into the house. As she passed through each room, she kept a lookout for the yellow pegasus - but she found no trace of her. Celestia knew where she'd gotten herself this time. Last time this happened, she was found the next day lying asleep on the Ponyville Bridge, one step from falling to the rushing waters below.
Dash shuddered as this thought crossed her mind. It was a frightening day for all of them.
She looked back over the living room as she approached the front door, and sighed heavily before pushing the door open and taking off into the starry violet sky cautiously. The chill of night bit into her as she swam effortlessly through the air - she tried to focus on the cold rather than let panic build.
She kept an eye on the ground for moving objects - an eye trained in detecting flaws in clouds and in keeping flocks of birds in formation. It took her about a half an hour to scan Ponyville without any result. By the end of the watch, she was exhausted and close to hyperventilation. A feeling of dread grew in her chest - wherever Fluttershy was, judging by past fact, it was bound to be dangerous. If Fluttershy was still half-asleep or going through her - current disability - she wouldn't be able to find her way back.
Dash tore through the clouds around her, head whipping back and forth as a moonlit rainbow followed her trail. "FLUTTERSHY!" she called periodically with growing fear.
She passed one of the constant cloud banks of the East and cast her vision upwards for a second, and almost froze midair. A mixture of relief and further panic rose in her throat - Fluttershy was hovering amidst the clouds, the moonlight shining off her mane like flowing water.
"FLUTTERSHY!" Her voice cut through the crisp air like a blade. It had to have reached her, but there wasn't a visible response. Dash shook her head. It was true - she was going through another bout of -
Her thoughts stopped dead.
A flash of yellow fell from above like a meteor.
Dash's muscles seized. Adrenalin that had already built up was released from its moors, and pumped at the speed of lightning through her veins. She took off faster than she ever had before, determination filling her mind to the brim.
Sound disappeared as she dove after the falling pegasus. A cone of air had begun to flow around her, but she shook her head for what she could and increased speed. The sounds of air and wingbeats and - something else - had reached her ears.
Withought totally understanding how, she flew below the yellow mare and extended her forelegs, catching her in - she noticed with a shiver of recognition - less than three hundred feet from the earth below. It was too close. As she regained her senses, the third sound became clear.
Dash looked down at the mare in her arms. She was sobbing quietly, her face buried in her hooves. Her heart jumped into her throat as she flew with sore wings to the closest firm cloud she caught sight of.
She laid down on her back, tenderly extending her wings on either side of her, and letting Fluttershy, still gasping and sobbing, lie next to her. She laid in silence for nearly a minute - a heart-wrenching minute - until she regained control of her lungs. "Are you..." she whispered, wheezing, "okay?"
No response, just sniffling and gasping that interrupted the night silence.
She sighed, and rolled over to face her. "Shy... are you... okay?" she asked again, haltingly.
Fluttershy gasped, and nodded slowly, not moving her hooves.
She paused for a moment, remembering the words of Twilight. This is one of the worst things that could happen to somepony. She could slip in and out of her own conciousness... you'll have to test her knowledge of herself if that should ever happen.
Dash sat up, wincing slightly as the edge the adrenalin had given her slowly wore off. She pulled Fluttershy to a sitting position next to her, and placed a gentle hoof on her shoulder. "What's your name?" she asked her, staring at her in expectation.
She removed her shaking hooves from her face slowly, looking at them with a faraway stare and smiling softly, tears still coursing down her matted cheeks. "I..." she began softly. "S - Sunflower. Sunflower."
"No," Dash said, worry creeping into her mind. "No, it's not. What's your name?"
"Sunflower," Fluttershy repeated again, in the same tone. If anything, her tears began to flow more freely, while her blank smile remained.
"You're Fluttershy," Dash said, frightened tears in her eyes. No matter how many times she saw it, it still removed her from her comfort zone - everything she knew and everything she loved about the mare in front of her. "You're Fluttershy. You're my marefriend. You - you take care of animals, and you - you're studying for a veterinary degree. You're one of the Elements of Harmony - come on, show me something!" Dash's voice raised in frustration.
There was a period of deathly silence as Fluttershy raised her hooves back up to her face. "S... S..." she stuttered, before the quiet sobs began again.
Rainbow's tears broke free from their reins, and began running down her sweat-soaked cheeks. She leaned forward and threw her hooves around the platonic mare, holding her tightly.
Suddenly, Fluttershy began to speak again. "R... Rainbow?" she called out, her hooves still on her face. "Rainbow," she said again, a little more desperately. "Rain-"
"I'm right here, I'm right here," Dash whispered frantically into her ear. "It's okay."
"Rainbow? Rainbow, I - I can't see."
"I know, I know." Her senses might fail her every once in a while, but it won't be permanent. It'll be... unbelievably frightening for her. Again, I'm... so, so sorry. You would know, Dash - I'm so... so sorry...
"Are - are you there?" A sob. "Dash, I - I need you."
Dash increased her grip, and breathed a sigh of relief as Fluttershy extended her hooves back around her. "Th-there you are." A quiet sniffle. "I was... was..."
"Can you hear me, Fluttershy?"
"Yes. Yes, I..." She was cut off by another sob. "R-Rainbow..."
Dash felt her own tears fall from her cheeks as Fluttershy let out her own emotions and cried on her shoulder, holding her tightly and whispering her name.
The effect of the chilling night air was alleviated by the warmth emanating from them. Silence reigned over the sky for what seemed like, and may have been, hours.
"...You okay, Shy?" Rainbow asked eventually, allowing her to continue her embrace despite the now-searing pain in her wings.
There was no answer.
Rainbow pulled away, feeling the sudden absence of heat as she did. Fluttershy came away without resistance - she was asleep. Out cold. Rainbow allowed herself a short smile and laid her back down, lying down beside her and brushing her mane out of her face. She kissed her gently on the forehead and reached her forelegs across her, joining her hundreds of feet above Equestria in an early-morning embrace.
Huge mounds and pillars of cloud, coloured orange and purple and blue by the sun in the distance - rising or setting? ... The field beneath quivers and shivers as if in excitement for what is to come next ... the wind spun across the meadow in coloured swirls and whirlwinds, lightly touching the -
Another dream faded from existence as Dash was drawn from sleep with a hooftouch. As Dash's consciousness returned, she could distinguish her name: "Rainbow? Wake up for a moment. Please."
Her eyes opened slowly, and a smile spread across her face. She was still in a tight embrace with her marefriend, and stared into her eyes for a moment. "... Hey," she said quietly, yawning.
Fluttershy smiled, and sighed shortly. "Rainbow, I... just want somepony to listen. You don't have to be totally awake. I wanted to ask a question really quickly first, though."
Rainbow rubbed her right eye with a hoof. "What... what time is it?" she asked, barely attempting to stifle a huge yawn.
"I don't know. The sun isn't up yet. But, but I wanted to ask... um... where was I?" Fluttershy said quietly.
Memories of the recent incident returned to Rainbow's mind with bone-chilling accuracy. "I just... found you here on the cloud," she lied. "Just lying there, totally, you know, out of it."
Fluttershy giggled. "Okay. That's all."
Rainbow grinned and snuggled a bit closer to her marefriend. Silence took over the cloud once more.
"... You know, it's... difficult sometimes," Fluttershy was saying quietly, fully aware that her marefriend had quickly fallen asleep. "I can still remember some things that happen during my... episodes. Not always, though," she said win a sigh. "I kinda wish you could hear me."
A brief pause. "I can," Rainbow mumbled. "I'm listening, keep going."
"No, go ahead and sleep. I don't really -"
Fluttershy smiled, and pressed her lips gently against the bridge of Dash's muzzle. "Okay, I guess." She looked up into the stars, rolling on her back and letting the subconcious Rainbow Dash slowly stroke her chest. "I... it's hard somethimes to go through an episode. If I remember enough of it, I can - I can feel another life inside me." She looked over at Rainbow Dash. "You know?"
"No. It sounds... scary."
"It is," she replied. "I can remember some of their life too. Everything sad they felt, I feel, and every bit of anger goes through me, too. It's like... I dunno." She could feel tears forming in her eyes again for no known reason. "It's like having more than one soul. I feel the lives of all these ponies who are already... already dead." She turned tearfully to Dash. "What is this? What am I connecting to?"
Dash blinked. She's going to go through psychosis for... at most sixteen months. It's a magical psychosis, where one's mind is overloaded with magical power... she'll be able to see what other pegusi can't, and she'll be sepesrted from this world often and descend into the world of the... the dead... *sob* I can't imagine what it's like. I... I feel so responsible. There aren't any words for it... You can't tell her where she's getting her psychosis from. It can... it can kill her.
"... I don't know."
Fresh tears ran down Fluttershy's face. She turned to face Dash again, and buried her face in her chest, sobbing quietly. "I don't want this. I don't... I hate this, Dash."
Dash held her closely. "I know. I'm sorry."
Fluttershy pulled away for a minute, and stared into her marefriend's magenta eyes. A chill ran through her as a warmth trickled down her spine. She leaned in and kissed her closely, putting a hoof on her cheek and holding her close to herself. She felt the pegasus' soft lips on hers and felt an alleviation, however slight, of her emotions.
She pressed her tongue softly against Dash's teeth, sighing in excitement as Dash let her in. A slight mist rose from their mouths - it was warmer than the early-morning zephyrs and breezes. She felt the useless tears flow continually as she pulled her marefriend ever closer. The warmth between them was empowering.
She trailed a hoof down Dash's side, making her shiver slightly. "I... I love you," she murmured quietly, not daring to pull away. Whenever Fluttershy hit just the right spot, she squeaked and grinned.
"I love you too," she replied quietly. She paused for a moment, ignoring the tired groan of protest from Dash. "Should we... go home?"
"Um... can't we wait... until the sun comes up?" Dash replied slowly, unsurely.
Fluttershy didn't respond for a moment - just held Dash a bit tighter. "...Okay."
It'd never taken much to wake Dash up - from the absence of somepony who should have been next to her to Celestia's sun starting its daily rounds. She didn't sleep outdoors overnight too often, but when she did, she was always surprised at how early she awoke.
Today was no different. She opened her heavy eyes slowly to the sunlight, momentarily forgetting where she was and, when she remembered that, why exactly she was on a cloud. Her marefriend's tearstained, bedraggled face certainly served as a memory jog.
She smiled for a moment, before attempting to stretch - and was greeted with a huge wave of pain. She screwed her eyes shut, feeling them water. Suddenly, everything came rushing back. She realized how stiff she would be today with a quiet sigh.
She cautiously took her forelegs away from Fluttershy before scooting away and standing shakily. A momentary pang of fear took her as she climbed to her hooves - they were way too far above the ground. The cloud below them must have gone through something during the night, but now they were a bit more than three hundred feet from the earth below. This caused her a short panic attack. How was she going to get down? She couldn't fly with her wings in such a state. There wasn't any -
Her thoughts were interrupted by a yawn from below her. Fluttershy sat up slowly, rubbing her eyes. "Rainbow?"
Dash chuckled. "Took you long enough, Shy. I've been up for hours. It's almost time for dinner already."
Fluttershy blinked, and thought it through for a moment. "Really?"
Dash didn't reply, just shook her head and laughed. "Come on, stand up," she said, offering a hoof. Fluttershy gratefully took it and pulled herself up next to Dash, before stretching her wings and neck briefly.
"So, um..." she began, looking over at the other pegasus, "... you look terrible." She giggled and nuzzled her cheek quickly.
"So do you," Dash replied, smiling. "I would say that we should go take a shower, but..." she motioned with a hoof across the horizon, "... we should probably ge off the cloud first."
"Well, let's go," Fluttershy said, stepping off to the edge and looking down. She gasped. "Oh."
She backed away from the edge and sat softly in the middle of the cloud. "C - do you think m-maybe you could help me d-down?" she asked.
"That's... that's another problem," Dash said, rocking on her hooves nervously. "I can barely move my wings. They're really sore," she continued quietly.
Fluttershy looked up, worry clear in her eyes. "What happened?"
"Nothing. Don't worry about it, we'll find a w-"
"Dash," she firmly interrupted, standing up cautiously and walking over to her. "What did you do?"
"I - I was rushing around trying to find you last n-"
Dash blinked and held Fluttershy's stare for a moment, before turning away and sighing. "Fine. You - you were falling, okay?"
Fluttershy looked apologetic for a second, before looking down at her hooves. "So you... saved my..."
"Don't mention it, Shy. Just - just help me figure out how to get us down."
Fluttershy looked up at the baby-blue pegasus scanning the air in front of her. Now she owed her life to her twice. She noticed with a chill that Dash's wings were shivering slightly. Her muscles were still going through shock - electricity was pumping through them, trying desperately to fix them as she watched. She couldn't stand to live with herself if Dash couldn't fly again because of her.
Without a second thought, the yellow mare jumped to her hooves, screwed her eyes shut, and clasped her marefriend's torso with all the force her forelegs would allow. She heard a short gasp - maybe it was Dash, maybe it was her - before she threw herself off the edge of the cloud.
Wind whipped into her face at a frightening speed. She bit her lip - hard - and extended her wings, her mind stumbling over itself to retrieve her flight training memories. Tighten foremuscles... extend phalanges slowly... and push with everything you've been given.
Time slowed as she flapped her wings furiously and prayed. Maybe she'd made a terrible mistake. Maybe she'd just killed them both. Maybe -
Suddenly, an abnormal sound cut through the screaming wind to reach her. There was a soft thud and a slipping sound. She was propelled by fear to open one eye, and a huge surge of relief swept through her. It was grey. They'd run through a cloud, dense on the bottom but soft in the middle. She put her hooves forward with the last of her strength and collapsed, the weight she forgot she was carrying falling on top of her with a grunt of pain.
Everything was quiet for a few moments, except the sounds of laboured breathing and the seashell-like sigh of the cloud moving around them. Suddenly, there was a shout of "YES!"
Through the dim light, Fluttershy could see the outline of Dash's face. "Fluttershy, you did it! You - we - you got us down! We're not too far up now! How did you-"
"Can we... can we call it even?" Fluttershy interrupted, panting softly.
Dash grinned broadly. "Yes. Yes, definitely. Lemme see if I can go - AAGH!" she shouted, falling on top of her marefriend again.
Fluttershy gasped, and climbed out from under her, helping her quickly to her hooves. "Dash, are you alright?"
Dash groaned. "Yeah, I just can't - just can't move too fast. It s-starts hurting again," she said, her voice slightly strained. "L-let's go see where we are, o-okay?"
Much to Fluttershy's relief, she'd done well. They were only a hundred fifty or so feet above the ground. A few good shouts to the town below and they were noticed. Help was on the way.
The pair collapsed against the marshmallowy cloud wall. Dash looked over at Fluttershy, who'd closed her eyes and was trying to regain control of herself. She'd underestimated her. In the right situation, she could do amazing things. She leaned over and gave her a soft kiss. "We'll be on the ground in a minute," she said quietly, before adding a few more 'thank-you's.
A sudden ray of light illuminated the dark grey hollow in which the pair was sitting. A younger tan stallion climbed through the aperture, clothed in a bright orange vest and a belt stocked with all kinds of ropes and kits and other accessories.
"I suppose you're wondering why I've called you here today," a voice tinted with fatigue rang out from the darkness. The stallion jumped, and flicked his flashlight on hurriedly, pointing it at the voice.
He sighed when he saw them. "Hey there. I've been sent from the Stranded P-"
"Stranded Pegasus Safety Patrol. Double Salt and Pepper. I know," Dash finished for him, grinning as amicably as she could. "Been there, done that."
He returned the smile nervously. He was still pretty new on the job; it was only his third rescue, and he hadn't gone solo before - especially not in a cavernous semi-dense. Semi-dense clouds and cavernous clouds were both taught to be home to wrickets, cloud demons, and the like. "I-I'm going to have to ask you a few questions. Medical stuff, nothin too complicated. First, d-"
"My head is fine, my pulse is normal, my stress level is average to low, I'm not questioning reality, and your cutie mark is a... um... a plus sign on a circle," she finished, that confident grin still on her face.
He was surprised. She really had been in the service before. "Thanks for saving me a bit of time, miss..."
"Rainbow Dash," Dash replied, standing with a soft groan and approaching him, a hoof held out in greeting.
"Oh!" the stallion's face brightened. "You're in the news a lot with the, um, the Elements of Harmony, right?"
"Yup!" Dash confirmed, smiling.
"Oh, well, I'm Sky Rover. Nice to meet -"
There was a soft whimper that interrupted their short conversation. Dash turned back to the corner where she was sitting and clicked her tongue nervously. Without another word, she trotted lightly over to a small, brightly-coloured shape Rover hadn't noticed before. Dash knelt by the bright yellow body, and lifted her head up slowly. It was another of the Elements, um... what was her name?
"Fluttershy?" Dash whispered. "Shy, are you okay?"
Rover trotted over to them, kneeling down nearby. If he knew anything, it was medical science. "Can you open one of her eyes for me?"
"No need. It's magical psychosis."
Rover groaned. Stop doing my job for me. I'm coming off as an idiot. "So, she's going through an episode?"
No response from either mare. "... She just had one last night," Dash said quietly after a short pause. "... I'm worried. They haven't been so close together before. Shy, are you there?"
"Yes," came the uncomfortably soft reply.
"Can you open your eyes for me?"
"... I don't know."
"Try," Dash urged, worry crossing her face once more. "Try and open your eyes."
Slowly, Fluttershy obliged, looking with dilated pupils at Dash - or rather, through her. Dash's bottom lip quivered for a moment. "Wh-what's your name?"
Stress was visibly lifted from her. "So it's not quite as bad as it was last time?"
"... Shy? Shy, you have to talk to me."
Fluttershy looked away for a moment, before looking back, her pupils returning to normal with a quiet pop and a wispy wave of purple sparkles emanating briefly from her head.
Dash lifted her up closer to herself as her eyes closed. "Shy? Shy?" Her voise began to rise, becoming more frantic. "Shy?!"
"Woah, woah," Rover said, putting a gentle hoof against her chest. "You don't want to cause any more mental problems than there are already. However, you have a physical problem, and that's what I need to address first."
"What are you talking about?!" Dash snapped, taking her gaze away from her marefriend for a moment.
"Your wings are bruising. That's internal bleeding. We need to take you out of the air first."
Dash glanced behind her, trying in vain to look at her wings. She noticed for a second that her nerves were on fire, but chose to ignore it. "No. Take Fluttershy."
Rover shook his head, the rigorous determination that came with his line of work finally setting in.. It was going to go down like this. "Ma'am, your friend's wings are in better condition. The other SPSPs should be here in about ten or twenty minutes, but you need to be taken down quickly and safely by an escort now. And for that, I need your coopera-"
"Sky Rover, you're going to listen to me right now." Dash stood quickly, wincing momentarily in pain. She leaned in close to his face. "You're going to take Fluttershy down first. Okay?"
Rover didn't flinch. In one smooth movement, he pulled a pair of hoof-holds out of his vest and snapped them onto the exhausted blue pegasus' front hooves. "I'm sorry, ma'am."
Dash looked down at her restraints, and back at the unconscious yellow mare resting in the darkened corner. She looked forwards again, scowling. She gave Rover an icy glare through tearing eyes. "If this cloud loses density, or something that lives here comes for my Fluttershy - I'll find you. And you will be."
After being dragged kicking and screaming into the nearest clinic, Dash fell into a fitful, sedative-induced sleep. She'd probably made her wings worse. She didn't care, though. She wanted Fluttershy back. If something happened to her now, after everything they'd been through, life would lose meaning.
The clinic room lay quiet. Its single occupant was curled up on one of the clean white beds, her head in her hooves and her wings in wrappings. Her mind was swimming with thoughts, each thought punctuated by the slow, methodical ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner of the room.
Slowly, the door swung open. The baby-blue mare's head shot up, only to droop down again when she realized who it was.
"Well, Rainbow Dash... fifth time this season?" the doctor said merrily, levitating her checksheet to himself. "Maybe you'll become immune to flesh wounds soon!"
The doctor sighed quietly. What am I doing wrong? That 'comedy kit' my cousin gave me was worthless. "Anyway, um, your wing should heal itself over the next few weeks, but flying's out of the question. I know that's kind of your life and all, but overstrenuous exercise... well, it's usually not good. What on earth were you doing?"
Dash muttered something from behind her hooves.
"The truth now, Rainbow Dash. You are in a doctor's office, after all."
She looked up for a moment, before resting her cheek on her foreleg. "... I broke the speed of sound. And then broke that."
The doctor glanced at her from behind his floating checksheet. "Oh, that's clever. Breaking breaking the sound barrier," he chuckled. "Seriously, though."
Dash raised her head one last time, flashing the doctor a sick-of-the-world scowl and rolling over, throwing the sheets over her and adjusting her wing with a quiet whimper.
"You're... you're serious."
The doctor sighed. "I should have figured, actually. One of the only living beings to create a sonic rainboom, one of the higher-ranking independent racers in Equestria... it's only fitting you'd overexert yourself like that." He paused. "But how?"
"...I don't want to talk about it." Another moment of awkward silence. "Can I leave the hospital yet?"
The doctor sighed once more, slipping the checksheet into a portfolio by the door. "Yes, you're all good to go. Do you want a prescription today, or...?"
Dash slid out of bed, shaking her head and sniffling. "Not... not today. I might come back, but..." she trailed off, and walked past him and through the door.
Maybe I should've gotten that prescription after all, Dash thought peripherally, walking quickly down the cobbled streets of Ponyville under the bright afternoon sun. She rotated her shoulders a bit, before another short burst of pain shot through her wings. With a short sigh, she looked at her hooves and began to trot a bit faster.
First point of contact: Twilight, she said to herself, taking a left to the centre of town. "You better be there, Shy," she muttered under her breath.
She reached the two-story treehouse in a few minutes, but took a second to collect herself before swinging open the front door. The resident lilac unicorn glanced up from the small green novel floating in front of her and stood to greet her friend.
"Hi, Dash, how's it -"
"Where is she?" Dash interrupted, ignoring the hoof extended towards her and looking around the high-stocked bookshelves worriedly.
Twilight put her hoof down, worry creeping onto her face as well. "Um - she's upstairs -"
"Is she okay?" Dash asked quickly, turning to trot up the curved staircase.
"Yes, but -"
Without a second thought, Dash slammed through the heavy wooden door at the top of the stairs. A wave of sudden relief washed over her as she saw Rarity sitting by the guest bed, having a conversation with - thank Celestia - her marefriend.
"Shy!" she cried, a huge grin breaking across her face. She bolted over to the bed and up to Fluttershy, wrapping her in a tight hug. "I thought you... I didn't know where... I was scared, Shy," she said, her voice breaking. She buried her head into her marefriend's shoulder. "Oh, thank Celestia. Thank Celestia."
Fluttershy smiled and blushed deeply as Dash pulled away, before looking down at her hooves and motioning towards Rarity.
"Oh," Dash chuckled, moving away slightly and looking up at Rarity. "Sorry."
Rarity smiled. "It's perfectly fine, darling. I'm sure I'm not going to be the only pony still to visit. Most everypony else already came and went, as you can tell by the... well, the balloons, for one."
Dash laughed. "What did she do this time?"
"Surprisingly, not much. Just dropped off balloons, iced cookies, and -" she motioned toward the corner of the room with a hoof "- that hot pink present over there. Along with the ones from Roseluck, Moondust, Gold Leaves, and that one navy blue stallion. The only pony who hasn't showed up yet is Appl-"
As if on cue, the second-story door opened again, with considerably less vigor. Dash grinned. "Speak of the devil..."
Dash rolled her eyes in disappointment at herself as Twilight stepped into the room, glancing at Dash and Fluttershy quickly before turning to focus on Rarity. "Hey, um, when did you get your memo?"
"About three hours ago, I believe. Why?"
Twilight sighed. "Well, Applejack isn't here yet, and I'm getting worried. Of course, she doesn't have to come, but it's one of her best friends who -"
"Wait, wait, wait," Dash interrupted. "There were memos? Why didn't I get a memo?"
Twilight shook her head. "I thought you did. I sent one to Cloudsville and Fluttershy's in case you were there..."
"But - but I should've been with her!" Dash exclaimed, sliding off the bed. "I was with her all night until we woke up this morning in - in a bit of a predicament. But that's not the point. The point is, I was at the clinic today, all day. I would've left if I could, but -"
"You were at the clinic?" Twilight asked. "Wh- oh," she said as Dash quickly showed her back.
"Well, I'm - um - I'm sorry, but I didn't get all the information this morning. I woke up at six to a knocking at the door, and there was Fluttershy, standing there with an air guard. I assumed she - you know..." she trailed off awkwardly.
"No, Dash was with me," Fluttershy said quietly. "She saved my..." She trailed off and the room descended into silence.
"Don't worry about it, Shy," Dash replied at the same volume, smiling and nudging her leg.
"... I'm sorry about your wings," Fluttershy added after a moment or two or silence.
"Don't worry about it," Dash insisted, flashing a grin back to her marefriend. "You helped us out a lot later on."
"You... saved her life?" Twilight asked softly.
Dash turned around and scowled. "No, I - No. It's... I don't want any kind of thanks or anything. I did what I did, and I'm glad I did. That's - that's it."
Twilight put her head down, and turned away. "Excuse me," she squeaked before trotting out of the room.
Dash watched her leave, her reflexive defensiveness diminishing. She put a hoof against her forehead and closed her eyes. This should all be over soon.
"You know, she really is still upset," Rarity commented, eyes still on the door.
"I know." She should be.
"She sat in the library for hours crying," Fluttershy added softly. "When I realized where she was, I went to go talk to her, but... nothing I said helped."
Dash remained silent.
Rarity stood and turned to the door. "I should get going. I have a few projects I should set to work on." She smiled, an attempt at ameliorating the dark mood, before the door opened softly and a light orange mare, sans hat, joined them.
"Uh, howdy, everypony," she greeted them unsurely, closing the door behind her. "... It seems kinda tense in here," she noted, walking over to the group and tousling Rainbow's mane. "Well, aren't you a sore sight for eyes."
"It's a 'sight for sore eyes', AJ," Dash replied, the hint of a smile showing at the corners of her mouth.
"Ah meant what ah said," she grinned back, which to Dash required a knock to the foreleg. Applejack chuckled. "Seriosuly, though, are you alright, Shy?" she asked.
Fluttershy nodded, scooting to a sitting position. "Everything's back in order. But Dash is still a bit... worse for wear." She motioned towards Dash's wings.
Applejack grinned again. "What kinda stupid stunt were ya tryin' to pull this time, RD?" she asked lightheartedly.
Dash smiled again, less enthusiastically. "... Don't ask."
Rarity, who before then had been standing silently near the window, joined in briefly. "Listen, I really should get going. At least I'm not leaving you two alone," she added, winking at Fluttershy before trotting out.
Applejack looked behind her at the departing unicorn, before turning back around and shrugging apologetically. "Well, ah just stopped in to see how everypony was doin'. And everypony's doin' kinda okay, so ah guess ah should get goin', too. Afternoon." She tipped her nonexistent hat and departed after Rarity.
Dash glanced over at her marefriend and grinned, her face bright but her eyes tired. "I'll go check and see if Twilight got your status from the guard earlier." She leaned back to check her wings quickly. "You still feeling the adrenalin rush?"
Fluttershy nodded, flapping her wings lamely.
Dash shook her head and kissed her lightly on the cheek before walking away with a slight limp.
The book Twilight was staring at blankly glowed pink momentarily before floating quickly away. She glanced up at the staircase near the librarian's desk. "Um... hi, Rainbow," she said, wiping at her face. "Ready... ready to go?"
"Not yet. Do you have a status on Fluttershy?"
"Like... a paper status?"
"Something like that."
She sighed, and began going through the drawers on the desk, shuffling through the scrolls and leaflets neatly organized within. "I must have put it here somewhere. One minute, let me check my filing cabinet - medical..." she trailed off, disappearing momentarily into the depths of the library.
Rainbow inhaled deeply. Why shouldn't you be mad? she thought angrily to herself. Still? the other half of her brain retaliated. Cut her some slack. Fluttershy already has. She brushed a few stray hairs out of her eyes and sniffed.
"I found it," Twilight said, walking out from the shelves under the stairs and levitating the short scroll over to Dash, who caught it with a lazy swipe. "It says that she was still in stress and under a mental duress, etcetera. She should be fine by now, if... you know, you want to..."
"Thanks," Dash replied, scanning quickly over the scroll before tossing it back and climbing back up the stairs, wincing briefly as a short shock of pain reached her.
Twilight sat down again at her desk, cringing as she heard the door shut a bit louder than was necessary.
Fluttershy gave the last of her thanks to a still-sheepish Twilight before following her marefriend out of the library. She shut the door quietly and trotted to catch up with Dash. They walked together in silence for a few minutes, occasionally sharing the odd glance, but otherwise keeping to themselves.
Fluttershy periodically stared over at the other pegasus, her mind throwing seemingly random thoughts back and forth. I'm so mad at myself. She got hurt because of me. Was it my fault, though? I don't even know anymore. I just want my normal life back.
Dash smiled at her marefriend for a second. "I'm glad you're back to normal, Shy." She chuckled. "I hate admitting when stuff scares me, but... that scared me."
Fluttershy nodded. "Me too." She paused, looking away again. "... I really am sorry about your wings."
"Shy..." Dash began, nuzzling Fluttershy's neck softly. "You don't owe anything to me. Or anypony else. We're all in for anything that could happen." She looked away. "You remember that time I was in the hospital?"
"You have to be more specific," Fluttershy replied, giggling.
"When I shattered the bone in my leg after that crash two years ago."
Dash sighed quietly. "We weren't dating yet, but you still hung around a lot more than anypony else. You even stayed the night at the hospital sometimes." She paused, her pace slowing for a second as she formed her words carefully. "My point is, you've always been there for me, Shy. And now that it really matters, of course I'm here for you."
Fluttershy looked over at her marefriend, who was looking at her hooves and smiling softly. "... I can't..." she murmured, her words suddenly dead in her mouth. "You... y..." she trailed off, feeling herself flush. "Without you, I... I wouldn't still be here, Dash. You... I can't repay you for that, ever."
"You already pushed yourself to save both of us, Shy," Dash replied firmly. "There's no 'debt' here. Nopony owes anypony else anything. What happened happened." She smiled as she glanced over at her marefriend, and flicked an ear. "Don't think like that."
The setting changed as the pair left Ponyville and began their walk through the light forest to Fluttershy's cottage. The last bit of sunlight cast the trees around them a deep, delicious red.
Fluttershy sighed to herself and flapped her wings in frustration. At least let me try, Dash... She looked up with sudden wonder at the world around her. I'm living on borrowed time now, aren't I? She shuddered as such an unusually dark thought crossed her mind.
Dash noticed, and nuzzled her again, beginning to walk a bit closer to her. "You cold?"
"No..." she replied softly as they began the ascent to her cottage's front door. As they reached the steps, a sudden compulsion gripped Fluttershy. She turned to her marefriend, her eyes tingling (from joy or frustration, she didn't know), and leaned in slowly for a kiss. Her eyes closed and she felt a hoof on her cheek. The last rays of the sun died out as the quiet endearment continued. When it ended, Fluttershy's cheeks were already wet with tears.
Dash opened her eyes momentarily, and took Fluttershy's chin in her hoof, raising her head until their eyes were level. "I..." She looked away, a blush just barely visible on her cheeks. "D-don't cry. Come on, let's go inside."
Darkness. A lone hoof reaches out from the depths, but no matter how close it gets, it's just not close enough...
Dash's eyes snapped open. She sat bolt upright in bed, a cold sweat on her forehead. She looked to the right - and sighed, relieved. Everypony was where they should be. She shook her head and smiled at her own insecurity, before lying back down next to her marefriend and laying a hoof over her -
A stuttering gasp ran through the air.
Dash slipped out of bed, pulling the covers off with her. She'd been lying next to a lump of pillows and blankets. She whipped her head around and desperately looked out the window, before a quiet voice killed her anxiety. "Dash?"
"...Fluttershy?" she asked with a short sigh. She turned her head back to the door, where her marefriend was standing, the most guilty of looks on her face.
"I-I'm sorry, I just -"
"It's okay, Shy," Dash interrupted, closing her eyes and shaking her head tiredly. "I just got scared."
"I - I know. I'm sorry..." Her sentence seemed to echo around the room. She swallowed nervously. "I - um - I was going to go out to the - the lake, to just... sit and think, I guess... I didn't mean to scare you," she added, looking at her hooves.
Dash coughed. "It's okay, Shy. Just..." She trailed off momentarily, before looking back out the window behind her. "How long have you been... leaving like this?"
"Oh, it was long before any of this happened," Fluttershy explained hurriedly. "Sometimes it was in the middle of the day, sometimes the night. Sometimes I went with happy thoughts, and... well, other times, not. I... guess I..."
"... You still wanna go?" Dash asked quietly.
"You don't have to come along, Dash - I mean, you haven't slept for a while, so you should stay here and just..."
"I know, but... I have to make sure nothing goes wrong while I'm not around. Doesn't it usually happen at night?" She paused. "Plus, I... wanted to talk to you."
"Well, if you - if you want to, then..."
A walk to the lake at night wasn't something Fluttershy was entirely unaccustomed to, but it always felt out-of-place with life. Night ambiance was always owls and crickets and cool wind blowing through the treetops. No birdsong. No sunlight. Just darkness. It always made Fluttershy a bit jumpy.
She felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand when Dash broke the silence they'd been walking in for the last two minutes: "... What... never mind."
"It - I'll wait until we get to the lake."
Fluttershy shook her head and looked away. She silently cast a wing over her marefriend, who smiled in the dark and nuzzled her cheek warmly in response. Fluttershy didn't return the nuzzle - she had already become retangled in her thoughts. I don't really deserve this. I shouldn't have left for the lake in middle of the night. I've already worried everypony enough. Why would I add to it?
Her attention was regained when she felt Dash stop, and looked out to the lake at her right. She couldn't remember the last time she saw it at night - even though it'd only been a few months ago. Her eyes tingled for a moment at that thought. What was happening to her mind?
She followed Dash (her head still lowered apologetically) to the soft cottony moss-covered earth on the edge of the water. Dash motioned for her to lie down next to her, and she obliged silently. Dash curled up next to her, laying a hoof on hers and staring out onto the darkened, rippling lake in front of them.
Dash opened her mouth as though to speak, but thought better of it and looked down at her and Fluttershy's hooves.
Fluttershy broke the silence first. "Dash..." she began, trying to remain confident. "I'm sorry. I'm really sorry." Her voice broke. "There's nothing - nothing I can do that can - that can -"
"No. There's nothing I can do to repay you for everything you've done for me."
"It wasn't something to make a big deal out of -"
"It's not just that. You've always helped me for no reason, and I've always been so selfish," she replied, her façade of confidence falling away. She nuzzled her marefriend's shoulder softly, familiar tears returning to her. She turned them away. "Ever since we were still in school. I don't know why you helped me the way you did. When all these problems started happening, you were there and you said you'd help and you did. And then I'm selfish about coming out to the lake, when I knew you already cared enough to be on edge about me, and you were - you just - I..."
Dash leaned closer to her marefriend. "Shy... stop." Fluttershy looked up from her shoulder, her face flushed. "There isn't anything you could do that could be considered selfish. Anything. You've helped me along in all kinds of ways." She smiled. "This -" she motioned between them with a hoof "- is one example. I can't tell you how long I liked you - like, 'liked' you liked you - before the Summer Sun Celebration last year. Just don't be so hard on yourself. There's no way I deserve that much gratitude."
"If you want to do something for me, work on beating this sickness so I can... I mean, so we can get started again."
Fluttershy looked over at her marefriend, still fighting back tears. "I don't know... I don't know what to say. You - you're too kind, Dash," she said finally, casting a wing over her again and pulling her closer. She put her head in her hooves. "I can't... I'm so sorry..."
Dash nuzzled her cheek, smiling despite of herself. That was Fluttershy. "Stop saying the word 'sorry' for two minutes."
There was a profound silence that now echoed throughout the lake. A settled stillness that calmed Fluttershy just enough for her to regain control of herself. "... Try to do something... not for me. I'll try to be less of a burden, I promise."
"You have to be less hard on yourself. That's my condition," came the quiet reply.
"I will." A pause. "I'm sorry."
"What'd I just say?"
Dash grinned as Fluttershy laughed quietly at her corny little joke. "See? I wouldn't be a bad comedian." Her words echoed around the bedroom.
"Okay," Fluttershy replied with an air of sarcasm, returning Dash's grin.
"Hey, I totally could! If I weren't already destined for the Wonderbolts!" she replied, coaxing another laugh out of her marefriend. Her smile grew. Finally, she's happy.
"Are your wings okay?"
Dash turned to Shy. "Yeah, they're pretty good by now. That's why I'm lying on my back, right? Why do you a-"
She was cut off by soft lips on hers. She relaxed a bit more. Celestia, that's passionate... She didn't notice that Fluttershy had moved until she was pretty much on top of her, and moving further over. Dash looked up. "Shy, what are you -" she stopped herself. She wanted to make it up to me? Let her, I guess.
As if she knew Dash's thoughts, Fluttershy whispered "Don't say a thing" into her ear.
A chill ran up her spine as Fluttershy continued descending her, moving her hooves along her sides and chest as she did. She laid back and closed her eyes. She smiled to herself, realizing the absurdity of what was happening. "You know, Shy, you really don't have to - mmmmmmh."
"Did you say something?"
"No, no, no, no, no. Of course not. No."
The bedroom was still; filled with the drowsy atmosphere of the early afternoon. Dash stood by the quilted bed, contemplating, driving the other visitors out of her mind as well as she could.
She'd woken up that morning to find Fluttershy beside her, forelegs still wrapped around her, unconscious. She remembered the cold panic that shot like lightning through her chest when she felt the heaviness of her limbs, before she hurriedly checked her breathing. Sometime during the night, she'd gone through another episode, without Dash noticing at all. What kind of help was she?
She didn't go out and get the others immediately; instead, she waited for a few minutes in case the unconsciousness would dissipate quickly. But after a half-hour of worry and waiting by her side, she decided to go out and find as many of their friends as she could. It was only her better willpower that kept her from walking past the library.
It'd only been a few hours, unlike last time, but it was still rather uncomfortable to have so many visitors in such a short amount of time. And for what? To see a comatose pony stay comatose? Still, her friends had a right to know.
Dash gathered her thoughts away from the others and looked down at her marefriend, whose face was calm. Terrifyingly calm. Dash nervously reached down and laid a hoof on her neck, and sighed, relieved, when she felt a steady pulse.
Suddenly, a wave of energy swept through Fluttershy, stiffening her limbs and wings and arching her back all of an instant. Dash gasped and stepped back as a burst of dim purple light burst from her marefriend's forehead, but quickly returned to her bedside as her eyes shot open.
Before long, the bed was surrounded by all five visitors. She blinked, and sat up, looking around the room blindly. Finally, she looked down at her hooves and whimpered, tears beginning to fall down her face. Without hesitation, Dash wrapped her forelegs around her as she began breaking down into sobs.
"Fluttershy, are you... there?" Rarity asked quietly.
There was no reply. Fluttershy buried her face in her hooves as well as she could and continued sobbing quietly. Dash sighed and grasped her tighter, pulling her closer to herself and holding her head to her chest. With another sudden motion, Fluttershy returned the embrace.
Dash looked up at the other four. "You guys... this is kind of personal," she said softly, shaking her head. "Sorry."
"It's okay, sugarcube. We'll get going," Applejack replied. "Tell us if something turns out."
"Thanks," Dash called out as the four began to file out of the room. She turned her head back to her marefriend, finally allowing herself a much-needed wipe to the eyes. "Shy? You okay?" she asked quietly.
She held her tighter, not expecting any answer, but felt a wave of shock and relief when she heard the quiet, almost-whimpered reply: "Uh-huh."
All of a second, she felt herself go through a few hour's worth of panic. "Are you in there? Are you hurt? Is - do - Shy, talk to me!" she said, her voice rising in volume slowly. "Do you know my name?"
"I - I do, Dash," Fluttershy replied, still hiccuping and sobbing. "And - and know you're there, but - but I can't feel anything at all and - and I can barely - and -"
"Shy, open your eyes!" Dash interrupted, holding her forelegs tightly in her own.
Fluttershy did as she was told, and Dash gasped. Her pupils were eclipsed by bright waves of violet which dissipated in a moment like a swarm of insects fleeing the light. "I can - okay. I th-thought for a moment I'd gone b-blind again," Fluttershy said, chuckling to Dash's surprise. Tears were still streaming down her face.
"Do you even feel, like, sad, Shy?" Dash asked quietly, still holding a foreleg around her.
"N-no. Why - why would I?"
Dash stared in obvious shock at her marefriend, whose small smile had turned slightly nervous behind the veil of tears. "Dash? What's wrong? Is - is something the matter?"
Dash couldn't decided whether to be relieved, scared, confused, or all three. She suddenly noticed the silence of the room around her and how it brought Fluttershy's spectral sobs to the front of her thoughts. She looked back at the doorway for some kind of help, but everypony had left.
"Fluttershy, you're crying."
She looked around the room with a hiccup. "Am - am I?" she asked, her tone reverting to its normal softness. "Am I?" she asked again, to herself more, and touched her face.
Dash winced. She wasn't sure what effect this kind of thing would have on her yet. Even at this point it was hard to determine things without Twilight's help. To her partial relief, she put her hoof back on the blanket and curled up a little bit, before leaning over onto Dash's other foreleg.
Dash smiled. "You're okay. I don't think anything's wrong," she added, not entirely sure whether she was lying. She sighed and gave her a quick nuzzle, wincing again at the sharp sob that filled the room. "I'll - I'll go get you a glass of water. Uh... sit tight."
She was about to take off before she looked back at her wing with a heavy sigh. But another sob from Fluttershy set her back on track, and she trotted out to the kitchen.
As she turned a corner, she was caught by surprise and almost lost her balance. Twilight was standing there, staring at her hooves and leaning fretfully against the wall. She gasped when she saw Dash recoil. "I - I'm sorry. Are you okay?"
Dash straightened herself out quickly, blowing a few loose hairs back into place. She didn't answer, but instead brushed past her and trotted into the kitchen. She heard hoofstep behind her and rolled her eyes, grabbing a glass from the cabinet. However, she was stopped by a hoof before she got to the sink.
"Dash, listen. I came across a -"
"I don't need to hear it, Twilight. I thought you left," she added monotonously, throwing her a single glance.
"I can't!" Twilight sputtered. "I need to tell you about something I found out from -"
"I don't have time," Dash replied, lingering slightly on the word 'time'. "I need to get back to Fluttershy."
Twilight almost winced, but sturdied herself before she could. For a moment, there was no sound in the room other than the soft running of the faucet. She began again, steadily. "When I was doing some -"
"You should leave."
"What's wrong with you?!" Twilight shouted, catching Rainbow Dash entirely by surprise. The glass slipped out of her hoof and fell to the floor with a crack and a splash. Twilight ignored it. "I've been doing all I could over the past few weeks to figure something out for Fluttershy and you still toss me to the side like I'm not important!"
Dash felt her stubborn anger contract suddenly as she noticed the fresh tears in her friend's eyes. She remained silent. "I know what I did was stupid and selfish, but it - but I - I apologized over and over! I did what I could and you still act like I'm the most terrible pony alive! I can't fix it any more!" She paused to draw a shuddering breath, and Dash took this as her own second wind.
"Because you did the most terrible thing!" she shouted in response, at the same frequency. "You ruined her life! You caused her so much - you did - you - she was innocent! She didn't deserve anything you gave her!"
"SHE'S MY FRIEND!"
The cry echoed through the room before Twilight dissolved into sobs. "I - I didn't mean to," she said quietly, choking on her words. "I - I thought th-that I could handle it... but... but..." she trailed off. "I thought you were my f-friend."
Dash's second wind had disappeared like her first. She stared for a moment at the mess of a unicorn before her and only then noticed the bags under her eyes, or her shaking hooves. She really had tried to make things right. It really was a mistake. Where did they stand? Were they friends? Could they be friends? "Twilight, I -"
She wasn't able to finish her sentence before Twilight turned tail and ran. There was the sound of the cottage door slamming and all was silent again. Dash couldn't take her gaze away from the door as she sank to her back legs. What have I been doing? What's wrong with me?! She felt herself tear up, but didn't try to hold them back. Celestia, I'm stupid. I'm the most terrible pony alive.
She barely had time to meditate when she heard Fluttershy's sharp sobs echo from her room. She rubbed her eyes, and stood shakily, before grabbing another glass of water and trotting back down the hall.
She looked into the room, to see her marefriend sitting upright, wiping at her own face under a scowl. Dash leaned against the doorframe and looked away, sighing. "You... heard."
Fluttershy nodded, still scowling. "You -"
"I'm terrible." She just noticed the sincerity in her own voice, and felt the tears return. "I did a horrible thing, and I don't know how to fix it. And I know how she feels."
Fluttershy nodded again, but slower, and her scowl disappeared. "We... aren't doing well as Elements of Harmony right now," she commented quietly, giving Dash a bittersweet grin as a few tears fell down her face. She didn't smile in return. "Come here."
Dash approached her bedside, setting down the glass of water on the nightstand. She turned to Fluttershy and felt a sharp pain on her forehead. Fluttershy retracted her hoof. "That's because you didn't listen to me or her."
"But I was -"
"I told you h-how bad she felt, but you kept on ignoring her. I know it was for me, and I-I'm not being ungrateful, but that isn't... well, you know."
Dash nodded, and rubbed her forehead with a hoof. "I don't know how to apologize."
"Let her be today. T-tell her tomorrow."
She sighed. "... Are you okay, though, Shy?"
Fluttershy shook her head. "I'm trying to stay angry at you." She reached a hoof around her, pulling her close. "But we need to lean on each other."
Dash felt herself smile, if only a little bit. "... Can we... you know... relax?" She felt Fluttershy nod and climbed into bed, putting a hoof around Fluttershy, who turned around. Something's better than nothing.
"... Hey," Dash said quietly after a minute or two. "You should drink your water. You're probably wasting liquids and stuff with -"
"You need it more than I do," Fluttershy replied.
Without turning, Fluttershy reached over her shoulder and passed a small bottle to Dash. "Your medication."
Dash paused. "Where did..."
"Twilight d-dropped it off for you this morning."
At this, Dash broke. She grasped her marefriend tighter, curled up close, and sobbed into her shoulder. It took minutes before Fluttershy rolled over and returned the embrace.