Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy collapsed side by side, exhausted by, yet still giggling at, the fun they had from their impromptu pillow fight.
"Dang, 'Shy, you're tougher than you look!" Dash laughed.
"Maybe. Or maybe, um, you're, oh I don't know, not as tough as you think you are?" Fluttershy said with a smirk, turning to face her.
"Ha ha. Very funny. You hurt my feelings. I'm not sure if I can even look you in the eyes anymore!" Rainbow declared, raising her hoof to her forehead in mock-offense and adopting a posh accent similar to Rarity's. Fluttershy rolled her eyes. Dash dropped her hoof and gave her a sincere smile. "Seriously though. Thanks for coming by and talking with me like that. It took a lot of guts to go up to a pony you thought hated yours, you know? I bet you did the same with Pinkie and Rare, right?" Fluttershy nodded. But she couldn't help but feel like she was forgetting something..... "Good thing it was just the three of us there." But it wasn't just the three of them, though. There was also.... Twilight! Fluttershy shot off the ground and towards the door. They had fought way longer than she intended. Looking out through the door's window, it was night. Horsefeathers! Dash went up to her, worried.
"'Shy? What's up?"
Fluttershy tried to answer, but she was too busy panicking and heaving. "TwilightandSpikewerehavingafightanditwasbadandIwassupposedtofixitbut-" Rainbow stuck a hoof in Fluttershy's mouth.
"Fluttershy! Use your words, slooooowly," she emphasized. She then released her hoof, and Fluttershy took deep breaths.
"It.... wasn't just you, Rarity, and Pinkie," Fluttershy finally said. "I hurt Twilight and Spike too." Fluttershy looked down in shame.
"Awww, 'Shy! How could you? We're Twi's first friends in, like, forever, and Spike's just a kid! And you spend time pillow fighting instead of, oh, I don't know, helping them out?"
"I get it! I messed up! Stupid little Fluttershy can't do anything right! She's cruel, dumb, and useless! Did I miss anything?" she snapped. Dash raised her hooves in defense.
"Hey, hey, I'm sorry. You probably already got that spiel from the others." She wrapped a leg around Fluttershy. "We all make mistakes, and we can fix this. How bad can it be?" Fluttershy gave her a blank stare. Realization dawned on Dash. "I didn't really say that, did I?"
Fluttershy nodded. "And I thought 'it's not like Twilight's and Spike's situation can get worse, right?' just a while back."
Dash groaned. "When will we learn!?"
Suddenly, the two of them heard a yell. "Dash! Daaaaash!" They both recognized the country twang as Applejack's.
Dash sighed. "That can't be good. C'mon, 'Shy." She lightly pushed her aside, opened the door, and flew down, Fluttershy following right behind. They gently landed before facing Applejack. "Alright, AJ, what's up?"
"Nothin' good, sorry to say. Twilight and Spike are missing!"
"WHAT?!" Dash yelled. Fluttershy slunked back, guilty.
"I know, we're all worried sick! We've found some tracks and it seems like they went into the Everfree Forest!" Everfree Forest? Fluttershy gulped. But her friends needed her, and it was probably her fault they were missing anyway. She'd gladly search for them.
"So ya need me to do an aerial search, right? Round up the rest of the Pegasi and send out some squads?"
Applejack nodded."Exactly! I sure am glad you're on top of things so fast, Rainbow."
Rainbow shrugged. "Missing ponies and... erm, dragons are very serious business, especially when they're my friends!"
Fluttershy stepped forward. "Um, what do you want me to do?"
AJ looked at Fluttershy as if just noticing her now. She stiffened, and her voice adopted an angrier tone. "Well ya see 'Shy, considering what happened, I reckon it's not a good idea for the pony who caused them to scatter to find them and just set them off again. If I were them, I wouldn't want ta see ya at the moment."
Dash got in Applejack's face. "Hey, lay off her! She made a mistake, we've all been there!"
This only caused AJ to lean in more into Dash's face to assert herself. "Well, last time I checked, she was supposed to fix that mistake, not spend hours doin' who knows what up there!"
Fluttershy's guilt shot upwards. Even Applejack's mad. She's right. I'm awful! Dash, however, would have none of it. "She was only up there so long because she needed to calm me down! Fluttershy and me are cool now; maybe she should have the chance to to fix her friendship with Twilight and Spike too!"
AJ shook her head. "While I agree Fluttershy has a lot of apologizing to do, and by Celestia she's going to do that or I'll hogtie her and force her to do it myself, the Everfree Forest is a dangerous place, Dash. And we can't have Twi and Spike running off at the sight of a pony they think hates them! Right now, I'm more interested in keeping them alive rather than Fluttershy's friendship." Dash seemed ready to yell again, but Fluttershy stepped in.
"She's right, Rainbow. I'm the last pony they want to see. I'll stay in Ponyville; see if they come back?" Dash shimmered down, and AJ nodded.
"Glad you're seeing reason, Fluttershy. It's great that you want to fix this, but right now that may cause more harm than good." She bobbed her head at Dash. "Come on, Rainbow! We've got teams to organize and friends to save!" Applejack took off, and Dash threw one last look back at Fluttershy before following. Fluttershy sighed.
"I'm sorry, girls, but this is my problem, and I need to fix this! And I have a plan!" She flew off to her house.
Your Awful Friend, Fluttershy she finished, setting the quill down. She bundled up the scroll, picked it up with her mouth, and put it in her saddlebag. This letter will fix everything; it was the cornerstone of her plan. But now that that was done, she still actually had to find Twilight and Spike. Where could they be? Think, Fluttershy, think! Twilight was a very sentimental pony when it came to her friends, so a betrayal must've hit her hard. And despite how long she had been gone, she and Spike obviously weren't back at Ponyville yet, as Twilight would just teleport and get them out of there as quick as possible. When things don't go to plan, Twilight would panic and despair; it's probably even worse with Spike in danger. So, sentimental, thinking of Fluttershy, despair. The pieces were forming, and suddenly, they fit. That's it! She has to be at where we faced the Manticore! That was where they had really became friends, and Twilight might've subconsciously gone there once she lost track of Spike. It was a long shot, but she was ready to risk it. She had to fix this. Putting on her saddlebag, she opened the windows, readied her wings, and flew as fast as she could.
Fluttershy had landed at an entrance to the Everfree Forest near the spot, and as she timidly yet surely trotted nearer, she noticed something peculiar. There was little noise, eyes, or any other traces of the Everfree beasts that lurked here. While Fluttershy hated the place, she had come here a few times even before she met the others, usually when one of her animals had accidentally ran off into it, and the sheer quiet and lifelessness was just as terrifying as the usual bustle. Finally, she arrived, and while she saw who she wanted, it was not an entirely welcome sight.
Twilight's mane and fur were untidy and disheveled, never a good sign. Her eyes were wonky, hurriedly looking left and right, and her voice reeked of panic. "Spiiiike! Spike! Where are you!? Come back!" Fluttershy was confused; Twilight was disoriented, distracted. She should've been easy pickings. why were the creatures avoiding her? Her question was answered as Twilight suddenly switched moods and shot a gigantic blast of magic at a tree, leveling it. "ARRRRRGHH! IT'S FLUTTERSHY'S FAULT!!!! GET BACK HERE! YOU'RE MY ASSISTANT, SO DO WHAT I SAY!" Her eyes briefly glowed purple before subsiding. Fluttershy gulped. How was she going to play this? Her thoughts were interrupted when she heard a ruffling of leaves, and in the corner of her left eye, she thought she saw a blur of purple and green somewhere off in the distance. Fluttershy's eyes were well trained for this; while spotting a bunny was easy enough here, when an owl or black cat were lost in the Everfree, your eyes have to be peeled at all times. Still, the Everfree was full of many creatures; there's no way to be sure it was Spike. Still, she had to risk it; she seemed to be doing that a lot lately. She needed Spike to see and hear that Twilight loved him, that he was more than just an assistant to her. And if that meant sacrificing her friendship with Twilight, well, then that's what it takes. She took a deep breath and started trotting up to Twilight. I'm sorry, Twilight she thought in advance.
"Well, look at this! Twilight's having another freak out! Is it that time of the week again?" Fluttershy said derisively. She instantly felt sick to her stomach. Twilight whipped her head to face Fluttershy, anger, fear, and just the slightest bit of tears in her eyes.
"You! Why won't you leave me alone!? I trusted you! I thought we were friends, sisters even! I thought I had finally found ponies who actually liked me, who weren't faking for once, like back at Canterlot! But-but you're just another bully!" she spat out.
Oh, Twilight! Fluttershy wanted to just stop everything and hug her with all she had, but she forced herself on. For Twilight and Spike. "Well, you're not the only 'friend' who's eyes I've opened! Looks like Spike took my words to heart. He knows that to you, he's nothing but a pet, that he's second-rate compared to the Elements of Harmony!" Kill me. I'm a bad, bad pony. I'm sorry!
Twilight was taken aback, her mind processing the information. "You-you caused this?" Her eyes were becoming brighter, her body stiffened.
Fluttershy forced herself to smirk. "Yup, it was me! I got Spike to fina-" she was interrupted by Twilight flinging and pinning her onto a tree. She let out a gasp of pain as her back hit the tree. Twilight teleported in front of her.
"HOW DARE YOU!? HOW DARE YOU!?" Fluttershy looked into Twilight's eyes and saw nothing but a purple shine, bursting with energy and rage. "HOW COULD YOU SAY THAT TO HIM, YOU PATHETIC, WORTHLESS, DISGUSTING MONSTER! SPIKE WAS THERE FOR ME LONG BEFORE YOU WERE, AND HE WOULD NEVER, EVER SAY WHAT YOU HAVE SAID TO ME!" Twilight suddenly seemed slightly calmer, looking down as if remembering days of the past, though the whirlwind of energy did not subside one bit. "When I was bullied and friendless at Canterlot, he kept me sane, with a joke or a hug. He'd tell me that I was the greatest, smartest, nicest unicorn ever, that they were just jealous, and that no matter what, he'd be my friend." Tears were falling out of the indigo orbs that were now Twilight's eyes. "He'd help me research, he'd force me to eat, he'd play with me, he'd be the only one besides Celestia to talk to me like a pony, not like a bookworm with jeers and insults, or like the Princess' student, with meaningless praise and small talk meant just to get them closer to the Princess and then forget about me. Spike talked to me like I was the greatest pony in the world, like there was nowhere else he'd rather be. I don't remember who I was before him, and I don't know where I'd be with out him!" Fluttershy resisted an urge to d'awww, primarily due to the magical pressure weighing her down to the tree. That was merely the calm before the storm, however, as Twilight faced Fluttershy again, the rage back.
"BUT YOU! YOU MADE HIM FEEL LIKE NOTHING, LIKE HE WAS JUST A PET! YOU LIED! I LOVE HIM, AND I WANT HIM BACK, BUT THANKS TO YOU HE'S GONE AND LOST AND AFRAID AND I CAN'T HELP HIM!" As a deranged smirk formed on Twilight's face, Fluttershy found herself wondering if she was the only Element to have a dark side. Twilight's voice lowered to a eerily calm tone. "But you? I'll make you pay." Fluttershy closed her eyes and readied herself. I really hope Spike heard all that. Luckily for her, a voice rang out.
Twilight turned around, stopping her magic, causing Fluttershy to face plant onto the ground. A small "Ow" could be heard.
"Spike!" Twlight exclaimed happily at the sight of her dear dragon. The two ran to each other, enveloping the other in a tight hug.
"Did you mean all of that Twi?" Spike asked, tearing up, voice cracking.
Twilight did the same. "Every last word, my little dragon. I was so worried and I'm so, so sorry for making you feel like you were just an assistant!"
"Hey, it's okay, it wasn't your fault," he comforted, patting her neck. After a few moments, they went to check on Fluttershy, who was only now getting up. "It was hers." Spike growled.
At the previous display, Fluttershy had again been tempted to awwww. But she wasn't finished yet. She had one last thing to do. "I'm really glad you two are friends again. I'm very sorry. In fact, here's a letter for you about how sorry I am!" Fluttershy pulled out the scroll from her saddlebag. Spike snatched it, a look of anger on his face.
"Really? Really, Fluttershy? You made me feel like I was worthless and you broke Twilight's heart, then kicked her while she was down, and you think a letter is going to make everything okay again? Well, this is what I think of your stinkin' letter!" With no futher ado, he put it up in flames. Fluttershy couldn't hold back her smile.
Twilight was puzzled. "Why are you smiling?"
"Oh, well, I'm sorry Twilight, but I lied. I lied about Spike just being an assistant, and I lied about Celestia thinking of you as just a replacement for Luna. But I knew you would still believe that second part unless I did something drastic, so I lied about the letter."
Twilight looked panicked. "What did you do!?"
"I, um, wrote a letter telling her about the mean thing I did to you and how you felt like she didn't care about you."
"You WHAT!?" Twilight started pacing back and forth in a fervor. "Now she's going to think I'm unprofessional, she's going to dump me as a student, she's going to lose respect for me, or even worse, she's going to confirm that it's all true!!!" she yelled out, her voice reaching a fever pitch. Twilight collapsed to the floor. "Why can't you leave me alone!?"
Suddenly, a great rumbling shook through the forest, and a bright light appeared above them. Down from the heavens descended Princess Celestia in her righteous fury. Her eyes, her mane, her entire body all shining with a passionate anger. "FLUTTERSHY," her booming vice echoed as she landed. There was a deafening silence as Fluttershy gulped, Twilight covered her eyes, and Spike looked on in terrified interest. Celestia did nothing but tower over Fluttershy, her eyes drilling into her. Finally, the Princess spoke. "How dare you." It was not spoken as a question, but rather a statement. "How dare you insult my most faithful student and me with your slanderous insults. Did it give you power, Fluttershy? Was your experience with Discord secretly empowering to you? You know what they say, Fluttershy; power corrupts, and it seems like it has corrupted you most of all. I had thought you the kind to easily recognize love with a glance, but judging by what I have read, you are not. Then let me enlighten you."
Celestia closed her eyes and breathed to gather herself. "I died the day I sent Luna away. My dearest friend, the only one who truly understood me was gone. Gone because the foalish ponies of Equestria couldn't see her like I could; wondrous, kind, funny, loving. The best sister anypony could have, corrupted due to our subjects' lack of gratitude. Over the years I began to wonder what was the point of it all. Ponies came and ponies went, and I was alone. Eventually, the tiniest seed of resentment formed inside me, resentment for the subjects who were too stupid to give Luna the respect she deserved. Logically I knew it was not their fault, part of it was mine, and there were several other... outside influences. But loneliness is a dangerous thing, and a seed of resentment will eventually grow into a land of hate. I shudder at the thought of what could've happened, what I could've become were it not for a random filly at her magic test."
Celestia turned to her student and fondly smiled. "Twilight Sparkle." Twilight uncovered her eyes. "I took you in as a whim. Even now I do not know fully why. Was I intrigued by your power? Did I see a bit of Luna in you? Perhaps both, perhaps none. But you were the first mortal I allowed myself to become close to, and you were perfect, the very essence of ponykind. Always growing, coming up with ingenious solutions and thoughts, so scientific yet so optimistic for the future. As we'd read quietly, as I'd tutor you patiently, as I'd watch you get into crazy hijinks with the guards, some of which I joined in myself," Celestia chuckled, and Twilight smiled a little, remembering the days when Celestia would recruit her as her pranking wing mare."Even just watching you grow made me realize that for the first time in a century, I felt alive again. Before you, I had no idea what I was going to do when Luna came back. I couldn't banish her again, I did not have that strength. But you, Twilight, the mare who embodied the best of ponykind, I knew you could bring her back. You were the only one who could."
Suddenly, her voice grew firmer. "But you are not, nor ever was, a replacement. You are Twilight Sparkle, my Most Faithful Student, the greatest book fort builder in all of Equestria, the most adorably enthusiastic bookworm, the Element of Magic, loyal, kind, honest, funny, and generous all at once, and the pony who not only brought my sister back but me as well from the brink of despair!" She punctuated with a slam of her hoof. She turned back to Fluttershy. "And if you ever hurt her like that again, you will regret it, do you understand?"
Fluttershy squeaked out a "Yes".
Celestia huffed, wiping dust off herself before facing Twilight again. "Twilight, I love you, you are like a 2nd sister to me, and it would be a great delight if you and Spike could stay at the castle for a week or two so the four of us, Luna included, could catch up. We can sort out the schedule over letters anytime you like?" Twilight wordlessly nodded. "Wonderful! If we are all done here, I must return to my duties." When nopony objected she took off. "I hope Fluer and Luna has been holding off that Griffon ambassador alright while I was gone," she mumbled before disappearing in a flash of light. There was quiet.
"Wow," Spike said, wide-eyed. With the silence broken, Twilight leaped up with a renewed energy, embracing Spike.
"Did you hear that Spike? I'm like a sister to her! She does care! Yesyesyesyesyesyes!" She pranced around dragging Spike around.
"That's-great-Twi-Light," he tried to say, interrupted by her leaps. She stopped at his voice. "But what about Fluttershy?" He pointed at her, still locked in the looking up position she had the whole time Celestia was speaking.
"Yes, Fluttershy?" Twilight trotted up to her.
"Are we okay now? Are we-we friends?"
Twilight shook her head. "No. We're sisters, and all this was just a really bad fight," she chuckled. "But you made it right, and put yourself in danger to do so. You angered not only Equestria's most powerful unicorn, but the Princess herself, all for me and Spike! I can't tell you how much that means to me."
"And me!" Spike piped up. "It was so cool and brave, Fluttershy!"
Despite all this, Fluttershy was locked in the same position. "That's good. You're my sister and brother too." Then she fainted, Twilight's yell of "Fluttershy!" being the last thing she heard before it all went black.