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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!”