“Hey, Rainbow Dash! Letter for you!”
Rainbow Dash flapped lazily over the edge of her cloud to see who was calling to her. She had been enjoying a lovely doze in the cloud-hammock by her front door, letting the early afternoon sun warm her face and carry her off into her usual daydreams, but the voice from the ground roused her just before she got to the bit about joining the Wonderbolts for their Gala performance.
On the ground, a small purple dragon was jumping up and down, waving an envelope skyward. “Oh, hi there, Spike!” she greeted him as she vaulted off the cloudbank and spiralled gracefully down to hover a few feet above the grass. “A letter? For me? Since when are you delivering the mail, anyway?”
“Well, sort of for you. I was at the post office, picking up some books that Twilight ordered from Canterlot’s library; she’s on a big research project right now or something, it’s all really boring.” The young pegasus nodded in agreement to that, and Spike continued. “Anyway, the mailmare showed me this while I was there, and said it had the right address but the wrong name, so she didn’t know what to do with it. I told her I’d drop it over to you, and you’d know what to do. Do you know this name?”
Rainbow Dash took the proffered envelope and peered at the name and address. “Sonic Dash, Raincloud Hall, Ponyville. That’s... not a name I’ve seen in a while. Return address is... Lightning Dash, 104 Cirrus Street, Cloudsdale.” She trailed off, her lips curling back nervously.
“Are you okay, Rainbow Dash?” asked Spike, peering up at the pegasus, who had begun drifting from side to side, her wings beating in agitation. “Are these guys family of yours?”
Rainbow Dash nodded, tucking the envelope under a foreleg. “Yeah, you could say that. Lightning Dash is my father, and... I should go and... make sure this gets to the right pony. Later, Spike.” Without further ado, she had retreated back to her cloud home, leaving Spike to return to the library, looking confused.
Once she had locked the doors and made sure that Pinkie Pie wasn’t hiding anywhere, Rainbow Dash placed the envelope on her kitchen table, glaring at it as if she could frighten it into disappearing. She paced back and forth, tossing her head, and then finally stood her ground in front of the table.
“Sonic Dash,” she muttered as she tore the envelope open with one hoof. “Wish I never had to hear that name again. What does Dad want now? He’d better not be coming to visit, that’s all I can say.”
“Fluttershy! Did you hear?” gushed Twilight Sparkle as she trotted into Fluttershy’s meadow, levitating a flyer next to her. “There’s a famous weather engineer coming to visit from Cloudsdale, to give a lecture on weather production and maintenance! I was so excited when Rainbow Dash showed us the factories, and I wish I’d had time to learn more. Isn’t this great?”
Fluttershy bid farewell to the badger she’d been helping prepare for winter, and edged quietly over to Twilight’s side, smiling to her friend and peering at the flyer. “’The Importance of Weather: Averting the Dangers of an Uncontrolled Environment. A series of lectures by Doctor Lightning Dash.’ I tried weather maintenance at school in Cloudsdale, Twilight, and I wasn’t very good at it. But you should go.” She chewed her lip nervously as she read the text, shuffling her hooves awkwardly.
Fluttershy’s agitation was lost on Twilight, though, who moved the flyer back around in front of her and opened up the folds. “He’s covering some very advanced topics! Cyclones, tornadoes, hailstorms... I never realised how dangerous weather could be. I can’t wait to hear him talk!” She folded the flyer up again and slipped it into her saddlebag. “Doctor Lightning Dash... is he any relation to Rainbow Dash? Rainbow never really talked about her family.” She tilted her head to one side, her horn glowing gently as she pondered. “Do they not get on well?”
Fluttershy lowered her head, her voice barely above a whisper. “I don’t... I don’t think they do, no. Actually... I think we shouldn’t mention Rainbow Dash at all to Doctor Dash while he’s here. It might be... awkward,” she finished, and turned her head to avoid looking Twilight in the eyes.
“Oh. That’s sad,” mused Twilight. “I wish there were something we could do. I couldn’t imagine not getting on with my parents, or my big brother. I should write to them! Spike, take a... oh, Spike’s not here. Well, I’m going to go and read some books on weather, so I can ask Doctor Dash some intelligent questions. I’ll see you later, Fluttershy!”
Fluttershy watched the unicorn go, and sighed deeply. Poor Rainbow Dash, she thought, as she flitted up the gentle slope towards her house. This is going to be so difficult for her. I’d better go and help.
The next day, Twilight peered through her telescope, not at the stars, but at the clouds above the Everfree Forest. She had her meteorology textbook open on a lectern next to her chair, and was leafing through it every time she saw a new cloud through the lens.
“Spike!” she called, as a particularly interesting formation came into her field of vision. “You should take a look at this, it’s fascinating! According to Weather Formations in Unmanaged Environments, these low, fluffy clouds with the flat bottoms are thunderstorm clouds, and the green tint to them means that they might contain hail. There’s going to be a hailstorm in the forest!”
Spike obligingly looked through the telescope and examined the clouds in question. “Yep, those are green, all right. What’s hail?”
Twilight flipped forward a few pages in her textbook. “Hail is condensed water vapour that cools around a nucleating seed into its solid phase while descending from the troposphere...”
“It’s ice, falling from the sky. My book says it can destroy crops, kill small animals and even devastate entire forests!”
Spike looked alarmed, and squinted harder through the telescope eyepiece. “That’s awful! What kind of pegasus would do that?”
“This is wild weather, Spike,” Twilight reminded him, pointing to the Everfree Forest through the window. “It happens by itself, without pegasi creating it. It mostly stays in the Forest, but sometimes it spills out into the rest of Equestria, and we need the weather pegasi to keep us safe from that. Alright, I think I’ve done all the reading I can before the lecture starts – let’s get down to the town square.” She levitated her books into her saddle-bags and trotted down the stairs, Spike close at her hooves. “I hope Rainbow Dash comes. It wouldn’t be the same, learning about weather without her. I wish I knew what was wrong between her and her father.”
The town square was full of pegasi gathering in front of the lectern, but Rainbow Dash was nowhere to be seen, and nor was Fluttershy. A handful of earth ponies and unicorns had also turned out to hear the visitor speak, including, to Twilight’s surprise, Rarity.
“Rarity!” Twilight greeted her friend as they edged towards the front of the crowd. Rarity didn’t look like she was there to hear Doctor Dash speak – she didn’t even have a notepad and quill like Twilight’s. “Great to see you, but... what are you doing here? I didn’t think you were interested in weather.”
Rarity shook her head, her perfectly coiffed mane rippling in the mid-afternoon sun, leaving Spike spellbound. “Oh, I’m not. I’m really only here because I wanted to meet Rainbow Dash’s parents. She doesn’t talk about them much. Look, here they come now!”
Sure enough, two pegasi were spiralling down from the clouds to land near the lectern. One, a stallion, had a dark grey coat the colour of a thunderstorm, with a bright yellow mane and tail, and the mark of a yellow lightning bolt on his flank. He wore a pair of saddlebags bulging with papers, and he touched down behind the lectern to cheers from the audience. Behind him came a mare with a lighter grey coat, with mane and tail the colour of a sunset through clouds. Her cutie mark was a fluffy white cloud. Both pegasi were in their middle years, mature but obviously still healthy and active.
The stallion cleared his throat as he stood behind the lectern, while the mare arranged his notes in front of him and then stood to one side, watching him with a quiet, satisfied smile.
“Good afternoon, Ponyville!” he greeted the audience. “I am Doctor Lightning Dash, senior researcher at the Cloudsdale Weather Institute, and to my side is my lovely and talented wife, Cloud Dash. I would like to thank you all for inviting me here, and I hope I can repay you by being both entertaining and educational. Now, Ponyville’s proximity to the Everfree Forest means that many of you will have observed the strange weather that arises in its environs. Who here has seen the forest under the effects of gale force winds?”
Twilight scribbled notes furiously as Doctor Dash spoke, amazed at the depth of knowledge he was revealing to the audience. Rarity smiled and nodded as the pegasus gave his lecture, but Twilight recognised the subtle cues that showed that her friend really didn’t quite follow what was being said. Not that Twilight blamed her – very few unicorns or earth ponies ever had to think about things like low pressure cells and temperature inversion layers. Even some of the pegasi in the audience were clearly lost, but at least they seemed to be enjoying themselves.
After the conclusion of the lecture, a small knot of pegasi surrounded the doctor and his wife, eager to ply him with their questions. Twilight and Rarity eventually managed to worm their way to the front of the crowd, eager to introduce themselves. “Doctor Dash! Mrs Dash!” Twilight greeted them, almost hopping in her excitement. “That was a wonderful lecture! Rarity and I are friends of Rai... ow!” Twilight cut off mid-sentence as a sharp kick from the normally gentle Rarity struck her in the hind leg. Why would Rarity... oh, that’s right. Don’t talk about Rainbow Dash to her parents. “... of Princess Celestia! And... and that’s why I wanted to hear your lecture, because she wants me to learn everything I can. So... yes! It was great! I have so many questions for you, but I don’t want to take up too much of your time...”
Cloud Dash laughed, shaking her mane. “My husband can talk about the weather all day. We should really be getting indoors before dark, though. We’re staying with our colt, and he...”
“Oh, Mrs Dash!” interjected Rarity. “I just noticed how lovely your mane looks in this light! You should come to the Carousel Boutique tomorrow, I have some fabric that would go wonderfully with it. But Twilight and I should be off now, and let you get some rest, after all your travel. Come along, Twilight.” With that, Rarity backed away through the slowly dispersing crowd, making obvious come with me, I’ll explain later tosses of her head.
“But I was going to ask about... oh, alright. Goodnight, Doctor Dash, Mrs Dash. I can’t wait to see you tomorrow!” Twilight hated to leave so soon, but Rarity had never steered her wrong before, especially when it came to meeting new ponies. Once they were back inside the library, and Spike was unpacking Twilight’s books and notes, she turned to Rarity, eyes wide with indignation.
“Rarity, what’s going on? You kicked me! And you interrupted Mrs Dash! You never interrupt other ponies! There’s something going on... this is about Rainbow Dash and her father, isn’t it?”
Rarity bowed her head and nudged her nose against Twilight’s flank in apology. “I do apologise for my beastly behaviour, Twilight, but this is a very delicate situation. I wish I could explain why, but it’s not my story to tell.”
Spike poked his head down from Twilight’s study. “Didn’t Mrs Dash say they were staying with their colt? Is that this Sonic Dash pony he was writing to? I gave Rainbow Dash a letter for him yesterday, from Doctor Dash.”
Rarity looked shocked, and glared at Spike. “Master Spike! Talking about a pony’s private mail! You of all people should know better.” Spike withered in the heat of his beloved Rarity’s glare, and mumbled something about needing to rearrange Twilight’s notes before scurrying off.
Twilight sighed as she watched Spike depart. “I’m sorry, Rarity, he shouldn’t have said that. But this Sonic Dash, is he Rainbow Dash’s brother? And he lives in Ponyville? Why didn’t Rainbow Dash tell us she had family here?”
Rarity sighed, scuffing her hoof against the library’s wooden floor. “I’m sorry, Twilight. If I could tell you, you know I would, but I simply mustn’t. I can’t stop you from asking questions, but I’m asking you, as your friend, just to let it go. For Rainbow Dash’s sake?”
Twilight sighed heavily, her natural curiosity warring with her loyalty to her friends, and her deep respect for Rarity’s advice. “I’ll try, Rarity. But you know how much I hate secrets! It’s so hard not to poke and prod at them until they come apart.”
Rarity laid her neck against Twilight’s in a gesture of companionship. “I know, Twilight, and I wouldn’t wish you any other way. But some secrets are better left buried. Just... trust me, and trust Rainbow Dash. You don’t need to unravel this one.”
Twilight returned the gesture, and lipped Rarity’s mane gently. “I understand. I don’t want to hurt you, or Rainbow. I’ll see you tomorrow, Rarity.” She let her friend out, waving to her before closing the door.
Rarity trotted back to the Carousel Boutique, head hanging low. She hated lying – not so much as Applejack did, but it was something she liked to consider to be beneath her – and especially hated concealing things from her friends. But a secret was a secret, even if she’d never promised to keep it. Even if nopony knew she knew it.
She looked up at the sky, towards Raincloud Hall. In the dim dusk light, she could barely make out a yellow and pink pegasus ascending to the cloud and entering the house. That’s good, she thought to herself. Rainbow Dash needs Fluttershy with her right now. I don’t know how else I can help.
The next morning, Spike woke up to the clip-clop of Twilight’s hooves pacing around the library floor. He quickly jumped down the stairs to the library proper, hurrying up to his friend’s side. “What’s wrong, Twilight? You look like you’ve hardly slept.”
Twilight whinnied in frustration, halting in her pacing to look at Spike. “I don’t know what to do, Spike! Rainbow Dash and Rarity are keeping some big secret from me, I just know it! What’s going on between Dash and her parents, and why didn’t she tell me she has a brother living right here in Ponyville? Dash is usually so talkative, and she trusts me. She does trust me, doesn’t she? After all we’ve been through? Argh, why wouldn’t she tell me?”
Spike listened to Twilight’s pained musings as he went to the pantry and fished out some hay and dandelions for her breakfast. “Maybe she just doesn’t want anypony to know. Maybe it’s something embarrassing that happened at flight school. That place is full of stories, just look at what happened the first time she did a Sonic Rainboom. It’s probably nothing terrible.”
Twilight resumed pacing, more frantically than before. “But what if it is something terrible, Spike? What if something terrible happened at flight school and Rarity found out but they’re keeping it from me because they think I won’t want to be around them if I know? What if there was an accident and somepony was really hurt... or died? What if... what if... argh, I can’t take this!” she cried, stamping her hooves in frustration.
Spike nudged Twilight towards their dining table, placing the bowl of food in front of her. “Calm down, Twilight! Whatever it is, it can’t be that important! Besides, if she tells you, then you’ll have to keep it secret. And you, uh... you aren’t very good at keeping secrets.”
Twilight narrowed her eyes at that, then glanced at her mirror as if expecting Pinkie Pie to admonish her from it. “You’re right, Spike,” she mumbled as she took a mouthful of hay. “I wouldn’t want to risk telling everypony.”
Abruptly, the unicorn resumed her pacing. “But what if it is important? What if it’s something I do need to know? I won’t know if I need to know it or not until I know it, and then if I don’t need to know it then it’s too late! I can’t un-know something! But if I don’t know it, then I can’t know it without knowing it!”
Spike tilted his head to the side, trying to piece together his friend’s ramblings. “Then... you do want to know?”
Twilight’s shoulders slumped, and she slunk back to her dining chair. “I just want to know... something. I want to know enough to know whether I should find out the rest.” She lowered her mouth to her bowl, munching in silence for a few minutes.
“Alright,” she decided once she had finished her breakfast. “I’m going to go over to Raincloud Hall and ask Rainbow Dash what’s going on. If she doesn’t want to tell me, that’s fine, but I at least have to ask.”
Spike paused in clearing away the breakfast things. “But what about what Rarity said? Maybe you’re better off not asking at all.”
Twilight poked her head into the pantry and levitated a few packages of carrots and oatcakes into her saddlebags, figuring that a tasty meal would be the best way to discuss the matter with Rainbow Dash. “Rarity’s not a scholar like I am, Spike. Knowing things is the way I get things done. And Rainbow Dash is my friend. Friends can tell each other anything.”
Twilight carefully cast her cloud-walking spell before teleporting up to the edge of Rainbow Dash’s cloud, and looked around in awe once she had her footing. She had only been up here a couple of times, and the cloud had always impressed her. The rainbow streams made a pleasant splashing noise as they cascaded into their pool, kicking up a multi-hued cloud of vapour. The cloudbank seemed to meld seamlessly into the columns supporting the house, and the entire effect was very aesthetically pleasing. Not for the first time, Twilight wondered if Rainbow Dash’s house showed a sensitive, artistic side of her personality that her brash, competitive exterior usually hid.
The unicorn carefully trod through cloud-stuff to Dash’s front door and rang the doorbell. She tried to make herself look casual, but her entire body was tense with anticipation and worry. What if I make Rainbow Dash mad by asking? What if I get Rarity into trouble? None of her concerns, however, led her to anticipate the cloud-grey mare who answered the door.
“Twilight Sparkle!” exclaimed Cloud Dash. “We didn’t expect you so soon! Eager to ply my husband with questions, are you?” The pegasus gave Twilight a teasing grin and stepped out of the doorway. “Lightning, Sonic! Twilight Sparkle is here!”
A light blue pegasus with yellow mane and tail skidded around the hall to the front door a second later, wings beating frantically. “Twilight? What are you doing here? You can’t be here, you have to go!” exclaimed the pegasus, eyes wide with panic.
It took Twilight a few seconds to recognise who this pegasus was. “Rainbow Dash? What happened to your mane?”
“Rainbow?” asked Cloud, as Lightning Dash trotted around the corner, with Fluttershy slinking behind him. “Oh, my little colt, you’re not doing this again, are you? I thought you’d grown out of this.”
“Colt?” asked Twilight, perplexed, as Rainbow Dash backed away into her living room, tossing her head from side to side. “No, I’m talking about your filly, Rainbow Dash... what’s going on?”
Lightning frowned and bowed his head to Twilight. “I’m sorry, Twilight Sparkle, but we’ll have to talk another time. We have some family business to discuss. Fluttershy, you too, if you please?” Fluttershy was already at the door with Twilight, looking back at Rainbow Dash in anguished sympathy before the door closed.
Twilight opened her mouth to speak, but a quiet “Shh...” from Fluttershy made her wait until they were both back on the ground. “Please, Twilight,” the pegasus begged as they began the walk back to the library. “Rainbow Dash will explain everything soon. We should get the others together. Rainbow will meet us at the library when she’s ready.”
The unicorn sighed and lowered her head. “I’m sorry, Fluttershy. I’ve made everything worse, haven’t I?”
Fluttershy nodded sadly. “Maybe it’s for the best, though. I’ll let Rainbow Dash explain.”
“What’s wrong with Rainbow Dash?” asked Pinkie Pie, while rummaging through a stack of Twilight’s books. “Is she sick? Is she auditioning for the Wonderbolts? That’s it, isn’t it? That’s why she’s been acting so weird lately!”
Applejack stood her ground near the door, frowning. “If it’s trouble with her family, we should let her keep it in her family. Ain’t right to go meddlin’ with another pony’s family troubles. If I had ponies buttin’ in whenever Big Macintosh and I had our problems, they’d be all over Ponyville by now.”
Twilight sat at her desk, her hooves fidgeting nervously. Should I have listened to Rarity? she wondered, looking over at her fellow unicorn, who was waiting with surprising poise and composure. I’ve gone and made a mess of things again. Some friend I am.
Finally, a knock came, not at the door, but at the upstairs window. Spike clambered upstairs to open the window, and a forlorn looking Rainbow Dash slunk down the stairs, coming to stand in the middle of the library floor. Her head hung limply, her face framed by her dull yellow mane.
“Rainbow Dash, what’s all this about?” asked Applejack, starting forward. “And what did you do to your mane?”
Rarity held up a hoof, gesturing for the other ponies to give Rainbow Dash some space. After she caught her breath, she began. Her voice lacked its usual vivacious pace – instead she sounded tired and defeated.
“I know I’ve been acting weird lately. It’s true. Having my parents show up like this has turned everything upside down, but I should have known this was going to happen. I’m just sorry that you had to find out like this.”
“Find out what?” asked Twilight, rising from her desk. “I’m really sorry that I made a scene with your parents, but what’s going on? Who’s Sonic Dash? Is he your brother?”
Fluttershy edged over to stand next to Rainbow Dash, supporting her with her flank. Rainbow Dash brushed her head against her friend’s, then took a deep breath.
“I don’t have any brothers. I’m Sonic Dash.”
Twilight shook her head. “That doesn’t make sense. Your parents said Sonic was their colt.”
Rainbow Dash nodded slowly. “That’s right, Twilight. I’m...”
She looked around at her friends, the most loyal and loving group of friends she had ever had. Applejack, Twilight and Pinkie looked perplexed, but Rarity gave her a quiet, encouraging smile. You can do this, her smile said. Fluttershy, as always, stood by Rainbow Dash’s side, silently supporting her.
Finally Rainbow Dash could speak again, her friends giving her the courage she needed.
“I’m a stallion.”
The library erupted into chaos as Pinkie Pie, Twilight Sparkle and Applejack all started talking at once.
“What?” “Are you crazy?” “Y’all are joking, right?” “That’s impossible!” “That doesn’t make any sense!” “This had better be a joke.” “No you’re not!”
“Ahem,” Rarity interjected with a firm clearing of her throat. “My friends, please. Let Rainbow Dash speak.”
Rainbow Dash had lowered her head as her friends raised their voices, unwilling to shout back as she usually would. Now she looked up at them again. “It’s true. I’m a stallion, and I always have been. But it’s never felt right to me. I’ve always known that I was supposed to be a mare. I hate being a stallion.”
She flapped her wings nervously and shuffled her hooves. “When I started at flight school, Fluttershy helped me to pass as a filly. She helped me with clothes and things... you really don’t want to know what I had to do to make it work. And I kept it up when I came to Ponyville. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. I can make it up to you...”
Applejack was standing in the doorway, her lips curled back angrily. “Don’t try to make this right. You lied to us, Rainbow Dash. Or whatever your name is.”
With that, the library door slammed and Applejack was gone.
Fluttershy started running to the door, but Rainbow Dash laid a hoof on her flank. “Let her go, Fluttershy. She’s right. I’ve lied to all of them, and they deserve to be angry if they want. I’ll be on the balcony if any of you want to talk.” The dejected pegasus flitted slowly up the stairs and out onto Twilight’s balcony, curling up by the railing.
The remaining friends exchanged a worried glance, unsure whether to be more shocked by Rainbow Dash’s revelation or by Applejack’s reaction. “I think it might be best if we talk to her one at a time,” Fluttershy suggested, her voice barely above a whisper. “Rarity, do you want to go first?”
Rarity nodded, trotting delicately up the stairs, while the other friends milled around the library floor in awkward silence.
Rarity nudged open the balcony doors and came to lean against the railing, looking down at Rainbow Dash on the deck. She smiled warmly at her and began to speak. “Rainbow Dash, I want you to know that I...”
“How long have you known, Rarity?” the pegasus interrupted her. “I saw you covering for me down there. You already knew, didn’t you?” Dash didn’t sound accusatory or even interested, her voice dangerously flat instead.
Rarity pursed her lips. “Since a few months after you moved here. I was hoping you’d tell me in your own time, and I’ll confess to being a little hurt that it took so long. But it was always up to you.”
Dash raised herself up onto her forelegs and nudged her head against Rarity’s flank. “Thanks for not telling anypony. Do... do you think anypony else knows? How did you find out?”
“Well, if you must know,” Rarity began, before pausing for a deep breath. “You walk like a stallion. You certainly fight like a stallion – you rear up on your hind legs and flail your hooves. Mares don’t do that unless they’ve had military training, they just bite like Applejack does. Your shoulders are wider and your hips narrower than most mares your size. And you dye your mane and tail on Saturday mornings – I can always see your yellow regrowth by Friday.”
Rainbow Dash lowered her head again as Rarity ran through her list. “Am I really that obvious?”
Rarity laughed softly. “No, darling, I’m just that good. I don’t think anypony else knows. There are always rumours that you’re involved with other mares, though. Usually Fluttershy. I don’t repeat such gossip, of course. It’s none of my business, but...?” She trailed off with a questioning look.
Dash blinked. “What, me and Fluttershy? No! No. She’s... no way. No. Fluttershy’s like a sister to me. That would be weird. But yeah, I like mares. I just haven’t been able to date anypony since I started passing as a mare. Nopony since, well...”
“Since Gilda?” asked Rarity innocently.
“How did you... never mind. I know Gilda was a real nag to you guys, especially to Pinkie Pie, but she got me through flight school. She and Fluttershy were the only people I could talk to about... this, and Gilda never judged me for it, never said it was weird. It tore me up when she started picking on Fluttershy. Oh, and... it’s okay if you think I’m weird for dating a griffon.”
Rarity nodded her head slightly. “I do, a little. But then, I have a dragon pining after me, although I imagine I’ll be long dead before he’s old enough to do anything about it.” The unicorn kneeled down and laid her neck against Rainbow Dash’s flank. “I love you, Rainbow Dash. I want you to be happy, and trying to be a stallion is making you miserable. As far as I’m concerned, you’re one of the mares, and you always will be.”
Rainbow Dash laid her head against Rarity’s neck and enjoyed her friend’s closeness for a while, then got to her feet. “Thanks, Rarity. For today, and for everything. I can deal with the others now, I think.”
“So you’re a stallion?”
Dash chewed on her lip as she tried to explain herself to Pinkie Pie, who wouldn’t even stand still while she was asking her questions. “Yeah. Well, I mean, physically, yeah, but I feel more like a mare inside, so...”
“So you’re a mare?”
“No, I mean, I want to be a mare, but I’m not...”
“So you’re a stallion?”
“No! I’ve just got the wrong body!”
“So you’re a mare?”
“Pinkie, are you even listening?”
“Of course I am! What’s wrong with your mane?”
Rainbow Dash blinked at the sudden change of topic. “My mane? It’s always been this colour. I dye it in the streams outside my house.” She pawed at the balcony deck with her front hoof. “Only mares ever have rainbow manes. When was the last time you saw a stallion with a rainbow mane, or a rainbow tail, or a rainbow anything?”
Pinkie Pie suddenly perked up, as if she’d thought of something brilliant. “But your cutie mark is a rainbow! So your body is wrong and your cutie mark is right, and that makes you a mare, because cutie marks are never wrong!”
“Pinkie, that’s... hey, I never thought of that,” mused Dash. “You’re right. I feel better already. Thanks, Pinkie! You’re really smart sometimes!”
“That’s what I’m here for! That and parties. Ooh, we should have a party now that you’re a mare! Oh, except that you’ve always been a mare. I mean, you were a mare yesterday, and you’re a mare now, so it’d really just be a ‘Rainbow Dash said she might be a stallion but it turns out she was wrong’ party, and that would be weird, it would be like having a party for that one time Twilight thought she could fly, but it turned out she couldn’t. Except that we did anyway, but that was more like a ‘Twilight got out of hospital’ party.”
“... okay. Can you get Twilight to come out here, Pinkie?”
“Sure thing, Rainbow Dash! But you have to remind her that she can’t fly, I don’t know if she learned her lesson the first time.”
As Pinkie Pie retreated back into the library, Rainbow Dash looked out over the view from the balcony. In the western distance, a beautiful bank of clouds drifted in front of the setting sun, catching the red light perfectly and casting long, dappled shadows across the ground. The pegasus sighed deeply. That’s my mother’s work, I’d know it anywhere, she thought. She always makes the most beautiful cloud formations for sunsets. I love watching her sculpt. She forced herself up onto her hooves and paced along the length of the balcony. And I miss working with Dad too. I wouldn’t be Ponyville’s weather manager if he hadn’t taught me everything I know. Why did it all have to go wrong?
Twilight Sparkle trotted nervously out onto her balcony, knowing that Rainbow Dash’s current predicament was her fault, and having no idea how to make it right. When she saw Dash, the pegasus took two steps towards her, her nostrils flaring. “Are you happy now, Twilight?” she asked, snorting angrily. “You figured out my big secret, and now everypony knows and my father won’t even talk to me! Is this what you wanted?”
Twilight backed away nervously, wracked by guilt. “Rainbow Dash, I’m so sorry. I was stupid, I should have let you have your secrets...”
Dash pranced closer to Twilight and reared up on her hind legs, bating her wings angrily and lashing out with her hooves. “Sorry won’t make my parents love me again! Sorry won’t bring Applejack back!” She snorted loudly, her posture one of challenge.
Twilight whinnied in fear and instinctively dropped into a posture of submission, pushing her head low to the ground. “I’m sorry, Rainbow! Don’t hurt me, please, I’m sorry...”
Rainbow Dash reared up again, then looked down at Twilight as if seeing her for the first time, and started backing away, folding her wings and placing her front hooves on the ground. “Oh, no, Twilight, I’m sorry, how could I do that to you? I’m acting like such a... just like a stallion! No, no, no...”
The pegasus looked like she was about to start beating her head against the railing, so Twilight ran forward and laid her head against her friend’s flank. “It’s okay, Rainbow Dash. I’m alright, you didn’t hurt me. We’re friends, and nothing’s ever going to change that.”
Dash pressed her face into Twilight’s mane, starting to sob. “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want anything to change. When we beat Nightmare Moon, I felt closer to you five than I’ve ever felt to anypony. I don’t want to do anything to change that. Whenever you write to Princess Celestia, you talk about what ‘the mares’ are doing. I don’t want that to be ‘the mares and Rainbow Dash’.”
Twilight leaned forward and lipped gently at Dash’s mane. “We’ll never change, Rainbow Dash. What we have can’t ever break. You’ll always be one of the mares to me. No matter what. We’ve been through too much for that to change.”
Rainbow Dash lifted her head and smiled softly. “Really? Then I wish I’d told you sooner. Then maybe you could have helped cover me with my parents, instead of letting them find out. Which... I really shouldn’t blame you for. It’s not your fault.”
Twilight shook her head. “Maybe, but I shouldn’t have pried. I should have trusted you. If you want to keep a secret from me, then... I should let you.” She sighed and peered off the balcony. “Do you want me to talk to your mother? I think she likes me.”
Dash smiled and butted her head against Twilight’s. “She’s going to see Rarity about a dress tomorrow, so she’ll talk to her. I’d rather you go talk to Applejack. I feel so bad for lying to her – I know how she hates that.”
“I’ll go to her farm first thing in the morning, then.” Twilight paused for a moment, then lowered her voice. “Do you want me to... look for a spell that can help? Help give you the body you want, I mean.”
Rainbow Dash raised her head in surprise. “You think there might be one?”
Twilight shrugged her shoulders. “I honestly don’t know. It was hard enough to give Rarity those wings, and they didn’t last. But... wait! Rarity isn’t really a pegasus, so of course that was hard! But you know who you really are, and every pony’s identity is bound up in her cutie mark, so it’s... it might be possible. I’ll do my best, alright?”
“All I can ask for, Twilight. Thanks for... for getting it. For understanding.”
“Of course, Rainbow Dash. We’re friends.”
Finally, Fluttershy flitted out onto the balcony, while Twilight and Spike busied themselves at preparing dinner downstairs. At first, the two pegasi merely settled down together, leaning against each other’s flanks and taking comfort in one another’s presence. They watched the last rays of sunset disappear behind the artistically sculpted clouds, then huddled together for warmth as the cool of night fell across Ponyville.
Rainbow Dash finally broke the silence. “I couldn’t have done this without you, Fluttershy.”
Fluttershy smiled softly and butted her head against Dash’s. “Oh, no, I think you would have found a way. You’re so much braver than I am. I would never have been able to reveal a secret like that in front of so many ponies, even my friends.”
“I didn’t just mean today. I meant everything. Every day. You stuck with me all through flight school. You helped me pass as a mare, you and your freaky knowledge of sewing. You looked after me on those days when I was just too much stallion to cope with. And you listened. You always listened. And I’ve done a real lousy job of repaying you for that sometimes. I yell at you, I blow you off when I’ve got fun to have somewhere else, I don’t stand up for you nearly as often as I should! I wish I could make it all up to you.”
Fluttershy shook her head. “You don’t have to do anything, Rainbow Dash. You’ve always been a little sister to me, and helping you makes me happy. But if you want to help me with my birds for a while, I wouldn’t say no.”
Dash grinned. “I’m there! Those birds won’t know what hit them. Um, because it’ll be a... big ball of... kindness? I’ll do it. Anything for you, Fluttershy.”
They sat in silence for a while longer, watching the moon’s shadows steal across the landscape. This time, it was Fluttershy who spoke. “I’ve always liked your parents. They’re good ponies. I think they’ll understand, if you give them some time.”
Dash smiled hesitantly. “You think so? My mother thinks it’s just a silly phase I’m going through, and Dad is always going on about weather engineering being ‘stallions’ work’. I don’t think they’re just going to change their minds.”
“I don’t know if they will either, I’m afraid. But they love you. I could see it. They want you to be happy, they just don’t know what that means.”
“I hope you’re right, Fluttershy. Come on, it’s getting cold. Let’s see what Twilight’s got for dinner.”
The next morning, Applejack was up at dawn, as always, wending her way through the orchard, looking for trees in need of attention. As she walked, she scanned the horizon in case today’s weather plans had changed unexpectedly. The skies over Equestria were clear, but the dark, green-tinted storm cloud hanging over the Everfree Forest had only grown larger and more menacing since the previous day. Drifts of cloud were crossing into Equestria proper, including one bank floating in the general direction of Sweet Apple Acres. Applejack was about to call out to Apple Bloom to take a message to Rainbow Dash, but then yesterday’s revelation came back to mind, and she shook her head and dug her hooves into the ground. The farm would survive just fine without his help.
The earth pony sighed as she ground through the morning’s chores. How could Rainbow Dash have lied to them all for so long? Except for Fluttershy, of course, and she had an inkling that Rarity already knew, but that just made it worse, that they were all keeping this secret from her. From everypony! Including the fillies! Scootaloo practically worshipped the air under Dash’s wings, and Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle looked up to her – him – too. Lying to her was one thing, but lying to her little sister was quite another.
“Applejack, can we talk?” came a gentle voice from behind a row of trees. Applejack stepped forward to see Twilight Sparkle leaning against a tree, pawing the ground nervously with her front hooves.
“Oh, Twilight. It’s good to see you.” Truth be told, Applejack was already starting to feel isolated, after walking out on her friends. Part of her was afraid that they’d all side with Rainbow Dash and never want to talk to her again. “So... this’d be about Rainbow Dash, then?”
Twilight nodded, and levitated some oatcakes out of her saddlebags as she spoke. “Here, I brought you some brunch. I just... think you should give her a chance, Applejack. She’s killing herself over this. Her father won’t talk to her, and her mother doesn’t understand at all. She needs us, Applejack. We can’t abandon her now.”
Applejack sighed and took a bite of the oat cakes. “Mmf, thanksh Twilight. Look,” she said once her mouth was clear, “I can see that. I ain’t never seen her so torn up since just before her flyin’ contest. But this ain’t just about her. Friends shouldn’t lie to each other. I’ve never lied to any of you. But Dash is lying to us, he’s lying to my little sister, and he’s lying to himself.”
Twilight shook her head. “I don’t think she is, Applejack. She might have the body of a stallion, but when I talk to her... calling her a mare just seems right. You remember how it felt, the six of us setting out for the Gala? There wasn’t a stallion in that carriage, just six mares out to have the best night ever, together. That was real, Applejack. It wasn’t a lie.”
Applejack shifted her legs uncomfortably, then turned and slammed her rear hooves into a nearby apple tree. Apples fell into the earth pony’s baskets as she gave a whinny of frustration. “Dang it all, Twilight, I know all that! Rainbow Dash and I have saved each other’s rumps more times than I can count, and I don’t want to lose her. I mean him. I mean... I don’t know what I mean. But it ain’t natural, and it ain’t right, and I don’t like it one bit.” She sighed heavily as Twilight looked disappointed. “But I’ll try my darnedest to figure it out, ya hear? You can tell Rainbow Dash I’ll talk to her when I’m good and ready. Might take a while, is all.”
Twilight nodded and butted her head against Applejack’s. “Thanks, Applejack. That’s all I can ask for.”
Applejack returned to her chores after Twilight left, then wended her way back to the farmhouse when it was time for lunch. On her way to the kitchen, she passed a small framed replica of one of the Canterlot Tower stained glass windows, depicting her friends’ triumph over Nightmare Moon. Her eye drifted to the picture of herself, projecting the power of the Element of Honesty at the dark alicorn. That’s all I’m asking for from Rainbow Dash, a bit of honesty, she thought. It’s not right that she lied to us!
A voice spoke in her head, one that she heard more and more often these days. Applejack wasn’t sure whether this was the voice of her own conscience, or the spirit of the Element itself. Perhaps there wasn’t any difference.
Be honest with yourself, it said to her, in a calm but firm tone that sounded an awful lot like her own voice. Rainbow Dash might not be showing honesty right now, but that’s your element, not hers. What’s hers?
Her element? she thought in response to her voice of inner honesty. Well, that’d be loyalty.
Maybe if you showed her some loyalty, she’d show you some honesty.
Applejack stamped her hoof in frustration, leaving a mark in the floorboards. Consarn it! That ain’t fair, and you know it!
It might not be fair, but it’s true.
Applejack grumbled to herself and plodded on to the kitchen, several thoughts fighting for dominance in her head.
“Mrs Dash! I’m so gratified you could make it. Won’t you come inside?”
“Thank you, Miss Rarity. And please, call me Cloud.” The pegasus lady smiled charmingly as she stepped into the Carousel Boutique, then knocked the door firmly closed with her flank, against the wind that was starting to pick up outside. “I’m a little worried about that storm. It’s coming in from the Everfree Forest, and that’s always trouble.”
Rarity peered out of a ground floor window at the sky over the forest, then hurriedly closed the shutters. “Oh, my, I see what you mean. Still, I’m sure Rainbow Dash has the situation well in hoof.”
An awkward silence fell between the two mares for a few moments, and then Rarity showed Cloud to a seat. “I do love your mane – it’s just the colour of sunset. I take it you were the artist behind yestereve’s display? I haven’t witnessed a sunset like that in years. Here’s the fabric I wanted to show you – don’t you think it sets off your colour perfectly?”
The two artists chattered and gossiped as Rarity’s magic held swatches of fabric up against Cloud’s coat and mane, and she noted down the pegasus’s measurements. The conversation came to a lull as Rarity sketched out a design and Cloud paged through an issue of Clothes Horse. As the silence drew on, both mares felt compelled to speak at once:
“May I talk to you about your filly?”
“Could I ask you something about my colt?”
Both ponies laughed nervously for a moment, then Rarity nodded and allowed Cloud to continue. “I just want to understand why he is the way he is. I remember he always used to get into my things when he was just a foal, my makeup and my jewellery and so forth, but the other mothers I know all said that a lot of colts were like that at his age, and that he’d grow out of it. And he always loved to tag along with his father when he was visiting the factories or working out in the clouds. He said he was going to be a great flier and spend all day kicking clouds into vapour just like his dad.” Cloud sighed deeply, setting aside the magazine. “Did we do something wrong? Did I not love him enough? Or... or maybe too much?”
Rarity smiled gently and set aside her sketches, trotting over to Cloud’s side. “You and your husband have raised a fine foal, Cloud. Rainbow Dash is brave, daring, willing to put her life on the line for what needs to be done. I’ve never had a more loyal friend, and I have nothing but admiration for her skills. I see a lot of her in both of you – she has your husband’s love of the sky, and your artistry. Not many ponies see that side of her, but it’s there.”
Cloud smiled and sighed softly. “I am proud of him. I’ve heard about the quality of work he does for Ponyville’s weather. His house is beautiful, just like the little play-house we built together when he was little. And now I hear that he won the Best Young Flier competition last year. If we’d only known he was entering, we’d have been there cheering him on. I know things are different now, but he’s avoiding us, shutting us out of his life. I don’t want to lose my colt.”
Rarity listened in silence, nodding sympathetically. After Cloud finished, she turned her attention to a framed photograph hanging on the wall, and it floated over to hover in front of Cloud. “This is Rainbow at the Grand Galloping Gala, with the rest of us. I made her that dress. She was so happy when she put it on, and we were all heading out to the Gala. She even tried to design her own dress. It was very... creative,” she managed, concealing a grin. “Rainbow Dash might be rambunctious and, truth be told, a little aggressive, but she’s a mare through and through, and that’s what makes her happy. I don’t think you’re going to get your colt back,” she finished, lowering her voice, “but when you’re ready for her, there’s a filly who wants to be part of your family again.”
Cloud stared at the photograph, biting her lip. “He does look happy. Happier than he was when we came to see him yesterday. I don’t suppose... do you have a copy of...”
The photograph floated into Cloud’s saddlebags. “Take it,” Rarity insisted, not even waiting for Cloud to ask. “I can have another copy made later.”
Cloud brushed the photograph frame with her wingtip. “She...” she said hesitantly. “She’s so beautiful. My brave filly. If... if this is what she wants, then I’ll make sure that she’s still welcome in our family. I just want my little pony to be happy.”
Rarity smiled. “She is happy, and she’ll be even happier when she hears you say that.”
Just then, a sudden gust of wind struck the shutters of her window. She opened the shutters carefully and peered out. A fierce wind was tearing at the trees and buildings in the direction of the Everfree Forest, and the storm clouds had grown into a black mass blocking out the sky. A haze of precipitation almost obscured the treeline, and seemed to be advancing quickly.
Rarity slammed the shutters closed again and whirled to face Cloud, who was already at the door. “Cloud! You can’t go out in this! That storm could be doing anything!”
The grey pegasus shook her mane grimly. “I have to help. No Dash can stand idle when ponies are in danger from the weather. And you know my husband and my filly are going to be out there. I’ll be alright, Rarity. And thank you again, for everything.”
Lightning Dash was already in the air when he heard his wife calling him. “Up here!” he cried, wheeling around in the sky to show that he heard her, a faint trail of lightning crackling in his wake as he flew. Four other pegasi followed behind him, as he angled towards the huge storm clouds flooding out of the Everfree Forest’s skies. “Get these ponies to hold back the edges of the storm – I’m going for the heart!”
Cloud launched herself into the air and flew up to the other pegasi, shouting at her husband. “It’s too dangerous! You’ll never be able to break it up alone!”
A rainbow streak shot across the sky, narrowly dodging Cloud, and moving to fly alongside Lightning as he dove towards the storm clouds. “He’s not alone!” cried Rainbow Dash, her yellow mane and tail whipping in the wind as she powered forward.
“Sonic! What are you doing in here?” shouted her father. “This is stallions’ work! Go back and help your mother!”
Rainbow shook her head. “I can do this! We’ll take out the heart together!”
By now, they were deep within the storm cloud, and had lost sight of the world outside. Only very dim sunlight filtered down from the top of the cloud, and the two pegasi’s bodies were pelted with small pieces of hail. “Alright, but do as I say! I’m going to go in and divert the winds away from the low pressure zone at the heart of the cloud. There’s a moist updraft feeding the hailstorm – go down and push that away. And be careful!”
“Will do, dad! I’ll have it clear in ten seconds flat!” Rainbow Dash dipped her wing in salute and dove down through several layers of cloud, quickly losing sight of Lightning above her. Diverting a moisture current would normally be easy – it was the same process by which she built up small clouds for local rainfall instead of flying to the factory in Cloudsdale. Doing it while being pelted by hail would be another matter entirely. Still, she wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity to show her father what she could do.
Dragging out the first stream of updraft was easy – she executed a slow corkscrew spiral and bound up the air current in her rainbow wake, forcing it to flow after her and out to the edge of the storm. She performed a perfect turn and streaked back into the storm, eager to draw out the next current. The hail from the storm had intensified, though, almost as if the storm knew they were fighting it, and Rainbow was forced to shield her face with her front hooves as she dove onwards, almost unable to see anything.
Three more passes, and Rainbow could sense that the moist updraft was gone, or nearly so. She spread her wings and hauled her way up towards the heart of the cloud, finding movement difficult now that the updraft had dissipated. Hailstones the size of her hooves pelted her body and wings, but she gritted her teeth against the pain and forged on upwards. As she pierced through the layers of cloud, her father became visible. Lightning’s coat was bleeding in several places, torn by the impacts of huge hailstones. The wind had died down substantially since he started working, but they were still enough to toss the weather engineer to and fro. Worst of all, the wind and hail had knocked several feathers loose from his wings, causing him to flap frantically to stay aloft.
“We’ve nearly got it, son!” called her father, as the winds tossed him about. “Draw off the last of the wind and we’ll be done!”
“What about the hail?” Rainbow shouted back. “It’s tearing you up!”
“I’ll be fine! Grab the wind and go!”
Rainbow hesitated, but she knew that her father understood weather better than anypony else she’d ever met. She wheeled around and snared a gust of wind with her wings, dragging it away from the heart of the cloud.
As she streaked back, she saw that her father wasn’t holding up against the hailstorm. He was losing altitude with every new pounding of hail, and it didn’t seem to be stopping. Rainbow picked up speed, desperate to reach him in time to help. For all that she had dreaded seeing him again, she didn’t know what she would do if he died.
Rainbow drove forward as quickly as she could, wings beating furiously. She wasn’t trying to perform a Sonic Rainboom – that would most likely knock her father out of the sky entirely, and she wasn’t sure she could even do it on demand. She was much more than a one-trick pony, though, and she picked up speed as she advanced, preparing for a manoeuvre she had only tried a few times previously. Ignoring her father’s warning cries, she dove directly into the swirling, icy heart of the storm, barely feeling the stinging impacts of dozens of huge hailstones,. As she neared the heart, she snapped out her wings and allowed her rainbow wake to rush past her body, slamming into the ice at the storm’s core.
Hailstones exploded out at Rainbow as the storm’s heart blew apart, striking her body and wings as the wind caught her and flipped her upside down. She tried to remain aloft, but an icy sphere the size of her head struck her outstretched right wing with a sickening crunch, and her world exploded briefly in pain, until, mercifully, she lost consciousness.
Lightning had retreated from the storm’s heart as Rainbow dove into it, allowing his foal to perform whatever daring manoeuvre she had in mind. He held his breath as the rainbow streak shot into the centre of the cloud, then cheered in victory as the core blew apart in an explosion of ice. His joy quickly turned to horror as the limp body of his foal fell out of the cloud. Without thinking, he tucked in his wings and dropped into a plummet, collapsing his profile enough to catch up to Rainbow as they fell. Lightning spread his wings again and caught her, bracing himself against her weight. With his own injuries, the best he could do was descend in a slow spiral, sinking out of the dispersing cloud, towards the ground.
Cloud flew up to meet them as soon as they became visible, taking part of Rainbow’s weight and easing her to the ground. “My poor little foal,” she whispered, stretching Rainbow out safely and examining her injuries. “I think she’s alright – she’s just stunned, and... oh, no, her wing.” She looked up at her husband. “What happened up there?”
“She saved us,” Lightning said simply. “She did everything I taught her to do, and she broke up that storm when it might have killed me.”
Cloud brushed her wingtip against her filly’s face, cradling her as she did when she was young. “You... you said ‘she’. Does this mean...”
Lightning sighed heavily and nodded. “I can’t ask for more than what she did up there. She’s stallion enough to be whatever she wants. Even a mare.”
Cloud leaned over and embraced her husband wordlessly, keeping a vigil by their filly’s side, as the storm above them broke apart and gave way to gentle rain.
“And that is why, ponies of Ponyville, it is so important to remain vigilant against hostile weather. Yesterday’s storm could have killed ponies or caused untold damage to houses and crops.”
Lightning was finishing the next day’s lecture with a presentation on the hailstorm, its causes and how it had been tamed. “I want to thank the brave pegasi of Ponyville for putting their own lives on the line to stop this menace. I especially want to thank my...”
He stopped and looked to his side. Rainbow Dash was waiting there, her wings bound in bandages but otherwise healthy, her mane and tail now back to their usual rainbow shading. He looked from her to his wife, who gave him a smile of encouragement.
“My filly, Rainbow Dash. She saved my life up there yesterday, and I want everypony here to know how proud I am of her. I couldn’t wish for a finer foal.” Rainbow actually managed to blush as her father placed his hoof on her shoulder, and the crowd stomped in applause.
Once the lecture was over, Rainbow Dash’s friends gathered around her, congratulating her on her work and asking how her wing was feeling. The others stepped back to allow her some space when Applejack stepped forward.
“Hey, sugar cube. Glad you’ve got your hair back to normal.”
Rainbow Dash grinned nervously. “Yeah, well... I’ve started dyeing it twice a week now, because apparently the regrowth is really obvious.” She poked her tongue out at Rarity, who just grinned back at her.
“It suits you. Just ain’t the mare I know without the hair.” Applejack pawed at the ground before speaking again. “I still don’t get it. And what I do get, I don’t like.
“But I don’t like the way Twilight makes me feel stupid sometimes. I don’t like the way Rarity gets so fussy about her clothes and her coat.” She gave a rueful smile. “And don’t get me started on that Applejack pony. She’s stubborn, narrow-minded, won’t ask for help... and she tried to make me hate one of my best friends. But I ain’t gonna let that happen, y’hear? I’ll try to get my head around all this, but even if I don’t... you’re still Rainbow Dash, and you’re still my friend. And I hope I’m still yours.”
Rainbow Dash had been listening thoughtfully throughout Applejack’s speech, and tried to stay sombre, but soon broke out into a huge grin and wrapped her forelegs around her friend’s shoulders. “Like you even have to ask!” she cried, hugging the earth pony tightly.
“Group hug!” called out Pinkie Pie, and the rest of the friends crowded in to embrace the pair as well. The rift was healed, and the six mares were best of friends once more.
Dear Princess Celestia,
Today I learnt that while you should trust your friends with your secrets, you should also trust your friends with their own secrets. Prying into your friends’ secrets will only cause trouble, but if you have faith in your friends, you can trust that they aren’t hiding anything you really need to know.
I also learnt that true friendship can overcome any obstacle. Friends won’t always agree on everything, but even when friends disagree on the biggest of issues, as long as they agree on their friendship, that’s enough to keep the magic alive.
Your faithful student,