Applejack was about to walk out of Rainbow Dash's sight. She followed, peeking down to occasionally spot Applejack between the trees. Rainbow saw the edge of her veil of clouds approaching fast. As she reached it, she began to breath heavily, she back trotted frantically in an attempt to push the clouds in the opposite direction. No luck, she only succeeded in breaking a small piece off that drifted away from the mass. She clung to it tightly hoping to Celestia that Applejack wouldn't notice. Applejack looked over her shoulder to investigate the seemingly random noises she was hearing. She saw the strange cloud, and began walking home faster. Rainbow let out a deep breath, her legs shaking. She was once again desperately trying to convince herself to go talk to her old friend.
"Worst case scenario, just fly away, no biggy right?" Rainbow thought to herself.
Nervously, she spread her wings and leaped into the air, she leveled herself out and very gently glided down. She forced her wings down as she neared the ground, creating enough of an updraft to make her landing as soft as possible. This was the first time in a while she had set hoof on the ground.
Applejack immediately turned around and began to look over the tattered mare. Not recognizing her at first, due to her faded coat and tangled mane, Applejack took a few steps toward her to get a closer look. Rainbow quickly took a few steps back keeping a safe distance.
"Rainbow, is that really you?" Applejack looked upon the mare with overwhelming joy. Rainbow stood silent, resisting the urge to fly away as fast as she could, freeing herself from the punishments and harsh words her old friends might have in store.
"Well I reckon it is!" Applejack trotted up to her, Rainbow cowered and closed her eyes as if she expected a brutal beating. Applejack wasn't sure how to react to this uncharacteristic behavior being displayed by the once fearless mare. Rainbow Dash looked up at Applejack, her pink eyes open wide as if she wasn't sure what to expect.
"Now come on sugar cube, there's no need to be scared of me, I'm Applejack remember?"
Rainbow stood back up and nodded. She opened her mouth to speak, but all that came out was a brief moment of broken voice. "I..."
Applejack walked up to her and hugged her, stroking her knotted mane.
"I missed you so much." Applejack continued to hug her while letting a few tears escape.
"I didn't think I'd ever see you again." To her own surprise, Applejack now found herself laughing and crying at the same time.
Rainbow Dash felt more relieved than she ever could have imagined, despite her worst fears, her friend didn't hate her, or seem to feel anything other than happy to see her.
"I'm... Sorry." Rainbow said in a rough cracking voice.
Her apology caused Applejack to go into a full on cry, leaving her gasping for breath, soaking Rainbow's mane, as she tightly clung on to her long lost friend. She hardly believed she was really there after so many years.
"Now there's no need to be sorry okay? Rainbow, I just want ya to know, I'm not cryin' cause I'm mad at you. I'm just so happy to see you after all this time. We all missed you so much. We looked for you, we looked everywhere we could. Rainbow, what I really wanna know is, why? Why did you leave?"
Rainbow Dash couldn't begin to explain the emotional trauma she had endured, she had held her best friend in her arms as she passed away. If Rainbow Dash hadn't left Pinkie Pie alone she'd be alive today. She wouldn't have died in the dirt, soaking wet and cold. These thoughts never left Rainbow Dash, even after three long years spent alone in the clouds.
"Lets go Rainbow, I'll get you cleaned up, then we can talk." Rainbow nodded in agreement, she lowered her head and followed Applejack home.
Applebloom Squeaked, "Rainbow Dash?!" She ran over to her and rested her cheek up against Rainbow's. Rainbow Dash was surprised to see how much taller Applebloom had grown, and still, a cutie mark was absent from her flank. Then for the first time in a long time, she smiled.
"I can't believe its really you! Oh my gosh wait until I tell Scootaloo!"
"Whoa there sugar cube, first things first. Lets get this messy filly cleaned up."
Applebloom happily trotted inside and drew a bath for Rainbow Dash, who was excited to experience the comfort of a relaxing hot bath once again. She began to step in, and dipped her hoof into scalding hot water. Rainbow let out a shocked yelp and jumped backwards landing on her front left leg, which had never properly recovered from her injury, this caused her to lose her balance and fall over. She reached out with her other hoof and grabbed the shower curtain, pulling the rings off and falling on top of Applebloom, who had come running back in when she heard her yelp.
"Oops, that was my bad, I guess I forgot to turn the cold on, heh.."
Rainbow Dash helped Applebloom up, laughing under her breath.
"It's alright, no harm..." Rainbow's scratchy sounding voice broke off into coughs. Spending all that time up above the clouds, breathing in the cold dry air left her practically voiceless. Applebloom began patting her on the back.
"Well I'll just leave you to yer bath then." Applebloom trotted out of the room and began whispering to Applejack.
After adjusting the temperature to a more reasonable level, Rainbow climbed in, she felt the warm water soak her rough dry coat. She settled in deeper, her mane floated in the water. It was much longer now, she ran her hooves through it, separating the colors, she smiled when she saw how beautifully it flowed together. She sunk deeper into the water, now at nose level. She looked around the bathroom, noticing how if she had ever imagined this room before, this is exactly how she'd have pictured it. Other than the broken window covered in duct tape, the cob webs dangling out of the missing ceiling vent, and the plastic bag tied around the sink facet. But the homeless Rainbow Dash was in no position to judge anyone.
She finished up her bath, dried herself, and headed into the family room. There she met Applejack with a warm cup of apple cider.
"Here ya go, this should help that scratchy voice of yers."
Rainbow took it and began to sip it. She felt that it was the most delicious drink she had ever tasted. She quickly drank the rest, spilling some down her cheeks.
"Whoa there Rainbow, no pony's gonna try and steal it from ya." Applejack joked, trying to lighten to mood.
"Sorry, but this sure beats the rainwater I've been drinking lately."
"Well there's plenty more where that came from, sit down and I'll be right back."
Rainbow took a seat on a small sofa. She tucked her legs in and looked around the house. Applejack returned with her drink.
"So Rainbow, I want you to tell me everything that happened, I want to know why you left, where you've been and what you did. No secrets, you know I wouldn't lie to you, so show me the same respect."
Rainbow cleared her throat and took another drink. Her voice still breaking as she went on to tell Applejack all about the day Pinkie died in as much detail as she could recall. Applejack felt as if an old wound had been split wide open as she listened to every excruciating detail. Pinkie's last words filled her mind.
"Well I'm glad to know she didn't die alone, its good that she had a friend with her."
Rainbow Dash hadn't thought about that fact before.
"So anyway, then I heard somepony coming so I just flew away as fast as I could, I didn't know where I was going or what I was going to do. All I knew is I wanted to get away fast. So I flew, faster than I ever flew before, right into the middle of the storm. Then BAM, huge rainboom!"
"I should of known it was you. Rainbow, if you're the who made that rainbow what pushed the clouds away, I think you saved my life. I don't know how much longer I would have lasted in that storm."
"Really? Well that's cool then, you're welcome. Hey do you have any food? I'm starving. And please, no apples, I'm soooo sick of apples. Oh by the way I've been stealing apples from your orchard for the past couple of years."
Applejack's eye twitched.
"What you said no secrets remember?"
"Lucky for you I'm a forgiving kind of pony." Applejack laughed and went to grab some food. She looked in her kitchen, there she found an assortment of apple related foods. She opened her fridge, more apples. Apple pies, apple cobbler, apple jelly, apple rolls, apple muffins, apple everything. But among the apples she found a few celery stalks. They belonged to Big Macintosh but he'd still be away helping out at Appaloosa for a few weeks.
"Celery stalks it is then." She tossed three on a plate and carried it back to Rainbow Dash.
"Sweet, thanks." Rainbow Dash began to eat.
Applejack sat down and watched impatiently. She began to whistle, hinting at her impatience. Rainbow didn't seem to notice as she enjoyed every little nibble of the delicious celery. She peeked over to notice Applejack staring at her. Feeling awkward she continued to eat, only more slowly now.
"Will you please hurry up. I'll get you more after you finish telling me what happened."
"Fine fine, sheesh." Rainbow finished the other half of her stalk in a single bite, then the other two in only a few more bites.
"So where was I, oh yeah." Her voice was beginning to sound a little more like normal. She looked up at the ceiling as she tried to recall everything that had happened to her. She went on, continuing her story from where she left off, painting as vivid a picture for Applejack as she could. Applejack just listened, trying to picture everything Rainbow was telling her.
Rainbow Dash hovered there, looking back in the distance at Ponyville. The storm was nearly completely torn apart. She spotted a patrol of police pegasi flying in formation beneath her, they seemed to be searching the ground for anything suspicious. She continued to fly away from Ponyville, now above the Everfree Forest. There she saw a large grey blanket of clouds that seemed to be drifting around on its own. She flew up on top of them and rested, her front left leg was bleeding, and the bone was clearly broken. This was due to the forceful impact when she hit the ground, she had put her front legs up at the last second to try and break her fall, the front left taking most of the initial impact. She used moisture from the cloud to clean it out as much as possible, hoping to avoid infection.
She flew down and saw a few articles of clothing hanging on a clothesline. She snatched a small sock and flew back above the clouds. She tightly wrapped it around her leg, hoping to set the bone and simultaneously stop the bleeding. She winced at the piercing pain as she pulled it tighter. She finally let go and noticed that her leg was swollen to nearly twice the size of her other ones. She rested on her right side, trying not to move, hoping the pain would soon subside.
"What have I done?" Rainbow Dash questioned herself, and the day. She thought about Pinkie Pie, and began to hold on to her stomach and cry. She eventually cried herself to sleep.
She woke up late in the evening. The moon was shining brightly down and the stars illuminated the rest of the night sky. Rainbow hadn't recalled ever having seen the moon so large before. Then again it was mid fall, this was the time of year the moon appeared the largest. She looked through the clouds, there she saw the edge of the forest in the distance just before the horizon. Below her were The Flats of Canterlot, thousands of tiny lights littered the ground. This was the farthest she had ever been from home.
Rainbow Dash found herself in both emotional and physical turmoil. Her leg pulsed with pain, her heart throbbed with every beat, her mind convinced that she single hoofedly caused Pinkie Pies death.
She stayed hidden for days, occasionally leaving her clouds to snatch up food in the middle of the night. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months. Rainbow soon grew accustom to her daily and nightly routines. She watched the ponies of Equestria during the day, looted supplies during the night. Eventually curiosity got the best of her as she returned to Ponyville during the later winter months, still in hiding. She watched businesses put up close out sale signs, and eventually close. Sugar Cube Corner was ravaged, its windows broken and boarded up. The library was locked down, now empty, its books distributed across other Equine libraries. Even the Carousel Boutique was closed for business. She flew up above Fluttershy's house, peeking through the clouds. It was also empty, a faded for sale sign was sticking part way out of a snow drift. Rainbow Dash thought of the possibility that this was also her fault, or that she at least set it in motion with her mistakes.
Rainbow rested on a large blanket of clouds above Sweet Apple Acres. She was shivering, cold and hungry she decided to see what she could find. She looked through the clouds, she saw a vast orchard of bare frost covered trees. There was the dim light of a fire flickering through the windows of Applejack's home. Rainbow flew over to look inside. There she saw a large basket of apples sitting on the floor just on the other side of the window. With the tip of her hoof she began to open the window as quietly as possible, luckily it was unlocked. She stuck her head through, gripping the handle of the basket with her teeth. She backed out and quickly flew back above the clouds, leaving the window opened behind her. She thought about how warm it felt inside Applejack's home compared to the icy wind blowing through the sky. She thought about sneaking in for the night, but eventually decided the risk was too great. She ate a couple apples, then curled up and tried to sleep through the cold night.
"Hey, so it was you?! I remember when you opened that window, I thought I was losin' my mind." Applejack interrupted Rainbow Dash.
"Yeah so? I was hungry."
Applejack felt a pang of sorrow as she thought about all the times Rainbow Dash had been so close to her, if only she had known then, she could have saved her from enduring all that loneliness. She could have saved her from much more pain and suffering than she could have ever imagined.
"Well, that's pretty much it, I guess." Rainbow said, looking down at the floor.
"Pretty much it?"
"Well yeah unless you want me to tell you how I just sat there on some clouds literally licking them to drink water and stealing your apples for two more years."
"Well if that's it then that's it. I'm just glad to have you back Rainbow." Applejack stood up to hug her again.
"And look, you have a rainbow mane again."
"Yeah I noticed, thanks." Rainbow's mane dangled in front of her face as it dried.
Rainbow Dash continued to look at the floor, she couldn't bring herself to make eye contact with Applejack after lying to her. Truthfully Rainbow Dash had done some awful things in between the time she told Applejack about and now. But it was something she'd rather forget, even more so than the death of Pinkie, even more than her own mistakes. This was a much darker part of her life that left her a changed pony, although it wasn't showing now, she had a piece of evil locked inside her heart and mind.
"So Rainbow, would you like to know what I've been up to lately?" Rainbow Dash looked at Applejack's hooves.
"Of course I would AJ..... but first how about those celery stalks."
Applejack laughed and trotted off to the kitchen. Rainbow sat there thinking about what she had done during her time spent in The Flats. Not all parts of Canterlot are the luxurious hot spots the media makes it out to be, like any major city, there's a bad side. In every slum, there are many deeds left unpunished, and many actions unaccounted for. Rainbow Dash made sure she was no exception during her time there.