Fresh air is truly a thing taken for granted. For Dash, who had been cooped up that sterile prison for a few weeks, the multitude of fragrances innate to outdoors was a welcome change to the overpowering aroma of antiseptic and medicine. She vowed never to spend another day in a hospital, temporarily considering having Twilight draw up a formal declaration, but quickly decided that such an undertaking would have unintended consequences, like having to listen to a lecture about the history of vows and legalities throughout the history of Equestria. No thanks.
She weighed her limited options, finally opting to head west, towards the Everfree Forest. Personally, she dreaded her talking to Fluttershy. Normally, every interaction between the two ponies ended with Dash unintentionally hurting Fluttershy more. Needless to say, Fluttershy was a good friend, and Dash didn’t want to hurt her more than she already had, but didn’t know how to get Fluttershy to realize that Dash wasn’t frustrated with her without a physical interaction. She turned her atrophied legs towards Fluttershy’s cottage, taking off at a light jog.
It sure felt nice to exercise, at least a little bit; she hadn’t done any since she was admitted into the hospital almost two weeks ago. The trot kicked up enough dirt to dirty her otherwise extraordinarily clean appearance. Not that she minded though, hospitals were too clean for her liking. She despised the feeling of having to maintain an entirely proper appearance, 100% of the time. Not that she didn’t enjoy getting dolled up for the Gala, but that was different. That was a one-time event, to live that way reminded her too much of the perfection demanded of her by her father, and she tried to avoid things that brought those memories to light.
Dash trotted to a halt, noting the odd silence permeating the forest. The cyan pony glanced all about, the only splash of color in an utterly green and brown void. She had expected to see a white rabbit, or a red bird, or anything! There wasn’t a single animal outside. Dash continued forward tentatively, not really afraid, just confused. I mean, it wasn’t as if they had been turned into zombies, had they? Was that even possible? They were just… inside! Yeah, they were inside, no need to be alarmed. No zombies.
Had Dash not had her wings in casts, she would have literally flown into the air in surprise when something grabbed her tail and pulled on it.
“Oh, it’s just a cat!” she said, breathing a huge sigh of relief at the calico kitty. Dash knelt down to bring herself to the approximate same height as the multicolored feline.
“Hello, cat. Is Fluttershy home?”
“Uh-huh. Well, lead on then!” Dash was silently praying that cat was actually responding to her, so that she wasn’t just talking to an animal like an idiot. She was also praying that nopony was watching. What the hay, while she was praying, she might as well pray that the cat could understand her.
The cat looked steadily back at Rainbow Dash, then turned towards the cottage with a haughty tail-flip. Dash stood still for a few second looking at the vain cat before turning towards the cottage and walking behind the cat. The cat ducked into the house via the cat flap, leaving the quick-tempered pony outside.
“I hope this means that Fluttershy is home,” she muttered to herself, knocking on the door. “Fluttershy! Are you home?” She was about to turn and walk away when the door swung open a few inches, apparently by nopony. Dash looked inside the house, scanning for Fluttershy. The conclusion of her search showed only an irate Angel, tapping his foot at the base of the door. That would explain why she didn’t see anypony open the door, Angel was much shorter than the average pony.
Angel’s arms were crossed, face set in a disapproving scowl.
“Hey, Angel, can I come in?”
Angel shook his head.
“Oh, is Fluttershy home?”
Angel shook his head again, growing more impatient.
“I see. Do you know when she’ll get back?”
Angel made a series of clock-like motions, and after a few repetitions, Dash interpreted it as ‘not for a long time.’
“Oh, that’s ok. I can wait.” Dash lay down on the porch. She had a feeling Angel was lying, and she was trying to prove her point. A tiny pair of paws pushed hard on her spine, in vain trying to get the leverage to push her further away from the house. “What’s the matter, Angel?” Dash said, feigning innocence.
Angel gestured wildly, making walking hand motions, and pointing towards the road.
“You want me to wait inside? Gee, Angel, that’s so nice of you!” Dash pushed open the door, with a furious rabbit pulling with all its might on her back hoof, failing in its attempt to halt Dash’s progress.
“Hi, Rainbow Dash,” Fluttershy said meekly, one eye barely peeking out from behind her shielding mane.
“Fluttershy! Angel seemed to think you weren’t home. Any reason why that might be?”
“Oh. Um, I uh…”
“Ha ha, I’m just joshing with you. So, what’s up with you?”
“I have been taking care of some ill animals.”
“So I see,” Dash said, eyeing some medicine, orderly displayed on the counter. “Will you be having some free time soon?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I’ve been really busy recently.”
“Come on, Flutters. The rest of us are going on vacation, and I was told to check up on you and make sure you were coming.” Not entirely true, but she didn’t know of another way to discuss her outburst. She wasn’t exactly an expert at laying her soul bare to all others. In fact, she’d learnt long ago that those sorts of encounters only led to pain, and had avoided them at all costs. Hence, her hesitation at AJ’s request to go talk to Fluttershy. Nonetheless, she was the cause of Fluttershy’s distress, and she wasn’t going to abandon her friend.
“But the sick animals! I can’t leave them!” Fluttershy pleaded, desperate for a reason to stay at home.
“We can get Lyra to take care of them for a bit. Come on Flutters, it just won’t be the same, if you don’t go!”
“This isn’t because I yelled at you in the Hospital, is it?” Finally! She had succeeding in harnessing the conversation and bringing it where she wanted it.
“I… No… It’s… I’m just too busy!”
“You know I wasn’t mad at you, right?”
“Nah, I was just frustrated at everyone and everything—though mostly at Twilight. Anyways, I forgave her, and everything’s cool now.”
“Yup.” A few seconds of awkward silence passed between the two, Fluttershy absentmindedly pawing at the ground.
“Can I still come on vacation?” Fluttershy eventually ventured.
“You bet!” Dash said, suddenly brightening. “Speaking of which, I should probably go pack, though I do have one quick question for you, before I go.”
“What is it?”
“How do you live with this guy?” Dash lifted up one hoof, Angel firmly attached to her leg, biting and punching in a fit of rage. Fluttershy swooped the violent rabbit away from the athlete, flashing an apologetic smile, before scolding the rabbit soundly.
- - - - -
On the road again -
Just can't wait to get on the road again.
The life I love is making music with my friends
And I can't wait to get on the road again.
On the road again
“Applejack, stop singing!” Dash pleaded desperately. Too late. Pinkie had already seized the Fillie Nelson song, and was dancing and singing uproariously. Not that normally she would have cared, it’s just that sometimes Pinkie could get on Dash’s nerves. Oh Celestia, Applejack and Pinkie were singing together.
And I can't wait to get on the road again.
On the road again -
Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway
We're the best of friends.
Insisting that the world keep turning our way
Dash’s brightened up, noting an inn nearby. They had been walking for almost eight hours, and she was ready for a break. Unlike certain farming earth ponies, Dash was not accustomed to walking for extended periods of time. Had it been an eight hour flight, it wouldn’t have been a problem. Unfortunately, only two members of their party were naturally flight-enabled.
Dash relied on fervent pleading (after the outburst of song had subsided) in order to get the other five to agree to spend the night at the motel. The group ventured inside, with Rarity (whose demeanor the others deemed most likely to garner better service) leading the way up to the counter. Dash was surprised by lack of illumination within the structure. The dimly lit lobby revealed a few aged, sage green couches well adorned with stains and tears. The assemblage of couches were formed concentric, facing towards a single well used coffee table. Far from ornate, the plain wooden table had seen its better days, covered in nicks and coffee stains. The few windows that existed were small, and partially clouded with grime. Nevertheless, the light coming through them choked out before it could fully illuminate the room, casting deep shadows in the corners. The entire place smelled of mold, sweat, and a few other unnamed scents that she desperately did not want to identify.
“Excuse me, sir,” Rarity said, batting her eyes at the gruff, chain-smoking stallion behind the counter. “We would like to get some rooms for the night.” The stallion blew out a plume of smoke towards the group of ponies, eyeing Rarity carefully.
“And how many of you are staying the night?”
“All six of us.” He looked over the group again, locking eyes with Fluttershy and Dash.
“You four can go to room 212,” he said, motioning at the unicorns and earth ponies, “but you two will have to go elsewhere. We don’t serve your kind here.”
“What do you mean ‘you don’t serve their kind,’” Rarity asked coldly.
“Don’t have any grudge against you, but I’ll be dead before I let a pegasus back inside my motel,” the stallion spat the word ‘pegasus’ like the worst possible curse. Dash couldn’t take any more of it. She pushed her way to the front of the group, locking eyes with the foul-smelling stallion.
“What do you have against us?” Dash planted her forehooves directly on the counter, squaring off against the towering stallion. Eyes locked, the stallion responded.
“This place looks like a dump, yes?” Dash had been expecting a more aggressive response.
“I-uh, yeah it does.”
“Well you and your kind made it this way! This place used to be a shining jewel, but a few of your kind came along. A nice looking family, so I said ‘Sure I’ll let them in, how bad can they be?’ That very night, that no-good pegasus lit my whole place on fire. Killed his family and a few others in the blaze. Served that family right, though. All pegasi are no-good war-mongers who cause trouble. Name a single war that the pegasi haven’t been chomping at the bit to go off and fight in! Is there one? Name one.”
Dash sat there silently. She knew she had recognized the motel name from somewhere. She had been in flight school when she had heard the news, and right now this wasn’t making her feel any better. The other ponies stood stock still, unsure how Dash was going to react to this confrontation. Twilight had instigated the outbreak that had alerted them to the Dash family situation, and she had no idea how the athlete would react when faced with this kind of altercation.
“Did you say that it ‘served the family right?’ Why did it serve them right?” Dash said icily.
“That family was asking for trouble. A bunch of no-good ruffians. Not one of them would have amounted to anything. And that is the high end of the pegasi. All of you are a vile group.” Dash didn’t care his opinions about the pegasi, she did care about his earlier statements however. She reached up, grabbing his mane. She meant to pull him down, but his mass was to great and she pulled herself up to his level.
“That was my family,” she said through gritted teeth.
“Good riddance.” Dash pulled down and jumped, rapidly vaulting on top of the stallion. The surprised stallion reared backwards, trying to shake its unlikely passenger. Dash’s head smashed against the ceiling, her jaw cracking together loudly. The stallion dropped back the floor, readying for its next attack. Dash raised an arm, smashing it down into the back of the head of the stallion, stopping any further attacks. She steadied herself, ending the fight with a savage kick to the head.
Dash jumped off as the stallion collapsed to the ground, grabbing the first thing that appeared within hooves reach: a chair. Wheeling as she landed on the ground, she raised the chair high above her, aiming for the head of her fallen opponent. A blur appeared from the side, smashing her to the ground.
“What the hay do you think you’re doin’?” Applejack said, stripping the chair away before letting Dash back up.
“I… I… buck.” Dash sprinted out the entrance, smashing the door open. The others immediately set out after her, struggling to find their target as they came from the darkened interior to the blinding sunlight. They spotted her sprinting across the field towards a cliff. The five broke into a dead sprint. Twilight tripped up the fleeing Rainbow Dash with a magical swipe; the others instantly jumping on top of the cyan athlete.
“Dash! Don’t do it!” Twilight shouted in Dash’s ear.
“I’m not allowed to go look at the view?” Dash grunted out from under the combined weight of the other ponies.
“You weren’t planning on killing yourself?”
“What? No! I just wanted to look.” Noting Twilight’s look of suspicion, Dash added “I Pinkie Promise that I’m not going to kill myself.” Twilight motioned for the others to get off of Dash. Nevertheless, she remained close by in order to grab Dash if she tried anything.
Dash walked up to the edge, looking down into the chasm before her. The craggy rock face dropped off towards the valley below. A rushing river carved itself down into the valley, joining the cliff in a cloud of mist, the result of a cascading waterfall that sent massive amounts of water and debris over the cliff every second. A forest kept the closest bank of the river from view, obscured by thousands of bushy evergreen branches. Yet Dash observed none of these things, just staring off into the distance not focusing on any particular detail.
“I’m an idiot,” she finally said after a few minutes of contemplation.
“Beg pardon?” Applejack said, surprised by the sudden proclamation.
“I let my past define me, instead of shape me,” Dash said, slumping forward, eyes downcast. Even her bright plumage didn’t make her look cheery.
“I don’t understand,” Twilight interjected.
“No matter what I did or where I went, I never dealt with what my dad did to me. I never addressed it, and it stayed inside my head until I exploded. I should have talked to someone, or done something to deal with it, but I didn’t. And when I finally was forced to confront it, it consumed me. I couldn’t think about anything except that, and I could barely function. I let it control my actions, and everything that remotely reminded me of my past had to be destroyed. I nearly killed that guy in there, it wasn’t his fault—even if he was a jerk. No, I have to accept what happened in my past. It sucked, and I still don’t like it, but it did shape me into who I am today. Ha, it even helped me in some ways. Never expected that sort of thing to end up helping me in the long run.” Dash still was looking down.
Dash finally stood up, looking the other ponies. She wordlessly walked back towards the path, stopping upon reaching the trail.
“Let’s go guys, we’ve got a long way to walk before we get to the next motel!” Dash smiled for the first time since the beginning of the whole ordeal. The others grinned, happy to see their friend return to normal. The others joined their compatriot, beginning the trek towards their next stop.