65w, 5dWriting Gold
60w, 3dThe Writer's Group
58w, 2dOrganized Shipping (Most Common)
61w, 3hTwilight is Best Pony
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45w, 4dTwilight Sparkle
54w, 3dF/F ships
53w, 17hdark soul
47w, 4dgood stories
19w, 3dTwilight's Library
47w, 5dThe Usual
But you fly above the clouds
Where the air’s to thin to think of falling back again
When you fly above the clouds
You see the shadow of a doubt
An eternity away upon the ground
These Cold Reflections
The smell of Old Thunderhead whiskey was always overpowering, filling the cramped kitchen like a noxious mist. Some was absorbed by the walls of cloud, but still the scent rode bitingly on the back of every breath that the young pegasus filly took. Through her childhood, she had learned to fear that smell. Its source stood on the opposite side of the table, the misdirected rage of an angry drunkard bright in his eyes as he shouted.
“Why won’t you let these stupid fantasies go?” The filly on the far side of the table took a step back, touching against the end wall, trying her hardest not to show fear. The stallion, it hurt her to think of him as her father, suddenly changed his tone of voice. It was quieter, mocking, infinitely more unpleasant. “You think you’re special, my girl?” he smirked. “Well, well, well. I’ve got some news for you. You’re not. You never will be. If you’re so special, explain to me why your mother couldn’t even live in the same house as you!” His voice rose in volume again, the ends of his words slurring together. He slammed the near-empty bottle down onto the kitchen table, and it sank a few inches into the amorphous cloud-surface.
“You drove her away!” The filly yelled back defiantly, unable to keep a slight tremor from her voice, despite her best efforts. “She was right to go! What kind of mare wants to live with a drunken scumbag like you? I tell ya, as soon as I can fly, I’m flyin’ right out that door and I hope I never see you again!”
“Oh? Oh? I’m to blame, am I?” The stallion adopted a mock-thoughtful pose, his voice full of spite. “Who keeps a roof over our heads, eh? Who puts food on your plate? Maybe it’s time I reminded you!”
He began to advance across the kitchen, around the table, his face a mask of anger and sadistic satisfaction at the fear in his daughter’s eyes. She made a run for the door, but he was too quick for her, pinning her against the wall and drawing back his hoof. “Sorry, Dashie,” he grinned, “but you’re not dashing out of here today.”
Rainbow Dash shook her head violently to clear it of the memories that had descended upon her. Her cheeks were wet, and she pressed her eyes hard shut, forcing herself to block the past out. “It’s over. He’s gone. It’s over,” she muttered to herself, eyes still tightly closed. She had left Twilight’s house some five minutes ago, wending her way home at low altitude, taking a detour from her normal route to pass through the countryside. She did not want to be surrounded by the townsfolk of Ponyville right now. She would be home in a few minutes, and she had a lot to think about. The memories of her foalhood had caught up with her quite unexpectedly, just as they always did in times of stress, worming their way in through her subconscious until they filled her mind. She could still smell the whisky, even through such a veil of years. She knew that she would have to tell Twilight about her past at some time, but had been unable to face the prospect earlier, on top of everything else.
She was still flying, almost unaware of the fact. Suddenly, her eyes still tightly closed, she heard a frightened squeak. You idiot, you’re flying with your eyes shut! Land! She reprimanded herself internally as her eyes flew open. It was too late. Her vision was obscured by a panicking mass of canary yellow. There was a soft thump, and both she and her unintentional victim fell the few feet to the grass below. Fortunately, she had not been flying overly fast, although whoever she had collided with had fallen on top of her, and was now flailing around, emitting squeaks of fear and surprise. It did not take much deduction work on Dash’s part to tell with whom she had collided.
“Fluttershy?” she muttered, realizing that her voice was still choked with tears from her memories. Fluttershy had rolled off, and was skittering in small circles, apparently searching for a bush or similar receptacle in which to hide. The flowers that she had been holding up for inspection before the collision had scattered to the winds. “Hey, Fluttershy!” Dash stood, and waved a hoof in front of her friend’s face. The yellow pegasus stopped turning in circles, and seemed to see Dash for the first time. The panic drained swiftly from her eyes, and she released a long breath.
“R-Rainbow Dash? What d-did you do that for?” She sounded a little irritated, which was in all honesty the most she could manage under normal circumstances.
“Sorry, ‘Shy.” Dash smiled weakly. “I didn’t mean to hurt ya, I seem to be getting under everypony’s hooves today.”
“Oh, I’m not hurt, just a- a little surprised, that’s all.” Fluttershy smiled back, seemingly recovering from Dash’s sudden appearance in her day’s events.
“No, it was stupid of me, I shouldn’t go ‘round bashing into ponies like that,” Dash mumbled, guiltily.
“Don’t worry about it, Rainbow.” Fluttershy seemed to have picked up on the fact that something was wrong. “Is everything alright? Were… were you crying?”
Dash turned away slightly, a little defensively. “Me? Crying?” Then she seemed to deflate. “Ah, what’s the point? Yeah. I was.” Her voice was flat, emotionless.
Fluttershy’s eyes widened. “W-what’s the matter?” she exclaimed, then her voice shrank to a whisper. “Um, if you don’t mind me asking, that is?”
Dash did mind. She had very little desire to discuss what she had already discussed with Twilight all over again, not even with a pony as understanding as Fluttershy. However, she knew how sensitive her friend was, and did not want to say this to her face. “I’m… I was just thinking about my dad,” she muttered.
It was true. It was not the only reason that she had been crying, but it was certainly true. Fluttershy looked saddened, her eyes welling up slightly in sympathy for Dash. The two pegasi had known one another since their fillyhood, having met at Flight School, and Fluttershy was the one pony that Dash had fully confided in regarding her past and her family. As adolescents, Fluttershy had lost count of the times she had found herself in Dash’s dormitory room after a weekend, comforting her crying friend, even once or twice holding an ice pack to her more obvious bruises. To the rest of the world, Dash had passed these off as flying injuries. She called them results of her own carelessness, earning herself a reputation for clumsiness in the air, and the nickname ‘Rainbow Crash’.
Only Fluttershy had known the full truth. Perhaps some of the others suspected, from time to time Dash would detect a glint of doubt in the eyes of the more perceptive ones as she span a new yarn about colliding with a column or a mountain. If they did, however, none of them had spoken up. Dash was clearly beyond any of them in terms of flying ability, and this made her a target for bullies who were motivated by jealousy. The cool colts, the ones constantly surrounded by crowds of admiring fillies, the ones with plenty of swagger but little substance, all shunned her. They liked to think that they were supremely skillful, but Dash could take apart the best of them in the air, and they knew it, so they tried to get to her on the ground. She found her flying skills mocked and put down at every turn, her every new injury laughed at.
Unfounded, well-planned rumours had circulated about the nature of the close friendship between herself and Fluttershy, and they became the target of wolf-whistles and jeering whenever they walked down a corridor together. Everypony knew that Dash liked mares, indeed she made no secret of the fact, however it had stung to see others projecting those feelings onto Fluttershy, whom she considered to be practically a sister. Fluttershy, already an easy target for bullying given her aerial ineptitude, was driven still further into herself by the unwanted limelight. Dash had gone the other way, in her determination to prove them wrong she had begun preemptively attacking, boasting of her skills and achievements, counteracting every jibe with a grin and witty riposte.
Inside, she had craved acceptance. She had wanted to be cool, wanted to become the very ponies she hated, the ponies who made her and Fluttershy’s lives a misery on a daily basis. She would lie awake at night, wondering if she was in the right, wondering if she was justified, until she could not wonder anymore, and fell into flat acceptance. The forced coolness, the sarcasm, the boasting, they all had fallen seamlessly into her personality, becoming a part of her because she was too tired to question them. All those nights, asking herself those same questions. She had not known the answers then.
She still didn’t.
Dash realized that she had slipped into the past again, and was staring vacantly into space, Fluttershy still looking sympathetically towards her, waiting for her to speak. She knew that Fluttershy had always been there for her, and that she would be there for her still despite this new difficulty that Dash had encountered. Now was as good a time as any to tell her. She would have to tell all of her friends at some point, but she wanted to get her head right first, and having another sympathetic ear, and another opinion to work with, seemed like an excellent way to start.
“’Shy, do you still get the Cloudsdale Bugle?” Dash asked.
Fluttershy shook her head. “Not since I moved into my tree house, I never took out a subscription to the new address.”
“In that case, is it okay if I come back to yours for a bit? If you’re not busy, that is. I need to talk to you about something.”
“Of course you can,” Fluttershy smiled at her, “I’d finished feeding all the animals, I was just out looking for some fresh daisies for the soup. I’d like somepony to talk to, actually. I’ve been rushed off my hooves the last few days with all of the animals who’ve been getting sick. It’ll be nice to talk to somepony who can talk back.” She giggled a little, and Dash smiled back. She had not properly spoken to Fluttershy in some time, and it would be good to catch up at last. In comfortable silence, the two friends began to make their way back to Fluttershy’s home. Dash knew that she had found acceptance at last, in her friends. She knew that they would never let her down. She wished that she could trust herself to do the same. As they walked, Fluttershy did not notice the shine in her friend’s eyes, and Dash was glad of that. Try as she might, she could not tell if the tears were of happiness or pain.
“…So now she says she’s going to try and help me. I’d just left when I… uh… bumped into you.”
Fluttershy’s usually tidy living room was somewhat cluttered today, the coffee table currently stacked with six empty teacups and a box of tissues. Outside, Celestia’s sun had begun to sink lower in the sky as the afternoon wore on, bathing the room in soft floods of sunlight. A few bags of animal feed were strewn around the floor, Fluttershy having originally intended to clear them up when she came home. Her unexpected guest lay on the sofa, eyes a little red from recounting her day in its entirety. Fluttershy herself sat opposite on an old tattered beanbag that she had owned since foalhood, listening intently and sympathetically to Dash’s story. Despite her wet eyes, Dash could not avoid feeling a sense of peace. Fluttershy seemed to emit an aura of quiet gentleness that made it difficult to be stressed in her presence. Being several cups deep in her homemade herbal tea had also certainly seemed to help.
“Rainbow, why didn’t you come to me straight away when you read this?” Fluttershy asked, her eyes wide and almost reproachful.
“I dunno, ‘Shy,” Dash replied, “I wasn’t really thinking straight this morning, ya know? I thought a good practice session might clear my head.”
“Of course.” The canary pegasus nodded understandingly. “Would you like another cup of tea?”
Dash’s stomach sloshed a little as she shifted on the sofa. “I think I’ve had enough for now,” she said with an embarrassed grin.
“I’m really glad you told me about this, Rainbow,” Fluttershy still looked worried, but she smiled back. “I’d hate to think that you were thinking all those things about yourself.”
“I dunno, I still kind of am.”
“Don’t say that!” Fluttershy’s voice rose a little, so that she was almost at normal speaking volume.
“There's no need to worry about me, I’ll be okay in the end,” Dash tried to look reassuring, “I just need a bit of time. I wanna stop being so bigheaded, I guess.” She sighed, her mood swinging back to despondent again. “Maybe I’ll do something to actually deserve you and the others as friends.”
Fluttershy stood up on hearing the last words, and fixed Dash with a glare. “Rainbow Dash, you listen to me!” she exclaimed, “you are a wonderful pony, and you deserve every friend you have. You’re the Element of Loyalty! You don’t get to be the Element of Loyalty if you’re not a loyal friend!”
It was possibly the worst thing she could have said. Dash slumped, seeming to deflate into the sofa. “Yeah, Loyalty,” she muttered. “Tell me, Fluttershy. If it wasn’t for the Elements, what would I be to you guys? Okay, maybe I’d still be friends with you, because of everything at Flight School. You helped me, even when I wasn’t nice to you at first, you still helped me. You see the best in ponies, you stick with them. But the others? You’ve got to be friends with somepony before you can be loyal to ‘em, and who’d wanna be friends with me?”
Fluttershy sighed, sitting down again, kneading her forehead with a hoof. “You aren’t a bighead, Dash.” Her voice was almost a whisper. “Remember Gilda? When she walked off, what did you do? If you were so cool, you’d have gone with her. Remember what you said to her?”
Dash’s voice was choked as she replied. “If… If being cool’s all you c-care about, maybe you should find some cool friends… s-somewhere else.” She looked up at Fluttershy.
“Exactly.” Fluttershy’s face was gentle.
“But that’s me as well!” Exclaimed Dash. “You don’t know how long I’ve been afraid one of you’ll come up and say that to me. But you’re all so forgiving, every time I cross a line, you all just smile and tell me it’s okay. We learn our lessons, we move on. That’s how it works. I don’t deserve any of you guys.”
Fluttershy threw up her hooves in frustration. “You can’t think that!” she almost shouted, and Dash edged back in surprise at her usually timid friend. “How many times do I have to tell you? You didn’t cheat, you didn’t sneak into our friendship, you’re here because this is where you belong. Elements or no Elements!”
“Answer me this, then,” Dash leaned forward, “if I deserve friends as good as you guys, then how come hardly anyone liked me at Flight School? Hay, even my Dad knew what a useless sack of horseapples I was!”
“They were jealous! All of them were!” Fluttershy’s voice was still raised, hoping that she could penetrate the barriers that her friend had built around herself. “As for your father,” her voice grew harsh, a dark anger flowing through it that Dash had only ever heard her use when referring to that one stallion, “never, ever pay any attention to what he said to you. He was nothing but a sack of horseapples, and you know it!” With a squeak of horror, Fluttershy clapped a hoof to her mouth, appalled at herself for using such language. Unbalanced, she toppled backwards off the beanbag with a soft thud, and when she pulled herself back to a sitting position, the anger had gone from her eyes, replaced with a look of deep concern. “If… if you don’t mind me saying so,” she finished, almost inaudibly.
Suddenly, Dash saw how badly she was scaring her friend. She had never before heard Fluttershy accuse anypony of being a sack of anything, and understood how strongly her friend felt on her behalf. Slowly, the worst of her anger at herself drained away, reduced to a dull bubbling in the pit of her stomach. She buried her head in the sofa for a few seconds, then raised it, her mane disheveled. “I’m sorry, ‘Shy,” she murmured, “I guess you can see why I need help at the moment, huh?”
“I guess so.” Fluttershy smiled slightly, going a little pink as she remembered her own outburst. “I agree with Twilight, though,” she continued, “we’re going to try to make you better.”
“I’m seeing Twilight again tomorrow,” Dash involuntarily smiled a little at the prospect, “she’s gonna talk to me about this whole thing. Who knows, it might all seem a bit clearer after I sleep on it tonight.”
“I think you made a good choice going to the library first, by the way,” Fluttershy said, “Twilight’s got a whole section on psychology in her library, and I’d bet anything she’s going through it now. If anypony’s going to get you sorted out, it’s Twilight.” Dash’s cheeks reddened involuntarily as Fluttershy spoke the final sentence, and she was unable to suppress a slight twitch in her wings.
“Huh?” Fluttershy looked confused, then her own cheeks flared. “Oh!” She shot a reproving look at Dash. “You know I didn’t mean that,” she said, unable to restrain a small amused smile which was tugging at the corner of her mouth.
Dash laughed nervously, momentarily distracted from her immediate mindset. “I know, I know. Sorry, I’ll get my mind out of the gutter now.”
Fluttershy suddenly looked rather suspicious, and also perhaps a tad gleeful. “You didn't happen to have any, uh, ulterior motives for going to the library today, did you?” She smiled, knowingly. Being the shy pegasus that she was, she would never have dared bring up a topic such as this with anypony other than Dash. Several years of idle conversation at flight school had made her less inhibited when she was around the blue pegasus. They had often spent the evenings at Flight School in Fluttershy’s room, deep in conversation, well away from the bullies. Fluttershy would be gossiping freely about colts that she never dared make eye contact with, let alone make a pass at, whilst Dash shared her somewhat in-depth opinions concerning the other fillies in her class. Spinning the hours away talking to her best friend had been some of Fluttershy’s best times at flight school, hidden from the other adolescents, a small oasis of peace before being tossed into the clutches of another flying lesson to be spent falling on her face, to general laughter.
Dash was avoiding her friend’s eyes as she sought for a reply. “Umm, I had a headache,” she blurted, “no other reason.” Annoyingly for Dash, this was more or less true. Her decision to go to the library earlier had been mostly the product of the pain in her head. Unfortunately, that was not the reason behind the majority of her library visits recently, and it seemed that Fluttershy had picked up on this fact.
Fluttershy grinned, glad to have seemingly distracted Dash a little from her morose state of mind. “Come on, how long?” she asked, a little teasingly.
Dash’s eyes were roving the room, looking anywhere but at her friend. It was pointless lying, Fluttershy knew her better than anyone. “Okay, you got me,” she admitted, raising her front hooves in surrender. “…About two, maybe three months now.” She blushed, finally looking at Fluttershy again. “Happy now?”
Fluttershy certainly seemed happy, her eyes were large and her smile equally so. She let out a little squeak. “That’s so cute!” she exclaimed.
“I’m glad you think so,” Dash deadpanned, rolling her eyes.
“Why, though?” Fluttershy was still smiling, looking curiously at her friend. “She’s… umm… a bit bookish, isn’t she? I’d have thought you’d go for Applejack or somepony athletic like that?”
“Applejack?” Dash exclaimed, “Are you kidding? Granny Smith’d rip my wings off! Besides, I dunno. She’s not really… My type.”
“Not your type?” Fluttershy looked unconvinced.
“Trust me, Twilight’s definitely more my type.”
“Oh!” Comprehension dawned in Fluttershy’s eyes, as she remembered back to their discussions together in Flight School. “I remember now, you have a… a thing about unicorns, don’t you?” Her cheeks went a little pink.
“…Kinda, yeah,” Dash admitted, “but that’s not the only reason!” She backpedalled rapidly, realizing how shallow it would seem if the best reason she could come up with was ‘she’s a unicorn’.
“Why, then?” Fluttershy was grinning now.
“Well, you’ve got to admit the whole bookworm thing is kind of adorable,” Dash began, her cheeks colouring up again. “She’s brave, I mean remember that time you told me about when she charged down a hydra? That’s the kind of thing I mean. She never gives up, we all know that. If she did, we’d all still be getting played around with by Discord right now!” Fluttershy gave a little shudder at the memory of her own behaviour that day. Dash looked a little guilty about bringing it up, but then continued: “And well, come on, how can you not go for that smile?” she finished, a slightly dopey grin on her own face.
Fluttershy giggled a little, hugely relieved that she had managed to prevent Dash from focusing on her own flaws, if only for a while. “Do you think she knows?” she asked.
“I dunno.” Dash tilted her head, thoughtfully. “I went pretty red when she was hugging me earlier, but I don’t think she noticed.” This was something of an understatement. At the time, the portion of her mind had not been full of self-deprecation and sadness had been concentrating as hard as it could on keeping her wings well and truly in their proper place by her sides.
“Are you going to tell her?” Fluttershy pressed.
“Maybe. At some point. I hope so.”
“You don’t sound too sure.”
Dash sighed. “I’m not! She’s probably not even like that, and how awkward would things be then? It was different at school, it never got awkward, ‘cos if they turned you down you hardly ever had to talk to them again, ya know? But she’s one of my best friends. I don’t wanna mess that up. What if she freaked at me?”
“I’m sure she wouldn’t,” remarked Fluttershy, “something like this has got to be up to you, though.”
“Yeah,” Dash rested her head on her forelegs, “anyway, I wanna get my head straight before I go doin’ anything like that.”
And we were going so well, thought Fluttershy in mild frustration. Dash evidently did not wish to dig herself back down into depression however, because she stood up, stretching her legs after lying down for so long.
“Thanks for listening, ‘Shy.” Dash smiled warmly at her. “I still dunno exactly how I’m gonna try and make changes, but you’ve really cheered me up. I feel properly happy now.”
“Anytime, Rainbow.” Her eyes held only kindness, and Dash knew that she truly meant it. It made her unspeakably glad to know that she had a friend like Fluttershy, but still a little bite of sadness gnawed at the pit of her stomach. What did I ever do to deserve somepony like her as a friend? What did I ever do to deserve Twilight in my life? She broke the train of thought forcefully off, and deliberately pulled herself back before she could space out again, concentrating on Fluttershy.
“I’d better head home, it’s getting pretty late an’ I’m sure you’ve got plenty of stuff to do.”
“Oh, only if you’re sure you’re okay.” Fluttershy stood, walking over to give Dash a hug. “If you need to talk, I’m here.” She grinned, a little mischievously, “Oh, and let me know if anything happens with Twilight!”
“I’ll keep you posted.” Dash chuckled slightly, trotting over to the front door. “See you soon, ‘Shy. It was good to catch up.”
“It was, it’s really been too long.” Fluttershy opened the door for her, and Dash stepped outside.
“Thanks again, ‘Shy.” Dash said, quietly, almost humbly. Then, her voice rose in volume as she trotted outside, about to take flight. “See ya later!”
“Rainbow?” Fluttershy called her back at the last moment, and Dash turned, looking back at her friend standing in the doorway.
“Try not to hurt yourself anymore.” Fluttershy’s smile was kind, eyes full of peace and understanding. For a moment, it seemed that her usual nervousness was gone. “I remember when we first met. You never bragged about anything, you just went out there and did amazing things. You didn’t chase your horizons to beat anypony else to them, you chased your horizons because they were there. That’s who you really are. You can be that pony again.”
Dash smiled back at her friend, suddenly grasping the truth behind her words. Almost immediately, she felt a little warmer inside, as if some of the icy self-contempt in the pit of her stomach had melted. She was not who she wanted to be yet, but she had finally accepted that she could be if she tried. She had hope again. “I’m going to do this, Fluttershy. I’m going to be better than this, I really am,” she called, taking to the air, and hovering a couple of feet from the ground.
“Well then,” replied Fluttershy, a twinkle in her eye, “go and do it. But not to prove anypony else wrong, this time. Do it to prove yourself right.” With a wave to her friend, she gently closed the door. Feeling a little of her pain begin to thaw, Dash set off for her home. She had begun to understand some of the reasons behind her boastfulness, and felt as if change was a little more attainable. She would have a lot to tell Twilight the next day.