Disclaimer: oops. I had this finished and ready to publish when Saturday’s episode kinda dismantled a key point. I’ll elaborate in an author’s note instead of spoiling, but yes, I recognize that a major element of this is inaccurate.
“...Look, all I’m saying is that, for someone who seems pretty bright, she seems to get captured a lot.”
Rainbow made a frustrated noise. “Well, yeah, but she gets out of it! Usually in some kind of totally awesome way!”
Lero waved a hand. “Even so, wouldn’t it be more awesome not to get captured in the first place?”
They’d all been walking down one of the main roads just outside of Ponyville when the conversation had started. Lero had just finished the third of the Daring Do books that Rainbow had been pestering him to read, and he didn’t seem to recognize how cool the heroine was. Twilight and Lyra were watching the discussion in amusement.
“What, and not give her a chance to get out and take the stuff the bad guys stole with her?” Rainbow asked, reasonably. “Come on, dude, that was awesome. You gotta admit that.”
“I’m not denying it at all. I just think it might have been more clever for Daring to turn the tables, especially in the second book. She had an opportunity there that she missed.”
Twilight cut into the discussion, clearing her throat to get Lero and Rainbow’s attention. “She actually does do that in the next book. She even thinks about what happened in Mummified Mare, and how she could have done things differently, and captures the villain chasing her because of it.”
Rainbow stuck her tongue out at the unicorn. “Way to ruin the fun, Twi. I was totally gonna keep this argument going until he read the next one so I could say ‘told you so.’ She’s more awesome ‘cause she learns from it!”
Twilight rolled her eyes with a long-suffering expression, and Lero chuckled. Rainbow saw Lyra smile quietly, her golden eyes twinkling with amusement.
A blur of motion caught Rainbow’s eye, and she glanced up. A black-and-yellow shape was headed towards them, weaving low between buildings, and Rainbow’s mouth twisted. Honeybee again.
The Honey sisters had kept hassling their little family, even after Lyra had started courting them, though they’d been less obvious about it when the mint-coated unicorn was actually around them. The pegasus sister, though, liked to buzz them periodically, regardless of who was around. It was an annoyance tactic, but it worked. She hadn’t knocked Rainbow out of the air again; that wasn’t easy to do anyway, and it had been almost a fluke that it had worked the first time, but it was still really aggravating. Especially the time they’d been dressed up for a date; Twilight’s hat had never recovered from the trauma.
Lero and Twilight had both urged Rainbow not to respond, telling her that the sisters were trying to provoke her, trying to get a response out of her, but darn it, enough was enough. Rainbow had always had difficulty with not responding, which had gotten her into trouble over and over again in flight school. By now, she had lost all of her patience with this garbage, and it was time to let Honeybee know that.
Rainbow waited until the other mare was committed to her course, ignoring the puzzled look on Lero’s face as she shifted her attention and dropped out of the conversation. Once Honeybee’s options narrowed sufficiently and she’d committed to an approach vector, Rainbow gave a single hard, uneven flap of her wings, pushing herself up and around in a twisting course. She’d learned this move from Autumn Breeze, her Feather Leaf teacher, and she’d always been really good at executing it. As Honeybee came in over Lero’s head, the tip of Rainbow’s wing struck hers in a glancing blow. Honeybee wobbled suddenly, the combination of the light impact against her wingtip and the twisting vortex Rainbow had created around herself sending the other pegasus almost out-of-control, exactly the way Rainbow had intended. She hadn’t hit hard enough to crash the other mare, just hard enough to hopefully express her... irritation.
Honeybee veered off, still wobbling and losing altitude as she tried to regain control, and Rainbow snickered triumphantly. Maybe you’ll think twice next time, she thought with a slight edge of smugness. Or maybe she’d just hassle Lero and Twilight when Rainbow wasn’t around, but if she did that then Rainbow would find another way to express her annoyance. Lyra would probably have some ideas on that front.
Rainbow’s sense of self-satisfaction vanished when she saw Honeybee’s unsteady course carry the other mare out over a nearby small lake. Oops. Shoot, I didn’t mean to do that... get it under control quick, dummy.
Honeybee almost managed it... but then her wingtip dipped into the water. The drag grabbed at the pegasus’s wing, yanking it behind her while her body continued on, and Honeybee flipped forward, hitting the surface of the lake with a tremendous splash.
Rainbow froze, a horrible stillness overtaking her. Oh... shoot. “Can... can she swim?”
Pegasi fell under one of two categories: those who could swim really, really well, and those who could drown really well. There was pretty much no middle ground. Rainbow herself, like most pegasi without the right talent, fell into the latter category.
And as Rainbow stared at the surface of the lake, where the spreading ripples of Honeybee’s crash were broken only by bubbles rising to the top, she became horribly convinced that Honeybee fell into that category, too.
“Oh, dear,” Lyra said quietly. “Ah... I can’t swim. Can either of you ladies?”
Twilight shook her head. “I can manage, but nowhere near well enough to pull off a rescue.” She looked tense, and a little scared.
Rainbow glanced around at the few stunned ponies she could see near the shore. None of them were particularly strong swimmers, nowhere near strong enough to go in after sompony. “Uh, uh, uh,” she stammered in shock, “does... does anypony know where Pinkie or Raindrops are?” Did I just kill Honeybee?! Ohpleaseohplease, don’t be dead, don’t be dead, I didn’t mean it, I really didn’t!
She was so distracted looking around that she didn’t notice Lero taking off at a run, headed for the lakeshore. “Lero, wait!” Twilight yelled. The human didn’t so much as pause, his long stride carrying him quickly to the water, where he dove in with a surprisingly graceful leap, extending his arms out in front of him just before he hit. “Oh no!”
“Can he swim?” Rainbow gasped, the sense of shock getting stronger.
“I don’t actually know,” Lyra replied tensely, taking a step toward the water. “I don’t think I’ve ever talked to him about it.”
“He almost certainly can’t!” Twilight exclaimed, her voice shrill. “Most apes can’t! They just drown!”
Rainbow felt sick. No, no, no, no, her mind babbled. “Twi, can you grab him or something? Anything?” This was my fault! This was all my fault!
“No! I don’t know where he is! I can’t grab something if I don’t know its location!” The unicorn’s voice sounded nearly as frantic as Rainbow was starting to feel.
“Woah,” Lyra interjected, “hold up, everypony calm down. He’s not dumb, he wouldn’t have gone in if...”
“I’m going in after him!” Rainbow yelled, ignoring the mint-colored mare. Impelled by guilt and fear, she powered forward, only to feel a slight twist to her wing that dumped her on the ground.
“No!” Lyra’s voice was firm. “Listen to me. You already said you can’t swim. Don’t make it worse. He wouldn’t have gone in if he couldn’t.”
“But!” Rainbow protested, pushing herself back to her feet.
“No!” Lyra cut her off again. “Look, do you trust him?”
Rainbow blinked. “Of course I do! But...”
“But nothing. Trust him to handle himself. You don’t want to give him two ponies to have to rescue.”
She did trust her human stallion; he was a bright guy, and she knew he could take care of himself and usually had good judgement. Even so, her instincts were screaming at her to do something. Anything, even diving in to try to help even though she knew she couldn’t swim.
Rainbow danced with tension, feeling half like she wanted to throw up, standing there watching the water for what felt like forever. Her stomach was clenched so hard it ached, and she could taste sour bile in her throat. She felt tears pricking at her eyes, fear and anxiety gnawing at her, made a thousand times worse by the feeling of helplessness. She danced there on the shoreline, staring at the gentle ripples on the surface of the water, feeling her tension wind tighter and tighter and her nausea grow stronger and stronger. It felt like they’d been standing there forever, and she knew, she just knew he wasn’t going to come back up. Twilight had tears in her eyes, too, and even Lyra was gnawing on her lip with worry. “He’s been down there a long time,” the mint-coated unicorn said quietly.
Finally, she’d had enough. This was my fault. I’m not going to lose him down there and not do anything. I can’t. I can’t! Her wings spread to launch her into the air, determined to do something to help even if she didn’t live through it. She couldn’t let him just die in the lake, she couldn’t. Maybe she could manage something, boost him up to the surface, shove him toward the shore, something, anything. Rainbow braced herself, taking a deep breath, ignoring Lyra’s sidelong look...
And Lero broke the surface, taking a deep, gasping breath of his own as he reappeared. He hauled Honeybee up after him, the pegasus mare likewise gasping deeply, gulping desperately for air and coughing as the human pulled her head up above the surface. Her forelegs paddled frantically, uncoordinated, and her wings moved sluggishly in the water.
Rainbow was above them like a shot, even before Honeybee had started to struggle to keep herself on top of the water. “Ohmygosh, Lero! Lero! What can I do? How can I help?” She hovered over them, looking for a way to grab him that wouldn’t drag her under. It would be awkward, but she might be able to...
“I got it,” he gasped. “I can...” He grunted, glancing at the coughing, frantic Honeybee, whose head he was struggling to hold up. “Quit fighting! Relax or you’ll drown us both! I’ve got you!”
Honeybee relaxed almost immediately, though her ears were still flat with terror and Rainbow could see her chest heaving with effort as she desperately pulled in air. Ponies who knew they were in mortal danger without the right skills to help themselves got frantic, but when another pony who did have the right skills showed up to help it made the one in danger almost instinctively follow the other’s direction. Knowingly or not, Lero had triggered that reaction, and regardless of the opinion Honeybee held of the human, her hindbrain was telling her to follow his advice.
“Okay, good,” the human said, shaking his head to get water out of his eyes, and Rainbow could see his arm moving weirdly under the surface of the lake. It looked like he was grabbing the water and pushing it down, but however he was doing it, he was holding both himself and Honeybee above the surface. It was clearly an effort, and she was worried about what might happen if he ran out of energy. No, she was terrified of what might happen then. The tension that had loosened when he’d reappeared suddenly coiled all the tighter.
“Please,” the yellow mare gasped, her ears flat with terror against her slicked-down black mane, “please, don’t let go. Don’t, please.” She was doing her best to try to hold on with her forehooves to the arm he had around her chest, desperate to keep the lifeline he’d offered her.
“I won’t,” Lero shifted, trying to pull Honeybee a little further out of the water. “Stay calm, I’m gonna head for the shore.”
Honeybee nodded, still coughing and gasping, not even trying to speak. Weird, she shouldn’t have been that close to being out of breath; most pegasi could hold their breath for several minutes. Rainbow could see by the terrified look in the other mare’s dark amber eyes that she’d come really, really close though, so something had been wrong.
“Dude, is there anything I can do?” Rainbow wanted to both land and collapse with relief at learning that her stallion hadn’t drowned, and explode with the tension she felt seeing him fighting his way out of a situation she was helpless to intervene in. He wasn’t out of danger yet; he and Honeybee were pretty far from the shore.
Lero shook his head. “No, I don’t want to risk pulling you in, too.” The human’s body shifted, lying sideways in the water while keeping Honeybee on top of him, and his stroke changed. Instead of holding them up, his arm reached out, pulling them strongly toward land. She could see his feet kicking, blurringly fast, throwing churned water up to the surface. They were moving, but it seemed like they were going at a crawl. Rainbow knew swimming was slow, but this felt like watching a glacier.
The pegasus glanced back at the shore, and could see Twilight and Lyra watching. Twilight was leaning way forward, almost enough to fall over. “Dude, Twilight could lift you out. She can see you now, and if she can see ya she can get ya.”
“If... I falter... then yeah... have her get us,” he gasped through the splashes, still pulling strongly for shore. “Backup plan.”
Rainbow watched them carefully, trying to figure out why they were going so slow, and had a sudden realization. “‘Bee, fold your freaking wings. You’re slowing him way down.”
Honeybee nodded, a measure of the fear on her face fading as she finally really realized she was going to be okay, though her ears were still flat against her neck and her forelegs were clinging to the arm Lero had wrapped around her. Her yellow-feathered wings disappeared from under the distortion of the water’s surface as she pulled them tight to her sides, and Lero’s speed increased immediately when that source of drag was removed. “B-better?” she asked, coughing, trying to keep her head high enough that the water didn’t splash into her nose or mouth.
“Yeah,” Lero replied shortly. “Just stay calm. I’ve got you.”
Rainbow stayed right over them, looking for anything she could do to help, but nothing manifested. Lero didn’t need the help; he was actually doing great on his own, even though Rainbow was terribly anxious about him being in a situation where she couldn’t do anything. She wanted to be mad at Honeybee for starting this whole mess, but from the sick fear in the other mare’s eyes, it looked like she’d already suffered enough for that. She looked like she might be crying with relief as they approached solid ground, though with all the water on her face it was hard to tell. Rainbow really couldn’t muster a good, solid feeling of anger toward her right now. She was more angry at herself; she should have checked where Honeybee’s flight path could have led. It was stupid to have done that the way she had.
Finally, he made it into the shallows. The human turned, carefully setting the coughing pegasus onto her feet in water shallow enough that she could stand, and the two of them stumbled up onto the shore, as the ponies around them cheered. A small crowd had gathered near the edge of the lake as the rescue had progressed, and Rainbow could see relief on the faces of everypony there. None of them looked as relieved as she freaking felt, though, seeing him finally clear of the water. The realization actually made her legs feel a little unsteady, knowing that he was safe, he was okay. He was up on land, where she could help if something happened, and that was important. The fact that she could help now if something else went wrong loomed huge in her mind.
She landed next to him, noting as she did so that he’d lost his shoes, and heard Twilight and Lyra galloping up to them. Behind her, Honeybee staggered onto the grass and collapsed, gasping. “Dude... Lero, are you all right, big guy?”
He nodded, breathing heavily. “Yeah, I’m fine.” The human turned to Honeybee, who was still lying on the ground, her black mane plastered to her neck by the water cascading off of her. “Are you okay, Honeybee?”
“Yeah, I’m...” she was interrupted by another fit of coughing. “I’m okay.”
“You couldn’t hold your breath longer than that?” Rainbow asked in an acrid tone.
The other pegasus shook her head. Her ears hadn’t lifted at all; they still lay flat from tension and fear. “Couldn’t... couldn’t get a breath. Hit the water...” she coughed again, “facefirst, didn’t have time. Too quick.” She paused again, gasping. “Got water in my throat, was trying to find the top, couldn’t. Didn’t... didn’t know where the air was.”
“I think you got disoriented,” Lero said quietly. “You were swimming sideways when I found you down there.”
Honeybee closed her eyes, shivering. “I couldn’t... couldn’t find up. The water was tickling my throat, there wasn’t any air, I was about to start coughing underwater. I don’t think I could’ve held it much longer. I was so scared.” She opened her eyes again and looked up at Lero, still gasping for air. “I... You saved my life. Why?”
“Why?” His eyebrows shot up. “Look, I know you don’t like me, and I honestly feel the same way about you,” he replied, “If you’d been about to fall in a mudhole or something, I probably would have just watched, but that doesn’t mean I was going to let you drown. I may not like you, but that doesn’t mean I want you to die.”
Honeybee blinked in surprise, but Rainbow couldn’t hold herself back any longer. She tackled Lero, grabbing him around the neck with her forelegs and around the shoulders with her wings, knocking him back into a sitting position. “I thought I’d just lost you,” she whispered in his ear, squeezing her eyes shut. She ignored the sensation of his sodden clothes squishing against her chest; it was completely unimportant next to the feel of him in her embrace. Warm, (well, slightly chilly at the moment) solid, and safe. The tension in her chest unwound almost explosively, driving her breath from her in a quiet huff.
The pegasus felt Twilight join the hug, grabbing him from the back the way Rainbow had grabbed him from the front. “Oh, I did too,” the unicorn whispered. “You scared me badly, Lero. I didn’t think apes could swim.”
“You’re both just being silly,” Lyra observed quietly. “He’s not that stupid; he wouldn’t have jumped in if he couldn’t get back out.” Then she stepped close and laid her head on Lero’s shoulder above Rainbow’s wing, stroking his lower arm with her forehoof. “All the same,” she whispered, and Rainbow could hear tension in the green unicorn’s voice, “I’d appreciate if you wouldn’t scare us like that again, Fingers. I thought my heart was going to stop for a little bit there.”
“Don’t ever do that again,” Rainbow whispered, echoing Lyra’s thought more emphatically while holding on to him with all four forelimbs as though afraid he was about to slip away. “Not ever. Don’t ever make me think I’d lost you again. I’ll totally kick your butt if you do.” The thought of losing him, especially to some stupid accident she herself had caused, gripped her heart in a vice, and she tightened her embrace fractionally.
Lero’s arms went around Rainbow and Lyra, his hands catching and holding Twilight’s forehooves since she was behind him where he couldn’t reach. “I’m sorry to scare you, ladies, but it didn’t look like anyone else was going to be able to help. It had to be me, and I thought I needed to act fast.”
“The...you were right.” Honeybee had gotten her coughing under control, though she was still breathing hard. One of the bystanders, an earth pony mare, approached the sodden pegasus, moving to help her to her feet. “If you hadn’t been as fast as you were, I think I’d be dead right now. I... thank you. Lero.” It was the first time Rainbow had heard the other pegasus use Lero’s name. “I owe you, big time.”
The hug broke apart, and Rainbow turned to glare at Honeybee, keeping herself between the human and the other pegasus. “Yeah,” she growled angrily, “you do.” She could almost sense both Twilight and Lyra joining in the glare.
Honeybee ducked her head. “I... look, I won’t buzz you again. I won’t hassle you again, either.” She let out another hard cough. “I’m... sorry. I really am. I’ll try to find a way to pay you back. Thank you.” The other mare heaved herself to her feet with the other mare’s help and walked unsteadily away, head hanging low and leaning on the helpful bystander, through the small crowd that had gathered.
Rainbow shook her head, dismissing Honeybee from her thoughts and turning back to Lero. “Dude, are you sure you’re okay? What happened to your shoes?”
He shrugged. “I’m fine, honest. I had to kick them off in the water; shoes make it hard to swim.” The human paused. “Look, I really am sorry I scared all of you, but in the same circumstances, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Honeybee would be dead, right now, if I hadn’t.”
Rainbow felt a chill at his words. I almost killed somepony. It would have been a total accident, but still...
Twilight tossed her head in irritation. “Why didn’t you tell me you could swim?!” she asked, an acerbic tone creeping into her voice. “I did research on apes, and I thought they were really bad at that!”
The human blinked. “The subject never came up, Twi. And, uh, keep in mind that humans aren’t really like other apes in a lot of different ways. We’re pretty good swimmers, for one, or at least most of us are. I’m a decent swimmer by human standards, but I’m not that strong in the water, and I admit I probably shouldn’t have done that.” He rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. “But, I mean, I couldn’t just stand by. I may not be a lifeguard, but I can swim reasonably well, and it didn’t look like anyone else was trying.”
Lyra, standing at Lero’s shoulder and gently rubbing his back with her forehoof, just smiled enigmatically, while Twilight made a frustrated sound. “Urgh! Look, let’s just get you back home and dry you off,” Twilight said, finally.
“I could handle that!” Rainbow volunteered.
“Ah, no offense, but no thanks,” Lero replied. “That cyclone thing you do isn’t all that comfortable, love.”
Rainbow snorted. “Aw, come on. Don’t you like having your hair sticking out in every direction?” That had been really funny the one time she’d convinced him to let her do it.
“Yeah, I’ll pass. No Einstein hair for me.” Rainbow had no idea what he was talking about, but that didn’t bother her. Lero pushed himself up to his feet, looking forlornly back at the lake. “I would like to go get another pair of shoes, too; I suspect that pair is forever lost.” He paused, and she could just barely see an edge of humor lurking underneath his expression. “Or, you know, I like those shoes.I could just go back in and get them back...”
“Don’t you dare!” All three ponies exclaimed simultaneously, even Lyra joining in on the chorus. Lero grinned, and Rainbow glared at him for just a moment before she couldn’t hold it anymore and started laughing, with Lyra and Twilight joining in a heartbeat later.
Rainbow hovered up so she could fly along next to him, talking and laughing and feeling almost giddy with relief. Lyra and Twilight fell in on either side, and the human didn’t seem to realize the guard formation the three mares had assumed around him; one above and two flanking the sides. None of them wanted to take another chance.
Rainbow actually ran across Honeybee again later that day, to her great surprise. She was gliding over the town, headed for a quick meeting with the south sector crew, when she heard raised voices. Curious, she banked and landed around the corner, a perfect location for eavesdropping. Or for, er, satisfying curiosity.
“-got a little scared, and now you’re gonna chicken out?” The voice was Honeydew’s, loud and angry. Not surprising; Honeydew got angry a fair amount.
“You’re seriously gonna call me a chicken here, sis?” The reply came from Honeybee, and was much quieter, though just as angry. That was a surprise; Rainbow had never once heard either of the other two Honey sisters talk back to the eldest. “Scared? You better believe I was scared. I would’ve died if it hadn’t been for Lero. You wanna talk about scared, you try being under water, not sure where the surface is, without any time to take a breath before you wind up down there. Until you do that, howsabout you shut your mouth?”
“What, calling the monkey by name now?” Honeydew sneered. “What’s next, wanna be the monster’s bench like those three nags?” Rainbow could feel her teeth grinding. So I’m a nag and a bench now, huh, she thought angrily. “Bench” was a slang term with a complex connotation; it generally referred to a mare that just stood there and took it without any kind of response, but it could also refer to one that basically just let a stallion use her. Either way, it was not a proper description of her relationship with her herd, and the insults were starting to get her boiling.
“Shut up, sis,” Honeybee replied, wearily. “Look, I’m not gonna stop you, I’m just not gonna help anymore. Quit calling me a perv. Just ‘cause I don’t want to keep hassling them doesn’t mean I want to rut him. And yeah, I’m gonna call him by name, and I’m not gonna be mean anymore.” She sighed. “I was getting kinda tired of that anyway.”
“C’mon, ‘Bee. You seriously gonna let those nags hang around while they’re sleeping with that monkey, and not mess with them?” Rainbow bristled from the continued insults; again, Honeydew had managed to insult her, her stallion, and her herdmates all in one breath. Still, she stayed quiet, listening.
Honeybee sighed again. “Sis, seriously. Yeah, it’s messed up, but I don’t think they’re gonna change their minds. We might as well leave ‘em alone.” The pegasus paused. “I’m gonna get him something to say thanks, and then I’m not gonna mess with ‘em anymore.”
“Say thanks? Say thanks? Why the heck are you treating this monkey like a pony, Honeybee?” Rainbow ground her teeth, trying to stay silent. Monkey. I’m gonna pay you back for that, Honeydew.
There was another pause, and Honeybee’s voice was quiet. “Is my life really worth that little to you, sis?” Rainbow blinked at the comeback.
“...What?” Honeydew sounded just as startled.
“I asked if you really feel like my life’s that cheap.” Rainbow could hear Honeybee swallow, hard. “I think you’re missing part of this. The important part. The part where, if he hadn’t done anything, I would have died.” The pegasus spaced her words out for emphasis. “No more Honeybee. I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you right now. You really don’t think that’s worth at least a thank-you gift?”
Honeydew snorted. “It was kinda stupid for you to be in the water, anyway. You know you can’t swim. Why the heck were you in there?”
There was a moment of frozen stillness, and then Honeybee spoke in a cold voice. “I was buzzing them, sis, like you asked me to, and Rainbow Dash spotted me. I guess she decided she was sick of it. So I wound up in the lake, because of what you wanted me to do, sis.” It... was a little more my fault than she’s saying, Rainbow thought a little guiltily, I should have checked what direction she was headed before I did that.
“Yeah, that was pretty stupid, huh? Flying over the lake like that.”
Rainbow could almost hear Honeybee grinding her teeth. “You wanna talk about stupid, sis? Are we really gonna have this discussion? ‘Cause I know, between the two of us, which one is smarter.”
“Yeah, maybe.” Rainbow heard a snort. “Okay, yeah, you’re the smart one. Maybe. Buzzing ‘em like that was your idea, remember. But you’re being dumb now. Didn’t we all agree the monkey was a freak?” Keep it up, Honeydew. You just keep on calling him a monkey. I’m adding up every time you say that.
“You know, I remember you ‘agreeing’ that, sis, and me just going along because I was lazy. In fact, I seem to remember mentioning that the creeps that were sleeping with him were the pervs; he can’t really help it, right? I just didn’t really argue when you flipped out about it. Isn’t that more how it went?”
“Well, yeah, but I thought you changed your mind, and you’re always lazy, ‘Bee. You’d never do anything if I didn’t make you do it.”
“Maybe I oughta change that, sis.”
“What? What is with this, ‘Bee? You suddenly think it’s okay for ponies to hump monsters? You turning into Mom or something? I mean, you got her wings, maybe you got some more, too...”
“Don’t you say that!” Honeybee’s voice was a snarl. “Don’t you dare, sis. This has nothing to do with Mom, I’m not abandoning you two, I’m saying I can think they’re pervs and still think they’re, you know, real thinking folks, which has nothing to do with the... argh, whatever Lero is. Especially when he saved my freaking life. What the heck has gotten into you, Honeydew?”
“What’s gotten into me is my sister betraying her family!” The big earth pony snarled back.
“Betraying? Seriously? You think me treating the guy that saved my freaking life like he can think and talk is betraying you?” There was a pause. “Honeydew... what is up with you? Have... have you always been like this? Do you just have us hassling those fillies because you want to be mean?”
“Of course not. I just...”
“Then can we stop?” Honeysuckle interrupted. Rainbow couldn’t remember actually hearing the younger earth pony speak before. She’d snickered along nastily with her sisters when they’d ganged up to pick a fight with Rainbow, and the cyan pegasus had never imagined that she hadn’t wanted to. She hadn’t imagined Honeybee acting like this either; it was coming as kind of a shock. “It’s not fun being mean, Honeydew.” She sounded a little sad. “I’ve lost some customers since we started. Some of my favorites. Bon-bon never comes to see me anymore.”
“So it’s both of you, then?” Honeydew growled, trying to hide a hurt undertone to her voice. “Fine. I’ll handle this on my own. Maybe Glitter will help, since you guys won’t.” Rainbow heard the big earth pony mare stomping off.
“What the heck?” Honeybee sounded upset and confused. “What’s gotten into her?”
“Nothing, she’s always like that.” Honeysuckle, by contrast, sounded sad. “She’s gotten meaner, ‘Bee. You just don’t see it because you’re off on your own so much, and she’s nicer to you ‘cause you help her figure out how to do stuff.” She paused, and sniffed. “I don’t like hurting her feelings, but I don’t want to keep doing this.”
“Geez.” Honeybee paused. “I... sis, do you think this is right? I mean, it’s perverted to be humping some monster, but...”
“But we shouldn’t be mean about it?” Honeysuckle still sounded sad. “I don’t think Honeydew’s right about this, ‘Bee. They’re not hurting anyone. We shouldn’t be trying to hurt them.” She sniffed again. “It was a little fun being mean at first, but I don’t like it anymore.”
“Wha? Uh, why didn’t you say something sooner?”
“I... It’s me, ‘Bee. You know. I’m slow.”
There was a pause. “Oh. Honeysuckle, I’m so sorry. Listen, I’ll try to be around more, okay? Don’t let Honeydew push you around, sis, you’re smarter than you think you are.”
The two sisters trotted off together, leaving Rainbow with something to think about.
She kept an eye out for Honeydew, and warned Lyra too, just to be sure, but the big mare seemed to be sulking. She didn’t make any move to hurt Lero, which was something Rainbow had seriously worried about after hearing that conversation. When something like this happened, it always made her nervous, always reminded her of how fragile he was compared to most ponies. Twilight had told her the Princess had personally spoken to Honeydew, and she could only hope that that would keep the angry mare from hurting her stallion, because she could do it if she caught him alone. She could do it with an ease that chilled Rainbow down to her bones.
Honeybee disappeared for a few days, too, which made it a bit of a surprise when Rainbow heard a knock at the door, and glanced out when Lyra opened it to see the black-maned, yellow-coated pegasus standing uneasily on the doorstop.
“Oh,” Lyra said with a blink. “Honeybee. Did you need something?”
“Um. Yeah.” The pegasus’s dark amber eyes darted from Lyra to Rainbow. She looked a little tired, actually. “Um. Can I come in?”
Lyra glanced over at Rainbow, and the pegasus tilted her head. “Sure, c’mon in.”
The unicorn moved out of the way, and Honeybee came in, still looking slightly nervous. “I, ah, is... Lero home?”
Rainbow frowned, sharing another glance with Lyra. “Yeah, he’s back in the living room. Did you want to talk to him?”
“Er, yes, please, if that’s okay...?” Honeybee trailed off, looking at Rainbow with a mix of hopefulness and discomfort.
Rainbow shrugged. “Sure, I’ll go get him.” She turned and headed into the house, leaving Lyra to watch the other pegasus. It didn’t look like Honeybee wanted any trouble, but the unicorn could handle any she might decide to make.
She found him sitting with Twilight, looking at one of her magic books in confusion. The unicorn was half-leaning into the human’s lap, pointing at part of the text with her forehoof. “...is really advanced math, Twi,” he was saying as Rainbow came in.
The unicorn giggled. “Not that advanced. This is an intermediate-level primer. I will admit that energy flow equations get a bit involved, but it’s nothing next to the advanced material.”
Spike, sitting in the corner scribbling on a parchment, laughed too. “Yeah, dude, if that bends your brain then the stuff on the fourth shelf is gonna explode it.”
He shook his head. “Way over my head. Math was never my strong suit; I was a history major.”
Twilight giggled again. “Good thing you’re not a unicorn, then. Oh, take a look at this, see, when you do Moonlight’s transform of the Chi-Theta integral, you can get the same effect on biological...”
“Hey, big guy,” Rainbow interrupted, grinning to herself at having a chance to rescue him after all, “Honeybee’s here, she wanted to talk to you.”
Lero blinked. “She does?” He glanced at Twilight, who shrugged. “Okay, I’ll be right there.” The unicorn got up out of his lap as he set the book aside (with carefully-hidden relief that Rainbow nonetheless spotted) and stood. Rainbow waited until they’d disentangled themselves, and led the way back to the anteroom.
Twilight glanced over her shoulder as they left. “Oh, Spike, when you’re done there could you get my copy of the Annotated Articles on Alchemy from the library for me?”
Spike waved nonchalantly. “Sure thing, Twilight.”
Honeybee looked up as they came in, sidling away from Lyra with a slightly uneasy air. “Ah. Um. Hey.”
Lero stopped, looking almost as uncomfortable as Honeybee did. “Hey. Rainbow said you were looking for me?”
“I... yeah.” Honeybee shifted in place, then turned suddenly to her saddlebags. She flipped the top open and pulled out a large, paper-wrapped package tied up with string. “Here,” she said through closed teeth as she gripped the string, “Gof thif for you.”
He reached out, and she laid the package in his hand. “You, um, may want to open it now. It’ll keep, but not forever, y’know?”
Blinking, Lero started untying the string. He opened the package, not realizing he was holding it up too high for any of the ponies to actually see it, and looked at Honeybee in surprise.
She shuffled her forehooves. “Uh, I asked around town, and heard you liked fish, so...”
“Is this what I think it is?” Lero asked in surprise.
Consumed by curiosity, Rainbow hovered up off the ground to look over Lero’s shoulder. The paper had been wrapped around a number of large pieces of fish, something that looked like salmon except it was deep red in color instead of the pale pink she was used to seeing. She wondered if something was wrong with it.
Honeybee cleared her throat. “Um. Like I said, I’d heard you liked fish, I always liked salmon and I remembered... someone who liked it... saying that the best kind of salmon came from out in the ocean, so...”
Lero still looked surprised. “Yeah, it is, but I’ve looked all over the place for ocean-caught salmon. All you can find around here is farm-raised.”
“Yeah, that is the only kind around here.” The pegasus fidgeted. “I got some saddlebags with stasis spells on ‘em and took a trip out to Typhoon.”
“Uh, wow,” Rainbow said blankly. Lero glanced over his shoulder at her.
Rainbow blinked, staring at Honeybee. No wonder she looked so tired; the stasis spells on bags like that only lasted a couple of days. She must have really hustled. “Cloud city that stays over the ocean, it wanders around the east coast a lot. That’s... kind of a long flight.”
“Yeah.” Honeybee closed her eyes wearily for a moment. “I took a train out to Baltimare and back, didn’t fly the whole way. It’s pretty close to there right now.”
“Still, though.” Honeybee helped out the weather crew sometimes, so Rainbow knew the other mare’s abilities, and endurance wasn’t one of them. “Uh... you flew out over the ocean after what happened the other day?”
Honeybee gave Rainbow a sullen glare, her ears turning back slightly. “I’m not stupid; I flew out there with a flock and a couple of lifeguards, like any pegasus with a brain.”
“Well, it sounds like you went way out of your way, Honeybee,” Lero interjected quickly, clearly hoping to avoid a fight, though Honeybee was just acting grumpy rather than actually aggressive. He still had a little trouble picking up nonverbal cues from ponies he didn’t know, though he had gotten really good at reading the ones he was familiar with. “This is very generous of you. Thank you.”
Honeybee actually gave the human a wan smile, the first time Rainbow had seen her smile in his presence. It was a little strained, but it seemed genuine. “I’m glad you like it. I just... you saved my life the other day. I wanted to show that I appreciated that.”
“You didn’t have to,” he replied quietly.
“I know.” The pegasus shrugged. “Look... my life is worth a lot to me. I... really thought I was going to lose it, before you grabbed me and hauled me back up to the surface, and I know you did it even though we’re not friends. This is just the way I came up with to say ‘thanks.’”
He nodded. “In that case, you’re quite welcome, and the gift is likewise appreciated.” Honeybee smiled again and returned the nod. Lero hesitated, looking at the fish. “Um. Would... would you like to join us when we cook this?”
Honeybee froze, blinking and shooting a glance over his shoulder at Rainbow. “Er... I’m sorry?”
“What are you doing?” Rainbow hissed into Lero’s ear. Twilight and Lyra likewise looked shocked.
Lero shrugged uncomfortably. “It was a family tradition back home; if someone gave you a gift of food, you offered to share it.” He looked at Honeybee levelly. “It’s just an offer, you’re free to decline if you like.”
The pegasus’s eyes darted around uneasily, glancing at the other ponies in the room. Rainbow noted that Twilight and Lyra looked surprised and a little uncomfortable, which was pretty much how she felt. “I... uh. Listen, I appreciate the offer, I really do, but I’m gonna have to say no.” Apart from glances, Honeybee was carefully avoiding looking at any of the other ponies in the room, though she didn’t seem to have a problem meeting Lero’s eyes. Rainbow thought it was a little odd. “I mean, thanks, but I’ll pass.”
Lero nodded, looking a little relieved. “All right. The offer was genuine, but I can understand if you don’t want to.”
“It’s not you,” Honeybee blurted. She looked abashed, realizing she’d spoken. She sighed, covering her eyes with one forehoof. “It’s... I never really had a problem with you. I think my sister does, but...” She shrugged.
Lero frowned. “Er, so what do you have a problem with?”
“It’s us, big guy,” Rainbow whispered in his ear. “Me, Twilight and Lyra. She doesn’t like the fact that we’re... together. With you.”
“I’m sorry!” Honeybee exclaimed, backing up a pace, “I just... I think it’s perverted. Look, I’m not going to make a big deal about it anymore, I just think it’s messed up. Argh, I didn’t mean to talk about this when I came over here, I was just gonna give this to you and go...”
“But you don’t have a problem with me?” Lero sounded really puzzled now.
Honeybee shook her head. “No, especially not now. I just... I don’t... It seems kinda wrong to me for ponies to be with... folks that aren’t ponies.” She swallowed. “Look, I... this really isn’t what I meant to talk about. I’m sorry, I really won’t bring it up again.”
Lero stood stock-still, and Rainbow could see the muscles in his jaw working. Honeybee looked at him carefully, trying to figure out what his posture meant. “I... are you upset?”
He nodded once. “Yeah, I kinda am. It bothers me when people have problems with the ones I care about because of the fact that I care about them, for some odd reason.”
“It’s... I... that’s not what I meant,” Honeybee said quickly. She covered her face with her forehoof. “Argh. I told myself coming over here that I wasn’t gonna do this. I didn’t want to start a fight. I really didn’t mean to start a fight right in your house.” She sighed, forcing herself to look around at the other ponies in the room. “Look... can’t I disagree with what you’re doing without thinking that it makes you bad ponies?”
Lero sighed. “I guess we’re gonna have to agree to disagree here.” He glanced down at the package in his hands. “Are you still sure you want me to have this?”
Honeybee’s ears laid back. “Are... are you turning it down?” she asked in a small voice, lowering her head and taking a step back.
“I’m asking if, given what you said, you’re still sure you want to give it to me,” Lero replied. “I mean, I’m certainly intending to share it. Rainbow will almost certainly want some, and I intend to share it with Twilight and Lyra as well, if they want any. If our relationship bothers you, will that upset you, too?”
Honeybee shook her head. “Um. Why do you think I brought so much?” She asked, quietly. Rainbow glanced at the package again; there was certainly quite a bit there, more than enough for four or five.
The three mares stayed silent, letting Lero carry the conversation. Rainbow figured anything she said would probably be taken badly, so letting him talk instead seemed like a good bet. “I’m not sure,” the human replied. “Let me be blunt; are you upset at the idea that I’d share your gift with my family?”
“I...Of course not.” Honeybee backed up another step. “Look... I gave it to you. It’s yours. It’s... I know it’s a pretty sad way to thank you for my life, but it was the best thing I could think of. What you do with it is your business...” she swallowed, “but no, it doesn’t bother me that you’d share it. I expected you to. Like I said, that’s why I got so much, trying to make sure it’d be enough. And, ah, thank you for the invitation. It took me by surprise, and it made me say some stuff I shouldn’t have, and I really am sorry. I didn’t mean to come to your house,” she looked around at all of them this time, including the three ponies in the apology, “and insult you, I really didn’t. I, ah, I should go. I’m sorry. I really am.”
“Before you do,” Lero interjected, lifting the package she’d given him, “thank you. This is a very generous gift, and you went to a lot of trouble to get it.”
Honeybee smiled again, her ears relaxing a bit. “I’m glad that you like it. And, ah, really, thank you for the invitation.” She paused. “M-maybe... some other time?”
Lero glanced briefly at Twilight and Lyra, getting a nod from both of them, and Rainbow rested her forehoof on his shoulder. To her surprise, Honeybee didn’t even blink at the gesture; she’d been half expecting to provoke the other mare.
He nodded once. “Some other time, then.” It was pretty clear he was just being polite, but then, Honeybee was too. The gesture was the important thing. “Well, actually, I’ve got some ideas as to what I could do with this. Twi, could you get Spike to meet me in the kitchen when he gets back?”
The unicorn nodded. “Sure! I’ll go see if maybe he hasn’t left yet.” She trotted out, and Lero turned and disappeared back into the kitchen.
Honeybee cleared her throat, drawing Rainbow and Lyra’s attention. “Uh. Hey, before I go, there’s this one thing...”
Rainbow raised an eyebrow and glanced over at Lyra, catching the interested glint in the unicorn’s gold eyes. “What?”
The other pegasus flinched slightly, but didn’t withdraw. “It’s my sister, Honeydew. I, ah, I’ve been keeping an eye on her, and I’ve had a couple of friends doing it too, but I need to talk to you two about it.” She closed her eyes, drawing a deep breath. “I’m... I’m afraid that she might try to hurt your, ah, hurt Lero.”
Rainbow shared another glance with Lyra, feeling a coal of anger kindling in her chest. She’d told Lyra about the argument she’d overheard, but having those concerns confirmed this way was unpleasant. “Oh, you think so?” she asked the other pegasus, a harsh edge in her voice. “If she tries, she’s gonna regret it.” She’d had it with Honeydew, she really had. If she tried to hurt Rainbow’s stallion, then Rainbow was going to start breaking things until the other mare smartened up.
Honeybee flinched again. “I... please, don’t hurt her bad if she does. I didn’t realize until recently, but she’s... I don’t know what’s gotten into her. I think something’s wrong. She hates him, though. I’ve been trying to watch for the last few days, trying to make sure she doesn’t try anything but...” She sniffed, “like I said, I had a couple of friends watching her while I was gone, and I’m going to be watching her as close as I can now, but I’m scared I’m going to miss something. I don’t want her to hurt anyone, but...” She sniffed again, ducking her head, “she’s my sister. I don’t want her to get hurt. Please, please, if she shows up acting crazy, please could one of you come find me? I’ll stop her, I will, even if she’s angry she’ll listen to me...”
Lyra looked troubled. “If you’re seriously worried that she might get violent, then we need to do something now. I’ll talk to the Mayor...”
“No, please!” Honeybee looked up, a panicked look in her eyes. “I’ve been talking to her, I think I can keep her from doing anything like that. I really do, she has to listen to me. We’re pretty much all either of us has, us and Honeysuckle. I’m just trying to warn you, you know, just in case, since I realized the other day that I was screwing up and now I’m scared I’ll do it again.”
The two herdmates shared another look. “Fine,” Rainbow growled, “we’ll give you a chance. But if she tries something, I’m not gonna let her, and if she actually does hurt him, I’m not gonna hold back. Got it?”
Honeybee swallowed, nodding. “I understand. Thank you. I’ll try my hardest to make sure that won’t happen.” She heaved a deep breath. “Okay, I’m gonna go now. Thanks for hearing me out.” The yellow-coated mare turned and left, and Rainbow and Lyra watched her go.
The two mares shared a final uneasy look, before heading into the kitchen. Lyra tossed her head slightly, indicating that Rainbow should take lead, which the pegasus was glad to do. She walked up behind Lero, who was pulling stuff out of the pantry and handing it off to Spike. Rearing up to be closer to his eye level, she caught his shoulder with her forehoof. “Hey, big guy, got something to tell you real quick.”
He blinked at her, but nodded. “Hey, bud, can you get started on your own?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Spike replied. “Go ahead, I’ll wait if I run into a problem or somethin’.”
The human stepped aside, and Rainbow quickly summarized what Honeybee had told her, ending with, “...so I just wanted to warn you. Be careful, big guy.”
He nodded soberly. “I’m not going to let her scare me, but I’ll remember and be careful.” The human smiled at her. “Thanks, Dash. I promise I’ll watch my back.”
She nodded, and let him turn to head back to help Spike. Yeah, and I’ll be watching your back, too, she promised silently, glancing at Lyra and nodding. We all will.