All the Ways that Matter

by RoyalBardofCanterlot

Let's Play a Game, My Sister

The train chugged along the iron tracks, the engine rumbling as the grey, icy mountains rose up on either side. Inside one of the compartments a group of champions rested. Dash floated lazily in the air, staring out at the storm clouds that hung over the white-capped peaks. She stretched and yawned. Her muscles were sore, aching. That jousting match had taken a lot out of her. She had forgotten just how much jousting took from her. Even with an opponent like Fluttershy, it was still difficult.

The lance provided a counterweight which had to be held in the forelegs, slowing the jouster down as she charged forward. Dash landed on the plush red carpet and stretched her forelegs. Her legs sank into the carpet as she stretched her back. Fluttershy sat next to Applejack and Rarity on the plain brown seats. They were having a whispered conversation about fashion, which Applejack seemed to be listening to only out of polite interest. She'd occasionally nod as if to confirm that she was indeed paying attention.

Pinkie, surprisingly, was curled up and asleep. A thin line of drool trailed down her lips. Dash chuckled. It was cute. If Dash was sore, then Fluttershy should be aching. She soared over to her fellow Pegasus. "Yo, Fluttershy. Want to stretch?"

Fluttershy smiled. "No, that's alright. I'm a little tired."

Dash raised an eyebrow. "You sure? Preening session maybe?"

Fluttershy flapped her immaculate wings which were in probably better shape than hers. "Um...if you want to."

Dash shook her head. "Nah, don't want to overpreen. Are your muscles sore?"

Fluttershy massaged her shoulder. "A little bit."

Rarity patted her back. "You need a proper massage. I'll arrange something at the spa as soon as we get back."

"That sounds lovely, Rarity." She stood. "I've sort of forgotten my exercise classes from school. How do you stretch?"

"Don't worry, I'll show you."

They stood side-by-side. Dash stood on her hind legs and Fluttershy followed her lead as Dash raised her forelegs to the sky and then bent to her right and left side. "Feel better?"

Fluttershy imitated Dash as she went through the stretch three more times. "Oh my, it does."

Dash returned to all fours and pushed out her forelegs, arching her back and Fluttershy went along as Dash lifted up. Dash pushed one backleg back and another forward as she stretched out one foreleg ahead of her and another behind her. Fluttershy examined the yogic pose, old memories of flight school returning. She just barely managed to do it, nearly stumbling. Dash steadied her with a wing. "You're doing good. Reverse the back legs."

Fluttershy did so, a rush of blood flowing up to her head. She nearly stumbled again. Dash gave her a worried look. "You okay there?"

"I'm fine."

Dash pulled up on her backlegs, feeling her spine straighten. Fluttershy went up with her before they went down to all fours once again, going down into a full prostration. Fluttershy felt her back relaxing. She also felt a rush of blood to her head and a sudden feeling of weightlessness. Dash stood straight once more and Fluttershy followed her. Dash spread out her wings as did Fluttershy. Dash began to move, rotating her right shoulder and then her left. The tension in her shoulders evaporated. Fluttershy moved her own shoulders in the rhythmic pattern, old lessons from gym class returning.

While the Pegasii stretched the train rolled along, leaving the Crystal Empire far behind, journeying away from the grim and frozen North towards the warm, sun-drenched southern valleys. The rugged mountains gave way to soft, emerald hills lifting up to the crystal blue clear sky. The train passed through small towns with their thatched roofs and simple stalls of the market place. They passed through Canterlot, the alabaster tower of the cities dazzling as they caught the sunlight.

Pinkie stirred and bounced over to the windows. Twilight barely looked up from her book as they passed through her native city. She observed Fluttershy and Dash who were going through a series of yoga poses. As she watched, she noticed Fluttershy's movements seemed almost sluggish. Sure, she wasn't as athletic as Dash, but a Pony of her age and build shouldn't have been having that much trouble with the simple poses Dash was showing her.

She set aside the book on Crystal Empire history. Something was wrong. Dash dipped into Cobra pose. Fluttershy paused before following her. Dash glanced over at her. "Um, Fluttershy. You okay there? Let's take a break."

"No, I can...just let Yeah. Rest."

She laid down, folding her wings against her sides. Dash shook her. "Fluttershy? Look at me."

Fluttershy's eyes were unfocused. "I'm fine. Just...just a little dizzy. Please, Dash, I'm okay. Let's just...what pose is next?"

"You need to rest. No way are we doing more."

"Okay. Rest. Rest is good."

Twilight trotted over, pressing her horn to Fluttershy's forehead. Fluttershy looked up. "Twilight, what are you...?"

"A diagnostic. Just relax." Twilight's horn glowed. "You're experiencing vertigo. I don't know why. We need to get you to the doctor immediately."

"Oh. Okay."

Fluttershy stood on shaky legs. Dash and Twilight took hold of either side of her as they led her over to the seat. Pinkie, Rarity and Applejack herded around her. Applejack touched her forehead. "Don't got no fever. How about I whip you up some good apple soup once we get back?"

Fluttershy swayed slightly. "That would be nice. Very nice. I have such very nice friends. I'm so glad I have such nice friends."

Dash shot Twilight a worried look as Fluttershy sat down. Twilight thought she saw tears glisten in the rainbow-maned pony's eyes as Fluttershy closed her eyes. "Twilight? She'll be okay right?"

Twilight nuzzled her. "We'll get her to the doctor."

"Twilight, I need to know. Will Fluttershy be alright? No bullshit."

Twilight sighed. "I don't know."

Dash bit her lip.

"There's no sign of dark magic so it's not Sombra. Exhaustion seems likely."

"Exhaustion." Dash repeated in a voice that sounded dead.

The train pulled into Ponyville station. Dash shook Fluttershy's shoulder. "C'mon Fluttershy! Wake up! Wake up!"

Twilight rubbed her back in what she hoped was a comforting gesture before she levitated Fluttershy onto her back. They quickly marched off the train.
Fluttershy laid in the white hospital bed, white sheets beneath her. The room around her was a sterile shade of whitish grey. The only color in the room were the five ponies who crowded around the fallen member of their circle. Her pink hair spilled all around her, her wings unfurled at her side.

Dash was unashamedly, unabashedly weeping as she paced. Tears tracked down her face as her chest heaved. "This is my fault! I know it is! It's all my fault!"

Twilight reached a hoof out to her only for Dash to knock it away. "Look Dash, you don't know that!"

Dash turned on the unicorn. "Yes I do! I shouldn't have pressured her into that jousting match! I could've gotten AJ or, hell, even you!"

"I can't joust, Dash. Applejack and Rarity were guarding the heart. Pinkie and me were doing other things. What else could you do, grab a random Crystal Pony, hand them a lance and pray for the best?"

Dash shook her head. "I know Fluttershy isn't that strong, but I pushed her anyway! I could've done something other than jousting!"

Applejack walked over and placed both hooves on Dash's shoulders, stopping the pacing Pegasus. "That ain't gonna help, Dash. Trust me on this one. Blamin' yourself ain't gonna help Fluttershy one bit. Right now, we don't know what's wrong with her. She could just be tuckered out and we're over-reactin'. Or she could have caught some kind of crazy Crystal Empire bug."

Twilight scratched her chin. "Huh. That is possible. The return of the Crystal Empire could cause certain pathogens to reappear."

"Ya hear that Dash? Maybe she picked up the Crystal Flu. We don't know."

Dash sniffled. Applejack wiped away her tears. Dash trotted over and grasped Fluttershy's hoof. "Please be okay, Fluttershy. Please."

Doctor Well Heart strode inside. He was an elderly, grey Earth Pony and held a clipboard. Dash nearly flew to him. "What's wrong with her?"

"She experienced a rapid drop in blood pressure."

Twilight stepped forward. "What could have caused it?"

The doctor walked over, examining the sleeping Pegasus. He touched her wings. Applejack physically restrained Dash as Dash nearly charged him. "Hey Buddy, stallions are NOT supposed to touch there!"

The doctor gave her a flat look. "Miss Dash, I am only giving her an examination so that I can determine what her affliction is caused by. I have no prurient intentions towards your friend."

Dash relaxed and Applejack let her go. Well Heart returned to his examination, pressing down on a nerve that made Fluttershy jerk awake. Fluttershy shot up, tucking her wings against her sides. Dash barreled into her, giving her a hug. "Fluttershy! You're okay!"

Fluttershy patted her back. "Um, Dash, are you okay?" She looked around her. "Where am I?"

Dash let her go. "The hospital. You passed out."

Fluttershy looked to the doctor.

"Miss Fluttershy, how often do you use your wings?"

Fluttershy blinked. "Well, I don't fly often. Usually just to feed my bird friends. About forty-five minutes a day, I'd say."

"The average Pegasus needs a solid hour of flight a day to remain healthy. The wings begin to atrophy from lack of use which puts pressure on the heart. Your friends tell me you had a jousting match earlier. That put more pressure on your heart. Of course, this was inevitable. You need to start flying more."

A wicked grin began spreading over Dash's face. "Oh, does she now?"

Fluttershy suddenly felt very nervous. She bunched up onto the bed, even pulling a sheet over herself. That look on that face never meant anything good. As much as she loved Dash, the other Pegasus had a tendency to take things to an extreme. Fluttershy knew she needed to work out more. What she didn't want was to do one-hundred laps a day which Dash actually did.

How her wings hadn't managed to fall off Fluttershy didn't quite understand. "Doctor, surely a nice, light glide a day would be good?"

The doctor shrugged. "It would be a start."

"Oh. Oh my."

Dash walked over and spread a wing over Fluttershy. "Don't worry, Fluttershy. I'll take good care of you. We'll start you with ten laps a day-"

The doctor held up a hoof. "Hold it, Miss Dash. She's not quite strong enough for that. Don't start her out with a full Pegasan training regimen. No need to have her twirling around mountains."

Dash harrumphed. "Whatever. I'll think of something."

Well Heart addressed Fluttershy. "Getting into shape can be fun, especially if you have a friend to help you with it."

Fluttershy lowered her head, pink strands of her mane covering her face. "Gym class was never very fun when I was a filly."

Dash snorted. "Especially with the jerks tossing balls at your head. Look, Fluttershy, I know you had a bad experience. I was there. But the doctor's right. This can be fun. Being healthy, being strong. There's nothing like it. I'm going to help you get into shape and you're going to love it."
Fluttershy yawned and stretched as the yellow rays of sunlight streamed through her window blinds. A bluejay was perched on the alder tree outside her window and was cheerfully singing. A robin lilted a merry tune as he flew above the forest. He was joined by his feathered brethren and a symphony broke out and filled the former silence of the dawn. Fluttershy turned over on her side, a river of pink mane spilling onto her pillow. She yawned once, spreading her wings before rustling them and returning them to her side. She rolled over onto her back and closed her eyes. Her ears twitched as the melodies continued outside her window.

The melody was ever different, but ever the same. The rise and fall of the notes, the different birds who each added their own particular tune. The endless rhythms of longing for mates or competitive males warning each other off. Some squeaks and the scurrying of claws on tree bark told her that the squirrels and chipmunks were awake. Angel Bunny nestled into her side, cuddling against her chest. She embraced him in her wings. He sighed in utter contentment. A few chipmunks were also snuggled against her back. Her cat took her customary place at the foot of her bed.

This was happiness. Sometimes, Fluttershy never wanted to leave these precious moments. The stillness of the dawn. The peace before the day began with fresh struggles and triumphs. Before her mind could begin churning out its daily regimens of panics, anxieties and lists of things that could go wrong.

Alas, the moment could not last. Her tummy began to rumble, rudely informing her that the apple and walnut salad she'd prepared for supper last night had long ago worn off. Still, she wanted at least five more minutes of sleep. She groaned as her tummy grumbled. Sighing, she knocked away the big, white comforter and began disentangling herself from the sheets. Angel hopped off the bed and was soon followed by the chipmunks. The cat jumped under the bed and returned to her slumber.

Fluttershy padded across the cool, wooden floor, opened the door and stepped out into the hallway. Angel followed her as she crossed the hall and stepped into the kitchen. She opened the refrigerator, pulled out a bag of bread, unwrapped the tie holding together the plastic and selected two pieces. She carried them to her toaster and put them in. Then she took a pot, turned on the sink and waited as clear water flowed from the tap and filled it. She then took the pot, turned on her stove and laid it on the burner. Once the water was boiling she added a teabag.

Soon, the black tea was done so she filled her white teacup with it, spread strawberry jam on her toast and sat down. The first bite flooded her taste buds with sweetness. The black tea was rich and savory, filling her with the energy she'd need for the day.

The steam rose up from the black liquid, warm against her lips. She set it down on the table. Yes, this was a peaceful moment.

"Good morning, Fluttershy!"

There it was. Fluttershy jumped into the air, her piece of toast thankfully falling onto her plate. A blue hurricane flew through her window, which she kept open in case one of her bird friends wanted to come inside.

Or another type of feathered friend. The hurricane slowed long enough to reveal itself to be Rainbow Dash. The cyan pegasus bounced in air, shadowboxing. Angel glared at her. Dash slapped Fluttershy's withers. "That's right! Let's see you flap those wings! That's the spirit!"

Fluttershy floated back down, settling into her chair. Dash took a seat across from her. "So, I have all kinds of ideas! Laps are boring, even I think they're boring, so I thought up a great idea!"

Fluttershy picked up her piece of toast and nibbled onto it. "I'd love to hear it. Have you had breakfast?"

"Yep! Scrambled eggs! I couldn't sleep last night."

Fluttershy finished up the toast and started on the second piece. "Would you like some tea? It's black tea, great for energy."


Fluttershy stood up and went to the stove after retrieving a cup. She poured the tea and hoofed it to Dash who took it, sipping it down. "This is good! Got anything for insominia?"

Fluttershy sipped her own tea. "Chamomile."

Dash slumped in her chair. Soon a light snoring sound came from her lips. Fluttershy finished her toast and the rest of her tea. Glancing out the window, she noticed that the sun had inched steadily forward. It was probably around eight. There was really no way to avoid what was coming and who knew? Maybe it would be fun.

Hesitantly, she poked Dash's side. Dash jerked awake. Fluttershy sat back in her chair. "So, what were you thinking?"

Dash set down her saddlebag and pulled out an orange ball. Fluttershy's blood ran cold. Memories of cruel taunts, the hard rubber smacking into her face, returned to her. Dash reached out, placed a hoof on her shoulder. "It's going to be okay. Okay? I'm here and I won't hurt you. You know that."

Her fears evaporated as she looked into those faithful, rosette eyes. "Alright. Let's do it."

Dash jumped up and whooped. Angel kicked her and raced from the room. Together, Dash and Fluttershy made their way outside. Fluttershy's hooves sank into the grass. Dash shot into the air, the ball held in her forehooves. Where Dash had snapped open her wings and rushed towards the sky, Fluttershy gently unfurled her wings and delicately flapped after her.

They floated, facing each other. Dash had her familiar cocky grin. Fluttershy was unsure, but smiled anyway.

Dash tossed the ball and caught it. "Remember what the doctor said, Fluttershy? This is going to be fun. The rules are simple. First pony to let the ball drop to the ground loses. Let's keep it in the air."

"I remember, Dash."


With that, Dash gave a gentle toss of the ball. Fluttershy tensed up, her wings snapping shut. She began to fall, but opened her wings back up at the last minute. Dash had already rushed forward to help her. The ball plummeted. Fluttershy quickly caught it and tossed it back to Dash.

Dash threw it in the air a few times. "Um, okay. Not great, but a good start." She tossed the ball again. It sailed through the air, a blur of orange against the sapphire sky. Fluttershy steered her wings, going after it. She caught it in her forelegs. "Hey, I got it that time!" She gave a little midair hop.

Dash whooped. "Good job, Fluttershy."

Fluttershy gave it a weak toss. Dash quickly caught it and threw it back to her. It sailed a few inches past her. She shot out and caught it, her wings flaring out as she wrapped her forehooves around her target, turned and threw it. Dash had no trouble getting a hold of it. "Dang! That was good! Maybe I'll kick it up a bit!"

Fluttershy found herself smiling. "If that's okay with you."

"It is!"

The ball whizzed past her, strands of her hair lifting up in the breeze. Once more, Fluttershy had to fly in order to keep up with it. This time, she threw the ball back so fast that Dash didn't catch it. The cyan Pegasus' eyes widened and she had to shoot downward in order to catch it. She shot upwards and threw it with much more force this time. Fluttershy dodged it by a few scant inches and rocketed after it. She got one foreleg around it and threw it.

It was Dash's turn to dodge. The ball kept flying as Dash turned to catch it. The ball felt hot against her fur as she wrapped her hooves around the searing rubber. She quickly propelled it towards Fluttershy. "Ye-ouch! Hot!"

That alarmed Fluttershy who rocketed upwards. The ball sailed into the distance. Dash roared past her. "First one to catch it wins!"

Fluttershy shot off after her friend, the wind roaring and bending around the two fliers. Dash was faster, but Fluttershy managed to keep pace with her. The two sailed on the currents of the wind, a hard gust kicked up in their wake that shook the tops of trees.

Dash turned to Fluttershy. "I told you this would be fun!"

Fluttershy didn't respond, only wiping away some sweat from her forehead. She could no longer see the ball. Dash was the one to spot it. It had picked up speed and so did she. Fluttershy followed as Dash spiraled downward after the ball, catching it as it hovered only a few feet below the ground. She threw it upwards and straight into Fluttershy's forelegs. Fluttershy yelped at the searing rubber and threw it back-right against Dash's head. Dash blinked several times and the ball fell to the ground.

Fluttershy raced to her. "Oh, Dashie! I'm so sorry!"

Dash shrugged. "It's okay." She descended and picked the ball back up. Fluttershy landed beside her. They were in one of the wide, spreading meadows that stretched outside Ponyville and rolled all the way to Canterlot. "That was my fault. I underestimated you."

Fluttershy fluttered back into the air. "Um, one more round?"

Dash fluttered up next to her. "Of course."

Fluttershy landed suddenly. Dash was at her side in an instant. "You alright?"

Fluttershy nodded. "I will be. Can we go inside for a bit of water?"

"Good idea. Do you want to do a second round? We don't have to."

Fluttershy looked up to the sky. "I want to."

Dash patted her back with a wing. "We'll get you there one day."

They walked inside, each one laying a wing atop the other's back.