Dash’s ear twitched as a light voice pierced the heavy silence. Something soft touched her nose, causing her to scrunch up her muzzle and shift away from the commotion. She was not about to wake up before she absolutely had to.
“Rainbow, please wake up.”
Dash barely cracked one eye open, groaning as she glanced between her bedside clock and the figure in front of her.
“Fluttershy? Do you have any idea what time it is?”
“Four in the morning, a little over an hour before your officer would wake you up to train.”
“Exactly.” Rainbow stretched, yanking the comforter away from her as she shuddered from the chill temperature of the room. “What’s the deal? Are the barracks on fire?”
Fluttershy bit her lip, somehow not drawing blood in the process. “W-well no, but it won’t be much longer until my shift is over, and I wanted to see you before I went to bed…”
Rainbow Dash stared at the fidgeting mare, raising one brow as Fluttershy failed to match her gaze. “There’s something else, isn’t there? You wouldn’t wake me up this early otherwise, you’re too considerate for that.”
“There’s something else,” Dash repeated, sitting up and leaning on one side. “You know you can talk to me. What’s up?”
“...Alright,” Fluttershy conceded, her body slumping slightly. “If you come with me, I’ll tell you.”
“Alright, I’ll bite.” Dash slowly hoisted herself out of bed, a joint popping as she stretched one wing. She followed Fluttershy out into the castle hallway. “So, what’s up? Why’d you wake me up this—” She yawned. “—early.”
Rainbow Dash found it uncanny how little noise Fluttershy made as they walked across the hallway. Another perk of being a thestral, Dash wagered. She totally wasn’t jealous or anything like that.
“I…” Fluttershy trailed off, her mouth closing as she parsed the sentence in her head. “I’d rather tell you at the restaurant. I’d like to get away from the castle first.”
“You want to go to a restaurant? Really, right now?”
She nodded. “Yes, it’s a griffon restaurant downtown. You’ll like it, I promise.”
“A griffon restaurant!?” Dash sputtered. “Like, blood and meat and stuff?”
“I’m not the only night owl in Equestria, you know. They’re open very late at night for that exact reason.” Fluttershy winked. “Of course, if you’re scared. I can find somewhere else for us to eat.”
“Scared? Me?” Dash puffed out her chest. “Danger is my middle name!”
The Black Talon bar and grill—a far cry from traditional wine and dining. While the Full Moon bar had been a more relaxed environment, the lively, rambunctious attitude of this place contrasted it immensely.
Dash whistled as she admired the open-fire cooking that took place at the table adjacent to them, though turned a shade of green as she caught a whiff of the smell of seared meat, temporarily forgetting that this was a griffon restaurant.
Fluttershy giggled at her expense. “What did you call yourself again? Rainbow Danger Dash?”
“S-shut up,” Dash muttered, her voice being drowned out by the banter of another patron. “I don’t get how you can stand the smell of that stuff.”
The smile faded from Fluttershy’s face, only a small frown remaining. “You get used to it, eventually.”
“Don’t be.” She sighed. “I used to be a veterinarian, you know.”
Fluttershy blushed. “W-well, I never became officially certified. I used to have this dream, that I would have an animal sanctuary all to myself.” She sighed once more. “I left a lot behind, Rainbow Dash.”
Dash winced. “I… don’t know what to say. It’s really awful, what happened to you.”
“I used to go to the spa with my best friend every weekend.” Fluttershy idly stared up at the ornate chandelier that hung above them. “I wonder what her reaction will be the next time I see her. I left before she found out…”
“What’s her name?”
She smiled. “Her name’s Rarity. She’s a seamstress in Ponyville, the best fashionista I’ve ever met.”
Rainbow Dash found herself twitching in her chair, reflexively gripping the armrest. There was only one question she really wanted to know the answer to, one question that had been nagging at her since she left the castle.
Dash leaned against the table. “Fluttershy, why did we come here? Why’d you bring me here tonight instead of any other day?”
“Did you know I’ll be graduating soon?”
“Really? That’s awesome!” Dash chuckled. “When’s the graduation party—”
“It was tonight.”
“...” Rainbow Dash sat there, speechless as their waiter set down the food they’d ordered. It took another minute of silence before she could form another sentence.
“Fluttershy, did they not invite you to the graduation party?”
“No, they did. Night Mother was very adamant about me receiving an invitation.” Fluttershy’s gaze met the floor. “But I could tell that I wasn’t welcome there. I’m the black sheep of our platoon after all. It’s better if I just keep my distance.”
Fluttershy jumped as Dash slammed a hoof against the table, shaking the ceramic.
“That’s stupid,” Dash snarled. “Have they even talked to you? What’s not to like about you? You’re amazing!”
“R-Rainbow,” Fluttershy stammered, heat rising to her face. “A normal thestral doesn’t drink blood. I’m… cursed. They have a good reason to be afraid of me.”
“Cursed my flank!” Dash retorted. “If they got to know you, they’d see—shit!”
Dash swore aloud, dropping a now bloodied knife and wrapping a tablecloth around her bleeding right hoof.
“Rainbow!” Fluttershy squeaked, springing up from her chair. “You’re hurt! Let me help.”
“I got it,” she grunted. “Don’t worry, I just cut myself a bit on accident.”
“Let me see your hoof.”
“Fluttershy, I said I got—”
Fluttershy reached forward and dragged her tongue across the open wound, causing Rainbow to gasp at the contact.
“F-Fluttershy! What are you—!”
“My saliva,” Fluttershy repeated. “There’s a numbing agent in my saliva. It’s why you didn’t feel much pain the first time I fed off of you.” She licked her lips. “You taste wonderful by the way. Though, I can almost taste the garlic you’ve been ingesting.”
Dash retracted her hoof, glancing around the room as a blush formed on her face. “I want you to know—that was really awkward.”
Fluttershy flashed her a mischievous smirk. “I think you liked it.”
“I-I… shut up.”
Fluttershy stifled her giggling. Dash grumbled for a second before laughing alongside her.
They continued eating for the next half-hour in relative silence, exchanging small talk when they saw fit, though it was nothing either of them would remember come the next day. Rather, they simply reveled in each other's company, Rainbow Dash's morning fatigue now long gone. Eventually, Dash glanced out a nearby window, sighing in content as she set her empty plate down.
“The sun’s starting to come up. I think it’d be for the best if we head back to the castle.”
Fluttershy sat up, briefly tossing a tip on the table as she grabbed Rainbow’s hoof without speaking, ushering the two of them outside.
“Hey! Fluttershy, what’s wrong?”
“I wasn’t paying attention to the time,” Fluttershy mumbled as the two crossed the street. “Let’s get back to the castle, quickly please.”
Rainbow Dash stared up at the sky as she followed Fluttershy. The sun barely grazed the horizon, gold meeting blue as the morning finally arrived; they were the center of the spotlight.
Fluttershy stumbled forward, leaning against Dash for support. “I… don’t feel well. Rainbow, I need you to get me out of the sun.”
Dash couldn’t reply fast enough. Fluttershy fell limp within the pegasus’ grip as the light shone down upon them.
“Fluttershy!” Dash shouted, shaking her unconscious body. “I… don’t worry, I’ll make sure you’re safe!” She flew as fast as she could with the added weight of the thestral on her back, praying that whatever happened, Fluttershy would be alright.
“Please… please be alright.”
Rainbow Dash bowed her head low as Princess Luna paced back and forth across the throne room. “What did I say when we first met? Why would you two be out late enough for the sun to come out? My sister’s light is poison to her!”
“I-I didn’t know! She didn’t tell me!”
“You shouldn’t have left the castle in the first place!” Luna barked back, turning away from Rainbow Dash. “Tell me, how much do actually know about my daughter?”
Dash gulped. “She used to be a pegasus like me. But, she was cursed, hexed by some rabid bat in an apple orchard. That’s what caused her to transform.”
Luna shook her head. “She’s not a normal thestral; she’s from the original family line that’s existed since before I was even banished.
“She’s a rare breed of thestral—inordinate strength, transfiguration, insatiable bloodlust and a crippling weakness to the sun—she’s a prime example of what a thestral used to be before they lost nearly everything that made them threatening.”
Luna marched forward, standing a mere inch away from Dash. “But know this, Rainbow Dash, the only curse she has is a social stigma within her rank. What she has is a vicious disease.”
“A disease,” Rainbow mumbled, before suddenly perking up. “If she has a disease, then there’s a chance there’s a cure, right? You can fix—”
“There’s no cure, Rainbow Dash.”
“I’ve searched for well over a century prior to my banishment,” Luna said, backing away slightly. “There’s no way to fix her, and she’s better off thinking that she’s a product of dark magic than for her to chase after something that doesn’t exist. I don’t want her to waste her life like that.”
Luna let out an exasperated sigh. “Another hour and a half in the sun and she would’ve become pale and anemic. A full day in the sun and she’d be reduced to nothing but ash, pain worse than crucifixion.”
Dash winced; Luna pressed on. “Fraternization in the military is strictly prohibited. I was going to let this slide for her sake, but you leave me with no choice. Either you stay away from my daughter, or I’ll court-martial you. You’re a bad influence.”
“E-excuse me?!” Dash sprung up. She glared daggers at the lunar princess, temporarily forgetting who she was talking to.
Princess Luna returned a glare that bore into Dash.
“You’re excused. Now get out of my face.”
Dash’s armor rattled against the marble tile as she was thrown back by Luna’s telekinetic force. She grunted, getting one last look at Luna’s ire before the heavy doors slammed in her face.
Rainbow Dash stood up with a growl. It took all the willpower she had not to spin around and kick the doors off their hinges. She huffed, stomping away with a newfound sense of determination.
No chance of a cure? Dash shook her head. I don’t believe that for a second. She said she that searched for over a century before her banishment, but what about the thousand years she was gone? It just doesn’t make sense.
Rainbow Dash stood still in the castle hallway. That can't be it. There has to be something I can do to save Fluttershy.
“I have to,” Dash whispered under her breath, her voice echoing nonetheless.
Dash’s fur stood on end from the sound of the voice. She performed an about-face, saluting on instinct. “Y-your Highness!” Dash fumbled.
Princess Celestia giggled as she approached Dash. “At ease, cadet. I just came to see what the commotion was about.”
"I..." Dash faltered for a moment. There was no use in trying to lie to her, she’d see right through it. "Princess Luna doesn't approve of my relationship with her daughter. Apparently, I'm a bad influence on her." She shrugged. "I don't know what to do anymore."
Celestia raised an eyebrow. “I see.” She paced a little, stopping next to a stain-glass window of a unicorn Dash didn’t recognize. “Rainbow Dash, do you know who this is?”
Dash stared at the violet light that refracted off the window, shaking her head. “No, your highness. Can’t say I know her.”
She smiled. “This window is something I requested after she moved to Ponyville, to remind me of her. She’s my personal student. Her name is Twilight Sparkle.”
“She’s pretty,” Dash said with a blush. “I-I mean—graceful? I-I swear I didn’t mean it like that!”
Celestia chuckled, composing herself before she spoke. “Rainbow Dash, I’d like you to meet her. You and Miss Fluttershy.”
Celestia was pensive, gently swaying in place as she stared at the closed-off throne room. “I think you’ll find that if anyone can help you with a problem you might have, it’s Twilight.”
Princess Celestia turned away from the gaping pegasus. Craning her head to look back at Rainbow Dash, she spoke once more. “Who knows? Maybe the three of you will even become friends.
“Then we’ll finally be able to start correcting the course.”