A Bluebird’s Song
So I'll wait till midnight tolls
Two souls almost touching
In the dark
I’ll be alright…
Epilogue – Night Air
Three Months Later.
Autumn had drawn its slow amber gaze down over Ponyville. The days were shortening; the summer’s lazy heat giving way to gentle winds, and the once-green world was rusted by its carpet of fallen leaves.
The town’s cobbled streets were quiet as the afternoon began to wear on into evening. Most ponies were sequestered in their houses, taking a well-earned break and preparing for the evening’s celebrations. Today had been the final day of the harvest season, and the last of the crops had finally been brought in from the now-bare fields.
The day’s work, however, was not quite complete. Led under the scrupulous eyes of the Apple family at the town’s outskirts, one of the town’s many bonfires was being constructed, surrounded by banners and sundry other trappings of celebration, in observation of the traditional earth pony festival of Harvest’s End.
A few of the more enterprising ponies had already set up their picnic blankets or trestle tables on the grass, so as to ensure that they were within a comfortable range of the bonfire and fireworks.
Across town in Ponyville’s library, however, the imminent festival was not the only source of excitement.
The lavender librarian cantered up the stairs three-at-a-time, holding a letter magically aloft with her horn.
Dash lay curled up on the bed, her nose buried in a copy of A Picture of Dorian Neigh. Her absence of flight over the last few months had extended the length of her stay with Twilight, and by this time her life in the library had practically become the norm for her. The place looked a little different now; a few posters adorned the walls, and the floor was dotted with magazines and the occasional piece of exercise equipment. It was still neat; Twilight could not function with it any other way, but it felt somehow more relaxed.
Along the mantelpiece ran an extensive collection of get-well-soon cards, among which stood, in pride of place, a hoof-made glitter-encrusted affair, with the obvious hallmarks of being made by a foal, that had arrived shortly after Dash’s survival had been officially announced. It was, of course, from Fizzle. The filly’s relief at her idol’s recovery was palpable in the time that had obviously been invested in it.
The card’s arrival had brought a tear to Dash’s eye, and she had written back immediately to express her gratitude. She had also sent the pair of flying goggles that she used in training along with the note, as a token of her appreciation. She knew how much it would mean to the filly; indeed, had her best pair not been lost in the accident at the Cloudiseum, she would quite probably have sent them instead.
Despite these bright moments, the time still passed with an excruciating sluggishness. Even Sunset’s trials had scarcely impinged upon their lives. The testimonies of the late Dusk Tempest and the supposedly-late Cloudshine, along with the evidence collected at the organization’s safehouses had been more than enough to ensure that Twilight and Dash had only been required to offer little more than witness statements. Both mares were grateful for this; it was doubtless Celestia’s influence that had kept them out of the trials as much as possible, giving Dash maximum time to spend resting in Ponyville, rather than being forced into taking the train up and down to Canterlot every few days, or finding herself snowed under with stacks of pedantic court documents. Besides, there had never been any reasonable doubt as to the verdict, given the evidence at hand. It was reasonable to assume that none of Sunset’s leaders could expect to taste free air again.
Of course, much of the time spent grounded in Ponyville had hardly been heavenly. It had not taken long for the bookshelves to exert their peculiar magnetic tug over the pegasus. She had swiftly progressed to exploring the wider world of Equestrian literature, having devoured the last of the Daring Do series some time ago, and had been eager to tackle more challenging material.
Twilight could appreciate all too well her need for escapism; it had not been an easy few months. A pegasus’s flight was every bit as integral to their lives as a unicorn’s magic, and the crushing sense of helplessness associated with its loss had driven Dash into protracted bouts of depression, overcoming her usually cheerful outlook. One thing, however, that had never wavered was her gratitude to Twilight. The unicorn’s unfaltering ability to offer assistance or kindness or simply a willing ear had made the whole process considerably less painful. The most reassuring aspect was the fact that Twilight never once showed the slightest sign that she considered the time she spent helping the pegasus to be wasted, or some kind of chore or duty.
To the huge relief of everypony involved, the blood had continued to flow into Dash’s wing bones throughout the healing process, and the looming threat that the bones might need to be fused had not, in the end, come to pass. Dash knew that she would, in any case, still have been able to fly through pegasine magic, but any manual dexterity her wings had once had would have been utterly lost, and with it the finely-honed aerodynamic finesse of her aerial technique.
Nevertheless, her recovery had not been without its complications. In spite of the casts, the bones had refused to remain in quite the right places, and in the end the only option had been to surgically embed a series of metal pins in the wing joints, to hold the bones firmly in place as they healed. At the time, the idea of yet another operation had been crushing for the pegasus, knowing that it meant still more scars and pain and anaesthetic haze. When they had wheeled her away to the theatre, she had gripped Twilight’s hoof all the way to the sterile double doors until her love could be with her no further. Her gaze had been almost pleading.
Eventually though, the blade of routine had fallen, and the weeks had begun to slough from the calendar, the periods of monotony broken by brighter days and broken milestones. By the end of the first month, Dash could walk unaided into town, encouraged every inch of the way by Twilight and her words of encouragement. By the end of the second, she could just about run again, just in time to take part in the Running of the Leaves.
She had only been able to keep up a gentle canter, but Applejack had gladly passed up the chance of a place on the winner’s podium in order to run alongside her friend at the rear of the pack; a concession that had brought tears to the pegasus’s eyes. Even with Twilight on her left, and the stoic farm pony on her right, it had taken every last drop of Dash’s resolve to carry her over the finishing line.
On reflection, it had definitely been a difficult few months. Now, however, felt like the final stretch. Two weeks ago, they had taken the train back up to Canterlot Hospital, so that Dash could have the pins at long last removed, in what they all fervently hoped was the final operation. She had been under strict instructions to make no attempts whatsoever at flight whilst the pins were in place, and after their extraction she had been told firmly that the new incision scars needed time to heal up before she could take to the sky again.
For once, she had heeded the doctors’ instructions and kept her hooves firmly on the ground. It was a mark of how important Dash’s flight was to her that she was not prepared to risk its recovery, even for a taste of the freedom she craved. In a way, things were better now, but equally Twilight could tell how much the pegasus was suffering, knowing that she was so close to recovery, and yet having to wait through these excruciatingly lengthy last few days.
This, naturally, went some way to explain the expression of joy on Twilight’s face as she burst into the bedroom, the official-looking letter clutched in her magical grip.
Dash looked up to meet her gaze with tired eyes, that widened in surprise as she got to her hooves, crossing the room to meet the unicorn. Her wings were wrapped in thin gauze bandages, to protect her new scars from infection after the pins had been removed. “What is it, Twi’?”
Twilight grinned broadly, unable to resist wrapping the pegasus in a tight embrace, her eyes a little tearful. “It’s from the hospital,” she whispered. “They say… they say you’re ready. You’re ready to fly again.”
She felt Dash’s body stiffen under her forelegs. The cyan mare pulled her head back, the better to look at the unicorn, her expression almost disbelieving. There had been times, far too many times, when Dash had expected never to hear those words; had expected never to be able to reclaim her sky.
“Are… are you serious?”
The unicorn nodded, smiling. “I am.”
Twilight had no idea how Dash would react to the news, but, in hindsight, she supposed that she should not have been surprised. Three months of pain and tension and worry had built up like toxic waste inside the pegasus, and suddenly it was no longer needed; now it needed to be let out. Dash sank to the wooden floor, weeping openly. Wave upon wave of tears broke over her eyelids and soaked into the fur of her cheeks, born of gratitude and relief and a million unvoiced fears.
The unicorn lay down beside her love, cradling her tightly in her forelegs and rocking her gently back and forth, realizing that her own eyes were swimming in sympathy. Dash nuzzled into her neck, tucking her head under Twilight’s chin and locking her own hooves around the lavender mare’s back, stroking in smooth, compulsive motions through her fragrant mane.
“So it’s… it’s over?” she murmured, her voice a little unsteady.
Twilight nodded. “I think it is, Rainbow.” She craned her neck down to kiss the mare’s cheek, reassuringly.
Dash let out a small, watery laugh. “This isn’t how I thought I was gonna take it,” she remarked, quietly. “I mean… this is good news. It’s the best… why the hay am I all…?” She dissolved into tears again, her words losing themselves in gentle sobs.
“It’s okay,” Twilight whispered, softly nuzzling her love’s face, kissing away the tears as they flowed until the cyan mare’s sobs began to subside. “It’s okay… This means so much to you, you’ve been so strong… I’m not surprised you’re letting it all out now.” Her mouth was millimeters from Dash’s, her lips dampened almost imperceptibly by the blooms of moisture riding on the pegasus’s breath.
Dash hiccoughed, smiling through her tears. “This is gonna sound really cheap and clichéd, but… I don’t know where I’d be without you, Twi’. I wish I could think of some better way to say it; some way that’s more original, but I… I mean it. I know I must’ve been such a bind these last few months. I guess what I’m really trying to say is… thanks. Thanks for everything, Twi.” She tightened the embrace, letting her lips brush up close against the lavender mare’s as she spoke her next words. “I love you so much.”
“I love you too, Rainbow,” Twilight murmured, the motion of her open mouth caressing against the pegasus’s as they held the sensual half-kiss, the gentle flow of breath between them enhancing the moment’s personality and intimacy. “And you’ve not been a bind. I love having you here more than I can say. I know I’ve had to look after you sometimes, but I don’t mind that. I’m… I’m proud to have been able to help you.”
The pegasus sighed happily. Apparently unable to articulate a suitable verbal response, she sank her lips deeper onto the unicorn’s, the light, teasing contact growing gradually in intensity, locking into a true kiss. Now that the pegasus had recovered from the initial shock, she had obviously begun to revel in the news of her freedom. Twilight could practically taste Dash’s reinvigorated enthusiasm; every touch, and every dancing flick of her tongue spoke of that old joie de vivre that her long and painful recovery had worked so hard and unsuccessfully to quash. Raising her forehooves, Twilight pushed her ecstatic lover gently down onto her back before sliding atop her, wrapping herself tightly around the pegasus’s defined, muscular curves.
After a few minutes of gleeful struggle, a flushed and lightly panting Twilight pulled back from the kiss. She smirked slightly, nibbling on the mare’s lower lip and tracing a hoof in lazy circles around the prismatic lightning-bolt on her flank. “As much as I like where this is going,” she whispered in a voice that made the pegasus shiver a little, “don’t you think it’s time to get those bandages off?”
Dash nodded, loathe to tear herself away from the unicorn, but grinning happily nonetheless. “Good idea… I’d say it’s long overdue.”
They stood, descending the stairs together with an air of nervous excitement. They would have to tell Spike the good news when they met at the festival, as he was presently over at Sweet Apple Acres to help with the preparations and generally revel in the pre-celebration atmosphere.
Standing on the rug, Dash spread her wings wide, and Twilight set about unwrapping the gauze from her wings. Some of the fur had not quite grown back over her more prominent scars as yet, and they stood out warningly against her skin. “You’ll have to be careful,” Twilight warned. “They say you’ve got to take it very slow to start with, so no Rainbooms or anything.”
Dash nodded. “Don’t worry, Twi’. I’ve come this far; I’m not gonna mess up now.” She smiled. “I’d better take off outside, though. Not sure how precise I’m gonna be at first, and I don’t wanna wreck the library.”
She shook her wings out, spreading them to their fullest extent, and Twilight let out a small sigh at the sight of them. Before the pins had been removed, there had been times when the pegasus had gone without bandages, but even in those times she had kept the appendages firmly folded to her sides. Seeing them once again as they were meant to be seen filled Twilight with an almighty sense of relief. Dash laughed aloud, obviously feeling much the same as the unicorn.
It is strange how the most unpleasant of developments can announce themselves in the smallest of ways.
Feeling suddenly playful, Twilight darted forwards and stroked a forehoof through the mare’s primaries, being careful to avoid any of the scarred areas but relishing the sensation of the downy feathers under her hoof after such a long time. Leaning down, she nuzzled a spot just below the wing’s first joint, knowing from experience the way it made the mare’s knees buckle.
To her surprise, however, Dash hardly reacted. She turned her head, a look of slight concern in her eyes, to meet Twilight’s uncertain gaze. “Uh… Twi’?”
“What is it?”
The cyan mare shook her head, apparently a little embarrassed. “It’s… it’s nothing, really. It’s just a bit weird. I just… I didn’t feel anything.”
Twilight’s eyes widened. “Huh?”
The pegasus’s cheeks reddened a little, and she awkwardly tried to clarify. “Uh, I mean… I felt it; I could feel what you were doing, but it didn’t feel… ya know… good. Not like it normally does.”
For a few moments, Twilight looked pensive, but an expression of dawning fear was growing on her face. “Oh Celestia,” she whispered. “I think something’s gone wrong. You’re sure you didn’t feel anything particular?”
Dash nodded. “Yeah… I mean, you know as well as I do how sensitive my wings are, but it just felt like being touched anywhere else, to be honest.”
“Oh no…” Suddenly, Twilight looked almost panic-stricken. “Rainbow, try to take off.” Dash opened her mouth to protest, but the lavender unicorn cut across her, urgently. “I don’t care if you knock a few books down, I just need to see you fly.”
“Um, okay then…” Dash looked thoroughly confused, obviously unsure why the sensitivity of her wings should affect her flight. She beat her wings twice out of sheer force of habit, and grinned, eager to retake what was rightfully hers. Then, she leapt up off the rug, up into the dusty air of the library.
Twilight watched in helpless horror as she came crashing back down to the floorboards.
Dash had only fallen from a couple of feet, but the shock of finding herself suddenly flightless made her knees give out on landing, and she toppled over onto her side. Twilight rushed to help the mare up, but she thrust herself angrily to her hooves, shaking her wings out with a snort. Looking determinedly up at the ceiling, she strained upwards for all she was worth. In desperation, knowing it would do no good, she began beating her wings furiously, the wind of her flapping blowing a neat stack of newspapers off the library’s table and onto the wooden floor. The unicorn could see the bleak horror dawning in her love’s eyes, and swiftly transforming into anger.
The pegasus turned to Twilight, her eyes furious at the sheer injustice of the situation. “What the hell happened?” she yelled, her wings flared wide, the outermost feathers quivering with emotion. “All this time; all this work! What went wrong? Why can’t I fly?” She stood in silence for a couple of seconds. “This isn’t fair,” she whispered, brokenly.
Twilight’s brain seemed to have jammed. There had to be a logical explanation for this; there simply had to be. But seeing the mare she loved so distraught had robbed her of all her resources of rationality.
There really is no justice in the world, is there?
“I don’t know, Rainbow,” she muttered, hating herself for having to say those words. “I… I don’t know.”
Yes you do. You always know, but sometimes you can’t see that you know.
The defeated pegasus lay down on the rug, burying her face in her hooves. The anger was gone from her eyes, and she was not even crying. She seemed utterly spent. After all that had happened, this was what had finally beaten Rainbow Dash.
I can’t do it… not this as well, not on top of everything else.
She wanted nothing more than to hold the inconsolable mare against her, whisper to her that everything would be alright, but it would be a lie. The pegasus had no tears left to dry. At that moment, she did not need Twilight’s love. She needed Twilight’s mind.
I… I can’t think. I can’t do this anymore.
Rainbow Dash needs you. Of course you can.
It doesn’t feel like that.
You made her a promise; you’ve made her a thousand promises. You’re a genius, Twilight. It’s why Celestia chose you. It’s why you beat Dusk. It’s why Rainbow’s still alive. You realized a long time ago that everything’s either easy or impossible, and this is definitely not impossible. Think, Twilight. Think fast.
Her conscience was screaming at her to comfort the pegasus, but right then there was only one way to achieve that. She closed her eyes, turning away slightly, so as not to be distracted.
Magic flowed in a pegasus’s wings; the very same magic that flowed in a unicorn’s horn. The very same magic that had first drawn Sunset’s eyes down on them. It was deeply receptive to emotion and physical contact, and provided a direct link into the pony’s mind. It made both appendages exquisitely sensitive to the touch of a lover; a pleasurable quirk of magic that now comprised some of Twilight’s most intense memories of her time with Dash.
The fact that Dash had felt nothing beyond the signals of her physical nerve endings when her wings had been touched was deeply troubling; it implied that there was no flow of magic whatsoever through the alicorn of her wing-bones, as if they had simply ceased to generate the life-blood of pegasus flight. Twilight could otherwise have attributed her absence of flight to simple lack of practice, or drained willpower, or some other impermanent, repairable affliction. This, though… this suggested that Dash’s wing-bones were simply dead, lacking even a single spark of the magic that was so essential to her pegasine life. Twilight had no doubt that, had she dropped the pegasus onto a cloud at this very moment, she would have fallen straight through without leaving so much as an indentation.
She can’t live like that. Why did it have to happen to her? Why couldn’t it be me?
Don’t be weak, snapped her inner cynic. What are you going to do? Cut your horn off? Do you think that’d make things right? No. You’re going to think.
Think… What kills magic?
A memory sprung into her mind; Fluttershy’s cottage, what seemed like an eternity ago. Dusk advancing through the shimmering storm of magic towards her. A shining cone clamped down over her horn, followed immediately by a horrible, numbing, powerless sensation. His cold, sadistic smile.
“Yew heartwood. Laced with silver. Not good for you spellcasters, eh? Oh yes; we planned for you, Miss Magic.”
Thank you, Dusk.
Twilight’s eyes snapped open, and she turned, rushing to the statuesque pegasus’s side. “Rainbow, it’s the pins!”
Dash looked up, her eyes near-empty. The unicorn thought, however, that she caught a spark of hope re-ignite, somewhere deep in those magenta pools. “Huh?”
The lavender mare clutched her love’s shoulders, urgently. “The pins they put in your wings… I bet you anything they were plated with silver, to protect from infection. Silver; the most powerful magic dampener in the world.”
Dash flinched as if struck, her mouth falling open. “Oh Celestia… But they’re gone now. Shouldn’t the effects have stopped?”
Twilight shook her head, grimly. “You were exposed for months, Rainbow. If you can’t use a muscle, it withers. If magic can’t flow… eventually it just stops.” She smiled slightly, an inexplicable sense of relief flooding her at the solution to the mystery. “We can fix this,” she murmured. “All you need is a kick-start.”
She held out a forehoof, and Dash gripped onto it with renewed vigour, climbing back onto her hooves. Her eyes were afire, her moment of defeatism tossed aside; she was back in the fight, refusing to fall at this final hurdle. “What do you need to do, Twi’?”
Twilight continued to hold the cyan mare’s hoof comfortingly between her own. She found herself blushing a little at what she was about to suggest.
Are you sure you’re prepared to do this?
Of course I am… it’s not like I’ve never considered this before.
So you’d have asked her anyway?
I think I would.
“It’s possible for two unicorns to… to bond their magic together,” she began. “It’s an exchange, I suppose. Each unicorn gives the other a little of their power, and each one gains a little of the other’s more focused magical abilities, whatever they are. It’s a permanent change… I’ll be honest, it’s a bit unpredictable, but it makes each participant an inextricable part of the other.” She paused for the briefest of moments. “You’re every bit as magical as a unicorn, and I don’t see why it couldn’t work between us. The spell allows each pony direct access to the other’s magical reserves, and if I could tap into your wings, I’m sure I’d be able to restart the flow. You’d gain a little of my magic, and I’d gain a little of yours.”
The pegasus nodded, solemnly. The relief and gratitude were palpable in her eyes. “That sounds perfect, Twi’. I’d love that, if you’re alright with it.”
This is quite a step to make, the chiding voice piped up again in the back of the lavender mare’s mind. She’s not a unicorn; she won’t understand the significance of what you’re offering.
Twilight nodded, determinedly. “I’m more than happy to go through with it.” She raised a hoof to stroke Dash’s cheek, her eyes a little concerned. “I just need you to understand, Rainbow, before we go ahead with this… This isn’t something that unicorns do lightly. I’m not saying you’re impulsive, but I need you to know how important this is. It’s… I’m not going to lie, Rainbow. It’s considered the most intimate experience that two unicorns… that two ponies can share, and I don’t want you to commit yourself to something like that without understanding what it means.”
Dash gazed steadily into her eyes, and there was no trace of laughter or pain; no sign of bluster or hurt or indecision. “Twilight, if I’d known about this… forget about flight; it would’ve been something I’d want to share with you anyway. I love you, and I want to share my life with you; I made my mind up about that a long time ago now. If this is how I can show that, then…” She sighed, resting her forehead against the unicorn’s, biting her lower lip a little bashfully. She never once broke eye contact. “Lead the way.”
There was nothing more to say; no more reason to wait.
Gently, Twilight look her lover by the hoof, leading her unresistingly across the room. This was not a spell that she had been taught, but the force of instinct should be more than sufficient in its guidance.
The mares stood together, face to face on the rug before the fireplace; the site of their first kiss. Twilight took a half-step forwards, brushing her muzzle in a long, sweeping nuzzle down the length of Dash’s neck. There was no hint of teasing playfulness in the motion, and she felt the pegasus grow serious and shivery in return beneath her touch. The unicorn’s heart was fluttering as if it were a caged hummingbird as she repeated the motion, before taking Dash’s lower lip between her teeth, and tugging gradually downwards.
She sank slowly onto her back, her heightened senses aware of every one of the rug’s fibres as they caressed her shoulders and haunches. Dash followed suit, resting her knees on either side of the prone mare’s flanks. She planted the gentlest of moth-like kisses at the very base of Twilight’s horn, and the unicorn bit her lip, letting out a miniscule gasping cry, her back arching reflexively and pressing tightly up against the cyan fur above her.
Perhaps none of this was necessary; perhaps they could have progressed straight to the matter of spell-casting and left it at that. Of course, that was never an option that either of them considered. Neither mare wanted this to be merely meaningful; it ought surely to be memorable as well.
There was a second’s silence, as Twilight gazed up at the mare above her. The prismatic mare’s lips were parted a little, her mane a beautiful mess.
That was the moment Twilight chose to attack. She tangled her forelegs over Dash’s shoulders, rolling sharply over onto her side and pulling the surprised but utterly willing pegasus down with her, their bodies locking together, belly to belly. Wrapping a hind leg tightly around her lover’s waist, she pulled the mare into an aggressive, inelegant, all-consuming kiss.
After what might have been a minute or an hour, Twilight tipped her head back, grinning with a passionate abandon as she bared her neck to the cyan mare’s ministrations. Both ponies’ tongues were lolling from their mouths slightly, exhausted by the kiss’s intensity and linked for the briefest moment by a thin, shining strand of saliva. Dash needed no further encouragement, leaning in and swirling her tongue in quick flicks over the surface of the unicorn’s neck, before darting across to nip at the soft skin of the nape. Twilight felt a sharp coo of pleasure drag itself from between her lips, and she slid her hind leg down over the curve of Dash’s flank, twisting the prismatic tail twice around her rear hoof and giving a sharp downward tug. This time, it was the pegasus’s turn to moan aloud, the resonance of the deliciously unrestrained sound shuddering up Twilight’s neck, further hazing her already misted mind.
Looking down, she met Dash’s eyes. The need behind those magenta windows was burning and obvious, mirroring Twilight’s own. The pegasus was clearly an inch away from losing what little control she had left, and Twilight could feel that irrepressible, bubbling ache of desire, boiling away in the pit of her stomach.
She’s ready… we both are. It’s time.
Twilight ran her forehooves lovingly down Dash’s sides, shifting her own position and flipping the panting pegasus over onto her front. She forced herself to concentrate on what she wanted, as she rolled atop the cyan mare, lowering herself so that her face was inches from Dash’s wings. In spite of the damage to the appendages, they were still spread out stiffly at their owner’s sides, making no attempt to disguise her emotions.
The unicorn’s horn began to glow with a translucent blue-purple sheen, and she craned her neck out to the side, sliding the tip of her horn along the upper edge of first the right wing, and then the left. Where it touched, it left a faint, pulsating glow behind, just visible beneath the skin and feathers. Dash gasped, and Twilight felt a shiver pass through her body. Encouraged, she repeated the motion, the glow growing in intensity. The pegasus’s eyes fluttered closed.
Twilight felt a warm, tingling sensation in her forehead. She leaned down to kiss the smooth, sensitive indentation between the cyan mare’s wings, and finally rested her horn on that spot, directly between the joints that connected Dash’s wings to her body. Before letting the magic flow, Twilight focused on building the connection between them. Ordinarily this process would be shared between two unicorns, and both participants would build the connection. In this case, however, Twilight’s work was an act of revival. She found herself blessing her own, admittedly prodigious, skill. A unicorn of less power would never have been able to link their magic with another’s without effort from both sides, much less maintain the union.
Gradually, a hair-thin tendril of magnesium-bright light began to glow vividly under Dash skin, at the point where the horn connected. It shone, ice-blue beneath the surface, before splitting off into two mirrored strands that darted out into the mare’s wings. They traced along the shape of the bones, spreading out like a shining armature. The vivid cobweb continued to expand, making its way into the shaft of every feather, until the pegasus’s wings were aglow with a delicate, cobweb illumination.
A final flowing coil of light made its way up Dash’s spine, before vanishing deeper under the surface at the back of her neck. Another, stronger shiver passed through the cyan mare’s frame, and she lowered her head, muffling her moan down into the rug.
At the moment of the final connection, Twilight gasped aloud.
Suddenly, more vividly than ever, she could see the pegasus. For a moment, she shared and understood the depth of the mare’s yearning for the sky. For the briefest second, she wanted to soar, to lose herself in the eternal blue and be utterly, entirely free. The sensations and memories that she held for the briefest of moments took her breath away, and her blood chilled at the thought of what Dash had come so terribly close to losing.
Then, she saw herself. She saw herself through Dash’s eyes; through Dash’s mind. Her eyelids drifted closed, and her contented sigh was mirrored by the pegasus beneath her, who had obviously been granted similar access. Feeling Dash’s thoughts drift, she found herself reliving their first kiss, but from the perspective of her lover. The mixture of the emotions in the pegasus’s memory was almost shocking; paralyzing surprise, excitement, confusion, joy… but most of all, sheer gratitude, and the knowledge that, for once in her life, she did not need to hide.
Twilight could feel the ghostly memory of insistent, inexpert lips moving against hers, and experienced a slightly bizarre jolt of realization in which she reminded herself that the lips were, in fact, her own.
Celestia, I was a terrible kisser back then… Twilight thought to herself, her overactive brain tossing the pointless thought up out of nowhere. Dash giggled at the thought, and Twilight remembered that the magical link between their minds was a gate that could be traversed from either direction.
“I’d say practice has made perfect, though…” murmured the pegasus, smiling to herself. Twilight laughed quietly, and felt the stinging hint of tears in the corners of her eyes.
The unicorn knew perfectly well how Dash felt for her, but she had never before quite grasped the depth or intensity of those feelings. She could never have known the impact she had had on the pegasus’s state of mind, or just how much her love had made Dash’s life worthwhile.
Knowing the degree to which her love was reciprocated, she felt more sure than ever that she had made the right choice to go through with this. A unicorn could only bond in this way once, but now she was more sure than ever that this mare would be at her side until the hand of death broke them away from one another.
A shimmering corona was forming around the ponies, hissing like a static charge, and Twilight knew that the connection was ready.
Keeping her horn firmly between the pegasus’s wings, she let an experimental spark of magic flow through the bond. The porcelain-crack lines of light glowed even brighter for a brief moment.
Both mares let out low groans at the deeply pleasurable sensation, and Twilight felt the cyan mare squirm beneath her. She had to fight the instinctual urge to tip her head back, knowing that keeping her horn in place was vital.
Taking a deep breath, Twilight focused her mind, ready to release as much magic as she could muster. Knowing the effect that a single spark had created, she braced herself, gripping the pegasus’s haunches tightly between her knees.
“Ready?” she whispered.
“Ready,” affirmed Dash. She was breathing hard, her tail flicking from side-to-side, every aspect of her body language screaming willingness.
Twilight closed her eyes, and everything was silent for one, eternal moment.
Then, she let the magic flow.
The final, cresting sliver of Celestia’s sun had vanished in the dusty haze under the horizon, dipping beneath the furthest fields of Sweet Apple Acres. The bonfire roared, and the flames leapt up, dancing in the darkening oil of the night. On the grassy, rolling hillsides around the town of Ponyville, flickering pinprick points of light could be seen as other towns marked the harvest’s end.
The festival was in full swing. Chestnuts and mugfuls of hot cider were selling by the dozen, lanterns swung like fireflies in the breeze from the apple trees, and the warm atmosphere of cheerful festivity went some way to match the heat of the flames.
Around a wooden table sat four friends, near enough to the fire defeat the growing chill of night, but not so close that any tails were at risk of singeing. An excitable Pinkie Pie was retelling with great enthusiasm the tale of the year she had attempted to load her party cannon with fireworks, and Applejack was at her side, looking a little sleepy after taking, as usual, the brunt of the harvest work upon her own shoulders. A slightly-tipsy Fluttershy was reclining affectionately against Rarity’s side, laughing a little disharmoniously at the pink mare’s story. The alabaster fashionista, for her part, was more than content to listen to her friends’ banter, with the comforting warmth of her marefriend held close against her.
Spike had last been seen relaxing in the blisteringly heat on top of the bonfire, an experience that was considered therapeutic in draconic circles, more or less akin to a hot bath. It was a rare treat for him; fires of sufficient size to feel so much as warm to a dragon were rare in pony society.
“…And then,” declared Pinkie with an air of conclusion, thumping down her wooden cider mug emphatically on the table, perhaps a little pinker around the muzzle than was usual for even her vibrant shade, “that was when the police-ponies showed up.” She leaned back on her stool, sighing happily. “Anyway, that’s how I landed a munitions contract with the Royal Guards.”
Applejack ceased chewing, turning to stare at the boisterous pony with her mouth half-full of chestnut. “Huh?”
Pinkie snorted with laughter. “Just kidding, silly.”
The farm-pony shook her head, smirking. “Ah never rightly know with you, Pinkie.”
Rarity leaned forwards a little, looking slightly concerned. “I wonder where Twilight and Dash have got to, they said they’d meet us here.”
Fluttershy turned her head, looking up at the mare against whom she was snuggled. Even after several months, at a point where their relationship was well established and accepted, it still took a few mugs of cider and a jovial atmosphere for her to feel capable of airing even this gentle affection in public. Some things, it seemed, never changed. “Don’t worry about it,” she murmured, bumping her nose playfully against the pearly unicorn’s chin. “Rainbow had a hard day helping with the last of the apples; I wouldn’t blame her if she wanted to sleep it off.”
“I know somepony who’ll have something to sleep off tomorrow,” remarked Pinkie, smiling at the pegasus.
“Hey, s’not as if I’m drunk or… or anything,” countered Fluttershy, the slight slur in her voice belying her words. “I’ve only had… what is it? Two?”
“You’re a lightweight, that’s what you are,” Rarity giggled, giving the mare a squeeze.
“I’m not a lightweight,” Fluttershy mumbled, looking up at the fashionista with an expression of faux-indignation in her eyes.
“You’re my lightweight,” Rarity whispered warmly in the pegasus’s ear, smooching the tipsy mare affectionately on the cheek.
Pinkie turned to the farm pony by her side, apparently tiring of watching the couple’s playful antics. “Do you think Dashie’s going to show up? I hope she’s not too tired.”
“Ah worry about that mare,” Applejack admitted, in a small voice. “Sure, she puts a brave face on it, and Twilight’s there for her, but…” she sighed. “Ah dunno. It must be eatin’ her, not bein’ able to fly.” Leaning forwards, the orange mare tossed a chestnut into her mouth, crunching down with gusto. “I jus’ hope she’s gonna be okay.”
“Oh, I think she will be,” the late arrival’s voice piped up behind them. A mug of cider, held in a magical grip, was dropped down onto the table in front of the vacant stool between Rarity and Applejack.
The ponies turned, to see that Twilight had eventually made it to the festival.
Applejack grinned. “Hey there, Twi’.”
“Hi Applejack,” Twilight returned the smile, looking around with admiration at the festivities, “your family does the best Harvest’s Ends.”
“Heh, thanks. Ah guess it must seem pretty tiny to you, though; bet it’s nothin’ like what they put on back in Canterlot.”
Twilight shook her head. “Actually, they barely even acknowledge it there.” She shrugged. “Not enough earth ponies, I guess.”
It was strange; illuminated by the bonfire’s radiance, there seemed to be something different about the unicorn. All four of the friends could see it. She was holding herself somehow taller, and there was an unmistakable glow about her. Her cheeks were flushed with obvious happiness, and her horn was giving off a gentle purple corona. A small smile was playing on her lips; the smile of a pony with good news.
Fluttershy looked up, meeting Twilight’s eyes. “Glad you made it, Twilight,” she said, with a slight hiccough. “Is Rainbow coming, or is she resting up?”
“Oh,” Twilight waved an airy hoof, with an air of nonchalance. “I’m sure she’ll be around.”
“Yeah, you know, somewhere,” a throaty, slightly coltish voice added, from somewhere just above them.
All of the ponies jumped, with the exception of Twilight. Five gazes snapped upwards, tracing the source of the voice to its source.
Sure enough, barely ten feet above them, shining in the firelight with her wings beating smoothly and her eyes aflame, hovered Rainbow Dash.
There was a moment of stunned silence, and Dash grinned down at the expressions of consternation on her friends’ faces.
Fluttershy was the first to react. With an excited squeak, she extricated herself from Rarity’s side, and fluttered skywards to catch the pegasus in a tight mid-air embrace. “Rainbow!” She squealed, sounding a little tearful. “I’m so happy for you!”
“Thanks, ‘Shy,” Dash replied warmly, returning the canary mare’s embrace before coaxing herself downwards to alight on the grass. Her descent was none too graceful; a slight wobble was visible in her flight born of lack of practice, but the simple fact that she was able to leave the ground once again was enough to increase tenfold the air of celebration.
The moment her hooves touched the earth, her friends rose as one from their seats, and she was enveloped in a group hug.
“Not bad, Sugarcube,” Applejack said, her eyes shining, and her voice cracking a little with emotion. She had stayed stoically at Dash side in the fields, ever since the mare had felt strong enough to begin some light work helping with the harvest. Apart from Twilight, the farm pony seemed the most emotionally invested in the pegasus’s recovery. “…Not bad at all.”
“You’re getting such a party for this,” added Pinkie, in a tone of utmost seriousness.
“Rainbow… I wish I had something a little more eloquent to say, but you’ve been simply incredible,” murmured Rarity. “I’m just glad that everything went so smoothly,” she added. Shifting in the embrace, Twilight looked up to catch Dash’s eye, and they shared a small, secret smile.
“Thanks, you guys,” Dash whispered, but her eyes and tone said so much more. The heat of the firelight danced on her back, the forelegs of her friends and her love were tight and comforting about her.
I’m home. Maybe… maybe I’ve done enough. All the broken bones, all the deaths, all the tears and blood and pain…maybe it was all worth it. I don’t feel like a fraud anymore.
Gradually, one by one, the ponies disengaged from the hug, until only Twilight was left. The mares shared a still moment of eye contact, a gentle simpatico shared between them, both ponies still glowing inside from what they had shared earlier that evening. The unicorn pecked the pegasus softly on the lips, flashing her a small smile that seemed to whisper some unspoken secret, before breaking away as well.
The night was wearing on, and the babble of conversation had died down to a pleasantly relaxed trickle, matching the bonfire which was now a glowing heap of embers, licked from time to time by a flaring flame, determined to cling to life. At some point, Spike had decided to come down from the orange-flickering summit to join the ponies at their table, although it was probably past his usual bedtime at this point, and he kept dozing off with his head on his claws.
Pinkie suddenly looked up, an uncharacteristic absence of lightheartedness in her expression. “Dashie… do you ever think about her?”
Dash looked up, a little surprised. “Who? D’ya mean Mom?”
The party pony shook her head. “No… I mean Cloudshine. I mean, you never seem to talk about her.”
The cyan pegasus sighed gently. After she and Twilight had been given the news of the choice that her sister had made, she had been perfectly honest with her friends. The truth was of no danger to them now, so there was no reason for them not to know everything.
“Sometimes I do,” she admitted. “But the way I see it, Cloudshine’s dead. She was a monster, and she probably deserved it. I never really knew her, so I’ve got no reason to mourn. But out there, somewhere, there’s a mare with another name, and another life. She’s never heard of Sunset, she’s never heard the name Cloudshine, and she’s never killed anypony. Maybe she’s nice… maybe she’s even happy. All I know is that I’ve got no business with her, and I’ve got no business wondering about her.”
Dash sat back, absent-mindedly crunching down on a chestnut. Twilight touched her hoof gently beneath the table, once again taken by surprise at the clarity of thought that the pegasus possessed. This was the first time that she had spoken of her half-sister since she had first told Twilight and her other friends. It had occurred to Twilight at the time that her love had not seemed unduly concerned about Cloudshine’s fate, and to hear it confirmed was a relief. Here, at least, was one pony who would not haunt Dash’s memories at night.
“I’m just glad you two can put this behind you now,” Rarity said, quietly.
Applejack nodded. “Gotta agree with you on that one, Rare’.” She raised her mug in a hopeful gesture. “Here’s to the future, huh?”
The others followed suit, raising their drinks into the flickering air. “The future,” they murmured as one. It was a strangely bittersweet moment; several of their number had been deeply and permanently changed in one way or another by the events of the last few months, and this seemed an opportunity to draw a line under the events of the past, as much as it seemed the chance to herald in a brighter future.
Rarity still woke some nights to see Fluttershy lying on her back beside her, eyes wide with memory, compulsively rubbing the shiny patch of burn-scarred skin on her foreleg, over which the fur had never re-grown. Twilight sometimes still caught the residue of pain within Dash’s eyes, the last hint of her history floating in those infinitely deep magenta pools. Some hurts went too deep to ever entirely be forgotten; time may heal all wounds, but it cannot offer freedom from scars.
The toast was a tribute to all they had lost, but equally it spoke of a tentative hope. The pasts that had dogged Dash and Fluttershy for so much of their lives finally lay acknowledged, confronted, and in the end, defeated. Both mares were at last free to live and to love, and to express their lives and loves in the ways that they wanted, not in the ways that their worlds had seemed to demand from them.
As if acting on this impulse of release, Fluttershy craned her neck up and drew Rarity into a gentle kiss. It was a simple affair, although it was held for perhaps a little longer than was ordinary in such a public location. Twilight smirked, noticing with amusement the ever-so-slight twitch in Dash’s wings, as the latter did her best to break her eyes away from the soft motion of the mares’ lips. When the canary pegasus eventually drew back from the kiss, her cheeks were bloomed with a soft pink. “The future looks wonderful to me,” she breathed.
“Ya know, I’ve gotta admit I never expected this,” remarked Dash.
Fluttershy turned to her, smiling, her forelegs still draped over Rarity’s shoulders. “Never expected what?”
“This time last year, I’d never have believed that you and Rarity were gonna end up together.” She turned to Twilight. “I gotta admit, I never saw us coming, either. I mean… I liked you, but I thought I was the only one of us who thought about one of my friends in… in that way.” She laughed quietly, winking at the lavender unicorn. “I’m glad I wasn’t, though.”
Applejack snorted in amusement, smirking. “Heh, yeah. Now me an’ Pinkie are the only ones livin’ the single life.”
Pinkie turned to face the orange earth pony, latching onto her with a gaze that was suddenly half-lidded and seductive. “We don’t have to be…” she murmured in a low, smooth voice.
“Aw hay no!” Applejack spluttered in a panic, turning brick red and very nearly toppling backwards off her stool onto the grass.
The party pony’s lip twitched; after a moment she could keep a straight face no longer, and dissolved into uncontrollable snorts of laughter. The others joined in when they saw the expression dawning on the farm pony’s face.
“That ain’t funny, Pinkie,” muttered Applejack, but she could not mask a small smile at her own gullibility as she sat back up, re-adjusting her dislodged hat.
Before any of the others could say anything, an arcing line of light shot into the sky from a distant hilltop, breaking into a flowering plume of stars. It was the first of a great many fireworks that had been prepared for this night, and soon enough the Ponyville display would likely begin.
Twilight felt a tug on her hoof, and she turned to look at the pegasus beside her. “I… I wanna show you something,” Dash murmured. “C’mon.”
The unicorn complied, getting to her hooves. “We won’t be too long,” Dash said to the others, who nodded, respecting that the mares might like some privacy on what was obviously an extremely significant night for the pegasus.
As they walked away from the table, Twilight turned her head to steal a look back at her friends. Pinkie was laughing again, and Applejack was grinning, still a little pink in the cheeks. Rarity was talking animatedly to Fluttershy, who was snuggled up against the unicorn once more, trying to fight the cold that the dying bonfire was beginning to let in. Things seemed almost as they had always been. Friendship, it seemed, was in no way diminished by the presence of love or the memory of pain in its midst.
Twilight smiled in contentment, as they walked away from the happy scene.
“What did you want to show me?” she whispered to the pegasus, as they made their way between groups of ponies, catching snatches of a dozen lazy conversations.
“You’ll see,” Dash replied, leading her ever onwards, until the crowds began to thin out.
Eventually, they reached a clear spot, in a small, secluded orchard beyond the bonfire’s heat, and the cyan mare turned to her love, flaring her wings without preamble. “Fancy a flight?” she asked with a small smile. “Ya know, see the fireworks from where they’re meant to be seen?”
Twilight’s eyes widened. “Oh… Rainbow, I’d love to, but surely you won’t be strong enough yet. They told you to take it slowly.”
Dash nodded. “Sure they did, but they weren’t expecting me to get a boost from the strongest unicorn in Equestria, did they?” She walked towards the unicorn, nuzzling her cheek gently. “Thanks to you, I’m as strong as I’ll ever be. I feel like I could fly to the moon.” She took a quick step back, hastily clarifying her intentions. “I mean… if you wouldn’t feel safe, then I don’t want ya to feel like I’m forcing you or anything. It’s just… this’ll be my first proper flight since I fell. I’d like you to share it with me.”
The lavender mare smiled. It meant more to her than she could express in words that the pegasus would share something so personal and meaningful with her. “I… I trust you, Rainbow,” she said, in a low voice. “Of course I trust you. If you promise me you won’t hurt yourself, then of course I’ll fly with you.”
She took a tentative step forwards, and rested her forehooves on the pegasus’s shoulders. In a smooth motion that was beautifully familiar to her, and yet made new by the passage of time, Twilight climbed up onto her love’s back, gripping tightly with both pairs of legs. Her heart gave its telltale pre-flight swoop, and once again, she felt for the briefest of moments that enthusiasm and lust for freedom that all pegasi held.
Perhaps that yearning was the part of Dash that had been bequeathed to her by the bonding. Just as Dash had taken on her magical strength and fortitude, so too had Twilight taken on a little of her lover’s desire for the open sky. It was the perfect gift; at last, she could truly appreciate her flights with the pegasus every bit as much as Dash herself did.
Below her, a pair of cyan wings spread out wide. She felt a powerful thrust of the pegasus’s hind legs against the ground, and her stomach seemed to flip as they shot up into the glittering night sky.
As the wind whipped past her, Twilight felt like shouting aloud, or perhaps laughing. The sense of freedom took her breath away; it was utterly unlike any of the flights she had shared with Dash in the past. For the first time, she could see the sky with pegasine eyes.
The cyan mare bore her effortlessly, the speed granted by her confidence bolstered by the enhanced strength that Twilight had granted to her. Suddenly, she twisted in mid-air, and Twilight instinctively released her grip for the briefest of instants, holding herself magically in place as the pegasus spun to face her, before locking her forelegs tightly around her shoulders again. Now face-to-face, the mares exchanged grins, and Twilight saw her own exhilaration mirrored in Dash’s eyes.
Darting to the right, Dash led them into a series of wide corkscrews, the amber-tinted spiderweb that was Ponyville flashing in and out of their vision. She broke out of the spin, speeding upwards towards the cloud-layer, before snapping her wings to her sides and letting them begin to descend into a freefall.
Twilight knew she should have been terrified; that once upon a time, she would have been. Now, though, all she felt was adrenaline. A whooping cry whipped out from between her lips as gravity claimed them, her voice distorted by the wind and utterly unlike her own. The streetlight-studded town was rushing up to meet them, but then the pegasus’s wings flared out to their fullest width once more. It was for show, of course, but Twilight could not deny that the show was one worth attending as they leveled out, swooping in a great arc back towards Sweet Apple Acres.
Gradually, they slowed to a halt, hovering together in the chill air. The ground was a mere patchwork beneath them; the bonfires little more than match-like pinpricks of light. The Ponyville display had not yet begun, but fireworks burst in the distant night below where the lovers floated.
“Wow…” Twilight breathed.
“I know,” the pegasus whispered, but when Twilight turned to meet her eyes, Dash’s gaze was fixed not on the cobwebbed lights of the night, but on the unicorn in her embrace. “…I know.”
Then, almost at their eye level, the first of Ponyville’s fireworks hissed skywards, breaking with a sharp crack into a thousand golden stars, the light from the blast dancing on the mares’ fur.
Maybe things would never be quite as they had once been. The flames fanned by their actions had leapt so much higher than they ever could have dreamed, but Twilight knew with utter conviction that their lives had changed for the better. This place felt like the centre of the world, and they could shape it with a word; they had weathered the sunset, and the dawn was fast approaching.
The unicorn felt her love’s heart beating suddenly hard against her chest, as more fireworks hissed, crackling into every burning colour before them, their gun-smoke tang hanging on the air. She turned to look into Dash’s eyes, and was surprised to see that she looked almost scared. Her cheeks were flushed, and her eyes were the eyes of a filly standing at the edge of a cloud, with nothing but the open sky before her, with nothing but a hope that her wings would hold fast. Her eyes were the eyes of a mare about to take a leap of faith.
“Twilight Sparkle…” The pegasus gazed into the eyes of the mare she loved more than anything, and when her voice sounded again it was warm and sure, with no further hint of fear or hesitation. “Will you marry me?”
Twilight’s eyes widened, for a moment unable to do anything other than simply stare right back at the pegasus, utterly lost in those magenta oceans which, at that moment, held not the merest trace of pain. There was only one answer. There had only ever been one answer.
“Of course I will, Rainbow,” she whispered, her voice choked with a sudden sting of tears.
When the pegasus heard Twilight’s reply, she could hardly bring herself to trust the reliability of her own ears. She had known for months now that she would ask Twilight on the day she flew again. It was a moment she had played out so many times in her mind’s eye, that the moment itself seemed utterly, beautifully unreal. She was deaf to the screaming crack of the pyrotechnic flashes, and oblivious to the whipping wind. The only thing that existed was Twilight; the mare who had saved her so many times, the mare who had loved her, no matter what pains were thrown into their lives by circumstance. The mare who shared her sky.
Twilight leaned forwards, looking almost happier than the pegasus had ever seen her. In lieu of further needless words, Dash felt soft lips dancing against her own, in a slow kiss that spoke of all the time in the world. All the time they could ever want.
Dash sighed into the gentle contact, never once breaking eye contact from this mare, still half-convinced that she may yet slip away and prove this otherworldly night to be the dream it should so rightly be.
She had been burned and scarred and broken, but as she looked into her librarian’s singing eyes, she knew that she was going to be alright.
Because Twilight would be at her side, now and forever.
Because Twilight had made her better.