Fluttershy awoke with heavy lidded eyes that rebelled against her efforts to open them. For once, she couldn't find a good reason to disagree with them. Today was Tuesday—the day Twilight started working at Sweet Apple Acres. It wasn't a day to be welcomed.
Pulling her blankets over her face to block the intruding sun, Fluttershy tried to block out the world as well. The animals would care for themselves—at least for a while. Selfish as it was, she could take this time for herself—time to heal, to pick up the pieces.
There wouldn't be any real harm; her pathetic laziness wouldn't last forever. She'd find the strength to power through. It had happened before—like when she took Iron Will's assertiveness training too seriously. She locked herself away, said goodbye to the world she put at risk, but her animal friends understood, even when nopony else did. She'd come back to them eventually, like always.
A knock on her door drew Fluttershy out of her self-pity—she would have no time to wallow this morning. Seconds later, whoever was at the door knocked again, louder than before. Sighing, Fluttershy pushed away her blankets and stepped out of bed, calling, "In a minute," while she briefly checked her hair and trotted toward her living room.
Opening the door, her eyes widened a bit as she saw Rainbow Dash waiting for her with a big grin on her face.
Rainbow pulled her friend outside without a word, acting as if this rude awakening had already been agreed to. "You ready to watch me practice today?"
"Um, excuse me?" Fluttershy weakly tried to pull away, but Rainbow still held her front hooves.
Rainbow tilted her head. "I thought I—" She let go of Fluttershy and scratched her head. "Didn't we talk about you watching me fly the other day?"
"Yes, but, um, we only planned for yesterday. And the day before that. And the day before—"
"Oh yeah." Rainbow Dash blocked Fluttershy's mouth with a hoof and chuckled. "Well, are you busy today?"
Fluttershy glanced back to her cottage, where she could still see the bed she had just gotten out of. Her gaze held on her home for a moment before she smiled and said, "Okay, Rainbow Dash."
"Awesome!" Rainbow grabbed Fluttershy's hoof and made to fly away, but the other pegasus stopped her.
"I haven't fed my animal friends yet," Fluttershy told her when she turned back around and tilted her head. "You're welcome to help me so I finish faster."
Rainbow rolled her eyes and said, "Fine. Where's the food? I'll feed those animals in ten seconds flat!" She crouched, wings spread so she could dash off at a moment's notice, but Fluttershy put a hoof on her shoulder to stop her.
"You can't do that, Rainbow Dash!" Fluttershy almost shouted, eyes wide. Remembering herself, she shrank back and looked away. "I mean, um, sorry, but you might scare the animals."
Rainbow relaxed and chuckled briefly. "Guess you're right," she admitted as she furled her wings. "Thanks for reminding me, Fluttershy."
Fluttershy nodded perfunctorily, but she was already on the move. "Let's get going—um, if you don't mind."
Rainbow Dash might have underestimated how long it would take to feed Fluttershy's pets.
Sure, part of the problem was that she had to be slow and cautious so she wouldn't scare the animals, but even then, there were a lot of animals. It seemed that the options Fluttershy had shown to Rainbow when she'd asked for the perfect pet only scratched the surface of her impressive array of creatures. Sure there were bunnies, songbirds, and squirrels—a ton of them as a matter of fact—but just mentioning them ignored the diversity of animals that made their homes near Fluttershy's cottage.
First there were the owl butterflies. Actually, they were just butterflies, but their wings looked just like an owl's head. It was supposed to be a disguise they used to keep predators away, Rainbow would've fallen for it too if Fluttershy hadn't been there to set her straight.
Then came the lemurs. According to Fluttershy, most of them lived in the Everfree, but she'd managed to befriend a few of them with a little help from Zecora. Their big inquisitive eyes and strange bipedal movements freaked Rainbow out a bit, but they seemed friendly enough. One of them even checked Rainbow's hair for bugs, and that was … cool, she guessed.
After the lemur gave Rainbow the go-ahead to leave, she asked Fluttershy if they could split it. "It'd save us so much time, and I really want to get flying!"
Fluttershy considered the request for a moment before nodding. "You can take care of the otters," she said, slumping her shoulders. "They need a new friend since Twilight stopped visiting. Just make sure you stay away from the Everfree."
Rainbow shrugged and nodded. "Sure, if you say so, Fluttershy. That's pretty much what I'd do anyway."
"But especially near the otters," Fluttershy insisted. "None of the animals there need to be fed, and the Everfree's not safe, so be careful."
"Got it, awesome." Without another word, Rainbow was off, ready to feed those otters like they'd never been fed before!
Rainbow flew over to the riverbed where she assumed the otters lived. Fluttershy had forgotten to tell her where to find them—or maybe she just didn't have time with Rainbow taking off so suddenly—but there was only one river nearby. She figured that was as good a place as any to start looking.
Before she started her search in earnest, though, Rainbow glanced at the Everfree, wondering what Fluttershy found so dangerous about it. Be careful. Of course, Rainbow would be careful—it was practically her middle name. Or her second middle name at least—after "Danger." Except, now that she thought about it, that was sort of dumb.
Either way, Rainbow would be careful. She didn't have any reason to be poking around the Everfree, where who knows what sort of monsters lied in wait. Going in there didn't appeal to her in the least. It didn't sound awesome at all.
Rainbow glanced at the forest again. Maybe just one peek. Without a second thought, she was off and into the underbrush.
At first nothing seemed amiss. The trees obscured the morning sun, making the area as spooky as any part of the Everfree, but the undergrowth all seemed harmless enough. No snakes, no monsters, no poison joke to speak of. It was just a forest. Rainbow rolled her eyes. Just like Fluttershy, she thought. That pony's afraid of her own shadow. She turned around, ready to leave the forest disappointed.
A rustle in the canopy above her made her glance up, figuring a squirrel was coming by to greet her.
Suddenly, scales. And little, membranous wings. And lizard claws. And teeth!
Rainbow shrieked as the strange winged monster dove down from the treetops. She tried to run, but too late—the creature's ambush had been successful. It landed on her face, blocking her view as she sprinted forward, hoping at once to avoid any trees and to perhaps to find something to dislodge the demon lizard with.
Still yelping and hollering, she screamed with renewed terror as the beast's forked tongue darted in and out of its mouth, lightly brushing her forehead as the little monster squealed in delight. No doubt it was tasting her, overjoyed by the delicious meal Rainbow Dash would momentarily prove.
She felt something brush past her haunches before landing right behind her—more of the hellish dragonlings, of course!—but there was nothing more to do. The creatures had her; she was trapped. Still running, she felt tears stream from her eyes as she stood face to face before her scaly end. Mostly face to underbelly, actually, but—
Hearing Fluttershy's voice cut through her own screams, Rainbow slowed her terrified charge. A hoof landed on her back and her calls for help caught in her throat. As she slowed to a complete stop at her friend's wordless command, the lizard creature on her face chattered animatedly, turning its gaze to the left where Rainbow assumed Fluttershy stood beside her.
The pegasus removed her hoof from Rainbow's back and offered it to the winged lizard, who squealed once more and hopped off Rainbow's head. Watching certain death recede from before her very eyes, Rainbow wobbled uncertainly and whimpered like an injured fawn.
Still holding the lizard on one hoof, Fluttershy trotted in front of Rainbow Dash and smiled. "It's okay, Rainbow Dash—although I told you to stay away from the forest over here." A sterner expression made its way onto her face as she continued. "You scared little Lizzie half to death!"
Rainbow might have felt a bit dazed—because of the lizard's hidden venom, of course, not because she was scared!—but she still had the presence of might to leap back a couple feet and shout, "Watch out, Shy! That's, like, a mini dragon or something!"
She almost moved to swat the tiny hellspawn from Fluttershy's grasp, but the yellow pegasus immediately moved to cradle the scaly beast. "Oh, no, Rainbow Dash," she insisted. "This isn't a dragon. Lizzie's just a flying lizard."
Rainbow tilted her head and the lizard did the same. "Say what?"
"A flying lizard. Zecora says they come from her homeland. She found a family of them lost in the Everfree and asked if I could watch after them." Fluttershy frowned slightly. "They still need to glide around it, though, so they just stay over here."
Rainbow flapped her wings and threw her hooves up. "You said you didn't have any of your pets over here! I thought that thing was gonna eat me!"
"Lizzie's not a pet; he's a friend," Fluttershy corrected, stroking the lizard's back as she did so. "Besides, he would never do something like that. He couldn't even eat anything bigger than a fly. You're safe, Rainbow Dash."
"But—um—yeah." Rainbow lowered her head and closed her eyes briefly, letting her wings droop for a moment before drawing them back to her sides. "Okay, Fluttershy. Sorry I didn't listen." When her eyes opened, though, she looked the flying lizard straight in the eyes and pointed an accusing hoof and its scaly form. "You still scared the hay out of me, though."
"And he's sorry, Rainbow Dash." Lizzie's high-pitched chattering interrupted Fluttershy's response for a moment, and she listened patiently before turning back to her fellow pegasus. "He says you scared him too, but he forgives you."
Rainbow Dash scratched her head, uncertain of how to react to that. "Uh, thanks, I guess. And I forgive him too."
Fluttershy's tentative smile broadened, and she whispered something into Lizzie's ear before setting him on the ground. He skittered toward Rainbow, flashed a toothy, reptilian grin, and darted off for the Everfree, joining up with a few of its companions that had inched out of the forest to see what was amiss.
"So, uh…" Rainbow fished for the right words to say. "Thanks, Fluttershy. I guess I should go feed the… uh… otters, right?"
Fluttershy's put on an all-enduring smile and began to trot toward the riverbed. "Yes, please—but just to keep you safe, I'll stay with you this time."
Chuckling nervously, Rainbow Dash found no other option but to join her friend as they made their way to the otters' den.
No otherworldly creatures lied in wait on Rainbow's second attempt to feed the otters, and before she knew it she and Fluttershy were done.
"Is that it?" she asked, hoping to Celestia that they were done. Her wings itched with pent-up energy, and she unfurled them for a moment just to move them around a bit.
When Fluttershy answered, "That's it," Rainbow finally let loose, flying into the air and cheering with her trademark enthusiasm. After taking a moment to enjoy herself, she swooped back down to where Fluttershy still stood and scooped her into her forelegs, lifting the startled pegasus into the air.
"Finally!" she almost shouted, wincing as she saw Fluttershy's frightened eyes. "Uh, I mean, you ready to watch me practice now?" she said more quietly.
Taking a moment to calm down, Fluttershy nodded once. "But put me down first, please."
"Totally. But first, have you got any clouds around here?"
Fluttershy rested her chin on a hoof thoughtfully. "I don't think so, Rainbow Dash." She looked up at the sky for a moment and nodded in confirmation. "Nope. I don't see any."
Rainbow groaned loudly. "Ugh! C'mon, then. I've got a new trick I've been practicing, and we need clouds to make it work." Still holding Fluttershy aloft, she began to drag the pegasus through the air, but a tug on her foreleg stopped her.
"What is it?" She turned to face Fluttershy, who smiled sheepishly.
"Um, you can let go, Rainbow Dash," she reminded her friend.
Letting go, Rainbow chuckled for a moment. "Oh yeah." Doing a quick loop-de-loop to warm up, she pointed ahead and said, "Let's find some clouds!"
"Wait!" Fluttershy tried to stop her friend, but she was already off. The yellow pegasus knew she couldn't hope to keep up with her more athletic friend, but she spurred herself on nonetheless, struggling to keep Rainbow in sight as she sped away in search of the perfect spot for her brand new trick.
That perfect spot happened to be situated near the Ponyville Town Hall. In the midst of the clear blue sky, Rainbow Dash found her target: a large, fluffy white cloud just floating there, no buildings or other potentially breakable landmarks in the immediate area. Except the Town Hall, of course, but if Rainbow just nudged the cloud a few yards away, she figured she could leave herself with plenty of room for her new stunt.
She had already started moving the cloud around when Fluttershy arrived—panting and sweating, but still airborne. She perked up when she realized that Rainbow had stopped, but her exhausted muscles burned in protest. Aching and out of breath, she glided slowly to the ground, landing hard and stumbling before managing to stay standing.
"You okay, Fluttershy?" Rainbow called, peeking her head from behind the cloud. Pushing the fluffy mass one more time, she brushed her hooves together and yelled, "There we go. Awesome!"
Fluttershy darted her eyes around to see if anypony heard Rainbow's outburst and said, "What is this trick you're trying out, Rainbow Dash?"
Rainbow dove down to earth and landed next to her friend. With a laugh, she told her, "It's a secret," and sped off again, climbing high above the buildings of Ponyville as she readied herself for her stunt.
Coming to a stop a good distance above her cloud, Rainbow took a deep breath and shrugged her shoulders to loosen them up. With each flap, her wings began to slow down, and as they came to a stop she closed her eyes and folded them, keeping herself slim and aerodynamic as she plummeted toward the ground.
Wind flew into her face and flung her mane back as Rainbow picked up speed, pulling the corners of her mouth into a grimace that slowly became a genuine smile. She kept her eyes closed, opting instead to let her instincts guide her. She'd pulled out of free fall like this a thousand times; she knew how to stay safe—and more importantly, she knew how to make it exciting.
To Fluttershy, the excitement registered as fear more than anything. Gasping as Rainbow neared the hard, unforgiving earth, she averted her eyes for a moment before shaking her head and forcing herself to look. Rainbow would end up alright. Fluttershy just had to trust her.
That trust paid off, as Rainbow Dash opened his wings less than thirty yards from the ground. Yelling in triumph and excitement, she pulled up, blowing Fluttershy's hair as she came within mere feet of her nervous spectator. As she leveled off and began to turn skyward, she felt a wave of euphoria course through her body, eliciting another excited whoop as she soared toward her cloud.
Picking up speed as she climbed, Rainbow avoided the cloud by inches, sending it spinning as she passed. Again, she dropped down, zooming by the cloud and speeding up its rapid rotation. Again and again, she zipped past the cloud, twisting and turning it until it looked like a ball of pure, whirling white energy.
As the fluffy white sphere continued its mad gyrations, Rainbow began to dive toward the cloud again, but this time, she didn't avoid it. Her mane and coat became soaked to the skin as she plunged right through the spinning cloud's center, splitting it in two as she went. Leveling off near ground level, she flew to the side before dashing back toward the two still spinning halves. Once more, she rushed through both pieces in one go, and again, and again, until what had once been one cloud was suddenly more than a dozen swirling white orbs.
Now, for the big finish!
With the cloud split into pieces, Rainbow Dash began to fly circles around it, hoping desperately that her plans would work. To her relief and to her utter glee, it did. The clouds, pulled outward by the winds she created, began to form a swiftly rotating ring, leaving an open space in the center—plenty of space for the fastest flyer in Equestria. For one last time, Rainbow soared into the air, taking one last look at her elaborate setup before flying full speed for the ring of clouds.
Her eyes watered as she began to feel the air rebel against her speed, pushing against her so much that it forced her eyes open and pulled her lips into a far wider smile than she thought possible. The winds only grew stronger as she continued to pick up speed, fighting air resistance with every flap of her wings. As she neared the ring of clouds, she could see a cone of air form around her falling form. Just before she passed through the ring, she saw a hole open up in the tip of the cone, and she surged forward with every bit of strength she had, knowing that her goal was easily within her grasp.
As the sky thundered behind her, she knew that she succeeded. She'd made another sonic rainboom! Though she couldn't see it as she came within inches of the ground, she could imagine what had happened.
The ring of clouds, which she passed through just as she broke the sound barrier, would be pushed out in all directions by the wave of color she created. Assuming the cloud fragments weren't reduced to nothing by the force of her dive, they would stay at the edge of the spreading rainbow, continuing to spin until air resistance tore them apart. Everypony assumed that there was no topping a sonic rainboom, but Rainbow was determined to prove them wrong. As she brought herself to an easy stop, Rainbow looked for Fluttershy, confident that the pegasus's expression would confirm whether she'd met her lofty goal.
From the beginning of the trick, Fluttershy stood transfixed, unable to tear her focus away from Rainbow's speeding form. Her speed, her fearlessness, Rainbow Dash represented everything Fluttershy lacked. Rainbow wasn't afraid to go all-out in pursuing the perfect trick—she never took no for an answer. She would try and try again until she got what she wanted, and if she failed once she'd try again. If Fluttershy could gain just an ounce of Rainbow's courage, she swore she would use it. She would—
But any concerns outside the moment of Rainbow's trick proved short-lived. For as long as Rainbow cared to fly—and as long as Fluttershy kept watching—nothing else mattered. There was only the up and down of Rainbow's flight, her constant battles against gravity and the wind. She defied all expectations—defied nature itself! She did what nopony else could, and Fluttershy could only look on with rapt attention as the impossible suddenly became possible.
When Rainbow whipped the clouds into a constantly spinning ring, Fluttershy thought she knew what would happen next, but even then she couldn't believe it. The sonic rainboom taking the clouds outward, scattering them to the winds even as they continued to move in an ever expanding ring, took her breath. Even so, she tried to cheer, but she found herself struck dumb by the grandeur of what she had just seen. Unable to summon forth anything more than a whimper of awe, she galloped in the direction of where she last saw Rainbow, eager to congratulate her on the successful stunt.
She found Rainbow Dash still soaring through the sky, trailing a rainbow as she moved in ever slower arcs. At last, as the multihued trail began to fade, she came to a hard landing right in front of Fluttershy, stomping her hooves against the ground to slow herself down and at the same time emphasizing her impressive strength.
"How was it?" she asked, smiling broadly with eyes wide open. "C'mon, how was it, Fluttershy?!"
"Oh, Rainbow Dash, it was amazing! The way you split that cloud up, and the spinning, and the rainbows—" Fluttershy kept gushing, unable to stop herself. She reveled in the moment, letting it absorb her completely. She could have gone on forever, but she was startled into silence when Rainbow Dash grabbed her front hooves, lifting them up in triumph.
"That's awesome!" she cried, jumping for joy and pumping her hoof into the air. As the euphoria slowly wore off, she grabbed Fluttershy's head in both hooves and said, "You have to tell me all about it!"
The size of Fluttershy's smile was matched only by the sincerity of her laughter as she answered, "Of course, Rainbow Dash. It'd be my pleasure." As she spoke, her stomach begin to grumble loudly, and she blushed softly. "Sorry."
Rainbow rolled her eyes and looked up at the sun. As it began to sink toward the horizon, she replied, "No worries. It looks like it's dinner time anyway." She wrapped a foreleg around Fluttershy's shoulder and gestured expansively at Ponyville's many restaurants. "Go ahead: pick a place. It'll be my treat."