A/N: If you have forgotten where the story is, you can read an abridged version here
The Train Ride Home
Flying High, Falling Hard by soundslikeponies
Twilight studied the smidgens of dirt in the train car window. Aside from a small area lit by the train windows, the outside was pitch black and deep into the night. Dash sat next to her and had nodded off with her head against Twilight’s shoulder sometime towards the beginning of the train ride. Her being asleep gave Twilight time to think. About them. About where they were heading. About the choices she made.
While sitting there lost in thought, she briefly imagined inventing a time travel spell, going back in time, and telling her past self to just stay friends with Rainbow Dash, but the more she imagined actually doing it, she came to realize she wouldn’t be able to do such a thing. Things were different now; she had been swept up in a changing tide and she didn’t have the faintest idea where it was taking her. She wished she could say she wasn’t alone, but she wasn’t even sure if she knew Dash anymore. She wasn’t even sure if she knew herself, for that matter.
The dirt on the side of the tracks rushing past could only remain interesting for so long. Twilight turned away and looked at the red and orange strands of Dash’s hair resting against her coat. The colors seemed faded in the glow of the lamplight.
Twilight reached her hoof across and brushed Dash’s hair aside. There was a sharp pang in her heart whenever she looked at her now—a fluttering, too, the same one that caused her to agree to their first date. But now, it was accompanied by a feeling of sadness.
The train lurched with a loud metallic clang as it hit some small dent in the tracks. Dash startled awake and jolted away from Twilight’s hoof, looking around wildly to regain her bearings. Her eyes fell on Twilight and she relaxed.
“Sorry, I was just having this dream,” Dash said, smiling nervously. She leaned her head back on Twilight’s shoulder. “How long was I out?”
“Only two hours. I think we should be arriving soon.” Twilight leaned down and nuzzled Dash’s cheek. “What was the dream about?”
“Eh, nothing really.”
“Was it a nightmare?” Twilight asked.
Dash paused for a moment before answering. “No, I don’t think so.”
“I’m glad you stayed with me,” Dash said as she shifted, rubbing her cheek against Twilight’s coat. “Thanks for doing that.”
Twilight stared blankly at the seat across from them. “... I’m glad you stayed with me as well,” she said, after a hesitation.
Dash cuddled against her shoulder and closed her eyes again, a peaceful smile coming to her face at hearing those words. All Twilight could wonder, with a grimace, while staring at that smile, was how long it would last this time?
The train suddenly bumped with a metal clang. Dash jumped in her seat. She opened her eyes and looked around, stopping when her eyes met Twilight’s.
“Hey,” Dash said, “what’s wrong?”
“Hm? Nothing’s wrong.”
Dash didn’t seem to buy it for a moment, and furrowed her eyebrows at her with concern.
Twilight did her best to smile away Dash’s worries. “Nothing’s wrong, honestly!”
The second time must have sounded more convincing, because Dash smiled back at her and laid her head on Twilight’s shoulder, closing her eyes once more.
Twilight let out a discreet sigh as her smile disappeared. She rested her cheek against the top of Dash’s head, her nose breathing in Dash’s mane, as she listened to the sound of Dash’s breathing, until she fell back asleep.
Spitfire lay down on her bed and let out an almost giddy chuckle. It felt like an insurmountable weight had been lifted off her shoulders. Closure was a wonderful feeling.
A record lay on the bed next to her—a quick thing she had picked up after talking to Dash. It was different from what she normally listened to, more upbeat and humorous, with lots of percussion. It had sounded wonderful to her ears as she walked past a record shop playing it, so, on a whim, she’d gone in and bought it.
Standing up, she set it to play.
As the melody began, she ambled about her room with a smile on her face, the biggest smile she’d had since the whole sordid affair with Dash began. Humming along with her eyes closed, she began to fall in step with the rhythm of the piece. She twirled and danced aimlessly, and probably would have looked like a fool were anypony watching. She wasn’t sure she’d even give a donkey’s tail if they were, such was the joy she felt.
Once the song came to an end, she flopped back down on the bed, giggling and laughing at nothing in particular as the needle skipped on the end of the vinyl. And like that, lying spread across her bed, she giggled herself tired, closed her eyes, and fell asleep.
The train groaned as it braked to a stop. Dash woke with the sudden change in momentum and lifted her head from Twilight’s shoulder. Outside their compartment door window, ponies were lining up to disembark.
“Hey, you ready to go?” Dash asked, turning to Twilight.
Twilight gave Dash a waning smile. “Yeah, I just want to get home.”
“Heh, no kidding.” Dash chuckled. “You should have caught some shut-eye on the train, Twi. You look like you could fall asleep on your hooves at any second.”
“Sorry. I had a lot on my mind.”
Dash’s smile flickered slightly. “Hey, don’t worry about things so much. Everything will be fine now. Let’s just get home and catch some shuteye.” She stood and walked to the compartment door. Opening it, she turned back to Twilight. “There’s a bed waiting for us and everything. Come on!”
Twilight’s eyes drifted to the floor. “Actually, would you mind sleeping at your place tonight?”
Dash’s smile faltered.
“Just for tonight,” Twilight quickly added. She stared down at her hooves, her shoulders slumped and tired. “I want some time alone to think.”
Dash tried to smile, but it felt strained. “Sure, Twilight. Whatever you need.”
“Thank you.” Twilight gave her a kiss on the cheek as she walked past her. “You can come over tomorrow, alright? We’ll have breakfast together.”
Everyone else had already loaded off the train. Dash made Twilight face her. She leaned forward to kiss her, half expecting her to back out of it and make an excuse. To Dash’s surprise, Twilight met her halfway, and took the initiative to deepen the kiss beyond what Dash had originally intended. Dash wrapped her wing around Twilight as Twilight’s tongue slipped into her mouth. Her legs stiffened, and she could feel Twilight shiver with pleasure from where their bodies met, the kiss having the same effect on her.
The kiss managed to sate her curiosity. She could feel Twilight pouring her emotions into the kiss, which drew hers out in return. Dash’s worries of a repeat from Cloudsdale, the placid, passionless wall that Twilight had erected back then, were dashed with the surge of excitement and ecstasy she felt at the moment.
Twilight took back the initiative of the kiss and did something new with her tongue that Dash couldn’t even begin to describe, making her let out a high-pitched squeal. She blushed, never expecting to make such a noise.
Twilight broke the kiss and giggled. “You know, you’re really quite cute when you blush.”
Dash froze at those words, a very recent memory playing behind her eyes.
Spitfire gave her a coy grin. “You’re really cute when you blush.”
“We should get going,” Twilight said, snapping Dash out of her daydream. “We’re already going to be the last ones off the train.”
“Er, right.” Dash lifted her wing from around Twilight and folded it back at her side.
The train corridor was mostly empty, all the passengers having gotten off. Squeezing past a train conductor who was checking that the compartments were empty, the two of them traveled down the car, eventually reaching a side door and getting off the train.
Dash stood on the platform. For a moment, she simply looked out at the grassy plains that bordered the edge of the town the train station was located nearest. “Home...” she muttered under her breath. It didn’t feel as good to be back as she’d hoped.
“Come on, Dash!” Twilight called from a short ways down the platform. “I’ll let you walk me to the library!”
Dash shook her head and walked over to Twilight. A teasing smile crept up to her lips as she and Twilight began to walk out of the near-deserted train station. “Oh, you’ll let me walk you home?”
Twilight stopped at the foot of the train station stairs and wrinkled her nose in a pout. “You know I didn’t mean anything by that.”
“I know, I’m just teasing,” Dash said, stepping down beside her. She reached out and wrapped her wing around Twilight again, the air that night seeming cold and unwelcoming. They walked in silence to the library, but it was a good silence, the kind you could take comfort in. Neither mare said a word, not wanting to ruin the sanctity of the moment, and instead trusted in the wordless touches of one another.
All in all, Dash couldn’t have asked for more from her. She only became sad when it came to an end, when the two of them arrived at the library.
Twilight walked inside, Dash’s wing sliding from her back. “So...” she said, turning and stopping in the doorway.
Dash tried to smile as she turned to leave. “We’ll talk tomorrow then, I guess.”
Dash froze. She glanced back over her shoulder. “Yeah?”
Twilight smiled, though her eyes were giving her a look of apologl. It was a sorry smile: the kind that it pained Dash to look at. “I’ll try to be better in the morning.”
Dash swallowed a lump in her throat and wondered whether that would be true or not. “Great to hear!” she said, gentling her tone. “Just remember what I said: We’ll make it work. And it’ll all be worth it.”
Twilight gave her a half-hearted smile and puffed. “You keep saying that so much that I’m actually starting to believe it.”
Dash chuckled and shot her a playful grin. “That’s the plan!” She unfolded her wings and snapped them to full mast. “G’night, Twi.”
“Good night, Rainbow Dash.”
Dash turned and took off like a rocket, shooting through the midnight purple clouds. It would take time—she’d known that from the start. A night apart gave her time to come up with ideas. After all, their relationship wouldn’t repair itself. Dash was more than willing to put the work into fixing it. After all, this was all her fault in the first place.
That was a fact she vowed never to forget.
Twilight stood in the doorway, staring at where Dash had been mere moments ago. A light breeze sent ripples running across the fields and tickled her hairs. The same serenity that had seemed peaceful when she’d been with Rainbow now felt empty and lonely.
If Dash had asked to stay, Twilight was almost certain she would have caved and the pegasus would have stayed the night. She was thankful Dash hadn’t though, because as much as she wanted to hold Dash close and squeeze her eyes shut and pretend that nothing had ever happened, what she needed most was space, even if she didn’t want it.
She closed the door with a wave of her magic. The familiar sound of the heavy wood scraping shut and metal latch sliding into place rung with a sense of finality. Twilight closed her eyes. Collapsing, she slid down the door with her weight pressed up against it, curling into a ball as she went, shaking.
It had taken her long—too long—to figure out what being a proper marefriend to somepony was. She felt as though the lack of effort on her part was what drove Dash to need the love of another mare, seeking something she hadn’t been giving her. She wanted to provide that for her, but every time now that Dash was near, she didn’t feel anything but guilt.
Twilight took a deep breath and forced her shaking to abruptly stop. She steadily rose to her hooves. She refused to do this again. Pitying herself accomplished nothing and changed nothing.
Stumbling to the shelf beside her desk, she began pulling scroll after scroll and book after book off the shelf. All of them had a red ribbon, either wrapped around it in the case of a scroll, or wedged between its pages in the case of a book. She continued rifling through bookshelves and dumping the red-ribboned scrolls and books in a pile until she had nearly two dozen parchments and books levitating in front of her.
And then there was one final book, which she summoned out of thin air, which did not have a ribbon: Star Swirl the Bearded’s Study of Genetics.
Twilight marched to the basement with her research materials in tow, and opened the door. A chilling quiet drifted up the darkened stairs to welcome her back to the place of her experiments. It exhaled a breath of stale air.
Twilight’s horn flared. Flames flickered to life in every lantern and on every wick. They lit up to show strange machines, cluttering the basement. Some she had built, others she bought. All of them had been used for some sort of experiment at one time or another and then kept down here just in case she needed them again. Now, most of them were covered in a layer of dust.
There, propped up where she had left it—with an additional cobweb or two, was the literal skeleton in her closet.
The deer’s hollow eyes stared back at her as she lifted it and brushed the cobwebs off.
Dash shook her head. When she had knocked on the library door and no one came, she had let herself in, only to find the sight in front of her now.
Twilight was lying belly-first on the floor with scrolls and books piled up around her like a small fort, and she was out like a light. There was even a pool of drool next to her chin. Actually, the sight may have even been cute, were Dash not more concerned about the circumstances over the last couple days leading up to that moment.
Dash leaned down and poked Twilight’s cheek with her nose, receiving a murmur in reply.
“Hey. Twilight.” She nudged at Twilight’s horn with her muzzle, shaking her head. “C’mon, wake up.”
“Hnn...” Twilight moaned as her eyes peeked open. A still-sleepy smile spread across her face as she recognized who woke her up. “Hey, Dash.”
“Twilight, when did you go to sleep last night?”
“Um...” Twilight glanced at a window, seeing the sun rise. “It must have been sometime this morning, I guess.”
Dash hung her head and sighed. Poking her nose under Twilight’s side, she scooped the mare onto her back in one fluid motion. “Come on, let’s at least get you to a bed.”
A groan answered her.
She took special care as she walked up the stairs and through the bedroom door not to bump Twilight on any walls. The pony was dead weight on her back; it was like hauling around a sack of flour.
Dash looked back at Twilight, whose eyes were closed as she hung over the side of Dash’s back. “Hey, Twilight, if this is in some way my fault, I’m sorry.”
Light snores came from Twilight, who’d already fallen asleep again on Dash’s back.
Dash shook her head and placed Twilight down on the bed gently. She took the corner of the blankets in her mouth and tucked her in. Then, she stood there in pained silence.
“I’ll—” She stopped, and lowered her voice. “I’ll come by later after you’ve woken up,” she whispered, even though she knew the sleeping pony wouldn’t hear it.
She walked back downstairs and closed the door behind her quietly, before letting out a sigh.
So much for plans.
Gazing out at the nearby fields and homes from the library doorstep, she kicked the dirt with a pout. She opened up her wings; Twilight needed at least a couple more hours of sleep, and flying didn’t sound like a bad idea while she waited.
As she crouched down to take off, something jumpy caught the corner of her eye. She stood back up and looked over to see a lone monarch butterfly, fluttering by. It flew over in front of her and paused for a moment, hovering just in front of her face. Then, it took a perch right on her nose, spreading its wings so that its yellow and black patterns filled her vision.
Dash blinked and blew a small puff of air up at her nose.
The monarch took off, rapidly flapping its wings once more. It flitted around above her head, before moving on and flying away.
Dash folded her wings back at her side. As she watched the butterfly flit away, a recent yet distant memory came to her.
“You’re going to have to come to terms with ponies who look at us like that.”
“Why? Why do I have to accept ponies acting like that?”
“Because... I don’t want to see you so unhappy all the time.”
Dash continued to stare at the butterfly until it was just a speck over the hills.
It had been a while since she last spoke to Fluttershy. She wondered how her friend was doing.
Spreading her wings once more with a new destination in mind, Dash took off, flying towards the edge of the Everfree Forest. Ponyville blurred beneath her as a light wind at her back almost seemed to urge her onwards to her destination.
The cottage soon came into sight, followed by a myriad of sounds from over two dozen critters that were down in the fields surrounding it. They appeared to be having breakfast, and indeed Dash spotted the pony she was looking for, feeding them.
“Fluttershy!” she called out as she swooped down and landed next to her.
Fluttershy’s eyes widened at seeing her, her attention drifting from the task at hand as she overfilled a bird feeder, and seed poured over onto the grass. She fumbled to get the bag closed, right as a flock of birds swarmed at the seed around her hooves. “O-oh! Um, I wasn’t really expecting you to drop by.” She bit her lip. “Is everything alright?”
“Yeah, everything’s great!”
Fluttershy bit her lip. “And with Twilight?”
Dash rubbed the back of her head. “She’s... She’s just sleeping in today. That bookworm spent all night studying. Heh, she’s such an egghead sometimes!” She let out a chuckle at her own joke.
Fluttershy covered a small giggle that escaped her mouth. “Oh, well that’s good! That sounds just like her,” she said, rubbing her foreleg and glancing around. “Um...”
“Hey, you wanna go inside and talk for a bit?” Dash asked.
Suddenly, Dash’s stomach growled boisterously. The birds eating grain around their hooves startled and scattered, sending Dash dirty looks.
Rainbow Dash blushed. “... Maybe over breakfast or something.”
Fluttershy tried to force down the smile she had at Dash’s embarrassment. “Sure. That sounds lovely.”
She picked up the bag of seeds, and she and Dash went inside her cottage. It was as homely and slightly chaotic as Dash remembered; birds flew from shelf to shelf, and squirrels ran underhoof as they crossed the living room. She also could have sworn Angel targeted a glare at her as he hopped past them and went outside, but she wrote it off as the little guy just being in a foul mood.
Fluttershy gestured for Dash to take a seat at the kitchen table, before putting the bird seed away in a cupboard and starting on a salad for Dash. She already knew all the things her friend wanted on it. “So, um, how have things been with you two lately?”
Dash absently tapped a hoof on the table as she watched the birds. “Um… Well, we took a trip to Canterlot yesterday. Twilight showed me around the palace, and I got to see where the Wonderbolts train.”
“Oh, wow! That sounds exciting,” Fluttershy said, glancing over her shoulder. “Did you get to speak with any of them?”
“Uh, yeah, one or two…” Dash trailed off, thinking back to her encounter with Spitfire at the apartment. “We didn’t really get to talk much though.”
“Oh,” Fluttershy murmured, as she brought Dash her salad balanced on an outstretched wing. “Well it must be a pretty busy job. Did you get to see anything else?”
“Well, there was this amazing view,” Dash said, taking a generous mouthful of salad. “Since Canterlot’s built on the side of a mountain, you can see all the way to the Pale Mountains. It was really cool being able to see that far—and I’m not typically into sightseeing much.” She lifted the salad to her muzzle, happily crunching on every crouton she could find. Then she set the bowl down, almost empty, and her expression became more serious. “Listen, it’s great catching up with you, but that wasn’t really what I came here to talk about.”
“Oh.” Fluttershy bit her lip. “Um, I’m sorry, what did you want to talk about?”
“I wanted to see if we could make things better and put what happened behind us.” Dash’s ears drooped, and she couldn’t meet Fluttershy’s gaze. “I guess I want to say I’m sorry. For shouting at you and turning my back on you… Can we be friends again?”
Fluttershy leapt over the table, almost knocking Dash over as she wrapped her in a hug.
Dash sat there for a moment, stunned, before she chuckled and returned the hug, gently squeezing her friend. Closing her eyes, she buried her nose against Fluttershy’s shoulder. “I missed you, too.”
“I’m so sorry, Rainbow! I should have never said those awful things!” Fluttershy sniffled, shaking her head against Dash’s shoulder. “If you and Twilight make each other happy, then I’m happy to see you two together.”
A smile eased across Dash’s face as she hugged her friend tighter. “It’s great to hear you say that.”
Fluttershy pulled back and wiped away her tears, smiling in the gentle manner Dash was used to seeing. “I know you’re probably busy, but would it be alright if you stayed a little longer?”
Dash patted her on the shoulder. “Sure thing, Flutts.”
Fluttershy took her spot back at the opposite end of the table and twiddled her hooves. “So, um, what else did you get to see while visiting Canterlot? I’ve always wanted to go there someday, but never found the time.”
Dash finished her salad, and then began to go into detail about their trip—leaving out the details about Spitfire—and gave imaginative descriptions of the palace grounds and all the sights she saw, flying over the city. Fluttershy listened with a dreamy look as she described the gardens and the animals she’d seen during the trip.
Fluttershy let out a wistful sigh as Dash finished recanting her tale. “Oh, now I really can’t wait for the Grand Galloping Gala!”
“Heh, I almost forgot about that,” Dash said, rubbing the back of her head. “I guess Twilight and me are going to be going as dates now, or something, huh?”
“I think you two would look wonderful all dressed up together.”
Dash’s mouth formed a grim line. “Yeah, maybe. I don’t know how other ponies would react to seeing us, though.”
Fluttershy nodded in a subdued manner, staring down at the table. “Since you dropped by and everything, have you talked to Applejack yet?”
“No, not yet,” Dash sighed. “I’m not so sure how that’s going to go down though. You know how she is.”
“Well, yes, but I bet she misses you just as much as I did. We’re your friends, Dash. We still want to see you happy, even if we don’t... well...” Fluttershy hesitated and looked up to see her attempted words of encouragement hadn’t had much effect.
Rainbow Dash tried to shake her worries off with a laugh. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’m just being a bit pessimismo is all.”
“You mean pessimistic?”
“Er, yeah, that one. Hanging out with Twilight, I’ve been hearing all these big words. Next thing you know I’ll be reading or something.”
“Well that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.”
“Yeah, so you and her keep saying.” Dash glanced out the window; it looked to be almost noon. She stood up. “I’ve got to head over to the library. Twilight’ll wake up soon, and I told her I would have breakfast with her... even if it’s going to be more of a lunch than a breakfast.”
Fluttershy nodded and picked up Dash’s bowl, taking it to the sink and then hurrying to catch Dash before she left. “Oh! Tell Twilight I said, ‘Hello!’ I haven’t spoken to her in a while.”
Dash opened the door and stopped under its arch, turning to face her. “I’ll pass it along. It’s been cool talking to you again.”
Fluttershy nodded gratefully. “Um, goodbye for now, I suppose.”
“Yeah, I’ll catch you later.”
With that, Dash snapped her wings out to her sides. She took off, climbing high above Ponyville before finding a breeze to soar on.
It had been a breath of fresh air talking to Fluttershy again. The wind under her wings seemed almost playful as she rode on through the sky towards what she’d begun to think of as a second home: the library.
For a rare change, she decided to slow down and enjoy the journey there.