The faint beeping sound of a heart monitor woke Rainbow from her slumber.
Her memory was vague, and shattered. It seemed a corner of her head had been occupied by some kind of voice, the same one that whispered doubts to her that fateful picnic on the clouds.
She tried to get up but was pushed back into the bed by a firm pair of hooves.
"Ya need some rest, sugarcube. Th' nurse hasn't said ya could get out of bed yet."
Her eyes slowly drifted open, the bright lights above her creating glowing spheres in her vision. The lights were all she saw at first. Tilting her head downwards, she saw her friends, standing there, smiling nervously. Pinkie would not look her in the eye. Fluttershy just stared at the ground.
"You seem healthy, good vital signs, steady breathing, all fine, except for... That."
Nurse Redheart was standing by the heart monitor, writing down notes with a special tool that fit neatly on her hoof. She was looking at the paper without obvious emotion, but there was sorrow in her eyes. Rainbow couldn't believe it. Nurse Redheart felt sorry for her.
"That? What do you mean?"
"The mirror says it all."
She raised her eyebrows at twilight, who levitated a small mirror in front if Rainbow.
Her eyes went even wider.
She was herself, her face was distinguishable, but she had no fur, just coal black armour plating. Her usually bright hair was a dull green, and riddled with holes. So were her hooves. Two of her teeth were unusually long and sharp, and her wings were that of a changeling.
Strangely enough, her eyes were normal, but of green hue.
Twilight winced, and put the mirror back on the table.
"It looks bad, I know but you could get used to it, maybe?"
She did not answer. It was a chilling feeling, living as you always did until a certain moment in time. It is like your entire life, you were you, and that was the way you liked it, but suddenly, everything changed. It would feel alien, if someone around you was something else. But it would leave deep scars if it were you that was different. The very psychological aspect of it pains me to think about. But ah, this story isn't about me. Moving on!
"I need some time."
"if you need us, we'll be there."
Twilight walked out of the room, with the other elements following.
Before she left, Twilight glanced over her shoulder, pausing for a moment as if about to say something, but then she bowed her head and left the room.
When the hoof-steps had died away, Rainbow sighed. She then pulled the cord away from her hoof and got out of bed.
"Whoa! I haven't finished my examination yet!" The nurse exclaimed.
"I'll pass." She said, and experimentally moved her new wings up and down.
"You can't just leave. There are others in the hall. They'll stop you."
"Who says I'm using he hall?"
The nurse stopped for a moment, about to say something. She began to put how the hall was the only escape into words, but Rainbow had already rocketed out of he room, through the open window, and out over Ponyville.
"Pegasi..." The nurse growled, looking angrily out to the rapidly disappearing former patient.
"Always flying out windows."
She marched into the hall, to inform the doctor how their patient 'passed' on an examination. And she was in no mood to deal with her again today.
Rainbow soared over the town, buzzing her new wings, although it was hard work to learn how to fly again by practice. she saw all the happy ponies going about town, doing their daily duties, and she realised she may not fit into that crowd ever again. She sighed, and flipped onto her back, allowing her to glide upside-down until she landed in a soft heap on a cloud. Deeply exhaling, she closed her eyes, and let reality slip away.
"Hey, rainbow? Rainbow Dash?"
She slowly opened her eyes to see a yellow Pegasus standing in above her.
"Fluttershy? It's the middle of the night, what are you doing?"
She noticed for the first time the slight hissing note to her voice.
"You've been unconscious for three weeks."
The news hit her like a apple in her face, chucked by an enraged applejack, after she found a certain Pegasus had eaten most of the apples in the cart and fallen asleep in the barn. she had a sore nose for days.
Unconscious? Three weeks? Ponies can't survive without sustenance for three weeks. What happened? Who missed her? The questions buzzed around in her head like fireflies.
"When the nurse said that you left, we got worried, but we couldn't find you anywhere. It was only after Soarin' came to the Mayor in a panic, reporting a changeling on the clouds did we realise that it was you.
There was a moment of silence. Neither of them were sure what to say. Fluttershy broke the momentary quiet.
"You can't keep living like this!"
Rainbow sighed, and sat up on the cloud.
"Then what should I do?"
"I... Don't know. You might just want to mix with ordinary ponies."
"Do you really think that's a good idea?"
Fluttershy turned her head away, not sure what to say.
"I think you just need to come back to society."
"I don't think so. I'm happy just where I am."
"Are you sure of that?"
"Yeah! Now if you'll excuse me, I have sleeping to be done."
"Well okay, Rainbow, but it's for your own good."
Just as the words escaped her mouth Fluttershy ducked under the cloud, and pushed it from one end, making it tip over and Rainbow fall out.
With a yell she tried to stop falling, but it's a lot harder to stop yourself mid-air without feathered wings. Just as she was about to hit the ground, Fluttershy pushed a cloud beneath her, which she rather non-elegantly bounced off and hit the ground with an earthy thud.
"Ow." That was an accurate summary of what happened. She opened one eye painfully, and looked around where she had landed. It was Applejack's farm.
Fluttershy nervously landed next to Rainbow, looking rather embarrassed.
"Are you going to be okay?"
"I've taken harder knocks."
She got up and brushed the pebbles off her armour.
"You need to see your friends, we all miss you."
She sighed in surrender.
"Fine. I just don't know how to re-enter society."
"Maybe you should spend the night in the barn, then we could gather our friends here in the morning to figure something out."
Rainbow nodded, and trudged wearily into the barn.
Fluttershy started to go home, but she paused for a moment. Shaking her head, she told herself that she needed to go home. Angel was going to have to be fed. But her brain told her otherwise. Her mind was a strange thing, it told her to shy away from attention, confrontation, and all things frightening. She had no interest in anything else. She was kind by nature, but never brave or outrageous. Yet she could not bring herself to turn around and walk home.
Looking left and right, she quickly walked towards the barn, and lay down in the hay beside Rainbow.
The yellow Pegasus put her hoof over her pursed lips to indicate that 'she wasn't there.' Rainbow got the message and smiled, nestling deeper into the soft hay. A cold gust blew trough the barn and under her armour, she shivered. She tried hard not to make to obvious, though. Fluttershy noticed. She waited for a moment, before experimentally wrapping her right wing around Dash's body. And the shivering stopped.