Dreams and Nightmares

by Geographew

Five More Minutes

In just one week, Rainbow will be competing in the national competition for the Equestrian Flying League. It's nerve wracking, exciting, and a whirlwind of emotions. It's been just under two months since Rainbow Dash moved in with me, and it's been going fairly smoothly. Other than the occasional (maybe not so occasional) panic attacks and nightmares, I've been pretty good. Rainbow's psychological well-being is much better than mine, even though I can tell she's pretty nervous. I can't say I blame her. This is perhaps her one and only shot at achieving her dream, and she has one routine, under five minutes, to prove she's worthy.
No pressure.
Having the rest of her friends there this time will likely make her a lot less nervous, though. She's been under a lot of pressure before, even life-or-death situations, and has always done just fine. Except this time, she doesn't need to do just fine, she needs to do perfectly.
Again, no pressure.
The owners of Cloudsdale Stadium have generously allowed all of the national contestants access to the stadium the week before the competition. Rainbow and I made the trip up there for the entire week. We’re walking down a calm and mostly empty street in Cloudsdale, heading for the stadium.
"So," I say to Rainbow. "Are you nervous?"
"You kidding?" Rainbow says confidently. "I didn't come this far to lose."
"I'm impressed!" I say. "If this doesn't work out, I heard there's a position open as the Ponyville EFL representative." I tease.
"Haha, very funny." Rainbow says with a roll of her eyes.
"Hey, Rainbow Dash." A voice comes. We turn to the sound, and find a turquoise-coated Pegasus with golden-yellow hair and a lightning bolt cutie mark.
"Lightning Dust, long time no see." Rainbow says earnestly.
"I'm glad to see you'll be competing." Lightning says. "I'm really sorry about what happened back at the academy. I still think you're a great flyer."
"Hey, thanks!" Rainbow says, and looks at me. I give her a comfortable smile. "No hard feelings, right?"
"None at all." Lightning Dust says. She turns and looks at me happily. "The name's Lightning Dust."
"Twilight Sparkle. Pleased to meet you!" I say politely. It's nice to finally meet one of the ponies Rainbow got to know while she was at the academy.
"Sorry for almost killing you." She says with a sheepish smile.
"I almost get killed a lot, it's no biggie. Besides, it was an accident!" I assure. She nods in what I assume is gratitude and turns to Rainbow.
"You wanna practice with me?" She asks. Rainbow looks at me pleadingly.
"Go ahead! I'll just go grab some lunch. Catch you later!" I say, with a wave. Rainbow and Lightning run off toward the stadium.

After a quick dinner at the Cloudsdale Hayburger, Rainbow and I decided to take a walk through downtown Cloudsdale. It’s winter, but there’s very little wind, and no snow, since we’re above the cloud layer and the air is undisturbed here. Weather is always peaceful here. They don’t need rain, and they don’t need wind, and they don’t need snow. They just need sunshine and the occasional breeze.
It’s nighttime, and the lanterns pepper the facades of the buildings that line the streets. It’s not quiet, though; the streets are crowded with ponies talking to one another, shouting for taxis, and laughing. Rainbow and I turn down a quiet street, but I quickly hear something from a nearby alleyway. It sounds like hushed but angry speaking. I hold out a hoof and stop Rainbow in her tracks.
“Shh.” I hush her. “You hear that?”
Rainbow cocks her head for a minute and listens. Her face contorts into uncomfortable suspicion and she looks at me.
“Let’s go check it out.” Rainbow says. I nod in agreement and we slowly and quietly turn down the alleyway. I can see the silhouette of a stallion as he looks up, obviously noticing our presence. He mutters something to his unseen victim and flies off. Rainbow and I stop for a moment, then a sound sends shivers down my spine.
Rainbow and I rush over behind a pile of crates and find the source of the crying. A slumped over pegasus with her head in her forelegs, sobbing quietly to herself.
“Hey, what happened?” Rainbow asks. The pegasus looks up and my stomach turns over.
It’s High Flyer.
“High Flyer!” Rainbow and I say in unison.
“Who was that guy?” Rainbow asks, a hint of thinly veiled fury in her voice.
“I’m sorry you have to see me like this.” High Flyer says, barely maintaining her composure.
“What happened to you?” I ask. “Did he hurt you?” High Flyer sniffles, rubs her eyes with a foreleg, and hugs her knees, sitting with her back against the wall.
“I’m fine.” She says, avoiding our eyes.
“Uh, nice try.” Rainbow says. “But you’re obviously not fine.”
“You two should get home; it’s dangerous out here at night.” High Flyer says, closing her eyes, sniffling again.
“We’re not leaving until we get you some help.” I declare. High Flyer looks up at me quickly, her eyes bloodshot and full of fear.
“Thank you for your concern, but there’s nothing you can do.” She says.
“I don’t know about that.” Rainbow says with a chuckle. “I’d be glad to take out that jerk that was picking on you.”
“It’s more complicated than that. I can’t just get rid of him.” High Flyer says, looking at the ground again.
“Why not?” Rainbow asks.
“Because,” High Flyer replies, a look of complete disgust on her face. “I need him.” She chokes. “He pays me.”
“Is he your boss?” I ask. “At The Amore?”
“No.” High Flyer says. “He’s not my boss at all. He’s...bribing me. I can’t say much more.”
“But you’re gonna be a Wonderbolt here in a few days!” Rainbow offers. High Flyer starts sobbing again.
“That’s just it, isn’t it?” I say. “He’s bribing you not to compete.”
High Flyer says nothing and continues sobbing.
“That’s horrible!” Rainbow says. “He can’t do that!”
“What choice do I have?” High Flyer chokes out. “I have to eat. I don’t know if I’m even good enough to become a wonderbolt. But if Che-- if he pays me to not compete, that’s money in my pocket. Money I can use to eat.” It almost sounds like she was about to say who the mysterious bully was. ‘Che-’ something. I’ll have to think about that later.
Rainbow and I look at each other. At this point, we’re both tearing up, but it seems there’s nothing we can do. This really is a tight situation. We look back at the trembling pegasus in front of us.
“Come on, we’ll walk you home.” I offer. High Flyer gives a bitter laugh.
“Here we are.” She says, looking up. “This is where I live.” She’s homeless. Rainbow and I look at each other, and tears are running down both our faces at this point. My heart is in a million pieces.
“Come with us. You’re staying at our place.” I declare.
“Don’t worry about me.” She says. “It’s been like this for… a while.”
“No buts.” Rainbow says. “You’re coming with us.” High Flyer looks up and takes a shuddering breath, finally standing shakily. I give her a small smile before she follows us out of the alleyway and back towards our hotel.

Checkered Flag. It came to me in my sleep last night that the bully had to have been Checkered Flag, the contestant from Canterlot. He's a fellow competitor, a stallion, and his name starts with "Che".
High Flyer stayed in our hotel room last night. She insisted on sleeping on the pull-out couch, but it’s certainly a step up from a cold, damp alleyway, even it’s made of clouds.
She had work the next day, so she had to leave relatively early. She really appreciated the hotel breakfast, and our letting her use the shower. After she left, Rainbow had asked me if we could talk.
“Okay, what are we gonna do about her?” Rainbow asks. “She deserves to compete. I say we turn in the guy.”
“It’s not that simple.” I explain. “We need evidence, first of all, and secondly, We’d need High Flyer to testify in court.”
“You don’t think she would?” Rainbow asks.
“I don’t. You saw her, she was so afraid…” I say, a lump appearing in my throat. “As awful as it is, I don’t think she wants to cause trouble.”
“Good point.” Rainbow laments. “Well then we’ll need some evidence. If we can catch him in the act, and take a picture or a video or something, then we can take it to the police and they’ll lock him up, right? He couldn’t hurt her?”
“In theory, if we presented evidence, they could make an arrest before he had a chance to get payback.” I confirm. “But how are we gonna get evidence?”
“It’s simple.” I say. “We just follow him when he goes to talk to High Flyer, and we’ll get footage of him roughing her up some. I’m sure we can buy a camera around here in Cloudsdale, right?”
“Sure! It’s a plan.”

As I’d promised, later that day I went and bought a camera. Rainbow stopped by our hotel room to let me know she’d be hanging out with Lightning Dust for a while. I suppose that’s fine; better to make friends than to make enemies.
She didn’t show up in time to catch Checkered Flag. I’m pretty sure I got some clear footage of him yelling at High Flyer in her alleyway home. After he left, I once again took her back to our hotel room. Of course, it wasn’t without a bit of a fight, but eventually she agreed.
But now I’m getting really worried. Rainbow didn’t come home last night.
This morning I asked High Flyer if she knows where Lightning Dust lives. She does; she and Lighting used to be good friends when they were younger. And right now, she and I are heading over to Lightning’s house to see if Rainbow stayed there.
Her house is not unlike most houses in Cloudsdale; several pillars, a small Rainbow fountain in the front yard, one story, and a door made of compacted clouds.
I still have no idea how they make those.
I bring a hoof to the door and knock. There suddenly comes the sound of a large crash, and erratic hoofsteps before the door finally opens to reveal Lightning Dust, her hair completely disheveled, her eyes red, and her posture slumped and tired. She squints, as though she can’t see clearly. After a moment, she apparently recognizes me and smiles.
“Hey, Twilight. Hey, Fly.” She slurs. “What’s up?”
“Have you seen Rainbow Dash?” I ask. Behind her I see empty bottles of some unknown substance, though the smell of alcohol is creeping from the house.
“Yeah, she’s asleep on the couch. Come on in.” Lightning mumbles, shielding her eyes from the sun. High Flyer and I timidly enter the house. I nearly gasp when I see Rainbow, sprawled out on the couch, her mouth hanging open, snoring. She smells like cider and her mane is disheveled like Lightning Dust’s.
“Rainbow Dash!” I say sternly.
“Five more minutes.” She mumbles.
“Rainbow Dash, why are you sleeping on Lightning Dust’s couch?” I ask. She freezes for a moment, then quickly sits upright, taking in her surroundings. Her eyes go wide as she realizes where she is.
“Uh, hey, Twilight.” She greets groggily. “Hey, Fly. Say, why’s it so bright in here?”
“Because you’re hungover.” I glare. “You never came home last night. Was there some kind of party?”
“I…” Rainbow shields her eyes and looks off into the distance, deep in thought. “I’m not sure. I think so. Can I go home now? I feel like trash.”
She looks like trash.
“Come on.” I say, melting a bit at her apparent innocence.

Shortly after arriving back at the hotel, High Flyer had to leave for work. I made her promise to come back to the hotel and stay with us again tonight, and she reluctantly agreed. As soon as she left, I turned to Rainbow, who is lying on the hotel bed, an icepack on her head, and a pained look on her face as she tries to read the fifth Lightning Scar book.
“Rainbow, what happened?” I ask. “I’m not mad, I promise.” I assure. “I just want to know what happened.”
“Look, I’m sorry, Twilight, really.” Rainbow says earnestly. “I went over to Lightning Dust’s for a drink, and one drink turned into...a lot of drinks.”
“Was it just you two?” I ask.
“What?” Rainbow says, with a confused look. “I mean...I don’t really remember.” She decides. “Why? What does that matter?”
I open my mouth to speak, but I have no immediate answer. I look up and away from Rainbow, and I close my mouth.
“I don’t know. What if you two...did stuff?” I ask, the words stinging my tongue as they come. Rainbow gives a genuinely confused look.
“Why would you even wonder…” She begins. Her expression softens and a sly grin crosses her face. “You’re jealous.”
“What?!” I nearly shout, an intense blush filling my cheeks. “What would give you that idea?”
“Admit it!” Rainbow says, hopping off the bed and walking toward me. “You only care because if I...did stuff with her, it would ruin what we have going on here!”
“I never said--” I begin, but I’m interrupted by Rainbow.
“It’s okay,” She says confidently, and turns away from me. Looking back she says, “I know I’m pretty awesome. I understand.”
“Rainbow, I do not have ‘feelings’ for you!” I challenge as Rainbow continues walking away. “I just think it’s an awful idea to be getting drunk five days from contest time. You want to be in your best shape.”
“Uh huh.” Rainbow says, a sly grin on her face, a tone of disbelief in her voice. “You take all the time you need.” I blush and roll my eyes.
“Anyway,” I growl. “While you were out partying last night, I got footage of Checkered Flag picking on High Flyer. Now how about we take it up to the police station and turn him in?”
“Sounds like a plan!” She says.
“Great. Now let me grab the footage,” I say. “And we can get going.” Where did I put that footage?
Oh, right, I put it on the bedside table. Except it’s not there. I definitely put it right there, and it’s gone.
“Rainbow,” I beckon. She’s near the door, putting on her saddlebags. “Did you do something with the package that was right here, on this table?”
“What package?” She asks. Then it hits me.
High Flyer must have taken the package.
“Ponyfeathers.” I mutter.
“What’s up?” Rainbow asks, walking toward me.
“High Flyer must have taken the package.” I say. I curse and punch the bed. “She must not want us to say anything about Checkered Flag. Dangit, he can’t just push her around like that! We have to do something, Rainbow!”
“Twi, there’s nothing we can do.” Rainbow says. “I know it sucks, but all we can do is talk to her. It’s up to her to make the choice on her own.” I sigh. She’s right.
“You’re right.” I say.
“Of course I’m right.” Rainbow says. “Now come on, let’s go train some. Maybe it’ll get your mind off it until she comes home tonight.”
“Alright,” I concede. “Let’s go.”

Rainbow is really getting good. She displays complete mastery of her routine. Her form is graceful, and she makes it look easy. She swoops through the open air of the Cloudsdale Stadium, forming wide arcs, spinning all the while, occasionally flying upwards, doing a backflip, and swooping downwards, as though the air were solid ground, and she was merely sliding along it.
She isn’t flying alone, though. Several of the other competitors, including Lightning Dust, are flying around. It’s a large stadium, but the turnout is much higher than yesterday. It seems like a bad idea to have nearly ten flyers in the same stadium.
Still, there are relatively few problems. Every time the flyers get near each other, they end their moves prematurely and avoid the other flyers.
I watch as Rainbow completes another loop. As she nears the bottom, she spots an orange pegasus and swerves to her right to avoid him, but quickly spins out of control. She fast approaches the wall, and tilts herself to the left to try and lessen the blow.
It does little.
She smashes into the wall, both her wing and her side taking the full force of the blow. She lets out a sickening grunt of pain and promptly begins to drop out of the sky. My heart stops and my stomach twists as my mouth gapes open. All heads in the stadium turn to see the source of the sound. Lightning Dust audibly gasps and bolts downwards, toward Rainbow Dash. She makes quick work of catching her and bringing her back into the empty stands. I rush over to her limp body. Even at full speed it doesn’t seem like I’m running fast enough. I skid to a halt in front of Rainbow.
Her wing is badly damaged, and her side is scratched and bloodied. I’m out of breath, and I choke on my tears. My heart is racing.
“Rainbow Dash!” I shout. “Rainbow, can you hear me?”
There is no response.
“She’s breathing.” Lightning Dust says. “Come on, we should get her to the hospital.” She dives into the stadium, finding a small tuft of cloud and pushing it toward the stands. She stops in front of Rainbow and I use my magic to carefully lift her and place her on the cloud.
“Do you know where the hospital is?” I ask Lightning.
“Yeah, I’ll take you there.” She says.

Rainbow is lying in a hospital bed, still unconscious from her crash. The room is nearly empty, save for a cart with medicine on it, and a row of cabinets that line the wall on the left side of the room. A streak of light spills in from the sun outside, draping Rainbow in a striped array of brightness over her casts and hospital gown.
I can tell she’s not completely knocked out because she’s tossing and turning every so often as though she were sleeping, which she probably is. I’m sitting on a cushioned bench next to the bed, under the window, watching her sleep. I pity her, really. It’ll likely come as an awful shock when she wakes up and finds out just how hard she crashed. Lightning Dust is still here, standing. We’ve only been here for a little over an hour, and we’re still waiting on the doctor to return with the results of the X-rays. I can tell be the way she’s eyeing the clock that Lighting intends to leave any second.
“You know, the doctor said she’ll be fine. It’s really nice of you to hang around, but if you’ve got places to go, I’ll understand.” I assure.
“Well, I suppose I should go get High Flyer, and then I should get back to practice.” Lightning agrees. “But hey, you know where I live now. Keep me posted.”
I nod, and with that, Lightning Dust leaves the room.
I sit in silence for a time, watching Rainbow sleep. I don’t know exactly for how long I sit there. I’m glad Rainbow is going to be okay, but the question that still makes my heart race is whether she’ll be ready by Saturday. She will definitely recover eventually, but it would be an awful tragedy if she isn’t able to compete.
I turn my head as the sound of the door opening breaks me from my somber thought. The doctor stands in the doorway, levitating an X-ray with his magic, wearing a stoic expression on his face.
“She’ll make a full recovery.” He says with a slight smile. “However, she did break two of her ribs.” My heart sinks, as do my shoulders. “Her wing is merely sprained, though. In theory, she could fly short distances, but I imagine it would be painful. Any extended flying would be damaging to her ribs and likely mess up the healing process.”
“So she won’t be able to fly by Saturday, huh?” I ask. The doctor sighs and shakes his head.
“I’m terribly sorry, Ms. Twilight.”
“Thank you for all your help.” I say sincerely. “How long will she need to stay here?”
“Oh, just until she wakes up. She will likely not want to get up very quickly though.” The doctor predicts. I chuckle.
“Oh, I don’t know about that.” I muse.
“Feel free to stay as long as you need to.” The doctor offers, and turns to leave.
“Thanks,” I say quietly as he leaves. Rainbow shifts her position slightly, as though to stretch, but immediately recoils with a groan. I sit up and watch her.
“Rainbow?” I call quietly.
“Five more minutes.” She mumbles. I smile. The way she says that every time she wakes up is...kind of cute. But I’d never give her the satisfaction of admitting it.
“How’re you feeling?” I say instead. Rainbow opens one eye and looks at me.
“Cruddy.” She says. “Where are we? A hospital?”
“Yeah,” I confirm. “Do you remember what happened?”
“I remember flying in Cloudsdale Stadium, but not much else.” She recalls. The door opens again to reveal High Flyer, panting, her eyes full of worry.
“I came as soon as I heard.” She sputters. “How is she?”
“Cruddy.” Rainbow and I say in unison. I giggle.
“My side hurts really bad.” Rainbow says, looking at me.
“About that…” I say uneasily. “You...broke two of your ribs.”
Rainbows expression melts from that of curiosity to that of shock. She looks from me to High Flyer, and back to me again.
“I can’t fly, can I?” She asks. “I can’t fly Saturday?” I sigh and shake my head. Rainbow looks down at the sheets before her. I see tears well up in her eyes. Mine mirror hers. It’s devastating news for me, I can hardly imagine how heartbreaking it must be for her.
“I was so close…” Rainbow chokes. “Five days away from living the dream…” She sniffles and lets out a single sob. I place a comforting hoof on her back, and she lets out several more sobs, before stiffening and looking up, directly at High Flyer.
“Fly,” She addresses. “You have to win, okay? For me.” High Flyer tenses and her eyes dart back and forth nervously.
“But -- Rainbow, I --” She stammers.
“Please,” Rainbow chokes. “You’re my friend. I want you to win.”
High Flyer’s eyes turn red and fill with tears, and she sighs.
“I’ll do my best.” She says. “What am I supposed to do about Checkered Flag, though?”
“We’ll take care of Checkered Flag.” I say, with a hint of bitterness. “As soon as you give my back that tape.”
“If I turn him in, he’ll kill me after he gets out of jail.” She says, her voice shaking with fear. “There has to be another way.”
“If--when you win, you’ll be a Wonderbolt, and he won’t be able to touch you.” Rainbow says. “And if he tries, I’ll gladly give him a nice kick, square in the face.”
“Thanks,” High Flyer says with a small smile. “I--I guess I should go practice now, huh?”
“Make me proud.” Rainbow says. High Flyer wipes her eyes with a forehoof and plants it firmly on the ground. She nods, and turns to leave. As the door closes, I turn to Rainbow.
“The doctor says you can leave whenever you’re ready.” I say gently. “Knowing you, I assume that’s ASAP.” Rainbow looks at me, ponders for a minute, and shakes her head.
“What’s the rush?” She says. “You’re here to keep me company, right?” I nod. “In that case,” She begins, painfully scooting over in the bed. She feebly pats the spot next to her. “Make yourself comfortable, Twi.”