Rainbow Dash’s eyelids twitched as a thin beam of sunlight peeked through her window, casting a harsh glow across her face. Scowling, she tried to roll away but no matter how she twisted and turned, the persistent rays would always find their way to her eyes. With a groan, she glared at the window and rolled onto her hooves. She made her way to the offending opening and looked out over the still, silent silhouette of Ponyville.
“Ugh... Really, Celestia? You had to put it right there?” she muttered to herself. “You couldn’t have raised it over there somewhere?” She waved her hoof in a vain attempt to push the sun back below the horizon.
“GOOD MORNING, RAINBOW DASH!”
Rainbow Dash recoiled from the sound as it echoed through her head. Clamping her hooves over her ears she began trying to find the source in the soft morning light. It took a few seconds of blinking for her eyes to adjust, but she soon spotted a small orange filly sitting in the grass beneath her cloud home.
“Aw, Jeez, kid. Do you know what time it is? What do you want? I'm tryin' to sleep up here,” the mare grumbled.
“But it's the first day of spring vacation!”
“Good for you. Have fun with that,” Dash dead-panned. “Now I'm going back to bed.”
Scootaloo jumped to her hooves as Rainbow Dash turned away from her window.
“B-but what about my lessons?” Scootaloo yelled in desperation at the now-empty window. “We were supposed to have the whole week!”
Rainbow Dash paused, the wheels of her mind turning slowly in her sleepy haze. She glanced over at her calendar on the wall. Sure enough, today's date had a large red circle around it with the words “Start Scoots' Flight Training” written next to it. The rest of the week had similar, though smaller, notes indicating that she had already promised her whole week to this endeavour. Dash sighed and turned back to the window.
“That was today, was it?” she asked, defeated.
“Yep! I can’t wait to get started!” Scootaloo said enthusiastically.
Rainbow grumbled. “Do we have to start now? Seriously, I don't think I've ever seen the sun this low. Come back in a few hours.” She tried to wave the filly off.
Scootaloo’s ears drooped sadly. “Well, okay, I guess. I can wait a little longer for you to be ready.” The filly turned in a small circle before lying down and putting her head in her hooves. With a disappointed frown, she began absentmindedly running a hoof through the grass in front of her as it swayed in the wind. She watched half-heartedly as the blades wiggled in time with her soft breathing. A lone ant distracted her for a few seconds as it crossed her field of vision before disappearing behind a small mound of dirt. Side show over, she returned her gaze to the grass.
Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow.
A disturbing thought suddenly crossed through Rainbow’s imagination. “How... long have you been out here?” she asked hesitantly.
Scootaloo's head perked up a bit. “Oh, just a couple hours now. I wanted to get started as soon as possible.”
“A couple... hours...” Rainbow Dash repeated.
“Yuh-huh” Scootaloo nodded.
“Yeah...” Rainbow Dash grimaced slightly at the thought of the filly sitting outside in the dark, staring at her bedroom window while she slept. “That’s not creepy at all,” she muttered under her breath. “Are you just going to sit there until I come down, then?”
“Well, yeah, I guess,” said the filly as if the answer should have been obvious.
Rainbow Dash finally relented with a heavy sigh. This was just too painful to watch. “Alright, alright. I'll be right down. Just... just gimme a minute.”
Scootaloo immediately bounced back to her hooves and began hopping in place and giggling in excitement. Rainbow Dash couldn’t help smiling at the sudden reversal in mood before turning back into her room. She slowly moved to an empty corner and, with another deep yawn, she bucked the ceiling above her head. The cloud rumbled before releasing a brief but powerful torrent of rain, instantly soaking Dash from tip to tail. Shower over, she stepped outside and took a deep breath of morning air. The scent of baked goods was strong this morning; Pinkie must have gotten an early start today. Feeling a bit more invigorated, the mare took off high into the sky above her home. Pausing for only a moment to take in the spectacular view, she turned and fell into a steep dive, rainbow trail following her path through the air. The ground came up quickly but she flared her wings with practiced grace and skidded to a stop directly in front of the small filly on her lawn. Scootaloo's jaw dropped.
“That...” she said, stunned. “That was awesome! What do you call that trick?” she asked.
“Trick?” she asked, looking around in confusion. “Oh, what? You mean what I just did? I was just drying my hair.” Rainbow Dash ran her hoof through her mane to straighten out a few stray hairs. “No biggie.”
Scootaloo's adoring look didn't falter. Rainbow Dash cast a glace back up to her porch before smiling back at the filly. “Wow, I guess I’ve forgotten what it's like to be grounded,” she said with a laugh. “Don’t worry, I'm gonna show you how do way cooler things than that. That's just beginner stuff.”
“That's... beginner?” Scootaloo's smile faded as her teeth clenched anxiously.
“Hey, don't worry.” The mare gave her a reassuring pat on the back. “We'll start slow until you get the hang of it. Even the easy tricks take practice when you're just starting out.”
Scootaloo's smile returned, less confident than before but just as eager, as she looked up at her new teacher.
“Okay. I'm ready! How do we start?”
“Well, first we should... uh, first...”
Rainbow Dash's mind raced as she realized that she had forgotten to prepare any kind of training regimen. Scootaloo just stared at her curiously.
“Okay. First, um... first, I think I need to see exactly what I'm dealing with here.” She gave a confident nod, figuring she had bought herself a bit of time. “So, show me what you can do already, then I should be able to see what you need help with.”
Scootaloo clearly had not been expecting this. She quickly broke eye contact, choosing to stare down at her hooves shuffling nervously in the dirt.
“You want to see me... fly? Now?” she asked as she kicked a small rock.
“Well, not fly yet, I guess, but just do what you can for now.” Dash gave her most supportive smile. “I’m out here to teach you, so I’m not exactly expecting you pull off a rainboom or anything.”
Scootaloo swallowed. “Okay, but I'm not very good. All the other ponies in my class make fun of me about it...”
Rainbow Dash put her hoof on Scootaloo's chin and lifted her head until their eyes met.
“I’ve got plenty of experience with bullies, believe me.” She rolled her eyes. “I don't want you thinking about those jerks right now. It doesn't matter where you're starting. You're getting professional training now. With a bit of my help I know you'll be able to kick all of their flanks in no time. Then we’ll see if they’re still laughing.”
Scootaloo's enthusiasm returned. “Yeah, I’ll show them!” She gave a quick nod and took a few steps back to give herself some room. “Okay, here I go!”
Scootaloo held her breath and contorted her face in concentration as her wings began to give off their familiar buzzing sound. With a burst of effort, her hooves left the ground. She floated there about six inches off the ground, flapping with every ounce of energy in her small body. Ten seconds in, her cheeks were glowing red and the strain in her face was apparent. She finally released the breath she was holding and collapsed onto her belly gasping for air.
“So...h-how was... how was that?” she asked wheezing. Despite her exhaustion she wore a weak but proud grin.
“Wait? Is that really all you can do?” Dash asked in a surprised tone.
Scootaloo shrunk back at the unexpected criticism. “I... I told you I'm not very good, yet,” she said sadly. “What am I doing wrong?”
Rainbow Dash had her work cut out for her. Scootaloo was still using a technique that most foals had given up on long before reaching this age. “Well, I think your main problem is that whole... 'hummingbird' thing you're doing. You're flapping way too fast.” Rainbow rose into the air to demonstrate proper wing technique. “See? You really only need to flap this fast.” The mare’s wings pushed gently and evenly against the air as she hovered in place comfortably. “Going faster will just make you too tired too quickly.”
“But I've tried to do that! If I go any slower I can't take off at all!” She stamped a small hoof to emphasize her point.
“Hey, you’ve gotta learn how to do it the right way eventually, so you might as well start now.” Rainbow Dash crossed her hooves and waited.
“Fine,” the filly grumbled, “but it won’t work.” Despite her objections, Scootaloo was determined to give this her best effort. She closed her eyes tightly, crouched, and flung herself into the air as powerfully as her legs would allow. Her wings swooped slowly once, then twice. Her eyes opened just in time to slam shut again as her face connected with the ground not two feet from where she had jumped.
The teacher unsuccessfully attempted to muffle her laughter.
“Hey!” the student protested as she wiped the dirt from her nose. “Quit it! I told you that wouldn’t work!”
“Okay, okay, sorry, sorry. They do say that before learning to fly, you have to learn to fall but I don’t think that’s quite what they had in mind.” Rainbow Dash tapped a hoof to her forehead. “Hmmm... Alright. I guess we’ll just let you do it your own way for now. Can't really do much about that. At least not until after we actually get you in the air. But if you have to flap that quickly all the time, you'll need to be able to do it for as long as you possibly can. So, I think the first thing we need to have you work on is endurance.”
“Yup. Pretty basic stuff. You just need to push yourself as hard as possible for as long as you can. If you keep practicing, you should get stronger and be able to stay airborne longer. It’s all about building muscle.”
“That sounds hard...” said the filly, looking hesitantly at her already strained wings.
“Well you've definitely got a few long, tiring days ahead of you, but there aren’t really any shortcuts here. We need to make you stronger first before we can do anything else. No time like the present, so get to it. Float for as long as you can and after you land, try to take off again as soon as you feel like you can.”
“Alright... here we go...” she said as her wings buzzed into action.
Scootaloo landed heavily, panting for air. “How long... was... that?”
Rainbow Dash looked at the stopwatch bemusedly.
“Fifty-four seconds, kid.”
“Cool! That's my best time so far!”
“Yeah, good job,” Rainbow replied without much enthusiasm.
Scootaloo gave her a confused look. “Hey, is everything okay? You’ve been kinda weird these last two days.”
Scootaloo had been training with Rainbow Dash every day for a week now and while she had shown some improvement, she still couldn't maintain flight for more than a minute. Rainbow Dash was having a difficult time hiding her frustration at this point.
“Yeah, you're doing fine,” she answered with a sigh. “I just didn't think it would take this long to get you off the ground. I'm thinking we might need to try a different approach.” The mare tried to think for a few moments. She scrambled for an idea, anything to break the crushing monotony of endless strength training. “Maybe we could get you some experience higher up. Some short flights to work on actual movement and accuracy instead of raw power.”
The excitement on Scootaloo's face was apparent. Truthfully, she too was getting tired of the endless strength training and had been hoping for a change of pace. “Sounds cool! So what should I do?”
Rainbow Dash looked around and spotted a small, dense cluster of about twenty or thirty trees nearby. Her eyes lit up as she formulated a plan.
“How 'bout I carry you up into those trees?” She pointed off into the distance. “You just try to fly through the leaves and junk as best you can. It will teach you how to maneuver around obstacles and through areas of low visibility, but there are plenty of branches so you can land whenever you need to take a break. Think of it a bit like an obstacle course. It should be a lot more interesting for you than just hovering, that's for sure.”
Scootaloo seemed slightly apprehensive. “Do you think I can do it? Those trees look kinda... high.”
“Aw, is the widdle baby scared of the big, mean trees?” the mare said as she gave the filly a playful noogie. “Did’ja forget? I'll be right there with you. All you have to do is yell and I'll swoop in to save the day!” Rainbow Dash struck a heroic pose to punctuate her assurance.
The filly's excitement returned in an instant. “Alright! Let's do it!”
“That's what I like to hear! Grab on!”
Rainbow Dash extended a hoof to her student. Scootaloo held on tightly as she was flown up into the canopy of the small forest and placed onto a wide bough on one of the outer-most trees. She peered into the thick tangle of leaves, twigs, and branches that stood in front of her. The foliage was thicker than it had appeared from the ground. Finding a path through this mess would truly be a challenge.
“So here's the plan, squirt.” Rainbow Dash floated above her and used her best coaching voice. “You make your way through here as fast as you can. It looks like it’s only about 40 yards across or so, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble doing it is less than, say, three minutes? I'll be flying above you, so if you need any help just give me a shout and I'll be down in a flash, 'kay?”
Scootaloo nodded. She faced forward into foliage and buzzed her wings in excitement.
“Alright then. Ready...”
The filly crouched down and put on her game face.
Scootaloo growled at the trees, baring her teeth and bristling with anticipation.
“RAH!” Scootaloo practically roared as she dove into the canopy, determined to overcome this new challenge. Luckily, it seemed like she may have caught a bit of a break. Though the trees were thick, she could see a small path of sorts leading deeper inside. For any normal-sized pony, it would have been far too small, but she found that she could squeeze herself through without much discomfort. She continued in this way as best she could, hovering from branch to branch as quickly as her wings would allow. After about ten yards, she reached a dead-end. Thick vines of ivy snaked between all the nearby branches creating a solid curtain of impenetrable green. Scootaloo paused for a moment.
“Rainbow Dash?” she called up through the leaves.
Two seconds later, the rainbow-maned mare burst through the foliage directly above Scootaloo. She looked around quickly before cocking an eyebrow at the filly.
“What's up, kiddo? You taking a nap or something?”
“No,” Scootaloo said defensively. “But there’s no way past this stuff. Could I start over? I think there was another way through a few branches back that way.” She turned to head back into the trees from where she had just come.
“Oh, come on, Scoots. You can't give up that easily,” Dash said with a smirk. “They're just trees. If you can't see a path, you make a path, alright? That's all part of the test. You’ve got to be able to adapt to new situations and deal with unforeseen obstacles. Someday, you might find a situation where you can’t just turn back. Now get to it, and I expect to see you on the other side soon, okay?” Rainbow Dash gave Scootaloo a quick noogie before jumping up and out of the clearing.
Rainbow Dash resumed her casual floating over the tree tops. She couldn't see Scootaoo from where she was, but the filly's loud buzzing allowed her to keep track of her easily. A couple of seconds later, that buzzing resumed followed by some rustling noises. It seemed that Scootaloo had forced her way through the blockade and was continuing her journey. Rainbow Dash smiled proudly as she calmly tracked her student from the air.
Rainbow Dash reacted instantaneously. She dove down through the trees, following the sound of snapping twigs and rustling leaves. She couldn't see anything ahead of her but she soon felt a hoof brush against her outstretched foreleg. She grabbed it securely and slowed to a stop just as the two falling ponies exited from the bottom of the canopy.
Rainbow Dash closed her eyes with a haughty smile. “What'd I tell ya? I got-”
Rainbow Dash stopped short when she noticed that the weight in her hooves was substantially greater than what she remembered from carrying the little filly earlier. Her jaw dropped when she opened her eyes.
“F-Flutter-? But w-”
Rainbow Dash's heart nearly stopped at the sound from behind her. She spun in a panic to see a pile of leaves and branches lying at the base of a nearby tree. A small orange leg could just be seen sticking out from under the jumble of broken plant material. Fluttershy yelped as she was unceremoniously dropped, a rainbow trail streaking straight to the filly. Rainbow Dash started frantically throwing the branches, some quite large, off of her fallen student.
“Scootaloo! Oh, horseapples, Scootaloo! You okay, kid?” she said as the last of the branches was removed. In her panicked state, she didn't even register Fluttershy's voice behind her.
“Oh, thank you so much, Rainbow Dash. I was just feeding some of my bird friends when something knocked me right off of my hooves,” she explained while removing a few leaves from her mane. She began to trot over to where Dash sat with her back to her.
“I sure am lucky that you were here. If you hadn't caught me, I- Oh my goodness! What happened?” she exclaimed as she came up next to her friend and noticed the little filly on the ground for the first time.
Scootaloo was lying on her left side, breathing heavily but otherwise not moving. There was a sizable cut above her right eye that was bleeding substantially and had already begun to swell. Rainbow Dash lightly shook the filly with her hoof.
“Come on, kid. Get up, get up, get up...” she pleaded softly.
Scootaloo groaned and swung her hoof weakly, instinctively trying to bat away the annoyance. When the poking persisted, she was forced to return to consciousness. The swelling prevented her from opening her right eye, so she just squinted with her left one as she slowly turned her head to look at Rainbow Dash. The pain in her face was clear and accented by stream of blood flowing from her forehead.
“Oh, Geez, kid. I'm so sorry! I-I-I...” She struggled to find any words. “Are you okay? Does anything hurt?” Dash rambled quickly.
“Oops.” Scootaloo coughed before releasing a small laugh that came out as more of a gagging noise. “I guess I missed the branch, huh? That was pretty dumb.” Her words were slow and pained but she tried to smile. “I'm okay. J-Just give me a sec.” She shakily rolled onto her hooves and tried to stand. She wobbled wildly and nearly side-stepped into a tree before she managed to come to a stop. She took three very unsteady steps to approach the two mares.
Rainbow Dash was unable to speak. She could only stare as the filly limped toward her. For once, it was Fluttershy who found her voice first.
“Oh, my goodness! Scootaloo! What happened to you? Are you okay?” She gasped. “Oh, no! W-Was that you up in the tree? I'm so sorry I got in your way! This is all my fault! Here, let me help you!” Fluttershy moved to support the shaky filly.
Scootaloo tried to wave the mare away and nearly lost her balance again. “Nah, it's alright. I'm fine. Just a little fall, right Dash?” she said, wincing as she lowered her hoof again. “All part of being an amazing daredevil!” Scootaloo turned and started hobbling away.
Rainbow Dash was about to speak but as she looked up at the filly, the air caught in her throat. Scootaloo's left wing was dangling limply at her side looking more like a ragged old feather-duster than anything that belonged on a pony. With every step, it would swing and slap against her side causing a noticeable bolt of pain to shoot up her spine.
The filly looked back over her shoulder, her teeth clenched and sweat forming on her brow as she tried to ignore the messages her nerves were sending. “Come on. L-let's get b-back up there. I wanna try to... to f-... finish...”
Rainbow Dash snapped out of her stupor just in time to catch Scootaloo as she fainted mid-sentence. With her senses returned, she sprung into action. “Come on, Fluttershy! We've got to get her to the hospital!” she yelled before quickly but gently placing Scootaloo across her own back and lifting off. Fluttershy squealed and followed a few feet behind.
Rainbow Dash had to fight her urge to fly as fast as she could out of fear of causing even more damage to the filly during the trip. Because of this restraint, Fluttershy had no problems keeping pace with the much stronger flyer.
“Oh, no, Rainbow Dash. I’m so sorry! I didn’t see her there and then when I fell I-I-I got scared and I couldn’t fly so you had to catch me... This is all my fault. I shouldn’t have been there.” The yellow pegasus was on the verge of tears.
“No, Fluttershy,” Rainbow Dash responded without looking back. “It’s my fault. I knew she couldn’t fly but I stuck her up in those trees because... well, because I was bored.” She scoffed at her own actions. “I’m so stupid! I was bored so I threw her into a situation she couldn’t handle and now...” Her voice trailed off, unable to complete the thought. They flew in silence for a few more seconds.
“I-is she going to be okay?” Fluttershy asked quietly.
“I... I d-... I don't know,” Rainbow Dash forced out. She cast a glance at the unconscious filly on her back. “I-I screwed up and I'm just praying to Celestia that she's not paying the price.” With effort, she forced herself to look away from her passenger and back to the horizon ahead. “Look, let's... let's just get there, okay?”
Fluttershy lowered her head and fell back behind Rainbow Dash. They flew the rest of the way to the Ponyville hospital in silence. When they arrived, Fluttershy led the way through the hospital's double doors, holding one side open to allow her friend to enter.
“Um, excuse me, Nurse. We need some help over here if-if you’re not too busy, that is,” she called meekly into the waiting area.
The white nurse pony at the front desk lowered her magazine to peer at the two mares in front of her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that. What can we do for you today?” she replied in a professional tone.
“GET OVER HERE!” Rainbow Dash screamed causing Fluttershy to dive for cover behind a nearby row of chairs.
The nurse jumped out of her chair, her magazine flopping to the ground beside her. A hint of annoyance broke through her otherwise calm facade as she rounded the reception desk. “Excuse me, Miss, but we do have patients trying to sleep so if you could-” She stopped her lecture as she noticed the small filly draped across the mare’s back. Her training kicked in immediately as she ran to their side and began quickly examining Scootaloo’s battered form.
“Tell me what happened,” she said, her professional tone returning.
“I-... She fell out of a tree. I th-think her wing...” Rainbow Dash found herself unable to actually say the words that she was thinking.
Her preliminary check complete, the nurse nodded before whistling loudly toward the back of the hospital. “We need a gurney out here!” she yelled. Within seconds, the rattling of wheels on tile could be heard as two large earth ponies dressed in white robes rolled a gurney through the swinging doors at the back of the room and up next to Rainbow Dash. “Get this filly back to a room. Watch the cut on her head and be careful on the left side. We might have a broken wing, here.”
Rainbow Dash winced at the words, but she bit her lip and forced herself to stand still as the orderlies slowly lifted the still-unconscious Scootaloo onto the gurney. She could only watch as all three medical ponies quickly wheeled her away through the double doors at the far side of the room. A second later, the nurse poked her head back out and pointed.
“Ma’am? There’s a restroom right over there that you can use.”
By the time Rainbow Dash was able to respond, the nurse had already disappeared into the depths of the hospital. “Res- what?”
“Um, Rainbow Dash?” Fluttershy squeaked. Rainbow turned to look at her friend who was staring right back at her, eyes full of worry. “I-I think...” She trailed off as she pointed to the other mare’s back.
Stiffly, Rainbow craned her neck to see, though she immediately wished she hadn’t. Her normally pristine blue coat was marred by a sickening splatter of red. Small trails of blood flowed down her sides with more sizable patches forming on the flatter areas of her back. The most disturbing part, though, and what the mare could not tear her gaze away from, was the roughly filly-sized patch of clean fur right in the center. She swallowed.
“Uh, r-right... Restroom...” she mumbled. “Fluttershy? I could- Could you help me out with... this?”
Fluttershy nodded somberly and the two mares made their way into the nearby restroom. While Fluttershy began moistening some paper towels, Rainbow Dash could only stand and stare catatonically at her own hooves. She didn’t move once as her friend began wiping her clean, only choosing to shut her eyes when small pools of the re-hydrated blood began forming on the bright white tiles beneath her.
“All done...” the shy pony said a few minutes later.
Rainbow Dash didn’t move.
Fluttershy put a hoof on her friend’s shoulder. “She’s going to be okay, Rainbow Dash. The doctors here are... really good.”
Rainbow Dash found it difficult to pull her gaze from the floor. “I... I know. I just... I just need to go sit down or something,” she responded finally turning around to reenter the main room.
Fluttershy led the way over to a pair of couches in the corner of the hospital's waiting room. The two mares sat down and just stared at the floor for a few minutes, neither one able to think of anything to say.
Ponyville was a small, typically peaceful town so it was not uncommon for the emergency room to be empty which is exactly how they found it today. The abject silence only served to intensify Rainbow's worry. When she could not longer take it, she slammed her face down into the cushions and let out a frustrated groan.
“Ugh! I'm so stupid! Why did I take her up there? What the heck was I thinking? I knew she couldn't fly yet. I should’ve known something like this would happen! Great job, Rainbow Dash,” she began talking to herself sarcastically. “Total teacher of the year, you are.”
Fluttershy tried to speak up. “I-It was an accident, Rainbow Dash. Try not to be so hard on yourself. It was mostly my fault, anyway...” She seemed to be on the verge of tears. “You did a really good job getting her here, so she'll be... fine” she finished quietly.
The uncertainty in Fluttershy's voice only worsened Dash's mood. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat before groaning and rolling off the couch and onto her hooves. Fluttershy just watched sadly from the corner as Rainbow Dash began nervously pacing the room, occasionally glancing at the clock ticking loudly above the nurse’s desk.
Three hours had passed since Scootaloo's accident, and other than the nurse coming around to offer water once or twice, the waiting ponies hadn't heard anything. Fluttershy was still curled up on one of the waiting room couches but Rainbow Dash had resorted to slowly but ceaselessly flying back and forth across the room. Neither mare had spoken to the other in over an hour, though a steady stream of self-directed insults were being mumbled by the airborne pegasus.
Suddenly, the crushing silence was broken by the sound of hooves on tile. The steps were loud and quick; somepony was running. The two mares heads shot up, Rainbow Dash quickly landing, to stare at the double doors that led further into the hospital. The sound slowly grew louder and louder. A few moments later, the double doors burst open as a small orange filly ran into the room at full speed.
“Rainbow Dash!” she cried happily as she galloped to her mentor.
Rainbow returned a weak smile, mostly for the filly's benefit than any genuine happiness. Though she was clearly in high spirits, Scootaloo still bore the marks of her injuries. Each of the gauze bandages that covered half a dozen cuts all across her body was tinged with red, the largest being from the cut over her eye. Most notable, however, was the bright white cast that encased Scootaloo's left wing making it stick out awkwardly to her side. Rainbow Dash's eyes lingered on the cast even as Scootaloo began nuzzling against her chest.
“H-hey, Scoots... so, how ya feelin'?” Dash asked awkwardly.
Before she could answer, the double doors swung open again, grabbing everypony's attention once more. This time, they revealed a pegasus stallion wearing a bright white medical coat. Rainbow Dash tensed up slightly. She had never liked doctors much and a doctor with a blood red mane like his only made her feel more uncomfortable. He approached the only other ponies in the waiting room and placed his clipboard on a nearby table. He took a moment to clear his throat and adjust his collar before speaking.
“Good afternoon, ladies. My name is Doctor Stitch and I was in charge of patching up little Scootaloo here today.” He smiled warmly at the filly who smiled back while nuzzling further into Rainbow Dash's side. “You two must be Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash. I've heard quite a lot about the two of you over the last couple of hours, especially you Ms. Dash.”
Rainbow Dash gave a small awkward chuckle. She knew about Scootaloo's tendency to ramble when she was the subject of conversation and based on the way the filly was blushing, she knew it too.
“So, down to business.” He moved to read the long chart attached to his clipboard. “First of all, we cleaned up all the little cuts and scrapes. They should heal within a day or two, no problem. The big one on her head needed a couple stitches and there were signs of a small concussion but there doesn't seem to be any significant damage so she should be fine if she takes it easy on the ol’ noggin for a while.” He playfully tapped a hoof against the side of his head to illustrate.
The doctor’s effort to lighten the mood seemed to be working for two of the ponies, at least. Fluttershy and Scootaloo were both smiling happily, even laughing slightly at the doctor's upbeat demeanor. Rainbow Dash, on the other hoof, had grown even more tense. She glanced at the bright white cast again.
“Yeah, yeah, Doc. How's... What about her wing?”
Dr. Stitch's face grew darker as he spoke. “Yes. Well, as you might have guessed, her left wing was broken. It was a relatively simple fracture so we were able to set it without any complications. The cast should take care of the rest. The magic in there should have that bone patched up within a couple days.”
“So we can restart my flying training in just a few days?” Scootaloo interrupted with a hopeful tone. She had clearly been expecting a much longer hiatus.
The doctor released a heavy sigh. The cheerful gleam in his eyes had completely disappeared now, replaced by a stoic visage that came from years of work in medicine. Any levity in the room was lost immediately. The other three ponies looked at each other nervously before focusing on the still silent doctor.
“Doc?” Rainbow Dash asked slowly, her voice full of worry. “W-what's up? Is her wing okay?”
Dr. Stitch took another deep breath before answering.
“As far as the injury goes, yes. Her wing was set well and should be right back to its previous condition within the week.”
Scootaloo perked up a bit at this point but seeing how Rainbow continued to glare at the doctor caused her to deflate again. Stitch collected his thoughts for a moment before asking his own question.
“Tell me, have any of you heard of a condition known as pennae vegrandis?”
Fluttershy gasped sharply, quickly shrinking back and hiding her face behind her mane. Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo exchanged confused looks before slowly shaking their heads at the doctor.
“Let me explain. During the examination, I got to talking to Scootaloo about her accident and she mentioned that you had been teaching her to fly, Ms. Dash.” The mare nodded silently. “Now, as I’m sure you know, it is rather uncommon for a pegasus of Scootaloo's age to still have such difficulty flying. Earning a cutie mark before achieving even marginal flight is even more unusual. This made me... a bit curious, so I had a couple quick blood tests run while I set her wing, just as a precaution.” He breathed.
“One came back positive.”
Fluttershy squeaked behind her mane while Scootaloo simply looked confused.
“What's he mean... 'positive', Rainbow Dash?” she asked.
Rainbow Dash didn't break eye contact with the doctor. She swallowed roughly.
“So... what's this 'penny verandis’ thing?”
“Pennae vegrandis,” he repeated. “and it is a rare genetic disorder more commonly known as-”
“Wing Dwarfism” Fluttershy said quietly. In any other venue, her voice would have gone unnoticed but in the empty waiting room, her words were enough to stop the conversation dead. Rainbow Dash could feel herself shiver slightly while Scootaloo continued to look between the two older mares with growing confusion.
“What's she talking about? What's dorfism?” she asked in a slight panic at the sight of the concern in everypony else’s faces.
“C-cut to the chase, Doc. What are we dealing with?” Dash said through clenched teeth. She asked the question though she was sure she already knew the answer.
“Your friend is right. Basically, it means that Scootaloo's wings are not developing correctly. They are already far below the average growth rate for her age and, with her condition, it is unlikely they will ever make it to anything resembling full-size. Obviously, without full size wings, no pegasus can displace enough air to generate the lift needed to counter their own weight. According to these numbers,” The doctor locked eyes with Rainbow Dash who visibly braced herself.
“I’m very sorry, but she’ll never be able to fly.”
Rainbow Dash clenched her eyes closed as the words confirmed her fears. Fluttershy could be heard sobbing softly behind her mane. Scootaloo's head continued to whip back and forth between the other two, tears welling in her eyes as the reality of what had been said started to sink in.
“H-He doesn't... I can st-... no...no....no, no, no, nononono...” she stammered. She looked into the doctor's eyes in terror. Out of instinct, she took a few steps backward as the tears began to flow.
Rainbow Dash, fighting her own tears, turned to the filly and swept her up in a tight embrace. Scootaloo seemed to not even notice. She continued to stare straight ahead, even after Dr. Stitch quietly excused himself and exited the room. Fluttershy moved herself closer to the other two pegasi, choosing to simply lie next to them in silence.
“It- it's not.. t-true, right? It can't be...” Scootaloo managed to say between sobs.
“I... don't know, Scoots. I just... don't know...” said Rainbow Dash before tightening her hug on the filly once more.
“F-Fluttershy?” The yellow pegasus raised her head to look into Scootaloo's pleading eyes. “You know what he was talking about, don't you? Is it really... like he said?”
“Well, I think, kind of,” she began haltingly. “See, when I was growing up, one of my doctors told me that I might have had pennae vegrandis, too.”
Rainbow Dash gave her friend a confused glance. Despite growing up together in Cloudsdale and all their recent adventures, Fluttershy had never mentioned this to her before. The fact that she had kept it a secret all this time only made her worry more.
Scootaloo's eyes, however, lit up. “B-but you can fly now, right? Does-does that mean I-I'm gonna be okay?” Her voice was full of hope and excitement.
Fluttershy had to turn away slightly before continuing, more quietly than before.
“Um... well... maybe. I was always a weak flyer, but eventually my wings did grow in, so yours could, too, I guess.”
“You guess? Come on, what is it Fluttershy? What aren’t you telling us?” Rainbow Dash prodded, slight anger creeping into her voice.
“Well,” she resumed, quieter still, “my doctor always said that I had a very mild case. He said that m-most other ponies who have it... really can’t fly. He kept telling me that I had been really lucky.”
Scootaloo's face fell as her eyes started to water once more. Panicking, Fluttershy quickly tried to recover.
“B-but, it's not so bad. I never really liked flying much anyway, so I'm sure you'll be just fine even if you do have to stay on the ground.”
“NO!” Scootaloo screamed. She wrestled her way out of Rainbow Dash's grip and pushed her face toward Fluttershy. Her tears were flowing freely again though her face was contorted in rage, not sadness.
“No! I'm not gonna be stuck down here! This...this isn't right! I can still-” Her voice caught in her throat. Her anger broke, she began sobbing uncontrollably. Fluttershy reached out to her but Scootaloo batted her hoof away. With a cry, she turned and ran out the hospital doors as quickly as she could in her current state.
Rainbow Dash rounded on her cowering friend.
“Not so bad? What were you thinking, Fluttershy?” she yelled in disbelief.
“I-I-I...” the yellow pony squeaked as she tried to sink into the hospital floor.
“Have you heard how much that kid talks about the Wonderbolts? She even makes me tired of it sometimes! Me! And you go and tell her that flying doesn't matter? That she’ll be ‘just fine’ if she can’t fly?” The mare was fuming now. Fluttershy had her head on the floor with hooves over her eyes. Shaking under her friend’s verbal barrage, small, twin rivers of water began trickling down her obscured face. Dash let out a frustrated groan as her rage passed. Shaking her head, she slowly backed away from the yellow mare.
“Come on” she said emotionlessly, turning to the door.
The change in tone allowed Fluttershy to slowly peek out from behind her hooves. “W-where are we going?” she asked meekly.
“We're going to go find her. She's still hurt and scared and we need to make sure nothing happens to her.”
“...o-okay...” the mare whispered, her voice still quivering.
The two mares flew out of the hospital's front doors and into the cool evening air. Fluttershy stayed low while Rainbow Dash flew high, scanning the street of Ponyville for any sign of the filly. Unfortunately, the setting sun cast the whole town in a harsh silhouette making it impossible to decipher any details from this distance. Rainbow Dash dropped back down, defeated.
“I don't see her anywhere, Fluttershy. Where could she have gone? Maybe if we split up we-”
“Umm...” Fluttershy said as she poked Dash's side. Rainbow Dash looked at her friend and then followed her eyes to a nearby bush not more than twenty feet outside the hospital doors. There Scootaloo sat, head down, shoulders heaving with sobs. The two mares approached slowly. Scootaloo's many bandages had each turned a slightly darker red, and her face was flushed. Even the short run out of the hospital had been too much for her already battered body to take.
“Scootaloo?” Rainbow Dash said quietly.
The filly slowly turned her head to see who had addressed her, not even trying to hide her tears anymore.
“I... I can't even run away right... I just...” She broke down into another fit of sobs before she could continue. Rainbow Dash quickly wrapped her up in another hug, this time feeling the filly weakly returning the gesture as she cried into the older mare's chest. Rainbow waited a few moments for the crying to subside before she even attempted to speak.
“Hey, kid,” she began softly, “why don't you come spend the night at my house tonight? The clouds should be a lot easier on that cast than any bed down here and... I want to make sure you get a good night's sleep, okay?”
Rainbow Dash knew that under any other circumstances, Scootaloo would have been ecstatic about visiting her home, but now all she did was nod, never relaxing her embrace.
“Alright, Scoots. You... just let me know when you're ready to go,” she said before turning to Fluttershy. “It's getting late. Why don't you just head on home, Fluttershy. I think...” She glanced back at the trembling filly. “I can handle things here.”
“I... Okay...” the other mare said reluctantly. “Good night, Rainbow Dash. Please feel better, Scootaloo. I’m so sorry...”
Fluttershy slowly flew off toward her home, leaving the others embracing in the quickly fading sunlight. Rainbow Dash held as tight as ever, tears finally escaping her eyes in the quiet of the evening.
After a long while, Rainbow Dash felt Scootaloo's sobs ebb and her grip loosen. She looked down at the filly whose face drooped toward the ground.
“...okay,” she said in a whisper.
Without a word, Rainbow Dash gently lifted her onto her back and began slowly flying toward her cloud home. She flew very slowly and stayed low over the houses too avoid any extra forces from speed or winds. All the while, she was desperately trying to come up with something, anything, to say. Nothing came. When they were about halfway there, a small noise caught Rainbow Dash’s attention. The filly had sprawled out across her back and fallen into a deep but fitful sleep. Her limbs twitched softly but erratically causing small winces of pain whenever a wound was disturbed.
Rainbow Dash attempted to glide as much as possible, using the occasional updraft to gain altitude, afraid that any unnecessary flapping could disturb her rider. After a few more minutes of flying in silence, the blue mare approached her cloud home floating near the edge of town. The flight took far longer than her usual commute but she hoped it had been much smoother.
Foregoing the front door, she decided to enter through her bedroom window, landing gingerly on her large bed. More than ever, she was glad that she had taken the extra time to gather the softest clouds that she could find when she had built it. After a quick check of her positioning, she used her hooves to slowly burrow her way through the surface, eventually emerging in the room below while gently depositing the filly on the bed above, no lifting required. She smiled to herself for being so clever as she flew around the long way to check on her guest.
As planned, her maneuver had removed the filly from her back without disturbing her slumber, however Dash’s pride was cut off as Scootaloo continued to twitch and roll, her brow furrowed in pain. The mare found only small consolation in the fact that the near-ethereal softness of the clouds would at least prevent the filly from disturbing her injuries any more than necessary. Unable to do anything else for her tonight, she closed the door with a sigh and made her way to the couch downstairs.
The instant her face hit the cushion, the exertion of the day caught up to her. Her legs felt like lead weights had been welded to them and her body lacked the strength to even attempt to find a comfortable position. She was asleep in moments.