Rainbow Dash groaned. She opened her eyes halfway, conjuring a deep yawn before she rolled off of the couch and onto her back. She stayed there on the floor of her living room for a minute, simply staring up at the ceiling in a drowsy daze. The bright light filtering through the vaporous walls indicated that it was likely past noon already. Eventually, with a groan from her stomach as much as her mouth, she righted herself and went to get some food.
The mare went through her typical routine robotically. First, she found her supply of bread, removed a slice, and placed it on the counter directly beneath a small, black cloud that floated in the center of the kitchen. One swift buck later, the cloud rumbled and fired off a sizzling bolt of electricity. Rainbow Dash picked up her toast and wandered back to the couch to eat.
“Rainbow Dash?” came a small voice from the top of the stairs. Scootaloo stood just outside the bedroom door, rubbing her eyes. “What’s going on? What was that noise?”
“Oh, crud. Sorry, kid. Didn’t mean to wake you up. Kinda forgot you were up there for a sec. I was just making some breakfast and I guess it got a little loud,” she said, gesturing to her still-smoking toast. “Did you want anything?”
The filly just nodded as she let out a loud yawn. She stumbled slightly on her way down the stairs, her knees hampered by the bandages still covering much of her body. Eventually she made her way to the small table in the center of the room where she sat to wait for her host.
Thunder rumbled through the walls a few more times followed by Rainbow Dash emerging from the kitchen with a whole plate full of toast. For a few minutes, the only sounds were those of crunching toast and gnashing teeth, both ponies awkwardly avoiding eye contact as they ate. Eventually, Rainbow Dash tried to break the uncomfortable silence.
“Sooooo,” she said, dragging out the syllable, “how are you feeling? Any better?”
Scootaloo stopped chewing and simply stared down at her half-eaten meal.
“What he said yesterday,” she spoke in a near whisper, “the doctor. He’s wrong, right?”
“I... I really don’t know, kid.” The mare scratched the back of her head while trying to think of something, anything to say. “I don’t know much about medical... stuff like that. Fluttershy seemed to think he might be right but-” She stopped abruptly when the filly’s head sunk even lower toward the table. “B-but she also said that it might not be!” she quickly tried to recover, the gears of her mind spinning frantically. “I know,” she said as she spotted the familiar shape of a tree through the window. “Let’s go talk to Twilight. She’s not a pegasus, but she has books on just about everything you could ever think of and she’s a huge nerd! I bet she’s way smarter than that doctor. Plus, she knows some crazy magic! I’ll bet she can figure out what’s going on.”
“You really think she can help?” the filly asked hopefully.
“You bet! Hurry up and finish your breakfast-” Rainbow Dash glanced out the window again. “Uh... late lunch... and we’ll get going, okay?”
Scootaloo nodded happily and took another large bite of toast. “Fankf-” She swallowed. “I mean, ‘Thanks.’ Twilight’ll prove that dumb doctor wrong!”
“Yeah...” The mare attempted enthusiasm. “She sure will.” Looking back at the library off in the distance, though, she whispered, “...I hope...”
“...and so, through significant experimentation, we have been able to make many interesting conclusions about the possible composition of celestial bodies,” Twilight dictated as her quill worked busily beside her, glowing with magic. “When examined through a large enough telescope we can see tha-”
“Hey Twilight! We need your help!”
Twilight's quill jumped nearly as much as she did, leaving a dark, jagged squiggle through most of her earlier writing.
“Rainbow Dash! Haven't you ever heard of knocking?” she said as she spun to see her friend hovering above her.
“Uh, how can I knock on an open window? There isn't anything there,” Rainbow Dash said defensively.
“Well, you could try using the door sometime like everypony else.”
Rainbow Dash glanced at the small entryway in the side of the tree and raised an eyebrow.
Twilight sighed in defeat. “Just... just forget it. Was there something you needed?”
“Well, yeah, there is.” The hovering mare set down on the floor allowing Twilight her first glimpse of the small pony riding on her back. She gasped in shock as she recognized the filly encased beneath the mounds of gauze.
“Oh, my goodness, Scootaloo? Are you okay?”
Scootaloo jumped to the ground, wincing as one of her legs bent awkwardly. “Yeah... I’m fine. I had a bit of an accident yesterday. Nothing I can’t handle,” she explained while trying to strike a tough pose.
“Don’t worry, Twi. The kid’s a real trooper,” Rainbow Dash said, mussing up the filly’s mane. “Uh, hey, kiddo. Why don’t you start looking through those books over there while I talk to my friend,” she said, directing Scootaloo to a bookshelf on the far wall of the library.
“Alright, Rainbow Dash,” she answered happily before trotting away, favoring one hoof gingerly.
“We did have a question for you though,” Rainbow Dash said as she turned back to Twilight. “We were hoping you could look up this... disease in one of your books. You know, to see if there's a cure or anything.” The rainbow maned pony’s face grew much more serious.
“A disease?” Twilight asked, suddenly very concerned. “What's going on Rainbow Dash? Is somepony sick?”
“No, not really. Well, I guess, kinda,” Rainbow Dash stammered, unsure of how to explain without being too obvious. She paused for a moment to think, but finding no solution, she gave up. Flying close to Twilight, she continued in hushed tones.
“Okay, look. It's about Scootaloo, but please don't tell anypony, for the kid's sake,” she pleaded.
“Uh, sure. I promise” Twilight answered quickly, stunned by her friend's unusual secrecy. “What's wrong?”
“See, she had an... accident yesterday. I-I screwed up and she got hurt pretty bad,” Dash continued, casting a glance to the smiling filly who was busy pulling random books off of a low shelf. “While they were fixing her up, the doctor said they found out she has this disease thing called 'wing dwarfism.' Twilight, he said she'll never be able to fly.”
“That's... that's horrible...” Twilight found herself staring at the seemingly up-beat child across the room. She shook her head to regain her focus. “How has she been taking the news?”
“Well,” said Dash as she rubbed the back of her head, “she puts up a tough front, but not good. You should have seen her last night. I mean, she was just told that she’d never be able to fly. I can't even imagine what that feels like.”
Now, it was Rainbow Dash’s turn to sympathetically watch Scootaloo nose through a rather large tome that she had wrenched free from the shelves.
“Anyway, that's why I came to you. You've got all these books,” she said, gesturing to the shelves around her, “I was hoping that you could find, like, a spell or something that could, you know, fix her.”
“Oh,” Twilight was taken aback. “Well, I guess I can try. I've never really studied medical spells, but I know I've got a few books about them around here. Let me see what I can find.”
Twilight walked to a nearby shelf as her horn sparked into action. Soon she had half a dozen books floating around her in a dance that only she could understand. She immediately dropped into full study mode as she skimmed book after book, creating a small stack of those with useful information beside her while tossing any others aside. Rainbow Dash tried to peek over Twilight's shoulder to see what she was reading, but the mare's scanning head was too quick and continually moved to block her view.
“You guys should probably take a seat,” came the voice of Twilight’s dragon assistant from the top of the stairs. “She’s ‘in the zone’ so it’s definitely going to be a while,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“Oh, uh, thanks, Spike,” the mare said.
“Hey, no problem. She does this all the time. Just give me shout if you need anything,” he added as he returned to sweeping the upper balconies.
Unsure of what to do, Rainbow Dash soon spotted a board on one of the library’s tables.
“Hey, Squirt!” she called to Scootaloo who was blinking at an open page of a large book with a bewildered expression on her face. The mare waved her over. “Captain Egghead over there is on the case but she said it might take a while, so why don’t we play a game to pass the time?”
“Sure, what do you want to play?” asked the filly. She raised an eyebrow when she was directed to the table. “Checkers? You... want to play checkers? Isn’t that a little... slow for you?”
Rainbow Dash put on her best confident face. “What? Don’t think you can beat me?”
“Oh, you’re on!” she replied with a smirk.
“King me!” Scootaloo shouted happily.
The whole board jumped as Rainbow Dash’s forehead collided with the table. She groaned. “How do you keep doing that? This is the fourth game in a row!”
“You’re just really bad at this,” the checker champion giggled.
“Hey! I’m... just...” Rainbow’s eyes darted from side to side. “Letting you win! Yeah! So, don’t get so cocky. I’ll-”
The mare’s rant was interrupted by a tap from behind. She turned to see Twilight, mane a mess and bags under her eyes.
“Can I talk to you for a minute? Over here?” She gestured toward her study area.
“Uh, yeah. Sure, Twi.” Something about her friend’s tone worried her but she tried to keep a straight face. “Why don’t you make my move for me, Scoots. I’m gonna go talk to Twilight for a minute.”
Scootaloo nodded with a smile before spinning the board around in front of her and concentrating on defeating her own pieces. Meanwhile, the two mares walked over to a large stack of books where they could talk privately.
“Uh, Rainbow? Do you remember what the doctor called that disease you were talking about?”
“Well, he called it 'wing dwarfism,' but he used some kind of weird science-y words, too,” she said, scrunching her face up in an attempt to remember.
“It wasn’t pennae vegrandis, was it?” Twilight asked with a grimace.
“Yeah, that sounds right. Did you find something?” Dash asked hopefully.
Twilight sighed. Confirming that Scootaloo was out of earshot, she whispered to her friend.
“That's what I was afraid of. Yes, I found it, but according to all my books on the subject, it's not a disease. It’s a genetic condition.”
“So, what's the difference? You can still fix it, can’t you?” Rainbow asked with a shrug.
“Well, medical magic is all about purging foreign organisms like bacteria or viruses, or fixing ponies’ bodies back to their original state. But ponies are born with genetic conditions. They actually are a part of their natural state. As far as I can tell, there's no way to change it.”
Rainbow Dash sunk. She had known that this idea was a long shot, but she couldn't help being disappointed.
“So there's nothing you can do?”
“I'm really sorry, Rainbow, but a pony's genetics are at the core of who they are. Even Princess Celestia wouldn't risk trying to modify somepony's DNA. It's just way too dangerous.”
Rainbow Dash just sighed.
“Yeah, I guess if you say so. Thanks, Twi,” she conceded, turning to leave. “Hey! Wait a minute!”
Rainbow Dash spun back around, a new hopeful gleam in her eye.
“What about that wing spell? I know you can cast that one! If you can just cast it on Scootaloo then-”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Twilight spoke over Dash's plotting. “You mean that one I used on Rarity? Are you crazy? You of all ponies should know why that's a bad idea! Rarity almost died last time! I don't think I ever want to cast that spell again!” Rainbow Dash's disappointment returned. Twilight gave her friend a kind smile. “Look, Rainbow. How about I do a little more research? I'll look through a few more of my books and see if I can find anything, okay?”
From her face, Rainbow Dash knew that Twilight was only humoring her. Clearly, she didn't expect to find anything new. Still, Rainbow Dash smiled at Twilight's gesture.
“Thanks, Twilight. That would be great. I just... really want to help the kid out. I know it's not my fault or anything but I still can't help feeling guilty. Like maybe if I hadn't been showing off around her so much she wouldn't have started following me and she wouldn't have been so obsessed with flying. I-I don't know...” She turned her head to watch as Scootaloo slid another checker across the board.
Twilight reached out to comfort her friend.
“It's okay, Rainbow Dash. You didn't do anything wrong. Sometimes things like this just... happen. I’m really sorry. All we can do is try to be there for her right now. I’ll keep looking for more information, but please let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help.”
“Yeah, I will,” she said sadly. “Thanks again, Twi. I think we’ll get out of here for now. It’s getting late and I wanna make sure the kid gets enough sleep. I’m pretty sure she has school in the morning.”
Rainbow Dash flew back to the other side of the library. Seeing her approach, Scootaloo jumped down from her seat and watched her expectantly.
“So what did she find?” she asked eagerly.
Rainbow Dash found it hard to meet her eyes. “Well... nothing yet,” she lied, “but she’s gonna keep looking and let us know as soon as something turns up.” Seeing the look of disappointment in her eyes, she tried to quickly change the subject. “So, I, uh, guess you’ve got school tomorrow, right? How’d you like to just finish out the weekend at my house, and I can drop you off in the morning?”
“What?” she filly squeaked in shock. “It’s Sunday already?” She muttered to herself as she tried to reconstruct the last week in her mind. “Wow, I guess with all that’s happened, I lost track.”
“Yeah,” Rainbow Dash laughed. “Time sure flies, doesn’t it?” She immediately regretted her word choice. “Crap! I mean... uh... sorry.”
“It’s okay...” Scootaloo waved off the apology though she still frowned. “Let’s just go back to your place.”
Rainbow Dash decided not to risk talking again, instead choosing to allow her passenger to board in silence. Soon, they were soaring over Ponyville while the sun set in the west. The return trip was quick with neither pony able to think of anything to say. Finally, they arrived at their destination where Scootaloo jumped off onto the puffy white clouds surrounding the floating mansion.
“Uh, Rainbow Dash?” She pulled on the mare’s tail to get her attention. “Could I stay out here for a little while? I... haven’t really gotten to be up in the clouds very often... or ever, so I just want to, like, check out the view and stuff.”
Rainbow Dash smiled at the innocent request. “Sure thing, Scoots. You take as much time as you want. I’m gonna head inside to grab something to eat so just call if you need anything, okay?” With that, she entered her home, leaving the filly alone in the quickly darkening night.
Flying to the kitchen, the mare took the opportunity to pound a hoof against her forehead. “‘Time sure flies?!’,” she mockingly repeated. “Real smooth, Dash. Let’s just remind the kid that she’ll nev-”
The blood-curdling scream nearly stopped her heart. She blasted back outside, vaporizing her door in the process, and spotted Scootaloo instantly. She was about twenty feet from the large platform that made up the house’s foundation, dangling from a small wisp of quickly disintegrating cloud.
Not wasting a second, the mare scooped the filly just as her hoofhold dissipated in the wind. Though she tried to be as gentle as possible, she could see Scootaloo’s small eyes tear up as the high-speed rescue sent bolts of pain through her already battered body. Rainbow Dash circled around and landed back on her front porch. For a few moments she could only manage to make bewildered, angry noises, but she soon found her words.
“What the hay were you doing out there?” she shouted. “Do you know what would have happened if-” She shook her head violently to clear her mind of that thought. She wanted to try to subdue her rage. Maybe there was a good explanation. “Look, it doesn’t matter. What happened?”
“I WAS FLYING!” Scootaloo screamed back. “If I can’t get off the ground the normal way, why can’t I ride around on a cloud? I could just-”
“Are you crazy? It takes years to learn how to control clouds! You might as well have just jumped out of the clock tower!”
Scootaloo shied away. She had never seen her mentor so angry. In an increasingly small voice she tried to explain herself. “Well, I-I just thought that... that flying would be a little easier if-”
“YOU CAN’T FLY!” Rainbow Dash’s voice exploded. However, her rage collapsed as the filly’s eyes filled with tears. “Oh, Jeez, I didn’t mean-”
“Just leave me alone!” Scootaloo cried as she galloped through the hole that used to be a front door. Without hesitation, she continued up the stairs and into the bedroom. For a moment, Scootaloo wished that cloud doors could slam because the faint fwump that they did release when closed quickly seemed wholly unsatisfying.
Rainbow Dash just stood on her stoop for a while in stunned silence. Eventually, she crept inside and up to the bedroom door. “H-hey, Scoots?” she called inside. There was no response. “Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that you- You just scared me, okay? You’re already hurt and I just don’t want anything to happen.” Slowly, she pushed the door open with her nose. “Can I just-”
“GET OUT!” the filly screamed through sobs. The mare quickly backed off.
“Alright, alright. I’ll just... I’ll be right downstairs. Let me know if you need anything, okay?” She paused. “I’m sorry.” Slowly, she shuffled back to her couch and dropped her face into it. For a time, she thought she would just lie there in silence, mentally kicking herself until she fell asleep. Unfortunately, one disadvantage of a house made of clouds is the rather poor sound-proofing that the material provides. After a few minutes, the mare’s face contorted as the unmistakable sound of a child sobbing her heart out made its way to her ears. Rainbow Dash rolled onto her back and fought the urge to cover her ears.
“Nope,” she told herself. “You did this, you idiot. You have to listen to it.”
For what seemed like an eternity, the sobbing continued into the night. Eventually, the sound faded for a time before stopping entirely. Rainbow Dash continued staring at the ceiling, hoping that the filly had finally been able to get some rest. She didn’t even remember falling asleep.
Rainbow Dash awoke early the next morning despite getting very little actual sleep. Before even opening her eyes, she felt her whole body shiver. Her home had never been exceptionally warm being so high in the sky, but this was a new level of cold. Every muscle had painfully contracted, forcing her limbs to lock up uselessly. Very slowly, she stretched her sore legs one by one causing the burning cold to be replaced with a gentle numbness. She rolled off of the couch and quickly located the cause of her problems. With all that had happened last night, she forgotten to fix her front door. The gaping hole that she left during her rescue had become a wind-tunnel funneling frigid air directly into her home. Groaning all the while, she made her way to the hole and used a large chunk of her patio to patch it as well as she could with her still limited mobility. It was only a temporary fix and it left her without an actual door, but it would do for now.
Her immediate task complete, Rainbow tried to prepare herself for next duty. Cracking her knees, she took a deep breath and slowly climbed her stairs. For a moment, she wondered why she had even bothered to build stairs in a house only accessible by flight but these thoughts were quickly pushed out as she approached the landing at the top. Never before had seeing a door carried with it such a feeling of dread. She swallowed then lightly tapped on the door.
“Right,” she whispered. “Can’t really knock on a cloud.” Out of options, Rainbow slowly pushed open the door and peeked inside. To her relief, Scootaloo was still asleep in the center of the bed and better yet, seemed to be resting much more peacefully than the night before. Rainbow Dash just watched the small filly breathing for a few moments before giving her a very gentle shake on an uninjured shoulder.
Slowly, Scootaloo's eyes fluttered open in the early light. She looked up at Rainbow Dash drearily before slowly turning to look at her own body. The bandages and cast were still there. The filly’s face fell. It hadn’t been a dream. “What do you want?” she grumbled as she dropped her face into the cloud.
“Look, I just wanted to say... about before... you know, I’m...” The mare trailed off. Her throat was suddenly very dry. The fact that Scootaloo was refusing to even look at her was only making it harder. “Hey, you hungry?” She unceremoniously changed the subject.
Scootaloo didn’t move.
“Sure you are! Gimme a minute. I'll be right back” the mare said before flying out through her bedroom window.
Scootaloo waited until the sound of ruffling feathers faded before raising her head and watching as the multi-colored pony grew smaller and smaller in the distance, eventually disappearing entirely against the bright blue sky. She sighed and poked her hoof into the clouds beneath her, feeling the semi-solid springiness of the material. She made sure to stop the instant she heard the sound of wings flapping nearby.
A few seconds later, Rainbow Dash reappeared carrying four freshly picked apples. She tried to laugh casually but it came out as something far more unsettling. “Here ya go, kid. I’m sure AJ won’t mind treating us to a little breakfast. We can make it up to her later... probably.” She forced herself to smile as she rolled two across the bed in front of Scootaloo. The filly just stared at the fruit listlessly, Rainbow’s attempts at humor clearly having no effect.
“Come on, Scoots. You've gotta eat something.” The mare tapped one of the apples a little closer. “Remember, school starts in an hour or so. If you're feeling up to it, I really think it will do you some good to get back in the game and see your friends, you know? Try to have some fun?” she offered hopefully.
Scootaloo didn't respond, simply taking a small bite out of one of the apples and swallowing it roughly. She took three more bites, eating about half of the fruit, before pushing it away from her. The second apple remained untouched. Rainbow Dash ate her own breakfast in silence before giving her plan another try.
“So, how are you feeling? Do you think you can try school, today?”
“...yeah, I guess...” Scootaloo grumbled without enthusiasm.
Rainbow Dash did her best to smile.
“Okay, good. Yeah, this is good,” she said, trying to convince herself as much as Scootaloo. “You'll see. I'm sure you'll be fine once you get back into the swing of things again.”
The rest of the morning passed in relative silence with only one or two small grunts of pain being emitted by the filly when Rainbow Dash convinced her to let her change some of the more ragged of the bandages. Afterward, Rainbow Dash flew the filly to Ponyville's schoolhouse, dropping her off a short distance away.
“Alright, kiddo, here we are,” she said, trying to keep her voice as upbeat as possible though it was clearly having no effect on her target.
Scootaloo gave a quiet 'Thanks' before slowly walking into the building, staring down at her hooves the whole way. She didn't even react when Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom ran up to her in the hallway outside of the classroom.
“Whoa, Scootaloo! What the hay happened to you?” the red-bowed filly exclaimed.
“I... I don't want to talk about it right now, girls,” she responded without looking up or breaking her stride.
“But... Are you sure you’re okay?” Sweetie Belle asked as Scootaloo passed slowly in front on her.
Not receiving any further response, the two friends just watched as Scootaloo took a seat at her usual desk and proceeded to stare at a point on the floor, her face unreadable. Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle exchanged concerned glances before taking their own seats as the bell rang to begin the day.
The first two hours of the day passed quickly. Cheerilee was trying to show the class a few new trick for solving their math homework, but Scootaloo wasn't paying attention. She spent most of her time staring down at her spot on the floor, looking up only when Cheerilee addressed her directly. She gave a couple unenthusiastic responses, not even caring to hear whether they were correct, before returning her gaze to the floor.
When class was dismissed for morning recess, Scootaloo slowly trudged out the door, head hanging as low as ever. She didn’t really have a destination in mind. She just wanted to get away so she wouldn’t have to talk to anypony. She could probably-
She came to an abrupt stop when the top of her head bumped into another filly who Scootaloo hadn't even seen until they had made contact. The filly jumped in surprise before rounding on her.
“Oh... sorry,” Scootaloo said without looking up.
“Well you should be sorry! Why don't you watch where you're going?” came the familiar grating voice of Diamond Tiara.
“Yeah,” Silver Spoon chimed in. “Just because you can't fly doesn't mean you can't walk, does it?”
“Oh, I don't know, Silver Spoon. Look at her,” the first filly said, her voice full of mock concern. “What'd you do, Scooty-poo? Fall down and hurt your widdle wings?” Diamond Tiara said through comically pursed lips.
“Nah, I bet she just put that cast on herself so ponies would stop asking her why she can't fly yet.” Silver Spoon cleared her throat to prepare her best Scootaloo impression. “I can totally fly. I just got hurt so I can't show you!”
The two fillies leaned into each other, their mean-spirited mirth becoming too much for their legs to support individually.
Scootaloo’s hoof scratched a thin line in the dirt as her whole body tensed up under the barrage of derisive laughter.
Silver Spoon's giggling stopped abruptly as Scootaloo's hoof smashed into her oblivious cheek. Her large-framed glasses flew from her face, one of the lenses cracking as it hit the ground a short distance away.
Diamond Tiara stumbled as her support suddenly shifted away from her. “Whoa! What the-” Confused, she looked up into Silver Spoon’s stunned eyes.
“You... Y-you hit me...” Sliver Spoon raised her hoof to her cheek and stared in shock at the small smear of red that had appeared on it as she brought it back down.
“Hey! What's your problem?” Diamond Tiara yelled as she placed herself between the attacker and her friend.
Scootaloo's shoulders heaved as she let out a savage growl, eyes still focused on the ground at her hooves. A single tear escaped her eyes and fell into the dirt before she lunged at the bully with a loud guttural scream.
Diamond Tiara, surprised by the ferocity of the sudden attack, took a futile step backward. An orange shoulder connected with her muzzle, flipping her onto her back and allowing Scootaloo to take a position sitting on her stomach.
Without hesitation, Scootaloo brought her hooves down on the face of her enemy. Diamond Tiara did her best to dodge and block, but being pinned to the ground left her with very few defensive options. Several solid blows found their way through, bloodying her nose and warping her signature headgear. Silver Spoon tried to intervene, but without her glasses she was easily brushed aside by another swift hoof to the cheek.
“GIRLS! STOP THAT THIS INSTANT!”
Cheerilee galloped to the brawling fillies and quickly pulled Scootaloo up and off of her target, nearly earning a black eye for herself in the process as the filly thrashed wildly in her grip. Diamond Tiara righted herself and wiped the blood from her nose with a snort. Despite the state of her face, it seemed that her pride was hurt more than her body. She glared daggers at her assailant, now separated from her by their teacher’s larger frame.
“Now what in Equestria is going on here, girls? Why are you fighting?” Cheerilee asked sternly.
“I don't know!” Diamond Tiara yelled. “We were just talking to her and she freaked out! She broke Silver Spoon's glasses and then she attacked me! She’s nuts!”
Cheerilee turned to the other filly. “Is this true, Scootaloo?”
Scootaloo looked up into her teacher’s eyes, blood still boiling. “No! I-... She...” she stammered angrily. She growled and tried to dive at Diamond Tiara again but Cheerilee was too quick. The teacher blocked the strike causing the filly to fall back onto her rump.
“Scootaloo!” Cheerilee exclaimed in astonishment. “What has gotten into you today, young lady?” From her new position behind the authority figure, Diamond Tiara took the initiative to stick her tongue out at her rival.
For a few seconds, Scootaloo whipped her head around looking for some way to reach the obnoxious bully but with Cheerilee’s full attention now pointed in her direction, it was futile. Shaking with another frustrated growl, Scootaloo turned tail and ran back into the schoolhouse, ignoring her teacher’s cries to stop.
Scootaloo sniffed as she unlocked the door of the stall. After her fight, the restroom had been the only place she could think of where she could get away. With a few loud yells, she had released the rest of her rage into the wall. She had even managed to crack a few of the thin ceramic tiles before her hooves began to burn, forcing her to stop. With the adrenaline now slowly leaving her system, she could finally feel the intense pain shooting through her whole body. Her legs tried valiantly, but failed to support her weight as she tumbled to the floor in a heap. Lying on her side, she clenched her jaw as tightly as she could until the fire in her knees ebbed back into a dull ache.
Most of her scabs had reopened in the scuffle leaving small trails of blood running down her legs. Her own blood, however, was not the focus of her attention. Instead she found herself drawn to the crimson stains on the undersides of her forehooves, blood from the two ponies she had just viciously attacked. Sure, she had always wanted to teach those jerks a lesson, but actually doing it? Her stomach rumbled, threatening to regurgitate what little it contained from her meager breakfast. The fear of vomiting was enough to push her into moving again as she limped over to the sinks and desperately tried to scrub the red away. Finding only marginal success, she soon gave up with a sigh and stared into the large mirror in front of her.
Slowly, she looked herself over for the first time since the accident two days ago. It was not a pretty sight. A few of her bandages were dangling uselessly by their adhesive strips but most of the others had been lost completely. She noticed for the first time that her forehead had begun bleeding again, little crimson rivers flowing around her eye. Her mane was scruffy, tangled, and full of dirt from the rumble just minutes before. However, these were only minor irritants when compared to her most notable injury.
Her gaze lingered on the cast covering her left wing. It was scuffed slightly with a few frayed pieces of gauze where it had scraped along the ground outside, but overall it seemed to be in good shape. The stark whiteness hurt her eyes but she couldn’t blink or look away. As she stared, she felt a new kind of rage building, boiling deep in her chest. She gritted her teeth at her reflection. It was wrong.
In an instant, she whipped her head around and chomped down on her cast as hard as her jaw would allow. Layers of gauze frayed as her teeth penetrated the outer surface before being abruptly stopped by the rigid plaster below. The pain shooting through her mouth forced her to release, but she had accomplished her goal. She smirked back at her reflection, her cast now as damaged as the rest of her.
Her other wing twitched unconsciously.
Her anger flared again as she spun around and mounted a similar attack on the unprotected wing. Her eyes watered; partially from anger, partially from pain, but her jaw only tightened. The tears began to flow as she tasted the bitter tang of blood.
“Are you in here, Scootaloo? Miss Cheerilee-” Sweetie Belle stopped mid-sentence, open-mouthed, in the doorway.
“W-what are you doing?” she asked in shock at the sight of her friend.
Scootaloo slowly released her wing, a small trickle of blood falling from her mouth as she turned to face her friend. Without a word, she charged.
Sweetie Belle reflexively jumped away from the incoming pony, though her haste did nothing to help her coordination. Tripping over her own panicking hooves, she tumbled backward into the trash can. A flurry of used paper towels filled the air as the can fell and deposited its newly acquired pony clumsily onto the bathroom floor. Wincing as she hit the ground, the little unicorn opened her eyes just in time to she a purple tail disappear through the front doors of the schoolhouse.
Scootaloo sprinted for as long as she could, but after a block and a half, she found herself wheezing uncontrollably from the exertion. Her head was pounding and she couldn’t stop the tears from forming as her injuries again caught up with her. She looked over her shoulder and wiped her vision clear. Nopony seemed to be following her so she slowed to a trot, staring at the ground and not really paying attention to her direction. Most other ponies were in school or working at this time of the day so the wide streets of Ponyville were all but deserted, much to the filly’s relief. She really didn’t want anypony trying to talk to her right now.
She wandered aimlessly through Ponyville's winding alleys, being sure to avoid approaching any of the occasional ponies that walked by. After what seemed like hours, Scootaloo dodged another bystander by diving into a small bush. Once they had passed, she climbed out and grumbled. Her legs were exhausted. She knew that she couldn’t keep wandering around for much longer, not without running into somepony. She needed a place to hide. Taking in her surroundings, she realized that she was all the way on the other side of town from the schoolhouse, right on the border of Sweet Apple Acres. With a new destination in mind, she trudged off down the street before squeezing painfully through a small gap in the apple farm’s wooden fence.
The Cutie Mark Crusader clubhouse was located a good distance from any other buildings in town and had a thick wall of trees blocking it from sight from the main road. She slowly pushed the door open and scanned the room, confirming that it was empty, before entering and sitting down in the center. The small tree-house that she and her friends had planned so many adventures in felt strange and distant in the mid-morning light, as if she hadn’t seen it in years even though it had only been a couple weeks since her last visit. In fact, she had been here on the very day that she earned her cutie mark.
She remembered scheming with Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle to leave the party at Sugarcube Corner early. They found the perfect opportunity to sneak away while everypony else was distracted watching Pinkie Pie try to eat an entire seven-layer cake in one bite. Scootaloo had wanted to show off her newly confirmed scooter skills so she had hitched up their trusty red wagon and given her friends an exciting ride back to the clubhouse. Being the central hub for so many of their adventures, the crusaders figured the clubhouse would be the perfect place to hold a more private celebration, Crusaders only. Over much excited discussion, they had decided that each crusader, upon receipt of their cutie mark, would be duty-bound to improve the clubhouse in some way.
Now, sitting all alone, battered and bruised, Scootaloo looked up at her contribution. The extra-large, signed poster of the Wonderbolts filled nearly one entire wall of the small tree-house with the smiling faces of two dozen pegasi dressed in striking blue and yellow jumpsuits. Many had their large, muscular wings outstretched. They all seemed so happy , but Scootaloo's eyes were drawn to one face in particular near the center. Spitfire was one of only three Wonderbolts who were in flight when the picture was taken. Scootaloo could see the ripples in her orange mane caused by the force of her flapping. Her face was even happier than the rest; in fact... she was laughing! Just floating there having the time of her life and laughing!
'What was she laughing about?' Scootaloo thought, her vision becoming blurry with a new bout of moisture.
“WHAT ARE YOU LAUGHING AT?!” she screamed as she jumped and threw herself at the wall.
Rainbow Dash was finding it very hard to focus on her weather duties this morning. After dropping Scootaloo off at school, she had been assigned to watch the skies on the border of the Everfree Forest to stop any rogue clouds heading toward town. On any normal day, this was her favorite post because despite the uncontrolled nature of the forest, very few of the effects ever made it anywhere near Ponyville. With so little to do, she would usually use all this extra time to practice her routine or just take nice long naps, but today she couldn’t bring herself to do either. Lying on her back at the top of a tree, she found herself just staring up into the clear blue sky, her mind replaying the events of the past week over and over.
Looking for anything to distract her from her thoughts, she grabbed another apple out of her nearby bags. She had packed a decent amount of food for her lunch that morning, but in her current state, she had already eaten almost all of it before her first break. The mare tossed the fruit back and forth in her hooves for a minute or two before taking a large bite despite not being even slightly hungry. With no better use for it, she placed the remaining portion on her forehead, resolving to see how long she could balance it there while she otherwise tried to relax.
She grumbled as a small branch, blown by the slight breeze, scratched against her folded wings. She tried to shift her weight but this only released the twig to poke directly into her spine. Fed up, she dropped her apple and rolled over to find a new place to lay. Suddenly, she saw only pink.
“GAH!” Dash yelled as she nearly tumbled backward off of her branch.
“Hehehe! I got you gooooood that time, huh? I was like 'Hiya, Dashie!' and you were like, 'GAH!' and I was like 'Hehehe,'” she said while performing an elaborate pantomime of the events that had taken place seconds ago.
“Yeah, I was there, Pinkie.” She took a few deep breaths to calm herself. “You, uh, really got me there,” Rainbow Dash said dryly.
Pinkie's showed a slight bit of concern. “What's going on with you today, Dashie? Usually, I have to try a lot harder to sneak up on you but that was easy as pie which is pretty easy for me 'cuz I work in a bakery and all. I can make pies, like, super fast. Maybe even super-duper fast! There was this one time where I ate a whole batch of chocolate-chip cookies so I couldn’t fall asleep because every time I tried, my head just said ‘Nuh-uh, Pinkie! You’re gonna stay up all night!’ So I figured I could use that time to try something new! I baked six pies all at the same time: one for each color of the rainbow. The eggplant one didn’t taste very good but all the others were yummerific!” The pink pony licked her lips loudly. “Wow, just talking about all that pie really made me hungry! Hey, I know! We should totally go get some pie at Sugarcube Corner! Wanna come? Huh? Do ya?”
Rainbow Dash blinked. It was always a good idea to be sure that Pinkie had finished before trying to speak. After a couple seconds of silence, Dash took her chances. “Eh, sorry, but not today Pinkie. I've... I’m just not really in the mood today.”
“Not in the mood?” Pinkie repeated in genuine shock. “But you never turn down a chance for pie!” She moved closer, squinting suspiciously into the mare’s rose eyes. “Are you sure that you’re really Dashie?” She looked her friend up and down, trying to find any unusual features. “Tell me something that only the real Dashie would know.”
“Pinkie,” Rainbow groaned, “What are you talking about? What kind of-”
“When was my last party?” the pink pony barked.
“Wha-” Rainbow Dash tried to use her hoof to block the flashlight that was suddenly shining in her eyes. “Pinkie, what the hay...?” The serious expression on her friend’s face told her that there was no getting around this. “Last Friday,” she relented with a sigh. “You wanted to celebrate that new tree that AJ planted.”
“You are the real Dashie!” Pinkie squealed as she pulled her friend into a huge hug. The fact that the entire town had also been invited to that party didn’t seem to cross her mind. “But if it’s really you, why are you acting so mopey-dopey today?” Her face showed the maximum concern that the perpetually perky pony could manage.
“Well,” she droned, not really wanting to give details. “I’ve got this... friend. She’s not feeling so hot right now. She seemed a little better this morning but...” Rainbow furrowed her brow in frustration. “I don’t know. Something still felt wrong.”
“Somepony needs cheering up and you didn’t come to me?” Pinkie said, taken aback. “You should know I’ve always got just the thing for turning frowns upside-down!” She spun around and in the blink of an eye produced a large pink-frosted cupcake balanced perfectly on her head. “Just give your friend one of these and I guarantee she’ll be all smiles again in no time! Ponyville’s premiere party pony promises!” Pinkie struck a dramatic pose, her neck extended toward Rainbow Dash.
“Uh, thanks, Pinkie,” the blue mare said as she took the confection, inspecting it closely. “This actually looks pretty good! I’m sure she’ll love it.” She looked up at the bright rising sun. “You know what? They should be at recess right about now. I’ll bet she could use a little pick-me-up. I don’t think she ate much this morning. See ya later, Pinkie!” Grabbing her bags, the pegasus lifted off and began heading back into town but stopped suddenly after traveling only a few yards.
Sure, her position was pretty boring most of the time, but her boss had really been cracking down on her lately. He didn’t mind her flight practice so much as long as she stayed in her assigned area, but her rather frequent bouts with sleeping or wandering off altogether had begun to threaten her prospects for continued employment.
“Or... on second thought, maybe I’ll just wait until my lunch break. It should only be another few... hours...” she said with a grumble.
“Hey, don’t worry about your job! I’ve got it covered for you!” the happy pink pony offered.
Dash reluctantly returned to her tree. “Um... Thanks for the offer Pinkie but I don’t think you can really help me out this time. You’re not exactly equipped for this job,” the pegasus said matter-of-factly.
“Yuh-huh.” Pinkie nodded.
“My job... controlling the weather?”
“... you’re an Earth pony, right?” Rainbow Dash cocked an eyebrow at her seemingly oblivious friend.
“So... you know, clouds and stuff?” She gestured to the sky hoping Pinkie would catch her meaning.
“You do know what I do for a living, don’t you?” Pinkie was a little slow sometimes but this was starting to get weird.
“Of course I know what your job is, Dashie, and that’s why I brought this!” From her tail, the party pony managed to retrieve a large paper fan which she unfolded in her mouth. As usual for Pinkie’s various possessions, it was a blindingly bright shade of pink and adorned with a number of balloon and cupcake symbols. Waving it a few times to test its wind generating abilities, she smiled happily at her skeptical friend.
“O...kay...” Rainbow Dash examined the fan uncertainly, but finding no obvious fault with it finally relented. “Uh, thanks, Pinkie, I guess. I’ll try to be back as soon as I can, alright? If anypony comes by just... pretend you’re a pegasus or something, okay?” She waved dismissively as she turned to leave once more.
The pink mare yelled to her quickly departing friend. “No problemo, buddy-bud! I’ll stop any mean old clouds for you or my name isn’t Pinkamina Diane Pie! Now you go spread some smiles!”
It was only a short flight to the schoolhouse from her post on the outskirts of Ponyville. As Rainbow Dash passed over the playground, she could see many young fillies and colts running about but was unable to locate the particular filly that she was looking for, at least not from this height. She did find the next best thing, though: Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle. The two ponies were standing under the yard’s large tree apparently lost in conversation with the little unicorn energetically waving her legs as she recounted some story to her friend.
“...and then she just ran right out- Rainbow Dash? Where did you come from?” Sweetie Belle said as the mare suddenly dropped from the sky.
“Hey, girls. Sorry to interrupt your thing there, I was just looking for Scoots. You guys know where she is?” Rainbow Dash asked, still scanning the playground for any sign of the orange filly.
Sweetie Belle looked over to her farm-filly friend.
“Actually... no, not really. I was just telling Apple Bloom about it.”
“No? What do you mean? I dropped her off myself just a couple hours ago. She’s gotta be here somewhere.” Getting only shifting glances from the two fillies, Rainbow pushed for information. “What’s going on? What happened?”
Sweetie Belle grimaced. “Now, don’t get mad, but I think she ran away.”
“Ran away?! What are you talking about?”
“See, Scootaloo was acting really weird this morning and she was all covered in bandages and stuff, but she wouldn't talk to us about it,” the unicorn explained as quickly as she could. “Then, just a little bit ago, some of the other foals said that she got in a big fight with Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara. I didn’t see it happen but just look at them!”
She pointed to where Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara sat against the side of the schoolhouse, the former seeming nearly catatonic as she stared at the shattered remains of her once-stylish glasses lying at her hooves. The latter was desperately trying to bend her signature headgear back into shape and failing miserably. Her frustration turned to panic as the thin, overly stressed metal finally gave way, snapping one whole side of the tiara’s frame cleanly off. The accompanying scream could have shattered glass.
“See!” Sweetie Belle continued, her voice cracking as her worry resurfaced. “I was really scared because Scootaloo’s never hurt anypony like that before! Miss Cheerilee said that Scootaloo ran back inside afterwards, and since I was her friend she asked me to go check on her. But then...” Sweetie Belle bit her lip. “She was... like, I don’t know, attacking her own wings or something, but when-”
Sweetie Belle jumped as, for the second time in the past few minutes, a pegasus charged straight at her.
“Wait, what do you mean 'attacking her wings?' What happened?” Rainbow Dash asked forcefully.
The filly took two nervous steps backward.
“I-I don't know. I w-walked in and she was just k-kinda... like, biting her wing really hard. I think it was bleeding...”
“Where did she go?” the mare asked, pushing the filly back another step.
“I-I don't know. When she saw me, she ran at me! I thought she was going to attack me or something but she just knocked me over and ran away! Rainbow Dash, what's going on? Why's Scootaloo acting like this?” The little unicorn looked to be on the verge of tears.
Rainbow Dash suddenly realized how loudly she had been yelling at the child and tried to wrestle her voice back under control.
“Look, girls,” she said much more calmly. “Scootaloo's going through some... tough stuff right now. She just found out that she... well, that she can't fly, okay?”
Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle looked at each other with equal parts confusion and concern before the former spoke up.
“Huh? But, we already know that she can’t fly. Last week she couldn’t stop talking ‘bout how you were supposed to be teaching her.”
“No girls, I mean permanently. Like, her doctor said she would never fly. Just imagine if somepony told you that your horn would never work, Sweetie Belle. Or, Apple Bloom, think about if you... uh... lost... your... bow?” Rainbow Dash had wandered into that sentence without really thinking it through ahead of time, but the look of shock on the fillies' faces confirmed that her choice of examples had been sufficiently effective.
“That's awful! Is that why she's been acting so crazy today?” asked the farm filly while clutching her hairpiece like a giant security blanket.
“I don’t know but I think it might be,” Rainbow Dash said, the urgency rising in her voice. “And that's why I need to find her and fast!”
Sweetie Belle stepped forward. “Okay! I bet if we split up we can-”
“What?” the mare interrupted. “Oh, no way girls. Sorry, but you two need to stay here while I look. I’m sure your teacher isn’t very happy with Scootaloo right now and I sure don’t want you two getting in trouble, too.”
Apple Bloom scowled as she stepped up next to Sweetie Belle. “No way! She's our friend and we want to help!” Sweetie Belle nodded sternly in confirmation.
“I know you do but I can find her a lot faster than you guys can and I need you to stay here in case she comes back on her own. I promise; if I find her, you'll be the first to know about it, okay?”
Rainbow Dash darted back into the sky before the fillies had a chance to react. Their shouts of protest were ignored as she flew to the front steps of the schoolhouse and began her search. Now that she thought about it, she really didn’t know much about her little protege. Dash had never thought to ask where Scootaloo liked to go when she wasn’t following her around. For a moment, she tried to determine how difficult a town-wide search for a single filly would be, even for a mare as fast as she was.
Just as she was preparing to begin, a small glint caught her eye. Something shiny was partially buried in the dirt at the base of the schoolhouse’s stoop. She walked up to it and sniffed: blood. Rainbow's heart rate quickened. She looked around frantically and spotted another small streak of crimson further up the street. She had a trail! She struggled to keep her speed in check as she followed it, realizing that she could easily lose track of the faint marks if she went as fast as her wings were urging her to fly. She brimmed with hope every time she was led around a corner only to be met with another empty road and new disappointment each time. After what felt like ages, she stopped over a substantially larger puddle in the middle of one of Ponyville’s most distant back-alleys. Obviously, Scootaloo had stopped here for some amount of time.
“Now what in Equestria would she be doing all the way out- The clubhouse!” she said to herself as she realized her proximity to Sweet Apple Acres. Dust flew and plants swayed in her wake as she rocketed through the trees, her wings finally able to release their nervous energy into one burst of speed.
The small red spot outside the tree-house door confirmed Rainbow Dash's suspicions. Suddenly nervous about what she could find, she swallowed and slowly opened the door which responded with a jarring creak that sent a shiver down her spine.
The inside of the clubhouse was a shambles. The small table in the corner had been upended, every chair had been toppled, and there were odd scraps of torn paper floating all around making the whole scene look like a dilapidated snow globe. Rainbow Dash hesitated when she saw Scootaloo leaning with her forehead against the far wall. Over her head, about three yards apart, were two push-pins each holding a small triangle of roughly torn paper.
One of the scraps landed on Rainbow Dash's face. As she shook it off, she noticed that one side seemed to have some colors on it. Wonderbolt Blue. She stared in shock at the hundreds of similar pieces floating around the room, the evidence of what had occurred here assembling in her head.
The filly turned her head just far enough to identify the intruder in her peripheral vision. “What do you want?” she asked darkly.
Rainbow Dash shook herself back to attention. She took a step forward but stopped short when she realized that, once again, she had charged into a situation without any kind of plan. “Uh...,” Her eyes darted around the room, to the ceiling, over her shoulder- “Oh, yeah!” she exclaimed as she found her ice-breaker. “I was just in the neighborhood and I was, you know, wondering if you wanted a cupcake?” She retrieved the treat from her lunch bag and held it up to the filly’s turned back.
The sweet smell coaxed Scootaloo away from the wall for just a moment, her mouth watering subconsciously, but she quickly forced herself to look away. “No, thanks,” she muttered unconvincingly. “Just... Just leave me alone. I don’t want anything.”
“Aw, come on, kiddo. It’s one of Pinkie’s specialty cupcakes! Doesn’t it look good?” The outstretched confection moved to one side and closer, the mare making it dance just inches from Scootaloo’s nose.
“Leave me alone!”
Pink frosting splattered across the overturned table on the other side of the room. Rainbow Dash stared at her now-empty hoof in surprise. If she had been worried before, that feeling had now intensified. Nopony ever turned down a Pinkie Pie cupcake, ever. Slowly, she reached out and placed a hoof on the filly’s shoulder. “Hey, ar-”
In a flash, it was slapped away. “DON’T TOUCH ME! LEAVE ME ALONE!” The filly spun around, tears in her eyes. “JUST GO AWAY!”
Rainbow Dash pulled her hoof back. “Hey! I’m just trying to help here! And I’m sure as hay not going anywhere until we do something about that wing of yours!” Though it had slowed somewhat over the past hour since the self-inflicted injury, the filly’s bleeding wing was still releasing shiny red droplets quite frequently.
“NO!” cried the filly as Rainbow took another step forward. “Don't touch me! Just go away!” Scootaloo's voice grew weaker as she tried to back away. However, her rump quickly connected with the wall and, unable to flee, she just crouched and bared her teeth.
Rainbow Dash flashed a confident smirk. “Oh, what now? You gonna try to chase me off? Guess what? I’m the element of loyalty, kid. You’ll have to do better than that to get rid of me. Now are you going to stop this so we can get that wing fixed?”
“FIXED?!?!” the filly spat. Scootaloo's scowl contorted her entire face as the tears began to flow more intensely. “Why should I bother ‘fixing’ anything? What's there to fix?” She was practically screaming, her tone approaching astonishment. “You said it yourself! I can’t fly! I’m never going to fly! What’s the point in even having wings? They’re just useless... things and they... grrrRAAAH” Rainbow couldn’t suppress her gasp as an orange feather wafted by her snout. The filly was violently tearing at her exposed wing once again, little droplets of blood dotting her face as she growled in rage.
Despite her shock, the mare didn't waste a second. She dove on the distracted filly, pinning her to the ground and immobilizing her head. Scootaloo thrashed wildly on her stomach, her damaged wing leaving new streaks of crimson on the floorboards. “LET ME GO! LET ME GO! GET OFF!”
“Sorry, kid, but no can do. This is for your own good. Plus, I’ve got my own reputation to think about here, too. No friend of mine is allowed to run around town bleeding on everything. You’ll make me look bad.” Rainbow Dash winced as she plucked a small bundle of feathers from the underside of her right wing. “Mao, quift moofing,” she mumbled.
As she did this, the mare suddenly felt Scootaloo stop struggling entirely. She hadn’t actually expected asking her to stop to work, but she wasn't one to question her luck. Rainbow Dash took advantage of the compliance and quickly applied her bundle of feathers to the smaller orange wing. Mixing with the steadily flowing blood turned the makeshift bandage to a sickly shade of brownish-purple but also helped to keep it firmly matted over the wound. It was certainly a hasty patch-job, and not a very good one at that, but it would at least stop the bleeding for the time being.
Her immediate task completed, Rainbow Dash stepped back but Scootaloo remained unmoving for a few moments even after being released.
“...f-friend?” The filly raised her head slightly. “You... c-consider me a friend?”
“You kidding?” the mare replied with a scoff. Sensing the abrasiveness of her response, she quickly continued. “I mean, of course you're my friend! You think I would be here if you weren’t?” The irony of declaring her friendship so soon after pinning the filly to the floor did not escape her for long. She rubbed the back of her head with an embarrassed chuckle. “Let’s just ignore the whole ‘tackling you’ thing.”
Scootaloo sniffled and turned her head back to the floor. “But why would you want to be friends with me? I'm useless...”
“Hey!” Scootaloo felt the hoof on her chin before she saw it, as it pulled her nearly nose-to-nose with Rainbow Dash. The mare’s rose eyes burned. “I don't ever want to hear you say that again!”
Scootaloo wrestled her head free dropping her chin to the floor sadly. “But I am useless! I'm a pegasus who can't fly! I can’t do the one thing that every pegasus can! What good am I? I should just go-”
The filly recoiled, partially from the yell, partially from the blue hoof slamming down inches from her face. Wide-eyed, she looked up at the stern face above her.
“You think you’re useless? Really? What's that then?” The mare pointed a hoof just over Scootaloo’s shoulder and held it there.
The filly’s purple mane bobbed as she spun her head, trying to follow the hoof. Scootaloo's eyebrows arched as she turned back to the mare.
Rainbow Dash sighed and placed her hoof on the filly's flank.
Scootaloo sniffed. “Huh? My... my cutie mark?” The symbol that had been her obsession for so long was barely recognizable now. One whole quarter was hidden underneath a bandage and the parts that were visible were streaked with blood and dirt.
“What? Did you forget that you had it?” the mare asked with a scoff. “It hasn't been that long has it? As far as I’m concerned, anypony with a cutie mark has proof that they aren’t useless stamped right on their butt.”
Scootaloo’s eyes turned to the now-grinning mare. “But what does that prove? I got that before I even knew about my wings. That thing is just as pointless as I am. Which makes sense, I guess.”
“‘Pointless?’ Cutie marks are never pointless, kid. That thing would never have appeared if you hadn’t finally realized what you love to do. Took you long enough, too. Heck, I think I knew your destiny before you did. I was mostly just sitting back and waiting for you to figure it out.”
“Oh, so you knew I would grow up to be a pathetic loser who can’t fly?” the filly grumbled.
“No, dummy.” The mare ran her hoof through Scootaloo’s mane. “I knew you would be awesome! I’d never seen a filly who could do the things that you could do on that scooter. You were the coolest little kid I’d ever met.”
“You... you thought I was... cool?” Scootaloo wiped her nose with a loud sniffle.
“Well, of course I did! I’ve watched you on that scooter of yours and believe me, what you can do definitely qualifies as ‘cool,’” the blue mare said with a proud smile .
“But my scooter was just... I always thought that I would be able to fly eventually. I wanted to be like...” Scootaloo’s eyes shimmered as she raised her head. “Like you someday. Now I can never...”
The filly moved a hoof to her eyes, wiping at the new tears forming. Rainbow Dash moved up next to the sobbing filly and wrapped a wing around her shaking shoulders.
“Hey, come on now. Why in the world would you want to be like me?” the older mare asked with a laugh.
“Why would- Because you’re amazing! You’re the fastest flyer in Equestria! You did a sonic rainboom! Twice! Why wouldn’t I want to be like you?”
“Well, yeah, I guess those are some good reasons,” Rainbow Dash said with a chuckle. “So, let me guess. You wanted to do a rainboom someday, too?”
The filly just nodded sadly.
“So your big dream was pulling off somepony else’s signature move?”
Scootaloo nodded again, less certain.
“But where’s the fun in that?” Scootaloo pulled away, the shock apparent on her face. The mare just laughed.
“Don’t get me wrong, kid. I love the attention, but the whole point of being an athlete and performer is to come up with your own tricks. You’ve got to show the world something that they’ve never seen before!”
“My own... But I can’t even get off the ground. How can I do anything new?”
“Do you know what most pegasi do before they can fly?” The filly shook her head at this rather odd change of subject. “Well, they just walk around like every other pony, waiting for their wings to grow in. You were the first filly I’d ever seen, that I’d ever heard of, who didn’t just wait. You went out there and found a way to satisfy that need for speed without flying. And you got your cutie mark because of it. If that isn’t proof that you’re unique, I don’t know what is.”
“Yeah, I can join the circus freak show as The Amazing Grounded Pegasus. I’m sure everypony will want to come out to see that,” she filly said with a sarcastic wave of her hoof.
“So that’s it, is it? You’re just going to hide away from everypony for the rest of your life just because you might not be able to fly?” The look of confusion Rainbow received pushed her to elaborate. “The way I see it, you’re scared. Scared of being useless, scared that your talent will be rejected by other ponies, scared to get back out there and do what you love.”
Scootaloo seemed about ready to object but caught herself. Flight had always been her dream despite her long struggles against the ever-persistent force of gravity. It was true. She was terrified of being seen as a freak, a poor broken little pony to be pitied. She tried to speak again but realized that she couldn’t find the words to describe her feelings. Lacking any kind of response, she resigned to staring at her hooves.
Rainbow Dash tightened her wing around the filly. She paused, took a deep breath, and paused again.
“Did I ever tell you why I moved to Ponyville?” the mare asked, her eyes on the ceiling.
Curiosity broke Scootaloo’s depression momentarily. “Why you... what?” She searched her memories. She had always made a conscious effort to absorb and retain every morsel of information about her hero, but now she was drawing a blank. Was this a test? Or some kind of trick question? “I... don’t think so...”
Rainbow laughed. “Well, of course I haven’t! Truth is,” The mare’s smile wilted. “I haven’t really told anypony. Ever. Not even my other friends, though they’ve never actually asked. Kinda surprising now that I think about it. No pony seems to be curious why an aspiring Wonderbolt and Cloudsdale’s greatest flyer is living down here in some back-water Earth pony town.”
The sudden change in Dash’s tone caught the filly’s attention. She stared up in wide-eyed anticipation as her mentor continued.
“Obviously, everypony knows that I grew up in Cloudsdale. Went to Summer Flight Camp, Junior Speedsters, the whole shebang. Shocked the whole city when this tiny little filly created a legendary sonic rainboom. After that, they knew I was something special. I knew I was something special. I craved the speed, the thrill, the danger: all of it.” She laughed again. “I’ll admit it. I got a little obsessed. For weeks after earning my cutie mark, I would go out every single day, for hours at a time, and try to do it again. I just needed to feel that... rush again.”
The small smile on her face that had built up during her story inverted as she moved on. “I had actually been getting pretty close, but I just couldn’t get the last little bit right. I kept trying, harder and harder, starting off higher and higher, pulling up later and later, but nothing was working. Then, one day, I pushed myself a bit too far. I was trying to hold the dive for as long as possible and I sort of lost track of my altitude. I waited too long to pull up and basically slammed into the ground at something close to the speed of sound. Not a good feeling, believe me. Didn’t do much to help that stupid ‘Rainbow Crash’ thing either.” She tried to smile at Scootaloo but the look of shock staring back at her made this difficult.
“Anyway, when I woke up in the hospital, the Doc was pretty mad at me. Apparently, I hit the ground so hard that I left a crater the size of a train car. Oh, yeah, and I had broken a whole ton of bones, too.” Rainbow tapped her chin. “I think it was two thighs, about half-a-dozen ribs, and my left hip if I remember right. The concussion made the whole thing a little fuzzy.” With a shrug, she gave up. “Doesn’t really matter that much, I guess. Main thing was that I had managed to break almost every bone in both of my wings, too. They said I was lucky that they hadn’t been ripped right off of my back.” The mare grimaced as she absentmindedly rubbed the base of one of her wings. The tiny scars crisscrossing the skin beneath the feathers always itched whenever she thought about that day.
“Parents were pretty mad, too. I guess they didn’t like the idea of their daughter almost killing herself by smashing head-first into a field. Even after I got my casts off, I wasn’t allowed to leave the house for weeks. No classes, no friends, definitely no flight school. Not that I really wanted to do any of that anyway.” Rainbow Dash bit her lip. “Almost killing yourself has that effect on a pony, I guess. Flight became just... terrifying. Every time that my hooves left the clouds, I would see that field, that long grass, those little pebbles, all coming straight at me...”
Rainbow Dash trailed off. Her eyes were unfocused, staring at some point in the air in front of her and at the same time, at nothing at all. Her ears were flat against her head and she seemed to be sweating profusely. Scootaloo couldn’t think of anything to say, choosing instead to snuggle herself deeper into the mare’s side.
Dash started at the sudden pressure. “Heh, sorry ‘bout that, kid. Bad memories. Just... just forget it.” She laughed awkwardly. “So, where was I now?”
“Oh, right. Cloudsdale. So, as it turns out, when you live in a city made of clouds, being too scared to fly is a major problem. Oh, my folks had me talking to all kinds of doctors and trainers and therapists, but I didn’t want to hear any of their psycho-babble junk. As far as I was concerned, I never wanted to fly again, period. Eventually, I got so bad that I refused to even leave my room. Wouldn’t go to school, wouldn’t eat, I would just sit paralyzed in the corner, too afraid to do anything. The clouds just felt wrong or... weak. Like I would just tumble through them if I tried to move. After about a week or so of that, Dad put up the ‘For Sale’ sign.”
“Even after we moved down here to Ponyville, I was still too scared to use my wings. My dad even had to make sure our house only had one floor because I wouldn’t go up stairs. It wasn’t until-”
Scootaloo couldn’t quite stifle her giggle. “You were afraid of stairs?”
“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up, Squirt,” Rainbow Dash said, cracking a smile of her own. “I’m not afraid to say it. I was a bit of a wreck back then. Went a full year without leaving the ground. But do you know what finally snapped me out of it?”
“The Wonderbolts?” Scootaloo interjected.
“The Won-... uh, right, I guess that was kinda obvious, huh? So, yeah, my parents took me to one of their shows when they passed through town to try to, I don’t know, motivate me or something. They thought that seeing strong, confident pegasi would help convince me that flying was safe again.”
“So the show was really that good?” Scootaloo asked, the excitement in her voice completely drowning out her despair from just minutes ago.
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“You said the Wonderbolts made you like flying again so the show must have been really cool, right?”
“Oh, well... not really. It was going okay for a while. Most of the standard tricks and stunts. Lots of fireworks. They were making it really hard to frown but I wasn’t going to let my folks win that easily. Then, during the big finale, a crosswind came out of nowhere and threw Thunder Clap... uh, he was the old captain of the team back then, straight into the wall of the bleachers right in front of us. There was a huge crash and a bunch of ponies started screaming. My parents faces...” Rainbow laughed. “Oh, they went so white. Their little plan had fallen apart right in front of them. I just curled up into a ball and told them that I definitely hated flying now. It wasn’t just scary, it was downright stupid.”
“But you said that the Wonderbolts helped you,” the filly blurted out when Dash paused. “That sounds like it just made everything worse.”
“Well, it did,” she added with a smile, “until Thunder Clap got up again and finished the show. That’s what really caught my attention.”
“He wasn’t hurt?”
“Oh, he was hurt alright. Two broken legs and a fractured collar bone if I remember right. The paramedics were all Earth ponies and unicorns though, so all they could do was yell at him from the ground. After they finished, I... I just had to go see him. The whole team was signing autographs and he was right there at the end of their table as if nothing had happened. One of the doctors kept trying to get him to go to a hospital but he just stood there signing poster after poster. When he got to me, all I could say was ‘Why?’ I guess he knew what I meant because he laughed so hard. He had such a great laugh...” Rainbow recalled dreamily. “‘For the fans,’ he said. ‘All these ponies paid for a flying show and, by Celestia, I’m not going to be the one to ruin it for them.’ He had risked his life just to avoid disappointing his fans and from that day on, the Wonderbolts were right at the top of my ‘heroes’ list.”
“So you tried flying again after that?”
“Hold your horses there, kiddo. I’m getting there.” She tussled the filly’s mane, smiling at the giggle she received in return. “But, no, I didn’t. At least not right away. I actually started writing letters to Thunder Clap whenever I could. I knew he got tons of fan mail but I felt like I had to. I was pretty amazed when he wrote back to me the first time. But then it kept happening. Every time I wrote to him, he wrote back. He sorta turned into my pen-pal for a while. At first I was just asking questions about his life: where he grew up, how he became a Wonderbolt, you know, all that stuff. I did, oh, probably a dozen school reports about him. But eventually he started to ask about me. I told him all about my sonic rainboom but I totally left out everything after that. I probably should have mentioned it, though, because he kept asking if I was interested in a special flight school where I could learn stuff way more advanced than the stupid Junior Speedsters, but I kept turning him down. I think that really got him curious. He sent so many letters trying to figure out why I wasn’t ‘using my Celestia-given gifts,’ as he would say, that after a while I couldn’t ignore him any more. He was just so...”
“Persistent?” Scootaloo offered.
“I was going to say ‘annoying,’ but let’s go with that. So, I wrote a big letter all about my crash and how I had vowed to never fly again, the whole story. It wasn’t very detailed or anything. I mostly did it to get him to stop bugging me but that kinda backfired.”
“What? He wrote to you even more?”
“Well... no. Actually, a couple days after I sent the letter he just showed up on our doorstep.”
“You got to hang out with a Wonderbolt when you were little?” The filly could hardly contain her joyous envy. “That must have been so cool!”
“We didn’t really get to 'hang out' much. He was just passing by on his way to a show when he got my letter and decided to drop in. I was in my room when the doorbell rang. When I peeked out, there he was, just standing there talking to my parents. I’m not sure what he told them but after a minute they called me down and he told me to hop on his back. That was a little weird but Mom and Dad seemed okay with it so I did it. He just turned around and carried me outside. I was glad he let me ride because there had been a big thunderstorm scheduled earlier that day and the ground was still all muddy. I thanked him but he just looked at me. His eyes... They were so serious. Almost like he was mad but just kinda... strong.”
“So what did he want to talk about, Dash?” Scootaloo asked.
“Now, that... I’ll never forget that.” Rainbow Dash said dreamily. “He asked me how bright the sun was.”
“Huh?” The filly scrunched her nose in confusion. “He went that far out of his way to ask about the sun?”
“Yeah, he did.” Rainbow’s brow suddenly furrowed in thought. Scootaloo stared in confusion as a smirk slowly grew on the mare’s lips. “In fact, that gives me an idea.” She hopped up from her position next to her little friend and began walking toward the door. “Hang here for a sec. I’ll be right back.”
Without another word, the mare took off into the sky over the Crusader club house. Scootaloo stayed seated on the floor for a moment, more from dumb-founded confusion than obedience. Rainbow Dash’s story had distracted her quite well but now, in this unexpected solitude, she couldn’t help but remember the events of the day so far. She frowned as she shuffled her hooves through a small pile of the remnants of her Wonderbolts poster, pieces of which were littered all around her. The closest ones were even speckled with tiny drops of her own blood. Something in her chest ached whenever she looked at them and she could feel the moisture building in her eyes once again.
Desperate for a new distraction, she stood. She looked away when an accidental flap of her good wing sent a few papers wafting through the air in front of her causing her gaze to fall on the overturned table in the corner. Slowly, she approached as if the piece of furniture might hold some grudge against the little pony for so savagely upending it. She ran her hoof across the rough wood, feeling the area that had splintered slightly under the force of her enraged bucking. Being careful to avoid touching her bandages, the filly wedged her hip under the table and righted it with one quick push. As she did, her flank slid through something cold and squishy causing her to recoil slightly. The smear of bright pink goo that now adorned her side confused her for a second until she spotted the remains of the large pink cupcake splattered against the wall nearby.
Scootaloo eyed the ruined confection. It had hit the floor frosting-side down leaving the cakey underside poking into the air relatively undamaged. She really hadn’t eaten much today and after all that had happened so far this morning, she was feeling pretty hungry. Her stomach chose that moment to rumble painfully, confirming that fact. Glancing around to make sure that she was still alone, she leaned in and took a bite. It was still pleasantly moist and spongy but without frosting, it lacked the usual punch of a Pinkie Pie treat. An idea floated through her mind. The frosting on the ground was certainly unappealing but what about...?
Despite being a little warmer than usual, the frosting on her hip still tasted great as it mixed with the pastry in her mouth. She closed her eyes and savored every moment of the treat, reveling in its sugary tang. She could practically hear the food bouncing off the empty walls of her stomach. Pinkie had always bragged that it was impossible to frown while eating one of her cupcakes and that claim went uncontested by the filly. Her glee was only interrupted momentarily when she had to dig a few stray hairs out of her teeth and spit them on the floor. With one final gulp, the finished off the only palatable portions and sat back with a satisfied sigh.
Her contentment didn’t last long. Scootaloo’s eyes shot open when she heard a faint snort coming from the doorway. There stood Rainbow Dash, hoof over her mouth, her whole body shaking in barely-contained laughter. Eye contact was the final straw. The mare burst out laughing so forcefully that she had to fall to her haunches and hold her sides to suppress the pain.
“Hey! S-Shut up!” the filly responded defensively. “I’m... I’m hungry, okay?”
“You must be if you’re eating food off of your butt!” Rainbow Dash howled as another fit of laughter overtook her. Her body rolled wildly despite the filly’s repeated objections. “Sorry, sorry, sorry...” Rainbow Dash said, practically hyperventilating.
Scootaloo grumbled and tried to change the subject. “Didn’t you have a story to finish or something?” she yelled over the noise.
“Yeah, yeah, snrrk. Just gimme a hehe sec.” Rainbow Dash got back to her hooves still fighting the occasional giggle. “I’m okay, I’m okay.” She took a deep breath to calm herself. “Whew! That was good!” she exclaimed with a grin before seeing Scootaloo’s face glaring back at her. “Oh, don’t look at me like that, Scoots. You go and do something that hilarious and you’re gonna get mad at me for laughing?” Scootaloo continued to glare. “Alright, alright, how about this? Let me finish my story, then I’ll get you some lunch to make up for it. What d’ya say?”
Scootaloo’s expression softened. As much as she tried to stay angry, even she had to admit that licking frosting off of her own flank was pretty funny. Finally breaking her stance, she giggled to herself as she walked across the room. “Okay, deal! I wanna see where you were going with that story. You just took off right in the middle.”
“Yeah, I had something to do,” Rainbow Dash said as she glanced out the open door. “Now where was I?”
“Uh, that Thunder-guy picked you up at your house?”
“Oh yeah! Here, hop on. I figured it would be more fun to show than tell this part,” the mare said, lowering one side to allow the filly to climb up onto her back. Confused but intrigued, Scootaloo quickly trotted over and leapt up. Once her passenger had found a comfortable position, Rainbow trotted outside into the warm midday breeze.
The first thing Scootaloo noticed was the darkness. Despite still being around eleven-o’-clock in the morning, the outer balcony of the club house was shrouded in a heavy unnatural shade. A quick glance up revealed the reason. In the sky directly overhead sat a large, circular bundle of clouds about twenty yards in diameter. The individual components of the formation were all different sizes and shades, some light and puffy, others dark and filled with rain, creating an odd grey-scale patchwork quality in the mass of vapor. Rainbow Dash must have collected every spare cloud she could find in town to assemble this... thing.
“So,” said Rainbow Dash. “Can you tell me how bright the sun is?”
“Uh... pretty darn bright?” Scootaloo said pointing to the surrounding landscape. Everywhere other than their small circle of shade, the sunlight was shining pleasantly on another warm spring day. The apple trees were full of brand new green leaves and little bird could be seen darting in and out of their branches singing cheerfully.
Rainbow Dash’s hoof met her face. “Just go with me on this, kid. I told you that my story was on an overcast day. This is the best I could scrounge up on short notice so just... I don’t know, use your imagination or something.”
“Oh, uh, okay...” Scootaloo mumbled as she reconsidered the question. “But wait. Even if there were a lot of clouds, the sun would still be bright wouldn’t it?”
“Alright. Back on track.” She cleared her throat and began speaking almost as if she were reading from a script. “But how do you know that the sun is bright if you can’t see it?”
“Huh? Cuz I’ve seen it before? It’s not like the sun goes out just because it’s behind some clouds.”
“Exactly.” Rainbow crouched. Her passenger figured out why just quickly enough to grab hold before the two ponies took off into the sky. In seconds, they broke through the manufactured cloud cover and felt the warm rays from the sun on their faces. Rainbow Dash flew higher and higher until all of Ponyville could be seen stretching out below them. She coughed as Scootaloo’s grip tightened around her neck for a moment. She had never taken her this high before. “You doing okay back there?” she squeezed out through her clenched windpipe and breaking her more serious story-telling tone.
Scootaloo released Rainbow’s neck, though she continued to stay crouched as low as she could get herself. The filly peeked over her ride’s shoulder to try to get her bearings and immediately regretted the decision. Individual features on the ground were almost impossible to see at this height. After some searching, she found the clubhouse that they had just left, now only looking like a small dot on the massive expanse of green that was Sweet Apple Acres. She trembled and pulled herself back to the center of Rainbow’s back, looping her hooves through the rainbow-colored hair in front of her as best as she could. The high-altitude winds buffeted against her haunches but she held tight and leaned further into the mare’s shoulders. Scootaloo blinked rapidly, trying to stop, or at least slow, the spinning feeling in her head. Swallowing hard to settle her stomach, she was finally able to nod in response. “I-I think s-s-so...”
Rainbow Dash slipped back into character. “Now you can see it clearly, little filly. Celestia’s sun is burning brightly just like it always has. No matter how big or how dark the clouds may get, don’t let them convince you that the sun has gone forever. It is always there, just waiting for the opportunity to shine over the whole world.”
The mare turned to lock eyes with the filly cowering on her back. “Kid, you’ve got one heck of a light in you. Saw it from the moment I met you. That spirit of adventure, that passion for performance. I knew you were destined for great things. Now these last couple days have been bad, I know. Really bad. And I can’t even begin to imagine how hard all of this has been for you, but I know that somewhere in there is that same awesome little filly just waiting to shine.”
“You really think I can... shine? Even without flying?” she asked through the lump in her throat.
“Kid, you already shine. Bright as anything. You just need to... clear the clouds away to let everypony see it.”
“B-But it can’t be that easy, can it?” Scootaloo asked as she felt the tears building again. “I can’t just... clear the clouds away just like that. I’m just-” She was cut off by a blue hoof softly landing on the tip of her nose.
“Well,” Rainbow Dash said with a warm smile, tears beginning to form in her eyes, as well. “I guess it’s a good thing you’ve got Ponyville’s number one weather pony here for you then, isn’t it? I’m pretty much the expert on clearing clouds.”
Scootaloo slid herself forward and wrapped her small hooves around her friend’s neck, giving it the tightest hug that she could muster. “T-Thank you, Rainbow D-Dash...” she squeaked out through a new fit of sobs.
“No prob, Scoots,” the mare said as she leaned her head back to nuzzle the filly. The pair floated there in their embrace high enough that any tears that may have been shed would evaporate long before reaching the ground below.
After a few minutes of silence, Scootaloo slowly pulled away. She wiped a hoof across her eyes, a small, quivering smile on her face, and stared up toward the noonday sun. “Hey, Rainbow Dash?” she asked softly. “Do I have to go back to school today?”
The mare laughed. “Well, I did promise your little buddies that I’d tell them when I found you... Tell ya what. Let’s go get that lunch I owe you and we can talk about it, okay?”
Scootaloo sniffled and nodded, a new contented smile appearing as she folded herself down into rainbow mane of her hero... and friend.