Fluttershy sighed in contentment at the breakfast table. Celestia’s sun had just now greeted the world, orange and red flames lighting the eastern sky. Rays of light flooded through her windows. The night creatures were beginning to rest, the Everfree Forest growing still. Only a few moments ago howls and the echoes of scurrying feet had hinted at predators going back and forth, hunting and fighting and killing. That was how Creator had made them, Fluttershy thought. She didn’t judge predators even if she kindly requested that they not look for meals in her yard. For the most part they respected her wish. Only the most rabid or fierce dared defy her. Not that she judged them though. Creator had made the world to be in balance. Predator and prey. Life and death. The eternal turning of the seasons that Creator had made her race guardians of.
While it saddened her to lose an animal friend she was able to accept it. She had watched over entire generations of squirrels and mice and other creatures whose time on Equus was short. A whistling from the stove told her that her tea was done and she floated over to the kettle. After pouring a cup she got comfortable in her chair. Angel Bunny hopped up and went to sleep in her lap. Fluttershy stroked his ears eliciting squeaks of pleasure. Outside the robins and the blue jays, the cardinals and the finches, the hawks and the eagles were lifting up their morning songs to the sun. The tea was a blend of various herbs bought from Zecora. The rich, earthy scent filled the whole room. The taste was strong and pungent, but it was delicious. Many of the other animals were still asleep. Fluttershy would be done with her tea before they awoke and needed their food. Angel stirred in her lap, seeking a more comfortable position.
So, now you want to cuddle, she thought. Last night Angel had spent all of his time chasing a female rabbit, Lisa Bunny, who had very forcefully rejected him. Fluttershy had separated the two much to Angel’s annoyance and Lisa Bunny’s relief. Angel had pouted and slept on the couch rather than his customary place at Fluttershy’s bedside. That incident had apparently been forgotten. A few squirrels had woken up and were now chittering, talking among themselves. Fluttershy focused her ears, picking up bits and pieces of gossip. Charlie Chipmunk was still feuding with Kyle Chipmunk after Kyle took his last nut. They were glaring at each other, but wouldn’t fight in the presence of the one they referred to as The Kind One.
Sally Chipmunk was still nursing her young who scurried around her. Fluttershy drank the last bit of her tea and went to get some nuts for the woodland creatures, worms and fish for the birds and vegetables for the others. Harry the Bear was already fishing, his paws going back and forth in the water as he searched for a meal. Fluttershy started her chores with putting out a bowl of nuts which the chipmunks gleefully gathered around. Then she put out a few bowls of vegetables. Angel, being the alpha bunny, took the first few nibbles before allowing the other rabbits and to gather around. That completed Fluttershy flew out the window into a bright and warm spring day. She ascended into the highest branches, floating in the air as she gave worms to the birds. From this high up she could survey the lands around her cottage.
The brook that separated her cottage from Ponyville was as serene as ever. If she listened close she could hear the rushing sound it made as it flowed across the land. Ponyville was waking up, a few ponies already out for a morning stroll. A few fillies and colts were out, already on the way to school. Most ponies this time of day were trudging along, barely even awake yet.
Fluttershy loved this time of day. It was serene, the sun softly lighting the earth. The air was cool and the drops of dew on the grass tickled her hooves. As she came down to the ground she thought about what she would do today. The animals would need to eat again at noon, but until then they could care for themselves. She might have a few disputes to resolve, but she didn’t have any sick patients. Somepony might come by the cottage, of course. Until then she had nothing to do. Usually, she just played with and watched over her animal friends. There was always something going on. Or she might visit some of her friends. She hadn’t seen Rarity in a while. It had been even longer time since she’d visited Twilight. As for Rainbow Dash…
She sat down and tried to think of the last time she had visited Rainbow Dash. They had seen each other at the slumber party last week, but not since then. And when was the last time they had spent time together as just the two of them? She searched her memory and struggled to find that last time. They had had tea and sweets at Sugarcube Corner. Halfway through Pinkie had joined them and Dash had talked to her about planning some prank or other. Before that they had worked together to bring the birds back home during Winter Wrap-up. That had been a civic duty though, not just spending time together as friends. And occasionally Dash did drop by for tea. And Fluttershy visited her cloudhouse. She couldn’t recall the last time that was, but she remembered doing it a few times.
Have me and Dash really drifted that far apart? She wondered, her mind always eager to seize on something new to worry about. She looked up to the sky. Dash loved the sky. She flew more than she walked. Even when in town she flew over the heads of others. If she needed to be found one only had to look to the sky.
Fluttershy rarely even used her wings and never went too fast. Dash was the only pegasus in recent history to pull off the sonic rainboom, a feat in which great speed was required.
Different. They were very different. In taste she was closer to Rarity. In her fascination with nature she was closer to the intellectual Twilight or the farmer Applejack. She often found herself overwhelmed by Pinkie Pie whom Dash spent much of her time with.
Me and Dash are very different. I wonder if the only thing we have in common is our wings…and that’s not all that much.
Yet, Dash was her oldest friend. Dash had been her protector in flight school always driving bullies away from her. Fluttershy recalled one Nightmare Night in particular. While she disliked the holiday Dash had convinced her to come to a party. Dash had dressed up like a royal guard, gleaming silver armour and a sword at her side. Fluttershy had come as a princess. It was the perfect metaphor for their relationship.
But what if she’s grown tired of protecting me? What if she’s grown disgusted by my weakness? Dash is such a strong pony. And I’m so weak.
Her friend might assure her otherwise, but she knew the truth. It was a cloudless day today and the weather pegasii were kicking away whatever stray clouds came in from the Everfree. Among the flock of pegasii she saw a brightly colored rainbow mane. Dash whirled and kicked in the air, making a great show of bucking the clouds. Fluttershy counted. On average Dash knocked away five clouds every second. Fluttershy stared up, watching in amazement. Within minutes the sky was completely clear. Fluttershy spread her wings and flew into the air as the assembled pegasii went off to other duties. Fluttershy hoped to catch up with Dash before she too went off. Luckily, Dash noticed her and stopped her flight. Fluttershy flapped her wings till she was floating in front of Dash.
“Hey, Fluttershy. What’s up?” Dash asked.
“Oh, um hi. I was just wondering if well, if you wouldn’t mind, would you like to spend some time together?”
“Sure.” Dash said. “I was just about to go to Sugarcube Corner.”
“I meant some time alone. Just us.”
“You and Pinkie have a fight?”
“No, not at all. I just wanted to spend time with you. We haven’t done that in a while.”
“Well, we both went to that sleepover last week.”
“But everypony else was there. When was the last time it was just us?”
“Well…come to think of it you never come by my house.”
“Yeah, I know. You never come by my cottage either.”
“I’m always busy with practice or racing AJ or pranking with Pinkie.”
“And there’s nothing you like to do with me?” Fluttershy asked, hoping there was no pout to her tone.
There was. Dash raised an eyebrow. “Fluttershy. Are you jealous?”
What? No, don’t be silly. Of course I’m not jealous. Why would I be jealous that my oldest friend prefers everypony but me? Wait. That DID sound jealous. “No, of course not.”
“You sound a little jealous. And like I said how come you never come over to my house?”
Fluttershy blushed. This was turning into a confrontation. She hated confrontations. A mumbling that was utterly incomprehensible came out of her mouth. Not even she was sure what she’d just said.
“Don’t be like that, ‘Shy. If you have something to say just come on out with it.” Dash told her, folding her forelegs.
“C’mon out with it.” Dash encouraged. “I won’t get mad.”
“You sound like you’re mad.” Fluttershy said. Dash placed a hoof on her shoulder. Fluttershy flinched, surprised at the sudden gesture, but then relaxed.
“’Fluttershy. We’ve been friends since we were foals. There’s nothing you can’t tell me.”
“I’m jealous.” Fluttershy muttered.
“What was that?”
“I’m jealous, okay?”
She looked down, refusing to meet Dash’s gaze.
“I’m sorry.” Dash told her.
Fluttershy looked up. “What are you sorry for?”
“I’ve been neglecting you. Look, we can do anything you want today.”
“Well, we could go flying.”
Dash shook her head. “No, don’t just pick something because you think I’ll like it.”
“I do like flying though. Not too fast, but I do love the way the world looks from the sky. And there’s this place I’ve been meaning to show you. Just follow me, alright?”
Fluttershy turned and began to glide towards the Everfree. Dash followed. Fluttershy’s flight pattern was as graceful as the butterflies that adorned her flank. She rarely flapped her wings, merely allowing the wind to lift her up as it whistled through her feathers. Dash followed beside her. Her wings nearly rebelled at the thought of going slow, but for Fluttershy she slowed her pace. Together they soared over the vast and spreading forest. They flew so close their feathers brushed against each other. It reminded Dash of the times that they used to go flying together in flight school. Dash hated going slow, but she would slow down for Fluttershy. Fluttershy had trouble going fast, but she’d speed up for Dash. That way they had flown in harmony. Fluttershy would show Dash how beautiful the world looked from above, all the wonderful things one could see when one went slow. Dash had pushed her to fly, shown her how thrilling it was to feel the wind whipping your mane, rushing beneath your wings. Then at the end of those long flying sessions they’d rest on a cloud and preen one another’s wings. Dash began to adjust to the slow flight pattern as they continued their glide over the forest.
“So, what exactly did you want to show me?”
“It’s a surprise.” Fluttershy said.
“Is it awesome?”
“I suppose you could say that.” Fluttershy said, adjusting her wings and letting the wind carry her upwards to where the air was becoming thinner. With a flap Dash followed her.
“You know Flutters it’s too bad you never became a pro-flyer. You’re so graceful.”
A blush crept up Fluttershy’s cheeks. “You really think so?”
“Yeah. I could probably learn a few things from you. You never seem to crash into anything.”
“You’re just saying that.”
“No, really. Just don’t let any of the girls know I said that. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only reason I said it was this thin air is making me dizzy. Why are we so high up?”
From here the world was a vast expanse of greens and browns. She couldn’t even make out individual trees or ponies. Up ahead were outcroppings of rock.
“I never even knew you came up this far, Flutters.”
“I used to not, but one of my younger birds got lost. That’s how I discovered the place I’m going to show you.”
She flew towards the mountains, Dash flying alongside her.
“So, what was it you wanted to show me?” Dash asked as she perched on the mountain and turned. Her mouth hung open.
“That.” Fluttershy said, pointing a hoof. Dash’s jaw dropped. The mountains were so high up that a vast field of clouds stretched out from it, constantly swirling, an endless river of mist and fog shining in the light of the sun.
“A cloud forest.”
While pegasii handled errant clouds there were places in Equestria where wild, untamed magic had left vast forests of cloud and mists covering entire mountain ranges.
“I found it about a week ago. I thought it was really beautiful. And I know cloud forests are great practice. And if you fall you can fall on the cloud instead of a mountain or another pony. Maybe you could try it for training.”
Dash wrapped a wing around her. “Thanks for showing me this place. It is awesome.”
She then withdrew the wing and began to preen an errant feather.
“It’s been a long time since…you know…” Fluttershy mumbled.
“Since we preened each other?”
Fluttershy nodded. “May I?”
Dash spread a wing and Fluttershy took it gently in her mouth. She ran her muzzle through the wings, brushing them slowly. Then she bit and twisted any feathers. Old, broken feathers began to pile around the pair. Dash’s eyes drooped and she visibly relaxed as Fluttershy continued brushing her wings. With a final brush she removed her muzzle.
“You need to preen?” Dash asked.
“Oh, yes.” Fluttershy spread her wings. Dash buried her muzzle into the wings and began to brush the feathers just as Fluttershy had done to her. Most of her feathers were fine, but a few had become twisted or loose during her flight. Dash gently twisted and tugged on them. Like
Dash had, Fluttershy relaxed beneath Dash’s ministrations.
“Why did we stop doing this, Dash?”
Dash placed a yellow feather on top of the pile of feathers that had accumulated around them.
“I’m not sure. I guess I got caught up in other things.”
“So did I.” Fluttershy admitted. “But I want to start hanging out with you again. Maybe next week?”
“Well, next week I’m trying out at the Best Young Flyers Contest.”
“I could come and cheer for you.”
“You’d do that?” Dash asked.
“Of course I would. Though you’ll have to teach me how to cheer.”
“I can do that.” Dash held out her hoof. “Friend. Sister.”
They hoof-bumped and stood together gazing out at the expanse of sunlit cloud.