• Published 18th May 2013
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Them: Part 1 - Chaotic Dreams



Rainbow Dash... isn't supposed to be Rainbow Dash.

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Chapter 2

Them

Chapter 2

“...Rainbow Dash...

“Rainbow Dash...?”

“Rainbow Dash!”

“Wha—?!” she gasped, jerking awake and coming face to face with Fluttershy. Her mind still fogged by the haze of unconsciousness, she didn’t immediately register all that her senses, as well as her simple physiological sensations, were telling her. However, her face did split into a relieved smile when she saw Fluttershy. “Oh, Fluttershy, I just had the weirdest dream—”

And then it hit her. Not him, but her.

The scratchiness in her high-pitched voice, the absent feeling left behind by her disappeared bulk, the new distribution of what bodily mass remained—it all came rushing back.

She stared down at her small, sky-blue hooves, and screamed in her light voice, wisps of rainbow mane falling over her eyes.

“Rainbow Dash, what’s wrong?” Fluttershy inquired worriedly, watching the new mare with distress. “You’re awake now, the dream is over. You don’t have to be afraid anymore.”

“The dream is over?!” spluttered Cloud Buster—no, she wasn’t Cloud Buster anymore. As far as she could tell, she had the same thoughts, mind, and personality. Only her body was different. Well, almost only her body was different. She knew her name had once been Cloud Buster, but try as she might, she just couldn’t force her thoughts to form into the knowledge that that was still her name. Now, her name was Rainbow Dash, whether she liked it or not. And she definitely didn’t. “What do you mean, ‘the dream is over’?! This isn’t a dream, it’s a nightmare, and it’s just begun!”

Wait a minute, Rainbow Dash wondered, shuddering as she realized she was having to refer to herself as ‘Rainbow Dash’ in her own mind. Maybe this is all just a dream...just more of that same nightmare from earlier.

She desperately hoped so.

“I just have to wake myself up,” she murmured to herself. Wasn’t pain supposed to wake you up from dreams? She raised her hoof to her mouth and gave it a small nibble. “Ow!”

Rainbow Dash rubbed her sore hoof, the tiny bite already leaving a red mark.

“Rainbow, don’t bite yourself!” Fluttershy gasped. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m not Rainbow Dash!” she asserted, turning to face Fluttershy again. “I’m C... I’m Clou... I’m Cl-ou-d Bus-ter!”

Surprisingly enough, Rainbow had to catch her breath, having had to physically struggle to even say her old name.

“Oh, come on!” she exasperated. “Even that unicorn got to say that her name used to be Bass Blaster! Wait, the unicorn! She knew this would happen! I’ve got to find her!”

Rainbow prepared to launch herself into the air, but a tug on her wing held her back, sending her plopping onto the ground again.

“Rainbow, where are you going?” Fluttershy asked, her concern only having grown, after she spat out the cyan pegasus’s wing. “We’re supposed to go meet Big Macintosh at Berry Punch’s, remember? I thought I would meet you there... why were you sleeping out here on the ground?”

What? Rainbow looked up at the sky to see the sun low in the horizon. How long had she been out?

More importantly, though, how could Fluttershy not remember that Rainbow’s name used to be Cloud Buster, but still remember their date? Wait, how was Dash supposed to date Fluttershy in this body in the first place?! She didn’t think Fluttershy was into that sort of thing, and Rainbow definitely would rather date Fluttershy as the male Cloud Buster, not as the female Rainbow Dash. And furthermore, did she even... no, no, that couldn’t be... could it?

“Hey, Fluttershy, uh... look, there’s a cute bunny over there!” the multicolored mare announced, pointing a slender foreleg. Fluttershy expectantly turned to look, and Rainbow risked a glance at her flank. She stared at it intently, breaking contact only when the creamy yellow pegasus began to turn back around.

She couldn’t believe it. As hard as she’d tried—she’d never even had to try until now, it just happened naturally—she hadn’t felt anything when she saw Fluttershy’s rear. No attraction whatsoever.

“I didn’t see any cute bunny,” Fluttershy noted, sounding disappointed. “But please, Rainbow, tell me why you’re acting like this. You’re starting to scare me.”

How do you think I feel? Rainbow thought frantically. More important than just feeling attracted to Fluttershy, though, was whether she remembered anything about Cloud Buster at all.

“I’m not Rainbow Dash!” she repeated, preparing herself to force the next words out if necessary. “My name is... Cloud... Buster! Please, tell me you remember me! We’ve been friends ever since Flight Camp back in Cloudsdale! I was at your cottage this morning! I... I even... asked you out...”

Fluttershy simply stared at Rainbow, her head tilted.

“Are you okay, Rainbow?” the creamy yellow pegasus asked again. “I think you’re confused... that must have been a scary dream you had, but don’t worry, it’s alright now.”

Rainbow finally had to concede that she wasn’t getting anywhere with this line of action. What had she been expecting, really? The unicorn had known this would happen, presumably because, as she claimed, something similar had happened to her, and Rainbow hadn’t believed her back when she had still been Cloud Buster. Why then would Fluttershy believe her if she tried the exact same approach that the unicorn had used?

But if Fluttershy didn’t remember any Cloud Buster, then what, and who, did she remember? Who exactly was Rainbow Dash?

“What do you remember happening today?” the cyan pegasus inquired nervously, dreading what she might hear. “Did I really not ask you out?”

“You came over a little while ago, and you asked me if I wanted to come with you to meet Big Macintosh at Berry Punch’s,” Fluttershy responded, her voice still laced with worry. Rainbow was beginning to have a cruelly ironic sense of deja vu mixed with empathy for the unicorn. “You didn’t ask anypony out.”

The world seemed to darken. She hadn’t asked anypony out. She had finally, finally worked up the courage to ask Fluttershy out, and not only did she become a mare, Fluttershy didn’t even remember anything about when she was Cloud Buster! What else had changed? Hanging out with Big Macintosh still seemed to be on, and Fluttershy was even accompanying her. In a twisted sort of way, those plans were still mostly the same. But what if there was more to what had happened to Rainbow than just becoming Rainbow and a change in her relationship with Fluttershy?

Rainbow needed to find out. However, she really needed to find out if this was permanent. Horseapples, it didn’t even matter if this was permanent, or at least meant to be. She was going to find out what was going on, and she was going to reverse it, or die trying. She had not just become committed to the most amazing pony in Equestria to have it all ripped away from her, along with any other aspects of her life that might have changed. She would find whoever or whatever had done this, and whoever ‘they’ were, she was going to make them set things right.

But maybe—hopefully—the changes weren’t as extensive as she feared. If the meeting with Big Mac was still on, then maybe only Fluttershy didn’t remember who Cloud Buster was. It would be hard to convince her best friend that she had inexplicably turned into a mare, but as long as he remembered the stallion she once was, it was well worth a try.

“Are you feeling well enough to go to Berry Punch’s place?” Fluttershy queried. “Maybe it would be best if you got some rest at home...”

“I... I’m sorry for, uh, confusing you like that,” Rainbow apologized, at last accepting that if Fluttershy only remembered her as Rainbow Dash, then for now she’d have to play the part. She wouldn’t get anywhere if she kept insisting on being somepony who Fluttershy didn’t remember had ever existed. To her, Cloud Buster wasn’t even a memory... it was a dark and scary thought. No, more than that, it was saddening—Rainbow’s old identity was essentially more than dead in Fluttershy’s mind.

Fluttershy, her oldest friend, didn’t even remember a thing about who Rainbow really was... it was enough to make the new mare’s eyes water. But no, she couldn’t give in to that feeling, not now. She wasn’t willing to accept total defeat and surrender her old identity that easily. If everything played out well, then this would prove to be nothing more than a bad memory. Maybe she’d even get lucky and this part of her life would be erased just as much as her life as Cloud Buster now was in Fluttershy’s eyes. Yeah, that would be it... nopony would even remember this. Rainbow Dash would be Cloud Buster again, and everything would be alright. This would all be nothing more than an unfortunate hiccup in reality, a forgotten typo on the pages of eternity.

Everything would go back to the way it was. She had to keep telling herself that, had to believe it was true.

Because if she didn’t... no, she refused to think about that.

“I must have still been dreaming a little when you woke me up,” Rainbow continued, trying to laugh sheepishly and ease the situation. “I remember now. My head must just been all muddled from the nightmare.”

“Okay...” Fluttershy conceded uncertainly. “...If you’re sure you’re alright...”

Rainbow nodded, and Fluttershy began trotting towards town, Rainbow following suit beside her. She would have preferred to fly, but she didn’t quite trust these new hooves yet, much less her new wings. The worst she could do with unfamiliar hooves was stumble. With unfamiliar wings, it could be a long way down.

The sun was just setting when they arrive at Ponyville’s central plaza. What ponies were left milling about were either making their way home, packing up their stalls, or heading to the same place the two pegasi were now seeking.

As Rainbow looked around at the passing ponies, she felt a new kind of discomfort, something that had never been an issue when she had been a towering stallion.

She felt small.

Most of the stallions trotting about, and even some of the other mares, were considerably taller than she now was. They also had more substance on them, easily outweighing her. As a stallion, Rainbow had usually never even bothered to think about what would happen if she accidentally ran into somepony, or somepony stepped on her hoof, or if she somehow became involved in a fight. When one of these things happened, she would have been able to shrug it off without a scratch. Now, she feared she might be knocked to the ground just by accidentally bumping into one of the burlier ponies.

Thankfully, the crowd was thin enough so that Rainbow didn’t have to confirm this fear, and she and Fluttershy reached Berry Punch’s place without incident.

The crowded, dimly-lit, smoky atmosphere of the bar was a welcome sight. All throughout the establishment, ponies were drinking merrily, laughing at embarrassing stories about one another, and generally having a good time.

At least this place hasn’t changed, Rainbow thought to herself with a small smile. Hopefully Big Mac hasn’t changed either, and he’ll be able to help me figure out what’s going on.

Spotting the crimson stallion in a booth, Rainbow’s smile grew wider as he waved at them. She rushed over, Fluttershy trotting close behind. To the multicolored mare’s surprise, Big Mac’s eyes glinted with recognition when he saw her.

Oh, no, Rainbow thought. He remembers this version of me!

If that was true, then Cloud Buster had never existed to him either. But he at least still knew who she was, and that meant that perhaps there was something worth salvaging...perhaps something to get him to believe her true past, or at least get him to help her get back to normal.

Adding to the strangeness, Big Mac actually got up from the booth to greet them, something he had never done when she was a stallion. It’s not like they hadn’t been friendly when greeting each other before all this, but they had always greeted each other casually. Before, she would have simply slid into the seat opposite Big Mac and they would have knocked hooves in greeting.

So what was with this standing up? Uncertain, but still happy to see her best friend all the same, she raised her hoof, prepared to knock his in their traditional greeting. Strangely enough, he actually looked surprised this time, glancing at her hoof uncertainly before returning the gesture. Had he been expecting something else? Were they supposed to hug or something, like she sometimes saw friends do when both were mares? But he was a stallion, and even if she was a mare now, stallions didn’t commonly hug their friends in greeting even if the friend was a mare...right?

This was all very confusing, not knowing what had changed and what hadn’t, and what all the conventions were in this new body.

Putting her hoof back down and leaving Big Mac still looking like he had been expecting something more, Rainbow turned to slide into the opposite seat in the booth. However, Fluttershy had already done so...and she was sitting on the end, leaving a whole unoccupied space to her right. Seeing Rainbow’s confused expression, she smiled sweetly and ever so slightly nodded her head back towards Big Mac.

Thoroughly uncertain of what was going on now, Rainbow turned to see the red workhorse standing to the side, leaving her space to slide into the seat on his side of the booth. Still uncertain, but at least understanding that she was expected to sit there, Rainbow slid into the far side of the seat, followed by Big Macintosh.

He seemed to be sitting awfully close to her. She could even feel the heat radiating from his body.

It was almost as if... wait...

Rainbow’s eyes widened.

She was still set to meet with Big Macintosh, but she hadn’t asked anypony out today.

That couldn’t mean... could it...?

“What’ll it be?” inquired a familiar voice, and Dash looked up to see the deep violet form of Berry Punch, waiting with a notepad. Her face split into a smile when she saw Rainbow. “Well, hello miss Dash! I didn’t see you back there. And I see you and the big Apple himself are sharing a booth at last. Did he finally work up the courage?”

Rainbow said nothing, a look of horror freezing on her features.

“Eeyup,” Big Mac replied sheepishly after a moment, when it became clear that Rainbow wasn’t going to answer. It was hard to tell due to his natural hue, but if she looked hard enough, Dash could see he was blushing.

“Good for you, big fella,” Berry Punch laughed good-naturedly. “It was about time. And good for you too, Rainbow. You two make such a cute couple.”

“...Cute...Couple...?” Rainbow uttered quietly, her blood turning to ice.

She hadn’t asked anypony out today. She had been the one asked out.

“I...uh...I HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE!!” Rainbow blurted, climbing frantically onto the table and leaping into the air, flying like a shot out of a cannon towards the front door.

“Rainbow, wait!” Fluttershy cried after her, but Dash didn’t care. She was not dating her best friend, no matter how much reality had changed! Whoever had done all this hadn’t just cursed her with a different body and erased her past identity from existence, they were trying to control her future as well! She was not about to accept that. “Where are you going?!”

Dash bolted through the front doors, knocking over some ponies who were about to enter in the process. It seemed she could still be forceful in this form if she had to be. Soaring up into the sky, Rainbow zoomed as quick as she could in the direction of home...or at least, where she hoped her home would still be.

The wind screamed as it rushed past her, her multicolored mane flying back at the speed, a rainbow streak stretching out behind her. She had never felt this fast as a stallion—she had always had strength, not speed—but right now, her considerably increased speed was the last thing on her mind. Right now, all she cared about was getting as far away from Big Mac as possible.

How could they do this?! she thought furiously. How could they ruin my life like this, and then just expect me to go along with it?! How could they rip me away from somepony I was head-over-hooves for and try to force me into the forelegs of somepony else?! A stallion no less, and I’m supposed to be a stallion!

She wouldn’t stand for it, but if she had any hope of setting things right, then she knew she had to find that unicorn from earlier. Hopefully she would know something about how to reset things... if she didn’t, Dash didn’t know what she would do... but she’d do something! She’d go to the princesses themselves if she had to!

For now, though, the unicorn would be impossible to find. Rainbow would have to wait until morning, when ponies were out and about. She wouldn’t get anywhere by going door to door, just hoping she’d find the right pony.

As much as she hated to admit it, Rainbow would have to spend the night in this body. At least when she was asleep, if she could ever manage to get to sleep after everything that had happened, she wouldn’t have to think about the nightmare her reality had become... at least, she hoped she wouldn’t.

As she usually did this late at night, Rainbow skipped the front door and flew into her room’s open window. She didn’t want to wake up Scootaloo, who should by now be fast asleep in her own room. Rainbow wanted to avoid confronting her little sister in this form and having to explain it as long as possible. She’d feel bad about having been absent in case Scootaloo had needed any help with her homework, but right now, existential crisis trumped schoolwork.

But wait, Scootaloo probably only remembered her as Rainbow as well. Her own sister... most likely didn’t remember anything about who she truly was. Now that was a stab in the heart. If there was ever a motivation to set things right, that was it.

Sighing in near defeat, Dash flopped down on her cloud bed, exhausted from the events of the day. There, she glimpsed the upside-down image of something that, thankfully, hadn’t seemed to change. Her Wonderbolts poster was still there. She gave a small smile and saluted before drifting off into a fitful sleep.

. . .

Has she accepted her existence as Rainbow Dash?

No.

Will she accept her existence as Rainbow Dash?

Unknown.

Will we work to make her accept her existence as Rainbow Dash?

Yes.

Will the Deleted One prove troublesome in this matter?

Unknown.

. . .

As Cloud Buster, Rainbow Dash had never entered a dream knowing right away that she was dreaming. If she figured it out at all, it took a while. This time, though, it seemed that somepony had done the figuring out for her.

‘THIS IS A DREAM,’ proclaimed a giant sign in glowing neon letters. And, apart from the sign and the small patch of grassy ground it illuminated, there didn’t seem to be much more to his dreamscape. Darkness encapsulated all else, if there even was anything else at all. The sky and the ground all blended into one big blackness, not even leaving a horizon. There was no sun, no moon, not even any stars. Just a dark nothingness.

“Hello, Cloud Buster,” announced a soft yet slightly scratchy voice, not so different from the one Rainbow now bore. Speaking of which, if this was a dream...

She looked down, only to see her small cyan frame. It seemed that even in sleep she couldn’t escape this body.

She sighed, and turned to look in the direction the voice had come from. Out of the darkness, a shape was emerging. Thankfully, though, it wasn’t a doppelganger of the dream that had introduced Rainbow Dash and pushed him off his comfortable perch into this new reality.

The newcomer did rather look like Rainbow Dash, but only in height and build, as well as her possession of wings. Her coat was a hot pink, and her mane and tail were a bold blue, though they were cut in the same way Rainbow’s were. Her eyes were a much lighter blue, almost the same hue Dash had had as Cloud Buster.

“You said ‘Cloud Buster’,” Rainbow pointed out, wondering what her subconscious was trying to tell her through this phantasm. Or, perhaps this was somehow real, as the dream where she first got a glimpse of her new body had been? But then, how would she know?

Wait a minute... that voice! It was the same that had warned her to run from ‘them!’

“Who are you?” Dash asked, her attention rapt on the other pegasus.

“Technically, I’m nopony,” the pink mare sighed. “But before They deleted me, I was Firefly.”

“Firefly?” Rainbow echoed questioningly. “And who’s ‘they’?”

“They are Them,” she answered, only confusing Rainbow further. “They don’t have any other name than ‘Them.’ I don’t know where They come from, but I do know that They change things, only They change everypony’s memories too so that everypony thinks that the changes are the way things have always been.”

“Then how come I remember being Cloud Buster?” Dash wondered, relieved to find that she could say her old name without any trouble in a dream.

“Because sometimes They make mistakes,” Firefly replied. “That’s how I found out about Them. They were trying to change something about me, but They messed up everything, so nothing changed at all. From then on, though, I could see whenever They tried to change things, and I tried to stop them. I tried to get everypony to remember the way things were before the changes, and it started messing up Their plans. So, They deleted me. That’s why I can only interact with you when you’re asleep.”

“How do you delete somepony?” Rainbow wondered, horrified. Dash’s past identity might not exist anymore, but she herself still existed. However, Rainbow had no recollections of anypony named Firefly, and how gone from the world must this other pegasus be if she had to appear in somepony’s dreams rather than meet them in the waking world?

“They pushed me out of the natural flow of the universe,” Firefly explained, sitting down and looking melancholy. Dash did the same, and was reminded once again of her new gender by the still-unfamiliar plushness of her rear. “They can’t get rid of me entirely, but from here I can only interact with reality in limited ways, like through this dream. They’ll reintegrate me into reality if I want, but only if I agree to accept Their changes and have my memory wiped. That’s the catch to their power; if you realize They’re there, you can resist Them.”

“That’s terrible,” Dash said. “I’m so sorry... but there has to be a way to stop Them, right?”

“Thank you for your concern,” Firefly responded, smiling slightly. “I’m not giving up yet, but I’m afraid that I can’t stay outside of reality forever. Sooner or later, I might just give in, or else go mad from an eternity in nothingness. However, there is something you can do to fight Them, and even to help me. I can’t do anything against Them from where I am, but if you can find a way into Their otherworld, you have a chance at stopping them. They change reality by writing in some kind of special book, and if you change that book, They’ll have to change reality to match it. You can go back to being Cloud Buster, and I can be real again.”

“Perfect!” Rainbow cheered. “Where is Their otherworld? I’ll go there right now! But, wait... what if They just delete me too before I can get there?”

“Thankfully, They can only delete one pony at a time,” Firefly told her. “If They get rid of more than one pony, They’ll throw reality out of order, and order is all They’re after. They’re trying to make the world perfectly orderly, no matter what They have to change to do so, and They’re always slowly making progress towards that goal.

“As for where the otherworld is, I’m afraid I don’t know,” Firefly lamented. “I learned all I know about Them from overhearing Their whispering voices whenever They changed something, but I was never actually able to find the entrance to the otherworld. I do know, though, that though it is well hidden, They can’t close it or move it. All you have to do is find it, and if you get to the otherworld, They won’t be able to change you while you’re there. You just have to make sure they don’t catch onto the fact that you’re looking for the entrance, or They’ll try and change things to stop you. Now that you know They exist, They can’t change your mind against your will, but They can influence it and everything around it.”

“That sounds... incredibly hard,” Rainbow gulped. “How in Equestria am I supposed to find a secret door without letting Them know I’m looking for it?”

“I’m afraid I can’t answer that,” the pink pegasus said. “That’s exactly what I tried to do, and I failed, and ended up here. At least They can’t delete you.”

Rainbow gulped again. This was sounding more like an unfair fight every moment.

“Do you know why They changed me?” Dash asked after a moment. “Why would making me a mare make Equestria more orderly?”

“That’s something I have to apologize to you about,” Firefly spoke, looking like she was dreading what she was about to say. “They changed you to turn you into a replacement for me. Because I wouldn’t stop messing with Their plans, They deleted me, and had to fill the spot. You were deemed a worthy replacement because we were close in personality, and They can’t change that.”

“You mean...” Rainbow gasped, shock and anger bubbling behind her eyes. “This is all your fault?! What makes you so important that They had to erase my old life just to make me the new you?!”

“I was the Element of Loyalty,” the pink pegasus told her. “Now you are.”

. . .

Rainbow awoke with mixed emotions. She couldn’t exactly blame Firefly for what had happened, though she was still directly tied to causing Dash’s transformation into who she now was. The pink pegasus had only been trying to stop Them from messing up other ponies’ lives, and Dash knew she would certainly have done the same thing. But, still... if it hadn’t been for Firefly...

No, Rainbow told herself. It wasn’t her fault. It was Their fault. Just remember that; Firefly’s life has been messed up far more than yours has.

The multicolored mare stretched and rose from her bed, glancing out the window at the rising sun. She was beginning to make a habit of getting up this early, it seemed. As Cloud Buster, she had usually stayed up until late into the night, which necessitated sleeping in until late into the morning. She hadn’t needed to sleep late this morning because she’d gone to bed practically right after sunset, after...

...after her date with Big Macintosh.

No! she mentally screamed. I am not going out with my best friend!

Shaking her head to clear the thoughts, Rainbow slipped out of bed and trotted down the hall, turning to take a peek in Scootaloo’s room to see if she was still asleep.

But, instead of Scootaloo’s door, her eyes met nothing but wall.

Panic filled her heart.

No, no, no... she repeated over and over in her mind. Rainbow stuck her head all the way through the cloud, but met with nothing but the outside world. Scootaloo’s room just wasn’t there anymore. No, no, NO!!

“Scootaloo!” Rainbow cried. “Where are you?!”

Where did They take her?! she thought, terrified. Where is my little sister?!

“Scootaloo?” echoed a confused, and rather annoyed, country twang from down below. Rainbow looked down, only to see Big Mac’s sister staring angrily up at her. She had known Applejack well as Cloud Buster, just as she had known the whole Apple family. Spending so much time at Sweet Apple Acres hanging out with Big Mac had seen to that. However, Rainbow had never seen AJ look quite so heated. “Why in tarnation would ya’ be lookin’ for her? Ya’ know she was sleepin’ over with Apple Bloom last night!”

“You mean she’s okay?” Dash breathed a sigh of monumental relief. Scootaloo was alright. But, if Scootaloo’s room was gone from Rainbow’s house, then where did her little sister live? Never mind; she could find that out from Scootaloo herself once she picked her up. “Thanks for, uh, reminding me, Applejack! I’ll head over to the farm and pick her up right away!”

“Now wait just a minute!” Applejack snarled. “Ah didn’t come all the way over here just so ya’ could fly away!”

“Why are you here, anyway?” Rainbow asked, already knowing the answer as a feeling of uncomfortable dread welled up in her stomach.

“You know plum-well why, Rainbow Dash!” the farmpony snapped, stamping a hoof. The multicolored mare winced as she heard her full new name. “Now get down here! Ah got somethin’ ta’ tell ya’ and Ah ain’t leavin’ until you’ve heard it!”

Rainbow reluctantly nodded and stepped fully out of the cloud wall, hovering while she patched the hole back up and then slowly descended, light as a feather on a breeze.

“I know what you’re going to say, and I just want you to know that—” the cyan pegasus began.

“Then you’re gonna’ know it twice as well!” Applejack interrupted. “Big Macintosh has had eyes for ya’ ever since ya’ moved to Ponyville, and everypony knew it, even if he didn’t say nothin’ about it. Ah know that you knew it too, ‘cause Ah’m the one who told you! Ya’ know how gentle he is under all that muscle, and ya’ know how hard it was for him ta’ finally ask ya’ out. So why in tarnation did ya’ say yes ta’ him if you were just gonna’ bolt on your very first date?! And don’t try and tell me ya’ didn’t, ‘cause Fluttershy told me herself, not that I needed her to when Big Mac came home in such a state last night. He’s heartbroken like I ain’t never seen, and it’s all thanks ta’ you!”

Rainbow looked incredibly uncomfortable, taking refuge in the silence after AJ’s outburst, until the orange earth pony snapped “Well, what do ya’ have ta’ say for yourself?!”

As much as Rainbow wanted it to all be lies, Applejack was right, if only partially. In this version of reality, everypony involved must remember that Big Macintosh had asked her out, and she had said yes. The fact that that was all Their doing and had nothing to do with Rainbow herself didn’t prevent everypony thinking it was all her fault for not going along with it, as she knew nopony in a million years would believe some freaky beings messing with reality were behind all this. Dash knew that she certainly wouldn’t have believed such an explanation if Fluttershy had bolted on their first date, if they had ever had the chance to have it. Rainbow knew that if that had happened, she would have felt betrayed and hurt beyond belief.

If Big Mac now felt the way about her that she had felt about Fluttershy, then he really would be heartbroken at such a feeling of betrayal. It wasn’t Rainbow’s fault for not wanting to go along with this, but that didn’t mean she should have bolted without an explanation as she did. That didn’t give her the right to make Big Mac feel the way he did now.

“...I’m sorry,” Rainbow uttered. “I shouldn’t have ran out on him, and I know that. I can’t explain why I did it... you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. But that still doesn’t mean what I did was right. If he’ll let me talk to him after what happened, I’d like to apologize to him in person.”

“You’re darn right it wasn’t right what you did!” Applejack agreed angrily. “And you’re gonna’ apologize ta’ him, alright. We’re marchin’ over to Sweet Apple Acres right now, and you’re gonna make sure you try your best ta’ make things right!”

Rainbow nodded, and Applejack turned and set off at a brisk trot towards down, smacking Dash with her tail as she passed. The multicolored mare glared after her for a moment, but she couldn’t blame AJ anymore than she could blame Firefly. It wasn’t anypony’s fault but Theirs.

That didn’t exactly make it easier to bear, though. What could she say that would make it right? She wasn’t sure she could make it right. She knew she couldn’t go with the truth... nopony would believe that. She had proof of that in herself, as when she’d still been Cloud Buster she hadn’t believed Bass Blaster. But if Rainbow couldn’t tell Big Mac the truth, then what could she tell him that would make any sense? ‘I’m so sorry that I agreed to go out with you and then snubbed you, but for reasons I can’t explain I suddenly have no interest in you whatsoever other than being best bros, even though that doesn’t make sense since I’m a mare, and in fact the very thought of being with you disgusts who I really am?’

The sooner Rainbow found that entrance into Their otherworld and set things right, the better. First Big Mac, then checking on Scootaloo to find out where in Equestria her little sister was supposed to live if not with her, and then look for the secret doorway.

Rainbow sighed. This was going to be a long day.

They finally made it to Sweet Apple Acres. Rainbow knew she could have made it there in ten seconds flat if she had flown due to her new speed, especially when she didn’t even know how fast she could go with this new form. However, she really didn’t feel like flying right now, and she doubted Applejack would have allowed for it anyway.

“He’s in the barn, looking at his favorite picture of Mom and Dad,” AJ informed her. “He always goes there when he’s upset. Now you march your little blue butt up there and don’t come out until you’ve both made peace!”

Rainbow nodded (even if her ‘blue butt’ didn’t feel all that little, at least to her unaccustomed mind) and silently complied, trotting briskly up to the barn. Dash could feel AJ’s eyes burning holes in the back of her mane the whole way until she finally slipped inside the barn and carefully closed the door behind her.

“Big Mac?” she called out, hating just how high her voice sounded now more than when she had first heard it. Did stallions like mares with voices like hers? Big Mac must have. Come to think of, what did he like about her? It was the creepiest train of thought to have ever crossed her mind, but once it started, she couldn’t derail it. Did he like her multicolored mane? Her magenta eyes? Her curvaceous form? Her plush rear? The creepier question was what he liked about her personality, which was the same one she’d had as a stallion. Was the same thing that had made them best friends before what made him attracted to her now? She shuddered, trying her best not to think on it further. “You in here?”

“Ah know AJ put ya’ up ta’ this,” the crimson workhorse’s voice called from behind some hay bales. The hurt he must be feeling was like a sword cutting through every word. “You don’t have ta’ apologize. You can go, if you like.”

“I... don’t want to go,” Rainbow made herself say, though she would have leapt at the opportunity to flee if she didn’t understand the hurt he must be going through. She wouldn’t have wished that kind of inner pain on anypony. He definitely wasn’t going to make his best friend suffer through it, especially on his account, even if Big Mac didn’t remember her as his best friend. “I want to make things right, and I really do want to say I’m sorry for leaving like that last night.”

He didn’t reply, and she trotted over to where his voice had been coming from. Dash found him sitting down on the floor, staring up at a faded photograph of two ponies she had never seen. Even as Cloud Buster, Big Mac had never shown her a picture of his parents. As a stallion, she had known that Big Mac didn’t want to talk about his parents as he never brought them up, and so she never had either. Now, though, she was peering into something that was immensely special and private, and she felt like she was intruding on sacred ground.

They looked a lot like Big Macintosh and Applejack, honestly. The colors were hard to discern due to the faded image, but the familiar builds and telltale freckles were unmistakable.

If it were any other stallion, Rainbow would have felt nervous for her safety right now. She was so small compared to his hulking, muscular form, but she knew him well enough to know that he wouldn’t harm a parasprite. She only wished that he was just as thick-skinned as he looked, though; his gentility came with a sensitive heart... a heart that she had broken.

“Big Mac...” she began, wondering how in the world she was going to make this right. “I know that I agreed to go out with you, and I can’t really explain why, but I... I just can’t anymore. I really am sorry, and I wish there was something I could do, but... oh, you have no idea how hard this is.”

“Ah believe Ah have a good idea,” he snorted sarcastically.

“You’re right,” Rainbow sighed. “You’re totally right. What I did was wrong, and I know it. I also know that I don’t deserve your forgiveness, not that I’ve given you any reason to want to give it in the first place—”

“How could Ah not forgive you?” Big Mac sniffed, turning to look at her. “You’re the most amazing pony Ah’ve ever met. In fact, Ah already forgave you hours ago. Ah figured ya’ had your reasons. Ah thought that somethin’ was wrong with me.”

“What?!” Rainbow gasped. He was blaming this all on himself? “But you didn’t do anything wrong! It was all my fault. Big Mac, there’s nothing wrong with you, and any mare would be lucky to have you, but...”

“...But it can’t be you?” the red stallion finished with a sad sigh. She nodded, smiling regretfully. “And you really can’t explain why?”

“I want to, believe me, I do!” Rainbow asserted. “It’s just that... well, I don’t think you’d believe me. I know I wouldn’t believe it if anypony tried to explain this to me. But even if we can’t be... each other’s special someponies... I want you to know that I’ve always thought of you as my best, er, one of my best friends. You’re an amazing guy, you’re kind, you’re gentle, you’re honest, and you never give up on doing what you think is right. If any other mare can’t see that, then it’s her loss.”

“Thank you, Rainbow,” Big Mac sighed again. She could see tears in his eyes. “But Ah’ve never met anypony who can even compare to you. Everypony else just falls short. It’s not just that you’re the most beautiful pony Ah’ve ever seen, it’s that you’re loyal, you have such spirit, such big dreams, and you never quit on them or ponies you care about. But if you don’t want to be with me, even if you can’t explain why, Ah’m sure you have your reasons. Ah trust you, Rainbow Dash, even if sometimes Ah don’t know why.”

He hung his head, and a single tear dropped to the ground.

This isn’t setting things right! Rainbow lamented in her head. If anything, it’s making them worse!

“Hey, it’ll be alright,” Dash promised lamely, moving to his side and patting his back supportively.

She hadn’t been this close to him since last night, though at least now she didn’t have to worry about the unfortunate implications of their proximity. Still, she could feel the warmth radiating off of him. Had they been this close when he had asked her out? How had that gone, exactly? Had it been like when she, as Cloud Buster, had asked Fluttershy out?

Had they... gotten even closer than this? Had they leaned against each other, touching sides? Had Big Mac put an affectionate foreleg around her withers, drawing her to him? Had she... had she nuzzled under his neck, and he nuzzled back?

Rainbow was pulled out of her thoughts by two realizations. The first was that she had begun to feel pleasantly warm, almost... no, it couldn’t be! But... but it was there, all the same... she felt the way she had felt when, as a stallion, she had looked at Fluttershy, only this time it was different. No less pleasant, but definitely different. What was causing this? Was it the thought of having... cuddled with Big Mac? Why did she... why did she like it?! She was a stallion at heart, not a mare!

Her current body seemed to disagree, and it was tickling her mind with its unwanted yet still pleasant notions.

The second realization that had pulled Dash out of her thoughts, though, was the look Big Mac was giving her. It was a look of thorough confusion, but a hidden happiness lurked just beneath the surface, despite the fact that he obviously had no idea why he should be happy.

And why should he be happy? She had broken his heart and failed at setting things right, and now...

...now she was no longer patting him supportively on the back. Instead, during her imagining of what it would be like to get even closer to the strong stallion, she had, without even realizing it, switched to rubbing his back muscles.

And no matter how much it freaked her out, no matter how much she didn’t want it to, she was enjoying it. And he was too!

. . .