• 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 3

Them

Chapter 3

Rainbow Dash didn’t think she could have taken her hoof off of Big Mac’s back any faster if she had tried. Not that she planned on ever trying to, because she never planned on touching Big Mac at all ever again, not after this terrifying revelation.

“I’m, uh, sorry about that,” she said quickly. At that moment, she wanted nothing more than to bolt from the crimson stallion’s presence, but she had come here to set things right, not to reenact the same mistake all over again. As much as she hated to admit it, she would have to stay until she knew her friend was alright.

And a friend is all he’ll ever be, she asserted to herself.

“Like Ah said before,” he stated gently. “Ya’ don’t need ta’ apologize.”

“I do, though,” Rainbow disagreed. “I just want you to know that, even though I can’t go out with you, I’ve always thought of you as a great friend. I know this is the cheesiest thing a mare ever says to a stallion in situations like this, but I really do hope we can still be friends?”

“Of course,” Big Mac consented. “I’d rather have ya’ as a friend than nothin’ at all.”

“So... are we good?” Dash wondered with baited breath. She did not want her best friend to feel this way because of her, but she also didn’t want to have to stay this close to him longer than necessary. As pleasant as it was being near him, it was a pleasantness she definitely hoped to never feel again. Even if it was nice...

No! Don’t think like that! she thought frantically. Remember who you were—who you are!

“We’re as good as we’ll ever be,” Big Mac agreed, smiling sadly. “Thank ya’, Rainbow. Ah want ya’ to know that Ah don’t hold any ill will against ya’.”

“Of course, neither of us thinks that way about the other,” Dash affirmed. “We’re best bros, remember?”

He gave her an odd look again, and she smiled sheepishly when she realized she’d let the phrase slip. He finally let out a chuckle, and stood up.

“We better go tell AJ she don’t have ta’ blame ya’ for what happened,” he noted, trotting towards the barn door with Rainbow in tow. “Though I gotta’ warn ya’, she may be the Element o’ Honesty, but she sure can hold a grudge. Might be best if ya’ gave her some space till she cools off a bit.”

Rainbow gulped, nodding.

They found Applejack right where the multicolored mare had left her, tapping her hoof a mile a minute, as she stared into the sky with a mixture of anger and worry. She whirled around at the sound of their approach, and blurted “Well? What’s goin’ on?”

“Nothin’s goin’ on,” Big Mac replied evenly. “Rainbow apologized, and said it weren’t mah fault she left. She can’t tell me why she did, but Ah trust she has a good reason. We’re still friends.”

“Ah hope Ah can say the same ‘bout Rainbow and mahself,” Applejack noted, eyeing Dash somewhat angrily, somewhat warily. “But... Ah suppose if Big Mac can forgive ya’, then so can Ah. Ah’ll need some time to think ‘bout things, though.”

“Take all the time you need,” Rainbow told her. “I’ll be sure to get out of your manes now, but first, could you please tell me where Scootaloo is?”

“She and Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle all headed up ta’ their clubhouse this mornin’,” Applejack answered, pointing a hoof towards the trees that hid the treehouse from most angles. “Though Ah gotta’ warn ya’, Scootaloo might not be in the best o’ moods. The Cutie Mark Crusaders weren’t exactly on the best o’ terms when I saw ‘em leave this mornin’.”

“What?” Rainbow uttered in confusion. She’d never known Scootaloo to have any serious disagreements with her friends, aside from that field trip to the Royal Canterlot Sculpture Gardens. “Why?”

“Ya’ best find that out for yourself,” AJ responded curtly, trotting away towards the farmhouse with what might have been a sympathetic look.

Worried now, Rainbow said an awkward goodbye to Big Macintosh and galloped off towards the clubhouse. Hopping over some bushes and ducking under some low branches, Dash came out into the clearing where the old treehouse rested, her ears perking up at the sound of heated arguing emanating from within.

What in the world? Rainbow thought as she snuck up to the base of the tree, cocking an ear to listen in.

“...Guys, please, stop fighting!” squealed a voice. That must be Sweetie Belle, little sister of one of Fluttershy’s friends. “This doesn’t have anything to do with us!”

“It has everythin’ ta’ do with me!” disagreed a much younger southern drawl, presumably Big Mac’s youngest sibling Apple Bloom. “If it weren’t for Scootaloo’s precious Rainbow Crash, mah big brother wouldn’t be all down in the dumps!”

Oh, no... Dash groaned inwardly. It seemed her conundrum with her best friend had seeped even down to the youngest family members of those involved. Scootaloo didn’t really have any friends other than Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom, and the cyan pegasus definitely didn’t want her little sister’s few friendships damaged because of her!

“Don’t you dare call her Rainbow Crash!” scolded the familiar, slightly scratchy voice of Scootaloo. “She’s Rainbow Dash, and she’s the most awesome pony in Ponyville! I’m sure whatever happened wasn’t her fault! It must have been Big Mac who drove her away!”

“You take that back!” Apple Bloom demanded.

“Make me!” Scootaloo snarled.

A sound that might have been Apple Bloom’s battle cry erupted from the clubhouse, and suddenly Rainbow’s ears were assaulted by the sounds of hooves hitting wood and—most shocking of all—other ponies.

Dash lived up to her name as she darted into the air and dove through the treehouse window, putting herself between the two brawling fillies and holding them apart at foreleg’s length. Scootaloo looked like she had a few bruises, but Apple Bloom... were those bite marks on her hide?!

“What’s going on here?!” Rainbow demanded.

“Ah think Ah could ask you the same question,” Apple Bloom muttered, not looking the multicolored mare in the eye.

“Rainbow Dash!” Scootaloo gasped, ironically cheerful despite the bruises adorning her small body. The cyan pegasus winced at hearing her own little sister refer to her by her new name, but that didn’t hurt nearly as much as seeing her bruised from a fight. “Tell them! Tell them how it was all Big Mac’s fault!”

“It wasn’t Big Mac’s fault,” Rainbow announced, earning a surprised look from Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle. Scootaloo, meanwhile, looked like she’d been smacked across the face—far more forcefully than anything Apple Bloom could have managed. “But it wasn’t my fault either. It wasn’t anypony’s fault. Things just didn’t work out between us.”

“See?” Sweetie Belle spoke up. “It wasn’t anypony’s fault. Now can we please still all be friends?”

“But AJ said ya’ broke mah big brother’s heart,” Apple Bloom stated, puzzled. “She said he asked ya’ out and ya’ said yes, and then ya’ ditched him on your first date!”

“I... well, I did,” Rainbow sighed.

“You what?” Scootaloo uttered, a look of betrayal crossing her features. That one look broke the multicolored mare’s own heart. “But... but why?”

“I wish I could explain,” Rainbow answered lamely. “But I can’t. It’s... complicated.”

“Ah told ya’,” Apple Bloom snorted at Scootaloo, though seeing the look on the orange pegasus’s face, the insult only seemed half-hearted at worst.

“But... but...” Scootaloo repeated, unable to get her words out. Finally, she managed to say “But you always told me how much you wished Big Mac would ask you out. And now when he finally does, you turn him down on your first date? I... I don’t understand, Rainbow... Did you lie to me?”

“Of course not!” Dash asserted instantly before mentally smacking herself, already knowing what Scootaloo would say next.

“Then why did you break up with Big Mac?” the little pegasus wanted to know. “Can’t you at least tell your honorary little sister?”

“I wish I could, but...” Rainbow responded, before a look of fear filled her eyes. “Wait, what did you just call yourself? Did you say you were my honorary little sister?”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo agreed, still looking on the verge of tears. “Aren’t I?”

“You mean you aren’t my related sister?” Dash pressed, needing absolute clarity, even if she dreaded what it might be.

“I wish,” Scootaloo sniffed. “Then I wouldn’t have to live at the orphanage anymore.”

Something deep, deep within Rainbow’s mind snapped at that moment. She felt fury bubbling up inside her like a volcano about to erupt. They hadn’t just messed up her life; that she could at least deal with. If it was an affront to her, then though it was undesirable, it could at least be seen as a pony versus an enemy.

But They hadn’t just messed up her life. They had messed up Scootaloo’s as well. They had ripped her away from the only relative she had, and made her an orphan. That settled it; They weren’t just enemies... They were monsters. Rainbow wasn’t just out to reset her reality and regain her life anymore. She was out to save Scootaloo’s reality as well, and that was something that elevated this to a whole new level.

But she couldn’t let that show, not now. Scootaloo couldn’t see her anger; it would only add to the unexplainable nature of this crazily rewritten reality. There was, however, one thing she could do to make the situation at least a little better until it was fixed entirely.

“Hey, Scoots,” Rainbow announced, drawing the orange filly close and giving her an affectionate noogie. “How would you like me to officially adopt you?”

The tiny pegasus’s face lit up like a firework.

“You mean it?!” she squealed in utter delight. “Yesyesyesyes!!”

She wrapped her forelegs around Rainbow and squeezed her as tight as her small frame would allow. The tears in her eyes were definitely born of happiness now, and Dash couldn’t help but get a little teary-eyed herself, though for mixed reasons. One the one hoof, she had never seen her little sister quite this happy. On the other, the reason behind this happiness—that she had to be adopted rather than have been with Rainbow all along—was like salt to the wound of all that had happened already.

“That’s great, Scootaloo!” Sweetie Belle cheered, and even Apple Bloom had to give a small smile.

“I guess if you’re adoptin’ Scootaloo, then ya’ can’t be all that bad,” the little yellow earth pony admitted. “I’m sorry for callin’ ya’ Rainbow Crash.”

“That’s okay,” Dash assured her, continuing to hold Scootaloo tightly. Things might be bizarre and completely messed up right now, but her little sister was happy, and that definitely counted for something. Rainbow had been thus far fighting for herself, but if she was fighting for Scootaloo as well, she felt like nothing could stop her. Finally pulling away from the ecstatic little pegasus, Rainbow announced “I’ll head over to the orphanage right now. Why don’t you and Apple Bloom make up properly, and I’ll come back as soon as I have the good news?”

“Okay,” Scootaloo agreed, nodding her head eagerly.

Giving her little sister one last smile, Dash trotted over to the treehouse’s entrance and took wing, zooming towards town. It seemed looking for the secret doorway to the otherworld was going to have to wait a while. Scootaloo was definitely coming first. Even if Rainbow’s ultimate plan was to undo this so that her little sister would never have been an orphan in the first place, she couldn’t stand to see Scootaloo like this until then.

The only problem now was, where was the orphanage? Rainbow didn’t ever remember Ponyville having one when she had still been Cloud Buster. Perhaps it was a new addition that had come with all the other changes? That was a distressing thought; that They had created an orphanage in Ponyville just to separate Scootaloo from her. The alternative was even more distressing. If there were other orphans there as well, then where had they come from? What families had they been ripped away from without ever realizing it?

Rainbow shivered. The sooner They were defeated once and for all, the better.

She landed in the town’s central plaza, scanning the surrounding buildings for any sign that read ‘ORPHANAGE.’ If it wasn’t here, she’d sweep the whole town looking for it if she had to. Perhaps she could simply ask for directions?

“...And that’s when I said, ‘oh, it’s nothing special, just my BASS CANNON’!!” announced a familiar voice. Rainbow’s eyes widened, and she turned to see none other than the unicorn who had claimed to be Bass Blaster. She was sitting at an outside table at one of the plaza’s cafes, chatting animatedly with... was that a stallion?

Rainbow trotted slowly closer, listening intently. She promised herself she would zoom to the orphanage as soon as the unicorn told her where she lived, and then later they could talk about this crazily changed reality.

However, as Rainbow approached, it became clear that something definitely sounded...different about Bass Blaster than the first time Dash had seen the unicorn.

“You should have seen the look on their faces,” Bass Blaster laughed. “It was priceless!”

“Sounds like it,” chuckled the earth pony stallion she was with. It wasn’t anypony Rainbow had ever seen. Was this an old friend of Bass Blaster’s who somehow remembered her from before her changes? Or was this what Dash feared it was, being something else entirely? She stopped approaching and perked her ears to find out, pretending to be studying the menu posted in the cafe’s window, but instead watching the two ponies’ reflection. “I wish I could have been there to see it. Maybe I can next time?”

“Totally,” Bass Blaster agreed. “But I don’t really think I’ll be putting on anymore raves any time soon.”

“Are you kidding?” the stallion asked. “What about those fliers all over town for your next gig? Isn’t that coming up soon?”

“O-oh, those,” Bass stuttered, clearly trying to cover up the fact that she had been unaware of such fliers. It seemed that she too was dealing with commitments written into her past that she didn’t remember. “Well, I’ve been thinking about cancelling that—”

“But you can’t!” the stallion cut in, sounding shocked. “What about all your fans? They’ll be so bummed; I know I would be. I’ve loved your music ever since you started playing in Ponyville. In fact, I was really psyched that I finally got to meet you in person. You’ve proven to be just as amazing a pony as you are a DJ.”

“Thanks,” the off-white unicorn giggled, blushing. Wait, giggling and blushing?! Either she had always been into stallions, or she was headed down the same path Rainbow had almost gone down with Big Mac. “You’re pretty awesome yourself.”

This was worse than Rainbow had feared! She galloped over to the table, desperate to stop this before it went any further. Bass Blaster couldn’t help her if the unicorn was actually accepting her new life!

“Say, maybe we could hang out some more some time?” the stallion inquired. “I know this great restaurant—”

“That’s enough!” Dash declared, all but running into the table. “Sorry, Romeo, but she’s got plans! Plans on every night you’re planning on getting romantic!”

“Who are you?” the stallion asked, surprised and more than a little annoyed that his potential date had been interrupted.

“Cloud Buster?” Bass Blaster queried. “What are you doing here?”

“Saving you from being Their slave,” the multicolored mare answered, attempting to grab the unicorn’s hoof and drag her away from the would-be casanova. “Now come on, we’ve got some reality to rewrite!”

“What are you talking about?” the unicorn wondered, stubbornly refusing to move and sounding plenty angry herself.

“You were about to agree to go out with this guy!” Rainbow told her, not about to let this fellow victim of Them fall into the same trap she did. “Can’t you see what’s happening?”

“What?” Bass Blaster uttered, her eyes going wide. “You’re right! I can’t believe They almost got me! I’m sorry, Mosh Pit, but I have to go!”

Without another word, and leaving the earth pony stallion with a look of utter perplexity and disappointment on his face, the two mares rushed from the cafe. Bass Blaster seemed to be headed somewhere in particular, so Rainbow followed her.

They galloped around a few buildings and up a flight of stairs to a second-story apartment. Bass Blaster didn’t seem like she could slip inside fast enough, and urged Rainbow to follow her. The multicolored mare complied, thankful to have saved the unicorn as well as finally find out where she lived.

However, just because Rainbow had saved Bass, that didn’t make what she had seen any less worrisome. Rainbow had agreed to go out with Big Mac in a past she’d never lived through, but it had looked very much like Blaster was about to willingly agree to a date of her own free will. Would she have done so if Rainbow hadn’t been there to stop her? Rainbow knew she would have never done such a thing, but due to how freaked out Bass had been when she realized what was going on, the unicorn wouldn’t have normally done so either. Did that mean that she was slipping into her new role in this changed reality, whether she liked it or not? Would this get worse?

Was this a portent of what was to come for Rainbow as well?

Dash shivered, desperately hoping it wasn’t.

“Thanks for the save,” Bass said gratefully, trotting into the apartment and flopping down on a couch. Rainbow joined her, eager to get away and adopt Scootaloo, but wanting to check and see if this changed reality was getting worse first. Rainbow didn’t want to outright avoid Big Mac, as well as every other stallion in Ponyville, but she would if she would otherwise soon be openly accepting dates with them. “I never thought it would happen, but it just kind of crept up on me, you know? I mean, I was always a mare’s stallion, back when I was a stallion. I really hope that doesn’t end up going the other way around.”

“Glad I could help,” Rainbow asserted. “So, you really didn’t know he was about to ask you out?”

“I guess a part of me knew, in the back of my mind...” Bass Blaster admitted. “...And a part of me wanted him to. I realized pretty quickly in this new changed reality that even if I didn’t want to, as a mare, I liked stallions. I’ve been trying to fight it, but I... I think I’ve been losing. It’s not like the attraction has gotten any stronger, it’s like I just find it increasingly hard to care about not giving into it. It’s the same with other things...”

“What other things?” Rainbow wondered, gulping. What else could this change take from them?

“Well, for one thing, I can’t say my old name anymore,” the unicorn sighed. “I can’t even think of myself as that name. I’ve been renamed Vinyl Scratch, whether I like it or not.”

“You can’t say Bass Blaster anymore?” Rainbow gasped. Then that might mean... She instantly tried to say, to yell, to scream her old name, but all that came out was a whispery hiss. “I can’t believe this! I can’t say my old name either!”

“I figured as much,” commented Bass Blaster, or rather, Vinyl Scratch. “I’m afraid this is only going to get worse until we find that door.”

“Firefly told you too,” Rainbow stated, and Vinyl nodded. It was good to have a friend with the same goal, but that had come at the price of knowing the situation was going to get worse until they figured out how to stop it... if they figured out how to stop it...

No! Rainbow mentally scolded herself. Do NOT think like that!

“I’d love to get started searching right away,” Rainbow told her. “But I’ve got something to do first. Now that I know where you live, can I swing by here as soon as I get the chance, and we’ll start then?”

“Please do,” Vinyl agreed. Rainbow thanked her, promising to get back as fast as possible, and left the apartment. Leaping into the air and ascending to look down at the building from above, Dash marked the location on her mental map of Ponyville and zoomed off, planning to give the town an aerial sweep for the orphanage. She could have asked Vinyl for directions, but then again, the other new mare probably didn’t remember an orphanage being in Ponyville either.

When Dash finally found the place, she was pleased to see that at least it wasn’t a sagging, run-down, broken building like she had feared. The establishment looked fairly nice, if humble, though that wasn’t any reason for Scootaloo having to stay there longer than she had to.

Rainbow marched right into the lobby and past the receptionist before the other pony had time to protest. Barging into the door marked ‘HEAD OFFICE,’ Dash announced “I’d like to adopt Scootaloo.”

The mare sitting behind the desk, a wizened old thing, looked quite surprised at the intrusion, but smiled pleasantly enough all the same.

“You must be Miss Rainbow Dash,” she said, and the multicolored mare nodded. “Scootaloo talks about you quite often. She even claims you’re her honorary big sister.”

“I am,” Rainbow affirmed. “And I’d like to be her official guardian.”

“I thought you might show up here for that very reason sooner or later,” the elderly mare told her. “I’d be very happy to see Scootaloo go to a good home, and I know she’d love to have you as her official family. However...”

However?! Rainbow thought. There isn’t supposed to be a ‘however!’

“I didn’t realize you were so young,” the mare went on. “I’m afraid regulation won’t allow me to allow you to adopt Scootaloo without certain other factors in play.”

What?! Nopony had complained when she had taken care of Scootaloo as Cloud Buster!

“Why is that a problem?” Rainbow asked, getting a little worried. Surely this couldn’t stop her from getting Scootaloo back, could it? “I’ve seen plenty of ponies my age taking care of foals. And what ‘certain other factors’?”

“Those ponies had the foals themselves, and thus aren’t covered by the regulations concerning orphaned foals,” the older pony explained, looking genuinely sorry. “As Scootaloo isn’t related to you, we can’t allow the adoption at this time. However, if ponies meet certain qualifications, they can adopt even at your age. For instance, if you were to become married—”

“Hold it!” Rainbow gasped. “Why is that a requirement?!”

“A variety of reasons,” the other mare said after flinching at Rainbow’s outburst. “It would show that you’re seriously planning on starting a family, that there would be two potential sources of income to support the adoptee, and the list goes on. There are other qualifications, but I’m afraid they’d take a few years to acquire, by which time you would be old enough to adopt anyway.”

“So what you’re saying is, is that if I want to adopt Scootaloo anytime soon, I would have to get...married...” Rainbow uttered for clarity.

The elderly pony nodded her affirmation.

No, no, NO!! Rainbow thought. I am NOT getting married!! At least, not as a mare!

But what about Scootaloo? Rainbow had promised the filly that she would have a new home and family, and the orange pegasus would be more heartbroken than Big Mac ever was if she didn’t come through on that promise. Nevertheless, Rainbow wasn’t going to sacrafice whatever part of her former male identity she had left by wedding a stallion! She outright refused!

Wouldn’t that mean refusing Scootaloo a family too, though? the multicolored mare thought, her mind torn. I can’t let Scootaloo down, but I can’t get married either! Oh, this is going to drive me crazy!

“Why don’t you take some time to think things over?” the older mare suggested, seeing Rainbow’s torn state. “Please know that the orphanage doesn’t encourage you to marry just so you can adopt Scootaloo. In the event that you had already planned to do so, you can come back later. In the meantime, though, why don’t you just keep it in mind in case a special somepony crosses your path?”

“Yeah, I think I need to... think things through...” Rainbow breathed, looking out of breath. “Thank you for your time.”

The other mare nodded and they said their goodbyes. Dash trotted out of the office in a daze. What in Equestria was she going to do now?! She didn’t think Big Macintosh was going to want to get married so soon even if she had been open to the idea herself. They’d only just (almost) gone on their first date, after all! No, marriage was definitely out. Besides, planning a wedding would take far too much time away from potential door-hunting excursions. She would simply tell Scootaloo that she couldn’t get married, and the little filly would surely understand...right?

Rainbow gulped, knowing all too well that she didn’t at all want to test that hypothesis...even if her little sister was waiting for her reply later that day.

Rainbow couldn’t stand this. She needed somepony to talk to about what was going on. She needed help to form some kind of plan. Of course, there was only one pony in Ponyville who had any idea what she was going through.

Rainbow crouched, preparing to launch into the sky and zoom back to Vinyl’s, when somepony called “Rainbow! It feels like I haven’t seen you in ages! How have you been, darling?”

The multicolored mare recognized that voice, and turned to see Rarity, one of Fluttershy’s closest friends. The fashionable unicorn was wearing saddlebags that seemed to be stuffed with thick fabric, and was already trotting over to her. It would be rude to simply fly away, even given the situation.

“Oh, uh, hey, Rarity,” Rainbow greeted. “I was actually just about to go somewhere, but maybe we can catch up some other time...”

“I didn’t expect to see you in this part of town,” the unicorn noted, seemingly oblivious to Dash’s hint. “I was just on my way to drop off some of my excess sweaters to the orphanage—they’re such little dears, you know, and everypony deserves a little warmth come winter—but what brings you here?”

“I actually just came from the orphanage myself,” Rainbow answered. “But right now I need to—”

“But why would be in the orphanage?” Rarity wondered, again seeming to be almost intentionally cutting the cyan pegasus off. Perhaps she did recognize the hint, but just didn’t want to allow Rainbow to leave without a chat first? “Unless... oh, Rainbow! I knew you had a big heart, but this is phenomenal! You just adopted Scootaloo, didn’t you!”

“I tried to,” Dash sighed, seeing she wasn’t going to get out of this anytime soon. “But they said I couldn’t adopt her unless I got married, so—”

“Married?!” Rarity exclaimed, her face lighting up. “You’re getting married as well?! I knew you and Big Macintosh always had a thing for one another, but I didn’t realize things were that serious already! Oh, this is wonderful—I’ll design you the absolutely perfect dress, free of charge, of course! Do you have a minute? I’d love to get measurements down right away—”

“Rarity!” Rainbow all but shouted. “I’m not getting married to Big Mac!”

“...what?” the unicorn uttered, deflating. “But I thought you just said...”

“I said they wouldn’t let me adopt Scootaloo unless I got married,” Rainbow explained with an exasperated sigh. “But that doesn’t mean I am getting married. Besides, Big Mac and I are just friends.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” Rarity admitted. “What do you mean ‘just friends’? I thought you and Big Macintosh were supposed to have gone on a date just last night... wasn’t Fluttershy supposed to go with you?”

“Didn’t you here?” Rainbow inquired, hanging her head, really not wanting to talk about this but knowing she had no choice. “We did, but it didn’t work out. I had to leave. And please, don’t ask why. It’s not Big Mac’s fault. It’s not anypony’s fault. I just can’t explain it.”

“Are you alright?” Rarity queried, deep concern lacing her voice. “Is something going on? If so, please, Rainbow, you know you can trust your friends with whatever you’re going through. We’re all here for you, through thick and thin, remember?”

“Thanks, I appreciate it,” Rainbow noted, giving a small smile. “But this is something I’m afraid you all can’t help with.”

“If you’re sure...” Rarity trailed off, looking downcast. “I really am sorry; I had thought you two were so good for each other. You even told me a while ago that if all went well you were going to make him your special pick to see that Wonderbolts show coming up...”

“I have tickets to an upcoming Wonderbolts show?” Rainbow gasped, pleasant surprise crossing her features until she saw the exact opposite fall over Rarity. “What, what’s wrong?”

“N-nothing, darling,” Rarity assured, trotting briskly away. “I’ll see you around, Rainbow. Take care!”

Not entirely sure what had just happened, Rainbow shrugged it off as just another notch on the weirdness of this changed reality and launched herself into the sky. She was so quick to head off towards Vinyl’s apartment that she didn’t even see Rarity bypass the orphanage completely and gallop straight towards the library.

By the time the multicolored mare reached her newfound friend’s apartment, she had had to admit to herself that she wasn’t really sure if Vinyl could provide any real help in this matter. Dash didn’t see what the off-white unicorn could do, but Rainbow supposed asking was worth a shot. Anything that bought her some time before having to face Scootaloo was a welcome distraction.

Rainbow had just raised her hoof to knock on the door when she heard the whispers again.

Is this the place?

Yes.

It shall be relocated?

Yes.

And Rainbow Dash shall not know where?

Yes.

Then it shall be so.

“What?!” Rainbow exclaimed, furiously pounding on the door, hoping desperately that she wasn’t too late. “No! That’s not fair! You can’t stop us from helping each other!”

“Who’s making that racket?!” yelled a very cranky-sounding voice from within. A few hoofsteps later, a wrinkly old donkey had poked his head outside the door, snapping “What do you want, youngster? I was taking my nap!”

Rainbow simply stared at him, agitation boiling over to anger within her. Without a word, she turned tail and launched herself back into the sky, leaving a very confused donkey wondering just what in the world had occurred.

Flying high over Ponyville, Dash scanned the citizens trotting or flying about their business below, searching for one shock of electric blue mane in particular. She didn’t see it.

“Gah!” she exasperated, zooming down and flying aimlessly through the buildings, earning quite a few odd looks as she did so. “Why does this have to be so hard?!”

At last, Rainbow had to land, finally admitting to herself that she wasn’t going to find Vinyl by simply random searching. They wouldn’t allow for that anyway; They’d probably just relocate her apartment all over again if Dash found it.

So how could she find the off-white unicorn? Wait, hadn’t the stallion who had been chatting her up said something about fliers for a rave? Maybe she could reach Vinyl at the event, unless They erased that too... but Firefly had said They couldn’t change a pony’s mind once they had caught on to Their existence, hadn’t she? And, even if Vinyl had been about to cancel the rave, she’d be looking for Rainbow as well. Hopefully, she would keep the rave on regardless of what They did to try and stop it. Like a lighthouse to a ship lost at sea, perhaps the rave could be the beacon that led them to each other again?

Rainbow only hoped that once they found each other once more, they could stay together.

But where would she find a flier to such an event? It would have had to be posted at a very public place. Perhaps Sugar Cube Corner?

Rainbow all but bolted to the bakery. There was a bulletin board inside the sweet shop where the Cakes allowed ponies to post notifications about upcoming events. With any luck, there would be a flier there.

Finally reaching the bakery, Dash made for the door before it opened and a pink blur all but ran over her.

“Dashie!” squealed the unmistakable voice of Pinkie Pie. “I’m so glad I found you! I was just headed over to the library, because Twilight wanted to call a meeting, and one of use was supposed to come and find you, and look! I found you! So now we can go over there together!”

“What?” Rainbow wondered. “I don’t have time to go to Twilight’s right now; I need to get a flier from the bulletin board!”

“Oh, you mean this flier?” Pinkie inquired slyly, pulling a sheet of paper seemingly out of thin air. She showed it to the cyan pegasus, who gasped at seeing it. Though Vinyl’s name wasn’t on it, there was a picture of her at a turntable blasting music. The caption read ‘DJ PON3 PERFORMING LIVE!’ and listed a place and a time just a few days away.

“How did you know I was after that?” Rainbow asked, incredulity and suspicion sneaking into her scratchy voice. How would Pinkie Pie know, unless... was the pink party pony somehow connected to Them?

“Vinyl Scratch came by just a few minutes ago and asked me to make sure you got one,” the earth pony replied, eliciting a sigh of relief from Dash. “She also told me to tell you not to bother looking for her house, because it’ll probably just keep moving until the rave. She said the same thing might happen if you agreed to meet up at a public place. Now why would she say something like that? Does she think buildings have legs or something? That sounds really neat! I wish Sugar Cube Corner had legs, because then it could follow me around, and I would never be too far from my supply of sweets, and—”

“Thank you, Pinkie,” Dash cut her off, taking the flier from the earth pony and memorizing the date and time before tossing it into a nearby trashcan. She had hardly been able to stand the party pony’s incessant rambling as Cloud Buster; it seemed that trait had carried over to her new life as Rainbow Dash.

“By the way, I didn’t know you were friends with Vinyl Scratch,” Pinkie noted. “Is she okay? She seemed really worried when she told me to give you the flier. She barely even cheered up when the stallion she was with bought one of my special cupcakes for her.”

“She was with a stallion?!” Rainbow gasped, the color draining from her face, and given her natural colors that was saying something.

“Yeah,” Pinkie agreed, seemingly oblivious to Dash’s distressed shock. “Speaking of which, how’s your stallion doing, Dashie? I never got a chance to ask how your date with Big Mac went last night.”

Rainbow simply groaned. She did not want to go through with this again. And, on top of that, had Vinyl slipped right back into the trap that Rainbow had just saved the unicorn from? Was her willpower deteriorating that quickly?

Would Rainbow be next?

“Dashie, what’s wrong?” the pink earth pony wondered. “Did the date not go well? Don’t worry, you can tell Auntie Pinkie all about it on the way to Twilight’s!”

Not seeing what else she could do and welcoming the prolongment of facing Scootaloo, Rainbow trotted after Pinkie Pie. She refused to say anything on the way over, but that didn’t prove to be a problem anyway. The party pony blathered on enough for two ponies, filling the silence with whatever happened to pop into her mind. Dash didn’t have to say a word.

At last, they arrived at the Ponyville Library. Rainbow hadn’t the slightest idea why Twilight was calling her friends to a meeting, but anything was better than facing Scootaloo sooner rather than later. It may have been prolonging the inevitable, but Rainbow reasoned that that was better than nothing. Perhaps Twilight regularly called meetings with the other Elements of Harmony? Fluttershy had never mentioned anything like that. Maybe one of them had a birthday coming up and this was going to be a surprise party for them? For all Dash knew, the surprise birthday could be hers. Then again, she was still the same age, wasn’t she?

The other four of Fluttershy’s closest friends, as well as Fluttershy herself, were all talking amongst themselves when Rainbow and Pinkie arrived. They weren’t jumping out from behind the furniture and there weren’t any decorations, so that ruled out a surprise party. In fact, they all looked rather worried, Fluttershy in particular. Applejack, meanwhile, simply tried her best to avert her eyes from Rainbow’s gaze.

“Rainbow’s here!” Pinkie Pie called cheerily as she bounced into the room and took her place amidst the circle of friends.

What? Why would Dash’s appearance be announced?

“We’re glad you could make it, Rainbow Dash,” greeted Twilight Sparkle, motioning for the multicolored mare to join them. Uncertain, Rainbow reluctantly complied, taking a seat next to Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie, the two ponies she knew the best. She had known Fluttershy since nearly forever, and she had been hoping to get to know her even better before all of this happened. Hopefully that could still happen if Rainbow—no, when Rainbow reset this version of reality. As for Pinkie Pie, well, everypony in Ponyville knew Pinkie Pie. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

“What’s this about?” the cyan pegasus inquired, feeling nervous. Why were they all gathered for her?

“We’ve all heard about how your date with Big Macintosh went last night,” Twilight answered. “We know it’s your business what happened between you two, but we’ve all had to admit that we were rather surprised to hear you left the date so early. You used to talk about Big Macintosh all the time. But that’s not the only thing; you’ve been acting different in other ways. You’ve got us all worried, Rainbow Dash, and as your friends we’re here to help in any way we can.”

“Is this supposed to be an intervention or something?” Rainbow wondered with a sigh. She welcomed the distraction from Scootaloo, but she did not need to come up with yet more lies to hide the truth, which would undoubtedly label her as crazy.

“Not unless you’ve become addicted to something,” Twilight responded, sounding genuinely concerned. And why shouldn’t she be? To the other Elements of Harmony, Rainbow was one of their best friends. Dash knew that she would have been worried if one of her friends had acted like she was now back when she had been Cloud Buster. “Is that why you’ve been acting so strange?”

“What’s so strange about me not wanting to date Big Mac?” Rainbow wondered, pondering how she would get out of this situation. “I changed my mind; it’s as simple as that.”

“We can understand that,” Twilight stated, glancing at Applejack, who still refused to look at Rainbow. It seemed the farmpony did still cared for the cyan pegasus, though, as she had come here in the first place. “But Rarity tells us you forgot you had tickets to the upcoming Wonderbolts performance. That has to be a sign that something’s wrong; we all know you’d never forget something like that.

“In fact, I’ve been doing a little bit of research on your recent behavior,” Twilight went on. Her horn lit up, and she levitated a book over from a desk, opening it in front of her. Rainbow managed to catch a glimpse of the cover. It was a catalogue of... behavioral disorders? They thought she was sick? “And, after careful analysis, I think I’ve discovered that you may be experiencing something called ‘acute affection apathy.’ It’s a rare disorder, but sometimes it crops up when a pony is entering into a relationship. It happens when somepony is so afraid of commitment that they become disoriented, and deny that they were ever interested in somepony, claiming to feel the opposite about them. It can even affect other areas of their lives, making them feel the opposite about things than they usually would.”

Rainbow did not like where this was going.

“Are you saying I’m crazy because I don’t like Big Mac?” she asked.

“No, we just believe that what happened recently with Big Macintosh, as well as how you’ve been acting in general, is the result of an unfortunate condition you may have developed,” Twilight answered, smiling encouragingly, but with worried eyes. “So, in order to help you in this situation, we’ve contacted an expert on all things related to love and affection.”

Who said anything about love? Rainbow thought. It was just a date! And who in the world could be a ‘love expert?’

“We know you’ll be hesitant to accept this help, Rainbow,” Twilight finished. “We know you’re too independent for that. But we’re all really worried about you. So, for us, will you please do this? If you don’t have this condition, and we hope you don’t, then our expert will simply confirm that. Plus, it gives me a chance to use the latest spell I’ve been working on.”

Rainbow really, really wanted to say ‘no.’ Out of all of these ponies, she was really only truly friends with Fluttershy, whatever the others thought in this version of reality. However, if Rainbow did refuse this help, then it would look like she was turning down Fluttershy’s help as well as the rest of the Elements, and that was something she couldn’t bear.

Reluctantly, and reflecting with much annoyance on how much she was having to concede things recently, Rainbow nodded her head.

“Excellent!” Twilight exclaimed, beaming. “I’ve been waiting for a reason to use my portal spell.”

Portal spell? How far away did this ‘love expert’ live?

Twilight’s horn sparked and shone with more magic than Rainbow had ever seen a unicorn use before a burst of light erupted from its tip. The light swirled into the center of the room and spun faster and faster, finally growing almost blinding in its brilliance. Finally, with a final flash, reality itself seemed to be torn open.

Out of the portal trotted Princess Cadance, alicorn of love.

. . .