• Published 8th Apr 2014
  • 1,144 Views, 46 Comments

Where They Understand You - Loganberry

Rainbow Dash moved to Ponyville on her birthday. This is the story of how – and why – it happened

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1. Fast Times at Cloudsdale High

"And have you made up your mind, Fluttershy?"

Cirrus Dreamer regarded the yellow pegasus calmly over the top of her glasses as she waited for a response. Doing that was nothing more than an affectation, but most of the school thought it was funny. She did, too, so she did it often, sometimes deliberately exaggerating the tic. She silently scolded herself for doing that now, but her student didn't seem to have noticed.

"Y-yes, Ms Dreamer. I... I'd like to stay on next year, please."

The teacher raised her eyebrows slightly. That wasn't the answer she'd been expecting. She had mentally subdivided the class into categories: there were ponies who just wanted to get out of school and into "a real job" in the city; ponies who were intensely interested in weather science and were sure things to go on to a brilliant research career in Canterlot or Manehattan; ponies who really didn't care too much one way or the other as long as they could fly all day... I know who'll be in that group next year, she thought wryly.

But Fluttershy... Fluttershy had never shown much of an aptitude for anything practical. Even her cutie mark represented creatures one never really saw up here in Cloudsdale, at least outside a museum or an experimental lab. Cirrus had been expecting her to choose to leave and do... in truth, she didn't really know what. But something outside school, at any rate.

"Are you sure? You can have more time to think about it if you want."

"I... I'm sure. I think. Yes. If it's not too much trouble. Oh dear. Yes. Please."

Cirrus just about managed to prevent herself from letting her inner smile show. That was Fluttershy all over; it was a wonder that she even made it to school each morning without stopping to apologise to every cloud she'd stepped on along the way. Who knows – maybe she does... Not that there was anything wrong with being kind and caring, but you could take it too far. And in a city as tough as this one, somepony like Fluttershy was just asking to have her kindness taken advantage of.

"All right," nodded the teacher, a rather spindly pony with a startling mauve coat and orange mane. She twitched her wings slightly; she could feel her pins and needles coming on again. "I'm sure you understand that I can't give you a firm answer immediately, but your academic performance has been very good recently, and so I think you can be reasonably optimistic."

Fluttershy tried not to wince at the slight, but noticeable, stress Cirrus had placed on the word academic. She knew exactly what that meant. The same thing it had meant since the moment she'd stumbled into her school career all those years ago. That she was a failure.

To the outsider, Fluttershy had a good deal going for her. She was highly intelligent and well-read: perhaps not an absolute genius, but certainly a pony who took an interest in the world beyond Cloudsdale; she could hold her own in a debate surprisingly well on the rare occasions when she was sufficiently invested in the topic. She had been charmingly modest about winning her cutie mark – though that day's other big event had rather overshadowed it in any case. She was almost unfailingly polite and tactful. She was punctual and reliable, and could be trusted to be conscientious in any tasks she was given.

She was also very pretty. Not what the coarser fillies and colts at the school might have called hot – she was a little too gawky and a lot too soft-natured for that – but pretty nonetheless. It was a gentle beauty, epitomised by that flowing pink mane, those long curling eyelashes and a pair of huge, astonishingly clear aqua-blue eyes that lit up like the first warm rays of the sunrise when she smiled.

But that heart-stopping smile was rarely seen by other ponies. And Fluttershy knew in her heart that all those qualities meant very little to most Cloudsdale pegasi.

There was a reason she wasn't a popular pony at school. There was a reason she spent much of her free time reading in the library or simply sitting alone with her thoughts on an out-of-the-way cloud. There was a reason she preferred the company of songbirds to that of her classmates. That reason rose unbidden in her mind so often now that she'd almost stopped fighting it, but it still both scared and scarred her.

"Fluttershy, Fluttershy, Fluttershy can hardly fly!"

It was cruel. It was vicious. It was heartless.

It was true.

* * *

Falling, falling, falling.

As her legs wheeled uselessly in their doomed attempt to take the place of the wings she'd forgotten she even possessed, Fluttershy remembered. Her life didn't flash before her eyes, because she didn't think she was going to die. There was a soft cloud beneath her, after all, though it was still no fun to land awkwardly at full speed, something she knew from all too much experience. She didn't really have time to think at all about what would happen when she could fall no more, as a collage of memories filled her world as the air rushed by. They were fractured and disjointed, but a common thread ran through them all.

Rainbow Dash.

She wasn't the sort of filly that Fluttershy would naturally have become close to, even had they been in the same grade. She was brash, cocksure – and, quite frankly, a bit of a pain in the rump. By the end of her first semester at Cloudsdale High, she'd managed to irritate just about everypony at one time or another, and she'd ended up getting into fights with quite a few of them. She quickly got out of those fights, thanks to her already startling turn of speed, but Rainbow wasn't exactly the most popular character in the school. Maybe that was why Fluttershy had come to like her so much: two outsiders, together against the world.

What Rainbow wasn't was a bully – and that alone set her apart from some of the ponies Fluttershy came up against. She didn't go out of her way to pre-emptively protect Fluttershy – they didn't fly around Cloudsdale tail-in-tail or anything – but she did wade in if she saw the yellow pegasus in trouble. She didn't tend to hang around afterwards, since Rainbow wasn't good at dealing with the emotional aftermath of such events, but Fluttershy knew that her friend kept an eye on her from a distance and that she'd usually be back if there was any real follow-up.

My friend, thought Fluttershy, just as she slammed into the cloud, shoulders first, with a muffled thwump. After a moment or two of shock, she picked herself up and stood uncertainly on the edge of the fluffy white cumulus, looking around wildly to check that nopony had seen her embarrass herself once again. Thank Celestia, this time everything looked all right: there were no other ponies nearby. She'd have a bruise or two from her crash-landing to add to her collection, but nothing more than that. She relaxed slightly and started off towards home, choosing the route that required the least possible flying.

As she trotted along, the curl of her mane tickling the fine, downy fur of her face, Fluttershy held on to her final mid-air thought. My friend. Her eyes filled with tears as she thought of the implications of that phrase. She knew she should be grateful to Rainbow, and she was – oh, very much – but it was so...

The filly blinked, sighed and tried to think about something else. She wasn't successful.

My friend. Not my best friend or even one of my friends, but simply my friend. There was no need to qualify the term. There was nopony else. Just Dash.

Since she couldn't force her thoughts away from the sky-blue pony, she set her mind free to go where it would. It chose to wander back a few months, to a pleasant Sunday afternoon in late spring. Fluttershy and Rainbow had been lounging idly in the latter's back yard. It was unusual for Equestrian houses to have enclosed yards, and even more so in a town where everypony could fly, but for some reason Rainbow's family's place had a small cloud-fence all around. It made Fluttershy feel safe. She felt safe with Dash.

Rainbow had been fairly quiet that day, at least by her standards. There'd still been some of her trademark loops and whirls, as though she worried that her wings would seize up if she went more than a few minutes without exercising them. But for the most part, she seemed happy to chat to Fluttershy about her obviously pre-ordained future as captain of the Wonderbolts display team.

"I've been working really hard on the Buccaneer Blaze," she said proudly, spreading her wings with pride. This was a mysterious move that Rainbow Dash had always been highly secretive about; even Fluttershy had never seen her perform it. Rainbow told her that she'd get to see it one day, when Dash competed in the Best Young Flyer contest before Princess Celestia. The annual competition was held in towns all over Equestria – long-distance travel was no problem for pegasi – but Rainbow yearned to show her stuff in her home city's mighty Cloudesseum stadium.

"Who knows?" she said. "Maybe they'll even invite me to become a Wonderbolt right then and there!" She was so pumped up by the notion that she took off again, performing a new trick involving a complicated sequence of swerves and dips before swooping back in for the landing. She caught a hoof on a stray divot of cloud, stumbling slightly as she touched down to take the shine off the manoeuvre a little. Even so, Fluttershy stomped in approval.

"Oh, that's wonderful, Rainbow Dash," said the yellow pony in that mellifluous voice of hers. Rainbow couldn't tell whether she was truly in awe of the trick or just being polite: she wasn't good at picking up nuances like that. She chose to take the compliment at face value, and bowed to her friend as though she were the Princess herself. Fluttershy giggled softly and blushed slightly.

"Thanks for being my audience, 'Shy," said Rainbow. "I need to be seen. That's the problem with the Buccaneer Blaze, I guess: I can't risk anypony seeing that one in advance – not even you – so it's kinda hard to get worked up for it. But this one... yeah, I swear I'm going to do this one in front of everypony, on the last day of school. Just to show those crummy colts what I think of them. What Rainbow Dash thinks of pathetic, puny ponies like Star Dancer!"

Fluttershy's mind flew back a few hours, to the moment she'd been shoved off a cloud-step by the leering, laughing Star. She wished Rainbow had been there then; she might not have been able to stop him in time, but at least Fluttershy wouldn't have felt so alone afterwards. And it might have been even better: Rainbow was so fast through the air that once or twice she'd managed to intercept Fluttershy before she hit the cloud layer below. Now that had been a great feeling. Almost as good as flying itself.

She found herself smiling a little and blinked in surprise before responding.

"Thank you, Dashie."

Fluttershy looked up at her strikingly-maned companion and smiled. Really smiled. Rainbow lowered her wings slowly as she felt the warmth of this gentle sun wash over her. She gazed at her friend, spellbound.

Fluttershy held Rainbow's gaze, watching the blue pony's own mouth gradually quirk into a smile of her own. She didn't seem to realise it was happening. This wasn't Dash's usual cocky grin or amused smirk; it was the simple, pure smile of happiness.

For a moment, the hubbub outside the garden fence sank to the merest whisper. For a moment, everything else in the sky melted into an insubstantial wisp of nothingness. For a moment, the air around the two pegasi seemed heavier somehow, almost liquid.

The moment passed.

Fluttershy broke eye contact and went inside to get the pair of them something to eat. She returned a few minutes later with two large bowls of hay salad, drizzled with some sort of dressing that Rainbow didn't recognise. Typical Fluttershy, thought Rainbow with some amusement. She dug in with gusto, all the same. How she did it Dash didn't know, but Fluttershy was the only pony around who could make such a healthy meal taste so good.

The two of them stayed there for an hour or so longer, chatting in the relaxed, disjointed way that good friends do about everything and nothing. Fluttershy told Rainbow about her decision to study fashion, but Dash wasn't really interested. "Come on, Flutters," she said by way of an answer, "who cares about any of that stuff? Couldn't you have chosen something a bit more, oh I don't know, interesting? We don't even wear clothes most of the time. We're pegasi. We're awesome. We don't need those things."

Fluttershy's reply about how fascinating the subject really was wouldn't have sounded at all convincing to a pony who'd really been paying attention, but Rainbow wasn't that pony. The conversation soon moved on to other matters.

* * *

As Fluttershy walked across the spongy cloud floor, all around her there was bustle and excitement. Zephyr Glide was clearing out her locker in the same all-or-nothing manner she brought to everything else; the accumulated detritus of several years' schooling was finally being disturbed, and nopony was safe. A small piece of card flew out and landed on Fluttershy's face. She picked it off, sighing slightly as she saw the Wonderbolts logo that adorned it, then dropped it into a nearby bin. Across the hallway, Ms Dreamer was supervising the final return of some textbook or other. Her words weren't quite audible from here, but the tone suggested that she was as eager as everypony else to get the year over with and put her hooves up.

Nearly everypony else.

Fluttershy went up to the door and gave a hesitant knock, which was answered with a hearty "Come in!" after scarcely a moment's pause. She turned the handle and entered the small office beyond, politely closing the door behind her. The hubbub outside sank to a dull murmur, replaced by background noise from outside: the constant hum of the Weather Factory, of course, but also the sounds that one associated with the comings and goings of a major industrial centre. Cloudsdale was not a quiet city.

"Ah, Fluttershy!" The off-white stallion hovering just in front of the room's single large window beamed at her, bobbing gently in the air as he flapped his broad wings lazily. Dust motes danced in the air as sunlight streamed in, occasionally landing on the stallion's mane. It was quite a striking mane: a rich, deep forest green for the most part, but enlivened here and there with thin ribbons of brilliant lemon yellow that had brought him a number of nicknames, some more polite than others.

"Good afternoon, Mr Lapel," began Fluttershy politely, but the teacher held up a forehoof to stop her continuing.

"Oh, Notch, please. I think we can dispense with formal modes of address now. I know you're not technically in Extra yet, but it's not as if there's any more Normal to go, is there? All that "call me mister" stuff is for mewling little fillies who have to be told what to do every five seconds. And little fillies don't sign up for a year of Extra. Young mares do that. Especially highly intelligent young mares like your lovely self, if I may say so."

Fluttershy blushed a little and looked at the floor. There he went again. Notch had become mildly notorious at the school for making comments like that to students, and although nopony had ever accused him of anything worse than a few slightly flirtatious remarks and the principal had expressed her full confidence in him, she still rather wished that the course leader for Extra Fashion had been somepony else.

Not that she had much choice in that, since he was the only Fashion teacher at Cloudsdale High. As Rainbow Dash had said, pegasi tended to shun clothing, apart from the odd sleek flight suit or pair of show-off flying goggles. Their innate hardiness meant that artificial coverings were rarely required for warmth or protection, and few had much interest in looking beautiful in a society where practical skills and athletic ability were far more highly valued.

The sound of Notch's loud, cheerful voice derailed her train of thought.

"I really am awfully glad you chose this for your Extra course, Fluttershy. I think you could do big things in fashion. Big things. I don't think I've ever come across a pegasus before who's quite so interested in this whole shebang."

Once she'd let slip that she was thinking of taking Fashion in the Extra year, Fluttershy had started to be teased about that, too: other foals would scrawl crude caricatures of her wearing the most outlandish haute couture outfits they could dream up and leave them in places where she – and everypony else – would be sure to see them. In the school yearbook, she'd been voted "Most Likely Future Supermodel" – which would have been considered a wonderful accolade had she grown up a unicorn in Canterlot, but was no such thing here. It was another way of telling her that she was a failure. As if she didn't know that already.

Still, she studied diligently to pass the necessary entrance exam and discovered, a little to her surprise, that she had a certain talent for the subject. That had at least meant that she'd had no problems getting the final go-ahead from the principal to study it in Extra. Without it, she'd have been lost, for there was no other course for which she would have had a chance in Tartarus of gaining the necessary approval. Air Sports? Storm Creation? Civil Defence?!

No; this was the only feasible option. It wasn't going to be a particularly nice year, even disregarding the inevitablity of more off-colour remarks from Notch. She might not have to go to Flight Camp any more, but that wouldn't stop the taunting about her poor flying skills. The silly drawings might even ramp up in frequency once everypony knew she was studying Fashion.

But what was the alternative? She couldn't bear the idea of spending the next year at home. Going away to college was out of the question. And she'd be rejected for any job in Cloudsdale with actual career prospects. She probably would be in a year's time, too, but at least this way she could cling on to some hope.

And a friend.

As she turned to leave Notch's room, there was a chorus of gasps from somewhere outside, followed by cheering and hoof-stomping applause. Rainbow Dash had kept her promise.

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