• 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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2. To Wonder, Lonely, on a Cloud

Surprisingly, the house wasn't empty. Fluttershy could hear faint music coming from the record player in the living room and called out a greeting. When that went unanswered, she turned to the mailbox, squinting in the deepening orange glare of the sunset, and picked out the day's delivery: two sealed scrolls, a flyer for Mac's Fruits and a copy of the Cloudsdale Courier. The flyer was pushing apples, as usual; the newspaper headlines were about industrial production, as usual. Both of the sealed scrolls were addressed to her father.

Fluttershy sighed gently and clamped her jaws carefully around the pile, taking it inside and closing the front door so quietly behind her that the latch barely even clicked. Once inside, she set the items down on a small side table. "Father," she said softly from the hallway, "there's some mail for you."

She waited a few moments. Again, there was no answer. She picked up the mail and went into the living room, where her father was standing in the far corner; the orange-brown stallion nodded his head to the beat of the jazzy song so that his straight, copper-coloured mane shook slightly. He looked up at his daughter, whose jaws were clamped around the documents, but after a few seconds, he returned his gaze to the record player. He made no other movement, even when Fluttershy walked right up to him.

At least, not until she reached out and pressed her muzzle lightly and affectionately against his neck. At this, her father tutted once and drew away slightly. Not entirely out of reach – he was in a corner, after all – but sufficiently to make his point clear. He clicked off the record player with another tut. Fluttershy shrank back and dropped her head, placing the flyer and newspaper on the coffee table but still holding the two sealed items in her teeth.

"Just give them to me, please."

Flicker Swirl's voice was astonishingly similar to his daughter's in speed, cadence and intonation. Deeper, of course, and without the hesitancy and submissiveness that Fluttershy's speech displayed. Nevertheless, there could be not the slightest doubt that they were related. His eyes were the same colour, too, though naturally without the long, curling eyelashes.

The stallion bit away the seal on the first scroll and held it between his forehooves, reading intently but showing no sign of emotion. When he was done, he picked up the second scroll and repeated his actions. Flicker raised his head for a moment to look at Fluttershy, regarding her impassively, then turned back to the record player and switched it back on.

"Um... if you don't mind, Father... was one of those scrolls from the—?" She trailed off

There was no discernible reaction. Fluttershy opened her mouth again, then shut it and bit her lip. After a few moments more, she turned and went into the kitchen. Her throat somehow felt unbearably dry. Although she wasn't a bit thirsty, she badly needed something to drink right now.

The apple juice carton bore a bright, cheery picture of a young earth pony mare with a light blue mane and deep hazel eyes, the toothy grin on her face clearly demonstrating the benefits of apple-based refreshment. Fluttershy found herself looking into those eyes rather a lot these days – and not only because of the hazy, distant yet cherished memories they stirred within her. She also looked into them because she felt a warmth from them. They were the eyes of a mare to whom smiling came easily; to whom the world was a wondrous place filled with sunshine and rainbows.

Of course, Cloudsdale was also a place of sunshine and rainbows, but here those words represented everyday, workaday things. A pegasus might drink in the glory of her surroundings on a joy flight, but those were few and far between when there was work to be done – and in this city, there was always work to be done. While Princess Celestia raised the sun each day, it was down to the pegasi to make sure it could actually shine across Equestria.

Blue skies were fine things, but the rhythms of the land below, and the needs of the earth ponies' crops beneath that, demanded variety. Every shower, every snowfall, every raging tempest: making these things happen was the pegasi's domain. At the appointed times, of course, hammered out after extended discussion; Cloudsdale's weather strategy meetings were legendary for their dullness.

And rainbows lost their magic when a foal learned that they were mass-produced in a single, gigantic industrial complex across town which extracted the appropriate substances from the air and remixed them in just the right way to bring out their bands of colour to best effect. Unicorns might be the only ponies who could create magical rainbows, but creating this light-based kind was very much a job for Cloudsdale. A successful rainbow was one as close as possible to the last. Even the most senior Weather Factory workers groaned at the memory of those long nights during their apprenticeships, drearily plodding through the almost two thousand pages of Rainbow Construction and Maintenance: A Practical Guide.

Fluttershy poured out another half-glass, drained it, then strapped on her saddlebags, decorated with a pink butterfly on each side – these adornments had been among the first tangible products of her Extra sewing classes. Pausing for only a moment, she stepped quietly out of the open back door. Remembering herself, she immediately returned to wash up the glass before leaving once more, closing the door softly behind her.

Almost at once, Rainbow Dash dropped out of the sky in front of Fluttershy in that terrifying way of hers: arrowing down diagonally and thumping into the cloud to land on all fours at great speed. Somehow, she never ended up misjudging her descent and punching through the layers of cumulus beneath. Fluttershy squeaked and jerked back.

"Hiya, 'Shy!" said Rainbow brightly. "Wanna come and see my new trick before it gets dark?"

"Oh my... another one?" stuttered Fluttershy, trying to compose herself after the shock of her friend's sudden arrival.

Rainbow looked slightly sheepish. "We-ell... kinda." There was a pause, then she continued. "It's like that one I showed you a while back – you know, at my place? – but even more awesome."

Fluttershy managed a weak smile. She stood patiently, her mane and tail rippling slightly in the light yet chilly breeze, as her friend detailed just how much she'd improved her skills this year, how exciting it was to judge a turn with inch-perfect precision, how the Wonderbolts would probably be coming to see her soon...

She wondered, as she sometimes did, what it must be like to be Rainbow Dash: a pony who not only believed with unwavering certainty, but knew, that she was a flier in a million at least. It was hard for any instructor to tell a filly she was getting ahead of herself when she'd done something like that at so young an age. Fluttershy couldn't imagine what it would be like to have your cutie mark appear on such a grand scale – and to enjoy having that happen. She certainly wouldn't have wanted that. She was glad to have been on the grou—

"Are you even listening to me, Fluttershy?"

The yellow pegasus looked around in confusion for a moment as she was raised from her reverie, then blushed deeply and shuffled her hooves awkwardly. "Wasn't I listening? I'm sorry."

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. "Like I was saying, maybe I'll go practise some more and we can do this tomorrow afternoon instead. But I really want you there, 'Shy; you always give me such great support." She punctuated each word with a meaningful jab of the wing towards Fluttershy. "See you tomorrow, 'Shy!"

Fluttershy said nothing as she watched Dash fly away, standing motionless until her rainbow stripes faded into the encroaching gloom.

* * *

"I'm sorry, Fluttershy, but I really can't bend the rules for you again. I got into quite a bit of trouble for it last month, if I'm honest. So I'm afraid the answer is still no." The tan-coated pegasus behind the archive's reception desk had the grace to look embarrassed, unconsciously flicking away a tiny mote of cloud that had landed on her nose. Then she smiled warmly. "You only have to wait a little bit longer and you'll be old enough anyway."

"Oh... that's... that's all right," said Fluttershy, eyes downcast and body hunched. "I'm sorry for wasting your time." She opened her mouth to say more, but her words dissolved into an almost inaudible squeak as she backed out of the room, then turned tail and galloped from the building. She knew she should try to be less timid – Rainbow Dash had made the point many times, not usually helping very much – but she just... couldn't. The Corner was probably a better place to be right now, anyway. After looking all around her to check that nopony would see her awkward take-off, she took wing.

The Corner was rather poorly named, for it had no corners; indeed, no real edges: it was nothing more than a secluded area of unused Cloudsdale land, tucked away behind one of the city's many ornamental columns. It was surrounded by a small and slightly tumbledown cloud-wall, but nopony lived here. In fact, nothing lived here at all. That was kind of the point.

Fluttershy glided across the wall, almost skimming it, and touched down so gently that there was barely a puff of cloud beneath her as her hooves touched the spongy cumulus floor. I can do it! she thought for a moment, before remembering herself and feeling the hot spread of a blush across her cheeks. Nopony else was around to see her; they hardly ever were. Why would they be? To most of those few pegasi who thought about it at all, this area was a silly irrelevance at best. The city was a place of robustness, of noisy life. The Corner was a place of vulnerability, of quiet death. In so many ways, it was very un-Cloudsdale.

It was, in fact, the city's first and only bird memorial garden, though it lay unmarked, unregarded and undisturbed. There had been nothing like it before; there would probably be nothing like it again.

Fluttershy walked across it smoothly, her head held high now and her embarrassed, scared expression entirely gone. Many things scared her, some of which she'd buried so deeply within her that that very knowledge itself brought forth fear. But one thing Fluttershy did not fear was death. It had been a part of her life for too long now, a part of who she was and had become. It had not been easy; there had been pain; but now she had learned to live with the fact of it.

There were no gravestones at The Corner, for the very simple reason that there were no graves. In that, at least, the place reflected standard Cloudsdalian practice. When you lived above the clouds, there was nowhere to bury your dead – and so pegasi had always been cremated, right back to the earliest days of the city. Sometimes, their ashes were carried down to ground level and used by earth ponies to fertilise farms and market gardens. Others stipulated in their wills that their remains should be burnt at the Weather Factory, their last contribution to the city to which they owed their loyalty being to help power its greatest industrial achievement. Pegasi were not sentimental ponies as a rule.

Neither, to a greater degree than most believed, was Fluttershy. She was gentle and kind, meek and mild, and hated to see any creature in pain or distress, no matter who or what they were. She cried freely when she came across one she could not save. Yet as she walked around the garden, sparing a thought for each and every one of the hundreds of birds who now lived on in memory here, she did not cry. She smiled. And it was that same pure, warm smile that Rainbow had seen on that oft-remembered afternoon at Dash's own house; the smile of one who saw beauty in the world, even where others might see only sorrow. The smile only slipped when she reached the furthest extremity of The Corner. Here at last her thoughts turned darker as she remembered not a bird but another pony.

Fluttershy thought she could remember her mother from her infancy, though she could never be sure that she had not simply picked up what she knew of her from the few old photographs she treasured. Coral Drift's most striking physical features had been her eyes, identical in shape to her daughter's but with a purpler tinge to the irises. Fluttershy wished she had a record of her mother's voice; those who had known her said it was like liquid velvet. She had tried to ask her father about Coral again recently, but he had simply brought the shutters down, just as he always did. She was left with nothing more than a few pieces of paper and those even fewer shadowy memories.

She sat right back on her haunches and, a few moments later, the tears at last began to flow.

By the time she raised her head once more, night had fallen completely and she shuddered a little. The dark itself did not scare Fluttershy these days: her night vision was quite good and, down on the ground, she had been into animals' caves much blacker than this. She wasn't scared of caves, either: she would never forget that her destiny was to care for all of Equestria's creatures, not merely its day-loving species. The constant companion that was her cutie mark made sure of that.

No: the fear she fought to control now was a fear of the light. It was something Rainbow Dash had never understood: she, who spent so much of her free time in the day napping, had once tried to persuade Fluttershy to come on a night flight and had been utterly perplexed by her friend's point-blank refusal. But every time Fluttershy raised her head now, she would see the shadowy outline of the Mare in the Moon, that constant reminder of the literal dark past of Equestria and of the shadow that extended to the present day, of Princess Celestia's centuries-old sorrow.

The irrational fear of being alone out here and the irrational fear of the journey back fought with each other in her head, and the former emerged from the battle victorious. Fluttershy swallowed hard and set off. After a few paces, she broke into a trot, then a canter.

As she neared the house, she saw without surprise that the windows were dark and that the building stood silent and cold, and wondered again what it must be like to have a home.

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