• 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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3. No Finer Place for Sure

The squirrel bounded away on his newly healed paws, chittering cheerfully to himself. Fluttershy watched him disappear into the woods, then settled back on her haunches and relaxed. The strengthening morning sunshine beat down on her back and warmed her wings as she stretched each of them gently in turn, feeling the gentle spring breeze ruffle the tips of her feathers. She closed her eyes and listened to the rhythms of the land: the birds singing high above, the moles snuffling far below, the distant splashing of an otter as she hunted along the river.

Fluttershy let out a contented sigh. It was so good to be back on solid ground again.

Ever since the very hour of the now-legendary Pegasus Race, Fluttershy had delighted in the company of earth-dwelling animals. They were so much easier to communicate with than ponies, with their simple concerns of food, of shelter and of... well, of continuing their line. She had occasionally dreamed of actually being a bird, flitting between intertwining branches, or a porcupine, ambling along through the leaf-mulch. Once or twice, she had even contemplated what life would have been like as one of the delicate, pink and blue butterflies whose symbol adorned her flank.

She had sometimes pondered on the unlikeliness of her having received that particular cutie mark. Butterflies don't even reach Cloudsdale – so why me? Had Fluttershy's lineage included earth ponies, it might have made rather more sense – but as far as she knew, her ancestors had always been Cloudsdale pegasi, back to the earliest days of the sky city. There were even rumours that her family's origins could be found in the very dawn of Equestria, though she had – inevitably – never managed to get her father to talk about it. If she could only get access to the archives... but that would have to wait until her birthday now.

Lost in these and other thoughts, Fluttershy only gradually became aware of a quiet presence nearby. Her eyes flew open in sudden alarm and her whole body tensed, ready for immediate flight.

"Goodness me, darling, you look as though you've seen a ghost!" said the elegant unicorn waiting politely a few feet away. She was, herself, as near to ghostly white as anypony this side of Princess Celestia, but Fluttershy felt a great wave of relief wash over her. While she would much have preferred to have been left to her own devices to spend the whole day with the local critters, at least this particular pony wasn't a total stranger who might say or do anything. She shivered at the thought.

"Oh... hello, um, Ray... um...?" Fluttershy gave the unicorn a helpless look, which was answered by a warm smile.

"Rarity. We met last week when you came to the boutique for that particularly fine silver thread. I must say, it's so good to see a pegasus taking an interest in fashion for once. Not that one should speak ill of other ponies, but some of them really are the absolute end: quite ignorant of the finer things in life and frankly not seeming to be too bothered about it. You must come around for tea one day soon, then we can have a nice talk about these things. Perhaps I can ask a friend of mine to come along and meet you, too—"

"No!" yelped Fluttershy, so suddenly that Rarity started. She recovered herself. "Um... I mean... no, thank you. You're ever so generous to invite me, and I would like to come and have tea with you – in fact, I'd be honoured – but I really don't think I'm ready to meet any other ground-bound ponies just yet."

Rarity raised an eyebrow slightly at "ground-bound", but let it pass. "Well then, perhaps later on. For the moment, it seems as if it will be just you and me for our little soirée. And my dear Opal will be there too, of course; I do hope you won't mind about that."

"Opal?"

"Opalescence, my kitten. She's very young yet, and to tell the truth she can be quite hard work to keep up with, but she really is such a sweetie. I'm sure she'd love to meet such a charming pony as you, my dear."

Fluttershy's eyes had gone wide. "You have a pet kitten? Oh yes, I'd love to meet her. I've never even seen a cat up close before." Noticing Rarity's quizzical expression, she quickly explained. "I need to stay away from cats, because I usually look after the little animals like birds and mice when I'm down here; it would give the poor creatures such a fright otherwise. But they look so cute."

Rarity smiled again. "Well then... Fluttershy, wasn't it? You may treat this as an open invitation. I would be most charmed by the pleasure of your company for tea one afternoon. But I really must be getting on soon: I have so much to do at the boutique at the moment. I suppose I'm still getting used to just how much work it is to run one's own business."

With a final toss of her immaculately coiffured purple mane, Rarity trotted off, leaving Fluttershy trying to work out whether the strain of going to the tea party or the rudeness of ignoring the unicorn's invitation would cause her the greater stress. She sighed, turned and set off slowly towards the edge of the little town.

* * *

There was a muffled crash from somewhere behind Fluttershy as she made her way over an ornamental bridge that crossed a small stream. She yelped in fright and snapped her head around, relaxing only a little when she realised just who it was who had landed so awkwardly in the dense clump of bushes.

Rainbow Dash tried her best to look nonchalant, no mean feat for a mare lying upside-down in a crumpled heap and covered with leaves and fragments of broken twig. She flipped herself upright and made a token attempt to brush the leaves away. "Heh-heh... maybe I got a little too ambitious with that descent. Hiya, 'Shy! Thought I'd pay you a bit of a surprise visit."

Fluttershy was surprised. "R-Rainbow Dash? How did you get down here?"

Rainbow rolled her eyes. "I flew down. You know, seeing as how I'm a pegasus and all. Maybe you could try it yourself sometime?" Seeing Fluttershy's embarrassment, her expression softened. "Okay, okay, I'm sorry... maybe I was just curious. You seem to come down here so much these days, and I guess I wanted to take a look around Ponyville for myself. You don't get the greatest view of a place when you're concentrating on barrel-rolling a hundred feet above it."

The ponies spent much of the next half-hour poking around the town, Fluttershy giving Rainbow the benefit of her own limited knowledge on its geography and features. Dash was delighted to discover that Ponyville contained a rather renowned bakery, though she held back from going inside after Fluttershy reminded her of the importance of a balanced, healthy diet to a would-be Wonderbolt. She was rather less happy at Fluttershy's insistence on visiting the dusty, near-abandoned library. ("This is sooo boring," she complained as Fluttershy picked through a shelf of mushy romance novels, apparently enraptured with their contents. "And what is it with you and trees? They just get in the way.")

Eventually, the conversation turned to the approaching end of the ponies' school careers.

"Oh yeah," said Rainbow with enthusiasm. "It's going to be awesome being at the Weather Factory. I've been looking forward to it for, like, months. Sure, the job's not all that great, but I can do it in my sleep, and every week I'll be hauling in the bits. And you know what I'm gonna do with all those bits, Flutters?"

"Um... maybe you could save them up for—"

Rainbow grinned. "There's this amazing Wonderbolts training course that goes behind the factory area. Loops, turns, the lot. When I'm on my break, if I'm not napping, I can watch them fly and work out how I can do the same thing... only better. I want to find out exactly what tricks they do, memorise their moves, everything. Then, when the time is right, I can show my stuff and really impress them. Though yeah, to be honest, my awesomeness ought to be enough."

"But wouldn't it be easier just to read up on their tricks and find out that way what they look for in a prospective Wonderbolt?"

"Fluttershy, I'm not an egghead. I do not read books, okay?"

The other mare let the subject drop. The redjays were singing vociferously in the trees all around, full of spring vigour and life, and she began to relax once again. It wasn't that she disliked meeting birds up in Cloudsdale – far from it – but everything felt so much better down here on the ground. Fluttershy felt that this was where she truly belonged, pegasus or not. After all, it was here that she had gained that odd but fitting cutie mark; here that she had first experienced the welling up of peace and fulfilment that had caused her to discover her lovely singing voice for the first time; here that she could spend time with, and help, so many critters; here that she could do so much good.

Here that you realised the darker side of your destiny. The thought welled up unbidden and unwanted, not for the first time. Hard as Fluttershy tried to force it back into the deepest recesses of her mind, it resisted stubbornly. Oh no, came the little voice in her head, don't think you can get rid of me that easily. I'm here for life, and you know it. No matter how pure your light may be, it will still cast shadows. Because you know what has to be done.

Fluttershy blinked away her suddenly blurred vision and tried to think about something else. She took a deep breath and was about to make some innocuous remark when her companion spoke up instead.

"What is with you today, Fluts? Are you even listening to me?"

Fluttershy looked up. "Please don't call me that, Rainbow Dash. You know I don't like it."

"Okay, okay, I'm sorry. But that doesn't answer my question."

"Um, I suppose I was just thinking about other things."

"Yeah, I could see that. You near as hay walked into ponies about four times. But why?"

Fluttershy stopped dead and looked directly at Rainbow Dash, who was too startled to respond. A few seconds passed, then Fluttershy began to speak, her voice a fierce whisper very different from the soothing sound the other pegasus knew so well.

"You think it's easy for me here, don't you? You think that, because I have it tough in Cloudsdale, I just come down to the ground so I can get away from everything?"

"Hey, I never said—"

"I'm sorry, Rainbow Dash, but if that's what you think, then you're wrong. You see this?" (Fluttershy indicated her cutie mark with a rough wing-jab.) "Have you ever even thought about what it means? What it really means?"

"I—"

"Well, let me tell you something. Last month, I was down here looking after some of my little mousey friends in the fields near one of the farms. And my goodness, I'd never seen Mrs Mouse in such a state before. She told me that—"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. You can talk to animals?"

"Yes. No. Well, kind of. I can communicate with them, but it's not like talking. It's communication on another level and... oh, it's complicated. I'm not sure I can really explain. But the point is that Mrs Mouse told me that her youngest child had been attacked by a large bird and badly injured, and she asked me whether I could help her. She said that she'd heard about my special talent, you see."

"Wow, Flutters, you're famous down here? That's awesome!"

Fluttershy threw Rainbow an acid look, all the more shocking for coming from those great, mild eyes, and continued. "Mrs Mouse took me to see her child and... and she... oh, it was horrible. I knew that I couldn't treat her injuries enough. And so I... I had to..."

Dash flew down to Fluttershy's side to wrap a wing gently around her; she didn't resist the gesture.

"It's okay, 'Shy. I understand. It was me that had to tell my dad when—"

Fluttershy thrust out her wings savagely, almost knocking Rainbow to the ground. "No. You don't understand. You don't understand at all. Do you really think that all I had to do was to tell the other mice that one of their kin had been grievously injured and wasn't going to get better? Then forget all about her, fly back up to the clouds and have a quiet evening in? What sort of an animal caretaker would that have made me?"

Rainbow fidgeted in the oppressive silence.

Fluttershy went on, her voice cracking a little now. "My destiny is to help all animals, whoever they are. And if I can cure them, then of course I will. I've managed to do that for quite a few of them since I've been coming down here. But sometimes... sometimes I can't do that. Sometimes, the choice isn't between curing my patient and not curing her. Sometimes, like with that poor mouse girl, the choice is between two ways of not curing her."

Rainbow Dash looked confused.

Fluttershy took a deep breath. "Tell me, Rainbow Dash. If you ever had a pet of your own, and you loved her as much as any dam could love her foal – but she was sick and in terrible pain, and there was nopony who could heal her... then what would you do? I have to answer that question nearly every time I visit critters down here on the ground. That is the other side of what my cutie mark means."

* * *

It was an hour or so later. The pair had spent a while munching the lush grass on the edge of town; Rainbow was self-conscious about being seen browsing like a cow and had initially refused to join in, but after Fluttershy pointed out some especially flavoursome dandelions, she had relented. After a few minutes of this, the awkwardness had dropped out of the atmosphere and the two pegasi were, once again, simply a couple of good friends enjoying each other's company.

Now, the ponies were on the move again, Fluttershy leading the way.

"Say... where are we going, anyhow?" asked Rainbow Dash.

"There's a thatched cottage on the edge of town. I thought we could go along there now. It's a nice walk."

The two pegasi continued in silence for a time, Fluttershy walking steadily and Rainbow zipping and darting back and forth in the air around her. At length, they reached the thatched cottage Fluttershy had been talking about. It was a tumbledown affair, one which had clearly lain abandoned for some time. Several of its windows were cracked and filthy, the path to the front door was strewn with stones and even the thatch itself had been left untended for so long that green shoots were beginning to sprout from it.

Rainbow flew up to investigate the roof, nudging the eaves with her muzzle and pulling back suddenly at the sound of creaking timber that emanated from somewhere inside. "Wow, Flutters," she said with feeling, "this house is a dump. Seriously, it's in one hay of a mess. Who in Celestia's name lives here?"

"Nopony," came the simple reply. "Well... at least... not yet."

Dash gave her friend an appraising look. "Not yet?"

Fluttershy looked down and shuffled her hooves awkwardly.

Rainbow's eyes went wide. "Whoa... seriously, Fluttershy? Come on, you can't be serious. I mean, it's practically next door to the Everfree Forest. And where are you going to get the money to fix the place up, anyway? Just look at that roof – it's a disaster area! And you can't even get a a job until you're done with Extra. Mr Lapel would go spare if you didn't devote all your attention to his tutoring. He just loves ponies like you."

"Yes. He does," said Fluttershy uncomfortably.

Rainbow smirked. "Notch and Flutters, standing on a cloud—"

Dash stopped abruptly as she noticed the abject look in Fluttershy's eye. There was a renewed tension in the air, broken only when Rainbow spoke again. "Hey, 'Shy," she blurted out, "what are you going to do in the summer, anyway?"

There was more shuffling of hooves from Fluttershy, then: "Um... to tell you the truth, Rainbow Dash, I'm not really sure what I want to do. But I was talking to... to a unicorn before you came along, and she told me all about her pet kitten. So I started thinking that maybe I could come down here and be hired to look after ponies' own critters for them while they... went... to places. Or something," she mumbled, flattening her ears and dropping her head.

"Yeah, whatever," sighed Rainbow, her limited patience already at an end. "I'm sure you've got it all worked out." There was a fractional pause. "Okay, bored now. I'm going home. Want to fly back to Cloudsdale with me?"

Fluttershy looked stricken. "Oh, I don't... I mean... I do... but... well, that's very kind of you, Rainbow Dash. But you see, I really can't. I promised Mr and Mrs Chipmunk that I'd keep an eye on their babies for a while this afternoon, and they were so grateful; I can't possibly let them down. And then I have to go to Froggy Bottom Bogg to check on the new tadpoles, and after that there's going to be a lovely salad party with my bunny friends. Oh, Dashie, have you ever seen a baby bunny? They're just so adorable."

And there it was. The sunrise smile.

"You know," said Rainbow Dash slowly, "maybe it would be fun to meet a few of your little critter pals."

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