• Published 25th Aug 2012
  • 11,228 Views, 559 Comments

Lost and Found - Cloudy Skies

AJ and FS are lost, trying to get home. Meanwhile Dash struggles to understand what FS means to her.

  • ...

1. Prologue

Fluttershy winced at the jolt of the chariot touching down, reluctantly letting go of the railing. At her side, Pinkie Pie giggled and hopped off their transport just as the other two chariots carrying the rest of their friends landed—with one exception. Rainbow Dash had beat the royal flight teams to Ponyville Plaza as a matter of course.

“Thank you ever so much,” Rarity’s voice chimed as they all dismounted. Fluttershy added her voice to the choir, dipping her head in thanks to the kind guards who had ferried them back home this afternoon. A moment later, following a clatter of hooves and a rush of air, the six ponies—and Spike—stood outside the library tree as they had so many times before.

“Well, I don’t know about you girls, but I’m beat,” Twilight said. “I’m just gonna head inside and see about some food—”

“You mean see about me making some food,” Spike grumbled, already halfway to the door.

“Yes, well,” Twilight continued with a weak chuckle. “Food. The after party wasn’t exactly heavy on the nutrients.”

Rainbow Dash grinned as she watched Spike slip inside the library. “Speaking of parties, I guess he’s still bummed out about the bachelor party thing.”

Pinkie giggled and hopped on the spot. “I’m so happy the wedding went so well! I mean, except for the whole invasion and the screaming and the explosions that weren’t caused by the bass when Vinyl and I found the extra speakers in the basement that they didn’t want us to use because, well,” she drew breath before breaking into a huge grin, “Explosions!”

Fluttershy cringed at the memory of that particular part of the wedding party, picking at her dress with a hoof. At her side, Applejack seemed to share the same sentiment, but expressed herself with a roll of her eyes instead.

“Yes, well, I’m sure both Cadance and Shining Armor are very thankful for that. Specifically, you reducing Luna’s wedding gift of a dozen rare crystal goblets to powder,” Rarity muttered. “At any rate, I, too, shall head home and see about getting things in order.”

“Yep, same here,” Applejack echoed. “I reckon’ we’re heading the same way then, Fluttershy?” she asked, tilting her head meaningfully in the general direction of the farm. Fluttershy nodded and smiled.

“That would be lovely,” she replied, offering a wave to all her other friends.

“Catch you later, party-pony-gators!” Pinkie chirped. “Don’t forget about tomorrow!”

With farewells exchanged, the path leading out of Ponyville proper and to the fields beyond stretched out before the two ponies who walked it. It was a path they had both trod so many times, the failing light was hardly a concern.

“Well, they sure do know how to party in Canterlot, I’ll give them that. But right now, all I want is my own bed,” Applejack said with a low chuckle.

Fluttershy giggled and nodded, eyes drifting to scan the sky out of habit. “It was very loud, wasn’t it?”

“Loud and more,” came the reply.

Their hoof-falls soon fell in synch as they walked, and a comfortable silence settled around them. At least, Fluttershy thought it might be a comfortable silence. It was hard to tell. She rarely spent time with Applejack alone, despite her cottage being closer to the farm than anything else. Even after they had both gotten to know each other better through Twilight Sparkle, they never had a common ground on which to meet.

No flight sessions, no spa Sundays; what they did have was a cozy evening walk, right now. Fluttershy glanced over at Applejack at that thought, just then realizing they had missed the crossroads that would take Applejack to her farm. They were already coming up on her cottage.

“Um, shouldn’t you—” Fluttershy began, her question dissolving into nothingness as Applejack shrugged.

“Figured I’d walk you to the door, ‘less you mind?”

“Oh, never!” Fluttershy said, shaking her head briskly. “Thank you.”

Fluttershy slowed down, coming to a halt by her mailbox. The last little stretch to the safety of her home was interrupted by a curious sight. She tilted her head and raised a brow, staring at the little flag that was raised in alarm.

“It means you got mail,” Applejack helpfully explained, grinning.

“Oh, I know,” Fluttershy said, adding a belated little smile once she realized it had probably been a joke. “I just don’t usually—I mean, I don’t get mail very often, only the letters from Doctor Stable and, well, that’s on Thursdays.”

Applejack shrugged, and indeed, what more was there to say? Fluttershy had mail. She just also had a sneaking, dreadful suspicion she knew who it was from. Even so, Applejack was giving her an odd look. A wordless question. What are you waiting for?

Not wanting to be thought crazy, Fluttershy reluctantly reached inside to fish out a single letter in a simple envelope. She caught a glimpse of the return address before she flipped it around. Of course she recognized the address and the writing both. Fluttershy licked her lips. She could feel the smile slipping from her face as she read on, her entire body sagging by the time she reached the signature at the end. Swallowing, she crumpled the letter up and tucked it under a wing.

“You okay, sugarcube?”

Fluttershy’s eyes widened. For a moment, she had forgotten Applejack was there. She stood frozen for a good few seconds before she could even begin to think how to react—what to do. She felt Applejack’s hoof on her withers.

“I’m fine,” she heard herself say. Applejack frowned, brightly illuminating the obvious lie.

“You, uh, wanna talk about it?” Applejack asked, tilting her head. “I mean, whatever it is.”

“Sorry. I should probably go. Make food, I mean,” she managed. Applejack was giving her a look. The look she expected. Sympathy. She fought to smile again, but it came out as a frown of her own.

“Right,” Applejack said, even as Fluttershy left her by the mailbox and headed for her cottage door. “If you change your mind, I’m here anytime, sugar,” she added, a little louder. Fluttershy couldn’t think of what to do except turn and nod at her as before she slipped inside.

“Hey, you’re late!” Rainbow Dash called as Fluttershy ducked her head inside the main room of the Luxury Lotus Spa. The usually brash pegasus was frowning at a rather nervous looking unicorn who was gently massaging her hind-hooves.

“Oh, sorry,” Fluttershy said, her ears flat against her head as she offered an apologetic smile. Most of her friends had already arrived, and seeing them made her feel a little more at ease right away. She let her eyes linger on where Rainbow Dash lay. Feeling better by the second, in fact.

“I, um, sort of lost track of time,” she added in a mutter. Twilight waved at her from over by the massage benches next to Dash, and both Rarity and Pinkie Pie were soaking their hooves. After a moment’s deliberation, she made for the hoof-bath next to Pinkie Pie.

“Lost track of time?” Rarity asked, looking over at her with sightless eyes. Dual cucumber slices were trained straight at her. “You’re usually never late for our spa dates, much less when it’s all of us.”

“Yes, well,” Fluttershy said, gingerly stepping into the hot water of the hoof-bath. It was impossible to hold back a sigh of relief as the near scalding water sent a tingle up each of her legs.

“Are you feeling okay? I bet you are!” Pinkie said, somehow managing to make it sound like an accusation. “You shouldn’t be okay, you should be super-duper fantastic! What’s up?”

Fluttershy shook her head and blushed ever so faintly. Twilight stared at her in a wordless question, and Rainbow Dash followed suit, arching a brow. All eyes were on her. Had they been any other ponies, it would have been a short road to panic, but these were her best of friends. It was genuine concern. When Fluttershy didn’t deny it, even Pinkie Pie had gone quiet. Had she truly looked so out of sorts?

Except, it was nothing. It was a particular old nothing that was silly, stupid, and other things besides, deserving of no sympathy. Making her friends worry about exactly that—about nothing—was mean. Especially when they had all just gotten back from Canterlot with frightening fights and a wonderful wedding, too. They were here at the spa to relax, not to listen to Fluttershy complain.

“Oh, I just, um, got a letter,” she explained, bringing a hoof out of the water to inspect it. Anything was better than having to look at her friends. “It was just some bad news. Slightly bad news,” she quickly amended herself. “Somepony I invited to the wedding couldn’t make it after all.”

“R-r-right. E-except we just got b-back from the wedding,” Twilight commented, her voice distorted by the thundering of hooves across her back.

“Right,” Fluttershy swallowed, her smile widening. “That’s why I said it was only slightly bad, right?”

Rainbow Dash burst into laughter. “She got you good there, Twilight!” she cackled and pointed. The pony trying to attend the rear hooves of the unruly pegasus frowned mightily and steadied her grip a bit.

“Ooh, logic battle!” Pinkie Pie giggled. “This is gonna get good!”

“It’s not—” Twilight began, but Rainbow Dash’s peals of laughter drowned her out. The now-sullen unicorn rolled her eyes before closing them, resigning herself to her massage.

Fluttershy couldn’t quite decide whether or not she was glad that the attention had been diverted. There was still a lingering something, a weight in her chest from the half-truth of it all now that she had dared let it slip, but she told herself again that it was all very silly anyway. She had to believe it.

“Where is Applejack, anyway?” Rainbow Dash asked when she’d finally stopped laughing. Tears were still budding at the corners of her eyes. “I mean, she was supposed to be here. Is it no-earth-pony Sunday or something?”

“Oh, I’m an earth pony, I think!” Pinkie chirped.

“Yeah, no, you don’t count,” Rainbow Dash said.

Rarity gasped. “Oh, I forgot to mention! She sent Applebloom to say she simply couldn’t make it after all. She had a lot of work to do around the farm if she was to make it to the sleep-over tonight.”

“Aw, that’s no fun!” Pinkie complained with a pout. She bounced out of the shallow little hoof-bath with an almost disproportionate splash that nearly made Fluttershy lose her balance.

“Rather, half the time, she sounds like she does find it fun,” Rarity murmured, smiling. “But it’s a shame.”

“Well, I don’t know about you girls, but if we’re all here then, I think I’m going to hit the sauna,” Twilight announced, staggering to her hooves. Fluttershy nodded at that and gingerly stepped out of the water to follow the others, happy to leave her worries all behind.

Fluttershy nudged the door to her home open with a hoof. She felt delightfully relaxed and recharged, a warm glow suffusing her; the result of a morning spent at the spa in good company. She felt at peace.

It lasted until she passed by the rubbish bin by the door. Of course the letter wouldn’t have gone anywhere. It would be resting underneath the empty box of bird feed she’d put on top of it just so she wouldn’t have to look at it. All the same, she knew it was there, and that was enough to poison the moment.

What was there to do? She had spent the better part of yesterday contemplating exactly that. The letter wouldn’t go anywhere. It was just that for the first time in her life, what it represented didn’t scare her quite as much. She felt as if though she could do something, she just couldn’t think of what. That desire to act, that was what was truly scary, and it sent her straight back to square one.

Fluttershy swallowed and looked around the room for a distraction, desperate for something to busy herself with, but there was nothing to do. She’d taken care of feeding all the little animals before she left this morning, and she’d cleaned her entire cottage before she went to Canterlot for the wedding with her friends. Her earlier plans to relax with a good book seemed silly, now. Even Angel Bunny was out and about somewhere, leaving the cottage an empty and lonely place.

Resisting the urge to dig through the trash to read the letter one more time, Fluttershy turned on the spot and walked back out the door. Outside, the sun was nearing its zenith, the birds were singing, and a group of otters were playing in the small brook that passed by her home. She spread her wings and smiled, basking in the sunlight. At least the animals were happy. They knew exactly what they wanted.

Her eyes fell on the edge of Sweet Apple Acres. It was rather impossible not to look, of course—the huge orchards were practically across the road, but with them came a remembered promise. Anytime, sugarcube. It was so very tempting to pretend she thought it was an idle promise. To pretend they were words said because Applejack wanted to be polite, and then go back inside and not have to treat it as an option.

Fluttershy knew better. Applejack wasn’t the type of pony to say anything except exactly what she meant. Half unwilling, her wings lifted her up into the air and carried her over the treetops of the apple farm. Applejack hadn’t been there at the spa, so perhaps she could talk to her about it without feeling silly. It would be odd to raise the same issue to one of her friends for the second time.

It was a nice and bolstering thought, even if she knew it would never work. She’d entertained the notion of telling Rarity before. Every time the silence settled during Rarity and Fluttershy’s weekly pedicures, she knew she should ask her advice, just like she knew Twilight’s door was always open, and Pinkie Pie would Pinkie Promise to absolutely never ever tell.

Within minutes, the farmhouse, the barn, and all the other structures that made up the farmyard of Sweet Apple Acres came into view below, and Fluttershy started her descent. It was not before she spotted Applejack that she realized her mistake.

She was busy, of course. Applejack and her brother were both hard at work moving barrels off a cart and into the large red barn while Applebloom watered a small artichoke patch nearby. Fluttershy flapped her wings a little faster and made to turn; Applejack had missed out on the spa date because she had work to do. It would be so very rude to intrude.

“Howdy Fluffer’fy!” Applebloom called around a watering can securely gripped in her mouth before putting it down. “Hey sis! Fluttershy’s here!”

Fluttershy grimaced and slumped. There was nothing for it, then. Slowly she descended until she alighted in the middle of the farmyard, nervously steepling her hooves together. It would be even more rude to bolt off without another word.

“Oh, hi,” she said, offering Applebloom a smile. The energetic little filly nodded in greeting just as Applejack walked up to join them.

“Howdy,” Applejack said. She let the hefty barrel she was carrying slide off her back, steadying it with a hoof. “What brings you around here? Come to help?”

Fluttershy lit up. She took in the busy yard and all the chores that promised a sure, if laborious, way out. “Oh! Yes, that was what I was doing! I was, um, coming to help!” she said, straightening up a bit.

“Yeah, that was a joke,” Applejack chuckled, reaching out to nudge her sister on the flank. “Applebloom, those artichokes won’t water themselves. Get to it!”

“Yes, ma’am!” Applebloom responded with a salute before galloping back to the vegetable patch. Fluttershy watched her go, shaking her head at the fast-paced farm life. Everypony was always bustling to and fro every moment of the day.

Usually, anyway. Applejack was standing very still, frowning at her. It actually made her a little uncomfortable. Fluttershy rubbed a front leg with the other and cleared her throat. “I mean, I don’t mind. I could probably, um,” she glanced about. “I could tend the flowerbeds? I have plenty of herbs back home—”

“Uh-huh,” Applejack hummed. “This about last night then?”

“No,” Fluttershy said, though it was good as an admission given how quickly she spat the word out. “But you’re very busy, anyway!” she added. “I mean, you wouldn’t have missed out on the spa date with Rarity and the rest of the girls unless it was really important, and—”

“Yep, sure am busy,” Applejack interjected, trotting in a half-circle around Fluttershy to nudge her on the rump, setting her walking towards the farmhouse. “I got dozens of chores needing to be done before sundown, and not a single one of them can wait.”

“Exactly!” Fluttershy agreed, glancing over her shoulder even as she was being force-marched through the door and into the empty but spacious dining room of the farmhouse. “So—”

“But some things’re more important,” Applejack finished, disappearing into the kitchen. “Cider?”


“That’s a yes,” came the reply, and that was apparently that. Fluttershy reluctantly took a seat by the table, hiding half her face behind her mane out of habit. Truth be told, she was thirsty after steaming away in the sauna.

Soon enough, Applejack trotted back in carrying on her back a tray laden with two bottles of the Acres’ own cider as well as two slices of apple pie. When she slid the tray onto the table and took a seat opposite of Fluttershy, it was with an expectant smile.

“So, out with it. How can I help?”

Fluttershy opened her mouth and closed it again. There were a lot of things she could say, and a lot of ways in which she could say them, but if she were to be thorough, it would begin with a simple truth: she couldn’t. Applejack couldn’t very well help.

“Fluttershy?” Applejack asked, tilting her head.

“It’s not... that kind of problem. I’m not sure there’s anything you can do, really,” Fluttershy began. What had she been meaning to do here anyway when Applejack couldn’t help? Burden her with her own problems?

“Well, I sure as sugar can’t do nothing if you don’t tell me what’s up, no,” Applejack agreed. “What’s in the letter then?”

“It’s—it’s nothing,” Fluttershy stammered. “I mean, it’s not really the letter, and you—I mean, you can’t really fix it. I, uh, threw it away, and like you say, you can’t really fix it if I can’t—”

“If you won’t tell me, no,” Applejack interjected. She leaned a little closer over the table with such a sympathetic and forgiving smile that it made Fluttershy’s failure all the worse. There it was again, the unconditional kindness that made her sick to her stomach.

“I think I should go. Um, thank you for the lunch,” she squeezed out, stealing a glance at the untouched pie and cider both before making for the door. “I’ll see you tonight!”

Applejack bit down on another corn stalk before throwing it into the cart. It wasn’t nearly as satisfying as the rapport of hooves on a tree trunk. She missed that solid thunk of applebucking every time she was annoyed.

Not that she was annoyed; she was puzzled. If there was such a thing as a distinction between the two, anyway. She bit down on another stalk and added it to the load she pulled. Of course she knew the source of her puzzlement; it was simple. Fluttershy had gotten some bad news, but she didn’t want to talk about it. It was hardly news that the timid pegasus would keep personal troubles to herself. What was new was that she seemed to want to talk about it.

Except she didn’t. Therefore, frustration. A certain trek up a mountain with a dragon on top sprung to mind. Back then, last year, she’d had a problem to work with. Fluttershy was afraid of going up the mountain, and she needed to go up the mountain. Simple. Apply force. Everypony wins. Applejack snapped another corn stalk off and snorted.

“You know, I think I like it better when you’re bucking apples,” Rainbow Dash’s voice called out from above. The rainbow-colored mare was hovering in the air, glancing about as her wings lazily flapped to keep her aloft. “What am I supposed to do here, nap on the ground?”

“Well, t’aint applebuck season just yet,” Applejack retorted, rolling her eyes. “How about not using the trees to sleep in at all?”

“Now that’s just crazy talk,” Rainbow Dash giggled as she swooped down to land at her side. “So, you’re coming tonight? Sleepover at Twi’s, remember.”

“Yup,” Applejack affirmed. Lean, bite, snap, flick. The cart was getting full.

“Cool. Just checking,” Dash called, making to take off. Applejack held up a hoof, her foreleg faster than her brain by a second. The pegasus paused mid-crouch and gave her a questioning glance.

“You’ve known Fluttershy for a long time, right?” Applejack asked, wiping her muzzle with a leg.

“Uh, yeah? Since we were little fillies. Why?” Dash tilted her head.

Applejack shrugged and wiggled out from under the yoke of the wagon before stretching every muscle of her aching body, leg by leg. Dash tapped the ground meaningfully with a hoof as she waited, but Applejack took her time, only now catching up to what the real question was.

“How do you get through to that pony?” she finally asked.

Rainbow Dash scratched herself behind an ear. “Right, you do know she’s your friend, too? What’s up? You fighting or something?” she suddenly narrowed her eyes and lowered her head. “Did you say something mean to her?”

“Whoa, R.D., don’t spit your bit there,” Applejack snorted. “Nothing of the sort. Just wondering. I don’t know if it’s my secret to tell, but yesterday—”

“Oh, the letter or whatever it was?” Dash asked, lighting up in understanding.

“She told you about that?” Applejack blinked.

“Yes? Well, sort of? Didn’t seem like a big deal,” came the reply with a shrug. “She’s not a foal, AJ. She’d tell me if it was big. She always does.”

Applejack nodded at that. It was of course true. It was probably insulting to insinuate that Fluttershy couldn’t handle herself. Yet even so, it was impossible to quell the urge to fix. When she was presented with a problem, it was only natural to want to fix it.

“Yeah, well, might be it’s different this time,” Applejack murmured. “I just don’t know how to make right something when I don’t rightly know what the problem is.”

“Exactly,” Dash agreed, splaying her hooves. “What can you do? I mean, that’s impossible without, I don’t know, magic.”

"Heh, magic," Applejack repeated.

“Well, yeah,” Rainbow Dash said, chewing her tongue as if she only now truly considered it. “I don’t know, Twilight has a spell for everything. I mean, that pony made a spell to make bean sprouts disappear!”

“And you reckon’ she has a spell for fixing up any problem. Yeah, uh-huh,” Applejack laughed. “Tell you what, I’ll check with Twi tonight, and I’ll make sure to let her know it was your idea.”

Rainbow Dash blushed and blew a stray lock of her mane out of her face. “I’m not saying—”

“Just did,” Applejack pressed, grinning. “Think she can fix Granny Smith’s hip while she’s at it?”

“Whatever,” the pegasus snapped, shooting off into the air and leaving Applejack with her corn cart.