• Published 23rd Dec 2011
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A Bluebird's Song - Ardensfax



Rainbow Dash is struggling against her own past. Is it time for her rising star to fall?

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To Catch A Bluebird

A Bluebird’s Song

~~~
Your mind will find a way
To be unkind to you somehow
But all we really have
Is happening to us right now
~~~

To Catch A Bluebird

“So, what do ya want me to do?”

It was the next day, the morning wearing swiftly onwards. Twilight had been up practically with the sunrise, excited for the upcoming test, but it had taken her the best part of an hour to rouse Dash and to get her out of bed. She had not minded, though. Having the pegasus in her bed at all was compensation enough for her morning apathy.

Currently, they were standing together in a large, overgrown field a short way outside Ponyville. The morning mist was dispersing around them, and the last of the dew clung to their hooves. Twilight knew that Dash would probably be up in the air a lot, unable to keep her warm, so she had taken the useful precaution of bringing along a hat and scarf. Dash was standing a short way from Twilight, in an area of the field where the grass had been magically flattened to create an ad-hoc takeoff zone.

Twilight had a clipboard and a few bits and pieces of portable lab equipment lying in the grass beside her, although she doubted that she would need them today. For the theory she was testing today, eyes alone were more than adequate. “Okay,” she replied, “I need you to spread your wings and hold them by your sides. You might need to align the magic field with the ground, and that should do it.”

Dash nodded, not quite understanding what a magic field was, and why it needed aligning, but deciding not to ask questions at that moment. She stretched her wings out by her sides, locking them into a horizontal flight position that she usually used for gliding.

“Good, now this might sound weird,” Twilight paused for a second, unsure how Dash would react to this request. “I’d like you to try to take off and hover without flapping.”

Dash blinked. “You what?”

“Try to take off without flapping your wings,” Twilight repeated, then tried to explain her reasoning a little. “Remember that the flapping was never necessary, it was just a kind of shorthand that your brain used. It connected the motion to the magic. If we can eliminate the motion, then the magic won’t be limited anymore.”

“I’ll have a go…” Dash did not sound at all convinced. Twilight sighed. It was obvious that the pegasus was not expecting to get a single hoof off the ground like this. She knew full well that as long as Dash believed that this would not work, she would get nowhere.

It was not for lack of trying, however. Dash pressed her eyes shut, and suddenly locked her legs, physically straining upwards with her neck and back. Up! Go up! she thought, with determination. She concentrated as hard as she could on levitating herself. A few moments later, she opened her eyes, breathing heavily through her nose. All four hooves were still firmly planted in the flattened grass.

She tried again, trying to push herself upwards, as Twilight watched apprehensively. Eventually, after a few minutes of huffing and puffing to no effect, she stopped and shook her head.

“I’m not exactly going places,” she remarked, dryly.

Twilight rolled her eyes. “What exactly were you thinking when you were trying to hover?”

“Uhh, ‘up’, I guess.”

“Do you normally think ‘up’ when you’re taking off?”

Dash raised one eyebrow. “’Course not. I just flap and off I go.”

Twilight pawed the ground in mild frustration. “I can't say I hadn't expected this, but still. That’ll make things tricky. The wing motion’s so connected to the flight by now that it’s become instinctive. The same’s probably true of all pegasi. Try taking off using your wings like normal, but pay attention to what you’re thinking.” She was a little worried that Dash’s patience would run out before they reached any useful conclusions, but the pegasus gamely flapped a few beats of her wings and effortlessly took off.

Dash hovered there for a moment, her wings beating, apparently replaying her thought processes for the last few seconds in her mind.

“I don’t even have to think about it! I just flap, and the wings do the rest,” Dash said, irritated, still stationary, a few feet off the ground. “Sorry, Twi’. I dunno if I can do this. I’ll keep trying, though.” She alighted softly back on the ground, her head hanging in dejection. “I’ve always been the athlete, you’ve always been the brain. Now you’re telling me that I need to do all this… this brain stuff. I couldn’t analyze my way out of a paper bag, ya know that as well as I do!”

“But you know your own brain, surely!” Twilight exclaimed, then let her voice drop, reassuringly. “Look, maybe we’re going about this the wrong way. I think that flying’s all about confidence. If you’d just trust yourself, the rest should happen on its own.”

Dash sighed. “I wanna trust myself, Twi’, but I spend my entire fillyhood around ponies who reckoned I was useless. No matter how big a loudmouth I was, that’s still gonna knock a hole in the self-confidence. No matter how I might’ve behaved, no matter how well I do, those ponies were always in the background. They still are. He still is.”

“And they’re wrong!” Twilight replied, insistently.

Dash closed her eyes for a second. “Hearing that from you, Twi’, it means something. Maybe it’ll make enough of a difference.” She smiled weakly at Twilight. “Don’t worry, I do know that this’ll be worth it if it works. I’m gonna try again.”

Twilight smiled back, but was still a little nervous about the side-effects of her experiment. It was obvious that failing in this way was opening up old wounds in the pegasus, letting in old doubts. She admired Dash’s bravery for opening herself up to her memories in this way, but hoped that it did not trigger a relapse of depression. After all, the pegasus’s state of mind was still fragile. Why are you letting her do this? If she goes downhill again it’ll be your fault!

“Dash!” she called out, overcome with a sudden burst of worry.

“Huh?” Dash had taken up position in the flattened area again, when she heard Twilight’s voice.

“I’m not sure we should go through with this.”

“Why the hay not?”

“It’s hurting you, I can see it is. This was always going to take a long time, I never expected you to get it first try. I just don’t want you to start thinking you’re a failure again because of that.”

Dash walked over, looking her in the eye. “I won’t,” she promised, gently. “Failing might not be fun for me, but I’m not gonna mess myself up like that again. Besides, I’ve got you now. I can’t be all that much of a failure if I’ve got somepony like you for a marefriend.”

Twilight smiled, blushing at the compliment. “You know, Dash, you really are sweet.” She kissed the pegasus lightly on the cheek.

“Maybe I am, but don’t you go tellin’ anypony,” Dash replied, giggling and returning the kiss before walking back to the takeoff area. Twilight decided to take Dash’s word for it that she would be alright, although she still somewhat guilty.

Dash stood still in the centre of the circle, and closed her eyes, flaring her wings. This time, she did not strain her muscles or her mind. Instead, she tried to invoke the feeling of freedom that shot through her whenever she took to the air. Come on Dash. You can do this.

She purposefully relaxed, imagining the feel of the wind in her mane, feeling that easy, assured confidence flow through her.

For a moment, she could feel the soaring euphoria that built steadily within her as she flew, and swore that she felt herself become lighter, the pressure of her hooves on the ground lessening a little.

I can do this. The wind was plucking at her outstretched wings.

I can do this. She felt as if the ground was pressing her upwards, repelling her, but she still did not have enough lift to take to the air.

I’m still here, Dashie. That’s why you’ll never be able to do this.

Suddenly, it was not her voice inside her head. It was her father’s. She could smell the ghost of the acrid tang of Old Thunderhead whiskey filling her nose. Furiously, she redoubled her efforts.

No! You’re wrong! I’m gonna prove you wrong!

In that moment, the sense of lightness vanished, the ground was no longer pushing at her, and her euphoria drained away. Any progress she had made was suddenly gone. She had come so close, but her bitterness had stopped her yet again.

I’m still here, in your head. I’ll always be here.

She knew where she had gone wrong. She had promised herself that she was not doing this for her father, not trying to show up his errors of judgment. She was doing this for her, but that had slipped in a moment of stress and brought her back down to earth.

I’m right here, Dashie.

Just like he had promised, all that time ago. He was there. He was haunting her. What if he was right? What if he always would be there, eating her from the inside? Her eyes drifted closed, and she sank to her knees, shaking uncontrollably. She saw Twilight begin rushing fearfully over to her, but it was too late. She could not stop herself from falling down into her memories. The world went dark, and suddenly she was somewhere else. Somewhere long ago.

*

“Let me in, I’m family.” The words hurt; they felt like red-hot coals on her tongue. They weighed her down.

The guard stepped aside, keys clinked, doors opened.

The reinforced walls were cold to the touch, not springy and light like ordinary cloud. The cells beneath Cloudsdale police station were built for functionality, not comfort. A few bare candles dotted the walls in brackets, illuminating the yellowish walls and metal bars with a hazy, flickering light.

The row of cells was short, with six on either side of the aisle, a grim-looking police-pony standing vigil at the entrance. A few drunken slurs and addled propositions met her ears from a few directions, but she ignored them, and her eyes were drawn to a cell on the left, almost at the far end.

“Over here,” a gruff voice called, resignedly.

She felt a familiar tightening in her chest at the voice, and walked down the row, keeping her eyes straight ahead so they could not betray her. She looked into the cell, through the narrowly-spaced bars in the door. The stallion lying on the floor within was a mess, one eye purple and bloodshot, the other drooping and shadowed with an obvious hangover.

“Why’re ya here?” he asked, his voice rasping, a rough Manehattan accent just distinguishable through the haze of drink and tiredness. “Need a laugh? It’s not nice to kick a stallion when he’s down.”

He chuckled throatily and humourlessly, but it turned into a hacking cough. He turned to face her on the floor, gesturing to his swollen eye. “Like it? Courtesy of some bastard down the bar last night. Heh. Should see the state of his face. Took three guys to get me off him, but they didn’t get there fast enough.” There was a note of something close to pride in his voice, that made the bile rise in the young mare’s throat.

“So that’s it?” she asked, contemptuously. “That’s what ya got yourself done for this time? A bar fight?” She laughed, equally mirthlessly. “Even for you, that’s low.” She shook her head. Earlier, she had let her mane down from the bunches she usually kept it in, and it whipped from side to side. The stallion followed it with his eyes.

“Ya got that mane from your mother,” he said, voice almost wistful, “I mentioned it to her when I first met her. Never seen nothin’ like it before or since ‘till you came along. And ya know what, Dashie?” He leaned forward, grinning. “You’re just like her, too. Call me low, go on, say it again. Make yourself feel all better. You’d never dare if this door wasn’t between us, and you know it as well as I do. Just like her. She never dared tell me what she thought of me. Put it all in a note instead.” He snorted. “So. What brings ya here? Come to bail me?”

Rainbow Dash was barely fully grown, her wings only having reached their full span a few months back, but she knew what she wanted. She knew how she could get it. She had come here today to put her demons to rest.

“Bail you?” Her look was one of incredulity, but she forced herself to remain calm in the face of such nerve. Her voice was low. “No. I’m her to tell you that you’ll never see me again.” She walked close to the bars of the cell, speaking slowly and purposefully, each word measured. “You think you’re cruel? I can be just as cruel. Look at yourself. I’ve left Flight School. I’m leaving Cloudsdale. I just wanted you to know that I’m gonna have a good life.

She smiled, but there was no emotion in her eyes. “This is the last time you’ll ever see me, and it’s how I want you to remember me. You’re the one on the floor, locked up, beaten up, slowly killing yourself. I’m the one looking into your cage, looking down on you, and telling you that you’ve failed in the one thing you’ve really tried to do in the last few years; make my life a bucking misery. Goodbye, Dad.”

Dash turned away, and began to walk back towards the door, but her father called to her from his cell. “Maybe you’re right.”

Just keep walking, don’t turn back, don’t listen. You’re free, just go!

But she could not prevent herself from hearing as she walked away.

“Maybe I’ll never see you again. But you’ll see me again. I can see how much you hate me, I can see how much you care. Remember all the bruises, all the little white lies at school? Remember your ma? Before she went? She always told you that burn on her face happened to her accidentally, when she was ironing, didn’t she?”

He barked out a short laugh, and this time there was genuine, sickening humour there. Dash had reached the door now, and signaled to the guard on the other side to let her through. “Such a kidder. But you? You want me to fail, oh, you want it so badly, you want to rise so high just to imagine the look on my face. But you know what that means? You can rise as high as you want, Dashie, but you’ll always see my face. If I rot away in here, if I drink myself to death, I’ll still be right there with you.”

The door to the row of cells opened, and Dash walked purposefully through, doing her best to block him out as he yelled after her. “As long as you hate me, I’ll be right there-”

The police-pony slammed the door behind her, cutting off his last words with an echoing bang, that rang in Dash’s ears with an air of finality.

He was gone. Her father was gone from her life. She was free.

“Are you alright, miss?” asked the police-pony. She ignored him, not wanting to stay here a second longer.

Never breaking stride, she walked straight past the Sergeant’s desk, out of the front door of the station, and launched herself from the side of the cloud, taking off into the sky with a flare of her wings.

As long as you hate me.

As she flew, those words echoed in her head, but she shook them away. She paid no attention to what he had said, unaware of the trap that was closing around her, the pitfall her father had so skillfully dug waiting to swallow her up.

I don’t need him, she told herself, I can live my life like he never existed. I’m gonna prove him wrong.

I’m gonna prove him wrong.

The words that she knew so well. The words that she would come to live her life by. The words she would come to hate herself for.

*

“Rainbow! Come on, talk to me!”

Her eyes snapped open. She was lying on the wet grass, and she was being shaken. Her vision was filled with Twilight’s frantic face looking down at her. The unicorn had no idea what had just run through the pegasus’ mind, but Dash had no time to explain. She knew what she had to do.

“I’ve been wrong,” she said, simply. “I’ve been so, so wrong.” She stood, gently detaching herself from Twilight’s concerned hooves.

“Wrong? What?” Twilight was utterly confused, and still panicking, fearing that some part of her experiment had caused further harm to Dash.

“Don’t worry,” Dash said, gently, standing in the centre of the grassy circle and spreading her wings. “I’m alright. I just need a moment. You’ll see.”

Twilight did not know what was going on, but had the sense to stand back. She had a feeling that, whatever this was, it was important to the pegasus.

Dash closed her eyes, feeling the lightness flow through her, beginning in her wingtips, and spreading out to fill her entire body. It came easier this time, now she knew what she was searching for. She also knew what she was waiting for, what she was laying a trap for.

Go on, her Father’s voice taunted her inside her head. Go on, prove me wrong! Show me just how wrong I am. I know how much you hate me, so go on! Fly!

Dash did not react for a moment, simply listening, waiting for the voice to stop talking. Then, she calmly folded her wings back to her sides. The feeling of lightness was still rushing through her, igniting her. You are wrong, Dad, she thought. But not for the reasons you wanted to be. It’s taken me years to realize it, but you’re nothing to me. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re wrong or right. I never should have been cruel to you, I should never have needed my revenge. If I rise, I’m not rising despite you. I’m rising because of me.

…I forget you.

Then, her the echo of her father’s mocking voice was gone. She could still picture him, but now he was nothing but a picture, nothing but a memory, faded and tarnished by the passage of time. He was of no importance anymore. It had taken the worst part of her history, the culmination of all the bad times, the cause of it all, to finally give her the tools to defeat her own mind. Reading the newspaper article had shown her the problem. Now, after teetering on the brink, she finally had the solution. This catharsis, this purge.

It was no longer self-deception, or forlorn hope, or even self-expectation. She was truly free of him. She was free of her past. It was time to find her future.

She heard a hastily muffled gasp from Twilight. Opening her eyes again, she looked around. She was floating, at least six feet from the ground, her wings tucked tightly to her sides. The lighter-than-air sensation still filled her, and she realized that, in order to move, all she needed to do was think. With total confidence, she tucked her hooves up to her underbelly, and spread her wings out, locking them at their full extension, but not flapping them. With a thought, she propelled herself forwards, coasting up and around in a lazy, sweeping arc, following it with a series of twists, bringing herself around so that the flattened area of grass was below her again. Moving her gaze to the ground, she saw the purple unicorn staring up at her with a mixture of shock, amazement, and joy. She folded up her wings again, coming to a mid air halt above Twilight.

Well, so much for needing to align the magic field, amusedly thought the small part of her brain that was not busy shooting out bolts of euphoria at these twin rediscoveries of flight and psychological peace.

She alighted gently on the grass before the unicorn, and immediately kissed her deeply, in a moment of sheer enthusiasm. She knew that she had a fair amount of explaining to do, and that Twilight would doubtless be hugely relieved at her recovery, but all of these things could wait. She broke away from Twilight’s lips, and gazed at her for a few moment, trying to think of something to say. Nothing occurred that did not feel redundant, so she simply kissed the unicorn again, feeling Twilight smiling against her lips, eagerly and passionately meeting them, Dash’s excitement evidently proving infectious.

They broke apart again, and Dash sighed, feeling as if a great weight had left her chest, a weight that she had become so used to bear that she could only notice it from its sudden, wonderful absence.

“Well,” Twilight began, and paused, for once in her life at a loss for words.

Dash winked at her. “I dunno about you,” she said, “but I’d say this experiment’s been a great success.”

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