• Published 18th Dec 2012
  • 5,654 Views, 431 Comments

Our Time to Fly - Shokinaw



Flight and life lessons mix for Rainbow Dash, Spike, Scootaloo, and all of their friends as everpony reaches for the sky, supporting each other's dreams and hopes no matter where they may lead them.

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Chapter 1: Over the Edge

Chapter 1
Over the Edge

It was a dreary, rainy dusk in Ponyville and the weather ponies were making every attempt to keep it that way. Just one more scheduled storm and completely expected, but remained nevertheless dreary for those involved. In fact, It was all the more boring because of the constant organization of it all; a free and wild rain would at least be somewhat interesting to deal with. The pegasus ponies continued to watch from above, keeping their work in check. Everything planned and perfected for the good of all ponies, especially over the Sweet Apple Acres farmland.

Rainbow Dash had taken up the Team Captain position, as usual. There was a certain charm about her that would leave a pony listening when she gave an order. They never could put their hoof on just what it was that encouraged other ponies to step in line at her command. Maybe it was her constant push towards teamwork, or her steadfast pursuit of her goals. Perhaps it could be her headstrong and unshakable confidence that success was possible against all odds, and there was nothing out of reach. It may have simply been her natural talents and honed skills that left her as one of the fastest stunt ponies in all Equestria. Whichever mix of these admirable traits it could have been, they left others following in her wake with respect and admiration. But there was something different about her attitude this early summer eve.

While her team worked away all through the morning, trotting amidst the gathered storm clouds beneath their hooves, they hadn’t really noticed the lack of enthusiasm in their lead pegasus. It was likely that only her closest friends would know what to look for. Normally Rainbow Dash wore her heart on her flank but that was just her natural demeanor. She could hide her intentions as well as any pony, and today her heart just wasn’t in her work. It took a lot of drive to force herself awake that morning, far more than usual. A dream had set her on edge, a dream of chasing after Wonderbolts that always seemed blind to every stunt she had tried. It was only when she went to check on Tank that she finally managed a smile.

Just under her home that hovered about forty feet off the ground, built of the fluffy white clouds that held the mainstay of her work, was a small pool where her pet tortoise took up residence. Tank couldn’t join her in her home, as walking on clouds tended to be a ‘pegasus only’ kind of deal, but he always had a smile for her, even when she couldn’t manage to find one herself. Whenever she felt down, the tortoise would notice, and worked all that much harder to change her mood. His antics would soon have her wearing a begrudging grin in spite of herself. Not that he did anything particularly creative in his attempts, but Rainbow Dash was a pony that admired the effort you put into a task over the end result. Tank always put his all into everything for her. It was seeing all that heart that left that a smile planted on her muzzle, and helped her face the rest of what she knew would be the start of a very long day.

Normally she relished any chance at leadership, but rainy days had taken all the challenge out of it. It was too mundane and commonplace. The team pretty much did everything on their own. She may have been giving the orders, but it was just part of the background noise for these well practiced ponies. It was more or less just going through the motions for everypony involved. She decided to escape the banal activity under the guise of her role. ‘Supervising from above’ she called it. Go so high up, plant yourself on a cloud, and keep the big picture of the storm in view. It wasn’t a bad idea really, she used it often when she was just starting out, so it wasn’t at all out of place. Now there was no point in it though, she had become so well seasoned, she could tell right away even from the lowest point and slightest glance if something was going wrong.

Even so it was there now she sat, on a fluffy dark cloud far above it all, staring out into that great wide, blue expanse. She could hear the sky calling her. She closed her eyes, and felt the heavens all around her. The cold wind, tangling her many coloured mane and tail that held her namesake, naturally shaded to mimic the most vibrant colours of a rainbow. She felt the cold rush ruffling through her cyan fur, sending a chill to each and every inch of her body. The flavour of fresh, rain-scented air flooded her lungs, the taste of mist invading her mouth and dancing across her tongue. All at once she got that hopeless longing to be out there, the wind flowing past her wings, soaring in that great blue yonder, deep into the horizon, and all the way back to Cloudsdale.

“Cloudsdale...”

Her eyes snapped open, surprising herself with the sound of her own voice. The pegasus shook herself from the dampness that had been pervading her fur, as if it would also shake loose that hint of something missing that had sunk her spirit.

“Come on Dash, this isn’t like you! No way a Wonderbolt would let this get to them!” The pegasus looked down at her team with renewed vigor, noticing for the first time that morning, that they too were stuck in the melancholy of their workplace. It wasn’t an adventurous job, or even a job that could get her mind off stupid details of old choices, but it was still a job. The pegasi down there were still her team. A well practiced, finely tuned team whose captain was down in the dumps. Close friends or not, a good team could subconsciously feel when their teammates didn’t have high spirits, and that kind of thing can spread like a plague. She decided if that attitude didn’t suit Rainbow Dash it didn’t suit her team either. She glared at the dark rain clouds beneath, as if they suddenly turned into an opposing force.

“Lets kick this storm up a notch!”

The sudden shout from above was followed by a rainbow coloured streak and a thunderous roar from the storm cloud it slammed into. As the resulting dark mist floated away from the center of impact, it left the silhouette of the coolest pony in town with a glorious grin on her face.

“Come on team! They gave us permission to make a storm, so lets make it storm!” She let loose with a double hind hoof kick to another nearby cloud for emphasis, sending a crack of lightning to the horizon below. “Lets give these clouds some soul!”

Most of the other pegasi looked from one to another still caught in silent shock and confused at the sudden outburst.

“YeeaaaAAAGGGHHH!!”

It was a bellowed response from the most enormous, muscle bound, and ugly pegasus that ever lived. His cheer caught on, and soon the clouds rang with thunder and lightning, as a herd of ponies stampeded through them.

“I love that guy.” Rainbow Dash laughed to herself before joining in with the ensuing storm cloud trampling that sent waves of thunder and lighting below.

******

Somewhere beneath the rolling thunder a pale yellow pegasus cowered under the pillows and blankets of her bed, while a tiny bird of flame flew circles just above her with a very irate dragon glaring at her impatiently. Five years ago Fluttershy probably would have gone into horrified fits at the idea of being present in this nightmarish situation. Currently, however, the only thing that frightened her was the thunder and lightning outside her window. She let out squeal of terror as another wave of the crashing discharge was unleashed over her house, shaking the walls, leaving her dishes and pictures rattling in their own semblance of fear. She pulled her heavy blanket down over her eyes, which just comically left her rump bare and in the air as she hid, a trio of butterflies adorned the shy pegasus’ flank, and her usually neat, pink, long-flowing mane and tail were splayed out around her bundle of blankets and pillows. She managed to hide in the bed with all the prowess of an ostrich with its head in the dirt.

“Come on Fluttershy...” It was a strange childish whine that seemed out of place for the fairly lengthy, fire breathing, winged creature before her, “You promised!”

“I know but...” The frightened pegasus pony choked out quietly, “I couldn’t possibly today...I’m so sorry Spike, I had no idea the storm would be this bad!”

“Fine...” The dragon replied with a dejected tone and waving his clawed hand, dismissing the subject. He realized he was getting nowhere with this. “Come on Pee Wee, let’s head home.”

The young fire bird flew past the dragon, only to pop up unexpectedly on the shoulder Spike was least suspecting he’d use as his perch. With a slight chirp the phoenix signalled it was ready to go, causing him to chuckle a bit at the bird’s antics. Spike made his way towards the door, when with a sudden flash of lightning exploded from the sky! The shy pony that had wrapped herself in covers to hide from the storm was now somehow in front of him blocking the door, with a horrified, wide eyed expression.

“No!”

It was probably the loudest he’d ever heard the quiet pony get, but she quickly lowered her voice to her normal standards, which barely rose above a regular pony’s whisper.

“I-I’m sorry Spike, but you can’t take a phoenix that young out in a downpour this bad... its flame is simply not hot enough to protect it yet.”

“So let me get this straight, I have to stay here and not train with Pee Wee?” His shoulders slumped at the thought. Spike, uncertain whether it was by nature or upbringing, was an active dragon and almost always on the move whenever not completely overcome with exhaustion from the day’s activities. If there was one thing in life he despised, it was boredom, and it was that very problem which was looming over him now. The whole point of coming to Fluttershy’s house on the outskirts of town was because of her knack with animals. She was the foremost expert with all animals small or large in all of Ponyville, and likely for much further away than that. Pee Wee was four years old now and finally ready for pet training. At least that’s what Fluttershy had advised him last time she was visiting the library.

Now that the firebird was older, it had taken on a much sleeker look, and was half the height of its father that Spike had angered the day he adopted the young chick. There was no small amount of playful intelligence in its sparkling eyes and it always had time for a joke to play. It was these constant jokes that were driving his big sister to her wits end back home, and the moment Fluttershy mentioned the idea of ‘training’, dragon and bird were thrown out the door behind the shy pegasus as she was parting.

Fluttershy was happy to help teach him what she knew of the mythical creature, and was very excited to be able to learn more about it herself. Especially after her complications taking care of Princess Celestia’s pet of the same species.

Spike himself had grown much like his pet. Longer, sleeker, he no longer held the chubby waddle of his youth. His tail and torso had lengthened out considerably, and now this bipedal form of his had reached a more comparable in size to the teenage dragons he’d met on the migration. Even so, he was still small for one of them. This didn’t bother him so much, as he was plenty big as far as ponies were concerned.

He owed his growth to Twilight’s crazy math skills. She managed to come up with some mumbo jumbo equation that let her know how big he would get according to how much he hoarded, and then for his birthdays began making sure he’d received an exact quota of gifts that would allow him a new size. He’d spend the year getting used to the new height, size, and abilities while they both would study the new instincts that came with it. Twilight was hoping this would help curb the uncontrollable instincts that took him last time when he grew up all at once. However when he woke up after the night from his latest birthday a few months ago there had been a very new and exciting change!

Wings!

Not that he knew anything about how to use them yet. Spike, being the only dragon anypony had ever had any regular dealings with, had the disadvantage of simply not knowing what he was in for on his way to adulthood. Puberty was an utter mystery and had kept both him and Twilight Sparkle on edge, waiting for any possible changes that could lead to another rampage through their small town. This meant no pony had any idea of which abilities needed to be taught and which were natural to him. Flight included. He looked at Pee Wee with a bit of envy. Knowing when the bird could be trained, what it should learn, different techniques and abilities it could learn, all things he had cripplingly little knowledge about himself.

Right up to a few minutes ago Fluttershy and Spike had been training Pee Wee to respond to several of Spike’s commands, and Spike was learning how to respond to Pee Wee’s gestures. They were all making a lot of progress until the rain outside suddenly picked up, and the thunder sent the surprised pegasus fleeing for her bed. Spike was fairly laid back as far as anypony goes, but being stuck inside a house far from anything close to entertainment in Ponyville, with a cowering Fluttershy, and not even a chore to occupy his time was pushing his patience.

“I’m sorry Spike. I won’t be able to concentrate on you and Pee Wee in all this.” Fluttershy nudged him back the way he came towards the bed. She took this chance to shut the curtains, hoping to block out the storm visibly, if not audibly, before curling back up in her bed covers once more.

“Aww, its not your fault Fluttershy.” Spike scratched his neck sheepishly, feeling a little guilty now. He knew she was giving it her best, and this was all out of her control. He was just getting antsy about the whole situation. The storm was pretty violent, and though he hated to admit it, he’d probably be getting startled by it too if he started sitting around doing nothing. This resulted in him beginning to pace back and forth, as Pee Wee opted to choose a perch on Fluttershy’s bedpost. “I just can’t stand sitting around doing nothing.”

Fluttershy nodded in understanding, watching him begin to trace a path in her floor. Her fault or not, Spike was still feeling trapped, and she didn’t want to see him like that at all.

“How about...” She began looking around in hope of coming up with some ideas to occupy him, but there was little around the house that he could help with. He was very good at keeping things neat and tidy she knew, but she always kept her place very clean already. She also knew he wasn’t all that great with animals from the last time he tried to look after them for her, and the many small animals she kept around the house were probably already spooked with the storm. She didn’t even see her loyal rabbit around.

“...we talk?” She finished lamely.

“Talk? Talk about what?” He did stop his pacing, but it was only to give her a funny look.

“Why don’t we talk about you Spike?”

“Me? What’s there to talk about when it comes to me? Everypony already knows everything about me. Especially you, I mean, I told you my WHOLE life story on the first day we met.”

“Umm... well... yes, I mean I don’t know. Its been a long time since that day. Could you tell maybe tell me some of it again? Like when you and Twilight lived in Canterlot? ” She tried a little hopefully. “Twilight told us a bit when she hatched you, but It must have been strange to be raised by a young filly.”

“What? Twilight didn’t raise me.”

“She didn’t?” Fluttershy was honestly curious now.

“No no no, of course not. I could have sworn I told you, she was barely old enough to get her cutie mark when I got hatched.” The purple dragon took a seat on the floor, leaning back on one arm and folding his legs as he explained. “Twilight can't take care of herself now let alone back then. You’ve seen the panic attacks she gets when things aren’t laid out perfectly organized, right? Or if she’s the tiniest bit past a deadline? Well, she was ten times worse back then without a number one assistant to help out. Now imagine that combined with trying to raise any kid, let alone one that belches uncontrolled flames.”

“Oh. Then I suppose she really couldn’t take care of you... so who did?”

“The Princess. Are you sure I never mentioned anything about this?” He asked suspiciously, “This is a pretty big chunk of my life here.”

“Yes... but ummm.. you were so young, and Twilight was being so quiet , and.. well I thought you were maybe, just a tinsy bit... exaggerating?”

“Well I guess. Twilight was pretty out of it and all. She had a book on her brain the whole day, and mostly wanted to get back to studying it the whole day..I’m still surprised you thought I was fibbing though. Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I just enjoyed listening to you talk.” The quiet pegasus smiled in recollection of that afternoon. Spike was obviously enjoying the attention at the time, and she was still getting over the idea that dragons could actually talk! Normally she was the only pony around that had any understanding of magical creatures, but then suddenly out of nowhere a unicorn with a cute, lovable baby dragon riding on her back showed up.

“Alright, well it was ALL true! Its pretty obvious if you think about it. Even now hardly anypony knows anything about dragons, right? We’re a rare sight, a flying mystery, a mythic beast, a fire-breathing powerhouse, an impressive display of-”

Fluttershy interrupted his little reverie of his species with a polite cough.

“Wha-? Oh, heh, right.” Spike blushed sheepishly, scratching the back of his head with an embarrassed smile, “Well, only Princess Celestia has been around long enough to learn anything about us, and right after I was hatched she opted to be Twilight’s personal tutor. When she was teaching Twilight, she was raising me, when she wasn’t busy with royal duties. When she was, I was mostly taken care of by Princess Cadence. That isn’t to say Twilight and I weren’t close. We were even taught together in the same classes, although we didn’t have the same studies. Actually the Princess had Twilight’s first written projects about documenting me as I grew up.”

“Oh I see. So you grew up together. I guess that makes you more like childhood friends?”

“I guess so.” Spike agreed with a nod, “I was as close as you could be to Twilight Sparkle when she was a filly. We became closer after her brother joined the guards and couldn’t be around as much anymore. When Princess Celestia assigned me as her assistant back in Canterlot, not a whole lot changed. There’s a mutual respect there, even if it is kinda offset by her authority. She’s my boss after all and I’m her number one assistant. And believe me that isn’t easy.” The pride of his work shone through his features, a little puff of smoke escaped his nose as he held his chin up. Fluttershy laughed lightly as he continued to explain.

“After that whole fiasco with the dragon migration though, things are a lot more clear. We’re family as far as I’m concerned. We all are, right Pee Wee?”

The phoenix looked up from preening itself, before chirping a reply that could very well have been an affirmative. Fluttershy felt her eyes starting to water, closing them with an almost inaudible happy squeal of her own at the thought. She, of course, had heard of Spike’s big adventure following the dragons, and she fully appreciated the touching conclusion it had come to, even if she was quite glad she wasn't there for it.

“That’s very sweet of you Spike, and thank you for sharing. I had no idea that’s how Canterlot was for you and Twilight.”

“I just assumed it was obvious. It never really occurred to me that all that mothering she does, actually made it look like she was mine. If you knew her as long as I have, you’d know she pretty much acts that way with everypony and everything. I don’t even think about it anymore. I guess it is partially my own fault though” He scratched his chin in thought, "I was more than a hoof full and she got stuck looking after me a lot. I got up to some pretty wild things when I was younger and she had to bail me out a lot."

"Oh, but Spike, you were always such a good baby dragon, I'm sure you couldn't possibly have been too much trouble."

"Well, I wasn't mean or anything like that, I just.... found my way into a fair amount of well... situations." He bit his cheek as his embarrassment grew, and used his fingers to represent quotation marks as he said the last. "I had a pretty active imagination and I used to pretend to be heroes and adventurers and stuff from books. Only problem was I kept biting off more than I could chew, and in would come Twilight to save the day. As long as I've known her, she's been my hero. Nowadays she's a hero to everypony, but really I think she only got so good because I gave her so much practice."

Fluttershy giggled quietly thinking back to all the times Twilight Sparkle came running to their rescue, or went around solving Ponyville’s many difficulties. “She really is a very caring pony.”

“The best. So what about you Fluttershy?” Spike pulled a wide brimmed hat out of nowhere, followed by a notepad and a quill, and in his best impression of a newspaper reporter, continued his question, “Life before Ponyville! What was it like? The readers wanna know!”

“Oh... umm... it... it wasn’t anything special.” The pegasus answered shyly, hiding her face beneath her blankets a bit once more, reminded too much of her time in the spotlight, an experience she sorely never wished to repeat.

“Aww, Come on lady, give me something, will ya?!” Spike pestered, tapping the empty notepad with the quill, “I got foals ta fe- Hey!”

Spike was interrupted when Fluttershy surprised him by suddenly reaching over and pulling him by the spines of his neck until he lay against her side. The hat, quill, and notepad were left bouncing on the floor behind him.

“That’s better.” Fluttershy smiled. Spike didn’t know how real to life he’d sounded, and she’d gotten uncomfortable with it quickly.

“You’ve never been to Cloudsdale, have you Spike?”

He shook his head in answer

“Cloudsdale is a city on the clouds, races are held almost every day of the week. The cloud making factory is constantly flowing, expanding the city further and further. The weather ponies buzz around it like little worker bees, making rainbows, rain clouds, and wind storms. There’s never a rainy day in Cloudsdale, and pegasi fly together everywhere you look, with no earth or unicorn ponies anywhere to be seen. There’s no fuzzy friends, or birds, or any of the cute animals that run throughout our landscape up there. Many pegasi don’t even understand the concept of ‘pets’ like Pee Wee. Like Rainbow Dash, they could never picture themselves paying any attention to a something like a cute little tortoise. Its a very different place from Ponyville, or even Canterlot.”

“Huh. That makes sense, but I can’t even picture you without animals on all sides.” Spike looked down and scratched his chin thinking about it, trying to visualize the place in his mind. As if to push the point, by the time he looked back up a few birds had gathered behind Fluttershy, perching with Pee Wee on her bed frame, while some squirrels, a couple mice, a porcupine, and a lizard decided to adorn her mane and head. Spike laughed, while Fluttershy gave one of her rare wide smiles.

“How did you manage? I mean it sounds like the whole place was focused on nothing but flying fast and weather making.”

“Oh, it was horrible. I was very shy back then, nothing like now. Plus I was a weak flier, I couldn’t even fly back by myself if I fell. I had such a hard time making friends, that the only time anyone would notice me was when I would fall down, or crash. They even called me Klutzershy!”

Spike was holding his hands over his mouth trying to hold in his giggling and avoid the glare that sullied his friend’s expression. Spike couldn’t figure out which part was the more comical, ‘Klutzershy’ (he was always a sucker for puns) or trying to picture the pegasus more shy than she was now. Somehow he managed to swallow it all back down. After confirming he had managed control his fit of giggles her features softened and Fluttershy continued.

“I was so bad at flight camp, they were on the verge of failing me permanently. I really couldn’t find anywhere that I could fit in or belong. It was all very humiliating, then out of nowhere-”

“Rainbow Dash!” Spike interrupted, knowing what was coming and well aware of how they got their cutie marks. “Is that when you two first met?”

“Mm Hmm!” Fluttershy nodded, smiling a bit at the mention of her stalwart defender with such excitement. “Rainbow Dash, the flying prodigy of Cloudsdale, was standing between me and my classmates at flight camp. I never met her before, but she landed with a flourish and told those foals off so fiercely! I never had anyone stick up for me like that before. You already know the story about the race, and how it went, but Cloudsdale wasn’t finished with me. Even if I wanted to be finished with it. I knew where I wanted to be after that, where I belonged. It was down here on the ground, with all these adorable creatures, but getting down here, and staying down here wasn’t easy. Its a long way to Cloudsdale from the ground, an hour’s flight for most ponies.”

“An hour? But you said it only took a few minutes to fall to the ground when you got your cutie mark!”

“Falling and flying are two very different things Spike. Rainbow Dash makes it look easy, but most pegasi would have nightmares of ever entering free fall from the sky to the ground. I know I have. “ She frowned, trying not to recall those particular dreams of her youth. “Freefall is very much faster than a pegasus flying as hard as they can. Pulling out of straight downward dives is something only stunt ponies normally do. A pegasus that can fly straight down faster than they can fall is very rare, and it is very dangerous even for them.”

“Wow... I’ll never watch her stunt fly the same way again.” Spike thought about the many times she was crashed through the library’s doors and windows by accident before adding, “It also explains a few things.”

“A nice and safe controlled descent takes much longer, and it is a very long way to go for as weak a flier as I was, and even harder to get back home.” Fluttershy continued, “My parents loved Cloudsdale, and wouldn’t dream of moving to ground level, We were all in a quandary of just what to do. I couldn’t ask them to move from their home for me, and they couldn’t ignore my special talent, now that we all knew where I belonged. They decided to make special trips just for me on weekends and holidays to zoos and nature trails, but that still left me being hopelessly teased by the other foals.”

“It sounds like everything kinda lined up against you. How did you deal with it all?”

“It was only Rainbow Dash that made school life bearable at all! She would stick up for all the kids that were being bullied though, not just me. She ended up being outcast by the more snooty ponies, but never seemed to mind. She would laugh and say it made her a rebel. Surprisingly though, the teachers didn’t like her no matter how often she stopped the bullying. Loud, brash, distracting, she heard it all from one to the other, and from the coach especially.”

“What?! You’d think that would be the one teacher that would love her!”

“He probably would have except on a few occasions she publicly called him out for being mean to the less talented students. Eventually it got so bad she even dropped out of flight school. She was breaking all the records, but she was doing it without much in the way of teaching. You know how competitive she can get? Well, once she even challenged the coach to do better than her at teaching the other students how to fly. She even rallied most of the students to follow her lead!”

“Let me guess, she flew them all into loads of trouble?”

“Oh no, not at all! If anything she won that contest hoofs down! The students under her guidance were doing very well, even the less talented ones like me. She had been sneaking me down to the ground during the weekdays to play with the woodland creatures, and noticed how the trips had been helping me alot with practicing. She began inviting other students down with us. It wasn’t long before she was holding her own classes just above the treetops for a lot of the fillies and colts while I spent time with my furry friends. She was actually so successful with us that many of the students that were already doing well began out performing the ones that took extra time with the coach. That was way worse than failing, because then the coach was humiliated when the parents found out. She dropped out willingly to save what was left of their reputation, and it was a pretty prestigious flight school at the time.”

“Cloudsdale doesn’t sound like that great of a place. honestly.” He scowled as he tried to paint a mental picture of the city schools. Full of arrogant coaches, intolerant teachers, and petty students. Then again he knew that the Cutie Mark Crusaders had problems with bullies too, so maybe schools themselves were the problem? He was suddenly enjoying the fact that he was privately tutored so he wouldn’t have to put up with it.

“Well it wasn’t that great for me, but I may have seen a different side of it than most fillies. You should have Rainbow Dash tell you about it, she loved it there.”

“Even after flight school?” Spike began absently petting the squirrel that decided to curl up on his lap.

“That’s just one school in a large city Spike. Remember among most of the students, Rainbow Dash was a defender of the downtrodden, an inspirational leader, and a fantastic flier like few Equestria has ever seen.”

“Woah, when you put it like that I wonder why she ever left!”

“I’m sorry, I really don’t know. I moved to Ponyville with some distant relatives I had in the area when I was still a teenager. Rainbow Dash showed up a few months later with only a duffle bag, saying she came down to check on me and she never left.”

“So just two teens with barely a bit between you, in a town full of ponies you didn’t know? Heh, sounds vaguely familiar, but at least Twilight and I had jobs waiting for us at the library.”

“We had to stay together here for awhile, before we could move out on our own.” Fluttershy confirmed. “Bits weren’t as difficult to come by as I thought they would be though, all because of Pinkie Pie.”

“Pinkie Pie? How did Pinkie of all ponies get you a steady supply of bits?”

“Pinkie Pie welcomed us both with separate parties. Rainbow Dash had a lot of fun, and almost instantly got in friendly contests with the other pegasi Pinkie Pie gathered. She orchestrated races, and obstacle courses, and all sorts of competitions. That’s how Rainbow Dash and Applejack met. They won everything between each other. Rivals instantly and friends even faster. It didn’t take much convincing for Rainbow Dash to take on a job as a weather pony.”

“I take it you didn’t participate much?”

“Well... I cheered from the sidelines.” Fluttershy smiled remembering how fierce the two ponies took to every competition Pinkie put in front of them. She had no desire to get in the way of that rivalry.

“Well that’s what Pinke did for Rainbow Dash’s party, but yours couldn’t have been anything like that.”

“Not at all. I was really nervous about it too, but Pinkie Pie wouldn’t take no for an answer. I’m so glad she didn’t. I normally feel awkward in social gatherings, but after only about five minutes of talking with her on the street, Pinkie Pie already had a pretty good understanding of my personality. She only gathered the more subdued ponies around Ponyville to throw it with. It was really just talking with some quiet music in the background, with the instructions that all comers would have to bring their pets.”

“A pet party?”

“Yes!” Fluttershy squealed, “I couldn’t believe it! I was able to meet oh so many loving pets! For the first time at a party, I had something to talk about with everypony there! That really helped take away any anxieties I normally had when talking to others. I couldn’t help but get excited! One of those pets weren’t behaving so loving though. A pretty white cat who had her fur tied up in a bow, was spooked by one of the dogs.”

“Opalescence can be temperamental in the best of times let alone with dogs barking at her.” Spike smiled, recognizing the description of the cat immediately.

“Its true. Opalescence was not used to being around so many other animals, but there really is no excuse for bad manners. It was such a nice idea for a party, and I didn’t want to see it ruined because of such a small thing.”

“You used the stare!” Spike’s eyes went wide, “In the middle of a party too?”

“Umm... well... yes, I did.” Fluttershy blushed a little as she continued, “I told both the puppy and her that they were misbehaving and it was rude to everypony else there. They apologized and got along well for the rest of the night. That’s when she walked over to collect her cat, and apologize for the disturbance. Rarity was so beautiful, and brimming with confidence and class.”

“Yeah...” Spike agreed with a dreamy note to his voice, picturing the scene. He knew they had arrived at what would be his favourite part of the story.

“I knew at once she was everything I once wanted to be. She wasn’t strong, but she spoke and held herself as if she was. Somehow knowing that there wasn’t a thing the world could throw at her that could keep her from her goals. The only pony I ever met like that was Rainbow Dash, but Rainbow Dash was everything I couldn’t possibly be. However this was a unicorn who wasn’t that athletic, or strong, or threatening, but no one would ever dismiss her easily. Unlike me, she captured other pony’s attention, and reveled in every minute of it. There were plenty of pegasi into fashion in Cloudsdale, but they were nothing like Rarity. It would be a pale comparison, and Rarity had another thing far above any of them. She was friendly and welcoming.”

“No wonder you caught her attention with that scene with Opalescence,. I know seeing any pony able to talk that grumpy cat down would turn my head. I don’t know how Rarity can put up with her sometimes.”

“Yes, I felt all my nervousness come back to me in Rarity’s presence. She asked my name, and I could barely squeak it out. Then she gave me one of the most lovely smiles I had ever seen. She gently coaxed me back into talking to her, asking about my way with animals, her cat especially . We also began talking about careers, and business, and just so many things I never even considered before. We actually had a lot in common for two ponies that were so different. She insisted that I start coming to the spa weekly with her, even though I never had the bits for it. She dismissed the idea of missing a spa day over something as silly as a few bits, and generously offered to pay for me. I couldn’t take something like that for free though, so I offered to help her with her Boutique, since I was pretty good at sewing.”

“You worked for Rarity?”

“We worked together for quite awhile,” Fluttershy nodded her confirmation, “She taught me how to run a business and everything I’d need to know to manage my own, since we both knew what I wanted is what I have now. Eventually it all came together. I grew to know Applejack through Rainbow Dash, and they both grew to know Rarity through me, and of course Pinkie Pie was there helping to string everything together.”

“You know, for as random as Pinkie Pie is, when you look at the big picture like that it seems almost like clockwork.” Spike spoke his thoughts out loud, before fully realizing what he was saying. The thought hung in the air as he turned to stare at Fluttershy who had joined his stare with a surprised look. One drawn out moment of silent thought later and they both came to the same conclusion.

“Naw!” The two finished the thought together with a laugh.

Twas at that moment the door to Fluttershy’s bedroom flew open with a crack, and there stood a drenched bright pink pony covered with rain gear, a multitude of potently coloured umbrellas, wearing flippers, and a duck shaped pool floater wrapped around her from end to end. One particular smaller umbrella hovered over a tray of pink frosted cupcakes. Beside her in a yellow more practical raincoat that draped over her, stood a familiar purple unicorn with concern written over her features.

“Hi Guys! I finished baking back home and got bored while eating some yummy cupcakes I just made, then I noticed that it was really really really really storming outside! I thought to myself, you know who this kind of storm would scare? It would scare Fluttershy! And I think being scared without friends is no fun, and what’s less fun than being scared with no friends around, is being scared with no friends OR cupcakes! So I rushed over here, but now I see Spike’s here, and that’s super DUPER cool because the only thing better than having friends around with cupcakes, is having MORE friends around while having cupcakes!”

Spike and Fluttershy stared blankly at the smiling pink pony gesturing the cupcake tray towards them both. It was Fluttershy that managed to put spoken word to their simultaneous thought.

“What?”

Pinkie Pie took a deep breath as if to repeat everything again, before Twilight put her hoof over her friend’s muzzle and gave a brief summary much to the appreciation of everypony else in the room. “Would you like a cupcake?"

“Yes.” Fluttershy smiled, getting up past Spike to greet the new arrivals.

“Absolutely.” The young dragon followed suit, picking one of the treats out and holding it up before shooting his tongue out at the morsel, instinctively coiling around it before snapping the treat back into his maw. between cleaning his fingers, he added, “I thought you still had some studying to do Twilight.”

“I couldn’t concentrate with all this thunder! The mayor specifically told us this was to be a RAINstorm not a thunderstorm. Now my whole month’s schedule is thrown off! Not only will I have to study extra to make up for it, but now I also have to make time to book an appointment with the mayor, and put aside more time after that to plainly discuss the differences between a thunderstorm and a rainstorm. I’ll also have to spend time rearranging this month’s schedule again. This surprise thunder is going to make for one hectic month!”

“Sounds like another case of claw cramp to me.” Spike deadpanned.

“Well I certainly hope not, Owlicious is horrible at dication, that would put us behind even more!”

“You really have to relax Twilight, thunderstorms are crazy fun! You never know when something unexpected will happen, and they’re like the greatest times for scary pranks ever!” An excited Pinkie Pie tapped her hooves together ominously.

“Sc-sc-scary pranks?”

“Don’t worry Fluttershy, I didn’t have time to cook any up today.”

“Oh uh... I wasn’t worried.” The quiet pony let out a shaky breath she hadn’t noticed she was holding. “I agree with Twilight though. I would have really liked to know if we were having thunder today. That way I would have been able to properly prepare like I normally do and not have had Spike come all the way out here for nothing.”

“Hey, don’t worry about me. I didn’t mind. It was actually pretty cool talking about the old days. We cleared up a couple misunderstandings, and I learned a bunch about you and Rainbow Dash, and that’s always pretty awesome.”

“Well of course its awesome! She’s only the coolest flying stunt pony that’s ever existed!” Pinkie pie snatched Spike and twirled around in her excitement. Then the realization of his extra weight dawned on her. It also conquered her, leaving her crushed in a tangled pile beneath him. She pushed one of his wings out of her face, managing to peek out from under it. “Phew, That never used to happen. Wowsers Spike! You grew up a lot!”

“Yup! You’re looking at bonafide dragon material.” He grinned as he sat up, rolled off the winded pony, and flapped his latest limbs for emphasis. “I even have all my appendages now!”

“Not that he has any use for them yet.” Twilight smirked, happily trotting all over his pride.

Spike glared and folded his arms. “Hey, it’ll come in time, right? Everything else draconic about me has.”

“I don’t know Spike, I really do think you should try to practice flying more. It is true we don’t know anything about dragons, but we know that pegasi have to train to fly to get better at it. Fluttershy can attest to that, and they get their wings from birth.”

"Who cares anyway?" Spike huffed, "flying is for ponies that have somewhere to go. Everything I want is right here."

"Aww, that's sweet Spike." Twilight smiled and her hoof on his arm "But you should still learn how. You never know, it could come be helpful and you'll probably enjoy it."

"Well I don't mind," Spike shrugged, "but you do realize you'll have to give me time off to learn right?"

"I give you plenty of time off already!"

"Somehow I don't think a couple hours a day is gonna cut it, Boss." You could feel the sarcasm dripping off every word. "Plus it’s the only guaranteed 'me' time I get. I'm not gonna waste it trying to get off the ground."

"Fine, I guess we can work something out." Part of her still wanted to protest. Giving Spike time off meant less studying for her, and more reorganizing the library. Something about this seemed important though. Spike wasn't just her assistant, he was her charge. It would be a failure on her part if she ended up responsible for the one dragon in the world that couldn't fly. It might even be something he'd regret for the rest of his life!

"Books on dragons are rare, but there's bound to be some about large flying creatures. We'll dig through the library tomorrow evening to give you an idea of how to start."

"Great." Spike rolled his eyes, not terribly enthused about the idea of more books being pushed into his life.

******

The thunder rumbled ominously over the Sweet Apple Acres orchard and homestead. It was a large house, and an old house. Full of familiar loose and creaking floorboards, stains on hardwood finish, and strong walls. It had long sheltered the Apple Family from storms even when their eldest was in her filly years. Big Macintosh and Applejack were sitting in the office pouring over the annual record books. Applejack sighed, shutting another book, and placing it back on an old sturdy shelf that had once been her father’s.

“That about does it.” The orange furred mare turned to face her older brother, brushing the blonde mane from her endearing freckled face, before shoving her trusty hat back on. Her voice was filled with that drawl familiar to all the Apple Family and their rough and tumble nature. “Ah think we’ve been through ‘em all.”

“EeYup.” Her brother answered simply. The large, strikingly red workhorse had the same light colours in his mane and the same freckles adorning his cheeks. He tended towards keeping everything as simple as he could, but his tone could make a single word mean a thousand of some other pony’s. When he did have to speak more than single word answers, he didn’t have as much drawl as his sister, but tended to speak slower and hold onto his words for longer. Now was not one of those times for longer replies. The disappointed tone in his answer said enough for Applejack.

“Another loss this year?”

“EeeYup.”

“Ah don’t git it!” Applejack stomped a hoof in frustration, “We even went an’ managed tah get Spring on the go when it oughta thanks to Twilight.”

“EeeYup. But there’s alot you ain’t taken into account AJ.” Her brother closed his own book and went over to the wall calendar with a quill, marking a heavy black line through the harvest season of five years ago.

“What’s that line fer?” Applejack came over to watch her brother’s explanation of the farm’s loss.

“That’s how long I was injured, and you went and tried to do everythin’ on yer own. The apple buckin’ was done by the end of harvest season, but it was late harvest season. Any later, an’ there probably wouldn’t been much ripe left to buck. And that herd o’ rabbits yah scared up ate a decent number of our crop.”

Applejack suddenly destested that particular dark line, and she recognized instantly the negative numbers he began recording during the cider selling cycle. That one she grit her teeth over. Their pride as the Apple Family was on the line against that Flim Flam contraption. They gave over a good portion of the harvest to that competition, and in spite of their victory, it turned out to be a big loss where the books were concerned.

“Those brothers didn’t just take up their share of apples, they uprooted a fair portion of our trees. That one has been hurtin’ us awhile now, and its gonna keep on for a few years yet. An’ then there’s that little dragon’s rampage through the orchard...” Big Macintosh continued.

Applejack paled at that. Its one thing to talk about taking a loss this year, it’s another to be talking about losses for the next few years down the road too. She watched him keep marking black lines through a lot of the last ten years. All the late springs before Twilight Sparkle showed up got large black lines, and then more through dates she recognized coincided with many of the disasters that threatened Equestria and Ponyville. Why did everything that happened always seem to kick their farm in the teeth?

“What’ll we do Big Mac? Ah ain’t been gittin’ much in the ways o’ prize money from any o’ the rodeos either, and Granny Smith’s hip is only gonna git worse...”

“T’ain’t as bad as it looks. If we just hang on for another couple years, an’ Apple Bloom decides to stick around, we’ll have another set of hooves to put the farm back into shape. Things’ll pick up from there.”

“Save your sugar coatin’ for Apple Bloom. Ah don’t know mah numbers well as yah, but even Ah can see plain that ain’t gonna add up. There’s gotta be somethin’ we can do.”

“We could ask for advice or help. Yer friend Rarity turned a clothes shop into somethin’ in a town where nopony wears hardly a thing, and that Twilight Sparkle could put in word for us with the Princess ‘erself.”

“Rarity finds rubies like most ponies’d find rocks in the street. Who couldn’t make a business out of that? An’ it just don’t feel right to be gittin’ Twilight to ask special favours for us over any other farm in Equestria.”

“I think yer under sellin’ yer friends AJ. If’n ya don’t want me sugar coatin’ things for yah, then yah oughta know. We’re in a tough spot, and even a small idea would go a looong way. If this farm goes under, all of Ponyville will be payin’ the price. That means it ain’t jus’ an Apple Family problem.” The large pony let out an equally large sigh as he put up his books and made his way off to bed.

She watched her brother leave the office, his parting words were left dangling in the air. Her heart sunk. The last thing this country pony wanted to do was to go bothering her friends about farm work. Big Macintosh wasn’t wrong though, if they didn’t find some way to help out the farm soon, it might all just spell the end for Sweet Apple Acres. Any more losses and they weren’t going to be able to plant enough the following year to use all their land, and it would be a steady decline from there. Ponyville counted on their farm, and it wasn’t too likely the little town could foot the bill for importing supplies.

“There’s no way ‘round it.” Applejack admitted to herself as she turned to stare out the office window down the outside path that wound its way into Ponyville’s rain slickened streets. “Ah ain’t gonna make the same mistake twice. If the farm needs more’n we know how tah give, then Ah’m jus’ gonna have tah ask somepony’s help. The question now is, who do Ah ask?”

Figuring she’d hammer the details out on the way, Applejack threw on some rain gear and made her way out into the thunderstorm. No sense leaving to tomorrow what could be done today, and there was no one in the Apple Family a bit of rain could slow down. If anything the storm would keep other ponies indoors, and the less ponies that had a chance to know the situation, the better as far as she was concerned. She began running down her list of friends in her mind as she travelled the muddy farm roads and into the town proper.

“That means Ah need it tah be some pony that can keep a secret.” She frowned at that thought. Her first idea was going to the smartest pony she knew, but great a friend as Twilight Sparkle was, she had a habit of getting as many ponies involved into a situation as she could if she thought it’d help. There was also no telling what Twilight Sparkle would think would help. Pinkie Pie was outright no help in this case, even if she was the best secret keeper in the world. What did Rainbow Dash know about farming? So that route was out as well. Fluttershy maybe, she ran her own business too, but she learned how from the most spoiled pony Applejack had ever met.

“Rarity.” As if the very utterance of that name from Applejack’s mouth broke something in the universe, a great bolt of lightning flashed, and split the dark sky. It outlined the silhouette of the distant Carousel Boutique in a frightening way. The shadows of the fake ponies that dotted the rooftop seemed somehow more alive, and angry in the storm. She doubted two more contrasting ponies ever existed at the same time. For the sake of Twilight Sparkle, they had learned to deal with their differences. For the sake of any of their friends, both would go to the ends of the world and that was deserved respect in Applejack's book. Going directly to her though, with no pony else around, and asking for help of all things... well that idea chilled Applejack to the bone so bad she barely felt the rain. Thunder crashed through the clouds as Applejack gritted her teeth and pushed on towards the foreboding structure. She couldn’t help but feel she was about to seal a deal with a devil.

“Applejack?! Whatever are you doing out in a storm like this?!” The marshmallow coloured unicorn gasped, trotting around the counter, deep violet curls of mane bobbed with each step. She met her unexpected guest just past the doorway as the drenched orange work pony wandered into her shop, a trail of mud and water behind her. The foul mess earned a quick, distasteful glance, but could be dealt with after her friend was warm. “Hurry and come in darling, before you catch your death of cold!”

“Now Ah don’t need yer fussin’ Rarity, Ah’m jus’ fine. Jus’ a bit wet is all.” Applejack unconsciously followed Rarity’s gaze and looked at the trail left behind her and frowned, remembering Rarity’s feelings when it came to dirt and added, “Ah’m sorry fer the mess, though.”

“Think nothing of it until you’re out of those wet clothes.” Rarity insisted, “Not another word out of you until you’re well on the way to being dry. Meanwhile, I’ll put on a hot cup of tea for us.” Rarity had moved off into the kitchen, already playing the part of gracious host.

Trapped.

Applejack sighed inwardly. All the rain and dirt in the world wasn’t gonna get under her skin, but Rarity’s doting would do so in minutes, still she was a guest in her home. More than that she came asking favours. The least she could do is be a bit mannerly, and the idea of being cozy and out of a storm wasn’t completely without merit. The earth pony shed her rain gear, and placed it as neatly as she could manage on the coat rack, before wiping her hooves and heading into the living room to stand by the fire, relishing the feelings of warmth.

“There now, that must feel at least somewhat better darling.” Rarity walked in with a teapot and a pair of dainty cups on a tray being carried by a blue aura, the same that currently enveloped her horn. She continued over to a couple small extravagantly styled couches, magically pulling over a coffee table between them, and setting the tea tray down. A blanket was hovered over and offered to Applejack, as Rarity got comfortable on one of the couches. Applejack rolled her eyes at the blanket but took the hint. Grabbing it and laying on the couch opposite Rarity before tossing the blanket over herself.

“Yeah thanks, but Ah still say its over doin’ it.”

“Nonsense, a work pony deserves to be spoiled every now and then. Quite frankly I only wish you allowed me to do so more often. Though I suppose I should ask why you’re allowing it at all, you certainly wouldn’t do so normally.” Rarity answered while pouring them both some tea, and hovering a cup over to Applejack who pulled it to herself with both hooves. She glanced at the cup, and took a long sip of its contents, as she tried to think of how to put it in words that wouldn’t embarrass herself completely. In the end she figured she’d just go with her old faithful method. Straight and to the point.

“Sweet Apple Acres is goin’ under.”

She watched Rarity choke on her tea, sputtering and scrounging for a nearby napkin to dab at the mess. Perhaps that was a bit too straight and to the point.

“Applejack, that is simply terrible, horrible news! However did such a thing ever come to pass?!”

“Big Mac’s injury, out o’ control herds of rabbits, several prior years o’ late springs means late harvests, failed rodeo competitions, a couple of brothers with a cider-making contraption, a rampagin’ five story high dragon destroying a good portion of profits and orchards... and that’s just the start! It all adds up come the end of a year. We’re gonna have enough tah plant for next Spring, but the year after? We can’t say. If it keeps goin’ with all these complications again, or even just one or two, there’s good chance we ain’t gonna have enough to plant n’ plow our own lands.”

“In short you’re going to need a couple exemplary years to cover the losses and get back on track.” Rarity nodded sympathetically, “You know of course, you are more than welcome to dab into my gem supplies to cover the costs?”

“Ah didn’t come for no charity!” Applejack glared, she probably said it with more anger than she meant. She continued a bit more quietly staring into her tea, “Ah... Ah came fer yer help. Big Macintosh said probably ain’t none in town that know the business side of things better’n you. Outside o’ Filthy Rich an’ his crowd and they’d have us up to our ears in debt if we asked anyway.”

“I completely agree. Loans are totally out of the question in your situation. I can’t advise anything until I’ve looked over your books personally, of course, though I don’t doubt you both checked them more times than once before you came to see me.”

“A lot more.” Applejack agreed with a sigh.

“Well, it seems to me that if the world is coming up with so many random ways to complicate your business practices, it might be time to come up with a few creative ways to answer them. I’m sure Twilight Sparkle could research-”

“No!” Her voice came out so fast Applejack surprised herself, “Ah mean... please no. It was enough havin’ tah tell ya’ll about it without tellin’ the whole town. Ah mean, if we have tah and we got no other choices Ah don’t mind, but til we try a few things ourselves, can we keep this between us?”

“...I understand.” Rarity nodded once again sympathetically. And she did. Pride was a big part of both of their careers, and it was hard to swallow it. The Carousel Boutique had fallen on hard times more than once when she was first getting started, and it hurt quite a bit each time she had to dip into her gem stocks for anything other than decorative purposes. However Rarity had the advantage of no one else knowing when she did, and the Boutique hadn’t needed a gem contribution of that manner in many years. Especially after all these recent trips to Canterlot and the contacts she garnered there. Applejack had no such hidden resources to turn to, and was one of the most stubborn and prideful ponies she’d ever met. Having this information float around town would be simply devastating to her.

“That doesn’t leave that many options for us, does it? Well, if you were willing to take a side job working with me it might be able to help.

“A side job doing what?”

“Why gem digging of course! Spike is such a dear, and he’s practically made for gem collecting, but Twilight does keep him busy. As an early rising farm pony I believe you’d be of utmost assistance in my never ending search for precious stones, and you could even tow so much more back into town. Honestly I’ve been somewhat worried about my gem stocks. You see, all these trips to Canterlot and Manehatten leave me little time to go for a trot among the mountains. I’m afraid its been taking its toll, especially with my materials becoming in such high demand. I think this would help us both.”

“Not to break your stride Rarity, but that don’t make a lick o’ sense. I wouldn’t be able to find gems without yah there tah point ‘em out, and with yah gone half the time, we’d both still be stuck.”

“Well that’s where I’m afraid we have to let somepony else in on our little secret as it were.” Rarity waved a hoof dismissively as Applejack’s eyes narrowed. “Just one mind. Certainly you didn’t believe that I could be such a huge help that I could solve the conundrum all on my own? I’m not even in Ponyville all that much anymore Applejack. Why, even tomorrow I’ll be off on another trip to Canterlot. No, we need somepony else to help in spite of your misgivings. “

“Who exactly?”

“Why, Twilight Sparkle! Simply no other pony would do, would they?”

“I don’t mean nuthin' harsh by it Rarity, but she ain’t exactly great at keepin’ secrets.”

“Oh, are you referring to that old debacle with Fluttershy's modeling? She learned her lesson then, I assure you. Besides she is the perfect pony for the job. With Spike there, she can mail letters directly to me and keep me informed of your farm’s progress while I’m away. Even more than that, have you ever seen anypony so obsessed with checklists? I’m certain she could list out every farming expense and sale in the exact kind of detail I’d need to put a fully operational business plan together. She can also offer a perspective of magical assistance that you and I simply would never have. On top of that, no other pony in all of Ponyville knows how to find gems, and I really would be ever so grateful for the extra supplies."

“If you really think she can keep it quiet, Ah guess I’m fine for it, but nopony else, right?”

“I will be sure to take the utmost discretion. I’ll take it up with Twilight tonight in fact. Before she can go to any other pony, she’ll have to go through me, and I’ll be sure to go through you.”

“Alright, but what about Twilight’s work in all this? Every pony is owed their fair due, and we’d be askin’ a lot of her for nuthin’. That don’t sit right with me.”

“You'll just have to share some of the profit with Twilight then, an enterprising pony like herself would would certainly have an idea of what she could do with a few extra bits on the side. Should I stop by in the morning before I leave for your annual records?”

"Ah'll have 'em ready tah go." Applejack nodded before adding “Rarity...Ah can’t thank yah enough for this.”

“Think nothing of it. We’re not even certain this will work out. I don’t know if the gems you find will be enough on their own to pull Sweet Apple Acres out of its losses, but a farm enhancement here and there would certainly go a long way in doing so. Besides, you’ll have nothing to thank me for even if it all goes well. You’re still putting in a good day’s work just at a different job for a time. And 'a pony is owed their fair due' as a wise pony once told me.”

They both laughed at that. Applejack even accepted a second cup of tea before going back out into the storm. She felt better about things when she finally left. Rarity was a lot more understanding than she figured she’d be. She only offered the charity Applejack had been fretting about the once, and instead came up with a more work pony way of dealing with the problem for her. Things were looking up compared to an hour ago. They weren’t outta the woods yet, not by a long shot, but there was some form of path at her hooves. Even if she didn’t know where it would lead, for now that seemed more than enough.

Author's Note:

Chapter 1 has been edited and proofread by the very tolerant MrMinimii. He has all of my thanks, and should probably have yours as well for no longer having to suffer through my poor attempts at grammar.