• Published 5th Apr 2013
  • 998 Views, 27 Comments

Clouded Minds - Loganberry



Rainbow Dash has always felt protective of Fluttershy, out of friendship, loyalty... and something else.

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Clouded Minds

Fluttershy's wide, gentle face watched intently from the breakfast table, the pegasus marvelling at the remarkable regularity of the stripes on Rainbow Dash's mane. Not a hair out of place, not a colour mixed, despite her evident agitation as she rocked from side to side in the air. Fluttershy closed her eyes for just a moment, examining the patterns of light that danced on the inside of her eyelids and marshalling the words she was about to speak. Simple words, quiet words, soft words – sad words.

"Oh, Rainbow Dash... please will you tell me what's wrong? You really don't have to pretend with me. Are you sick, or scared, or lonely?"

Dash flinched as she heard that, her tail shuddering very slightly, and she blinked a few times before replying, "Hey, it's not that, Fluttershy. Really, it isn't. Me, scared? Ha! I never get... I don't often get scared of anything. And I'm in great health, the doc said. Every feather in perfect working order, see?" She spread her wings proudly, for a moment the brash and confident Rainbow Dash Ponyville knew and – in some cases – loved, before shrinking back, back to nothing more than a pegasus pony.

Fluttershy waited, but it seemed there would be no more. She said nothing, but absorbed what her friend had said – and, more so, what she had not. She took a sip of her tea and smiled at a mouse who'd popped his head out from under a chair. Rainbow watched her smile.

Still Fluttershy remained silent, instead taking her now-empty teacup over to the sink and washing it under the water that streamed from the tap, turning it over and over in her front hooves until it gleamed so brightly that her reflection was visible in the porcelain. If she turned it just so, she could even see Rainbow Dash's wings beating, reflections kaleidoscoping in the damp china surface. Fluttershy set the cup down on the edge of the sink and looked out of the window.

A breeze was tickling the leaves of the bushes outside, teasing its cousins in Nature as the precocious babies they were. The wind was ancient, and had known Equestria long, long before a single pony had walked upon the earth beneath. The bushes were young, many of them planted by Fluttershy herself. Yet the kindred spirits, the wind and the bushes, laughed and danced together like the oldest playmates in the world.

She turned back into the room, her head slightly bowed as her thoughts ran deep within her soul. Rainbow let out a sigh, then a single heartbeat later she said, quite hesitantly, "It's... guilt. I've never forgiven myself."

Fluttershy started and looked up, concern radiating from her as she asked, "Whatever do you mean?"

There was another moment's silence, broken only by the soft buzzing of a bee against the window-pane as he looked for his own way into Nature's game, before the answer came.

"For... for what I did that day at Flight Camp. The race. The sonic rainboom. It was all wrong. It still is. It always will be."

Fluttershy blinked and turned her compassionate eyes upon the other pegasus. Rainbow was trembling slightly, her feather-tips fluttering even though the air inside the kitchen was close and still, her tail twitching hither and thither. Her gaze was straight, but not natural: only a supreme effort of will from Rainbow was allowing it at all, and Fluttershy's unease heightened as she spoke.

"Oh, but you were protecting me, Rainbow Dash. I'll always remember how you stood up for me against those bullying colts. And your sonic rainboom was the link between us, and with our other friends as well. If you hadn't done that, we might not even all be here in Ponyville, together. It was a really wonderful day." She smiled gently as she remembered, that smile of warmth and grace that had charmed and comforted so many of Equestria's creatures, perhaps most of all Rainbow Dash herself. "Maybe the best day of both our lives."

With an effort beyond Fluttershy's power to understand even as she recognised the enormous burden being shouldered, Rainbow looked directly into her companion's eyes as she answered in a half-choked whisper, "But I didn't protect you, did I? I failed."

Again, silence, but this time the texture of the air was altered – it had a hazy, dreamlike quality, as though the world had been torn up and then thrown back together, almost but not quite the same. Uncomprehending, Fluttershy took a step back and lowered her ears, as if that would somehow help everything make sense. She could hear her quickened breathing, and feel the clammy, cold sweat gathering in the folds of hide beneath her feathers. She had no idea what to say, and all she could do was to wait for Rainbow Dash to collect herself enough to continue.

"I failed," repeated Rainbow, and her voice became stronger again. "Yeah, so I won the race, and I did the sonic rainboom and all that stuff. But who cares? I didn't do what mattered most."

Fluttershy remained still, her friend's obvious distress only increasing her own unhappiness. She half-extended her wings, intending to fly up to Rainbow, but her courage failed her at the last. Even here, she thought sadly. Even now. Dash didn't notice anyway: she was looking at something else altogether, far away from the cottage and far off in the past. Eventually she did speak again, in a curious sing-song voice that emanated from night-dark depths rarely revealed even to Fluttershy.

"As you dropped the flag to start that race, I smiled at you. I lost my concentration for just a moment, and by the time we came past your cloud, I was in last place. I was determined to win for you, so I hardly noticed when that colt knocked into the cloud. I didn't even realise you'd fallen until a few seconds later. I... didn't... notice." The last few words came out in a choking whisper, dragged every inch from between gritted teeth as though held back by a pack of starving dogs.

Fluttershy closed her eyes, keeping them that way for a little longer this time, and stood very still, her breathing a little uneven as she stood before Rainbow. Her friend was almost motionless but for the rhythmic beats of her wings and the subtly flowing reflections in her eyes, and Dash looked back at her, desolate and lost; far more the little filly now than she ever had been in those Flight Camp days. Fluttershy's compassion welled up, and she tried to console her friend with gentle words, even if she could not manage the gentle touch she really longed to give. She summoned up another smile from somewhere and, soft as the singing of a grasshopper, she spoke.

"Oh, really, it's okay, Rainbow Dash. The butterflies—"

"That you had no idea would even be there!" interrupted Rainbow passionately, half-bucking in mid-air. "What are you going to say now – that Celestia sent them to save you from harm? You know Equestria doesn't work like that. It was pure dumb luck." A pause as she subsided. And then, in a dull monotone, "Best dumb luck ever."

"But—"

"I saved Rarity's life at the Best Young Flyer contest by flying straight down at rainboom speed. I was as fast in the pegasus race. I could have saved you."

Becoming more animated now, Rainbow jabbed a wing towards Fluttershy, making her stumble back slightly. Seeing this, Dash subsided at once, and continued in a more even tone, though anguish still permeated her every word.

"And I knew I could have saved you. But I didn't care. No – I did care; I cared so much... but I didn't think about it. Don't you see? No... no, of course you don't. All I could think about was flying; racing; winning. I liked it. I loved it. If I thought about you at all, I just assumed you'd be okay, because that's what I wanted. I didn't go down to find you. I didn't even ask one of the instructors to do it. Maybe they checked anyway; I don't know. I just stayed up in the clouds and lapped up all the cheering."

Fluttershy listened; but she also looked, deeply and with new courage, into her companion's eyes. Mournful they were, and filled with a remorse that even Fluttershy did not fully understand. Rainbow tried to return the look, but her gaze slipped for a moment. Just for a moment, and indeed most ponies would not have noticed – but then most ponies were not Fluttershy. This, she knew, was a very different Rainbow Dash to the confident, even brash mare she took care to ensure that the world saw, and Fluttershy felt that keenly. She felt a small shudder of fear pass through her body.

Rainbow shook her mane and spoke again, in what she seemed to believe was her normal voice.

"I know what you're thinking, 'Shy."

Fluttershy's eyes widened in surprise, but she said nothing, a new certainty rising within her breast regarding what the other pony was about to say. A certainty that was about to be shattered utterly.

"You're thinking I was a coward. And you know what? You're right: I was a coward. I am a coward."

Fluttershy found a voice at last, minuscule as it was, and said, "Oh... oh, no, Rainbow Dash, I've never thought that."

"Then maybe you should. Blind loyalty – oh yes. I should know about that."

Rainbow Dash, eyes half-closed, was flapping her wings barely hard enough even to stay aloft. Fluttershy watched in silence, contemplating the way the air currents in the room tugged at the other pony's feathers; listening to her soft breath, almost in time with Fluttershy's own; taking in the faint scent wafted towards her by the flying pony's lazy wing-beats. Fluttershy stood squarely on the floor of the old, familiar cottage, watching this new, unfamiliar Rainbow Dash and wondering... wondering.

Very softly, Fluttershy began to sing.

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Comments ( 27 )

*yawn* huh what?

2378489
Er... your point being?

2379785
Ah, okay, it was a bored yawn? Fair enough. I don't personally agree, but then I wouldn't -- and of course your opinion is as valid as anyone else's. Thanks for stopping by.

That's quite beautiful. It's sad but not too sad - which I'm glad for because you already have great skill in emotive writing, so a really sad story could be a dangerous weapon in your hands. :) I'm undecided about the abrupt ending, however - on the one hand it feels incomplete, and on the other, it creates a kind of lingering unease which fits well with the mood of the story.

I'm glad you're writing again, however, looking forward to more! :yay:

2385097
Thank you! I'll come clean, though: most of this was written last year. For reasons you'll understand, it was put on hold for some months. Originally it was indeed going to be slightly longer, with a slightly less abrupt ending. That would have been my ideal, but everything I tried seemed more to dilute the story's emotional punch than make it feel more complete, so in the end I decided to stick with having it break off like this.

As for the sadness... as it happens I do have an idea for, as you put it, "a really sad story". The trouble is that I'd have to hurt a character I like very badly, and I may not be strong enough to go through with it any more. Still, I do expect there'll be something else ponyish from me in due course, even if not that.

I've had this thought myself. That Rainbow Dash actually failed Fluttershy in the "Cutie Mark Chronicles" flashback, in terms of Rainbow's own actions.

Now to be fair to Rainbow Dash, she probably assumed that Fluttershy would just open her wings and catch herself before she hit the ground. However, she didn't check to make sure that Fluttershy was ok. And Fluttershy wouldn't have been ok if her power to communicate with animals -- a power about which neither of them yet knew -- hadn't emerged in that moment of crisis.

Rainbow was a small filly at the time. It's not unsurprising that she didn't think it all the way through. Even today's Rainbow Dash is brash and inclined to act without thinking out the implications. In "Fluttershy Is Free," which is as much about their relationship as best friends as it is about Fluttershy's dark secret, Rainbow Dash in her own thoughts summarizes her normal approach to problems as "fly fast or hit something." Rainbow is a good Pony, but she is not a conscious moral philosopher, she just operates on instinct and does what she thinks is right.

As "Return of the Elements of Harmony" shows, that can lead her astray, when there's a conflict of loyalties.

I wonder how Rainbow Dash resolves this guilt, or if she ever can? Is this one of the motives that drives her to keep on protecting Fluttershy, even as Fluttershy is developing into somepony who no longer really needs Rainbow's protection?

The one thing I do know is that they love one another, so maybe Rainbow Dash can learn to forgive herself? It's obvious Fluttershy has drawn the opposite lesson from this, that somepony cared about her even when she was a little filly, and does still.

4085154 I'll freely admit that you seem to think these things through more deeply than I do. (That's intended as a compliment, by the way.) The original plan was to have a little more near the end, in which Dash's guilt would be at least partially resolved. Real life intervened at the start of 2013 and I didn't feel I could do it any more, hence the abrupt ending the story has now. Although I almost prefer it with the question left unresolved.

Oh yes, Fluttershy and Rainbow love each other, I don't think there's any doubt about that. "Hurricane Fluttershy" in particular makes that impossible to deny. I don't think they're a couple in the usual shipping sense, but a romantic friendship is another matter entirely.

I've added "Fluttershy is Free" to my to-read list; it looks intriguing. Might be a while before I get round to it, since I've neglected ponyfic for a long time and my queue is big!

What did fluttershy sing?:rainbowhuh:

4140560 That's deliberately left up to the reader's imagination...

4288997 Thank you very much! :twilightsmile:

4289376
You're very welcome!

Very nice! I enjoyed it, just one question.

Why'd she start to sing?

4332596 Thank you! As to your question: leaving that unanswered was deliberate. One possible answer is that Fluttershy thought that song might be a way to get through to Rainbow, but there are plenty of other possibilities.

4333033

Ah. I kind of imagined her singing "So Many Wonders" to how she was happy she fell that day.

4333238 Ooh, that's one I hadn't thought of! But that just shows my point: after thinking about it for some while, I felt that not tying things up entirely neatly was the best way to go. And thank you for the +fav, too. :yay:

4333380

Yeah, good point! And you're welcome! :pinkiesmile:

*Added to Read Later list*

4721785 Thanks! I hope you enjoy it when you get round to it. :twilightsmile:

Introspective Rainbow is not something a lot of people care to bother with, but it's always a good read when they do.
i12.photobucket.com/albums/a224/Tifi78/Pony/flutter-yay.gif

4735764 Mmm; it's a bit like serious Pinkie in that regard, I suppose. It's one reason I like "Height" so much: that story really takes us inside Dash's mind in a way that few fics I've read have managed. But going back to this story... I'm not usually the greatest at writing Rainbow Dash; this is one of the times when it really did work. I guess that may be why it got approved for Twilight's Library. Not really my usual ponyfic writing style, either, but it seemed to suit this particular setting.

And thank you very much for the +fav; much appreciated! :yay:

I feel like this could have been a liiiiiiiiittle longer, to just discuss the topic a bit more and let it sink deeper, but all in all, I loved it.:heart:

6100962 Funny you should say that... this should in fact have been maybe 500 words longer. It stops abruptly because my personal life got in the way (I suffered a completely unexpected bereavement) and I couldn't get back into the right frame of mind to write much more. So actually I agree with you. Glad you liked it anyway, though. :twilightsmile:

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

That was intense! :O

8774506
Yeah, it has its moments. Even though it's old, the concept remains my headcanon for that particular moment.

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