• Published 5th Apr 2013
  • 9,116 Views, 171 Comments

When I Was Thirty - shortskirtsandexplosions



Rainbow Dash turns thirty, and it's just like any week, month, year, or decade of her life.

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Scared of What's Behind and What's Before

If Rainbow Dash squinted, the sunset would look like a sunrise. It mattered little.

Six hours and two energy drinks since waking up late, she had not only fulfilled her cloud kicking quota for the day; she had surpassed it. Now, she was flying over the rooftops of Ponyville, shoving a heavy rain cloud west towards the edge of town where the railroad station's red rooftop glinted in the orange light of the afternoon.

As she flew overhead, several ponies—both young and old—waved happily towards her and shouted in excitement. Rainbow blinked down at them and smirked devilishly, returning each gesture with a sly wink or a dashing salute. Several happy foals bounced, their limbs quivering in a childish attempt to mimic her blurring wings. She smirked and swerved agilely around chimneys and weathervanes, flying purposefully low enough so that her soaring body kicked at the manes of numerous, chuckling spectators. The sound of her name lit the air in multiple bursts, resembling a timeless chorus.

Rainbow Dash made a tune out of it, whistling to herself as she made for the shape of the railroad station due west. Upon hearing a particular mare's voice, she froze in mid-air and glanced down with thin eyes.

An orange shape came into focus, shouldering a saddlebag and waving dramatically to grab the weather flier's attention. "Hey! Where you off to in such a hurry, Rainbow Dash?!"

"Heh... All in a day's work, kiddo!"

"Haven't you kicked enough clouds for one day?!"

"Pfft! As if! Say, hang on a sec." Rainbow braked in mid-air then playfully talked to the dark gray cloud as if it were a pet. "You wait right here, or else..." Then, letting go of the cloud, she coiled her wings and dropped down in a dazzling spiral. Her hooves made contact with the ground, carving circles in the grass until she came to a stop, smirking eye to eye with the young pony. "What gives, Scoots? I thought you were headed off to that Manehattan Tinnitus Instagram place."

"Manehattan Technical Institute." Scootaloo corrected with a slight blush. She blew a bang of violet hair out from her forehead and smiled. "And I told you last week that I wasn't leaving for my first semester until Tuesday."

"You did?" Rainbow Dash did a double-take, squinting. "When?"

"Rainbow!" Scootaloo stomped her hoof, giggling. "I just told you! Last week!"

"You mean last week, last week?"

"Rainbowwwww..."

"Heh..." Rainbow Dash reached a hoof over and ruffled the mare's mane. "It'll be tough getting up in the morning without hearing you crow at dawn, squirt."

"Pffft—Please." Scootaloo batted Rainbow's hoof away and straightened her pink mane. "You always sleep in anyways."

"That's so I can have more time to dream up cooler stunt moves to show you," Rainbow said with a wink.

Scootaloo chuckled. "Really. You've been using that excuse for over ten years."

"And yet you keep falling for it."

"Hardy har har. Anyways, Sweetie Belle and Twist are gonna be seeing me off at the station Tuesday afternoon." Scootaloo leaned forward with a happy grin. "Think I'll get to see you there too?"

"Heh, I wouldn't miss it for the world, kid." Rainbow Dash squinted. "How come Apple Bloom's not showing her face?"

"Oh..." Scootaloo rolled her eyes. "She's got her hooves full with the farm this coming week. I already paid her a visit yesterday. We said our goodbyes for the time being."

"Yeesh. That filly's gotten pretty hardcore about the apple bucking biz."

"Well, she's had to, Rainbow. I can't hold it against her." Scootaloo shrugged. "After all, it was her suggestion that I apply to the Institute in the first place. I think it was always hers and Applejack's dream that she go there when she grew up."

"What, she wanted to become a house exploder like you?"

"Rainbow!" Scootaloo giggled. Her coat shimmered in the light from the sunset, highlighting the criss-crossing wrenches that illustrated her flank. "How many times do I have to tell you?! I'm taking courses in demolition! Not... explosions!"

"Explosions sound cooler."

"Ughhh... Rainbowwww..."

"For real!" Rainbow Dash grinned, reaching a hoof out and resting it on Scootaloo's shoulder. "I swear! When I was nine and did the sonic rainboom, the second-most awesome pegasus in all of Equestria was born. Coincidence? Heh... I think not! Everything you put your hooves to have gotta be epic!"

"Yeah, well..." Scootaloo adjusted the weight of the saddlebag on her flank. "I grew up hearing all about how much the Mayor wanted to expand Ponyville, but never could ‘cuz there weren't any pony engineers clever enough to account for the soft soil and risk of subsidence—"

"Shnorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr..." Rainbow Dash pretended to be asleep on her hooves.

"Ugh!" Scootaloo playfully shoved the older mare. "I swear, you're impossible!"

"At least I'm not overthinking things." Rainbow Dash smirked. "Relax, Scoots. You'll do fine at this Manehattan Tektite Indigo—"

"Manehattan Technical Institute—"

"Whatever. You're a real go-getter, squirt. Trust me: whatever you set your mind to, you can totally do."

"I do trust you, Rainbow Dash. And..." Scootaloo suddenly took a sharp breath. Her smile was softer, and yet more reflective. "And it's helped me," she said in a quieter voice. She gulped as a pair of disproportionately tiny wings tightened against her sides. "It really has..."

"Yeah, well, just don't explode my cloudhouse once you get back from all that bookworming."

Scootaloo rolled her eyes. "Well, I gotta hurry on home. Mom's been a real wreck. I swear: she's already suffering from empty nest syndrome."

"Gobble gobble."

"Jee, thanks." Scootaloo stuck her tongue out and turned to leave. She froze, then pivoted to glance at Rainbow Dash with soft eyes. "You'll... y-you'll show up on Tuesday, right?"

Rainbow Dash smiled warmly. "I'll be here."

Scootaloo exhaled with a gentle, happy grin. "You always are." After a beat, she saluted and galloped away on her hooves. "Anywho, see ya!"

"Don't become a stranger!" Rainbow Dash barked after her. Smirking to herself, she hovered back to ceiling-level with ease. Soon, she was once more pushing the cloud towards the sky above the train station.

After a brief discourse with the station manager, Rainbow Dash was directed to an elaborate flower bed along the west end of the station. It was in much need of moisture, and Rainbow Dash was swift to deliver. With expert hooves, she split the rain cloud in two, then positioned them in low altitudes above opposite ends of the meager garden. Soon, every flower was receiving ample precipitation. Already, the petals were glistening with renewed vibrancy.

Rainbow Dash dusted her hooves off. She glanced over her shoulder, giving the station manager a sly smirk.

Chuckling, the stallion and his fellow workers applauded the weather mare's work. The celebration was short, however, for a train was just then rolling into the station. They went to their various tasks, helping separate groups of ponies arriving and disembarking with expert precision.

Rainbow Dash hovered alone. She gave the flowers another look, saw a bud or two that wasn't getting moisture, and repositioned the dwindling rain cloud so that its last few drops would catch the remaining inches of the garden.

Just as she was putting on the finishing touches, she heard a voice calling out from below.

"Rainbow? Rainbow Dash?!"

She froze in place, her blue coat hairs standing on end. Blinking, she pivoted until her eyes were gazing down at a light purple figure standing at the edge of the train station's platform with a pair of heavy suitcases.

"Uhhhh..."

"How've you been, girl?!" A pegasus mare exclaimed with a bright, bright grin. She had a gray mane that was slicked back into a modest ponytail. "Wow. Still kickin' it old school here in Ponyville! What, are you on downtime or something?"

"Eh heh heh... uhhh..." In a blue blur, Rainbow Dash touched down before the pony. She kept her distance, leaning away from her as if the equine was radioactive. "Downtime, you say? That's... It's... You..."

"Yeah...?" The mare smiled at her with glistening, pink eyes.

Rainbow Dash smiled back, albeit with a nervous twitch.

The mare blinked a few times. Her smile faded as she raised an eyebrow. "You... do remember me, d-don't you?"

"Oh! Sure! You're... erm..." Rainbow Dash fidgeted, her prismatic tail flicking. "Erm... S... Squ... Squall—"

"Cloud Chaser!" she breathed.

"Oh, duh! Right! Wow! It's... uh... Wow..." Rainbow Dash showed some extra teeth in her grin, perhaps hoping they might out-glisten the sweat on her brow. "My bad. It's just that I have a hard time recognizing you without... well... y'know..." She waved her hoof multiple times over her own cranium. "Without the... the thing. That awesome thing."

"Heeheehee..." Cloud Chaser blushed as she brushed the length of her mane over her neck. "It was a really nifty hairstyle, wasn't it? Or—as you say—'awesome.'" She giggled again.

"Yeah, I do like that word, don't I?" Rainbow Dash rubbed the back of her neck.

"For real! You practically define it!"

"So, I guess you're back from... from..." Rainbow Dash's brow furrowed. She cast the mare a helpless glance. "What have you been up to, anyways?"

"Oh, well..." Cloud Chaser rolled her eyes and smirked back. "Nothing nearly as exciting as what you've been doing all these years, I bet. Tell me, how epic was Spitfire's sendoff in person?"

"Huh?" Rainbow Dash did a double-take. "Spitfire?"

"Yeah! I wanted sooooo badly to be there at Los Pegasus' Skydome two years ago! I read up all about it! Half of the Wonderbolts did the Triple-Barreled Buccaneer Blitz in Spitfire's honor! I bet you led the squadron yourself! Heheheh—"

"Oh, I saw it, alright!" Rainbow Dash grinned, her wings sprouting out as she said, "I swear, the air was practically brimming with electricity! I couldn't talk for days from all the cheering I did!"

Cloud Chaser's chuckles came to a stop. She blinked, giving Rainbow Dash a curious stare. "Wait, you mean to say that you were in the stands?"

"Yup! Reserved my tickets well in advance and flew clear across Equestria! There was no way in heck I'd miss something as awesome as Spitfire's retirement show! I saved up money for nearly five months straight!"

"But... I don't get it," Cloud Chaser murmured, thinking aloud. "Why would a Wonderbolt have to buy her own ticket?"

"What—?" Rainbow Dash stuttered, and then her face brightened. "Oh. Ohhhh!" She snickered and waved a hoof while shaking her head. "Heh... Nawwww. I'm not a Wonderbolt."

"You're..." Cloud Chaser's mouth hung open. "You're not?"

"Nah. I never joined them."

The returning pegasus' eyes widened even more. "But... I thought..." She leaned forward. "I was there! I was at the Academy tryouts way back..." Her gaze darted towards the ground. "How long ago was it...?"

"Eh, I dunno, a few years?"

"A decade at least!" Cloud Chaser tilted her gaze back up. "It was unbelievable! You and Lightning Dust broke tons of records!"

"Me and who?" Rainbow Dash blinked a few times, then winced. "Ew. Right. That pony. I didn't like that pony."

"Never mind her—You had it totally going, Rainbow!" Cloud Chaser smiled in mixed shock and curiosity. "I swear you had a position in the Wonderbolts practically made for you! What happened?" She gasped, bringing a hoof over her mouth. "You... you didn't get injured, did y-you?"

"Naw. Nothing like that."

"Then what?"

"What's it matter?"

"It... erm..." Cloud Chaser shrugged. "I... I guess it mattered at the time. Heh..." She fiddled with her ponytail some more, gazing off towards the rooftops of Ponyville under glinting sunset. "I had put so much time and energy and hope into entering the Academy. When it happened, it was nothing less than the high point of my young life. Heck..." She exhaled softly with a bittersweet expression. "It still makes me feel warm and toasty inside just to think about."

"Really?" Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow. "I kind of thought it was all boring, really."

With a dry chuckle, Cloud Chaser glanced at Rainbow again. "Well, you would think that. Everything was a total breeze for you."

"Meh. Maybe at first."

"Hmmm?"

Rainbow Dash stifled a yawn as she said, "The Wonderbolts... mmmf..." She kicked at a stray bit of dust on the ground. "It seemed so cool at first. I mean, I loved their air shows and stuff. Heck, I still do. But being in the Academy... having to do everything that I was told... having to show up to all of those boring safety meetings and stuff..."

"Wait..." Cloud Chaser did a double-take. "You mean to say you—"

"First chance I got!" Rainbow Dash said, and her grin was undeniably a proud one. "And a good thing too! Later on, I learned of how much of a toil those constant air shows took on a pegasus' wings. It's like playing hoofball twenty-four-seven with no breaks; it tears the body to shreds. Yeah, no thanks. I'm better off doing what I'm doing right now and loving it. Who says I need to retire young like Spitfire?"

"Just what are you up to these days anyways?"

Rainbow Dash smirked and pointed up at the dissipating rain clouds.

Cloud Chaser blinked at them, then looked back at Rainbow. "Weather flying? For real?"

"As real as rain! Hah!" Rainbow Dash hovered above her. "Get it?!"

"Oh, I get it. It's just..."

"What?" Rainbow Dash folded her forelimbs and frowned ever so slightly. "I'm the best cloud kicker this town's got! Always have been and always will be!"

"Oh, I have no doubt—"

"Heck, just last month, I diverted a tornado from Whitetail Woods—single hoofedly!"

"Hah!" Cloud Chaser sported a wide grin. "Now that's the old Rainbow Dash I remember!"

"Darn tootin'!" Rainbow Dash hovered in tight circles, stretching her wings as she tilted her nose up with a haughty smirk. "This place has gotten absolutely zero hailstorm damage over the past five consecutive years! Ask the Mayor! She'll tell you it's an Equestrian record!"

"Wow! No kidding..." Cloud Chaser leaned on her suitcases and uttered, "I hope they're paying you well."

"Well enough. I'm making sixteen thousand bits a year."

"Oh, you're—" Cloud Chaser's face went pale. "Oh." She squinted. "Really?"

"Uh, yeah." Rainbow raised an eyebrow at her. "Why, what do you make doing... doing...?"

"Well, when I couldn't make it into the Academy, I kind of floundered around for a bit," Cloud Chaser said with a touch of an embarrassing blushed. "Thankfully, I was still living with my folks, and they were kind enough to give me some sound advice."

"Hey, it's all coming back to me!" Rainbow Dash pointed from above. "You flew off to Trottingham, right?"

"Yup!"

"So what? You took up cloud kicking there?"

"Real estate, actually. I'm... uhm... averaging about forty-two thousand a year."

Rainbow Dash ran into the edge of the train station rooftop. She hovered limply, rubbing her aching head. "Uhm..." She whispered, cleared her throat, and spoke a bit more solidly. "Hey, well, dang. That's... uhm... that's..."

"Yeah, I know..." Cloud Chaser stifled a sigh. "I could easily be making fifty thousand like several of my competitors, but... heh..." She shrugged. "That's what I get for not keeping a very good eye on the market. But it's all good." She tilted her face up with a proud grin. "I've got some land in east Fillydelphia of my own in case I wish to relocate the business and start anew with my sister. She's in her fifth year as a land surveyor in northern Equestria."

"Your... sister..." Rainbow Dash blinked steadily. "You mean Flitter?"

"Yeah! That's who I came to visit, actually! I wanted to go over some figures with her before we decide what to do with the land. As a matter of fact, she's waiting as we speak, and I really shouldn't keep her sitting around for too long." She picked up her suitcases with the agile tips of her wings. Pausing, she looked up and bequeathed Rainbow another grin. "Hey, we should totally hang out again! It'd be just like old times! Maybe I can get Flitter to do my mane like it was back in our Academy Days! Wouldn't that be awesome?"

"Uhhh... Sure..." Rainbow Dash smiled awkwardly. "That... could be fun."

"It's really nice seeing you again, Rainbow," Cloud Chaser said. She added with a warmer smile. "And I'm so glad to hear how happy you've been after all this time. It really brings some warmth to my heart." She waved and trotted off. "See ya!"

"Oh, totally..." Rainbow Dash waved back, gulping. "Let's have... some fun times." Her brow furrowed. She turned to look at her rainclouds.

They had disappeared on their own, having rinsed the moisture loose completely. All of the weather flier's hoofwork had practically vanished.

Rainbow Dash bit her lip. Nevertheless, she shrugged off the sound of her own heartbeat in her ears and took off for the east end of town.


"And then I covered the north end with precipitation. It only took four clouds, but I got Central Park rained on as well as the town cemetery," uttered a thin, winged stallion as he hovered at attention before a square cloud looming high above Ponyville. "Here. Uhm..." He rummaged through a camera bag until he produced a set of scrolls with inked hoofprints on them. "I got signatures of confirmation from two of the park's gardeners and—"

"That'll do, Featherweight," a slightly older stallion with a gray coat said with a smile. He sat on the cloud, scribbling across a checklist. "I was surveying the town all day long. I saw you in action. I know that you met your quota."

"You sure, Mr. Rumble?" Featherweight bit his lip with his pronounced incisors. "I thought it was customary for us to turn in signed sheets as confirmation that we watered the appropriate zones and—"

"Featherweight, seriously!" Rumble glanced up, smirking. The setting sun illuminated a thundercloud brimming with yellow lightning bolts on his flank. "First thing: we flippin' went to the same school together. You don't have to call me Mister anything."

Featherweight stammered, "B-but you're my supervisor and I-I only wanted to—"

"Second..." Rumble leaned forward with emphasis. "You really have to relax! Weather flying for Ponyville isn't exactly rocket science. We're not in the skies over Detrot, you feel me?"

Featherweight allowed a heavy breath to roll through him. "Okay..." he said with a shuddering nod.

"I know you're only doing this to make some money on the side of your photoshoots." Rumble smiled. "Did I or didn't I say in our interview that you've got it made? Just don't screw anything up badly, and you'll be fine. Already I can see you've got this in the bag."

"O-okay..." Featherweight's wings flapped steadily as he smiled with leisure. "Thanks. I... I guess I-I'm still stoked to be doing something useful for a change."

"Heck, you've always been useful, dude." Rumble scribbled a bit more over his checklist. "But face it: even starving artists gotta do practical things for oats money, you dig?"

"Heheheh... Yeah. I dig."

"Have a good rest of the day off, Featherweight," Rumble said, glancing over his clipboard. "See you tomorrow morning, six o'clock, bright and early."

"Emphasis on 'bright!'" Featherweight saluted, slung his camera bag over his shoulder, and darted down towards the rooftops of Ponyville, passing by weather pegasi who were hovering in separate, buzzing conversations after a full day's work. As the young stallion descended, a bright blue blur rocketed up past him, nearly tossing him into a four-story hotel rooftop.

Arriving on a wave of thunder, Rainbow Dash came to a grinding stop against the cloud, sending bits of mists flying all around. Rumble flinched, gripping hard to his clipboard. Several nearby pegasi gasped as the bits of cloud struck them. They chuckled/giggled and cheered the resident speedster's showmareship.

"Thank you! Thank youuuuu!" Rainbow Dash bowed multiple times, smirking. "I'm here all week."

"Ahem..." Rumble stifled a frown as he glanced at Rainbow. "I'm guessing you just got back from the train depot."

"Actually, no. I decided to water Bon Bon's garden along the way."

"Oh?" Rumble blinked, then flipped to the second page of his checklist. "But... th-that's not on the itinerary until tomorrow..."

"I know, right?!" Rainbow Dash smiled wide. "But—like—she was on the way here, and I thought—what the heck—and decided to knock it out ahead of time. She was totally cool with it, cuz—like—it opens her schedule for the middle of the day tomorrow. Candy ponies gonna candy, if ya feel me."

"I... guess..." Rumble cleared his throat. "So, uh... Looks like you did everything that was assigned to you..." He took a deep breath and nodded. "Again. And then some..."

"We're way ahead of schedule, aren't we?" Rainbow grinned proudly and nudged the petite stallion with her elbow. "Captain, my Captain?"

"I'll say..." He flipped a few more pages. "My only concern is where we'll get the moisture to cover tomorrow's schedule with you having rained on two extra locations a day early—"

"Oh, I'm totally way ahead of you!" Rainbow Dash darted until she was hovering behind the young pegasus' shoulder. She pointed at the checklist. "If you look ten or so pages in advance, you'll see that the Weather Commission advises us to kick up water from the western mountain reserves in case we need extra precipitation."

"Uhhhh..." Rumble blinked. "Where is that, exactly?"

"Just flip forward a few more times."

Rumble did so. His expression brightened. "Oh. Here it is."

"Heh..." Rainbow perched down on the cloud beside him. "I know you're new to this whole supervising thing, kiddo, but all it amounts to is thinking ahead of the paperwork." She rubbed her hoof against her chest and nonchalantly examined the end of it. "So long as we don't grab too much water too quickly from the local lakes, they won't bite our heads off about it."

"So, in the meantime..."

"Ponies like me can get the job done super early and then the rest of us get downtime towards the end of the week!" Rainbow Dash winked at him. "Pretty schnazzy, huh?"

"Wow, Rainbow..." Rumble nodded slowly. "You sure know your stuff..."

"Pffft. It's all about getting one's hooves wet. I'm no egghead or nothin'." She hovered back up and flew loops around him. "But, hey! Look at you! Moving on up, are we?"

"Err..." Rumble glanced up at her. "Huh?"

"Hah. Don't be modest, kiddo. Your older brother would ask me to beat you up."

"Ugh..." Rumble's ears drooped as he fought off a frown. "Don't talk to me about Thunderlane..."

"Why not? He should be super-duper proud of you!" Rainbow Dash came to a fluttering stop in front of his face. "You've been at this for—what—only two years? Already you're barking orders!"

"Rainbow, this doesn't qualify as 'barking orders,'" Rumble said with a groan. "Besides, I only got this job because..." He paused and glanced at her. He shifted uncomfortably on the cloud. "Well, you know..."

"What? You couldn't make it as a firepony?" Rainbow Dash chuckled. "Hey, you remember that one time I had to rescue you from a burning treehouse when you were—like—eight or something? Whew... and I thought only fillies shrieked that high."

"Brrrr..." Rumble hugged the clipboard as his wings coiled tightly. "Don't remind me..."

Rainbow Dash laughed so hard she nearly broke out in tears.

Rumble, however, wasn't exactly smiling. "I always knew you were good at what you did, Rainbow Dash..."

"Hahaha—Ahem. Darn tootin'."

"And... yet..." He bit his lip, fidgeted some more, and eventually sighed. "Never mind."

She blinked at him. Her lips went thin. "Yeah, what?"

"Nothing. I mean..." He ran a hoof through his stone-gray mane and then glanced up at her with an earnest expression. "Did you step down from a supervisory position just for my sake?"

"Meh... Sure, why not."

"I'm serious. Did you?"

"Relax, kid." Rainbow Dash waved him off as she hovered backwards in a lazy drift. "I'm supervisor every other season. What matters to me is that the town gets its rain and isn't hounded by tornadoes."

"Well, yeah. But I wasn't exaggerating earlier. You're incredibly good at what you do, Rainbow Dash."

"Heck, I'm the best at what I do!"

"Okay, yes. That's also true," Rumble said with a nod. He swallowed and leaned forward as he said, "But is that really enough?"

"Huh?"

"It's just that..." Rumble winced as he tried to make the words come out. "I've always looked up to you, Rainbow. Not just me, but all the colts and fillies I went to school with. I mean—heck—Scootaloo practically worshipped you."

"Hah! She did, didn't she?"

"But now that I'm here and I've got all of this stuff to do as Ponyville's cloud flying supervisor... well..." He chewed on the end of his lip. "It feels super weird..."

"Why?" Rainbow Dash smirked. "You're going places, kid!"

"Erm..."

"Soon you'll be making hurricanes for Cloudsdale like my teams used to!"

"Yeah, and I was there when you led those! You've always been such an amazing weather captain!" Rumble smiled slightly before nervously adding, "That's why it feels so weird to be... y'know... ordering you around."

"Heck, you don't get the chance to!" She winked at him. "I know my way around these skies!"

"Right. You know everything. You do everything. I mean..." Rumble shrugged. "Rainbow Dash, do you... d-do you really want to be here forever?"

Rainbow Dash blinked with a blank expression. She turned to look steadily at him. "Huh?"

"Don't you want to move on up?" Rumble remarked. "Like... become a superintendent in Cloudsdale or Los Pegasus? Ascend to the the council of the Equestrian Weather Flier Commission?"

"Uhhhh... why would I want to do that?"

"I dunno. You're just..." Rumble glanced down at the other weather fliers; they were all close to his age. "You're so good at what you do, and you've been doing it all this time. You could have it so much better."

"Hey!" Rainbow Dash folded her forelimbs with a slight frown. "I happen to like it here! There's no way I'd ditch Ponyville! I'm the loyalest pony there is in these parts!"

"And I know that! I do! But..." Rumble grimaced as he said, "Is that really paying you back at all?"

Rainbow Dash's brow furrowed. "How do you mean?"

"I, for one, don't plan on being here forever. I've told you time and time again that I'm only doing the supervisory thing so that I can move on up. Soon I'll be managing weather fliers in Torontrot alongside my brother."

"Well, good for you!" Rainbow Dash smiled. "Heck, it's great timing! You're at cider-drinking age, right?"

"Uhhh..." Rumble's eyes were thin. "I'm eighteen."

Rainbow Dash blinked. "Huh..."

"And I'm not going to Torontrot to party like Thunderlane has," he said with a slightly disgruntled tone. "I'm going there because the weather flying is challenging, and the experience I'll undoubtedly earn there can further my career. Heck, they have cold mountain winds and icy gales to contend with on a regular basis. It's not at all like the kind of stuff we deal with here—which is nothing."

"What do you mean it's 'nothing?'" Rainbow Dash smirked. "This is Ponyville."

"Rainbow Dash..." Rumble verbally tap-danced around the next few words, "The weather here isn't exactly... well... hectic. There isn't much to deal with, not like in the bigger cities. Sometimes I think that we don't even need a supervisor or weather captain at all."

Rainbow Dash's ears twitched. She stared past him in silent contemplation.

"Look, I don't want to step on anypony's wings. Ever since I was promoted, I've tried my best to fit in, and you've been really super helpful." He smiled kindly. "Seriously, I don't know where I'd be if I didn't have you to lean on, Rainbow Dash. A part of me just feels like returning the favor, is all. I mean—seriously—haven't you ever once thought of flying off towards more challenging skies?"

"More... ch-challenging...?" her voice cracked.

"Cuz you'd totally own any and all clouds you'd come up against!" he exclaimed. "You're Rainbow Dash! You've shown cyclones who's boss! You've tackled hail storms and blizzards! Heck, you were even part of the Wonderbolts for a while there—" He suddenly winced. "I mean... w-weren't you?"

Rainbow Dash avoided his gaze. Her ears twitched, still hearing the melodic tone of Cloud Chaser's cheery voice. "I... er... uhm... k-kind of..."

Awkward silence lingered.

"Ahem. Well, it's getting late, and I've got a lot of paperwork to do before tomorrow morning," Rumble muttered as he hoofed through the clipboard. "Dear Goddess above, there's just so much to shift through. How'd you ever deal with it, anyways?"

"I... uh..." Rainbow Dash gulped and muttered in a low tone, "I usually didn't. I'd just do everything off the cuff. Wingin' it, y'know?"

Rumble slowly nodded. "Yeah... I guess I understand. Still... uhm..." He cleared his throat. "If I'm to be accepted into the Torontrot weather flying team someday—"

"Hey..." She smiled nervously. "You gotta do what you gotta do, right?"

"Right." He said. Then, after a lingering breath, he waved at her and the others before flying towards his home along the dwindling horizon. "Anywho, catch you tomorrow afternoon."

"Afternoon?" Rainbow squinted after him. "Aren't you up at the crack of dawn?"

"Eh, I get things done better that way. But I know how you like to sleep in and all, Rainbow Dash, and th-that's fine!" He grinned as he called out over the clouds, "Everypony trusts you to get the job done swiftly, whatever the case! So, see you then!"

"Yeah..." She muttered, pretending to wave back at him. "See ya..." The last glint of sunlight stabbed at her eyes. She glanced towards it, squinting. For a moment, time seemed to be going backwards and forwards all at once.


"I've watched Rumble grow up from a little foal into a find gentlecolt," murmured Rarity over the cacophonous sound of sewing machines and steamers at the far end of the Boutique. "But, like all stallions, he does stand to put his ego in check from time to time.”

She smiled, humming to herself as she adjusted a pair of bifocals and leaned over a complex design that she was touching up on an aged drawing board. All the while, a team of talented dressmakers were lined up across the shop, finishing the latest of a series of seasonal ballgowns.

"I wouldn't take his words too seriously if I were you, Rainbow Dash. You are certainly the most dependable pony we have in these parts. In calm or stormy weather, Ponyville has always leaned on you when it needed help the most. Now, can that be denied? Hmmm?"

There was no response. After another full minute of sketching, Rarity brushed aside her straight edge and graphite pen.

"Rainbow?" She lowered her glasses and squinted across the Boutique's corner office.

Rainbow Dash was gazing deeply into a stand-up mirror beside the window.

"Did you hear a single word that I've said, darling?" the fashionista inquired.

"I guess..." Rainbow Dash took a strangely contemplative breath. "Something about Rumble and his ego..."

"Do tell me what you are thinking about, Rainbow."

"I'm thinking..." Rainbow Dash gulped, pivoting the mirror slightly on its hinges. "I'm thinking that I used to have a lot more green in my mane."

"Hmmm..." Rarity smirked and turned back to her sketch. "I do think you're making a mountain out of a molehill. You still have the most fabulous hair out of all of us, darling, and it pains me to no-end that after all of these years you still refuse to let me make something fashionable out of it."

Rainbow's groan was as long and melodramatic as Rarity could have anticipated.

The elegant unicorn nevertheless laughed and said, "Alas, even if you had something to worry about, I do believe you're mourning the least desirable color of your natural ensemble."

"Meh, I didn't come here to talk about putting curlers in our manes," Rainbow Dash muttered as she paced behind her.

"Oh?" Rarity bit her lip as she drew a careful line across the gown she was inventing on the side. "Then what did you come here to discuss, my dear?"

"Oh, y'know..." Rainbow shrugged with a sigh. "I dunno. Today was just... j-just weird, is all."

"In what manner?" Rarity asked. A mare with a poker cap trotted up, holding a length of silken skirts. Rarity swiveled to face her, examining the freshly sewn material with her hooves as she spoke. "You seem none the worse for wear, if I may be so bold."

"Nothing happened, really..."

"Then I fail to see what the conundrum is," Rarity remarked, nodding in approval as she motioned the mare off. The worker returned to the far end of the Boutique where all the noise of the machines were the loudest. "Unless you're just not feeling well."

"But that's just it!" Rainbow Dash exclaimed. She sat on her haunches besides Rainbow and folded her forelimbs. "Nothing happened today!" She fidgeted. "And... y'know, I'm starting to get the feeling that... that..."

"Hmmm?"

"Pffft..." Rainbow Dash spoke out the side of her mouth. "Nothing ever happens."

"Ahhhhh..." Rarity slowly nodded as she leaned further over her sketch. "The classic case of the doldrums. It assails us all from time to time, darling. Even our beloved Princess has her own version of the ailment. She calls it 'Writer's Hoof.'" Rarity managed a dainty little chuckle.

Rainbow's brow furrowed. "How do you mean?"

"Only that, from time to time, we all suffer from a drought of creativity."

"I'm no artist like you, Rare."

"But is your life any less artistic? Hmmm?" Rarity glanced aside through her bifocals, smiling. "When one works on the same canvas over and over and over again, a certain amount of lethargy can be expected. Speaking for myself, that's why I've branched out so much over the past decade. There was once a time when I thought I'd never so much as touch the domain of suit-making. And yet, three years ago, I spent four seasons in a row making nothing but outfits for stallions. Oh! How refreshing a change it was! I had no idea fitting clothes for dashing gents could be so rewarding! And when I eventually returned back to ballgowns, I found inspiration blooming around every corner! All it ever needed was the titillating breath of change!"

Rainbow Dash rubbed her scalp in thought. "So... perhaps what I need is some change?"

"Horses for courses, dear."

"Buh?"

Rarity glanced aside at her. "You have to desire change in the first place."

"Yeah... but..." Rainbow shrugged. "I like what I do here. Heck, I love what I do here."

Rarity chuckled airily. "Oh, I know you do. That's one reason why you're so regularly dependable, Rainbow Dash. I find it quaint."

"Errr... yeah..." Rainbow Dash gulped. "Quaint..."

"You remind me in a lot of ways of Applejack," Rarity said. After saying that, her smile faded, and she gazed for a brief moment through her own reflection in the nearby window. "She was always so much at peace with what she did. She was strong, like you. There was no second-guessing when and where she would be in a pinch."

Rainbow Dash was quiet. She glanced at the noisy end of the Boutique, then at the starlight wafting in through the windows. "So, like... do you always work your staff this late?"

Rarity was still gazing off in thought.

Rainbow coughed. "Rare?"

"Hmmm?" Rarity turned to blink at her. "Oh! Well... we have the most terribly demanding deadline to meet, what with the order we have to finish for the Summer Sun Pageant in Trottingham. I'm paying everypony time-and-a-half, of course." She gave a flighty laugh. "Sometimes, I swear, they'd move in here with me if I let them."

"It's a crowded place these days," Rainbow Dash muttered, gazing towards the far end of the shop. "It used to be a lot quieter."

"Oh really? And when did that ever matter to you, hmmm?" Rarity sketched some more on her drawing board. "I swear, there was a time when making you stay more than five minutes here was akin to pulling teeth."

"Yeah, well..." Rainbow Dash shrugged. "At least it was lot quieter and less... headache-y."

"I've learned to adapt to the noise," Rarity said, drawing another straight line. "It's almost like a symphony at this point—sashaying in one ear and pirouetting out the other. Besides, the greater the challenge, the more invigorating the task."

"Still, don't you ever miss how you used to work?"

"How do you mean?"

"I dunno. It just seems like... like..." Rainbow blew a prismatic bang out from her forehead. "Like your talent is so spread out. It's no longer just yours. You gotta share it with so many other ponies—and for what? To make more bits?"

"It's certainly helped cushion Sweetie Belle while she started her music career."

"Well, I guess..."

"I've always endeavored to aim high, Rainbow Dash," Rarity said, thoroughly absorbed in her sketch. "Sacrifices have to be made, even if they're just sacrifices of solitude."

"But don't you ever miss it?" Rainbow gulped. "Working alone, that is?"

Rarity paused. She blinked through her bifocals and murmured rather absent-mindedly, "I can't say I entirely remember what it feels like anymore." A few more blinks, and she shrugged. "Ah well. There's only moving forward, after all."

"Yeah..." Rainbow ran a hoof through her mane and gazed at the busy, busy shop. "I guess..."


That night, Rainbow Dash couldn't sleep. So, as always when insomnia hit her, she took to her books.

However, there was one difference, something that she had never encountered before. When she took a book to bed with her, she had proceeded no more than five pages before she found herself murmuring the lines out loud about two paragraphs ahead of time. This didn't happen with one book, but with two, then three, then four and five. Soon enough, Rainbow Dash was hovering in a limp state before her bookcase, glancing lethargically across multiple different illustrated covers of Daring Do locked in one perilous situation after another.

She exhaled long and hard. Every title in the series sparked a flash of visual images in her head, and she realized with each brief scan she made of the collection how dimmer and dimmer that spark appeared to be.

Without thinking, her eyes traveled to a far corner of her room where a stack of periodicals sat in the same lazy pile where she had left them for the past... two... three years? She reached over and brushed aside a paperweight to see the topmost magazine's cover. She needed only three seconds of glancing at the image of the Wonderbolts before fitfully sliding the paperweight back to block their jumpsuited figures.

Exhaling with a shudder, she started pacing around the room. Three times, she passed a shelf that was lined with yellow medals. She stopped in place for a full minute, then pivoted about to stare at the items directly. She faintly remembered them being gold one time—even shiny. In the middle of several trophies—all nearly eleven years old each—there rested a golden crown.

She picked it up with two hooves, startled at how lightweight it felt compared to her memory. In the center, flanked by a pair of golden wings, was a jaded lightning bolt. She brushed off a layer of dust with the crook of her hoof, exposing "Best Young Flier" to the light of the room for the first time in years. The surface was glossy yet again, and in it she saw the face of an older mare. When she tilted the gold polish to see the pony's mane, she swore there was no green left whatsoever.

A low rumble came from beneath Rainbow's throat. She pivoted her flank as she turned her head around. Glancing at her tail, she briefly wondered if she ever had the color green begin with.


"It's in four daaaaaaays!"

Rainbow Dash glanced up from the kitchen floor of Sugarcube Corner the following morning. "Huh?"

Pinkamena smiled at her. "Your birthday, silly filly!" She snorted on a laugh as she resumed spooning baby food into the mouth of a happy little foal squatting in a high chair before her. "And what a super-duper terrific birthday it's gonna be!"

"It is?"

"Pfft! Well, duh!" Pinkamena scooped another spoon of soft food, her straight fuchsia hair glimmering in the kitchen light. "You're going over the hill, aren't you?"

"Over... the hill?"

"Well, knowing you, more like rocketing thunderously over the hill at the speed of awesome!" Pinkamena dramatically waved the spoon around the foal's head. "Nyeaaaarughhh-zooooooom-fwoooosh!" The baby giggled, allowing its mother to feed it another mouthful.

"Oh, right..." Rainbow Dash shrugged. "Whatever."

"Pfft! Don't 'whatever' me!" Pinkamena grinned over her shoulder. "It's a special occasion, girl! I've been looking forward to throwing you a 'Happy Thirty Years' party for a long, long time!"

Rainbow Dash smirked. "Yeah, well, I bet it won't beat the kind of parties you used to throw."

"Oh please..." Pinkamena rolled her eyes. "If I threw the kind of parties I used to, the Cakes would finally say I'm possessed and throw me and Noteworthy out."

"Wouldn't that be a good thing?" Rainbow Dash asked. "I mean, don't you guys ever get sick of living in your Aunt and Uncle's home?"

"Eh... not really." Pinkamena shrugged, feeding the foal another spoonful and dabbing its chin clean. "I'm learning the ways of the business through and through, and Noteworthy's finally leading the music department at Ponyville High. So things are pretty steady."

"So, is that it, then?" Rainbow Dash leaned against a kitchen counter, chewing on her bottom lip. "You've just... y'know... settled?"

Pinkamena chuckled, casting Rainbow a glance as she trotted over to the counter with the tray of baby food. "Wowsers, bowsers, you're especially serious this morning! When you showed up at the kitchen door a few minutes ago, I thought you wanted to borrow a cup of sugar, not suck on a lemon!"

Rainbow Dash winced. "Err, sorry, Pinkie. I'm... uh... just not used to being up this early."

"Why are you up this early?"

"Meh. I dunno. I couldn't sleep last night, I guess." She shrugged. "Besides, what would it hurt to do some weather flying before noon for a change?"

"Really?"

"Uhhh... yeah really." Rainbow Dash leaned forward with arching eyebrows. "Why, is that so strange?"

"Just a teensy weensy bit." Pinkamena washed a bowl in the sink and wiped it clean. "But I've seen stranger. Heck, a few months ago, Noteworthy started sleepwalking a whole bunch. It wasn't so bad at first, but then he nearly fell down the stairs, waking up the Cakes and everypony. I finally confronted him about it, and after a talk we both realized he was stressing out about something at school with the faculty. I convinced him to tackle the situation head on, and he's slept like a rock ever since!" She waggled her eyebrows at Rainbow. "A handsome hunk of a rock. Rowwwr—Heeheehee!"

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. "I'm not dealing with stress..."

Pinkamena shrugged. "Who said you were?"

"I just... I'm sick of ponies telling me that I need to change who and what I am and stuff!" Rainbow Dash blurted.

Pinkamena stopped what she was doing with a clatter of dishes. The foal in the high seat gurgled and giggled as its mother turned to squint at Rainbow Dash. "Just who in the heck has been saying that about you, Dashie?"

"Oh... uhm..." Rainbow Dash's cheeks went red. She brushed her bangs back and cleared her throat, "Nopony, I guess."

"Then why'd you say that?"

"I dunno."

"You don't know?"

"Look, I just dunno, alright!" Rainbow Dash frowned, folding her forelimbs tighter as she glared into the kitchen floor. "There's just so much—... I mean I have—..." With a groan, she rested her face against her hoof. "Unnngh... I really wished I could have slept more last night."

Pinkamena blinked. She softly trotted over and rested a hoof on Rainbow's shoulder. "You know, Dashie, I really don't have to throw you a big party if you don't want one."

Rainbow Dash glanced up, blinking awkwardly. She squinted at her friend. "Why would I not want one?"

Pinkamena shrugged, bearing a gentle smile. "Call it a hunch."

"Is this the return of the pinkie sense?" Rainbow Dash murmured. “Cuz it’s a pretty lame one.”

After a giggle, Pinkamena remarked, "You say that as if it ever went away."

"Didn't it, though?" Rainbow glanced at her friend's long, straight hair. She bit her lip before saying, "I... uh... I kind of miss the old you, y'know?" She gestured an exaggerated hoof over her own head. "The you that was so explosive and bouncy and... just you."

Pinkamena giggled lightly under her breath. She trotted over and swiveled the high seat's tray aside. "You wouldn't be the only one, Dashie. But, the fact is, I just can't be that 'old me' anymore." She gently lifted her foal out of the seat and cradled her as she sat on her haunches across from Rainbow. "I've got a family, a husband, a home—even if it's not exactly my home." She rolled her eyes, but smiled as she played with the little foal's nose. "Sure, maybe I've 'settled,' but that's only because I wanted to."

"You sure of that?" Rainbow Dash asked.

"It's like this, really." Pinkamena glanced up. "I didn't lose the 'old me' as much as I found the 'new me.' I'm happy this way, I truly am, just as Rarity is happy with her career and Fluttershy is happy with her animals and Twilight is happy with her sparkly tiara—hee hee hee!"

"But I can't help but feel that... like..." Rainbow Dash shrugged and sighed. "Everypony changed all at once, almost as if they had to."

"You're saying that Twilight had to become a Princess?"

"No. That's different. I mean you and Rarity and Fluttershy and even Spike, before he joined the migration, that is. It feels like everypony changed." Rainbow Dash looked up with dull eyes. "And it all happened around the time that Applejack left us, didn't it?"

Pinkamena said nothing. She simply rocked the foal in her arms.

Rainbow gulped and murmured, "Didn't it?"

"Applejack had something that we all did, only she understood it more." Pinkamena looked up with soft blue eyes. "She had a home, Dashie. And in some way, that was more fulfilling to her than anything."

"So, five years ago, you realized that you needed what she needed?" Rainbow Dash remarked. "A home?"

"No, but it took me those same five years to realize what made Applejack so happy to have something so simple." Pinkamena grinned as she cradled her baby closer and nuzzled it. "Love, Dashie. A different kind of love, something special and heart-warming in its own right."

Rainbow Dash stared at her. She blinked... then blinked again. "Bleachkkk..."

Pinkamena snorted on a laugh, grinning warmly. "Somehow, I just knew you'd react that way."

"Yeah, well—just like with remembering my birthday—you're pretty much on the nose."

"And maybe that's why you..." Pinkamena stopped in mid-speech, wincing. "Erm..."

"What?"

"Never mind..."

"No, what?" Rainbow Dash stood up and leaned forward. "What were you going to say? I really wanna know."

"I was going to say..." Pinkamena fidgeted, then spoke over the shoulder of her foal, "Th-that maybe that's what you need in your life, too."

"What? A birthday?"

"No, a home."

Rainbow Dash squinted. "But... I-I have a home. It's here."

Pinkamena quietly stared at her.

"In Ponyville," Rainbow Dash breathed.

"The thing about a home, Dashie—and it's taken me a while to learn this: it's not all about the place so much as it is about the ponies."

"But... But then it's you guys!" Rainbow Dash exclaimed, gesturing beyond the walls. "You're the reason I'm still here!"

Pinkamena was struggling to smile at this point.

Rainbow Dash blinked. "R-right?" She gulped. "I mean... you guys need your Element of Loyalty, don't ya?"

Pinkamena's lips moved, fumbling for words. She rocked her baby for a few moments before staring into the walls and saying, "I have a family now, Rainbow Dash. Twilight's got a kingdom to run. Rarity is muzzle-deep in her job these days. Fluttershy's got her own thing going—"

"But you need me, right?" Rainbow Dash's voice wavered. "You've always needed me, haven't you?"

Pinkamena's gaze returned to Rainbow, and her eyes were somewhat sad. "I think we need you to need yourself, Dashie."

Rainbow's ears drooped.

"I look out the window and see you flying circles and circles and more circles in the sky, keeping the city clean, ever loyal, and..." Pinkamena fumbled. Ultimately, she shrugged and said, "And it looks so lonely up there." She gulped and said, "I sometimes think that I'm not the one pony who has 'settled.'"


Rainbow Dash kicked the clouds extra-hard for the rest of that morning. She watered the streets and fields of Ponyville with as much speed and professionalism as ever, but there was no grace to it; there was nary a dashing spectacle to be had.

Her movements were quick and jagged, forceful and to the point. It wasn't until she was watering the edge of a pond to the south of the town that she glanced at her reflection and realized just how much she was frowning. However, it wasn't even her expression that she was staring at. Her eyes couldn't help but fixate on the color of her coat—how it seemed to be a great deal duller than the sky it had once blended so easily with.

Grumbling, Rainbow Dash darted off to the next job... and the next one after that. Sooner than she had expected, she had accomplished her entire quota for the day. Even Rumble was stunned, giving her a ridiculous shrug when she asked if there were any more tasks to be done. Unsatisfied, she literally hijacked Featherweight's cloud and flew north to water his assigned fields for him. She was too quick to register—much less obey—the loud objections of her young supervisor. She could outfly his voice; she could outfly anything.

And so it was that she found herself having accomplished Featherweight's entire itinerary in addition to her own, and she hated herself for it, because now she found herself sitting on an errant cloud with nothing but her spinning thoughts to fill the time of the looming afternoon.

Gripping her hoof in a pair of hooves, she gritted her teeth and glared daggers down into the distant countryside.

It was all so easy. Had it always been so easy?

She shut her eyes and bonked her own skull several times, grunting. When she reopened her eyes, there was a gray haze about the world. She wasn't used to not sleeping in late, and yet things didn't feel all that different. If she had woken up right then and there and gazed at the sky, she could very well have mistaken the morning for the afternoon or the other way around.

Eventually, her thoughts swam back to the conversations she had had with Rarity and Pinkamena. The substance of their words was lost to her, and for the moment she could only remember their expressions, their mannerisms, their smiles and frowns and sighs and chuckles. Everypony around her always seemed so sure of what to say, or at least how to feel when saying it, and her friends were no exception.

Rainbow's nostrils flared as she tossed herself to the side, lying face-up on the cloud. The sun was reaching its noonday peak. Suddenly, it was the middle of the day. Time hinged on a single, blinding moment, and she felt like she could just as easily have been falling the entire time.

Gravity. Rainbow Dash's brow furrowed. She thought of Rarity sitting before her drawing board... of Pinkamena cuddling her foal... of Rumble and his clipboard... Cloud Chaser and her suitcases.

Blinking, Rainbow Dash sat up. Her wings twitched, and she glanced southwest towards a stretch of orchards, glistening green and red.

A light smirk crossed her features.

In a blink, she kicked off the cloud, flipped three times, and barreled her way towards the farmland.


"Nnnngh!" Apple Bloom's hooves kicked solidly against a tree. A dozen apples fell into their appropriate baskets, resting in the shade from the sweltering sun.

She paused, slumping over to catch her breath. Her yellow coat was drenched in sweat, from her short crimson bangs to her cutie mark of an apple red paint brush. She shoved the basket over towards a wooden wagon chock full of glistening fruit right around the time Rainbow Dash's voice chirped from above.

"Hey there, AB! How's it hoofin'?"

Apple Bloom panted. She gulped and lifted the brim of her brown hat to gaze up.

Rainbow Dash hovered in the sunlight, her wings cooling Apple Bloom from above. "Dang, that's an awful lot of apples you've got yourself there!"

Apple Bloom nodded breathlessly. "And how..." She stammered. With a grunt, she heaved the latest basket into the wagon and lurched towards the next tree. "I've been workin' around the clock on this here harvest. At the moment, I'm a tad bit behind schedule. I'm surprised Scootaloo hasn't told ya."

"Oh, she did! Which got me to thinking..." Rainbow Dash plopped down in front of the young mare. "I bet you're really needing some help around here, AB!"

"Help?" Apple Bloom caught her breath in time to squint over at Rainbow. "Well, shucks. Help would be mighty nice, but I rightly can't ask that from anypony. Especially you."

"Pfft! Why not?" Rainbow Dash smirked. "I'm here. I'm fast. I'm agile. Did I mention that I'm here?"

"Heheheh..." Apple Bloom cracked a weary smile. "That's awfully sweet n'all, Rainbow, but ain't you already got a job to do in town?"

"Already done!"

"Huh? What do you mean 'done?'"

"What else would it mean?" Rainbow Dash hovered around her as Apple Bloom trotted to another tree and began bucking it. "I'm telling you, all of my cloud kicking, rain soaking, hailstone stopping is over and done with! I got an early start today!"

"Well, then..." Apple Bloom panted between bucks. "Good for you."

"Yupperooni. So, what should I be doing first?" Rainbow Dash darted back and forth between Apple Bloom and the wagon. "Kicking the big trees? The small trees? The big and small trees? Oh! Or would you like me on wagon duty?"

"Rainbow..."

"If I took out half the load it's currently got, I could totally fly the sucker to the barn. Wouldn't that be awesome?"

"Rainbow, really, I—"

"It'd cut time in half, not to mention look totally cool!" In a blur, Rainbow Dash positioned herself in front of the wagon. "Here, I'll go on and attach myself—"

"No—wait—hang on!" Apple Bloom stretched out a hoof. "Just slow down for a minute—"

"B-but you look totally exhausted!"

"That's because I am totally exhausted—"

"So let me help! I wanna be useful!"

"Rainbow..."

"This harvest must be super important. No reason to kill yourself over it. Not alone, at least. Heheheheh..."

"Rainbow, lemme just ask..." Apple Bloom tilted her hat back and narrowed her amber eyes. "Just why are you doin' this all of the sudden?"

Rainbow Dash blinked at her. "Is... there something wrong with wanting to help the little sister of one of my best friends ever?"

Apple Bloom took a deep breath. "No, I reckon t'ain't nothin' wrong with it. I just... well..."

"Hmmm?"

"Eheh..." Apple Bloom wiped the sweat off her brow. "At the risk of soundin' cross, I find it a little bit out of left field."

"How so?"

"Well, you've never really offered to help like this before, now have ya?"

Rainbow Dash stared at her. "Well... so what if I wanna change, huh?" She blinked, then smiled plastically. "Change is good, r-right?" One of her eyes twitched.

Apple Bloom stared at her. "Right..."

"Besides, better late than never!"

Apple Bloom's brow furrowed. "Did Scootaloo put y'all up to this?"

"Uhhhhh..." Rainbow Dash actually had to think about it for a few seconds. "...no."

"Hmmm..." Apple Bloom rubbed her chin.

"Why do you ask?"

"Nnnnngh... Never mind. T'ain't important." With a sigh, Apple Bloom turned and resumed bucking the trees. "If you wanna help, I'm not one to stop you. It's a might bit refreshin' to get a helpin' hoof besides Big Mac's or Cheerilee's. But I can do pretty well on my own."

"Well, duh." Rainbow Dash stifled a giggle as she hovered over closer. "You've been running this place for—like—years."

"Mmmf!" Apple Bloom kicked a tree hard, dropping two dozen apples all at once. "Darn tootin'. Profits have gone up during the time too."

"Hah! You don't say!"

"In a few years, I might actually have enough to pay some workhooves to work the place for me," she said.

Rainbow Dash did a double-take at that. "Huh? Pay workhooves?"

"That's right," Apple Bloom spat into the grass as she trotted around to the far side of the tree. "Then I'll turn Sweet Apple Acres into a big business. In another five years, I should have enough money to pursue other things."

"Oh? Like what?"

Apple Bloom kicked the tree then rested against it, catching her breath. "Oh... y'know..." She gazed off towards the far end of the orchards. "Stuff like what Scootaloo's doing..."

"Like at the Manehattan Tyrannosaur Igloo?"

"Mmmf... close enough..."

"But, hiring workhooves?" Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow. "Isn't that a little... oh, I dunno..."

"What?"

"It seems so bizarre." Rainbow Dash shrugged. "For the Apple Family, that is. I mean, Applejack never paid for help outside the farm. Heck, she hardly even asked for help from those closest to her!"

Apple Bloom quietly trotted to another tree. "I'm well aware of that," she muttered.

"But she eventually gave in to assistance from me, Twilight, and the rest! Cuz, like, for her, we had become a family!" Rainbow Dash smiled. "And where there's a family, there's a h-home!"

"A home..."

"Yeah! And I know that's super important for you guys!" Rainbow Dash grinned. "I mean, it's why you all settled with this place and accepted it for all it is... even if it isn't exciting or flashy or epic or—"

"Are you gonna buck apples or ain't ya?"

Rainbow Dash blinked. "I'm only saying, Apple Bloom, just because she's been gone for all this time doesn't mean you have to be alone in this! We can help you make this farm a better place! It doesn't have to come to paying ponies outside the family!"

"Mmmmm..." Apple Bloom's nostrils flared as she leaned against the tree in front of her. "Look, maybe this wasn't such a swell idea..."

"Why not? Think about it! I can come here regularly and buck apples left and right like there's no tomorrow! You'd like that, wouldn't you?"

"It... Rainbow Dash, I—"

"It'll be like things used to be! Y'know, when we all hung out and stuff!" Rainbow Dash grinned as she approached the nearest tree and raised her rear limbs. "It'll feel as if Applejack never even died!"

Apple Bloom hung her head and grumbled, "Okay, leave."

"What was that?"

Apple Bloom spun and snapped, "Will you just buzz off already?!"

Rainbow Dash bucked—but missed the tree completely. She fell flat on her belly, shaking her head in a dizzying fashion. "Huh? What's wrong?"

"Pfft! What's wrong?! You tell me what's wrong!" Apple Bloom frowned so hard her brow could cut diamonds. "Or can ya even do that?!"

"Look!" Rainbow Dash jumped up to her hooves, trembling slightly. "I was only saying—"

"Yes, but you ain't ever thinkin'!" Apple Bloom leaned forward, glaring down Rainbow Dash's face. "Ya talk like ya fly! Ya open yer mouth, wait for a good tail-wind, and just go off in any random direction! No, Rainbow Dash, I don't need yer help, and I reckon I never will! Not so long as yer a featherbrain!"

"Hey, now wait just a second..." Rainbow Dash frowned. "What's with the riot act?! I was only wanting to help—"

"Help me?! Or help yerself?"

"H-huh?" Rainbow Dash did a double-take.

"Ya think I'm dense?" Apple Bloom frowned as she trotted angrily back towards the tree and loose apples. "I dunno what crazy, manic spell has taken ya hostage, but I ain't havin' none of it on my farm! I know yer heart's in the right place, but y'all need to get yer head examined!"

"Okay, look, I'm sorry for—I dunno—hatching an egg down your throat, but chillax!"

"I can't!" Apple Bloom kicked at the tree. When the apples refused to fall, she grunted and kicked it several more times while grumbling, "I've got work to do! I've no time to be distracted by you fixin' to set accounts straight with... with... with whatever it is that's gotten yer noggin' all a’spinnin'!"

"Yeesh, just what is your deal, AB?" Rainbow Dash smirked awkwardly. "Applejack was stubborn, but she was never this hotheaded—"

"And do I look like Applejack to you?!" Apple Bloom spun a venomous frown at her. Her sweatstained body heaved as she snarled, "You speak of 'home' and 'family' and all that nonsense, but what do you really know about it, huh, Rainbow? I've heard barely a peep out of you in years and suddenly yer flyin' down to my level, offerin' to help just so it could make ya feel better?"

"I..." Rainbow Dash blinked. "Who said anything about me feeling—?"

"Runnin' this farm was Applejack's dream, not mine!" Apple Bloom spat. Her face stretched tight as she gazed up towards the sky, sniffling. "And I know it'd be st-strong and honorable for me to just shut my mouth and pretend that I'm okay with it—but I'm sick to death of ponies comparing me to her! After all these years, I don't need you doing it too!"

"I..." Rainbow Dash's lips quivered. She gulped hard and murmured, "I didn't realize that... that you had that kind of an issue, Apple Bloom..."

"T'ain't yer right to. T'ain't nopony's right but my own. That's why I've been workin' so hard. I don't expect Scoots to understand, and I sure as heck can't rightly expect you to either." She shuddered as a single tear ran down her cheek. "For some ponies, Rainbow, the sky just ain't the limit."

Rainbow Dash's lips hung open, but no words could come out. She gazed off towards the far end of the field as the sun glistened off the endless apples. For the time being, she couldn't tell if she was staring east or west.

Apple Bloom swallowed down a sob, her features straightening in a calm manner. "Look. I'm mighty sorry for blowin' up so awful-like. But... if you really, really wanna be of help, then just let me be alone. I do my best work when I'm by myself and with my own thoughts. Big Mac and Cheerilee figured that out long ago. It's... It's my own fault for not tellin' you, Pinkie, and the others."

"Apple Bloom..."

"Please, Rainbow Dash..." Apple Bloom's voice took on a solid, low tone as she trotted firmly towards the next tree. "Just go."

Rainbow Dash leaned forward in a final act of protest, but her hooves remained locked in place. She bit her lip, slowly gazing off into space as her head followed the emerald line of the horizon. Then, with a grumbling breath, she flapped her wings hard and rocketed skyward.

When she flew at full speed, it was well beyond the clouds... and beyond the airspace of Ponyville entirely.


The wide alabaster doors to the balcony of Canterlot Palace opened. Princess Twilight Sparkle's golden horseshoes made rhythmic clopping sounds against the polished, marble floor. She gazed through the doorframe, her violet eyes narrowing on a blue figure perched on the edge of the platform. Instantly, her features brightened. With a pleasant grin, she swiveled about and spoke to a pair of guards waiting at attention.

"If the ambassadors arrive early, tell them that I am taking care of personal business, and I shall join them shortly."

"Understood, your highness." The guards bowed low, turned around, and marched off towards the conference hall two chambers down.

With glowing telekinesis, the Princess closed the doors shut. She turned and gracefully strode on tall alicorn limbs towards her feathered friend. "Rainbow Dash. It is so wonderful to see you."

"Oh... uh... totally." Rainbow Dash gulped, then proceeded to bow low. "Your Majesty..."

"Oh, Rainbow..." Twilight stifled a giggle and forced the pegasus back into a standing position with a gentle hoof. "How many times have I told you not to do that?"

"Oh. Right. Well..." Rainbow Dash managed a bashful smile. She tilted her head up... and up to look Twilight in the eyes. "Some things are easier g-getting used to than others."

"I do sincerely apologize for my tardiness," Twilight said. She paused, then rolled her eyes at her own words. "Well, you know what I mean." A dainty laugh escaped her lips.

"No biggie..."

"There are delegates arriving all the way from Saddle Arabia. We're to discuss long distance trade agreements. It's all rather droll, really, but still necessary procedure." She wore a sad expression over her lavender features. "More than likely, I will have to pardon myself soon, I do hope you understand."

"It's my fault," Rainbow Dash muttered. She gazed down at her hooves as they squirmed against the marble balcony in the amber light of the sunset. "I should have written in ahead of time or something. This is totally rude of me..."

"Nonsense." Twilight Sparkle smiled wide. "Rainbow Dash, you are my dear friend. Though I may have a kingdom to run, I shall always find time for you. Now, tell me..." She leaned forward, her expression earnest. "How have you been faring?"

"Oh... y'know..." Rainbow Dash paced around the edge of the balcony, her prismatic bangs dancing in the high mountain winds of Canterlot. "Same old, same old."

Twilight Sparkle gave a regal blink. "Oh?"

"Yeah. Nothing..." Rainbow fidgeted, her wings flexing. "...all that exciting."

Princess Twilight's brilliant eyes narrowed. She glanced at the sky, then back at Rainbow Dash with a suspicious eyebrow arch. "Everything is... alright, back at home?"

"Oh, totally..."

"No emergency? No changeling attacks or parasprite swarms?"

"Pfft. I'd totally whoop their butts if that happened."

"Is..." Twilight fumbled for a few moments, then stammered, "Is Spike back? D-did he finally return from the migration?" Her lavender wings flapped at the thought.

"Er... sorry, Twilight, but no. We haven't heard from him... not since you last did."

"I see." Twilight tossed her flowing mane back and remarked, "If I may ask, then, Rainbow Dash, what made you wish to visit me today?"

Rainbow took a deep breath.

"Is... Is there something on your mind?"

Slowly at first, Rainbow Dash turned around. Her ruby eyes were like jaded stones against the sunset that melted all around her. She gazed up at Twilight like a young foal would look up at her mother. "Twilight, you... y-you remember the week when Applejack died?"

Twilight leaned back, blinking. Her wings coiled at her side as she said, "I... b-but of course!" She exhaled long and hard. "It was the saddest time of my whole young life. Not just for myself, but for you and the rest of the girls..." She swallowed hard. "And for Applejack's family. They were so devastated. I had only been a princess for six years, and yet I'd never felt so helpless..."

"There..." Rainbow Dash's eyes fell to the wayside. "Th-there was a funeral. They buried her in a casket and everything. Ponies showed up from all over the place. I'd never seen that many equines in one spot—not even for a Wonderbolts show. It was a bright, sunny afternoon, and yet all I could see was gray. Rarity and Fluttershy were sobbing the whole time. I had never seen Pinkie Pie cry before... like really cry. And then, when I looked over at you, standing besides Celestia and Luna and Cadance, you had tears streaming down your face. Like... nonstop."

Twilight slowly nodded, her eyes growing misty from the mere memory. "Yes, Rainbow. I cried a lot that day..."

Rainbow Dash slowly looked up at her. She asked, "Was I sad too?"

Twilight's stared at her. Her lips parted, but all she could do was cock her head aside in confusion. "You..." She gulped, speechless. Twilight studied and studied Rainbow's blank expression. She could just as well have been interpreting an ancient, cryptic spell. "You... You were there, Rainbow. I... Of course you... I-I mean I can't tell you if—"

"But you can tell me," Rainbow Dash murmured. "At least... more than I can tell myself." She bit her lip and gazed off the balcony's edge. "'Cuz that's your bag, isn't it? Friendship and all? It's what got you your wings in the first place."

"I..." Twilight exhaled heavily. Her tone was melancholic, worrisome. "Rainbow Dash, I... I-I'm afraid that I don't understand."

"Neither do I, Twilight," Rainbow Dash said. She gulped and added, "Thing is, I never understand. And I never have."

"You did cry at Applejack's funeral," Twilight blurted. "I'm sure you did."

"Are you absolutely sure? Or are you just saying that because you want to believe it as much as I do?"

Twilight bit her tongue.

Rainbow Dash glanced back at her. "I didn't cry, Twilight. I've never thought about it until now, but I didn't cry. I didn't even shed a single tear."

"But... even if that's so, it's perfectly understandable, Rainbow Dash." Twilight produced a fragile smile. "You and Applejack had so much in common. You were both so strong in your own separate ways. You each had your own manner of dealing with terrible things."

"Is it really dealing though? Or something else?"

"Rainbow Dash...?"

With a shuddering breath, Rainbow said, "Earlier this afternoon, I flew over to Sweet Apple Acres to lend a hoof with her apple bucking. I was talking about Applejack and the farm and the good ol' days, and suddenly Apple Bloom was all up in my grill, ready to bite my head off, telling me to scram." She gulped. "And the entire time, I was thinking, 'What is this girl's problem?' She even cried, and still I just didn't get it. Then I started to think that maybe the problem wasn't with her, but with me." She squinted towards the Princess. "It wasn't just with Applejack's funeral, Twilight. In all of my life, I don't remember crying ever. I just... don't cry. And... And I feel like I don't know... how to feel." Her mouth hung open on that lasting breath, then finished with, "And the worst part of it is, I can't seem to figure out if that's a bad thing or not."

Twilight gazed down at Rainbow Dash, her mouth wrenched in a pained expression. Slowly, her features melted, with glossy eyes framed over a sympathetic muzzle.

Just then, the pale doors creaked open. A helmeted guard stuck his head out onto the balcony. "Pardon for the intrusion, Your Highness, but the Ambassadors from Saddle Arabia have arrived. They're currently seated in the conference hall, awaiting your presence."

Twilight Sparkle took in a deep, sharp breath. Blinking her eyes dry, she cleared her throat and glanced behind her. "Understood. Tell them..." She gulped. "Tell them I will be with them shortly."

"Yes, Your Majesty." The guard bowed out.

Twilight closed her eyes for a few seconds. Eventually, she turned and looked down at Rainbow Dash. "Rainbow, this... all of this..." Her eyes were dark and sad. "I really, really want to talk more about this..."

"Go, Twilight." Rainbow Dash said, motioning emphatically towards the balcony doors. "Saddle Arabia. Heh. That sounds pretty darn important." She smiled gently. "Again, it's my fault for coming unannounced. I... I-I really shouldn't have bothered you—"

"No! Don't say that!" Twilight blurted, almost shouted. Her frown was a righteous thing. "Don't you ever say that! I... I..." She brightened suddenly, and she reached a hoof out to touch Rainbow's shoulder. "Tell you what, would you be so kind as to wait right here? I've done hundreds of meetings like this, and I know how to make them swift."

"Just... wait right here, huh?" Rainbow Dash stammered.

"Do. Not. Go. Anywhere." Twilight leaned forward. "I wish whole-heartedly to talk more of this, Rainbow Dash." She smiled with glistening eyes. "What you say means a whole lot to me, especially when you have something sincere to share..."

"Yeah, f-for once."

Twilight chuckled.

Rainbow Dash chuckled as well—then gasped as she was swept into a full-on, alicorn hug.

Twilight Sparkle wrapped her enormous wings around them both. "I care about you very deeply, Rainbow Dash. Don't you ever forget that. You think that you may not feel, but there are ponies who feel for you."

Rainbow Dash heard the wavering tone in her voice, the hint of a bottled-up sob within the princess that was threatening to burst. Still, all she could do was pat her neck and utter, "Just go do what you need to do, ya oversized egghead."

Twilight chuckled again. She leaned back, sniffled one last time, and smiled sincerely. "I promise you that I won't be long. Just wait here. Okay?"

"Right..."

Straightening her posture, Princess Twilight swiveled about majestically and marched back into the heart of the Palace.

Rainbow Dash trotted over to the palace's edge and squatted down on the marble floor beside the ledge. She tapped her front hoof against the polished surface in rhythmic fashion. Ten minutes passed, and the tapping became more rapid, almost feverish. Her ears twitched, and she started to shiver, even though it wasn't even all that chilly out there. Twenty minutes in: she was starting to breathe heavily, for the sound of her tapping noises had produced a breathy echo, and it sounded too eerily like Twilight's sniffles that still lingered in her ears.

Nearly thirty minutes had passed...

Rainbow Dash blinked. The windows bordering the palace wall glinted in the sunset, and yet it looked just as dull and unexciting as a sunrise.

The hair on the back of her neck bristled. She exhaled heavily through her nostrils and stood up straight.

"Buck it," she grunted.

In a single bound, she leapt off the balcony and flew due west.


"No, I don't think she will be all that angry," Fluttershy said, pulling a fresh carrot from the pantry as she glanced over her shoulder. "However, I do think she will be confused." She fidgeted. "Uhm... and maybe a bit saddened."

"Nnnngh..." Rainbow Dash perched on a table in the far corner, dragging two hooves over her face. "Rubitinwhydon'tchaaaa..."

"I'm simply giving you my honest opinion." With a toss of her short pink locks, Fluttershy trotted across the kitchen and towards a food dish where a brown rabbit was squatting hungrily. "Twilight Sparkle may be the current steward of Equestria, but she's not nearly as strong as she makes herself out to be. You know this just as well as I do. She puts on airs when she's with dignitaries. With friends like you and me, though, she's just as soft and vulnerable as... as... well, any of my little animal friends here!" She knelt low and deposited the carrot into the dish. "Here ya go, Seraph. Chew slowly, now..." The brown bunny eagerly nibbled on the orange vegetable.

"So, now that’s two ponies I've managed to hurt today," Rainbow Dash grumbled, her wings drooped on either side. "Apple Bloom and the alicorn ruler of our kingdom." She gazed up across the candle-lit cottage with dull eyes. "Is it strange that I'm more scared of Apple Bloom than Twilight?"

"Well, from the way you described Apple Bloom's mannerisms, the concern is reasonable," Fluttershy said. "It seems like the pony has had a lot of issues to deal with lately."

"Yeah..." Rainbow Dash sighed, gazing into the shadowed corners of the place. "Yeah, I guess..."

"But... uhm..." Fluttershy smiled nervously. "She isn't the only one."

Rainbow Dash blinked. She squinted over towards Fluttershy. "What do you mean?"

"Ask yourself this question, Rainbow Dash." Fluttershy wandered across the kitchen, gathering more food for the ferrets, squirrels, and mice that were flocking around her hooves. "Did you really just fly away from Twilight Sparkle's balcony for no reason whatsoever?"

"Yes... I-I mean no! I mean..." Rainbow Dash grimaced, then ultimately said, "I dunno."

Fluttershy paused in pouring food to look up. "You 'dunno?'"

"Nothing... makes sense lately," Rainbow Dash said, though her left eye twitched. "It's all so... weird and confusing. I went to Twilight, hoping that maybe she could explain stuff to me."

"Explain what exactly?"

"I..." Rainbow Dash took a deep breath, faltered, and ultimately whimpered, "I dunno."

"Hmmm..." Fluttershy finished pouring the food and tied the bag up. "Seems like you've been saying that a lot lately."

Rainbow Dash looked over at her. "Huh?"

"Do you not know, or do you simply not want to know?"

"What are you, now?" Rainbow Dash arched an eyebrow. "My therapist? I thought you were just an animal psychologist, not a—"

"Rainbow Dash..." Fluttershy gazed at her softly, lovingly. "Rarity and Pinkamena both spoke to me."

Rainbow Dash instantly paled. "They did."

"Mmmmhmmm..." Fluttershy slowly nodded. "Just this afternoon. They both said that you were sounding a little bit... 'off.'" She chuckled slightly. "And, you know, it's a teensy bit expected."

Rainbow did a double-take. "It is?"

"Well, you're the second oldest of us," Fluttershy said, though she winced slightly. "Erm... th-third, if you count Applejack."

Rainbow had no response.

"And, two years ago, when it was my time to reach the age that you're about to—when it was all 'over the hill,' so to speak..." She giggled lightly and said, "Well, I didn't exactly have the most pleasant of emotions flowing through me all the time."

"What... are you getting at, Fluttershy?"

"It's simple, and yet so complex, Rainbow Dash," Fluttershy said. She scooted over and sat down before the table where the pegasus was perched. "We only have so much time in this world, and there's a certain age that—when we reach it—we're forced to think about where we're headed in life and—"

"Look, I'm not friggin' stupid!" Rainbow Dash frowned. She grimaced, then said, "Not as stupid as you think, I mean!"

"Uhhh—"

"You're trying to make this all out to be some sort of mid-life crisis or something! Heh..." Rainbow Dash smirked. "I thought ponies were supposed to have that at age forty! Heck, not even that! Age fifty!"

Fluttershy's smile was very tranquil. "It's never about a number, Rainbow Dash. It's about a pony’s feelings."

"Pffft. That's horsefeathers."

"What?" Fluttershy leaned her head aside. "What I'm trying to say? Or the idea that you might have them?"

"Horsefeathers?"

"No, feelings."

Rainbow Dash blinked.

Fluttershy stared steadily at her.

With a short breath, Rainbow Dash hopped down from the table. "Okay, look..." Frowning, she paced around Fluttershy. "You wanna talk about life, feelings, and years? Okay, fine, let's talk about you!"

"Huh?" Fluttershy blinked, tilting her head about to keep up with Rainbow. "What about me?"

"Do you even look at yourself? At this place? At all of... this?!"

"You mean my home?"

"It's a prison, that's what it is!" Rainbow Dash barked.

"A prison?" Fluttershy chuckled, shaking her head. "Oh Rainbow Dash..."

"No, for real! This place is old and it's miserable! And sometimes I think you're willing to live here until you turn out to be as old and miserable as it is!"

"Alright..." Fluttershy squinted. "Now I'm afraid that you've lost me..."

"You've lost yourself, girl!" Rainbow stared Fluttershy down. "You've lost your chance for potential, your chance to make a big impact on this world, your chance to become something bigger than you are! To leave a legacy!"

"I... uhm..." Fluttershy stirred uncomfortably for a brief moment. "I feel at peace with my solitude and caretaking of animals. Really, I do."

"No. Really. You don't." Rainbow Dash frowned. "I mean, how could you! You're like a castaway in this far-off, Goddess-forsaken place!"

"You, Pinkamena, and Rarity visit me all the time..."

"What for?! So that they can thrust their success and happiness in your face?!" Rainbow Dash grumbled. By this time, she was pacing in circles, not even looking at Fluttershy. "Rarity's got her fashion career! Pinkie Pie's got her husband and kid! Twilight's a friggin' Princess—not to mention as tall as a goddess-dang bus! Heck, even Apple Bloom is going places with what she's done to Sweet Apple Acres! And don't get me started on Scootaloo and her boring-as-stones career in engineering at the Manehattan Tiger Isthmus or whatever the heck that place is called!"

"What does Scootaloo have to do with any of—?"

"How could you possibly be happy with yourself compared to all of our friends, Fluttershy?!" Rainbow Dash spat, gesturing towards the walls with both hooves. "And ponies on the left and right moving to Torontrot or earning forty-thousand bits per year?! You just live out here on your own, Fluttershy, in... in this weird, unexplainable, self-imposed little prison, and for what? Just so you can tell yourself every morning that you're happy? That you're awesome? That everypony should give a crap about you just because you are who you are? That it was okay to... t-to just go with the flow from day one? To let other ponies tell you what to do no matter how young they were 'cuz it was far too difficult to just think up stuff on your own? Like it was somehow easier and freer than staying with the Wonderbolts and—" She froze, blinking several time. Icily, her head pivoted towards Fluttershy.

She gazed back at Rainbow Dash with a blank expression. Several of her furry friends also had their eyes locked on the brash pegasus in the silence that followed her outburst.

Rainbow blinked. Her frown returned. "You know what? This was totally stupid."

"Rainbow Dash—" Fluttershy stretched a hoof out.

Rainbow was already marching towards the kitchen door on stomping hooves. "Bugging Apple Bloom was stupid. Interrupting the Princess was really stupid. But coming here after dark, thinking that this week could actually make any possible sense has got to be the grand epic sonic rainboom of utter stupidity."

"Rainbow, please!" Fluttershy hovered after her.

"Sorry, Fluttershy," Rainbow flung the door open and spread her wings. "I gotta jet."

"Rainbow Dash, please don't fly away!" Fluttershy tugged on her tail with two frail hooves. "Not away from this! Not like you flew away from Twilight, like you always fly away from everything!" Her eyes were teary, but nevertheless she smiled tenderly. "You're my friend, and I love you dearly. But, Rainbow Dash, you must understand: it's entirely possible to be the fastest pony in the world, to be constantly moving and crossing grand distances, and yet still be stuck in the same place the entire time."

Slowly, Rainbow Dash pivoted about to stare dully at Fluttershy.

Fluttershy's wings flexed as her mouth dropped in anticipation.

Rainbow reached forward. Her hoof brushed Fluttershy's limbs off her tail. She slowly parted her lips. "I don't know what else to do." And like that, she was gone.

Fluttershy hung her head with a quiet sigh.


Rainbow Dash flew.

Through cloudbanks and waves of mist, past twilight and into starlight, over landscapes and seascapes, she flew like a puff of smoke, a shooting star, an errant thought, rising ever so slowly and solemnly towards the heavens.

She blazed circles, elliptical patterns, swirls and corkscrews that brought her further and further towards the utmost zenith of the sky.

Her breath caught up with her about an hour into the meandering sojourn. She blinked, and suddenly she discovered a pale swath of clouds beneath her. Coming to a stop, she hung in a shivering hover, her mouth panting as bulbs of sweat appeared across her features.

It was immeasurably dark, with only the stars' glow overhead, and yet Rainbow Dash was squinting as if she was bathed in absolute shine. She glanced down, and suddenly her mouth was dry.

Nevertheless, she lowered, her heart beating heavier and heavier with each dozen meters she dropped. When her pegasus hooves finally made contact with the cloudbanks, a sharp chill ran through her body. She trotted around slowly, gazing across an endless plain of swirling, dead mists. The world was reduced to a pea-soup ocean, and she was just one blue dot in the center of it, spinning dizzily beneath the stars.

She lost all cardinal directions. There was no moon—just a cosmic swirl of confusion overhead. Everything was effluent, shifting, changing. If she sat still on the clouds, however, and held her breath, she felt like she was the only thing that was lying absolutely still. The world boiled quietly around her, morphing dynamically, taking on shapes that she couldn't map nor predict.

Rainbow Dash clenched her teeth. She looked down. With two hooves, she ripped a swath open in the surface of the cloud. A tear formed, showing forests, hilltops, winding rivers, and dotted lakes. Then, just as quickly as the rip was made, the clouds sealed back up, bringing her back to the nebulous land of confusion.

She did it again—this time ripping the cloud even wider. She spotted building tops, smoking chimneys, and glittering lights from dozens upon dozens of ponies' windows. For a moment, she thought she was staring at starlight that was just as dense below the clouds as above. But, all too blissfully, the mists coalesced, and she was blind to the foundation that lay beneath her.

With a shudder, she lay down on the cloud bed, gazing into everything and nothing all at once. There was a bizarre tranquility to the scene, a separate peace, and yet it frightened her with each second that she spent there, because for the first time in her life, she was actually aware of it.

Rainbow Dash was aware of it all.


An hour later, Rainbow's flight had finally taken her someplace, and it smelled of a fresh harvest. Starlight glinted off rows upon rows of apples beneath her as she flew towards the end of the orchards and airily swam her way towards the roof of a hen house.

Perching atop the wooden shack, she stared across Sweet Apple Acres, squinting as her ruby eyes caught a dancing source of light from within the Apple Family's house.

Through the kitchen window of the first story, Rainbow saw several ponies wandering around. As her gaze focused, she saw Big Mac seated at the table across from a bleary-eyed, yawning Apple Bloom. Cheerilee trotted up, her fuchsia mane braided in the back. She placed down a pot of stew and murmured something to Big Mac. Big Mac smirked and said something in reply, to which Cheerilee playfully swatted him. From across the table, Apple Bloom snickered. Just then, a four-year-old foal with a ruby coat and pink hair hopped up to the table, squirming with happiness and appetite. Apple Bloom reached over and ruffled her mane while Cheerilee began serving helpings of the soup to every member at the table. Big Mac leaned over to kiss Cheerilee on the cheek while the foal made ugly faces, yet again making Apple Bloom laugh.

Rainbow Dash took a long, long breath. Quietly, she turned and gazed towards a hill along the west end of the farm.

Quiet as a falcon, she stretched out her wings and glided away from the house.


Four pale gravestones lingered around a swath of flower bushes. Slowly, a pegasus' shadow stretched over them in the pale starlight. Her hooves touched down, making soft crunching noises as they trotted past the first two stones and came to a stop before the second one from the left.

The gravestone was simple, naturally. It bore a single name and a set of dates: twenty-six blissful years short. It was a small stone; even Rainbow Dash's shadow was taller.

"I want you to know that... that I do think of you," Rainbow Dash said, her voice adding to the whispery wind of that hilltop. "I mean, that's what friends are supposed to do after... after..." She gulped. "Well, anyways, your friends still think of you, and I totally do too."

She took a deep breath, and her wings coiled up at her side.

"It's just that..." She fidgeted, her hooves squirming in the soft soil before the grave. "Things have been so weird lately. And it's got me to thinking that... that I should have things to think about. You never sweated the small stuff in life, at least I don't think you ever did. It seems only fair that I not flip out over things either, cuz you were always cool like that. You were so awesome, strong, and dependable. I've wanted to be the same, and I thought that I was. But now... I-I dunno..."

A heavy breath left her.

"Fluttershy, she thinks..." Rainbow Dash bit her lip, then continued, "She says that I keep flying away from stuff. I don't know if she's right or not, but if she is, then I think the reason for that is b-because you're not around to bite onto my tail and hold me down. Heh..." Rainbow's lips smirked, but it was a bitterly brief thing. Her face grew long once again as she said, "I went flying just now, y'know. Flying has always made me feel happy, free, and in control of everything. But... tonight?" She gulped. "Tonight was different..."

She slowly, slowly sat down before the grave.

"I... I-I haven't told anypony this," Rainbow Dash muttered. "But, I've... uh... I've been waking up in the morning from the same dream." She winced. "Only... like... it's not been in the mornings, per se. I keep sleeping in late, and it's pretty lame, and yet it's okay just as well. Either nopony seems to care or notice or it just doesn't matter cuz I live as I live and all the things that need to get done get done, like they always do."

Rainbow Dash brushed a hoof through her bangs and shuddered.

"But anyways, I keep waking up and... th-thinking about Gilda, about the time we used to spend together, the games we used to play in the clouds—Hide and Go Seek, Red Rover, Captain Hurricane's Blitz. All the old sky games. Pegasus stuff. You wouldn't possibly know about it." She swallowed, then said, "And it wasn't just Gilda. But Fluttershy and I would play games too. We'd find a cloud and hang out there all day, talking about stuff, daydreaming about the future. And..."

She shook her head, trying to cast off a confused expression. She failed.

"Tonight, I... I was flying around and... and suddenly I had this stupid, stupid notion. I... I wanted to find that same cloud. I wanted to find the cloud that my foal friends and I used to play on... used to hide in... used to sleep inside..." She weathered a chill through her body. "But, y'know... of course I couldn't find it. It's a stinkin' cloud. Those things last minutes at best. But it didn't stop me from looking, 'cuz no matter how much my pegasus common sense tells me that such a thing is impossible, I feel as though... as though the cloud was there—as I was there—just yesterday, just this morning, just two blinks before. I was there. The cloud should be there. Wh-why can't I find it?"

Rainbow Dash blinked several times. Her pained gaze drifted past the stone in front of her.

"And I can't find it because it's gone. It's evaporated. It's broken apart. But it's not just the cloud, is it? It's..." She gritted her teeth, hissing slightly, before letting out, "But it's you... it's me." She gulped. "It's all of us and everything."

Rainbow allowed her eyelids to lower, and she teetered in the wind, as if she could fall over at any moment.

"I wake up these days... and... and it's like I can't tell the difference between the morning and the afternoon... sunset from sunrise... east from west. A pegasus is supposed to have something inside her brain that make sense out of all of this... but it's like I turned it all off long ago. At some point in my life, I simply stopped feeling, and I can't tell if it was before or after you stopped being able to feel anything yourself, because you left... and I-I left too—in a way—but I've never had a good reason, just excuses piling up each day like layers of mist, more clouds that I keep chasing but can never find. And I was okay with it. I was so okay with it. But now... now as the breaks get bigger and the lights all look the same..."

She exhaled long and hard. When her eyes opened, they were as jaded as ever.

"I wish, more than anything, that I would be able to cry about it all," Rainbow Dash muttered. "But, I can't. I mean, I have all the reasons to... or at least I think so. But... But it's too hard to see. I can't grasp ahold of it. It's right in front of me, and I think it's always going to be. And... for the first time ever, it... it scares me." She gulped. "It scares me really friggin' bad. I hope you died without that fear, Applejack. I hope that you found yourself. Because I'm starting to think, when the day comes that I die, when all the clouds have finally broken, I'll never learn who this pegasus was... and how much she's owed you, owed everypony... and owed h-herself."

Silence hung over the hilltop.

Her ears drooped, and she shook her head as she said, "How... How were you so strong?" She gulped. "How are you still so strong? I... I can't compare, Applejack, I really can't..."

Rainbow Dash stared off. Her eyes reflected something paler than her expression.

"How can I?" She gasped as if staring into the face of death beyond the graves. "Unless... it was never, ever about me to begin with?"


Tuesday afternoon arrived like a quiet song.

Scootaloo was ten steps away from the train station. She remained frozen in place, her saddlebags full, a pair of suitcases resting at her sides.

Her face stretched, like she was giving birth to something painful, something lonely. She stared fitfully at the train station as if she wanted desperately to backtrot away from it.

With a sigh, she shuffled her legs, preparing to trot up the cold steps.

"Where you off to in such a hurry, squirt?"

Scootaloo started. She spun about, and instantly her face exploded with a happy gasp. "Rainbow Dash! You showed up!"

Rainbow Dash perched upon the top of a nearby building. A few seconds passed, and she smirked in the noonday glow. "Pffft. Of course I did, ya little shrimp!" In a single dive, she dropped down to the ground and trotted towards the young mare. "I told you that I would, didn't I?"

"Well, Sweetie Belle and Twist are already late." Scootaloo rolled her eyes. "Which isn't a big deal. There's still plenty of time between now and when the train arrives. But, I dunno, I thought for a second there that somepony was playing a practical joke on me."

"Grade school is long over with, kiddo," Rainbow Dash said. "You're headed to the big leagues."

"You say that like it's gonna be a walk in the park!"

"I dunno." Rainbow Dash shrugged. "You're going to have to teach me all about it."

"Brrrrr..." Scootaloo shivered as she flashed quick smiles between Rainbow and the train station. "I’ve got chills already, y'know?"

"Yeah, I bet."

"I just..." Scootaloo took a deep breath. Her tiny, tiny wings flexed along her adult body. "I used to dream about a day like this coming. I think, out of all of my closest friends, I wanted to grow up the most."

"I think you were already the most grown up, Scoots."

Scootaloo pivoted about to glare slyly at Rainbow. "Now you're just saying that—" She blinked in surprise upon feeling Rainbow's hoof on her shoulder.

"Naw, kid." Rainbow Dash smiled gently. "I know it. I... I didn't tell you a lot of things as you were growing up, but... as of late... I realize that I probably should have."

Scootaloo gulped. "Like wh-what?"

"That I believe in you, Scootaloo," Rainbow Dash said quietly. "That I have always believed in you." She placed her other hoof on Scootaloo's opposite shoulder and looked at her steadily. "It was you who got you to where you are now, kid. Nopony and nothing else."

Scootaloo's lips quivered. She squeaked forth, "Rainbow, I—"

"You," Rainbow Dash said, smiling even more warmly. "You are capable of... of so many great and mighty things, Scootaloo. Awesome, epic, amazing things. You've got the skills, the brains, and—most of all—the determination. You're gonna go far, cuz you have the mileage in you. I know this. I hope you know this too... and that you believe in yourself." She frowned for the briefest of beautiful moments. "Don't let anypony tell you different."

Scootaloo was already crumbling by this point. She sniffled a few times and stammered forth in a whispering voice, "I always wanted... t-to make you pr-proud..."

"Awwwww, come on, ya lil' sap." Rainbow Dash sighed as she gave Scootaloo a close hug. As the young mare clung to her, Rainbow's smile faded. She gazed neutrally into the distance beyond the village as she said, "You never had to worry about that. I've always been proud of you." Then, clenching her jaw for strength, she parted the hug and stared Scootaloo face-to-face with a prepared smile. "But... I want you to make sure... I want you to make absolutely sure that you live your life in such a way that you'll be proud of yourself."

Scootaloo gulped and smiled through her tears. "I will. I promise..."

"Be sure of who you're making the promise to," Rainbow added quietly. "Get to know her, cuz you'll be depending on her for as long as you're around to kick butt. Ya hear me?"

Scootaloo blinked—confused at first—but ultimately cracked a gracious grin. "Okay. I think I can do that."

"Now there's a good turkey."

Scootaloo snorted. She guffawed, sniffled, and laughed again. With her forelimb, she dried her face, smiling painfully towards the train station. "Ughhh, Goddess. Look at me. I haven't moved a single inch, and already I'm a total mess."

"Don't sweat it. I'm sure... uh... I'm sure it'll feel alright in the end," Rainbow Dash muttered.

Scootaloo flashed her a curious stare. "Yeah... Certainly." She gulped and said, "I will write you."

"You know reading always puts me to sleep," Rainbow Dash said. "Unless it's—"

"—Daring Do, right." Scootaloo chuckled. "Just humor me, will ya? I'm gonna be at the Institute for at least two years."

"Two years." Rainbow Dash obligatorily nodded.

"Yeah. Long time, huh?"

Rainbow was silent for a few seconds. "Long enough, I suppose..."

"I'll come and visit whenever I can!" She exclaimed. "Between exams, y'know?"

"Just don't go broke over the train tickets."

"You'll be around, huh?" Scootaloo smiled hopefully as she began nudging her suitcases. "When I come back to visit, I mean. We'll get to see each other?"

Rainbow Dash opened her mouth, lingered, and ultimately breathed through a soft smile, "I'll be here..." She swallowed. "You can count on that."

Scootaloo inhaled warmly. Two young figures bounded over the edge of the train station. She glanced up at them, smirked back at Rainbow, and then waved.

Rainbow waved back. In the next blink, Scootaloo was already galloping away, like a distant cloud, embracing her friends in a wave of giggles and farewells. When the train came to pick her up, the sun was beginning to set, and yet the air smelled as crisp as a spring morning.

Rainbow was gone.


Days later... or perhaps it was weeks later... months...

Rainbow Dash sat on a single cloud, hovering between the earth and the stars. She gazed down at the forests, the hills, the buildings that stretched like so much wrinkled skin beneath pale moonlight.

Everything was shifting, gliding, coming and going.

Rainbow sat absolutely still, rubbing two hooves together, not trying to feel either warm or cold... simply trying to feel.

"I don't get it," she murmured numbly into the wind for the fiftieth time that night, her eyes full of starlight and the deeper shadows in between. "I just... don't get it."

In another blink, she envisioned Applejack's grave, how it matched the pale light of the moon above, or maybe the noonday air right before a summer rain shower.

Rainbow Dash thought of something. Then she thought of something else. And then she fell asleep.

Author's Note:

I'm sorry, and yet I'm not

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Comments ( 171 )

A sad story by SS&E? Get the hell outta here.
EDIT: Skirts... a-are you projecting?:fluttershysad:

Comment posted by Scootaloser deleted Apr 6th, 2013

How the hell do you keep pumping this stuff out so quickly?

I have a list of things to do before I turn 30
-get laid
-get my own house
-drink a gallon of apple juice in one sitting
-go streaking
-drive a car, going at 100 mph
-fly a plane
-try escargot
-knock some one out in 1 punch
-don't die
-.... I dunno muffins or something?

"Captain, my Captain?"

Dead Poets Society For The Win!

2378932

I laughed so hard at this comment, I grew a mustache. :moustache:

Commence read.

I would have hoped turning certain ages would be great. Though it can be just another day.

2378977

1. have gay sex with nicolas cage
2. have gay sex with nicolas cage
3. have gay sex with nicolas cage
4. have straight sex with nicolas cage
5. have straight sex with nicolas cage
6. have gay sex with nicolas cage

"Sorry, Fluttershy," Rainbow flung the door open and spread her wings. "I gotta jet."

Even in the midst off Rainbow's sad ranting, that still made me laugh. That was a Jimmy Neutron/Jet Fusion reference right?

Mid-life crisis Dash is worst Dash. Great story though Two Thumbs up!!

2379111 how can you have both gay and straight sex with Nicolas Cage?

Well, that hit me right in the feels.

2379146

miraculous marvels of modern medicine

2379181 ..... I'm just gonna go now....

I'm... okay. I'll be over here. Where this can't happen. Because I can't. Because this...

It's not as if...
I mean, I'm not...
I have...


I refuse this. Time can't make what was wrong right or what was right wrong. No matter how tangled the thoughts get or how lethargic...
It just isn't. The only way it is is if it always was. And I can't possibly begin to accept a universe where wrong was all that ever happened.

Happy birthday, ya charismatic stallion of a lemur.

So many tears. Can't we have happy things?

Damn it, why would you do that to my feels? :pinkiesad2: And- And best pony!... Applejack... GAH!

Sorry Skirts, but this was my least favorite fic that you have done that I have read. The characters were very far outside themselves, and the memory issues for Dash, while being a mechanic to show her age even with her still being fast, would imply something very wrong at 30. Yes you lose a touch of sharpness but not that.

Twilight, even running the kingdom would put off anything for Dash at that point. Literally all of the characters were outside my thoughts of what is even possible for them.

I am 44 years old and well acquainted with "what if I did X instead of Y second guessing" but it just evoked the whole thing "wrong."

Much like Dash herself, this story moved around a lot, but it didn't really seem to go anywhere. I didn't really care for it... though that may be because some of the themes struck uncomfortably close to home... :unsuresweetie:

So, in your headcannon, Rainbow Dash is 19 at the time of Magical Mystery Cure?

2378932
I too am wondering this :applecry:

Funny, isn't it? Realizing you don't cry at funerals. Having lofty aspirations, but never quite reaching them. Staying the same, when everything around you changes.

Pretty lonely, too.
But it's not like we ever really feel lonely, anyways.

heh. . .sadly I can relate to how she thinks and feels. . .I'm pretty sure at this point I'm screwed.

Grief can do that. Sometimes, when you lose someone close to you...the mind shuts down in odd ways. You lock into a routine, and the world becomes a comfortable, numb "now" as long as you can keep it that way. Ambition vanishes, the desire for a future being replaced with the desire for an endless repetition that takes minimal effort, refinement rather than progress, the comfort that a day, a week, a month, a year, ten spent in the routine brings.

Eight years and counting here. Not totally numb, but pretty much everything in the story is spot-on for a bad case of the same thing I've got. If you find it a confusing read, congratulations. You've never had something hit you hard enough the right way to find it familiar instead.

Hmm.. not sure what to think of this story. So used to straight up comedy from you. This story was so full of ennui.

2379851

Grief is a terrible and all-consuming monster. I've never been hit in the same manner you describe, but I think I can relate. It seems to be similar to the feeling of feeling nothing.

2379444

Actually, Dash's wandering mind is right on target. It's hard to describe to someone who hasn't experienced it, but enough grief can "jam" the mind up. Instead of the last stage of catharsis and letting go...it just gums up the mental works. Absentmindedness, aversion to "what next", an almost religious devotion to a daily routine...and a severe reduction in the ability to release your feelings, sometimes in specific ways, or in more severe cases emotional expression devolves into more pre-programmed "responses" than actual expressions of joy, sadness, etc.

If it seems strange and confusing, then it's right on target. RD losing AJ left her in emotional stasis, and having that trauma stuck in your head does precisely what you see happening in the story.

2379880

The human (or in this case, human-projected-on-pony) mind has a lot of not-quite-right ways to deal with grief if it's too much at once. This story is a rather accurate depiction of one of them. If it confused or disturbed you- good. You're likely healthier than the ones who understood it firsthand. If you see something of this in someone you know? This is what it's like on the inside when it's at it's worst.

I would like to point out that Rainbow seemed perfectly satisfied UNTIL everyone else convinced her she shouldn't be.

Thinking on it further, in fact, it seems to me that Rainbow's friends did a lousy job of... ya know... being friends. The only one who can live your life is you, obviously. But the role of a friend is to be there for you, and they simply weren't. Either they completely failed to notice anything was wrong (Twilight and Rarity), or worse, they noticed and didn't say or do anything (Pinkie and Fluttershy.) Rainbow is not an easy person to know, and not an easy person to comfort. But it seems like they didn't even try.

2379941

And honestly? When you're like this, you ARE satisfied with what is. And people poking you about "wow, why aren't you doing MORE" is quite uncomfortable. I live with someone who doesn't get it why I'm so content with my job, living arrangements, etc. and not worrying about retirement, or getting a bigger place, or owning a home, etc. etc.

The desire is for as little change as possible, one's efforts devoted to keeping what one has rather than adding to it. And when you look at someone like RD who's entire character is about becoming bigger, better, higher turning into a creature of habit whose desires are to just be the same ol' weather pony, holding her place, being the same, never rising higher...well, that's where you see the effects.

Grief, tying a leash to Dash's tail so she contentedly flies in circles instead of soaring for the stars. And unless someone shoves that under your nose, it feels perfectly normal to circle endlessly, only disturbed occaasionally by reminders of prior ambitions or the progress of friends and family.

2379999

That's fair. But then, my question is this: Why did they wait ten years before doing so? And only when Dash brought it up first? And as passive-aggressively as possible?

I mean yeah, thinking about it a bit more in depth, you're probably right. But looking at how the situation was handled - or rather not handled - all I can ask is, what the hell?

2380054 I'm not in the mood for all this crap

2380012

Because this sorta thing is, for all that it's -wrong-, a functional thing on the outside. After all, Dash isn't curled up in a ball in her home, suicidal, homocidal, or otherwise showing massive external effects of emotional trauma. Early on, it actually seems normal- "Hey, good job! You aren't letting this break you from being what you are."

It only starts looking wrong when it goes on long enough, and even then it's not something most people would consider. The mental eye slides over the familiar- hey, there goes good old ol' Rainbow Dash, kickin clouds like an ace.

It isn't until she brings it up that you realize exactly how far each of the characters has gone- and that really, she's gone nowhere at all. In the story, everyone's been so busy going forward, nobody even thinks to look to see RD's in a holding pattern. Rarity's work, Fluttershy's animals, Twilight's affairs of state, Pinkie's family.

2378932
ha! I was actually listening to that when I first started reading that story.

Lets look at this clinically...

Rainbow Dash still does her job insanely fast -- lets say that it takes her at most 4 hours to complete the task.

Lets say she sleeps and naps fully 12 hours of every day.

You still have 8 hours left per workday of free time and 12 hours per weekend day.

She is NOT spending it with her friends. This is pretty obvious by the reactions of the characters in the story. They even have misconceptions.

She is NOT spending it on wonderbolts stuff, nor is she doing periodicals or new books. All of her magazines are YEARS old and there is nary a new book.

She doesn't have the bits to be blowing them.

Really she is missing a past-time to be focusing on to be able to lose so much time.

When you retreat from the world you need something to fill that gap and it has not been shown here.

I disagree on the mental state -- yes one can become colder and self-denying -- BUT that does not lead to the mental disorder level loss of mind Dash is showing.

Huh. I liked it, but I was expecting the party scene to be at least mentioned.

One of the mane 6 dying early always hits my feels hard. There's something especially tragic about the effect it has on the remaining friends. When it's portrayed right, you can tell that they're just... broken, somehow. Like a car with one tire missing, and you can sort of watch as it scrapes along for a while, but you know things are never going to be okay again.

This was portrayed right.

I can totally relate, yet I'm only twenty… Is that bad?
I dunno, it just feels so hard to feel. Listlessly following the routine is easier.

Also, yeah, Skirts is definitely projecting here.

I loved the ending. Pretty much the story of Rainbow Dash's life.

See, this is my issue with fics that take place any significant number of years after our perception of the show. It's just so difficult to envision the characters with changed voices and appearances. I spend the entire time reading trying to nail down exactly what they look and sound like, and it ends up detracting from the story for me.

On another note, this is still well written and frighteningly relatable in my case.

OK...
That's it.

Sorry, Now I'm back to put in some further thought.
I can honestly say that the story leads you into a great mental mindset almost right away, and I believe that as a "few years pass since then" concept worked great for the characters personalities and felt that most were quite believable in the way you portrayed them. Obviously the fact of some further background story are always wanting, I believe you pulled the story off fairly well. And of course your open endings are annoyingly inspiring for the mind to try to create what happens after.
Good Story and continue being a great writer.

I do not see a derpy pony,
I see Derpy, a pony.
one day I will figure out how to put a sig in fimfiction

I'm guessing that Rainbow Dash has some kind of brain damage from a wonderbolts accident.

Ow, Great. Another "beautiful" tearful story with one of the mane 6 dying early.

Warning: This comment contains spoilers. If you don't want spoilers, DON'T read this comment!

(And to shortskirtsandexplosions: I have a very difficult time organizing my thoughts, so I apologize if this comes off as a smattering of words instead of anything coherent)

I enjoy this story. It has a lot of merits to it. To being with by being technical, there are some frighteningly great lines in this:

They had disappeared on their own, having rinsed the moisture loose completely. All of the weather flier's hoofwork had practically vanished.

Suddenly, it was the middle of the day. Time hinged on a single, blinding moment, and she felt like she could just as easily have been falling the entire time.

"How can I?" She gasped as if staring into the face of death beyond the graves.

Beautiful words here that have a great impact. !he prose seemed controlled, with not a lot of distracting imagery and some brilliant, thought-provoking parts in there.

Another thing I liked is how you described the setting. I'm not familiar with television programs or art stuff, so please excuse my limited reference: the crazy images of the setting, like the shifting sunrise/sunset, the midday hinging of time, and the "shifting, gliding, coming and going" of the final setting reminded me of Escher's staircase painting. It was both beautiful and unique.

I also really like the order in which characters are introduced. Beginning with Scootaloo, an integral character and, to some degree, Rainbow Dash's protégé, creates a good sense of familiarity in this world. Also, showing the squirt's path in life as demolition is great. Then you move on to the pegasi, ponies she'd be more familiar with, and how both older and younger have been getting along; I think that's brilliant, since it deals with her past and her job. Seeking advice from Rarity was great, since she's one of the "more mature" (I think) of the ponies.

Her dealing with the Daring Do novels, I admit, confused me, but looking at the medals was an okay touch. It didn't touch me as much as the crown, but it was a bit touching.

Pinkamena is one character that stands out as being one of the best. I can't comment on changing her to Pinkamena, but what happens to her, raising a foal of her own, was brilliant. With how Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie interact being pranking and moving around really fast, one of them slowing down and settling is a very nice foil.

Apple Bloom's part, however, kinda unsettles me. I've never considered that Apple Bloom and Rainbow Dash could be so close to each other simply through Applejack, to the point of creating conflict between them, and I thought that was genius. However, I think the problem is that you try and tie in a conflict about home and family, but I couldn't make the link. This is probably my fault, and I apologize for it.

At first, I was iffy that Rainbow Dash would fly all the way to Canterlot for comfort when Fluttershy was a short distance away, but looking at the story, and the last line of her interaction with Apple Bloom, it makes sense. It also makes sense that Twilight, who wants to help so much, is restricted by her work. I like that as well.

And then we get to Fluttershy's part, which is probably my least favorite. I think it's because Fluttershy acts a lot more talkative than I'd care for, calling Twilight by her full name and instead of saying "she" in regards to Apple Bloom, she says "the pony." She's also very blunt with what she says, not entirely timid, and that just doesn't sound right to me. I see what you tried here, with the whole prison thing—and if so, that's great. It works. This would be a perfect opportunity to do so; it's just that Fluttershy is a bit too OOC for me (I don't know if it applies, though, since it's in the future).

And then there's a small moment with Apple Bloom, Big Macintosh, Cheerilee and their foal, and I thought that that was touching.

And then we get to Applejack, and Rainbow Dash's confession. This is a key moment, since this really depends on what's being said, and how it's affected by their relationship. Applejack did try and keep Rainbow Dash grounded, and yet Rainbow Dash still tried going bigger and better. She learned a lot about the cost of going bigger and better in "Wonderbolt Academy" (I think), so there's some progress on her part. What is confessed is that

1. She still thinks of Applejack—a great reflection of how Rainbow Dash is feeling, like with everything drifting apart, she could be neglecting something in her life
2. She feels like she needs something to do, and that she could be going through a mid-life crisis because she doesn't have anypony to hold her down and keep her grounded—That's Applejack for you, I suppose.
3. She's been looking for some happy memories from the past—I don't know how to feel about this, if it's a relevant confession.
4. That she feels like she stopped feeling when Applejack died—I don't buy that at all.
5. She hopes she doesn't die with the fear of not discovering who she truly is—Again, I don't know how to react to this; I don't understand the concept.

Overall, the confessions are nice.

The big moment of change, though, is when she goes to Scootaloo and finally offers some support for her. This part got me bad, since it deals with deep, complex relationships and exposed the frail-yet-powerful heart of it. It was like a parent expressing their pride for their child before they left for college or some other big event; it leaves both paths uncertain, and allows many possibilities for both of them. I think this part is not only excellent, but outright beautiful.

That's what I like about this story. Now what don't I like about it?

In technicalities, there are two parts that stick out to me:

"Pfft! What's wrong?! You tell me what's wrong!" Apple Bloom frowned so hard her brow could cut diamonds. "Or can ya even do that?!"

That is really purple for me, and it made me stop reading for a second.

"So, now that’s two ponies I've managed to hurt today," Rainbow Dash grumbled, her wings drooped on either side. "Apple Bloom and the alicorn ruler of our kingdom."

The rhythm of this part is broken severely. Reading this, I think that either
1. Apple Bloom is not important enough to warrant her own title, not even "the sister of one of my best friends"
2. Twilight Sparkle is too important to just be called Twilight

I don't like the ending either. It's not that it's bad, although that can be up for debate; it's that I don't get anything from it. Not a necessary uncertainty, not a sense of closure—she's trying to feel still, and then she thinks about Applejack's headstone? I don't know what to make of it, and it loses me.

I don't know what to say about the change/family dilemma. For one thing, it's almost like they're fighting for supremacy, one trying to make the story about bonding with friends, another about change that's necessary for the future, and yet another about regrets. On the other hand, growing up, and life in general is confusing (I think; I've only recently turned 21), and maybe thoughts like these are best expressed in confused emotions. It is difficult to follow the various wants of Rainbow Dash, I'll admit, but maybe that's for the best.

I'll admit that I was so confused earlier in the day when I read it that I downvoted it (#7), but percolating on what it's trying to do, I'm going to change it to a like. The story has some wonderful language and imagery, and some great character interactions that seem believable if they were to go a few more years. There is a bit of confusion with the internal conflicts, and the ending's significance still eludes me, but I think this is a good story.

Take what you will from this; it's my current impression, from someone that has a lot to learn about the craft of literature and ponyfics.

EDIT: I think I forgot to mention, I don't know what the memory-loss adds to the story, but I don't like it, personally.
EDIT #2: Darnit, I forgot to mention this: I thought the green motif was cool, since green is a color associated with life and vibrancy, I think. The mention of green in her mane disappearing is like a clear sign of her aging, and I thought that was cool.
EDIT #3: There was one grammar error I spotted that was obvious: " A low rumble came from beneath Rainbow's throat. She pivoted her flank as she turned her head around. Glancing at her tail, she briefly wondered if she ever had the color green (to) begin with." That "to" that most likely needs to be there is missing.

For a moment there, I thought maybe Rainbow Dash would simply fly east.

Being on the far side of my own "mid-life crisis," I find this mindset of hers utterly believable: there were so many paths I could have taken, and often as not, I took the path of least resistance. Eventually I figured out that I could beat myself up for it, or I could learn to appreciate what I had.

And if SSEI is projecting -- well, it's a wide screen with intricate detail.

You remembered that "'cuz" must be preceded by an apostrophe only four of the twelve times you used the word.

"Emphasis on 'bright!'"

"What do you mean it's 'nothing?'"

"Huh? What do you mean 'done?'"

"You 'dunno?'"

I'm told to place exclamation points and question marks outside quotation marks (in this case, single ones) when an exclamation or question isn't being quoted.

"I've watched Rumble grow up from a little foal into a find gentlecolt," murmured Rarity over the cacophonous sound of sewing machines and steamers at the far end of the Boutique. "But, like all stallions, he does stand to put his ego in check from time to time.”

Those ought to be "a fine gentlecolt" and, I think, "he could stand".

You botch dialog punctuation tons of times. Here are two of them:

"Sorry, Fluttershy," Rainbow flung the door open and spread her wings.

"Fluttershy" should be followed by a period, not a comma.

"I'll come and visit whenever I can!" She exclaimed.

"She" needs to be lowercase.

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