Dreams and Nightmares

by Geographew

First published

Rainbow Dash's house gets foreclosed, so she moves in with Twilight Sparkle. Twilight suffers from nightmares and panic attacks. Rainbow Dash finally gets her shot at the Wonderbolts.

After Rainbow Dash's house is foreclosed, she moves in with Twilight Sparkle, who vows to help Rainbow get her life back together by getting her into the Wonderbolts. While Twilight helps Rainbow pursue her dreams, Rainbow helps Twilight fend off nightmares. But as time goes on, Twilight and Rainbow start to wonder just how much control they have over their lives and their futures.

She Sure Is Special

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My home has never been particularly quiet, despite the fact that I live in a library. The first night I ever lived here was spent tossing and turning, trying to drown out the sounds of loud music from a surprise party in my living room.

"Libraries are supposed to be quiet." I had told Pinkie Pie. Either she hadn't heard me, or she didn't care. Still, these days, the library was relatively peaceful. No major friendship problems, no natural disasters, no evil masterminds threatening the well being of Equestria. My life has been pretty quiet lately, in general.

But tonight, sleep eludes me because some strange noise is coming from my balcony. It sounds sort of like a low growl, but perhaps it's mechanical. It almost reminds me of the creaking of a wooden ship rocking in the ocean.

I'm terrified to go out and check what it is. What if it's some monster I've never heard of? What if a bear has miraculously scaled my house, and is waiting on my balcony, waiting for me to step out so he can tear me to pieces? Maybe if I ignore it it'll go away...

For a moment, it's silent. I can feel sleep pawing at me.

The sound comes again, louder than ever, and I shoot up in my bed. That's it, enough stalling. I stand up confidently and begin to walk to the door. As the sound comes again my cadence slows, but I press on.

I slowly open the door, which creaks as I peer around its threshold. And I find the source of the mysterious noise. Lying in front of me, deadly still, is...

Rainbow Dash, snoring.

I'm filled with relief, but also with confusion. Why is Rainbow Dash sleeping on my balcony? I should ask her.

"Rainbow Dash!" I whisper-shout. She snores loudly, rolling over. I roll my eyes and nudge her with a hoof.

"Five more minutes." She mumbles.

"Rainbow Dash, why are you sleeping on my balcony?"

She freezes for a moment, then quickly sits upright, taking in her surroundings. Her eyes go wide as she realizes where she is, and then she relaxes her brow in a show of forced non-chalance.

"I was napping." She says.

"Napping?" I echo incredulously. "In the middle of the night? On my balcony?" A gust of wind blows across the balcony and I shiver. It's freezing. "Rainbow, it's really cold outside. Come inside before you catch the flu."

"I'm fine, really, Twilight." Rainbow assures unconvincingly. I gaze at her, unconvinced. Another gust of wind passes and Rainbow shivers slightly.

"Come inside." I say again, and begin walking toward my bedroom. When I hear nothing behind me, I turn around to see Rainbow sitting with her forelegs crossed. I gesture again to the door and she gives an exasperated sigh, begrudgingly walking into my bedroom. She closes the door behind herself.

"Now, why were you sleeping on my balcony?" I ask again.

"Look, I'm sorry. I'll go find somewhere else to sleep." Rainbow offers.

"I don't 'mind' you sleeping on my balcony, in principle." I clarify. "It's just a strange thing to do. And as your friend I would rather you be indoors than on my balcony."

"Ugh. Fine. You promise not to tell anypony?" Rainbow asks. I cross my heart and bring a hoof to my eye. Rainbow sighs and averts my gaze.

"My house got foreclosed." She says. I'm shocked. I had no idea Rainbow was in financial trouble.

"Why? How did that happen?" I ask, concern in my voice.

"I ran out of money. Couldn't pay the mortgage."

"I know how a foreclosure works. I mean...how did you manage to run out of money?"

"Well, it's been dwindling ever since I got the house, actually." She confesses. "I saved up a bunch of cash to buy the place, relying on getting into the Wonderbolts. I figured by now I'd be good to go, but as you can see..." She doesn't need to finish her thought. "Being a weather pony doesn't exactly pay the bills on a mansion."

"I never knew... Rainbow, I'm so sorry." I say. "Hang on a minute, I'll go put some sheets on the guest bed."

"No way, Twi." Rainbow declares. "I'll be fine on my own."

"Dash, I'm your friend. I want to help you out."

"As your friend, I don't want to impose."

"You're not imposing. Really, I have the space. Besides, what's one night?"

"And what about tomorrow night? And the night after that? I can't just depend on other ponies for food and shelter. I've gotta get myself through this."

"You don't have to do it alone!" I'm shouting by this point. "Look. Why don't you spend the night, and I'll help you get back on your feet again starting tomorrow."

"You'd... do that for me?" Rainbow asks, touched. "You're sure you want to do this? I don't want to drag you into my problems."

"Absolutely. What are friends for, right?" I smile warmly at Rainbow, who gives a sad but grateful smile.

"Thanks, Twilight. It means a lot."

"Don't mention it. Now let me go get those sheets."

I go to my closet and grab some sheets. I take them to the guest bed and make it neatly for Rainbow, who lies down in it. I turn out the light and turn to leave before I hear Rainbow's voice.

"Twilight," she says. "You're an awesome friend." I chuckle.

"I know." I say dramatically. "Good night, Rainbow Dash."

"G'night, Twilight."

---

This is going to be perfect. This morning I bought a surprise for Rainbow Dash. It'll be a fascinating and informative experience for me, and a fun day out for Rainbow Dash.

Surprise tucked away in my saddlebag, I open the door to my home to find Rainbow happily munching on a bowl of cereal. Her ears perk up as I walk in.

"Hey, Twilight, where you been?" Rainbow asks.

"Close your eyes." I say, approaching her.

"What?" She asks, dropping her spoon and cocking a brow.

"It's a surprise!" I say giddily. "Now close 'em."

She complies, and I set the surprise down on the table.

"Okay, open them." I say. She does, and she looks down at the table. In front of her lie two colorful tickets to--

"The Wonderbolts?!" Rainbow reads ecstatically. "You got us tickets to see the Wonderbolts?"

I nod. She smiles emphatically, but after a moment gives a confused look.

"Why?" She asks me.

"You want to get into the Wonderbolts, right? Well then we're gonna go see exactly what kind of tricks they like to do. I'll take notes, and you just enjoy yourself. Then I'll come up with a plan on how to impress them." I explain.

"Oh my gosh, this is so awesome!" Rainbow cheers. "Thankyouthankyouthankyou!"

"It's an investment. Spend some bits learning the moves so you can make some bits performing with them! Capitalism." I punctuate.

"Yeah, capital 'C', for 'Cool'!" Rainbow exclaims. I giggle and decide to let it slide without a correction.

"The performance is at noon, so finish up your breakfast and let's get going!"

---

From what I can tell, the Wonderbolts' main focus is on maneuvers while spinning or flipping. It seems awfully difficult, and I can see why Rainbow is so entranced by them.

I look over and Rainbow's eyes are glued on the flying group. She's practically glowing with admiration. It's nice to see her so happy, especially considering how grim her situation is.

Spinning and twisting will require a lot of torso workouts. Staying smooth while doing it will require balance exercises. I suppose if do one day of core, followed by a day of balance, followed by cardio, then a rest day...

"Twilight?" Rainbow's voice snaps me from my thoughts. "Thanks again for taking me. It's awfully nice of you."

"Oh, it's no problem! It's nice to get some quality time with you. Speaking of which, do you need a place to stay tonight?" I ask.

"Uh..." Rainbow hesitates. "That's okay, I'll figure something out."

I can understand that. She's too proud to accept too much help. But there's no way I'm just letting her rough it in the cold again.

"Okay, how about we have a sleepover? At my place?" I offer. Rainbow brings a hoof to her chin in thought.

"Well, when you put it that way..." She observes. "Sure, we can have a sleepover."

"Fillies and Gentelcoats," the announcer's voice brings an end to our conversation. "I'd like to thank you for coming out today! And a special thanks to the Wonderbolts for performing today. Let's make some noise!"

---

I have no idea where I am. I can't see a thing. I try to move my legs but they seem to be shackled. Heat suddenly burns my skin through my fur as fire explodes in the distance, and my setting is revealed.

I appear to be in a damp cavern, near a sheer cliff face that extends to a fiery pit below. I'm not sure what's down there. In front of me stand my five friends, each with a shackle attached to a weight, standing in a line. In front of them stands an old enemy.

King Sombra.

"Hello, Princess Twilight." His low voice grumbles. "I don't believe we've actually met."

"Sombra." I say. "What are you doing with me and my friends?"

"You? I'm doing nothing with you. You just sit back and watch your friends die." He explains with strikingly little emotion.

"No!" I plead. "Please, you can't do this!"

"Oh I think I can." He says, as he drags Rainbow Dash to the rim of the cliff. Her silhouette lights with the fire. She looks back at me with tears in her eyes. She whispers, but I hear her voice crystal clear.

"Help me, Twilight." She chokes. "Please."

Sombra laughs and bucks her into the flames.

I shoot up in bed, sobbing and sweaty.

It was just a dream.

My heart is racing faster than it ever has, and I'm trembling with fear and anguish. Sleep has been officially ruled out for tonight. I stand, and pace about my room. I know it was just a dream, but I'm in a full-blown panic attack.

I pace around the room for several minutes to no avail. My heart is still racing, and I can't stop trembling.

Maybe if I just go check on Rainbow Dash, and see that she's okay, maybe that'll calm me down. I pace for a few more seconds, eyeing my door.

"I'm gonna walk through that door on three." I say. "One, two, three!"

I quietly go to my door and open it. I walk down the hallway to the guest room, and I open the door. Sure enough, Rainbow is sleeping soundly in her bed, breathing softly. I breathe a silent breath of relief and I immediately feel better. I turn to leave, but I hear Rainbow's voice.

"Twilight?" She whispers. "You okay?"

"Yeah," I sniffle. "I'm fine." Rainbow sits up in bed and squints at me.

"Have you been crying?" She asks. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," I lie. "Just a bad dream."

"Do you wanna talk about it?" I desperately do, but I couldn't interrupt Rainbow from her sleep. She has her own problems to deal with. "Come here."

I comply. I sit down on the bed across from her and take a shuddering breath.

"King Sombra strapped me to a wall and made me watch as he threw you and the rest of my friends into a fiery pit." I explain, trying my best to keep my composure. "You asked me to help you, but I couldn't." I choke on the last word. "I couldn't, I'm so sorry, Rainbow!" I cry, breaking down into sobs, putting my head between my forelegs. I feel Rainbow's hoof on my shaking back.

"Hey, it was just a dream, Twi." Rainbow offers. I continue sobbing. She gingerly rubs my back. "There, there."

After a few mostly silent minutes, my sobbing gradually dies down, as does my heart rate. Eventually I feel the sweet sensation of sleep wash over me.

---

"Okay, for your first task, I want you to do a loop," I say.

"A loop? Easy-peasy." Rainbow says confidently.

"I wasn't finished. I want you do a loop while you do a barrel roll." I explain.

"Oh." Rainbow says.

We're standing in the middle of an open field on the outskirts of Ponyville. The grass is a bit damp with dew, as it's morning. Today is the first day of my training with Rainbow Dash. I figure I’ve got a half hour to train today before I have some studying to do.

“Alright, I’ll give it a shot.” Rainbow says, and she kicks off the ground, soaring into the sky. She pauses for a minute, then darts forward, arcing up and twisting. She ends up going at an angle perpendicular to the angle at which she started.

“Pretty good!” I say. It’s true, even if I had wings, I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to anything near that complicated. “Try to stay in a straight line.”

I sit there and watch her perform her stunts, giving her pointers every now and then. I feel kinda bad, just relaxing while she works her tail off trying to achieve her dreams. I gaze up at the sun. Based on the fact that the trees are more or less 90 degrees off the horizon, and the sun is… horseapples.

“I’m sorry, Rainbow, I’ve gotta get going, I have some studying to do. Finals next week and all. You can keep practicing or come with me, your choice.” I explain hurriedly.

“You have finals next week?” Rainbow asks. “Do you want any help studying?”

“Oh, it’s fine, you don’t need to--” I begin.

“Oh, come on, it’s the least I can do. You’re practically letting me live with you.” Rainbow offers.

“Well…” I say. “Okay. Why don’t you quiz me?”

“Awesome! I’m done practicing for now. Flips and loops make me dizzy if I do ‘em too long anyway.” Rainbow says casually, and lands on the ground next to me.

---

"Okay, who pioneered the first transformation spell?" Rainbow asks.

"Shooting Star." I answer. Lucky me, that one was easy.

"Correct!" She says. "Now what was--" A knock comes at the door. I stand and walk to the door. It's the mailmare, Derpy Hooves.

"Afternoon, Derpy!" I greet.

"Hi, Twilight!" She says happily. "Letter for you, from Spitfire in Cloudsdale."

"Whoa, what?!" Comes Rainbow's voice from the living room.

"Thanks, Derpy." I say, and hand her two bits. She waves and closes the door. I turn around to find Rainbow's face inches away from mine.

"Rainbow, what are you doing?" I ask.

"Go on, open the letter!" Rainbow says enthusiastically. I comply.

"It's hardly a surprise, Rainbow." I say. "I sent a letter two days ago asking her a question."

I inquired about the selection process the Wonderbolts use to pick new flyers. This must be her reply.

"Dear Twilight Sparkle," I read aloud. "Thank you for your interest in the Wonderbolts. Our selection process encompases several steps. We choose candidates from the national level of the EFL, the Equestrian Flight League.

The EFL, as you may know, operates at three levels: city, region, and national. Since you're writing to me from Ponyville, your friend would have to go to the Ponyville town hall and talk to an EFL representative about entering the competition. It's probably pretty short notice, but the contest is next Friday."

"Next Friday? Isn't that when your finals are?" Rainbow asks.

"Yes, but they're late in the evening. I'm sure I'll be able to make it to the competition." I explain. I look back at the letter and continue reading.

"After making city, you get a month to prepare for regional competition. Since you're in Ponyville, you're a part of the Canterlot-Cloudsdale region. After region, of course, you'll make the short trip to Cloudsdale for the national competition.

I hope to see you soon!

Yours,

Spitfire."

Rainbow is practically twitching with excitement. I chuckle and put the letter down.

"Looks like we'll be kicking the training up a notch, huh?" I muse.

"I can handle it. I could really join the Wonderbolts!" Rainbow says dreamily.

"I really think you can do it, Rainbow!" I assure. She suddenly holds me in a close embrace.

"Oh, thank you so much, Twilight!" She says, and breaks her hold on me. "You're really helping me get my life in order."

"What are friends for, right?" I say.

---

I had nightmares again last night. It's the third time this week I've had to sleep at the foot of Rainbow's bed. This time the nightmare was about hanging from a fragile branch above a massive dark void, listening to it slowly crack. I woke up as soon as it had broken. I'd felt really bad about waking Rainbow again; I'd given her an especially hard workout that day, and I couldn't even let her rest.

Tonight, though, there were no nightmares. There was no sleep in which to have nightmares. It's Thursday night. Tomorrow's a big day. Rainbow has her first EFL competition at 11:00 AM, and I have my History of Magic final that evening. I'm seriously freaking out. Unsurprisingly, I'm pacing around my bedroom. But I'm certainly not about to wake Rainbow up the night before her big day. So I'll just pace. If I just walk for, say, an hour, I'll be so tired I'll have no choice but to get some sleep.

I pace like that, for a few minutes, and I don't really feel much better. I am getting quite tired though, so, the plan is working I suppose.

I freeze as I hear my bedroom door open. Oh, horseapples. I woke up Rainbow with all my pacing.

"Twilight? You okay in here?" She inquires groggily.

"I'm fine." I say, my voice wavering more than I thought it would.

"More nightmares?" Dash asks, her concern obvious in her voice.

"No." I say, panicked. "I never got to sleep. I'm just freaking out."

"About the finals?" Rainbow asks.

"Yep." I say. I'm still pacing, and I don't even look at her as I talk to her.

"Hey, come here." Rainbow says, eyeing me uneasily. I stop walking and freeze. I take a deep breath and look at her. Finally, I walk towards her, and she brings me into a gentle hug.

"I've studied with you every day this week, Twilight." Rainbow says. "You are gonna rock that test."

"Thanks, Rainbow." I say. I'm genuinely thankful. "I know I've studied my hardest, but I'm just so nervous!"

"Let me tell you a story." Rainbow says, and walks to the bed. I follow her, and sit down next to her. She wraps a foreleg around me, and I notice for the first time how badly I'm trembling.

"Back when I was in flight school," She begins. "We had to stay in bunks over the summer. Every bunk had a counselor. I had the most strict counselor ever, her name was... eh, I forget. We always used to call her 'Miss Medusa', 'cause she had dreadlocks." I chuckle at the nickname.

"Anyway, one morning, 7 AM sharp, just like usual, Miss Medusa comes into our bunk and blows her whistle, to wake us up. But get this: the whistle was stuck to her lips! Somepony put glue all over her whistle!" Rainbow cackles.

"Oh my gosh, was she okay?" I ask.

"Oh yeah, it came off with water. But here's the best part: you know who did it?" Rainbow says. "Fluttershy."

"Fluttershy? No way!" I say incredulously.

"Yes ma'am! Turns out when you're not nice to Fluttershy, she's not nice back." She says. I laugh at the ridiculousness of the story.

"That's hilarious!" I say. "But, what does that have to do with my test tomorrow?"

"Oh, nothing!" Rainbow declares casually. "But don't you feel better?"

I do. It's amazing, but being so distracted by Rainbow's story has actually calmed me down. I start to feel tired, but at the same time, I don't want Rainbow to leave. I don't want to be all alone.

"We'll go on, you've got to have some more stories in you." I muse, and I notice I've stopped trembling altogether. I curl up at Rainbow's hooves and close my eyes, listening to her story.

She's an excellent storyteller, but by this point I'm just listening to the sound of her voice. She's so expressive! And the little cracks in her voice are oddly soothing. She doesn't speak too fast, or too slow, and for someone with such a huge personality, her voice is subdued in this quiet setting. Like a lullaby. I can feel myself drifting off to sleep, ever so slowly.

I'm so lucky to have a friend like Rainbow Dash. I've never had somepony to be there for me when I'm anxious. Just like how I found how lonely it was with no friends, Rainbow has shown me how lonely I was when I lived alone. She's here for me.

She sure is special.

Moving Right Along

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As it turns out, Ponyville doesn't have a flying stadium. It's not really much of a surprise, considering it would have to be the biggest building in town. But apparently Rainbow has been training in the place the competition is being held: in that open field on the outskirts of town.

Rainbow is ready, strong, and confident. There's no way she's not getting first place. We've worked day after day, working her core, her wings, and her balance. She's in her prime. And, not to brag, but I like to think I got her there.

There are about fifteen flyers, and Rainbow is the last one. Her routine is relatively simple. Just a few moves, but they're hard. Well, they would be hard, if Rainbow wasn't such a good flyer.

At the moment, she's almost done with the routine. Everyone is awestruck in the audience, especially the judges. I'm sitting among the onlooking crowd, and I'm extremely proud of Rainbow. She looks totally in her element.

As her routine comes to an end, she lands softly on the ground, bows, and trots off happily in my direction. I run to meet her at the front of the makeshift stands.

"You did awesome, Rainbow!" I congratulate her.

"Thanks! I couldn't have done it without you, Twi. Thank you." She says sincerely.

"You're still up for coming to Canterlot later today for my finals, right?" I ask.

"Are you kidding me? I wouldn't miss it for the world." She promises. I smile with gratitude. It means the world to me that my best friend is there to send me off.

"Well, fillies and gentlecolts, we've reached a decision!" The announcer calls. Rainbow and I turn our heads to face him. "The following four contestants will advance to regional competition:"

Rainbow's face is locked in tense anticipation.

"Thunderlane, Cloud Kicker, Flitter, and Rainbow Dash. Thank you all for competing, you were all wonderful!"

Rainbow and I cheer and embrace.

"You did it, Rainbow!" I shout. "I'm so proud of you!"

"We did it, Twilight! Not just me! Now I've got a real shot at joining the Wonderbolts!" Rainbow cheers. "You're awesome! Thank you!"

A small blush creeps across my cheeks. It feels nice to help others. But truly, Rainbow's talent is what brought her here. She just needed a little structure to her training.

---

I passed my final. Rainbow was there to congratulate me as I was there for her. I owe her a lot, since she's the reason I've been getting sleep at all. Heck, were it not for her, I'd likely have keeled over with stress by now.

Yet here I am, lying in bed, wide awake, which isn't unusual for me, of course. But I'm not having nightmares. I'm not having a panic attack. In fact, I'm not unhappy at all.

I'm actually quite happy.

I'm staying up thinking about my wonderful day. Seeing Rainbow getting that much closer to her dream was wonderful, and being able to overcome my own obstacles felt amazing. But the real reason I'm staying up is because of two little words:

"You're awesome!"

Rainbow said them to me this morning. Or was it technically yesterday morning? I'm not entirely sure how late it is. Rainbow said those words to me just after she'd been chosen to advance to regional competition. On their own, those two words hold relatively average meaning. But for some reason, when they're put together, and Rainbow Dash is saying them, and it's directed at me, it means so much it's keeping me up at night.

I'm absolutely giddy, and I have no idea why. But for some reason, the fact that Rainbow said I'm amazing has made my day even more than passing my finals.

I get out of bed and quietly leave my room. I sneak down the hall and enter Rainbow's room. She's sleeping on her right side, as usual, facing away from the door. I close the door as quietly as I can behind me and gently climb into bed with the sleeping pegasus. She shifts around a bit.

"Twilight? You okay?" She asks.

"I'm fine, Rainbow, go back to sleep." I say with a happy sigh.

"Nightmares? Panic attack?" She asks.

"Neither. I just wanted to be with you." I say. Rainbow stays still for a moment, likely pondering my peculiar actions, which, to her credit, are very peculiar. After a few seconds, she rolls over and goes back to sleep. I lay a foreleg across her barrel and slowly drift off to sleep.

---

A knock comes at the door and I'm awoken from my sleep. The sun is just peering in the window in Rainbow's room, and I'm in bed with her, my foreleg draped over her. I smile lazily and close my eyes, ready to fall back asleep.

Another knock comes at the door. I slowly stand and walk down the stairs and to my front door. Standing before me with her signature smile is Pinkie Pie.

"Hey Twilight! Have you seen Rainbow Dash?" She asks. What time is it?

"Hey, Pinkie." I slur, and I clear my throat. "She's upstairs, sleeping."

"Ooh, are you having a sleepover?" Pinkie asks, cocking her head to one side.

"Sorta," I chuckle. "Rainbow's been staying with me for a little over a week now."

"Are you going for the world record?" Pinkie asks. I laugh.

"Yeah, Pinkie. We're going for the world record." I muse.

"Good luck! You've got a long way to go." Pinkie warns, walking past me and toward the stairs. "The world record is 239 days!"

I roll my eyes with a smile. Moments later, a sleepy Rainbow Dash follows Pinkie down the stairs.

"Hey, Twi." She greets. "I'm gonna go hang with Pinkie today. See you later!"

"This doesn't get you out of training!" I tease. Rainbow scoffs and sticks her tongue out at me. The two walk past me out the door.

Wait, did I actually sleep with Rainbow last night?

---

It's brutally cold outside. It makes my errand today all the more justified. With winter coming, I decided to take the short trip to the Carosel Boutique, since winter is just around the corner.

I'm standing in the scarf isle, and I've found the most amazing rainbow-colored scarf. I've already found one for myself, and I'm considering getting this one for Rainbow. She didn't bring any clothes with her from her house, so I assume she'll need it.

I drape it over my back and make my way to the checkout counter, where Rarity is waiting happily, flipping through a magazine. She sets it down and looks up at me, smiling.

"Hello, Twilight, dear." She sings. "Scarves, hmm? An excellent choice."

"Well, I have jackets and blankets." I explain. "I've been wanting a new scarf for a while now." I levitate the scarves off my back and put them on the counter.

"Oh, two?" She says, eyeing the rainbow-colored scarf. "That one looks like it'd be perfect for Rainbow Dash."

"As a matter of fact, I'm buying it just for her!" I say, perhaps a bit too excitedly.

"Ah, yes." Rarity says, a giddy smile plastering her face. "Pinkie Pie tells me you've been living together for a little over a week now." She raises an eyebrow and gives a subtle smirk. "Are you two... An item, so to speak?"

I'm taken aback. My heart starts racing. An intense blush creeps across my face and I struggle to make a coherent response.

"What? Oh, uh, no, that's--" I stammer. "No, we're just friends. What gave you that idea?"

We're not 'an item.' We're just friends. Well, we're best friends, but still, that's a preposterous assumption.

"Well, you are living together. And now you're out buying her gifts." Not to mention I slept with her last night. "I'm sorry if I offended you at all."

"Oh, not at all." I assure. "It's just surprising, is all." Mostly because I've never even thought about it. As far as I know, nobody even knows I like mares. Of course, not that it's all that uncommon.

"Besides," I say. "I don't even know if she likes mares."

Rarity puts on a deadpan face and cocks an eyebrow.

"You really think there's much doubt?" She says flatly. She's right. Rainbow has never shown interest in stallions, and she is a bit tomboyish.

"Well, either way, it doesn't matter, because we're not...together. Well, I mean, we are living together, but I mean we're not...dating. A couple. Just friends." I throw a few bits on the table for the scarves.

"Oh, sweetheart. You don't have to pay for these." She says.

"Why not? I always pay for my clothing." I promise.

"Oh, this is special, darling! It's a gift for your special somepony!" She teases.

"She's not my special somepony!" I retort, taking back my bits and turning to walk out of the boutique.

"Don't forget to invite me to the wedding!" Rarity shouts after me, before slipping into a fit of giggles. My cheeks turn bright red and I roll my eyes.

---

"So I went over to Carousel Boutique today." I say. I'm incredibly bored doing this report on Pre-Discorian Equestria, mostly because I know it all already. I'm looking for anything to divert me, and Rainbow Dash is the perfect distraction.

"Yeah?" She says, briefly looking up from her novel. Since she finished the Daring Do series, she graduated to the Lightning Scar series, which, much to my satisfaction, is about magic. Fake magic, but it's better than nothing, right?

"So I go to buy a scarf from Rarity, and she asks if you and I are dating! Isn't that ridiculous?" I ask. Rainbow puts the book on her belly and laughs.

"Oh man, that's rich. Pretty awkward too, huh?" Rainbow asks.

"Oh yeah. Besides, where would she even get that idea?" I ask, looking for validation.

"Well, I can't say I'm surprised." Rainbow says, shrugging. "We kinda do act like we're dating."

"What??" I say, surprised. "We-- what? How?"

"Well, first of all, we live together. It's not really weird, except we're not related and we're both single, and I've got a feeling both of us aren't into Stallions." I blush intensely. How is she figuring this out? "And second off, we sleep in the same bed almost every night. Though, I guess nopony knows about that, right?"

"I--I assume not." I say. She does make a good point. "We're not dating, though, right?"

"Last time I checked, nope! We're just friends, helping each other out. You train me for the Wonderbolts and let me live in your house, and I calm you down when you freak out." Rainbow says. It's exactly what I needed to hear. "Now I can tell you really don't wanna do that report thing, so let's go train!"

I'm glad I have Rainbow to keep my head straight for me.

A knock comes at the door.

I stand and open the door. It's Derpy Hooves, with the daily mail.

"Hello, Derpy!" I greet.

"Hi, Twilight!" She says happily. "I've got a letter for you from Princess Celestia."

"Thank you!" I say, taking the envelope. She nods and walks away. I open the package. Contained is a book, and a brief letter.

My Faithful Student,

Included in this package is An Introduction to Quantam Mechanics. I know relatively little on the subject myself, but it's a field in which I believe you'd be able to make significant contributions. Give the book a read, and tell me what you think.

Yours,

Princess Celestia.

Huh. A book on quantam mechanics. I've never really done any reading on the subject. This should be interesting! I think I'll get started as soon as I'm done with Rainbow's training.

---

Quantam mechanics is hard. Very hard. In fact, it's probably the most complicated subject I've ever delved into. But that's not even the worst part of it. The worst part is that Rainbow Dash completely understands it.

I have no idea how, or why, but Rainbow Dash completely understands Quantam mechanics.

It's mortifying that a pony with absolutely no background in chemistry and physics can so easily grasp one of the world's most complicated subjects, when I can't. She's been helping me try and understand it for a few weeks now. We have a study session almost every day, and I'm starting to catch on.

Today is the regional competition for Rainbow, and we've made the short trip to Cloudsdale. I've been to the Cloudsdale Stadium once before, and it's still magnificent. Rainbow seems only slightly nervous. It is a pretty huge competition. Coming from a small town like Ponyville, Rainbow really has no idea what she's up against. The last time she was at flight school was just under ten years ago. Who knows how competitive it's gotten since then?

Rainbow pulled some strings and got me into the contestants' area. It's a good thing, too; I think if I weren't there, Rainbow would be a lot more nervous. She's leaning against a cloud pillar, trying her best to seem calm and composed.

"You're gonna do great, Rainbow." I assure her. She looks around, and puts on a confident smile.

"I know I'm gonna do awesome. It's me we're talking about here." She says, a little too loudly. She leans close to me and whispers, more sincerely, "Thanks, Twilight."

A stallion walks over and taps Rainbow on the shoulder.

"Contestant number twenty-five, you're up." He tells her. She gives me a nervous smile.

"Wish me luck!" She says, turning to leave. She flies out from between the flaps of the curtain. I walk a few yards down the perimeter of the stadium to where I can get a good viewpoint, and I lean against a cloud pillar.

"You won't need it." I say quietly, with a smile.

I stand there and watch her routine for what has to be the thousandth time. It's similar in structure to her first routine, but includes much harder moves. It's incredible that she can do these maneuvers so smoothly and flawlessly. She isn't kidding when she says she's the best flyer in Equestria.

Her routine comes to an end and I meet her behind the curtain.

"Rainbow, that was awesome!" I congratulate.

"Thanks, Twilight! It's all thanks to you." I blush. In reality, Rainbow is the perfect student, with a will to learn and an unmatchable aptitude.

"You were for sure the best one out there." I say quietly.

"Thanks, Twi." She says with a grateful smile. The voice of the announcer comes over the loudspeaker.

"Fillies and Gentlecolts, we've reached a decision. The ponies who will be advancing to national competition are: Rainbow Dash, Lightning Dust, High Flyer, and Checkered Flag. All of the competitors' routines were excellent, and choosing just four was a difficult task. Thank you all for coming."

Rainbow and I embrace and cheer. There's just one more hurdle now until Rainbow is officially a Wonderbolt. There's a cramp in my chest and I break the embrace.

"Congratulations, Rainbow." I say with a smile. "Why don't we go out to dinner to celebrate?"

"Sure! I know an awesome place." She says. "Come on!"

---

Rainbow Dash uses the word "awesome" a lot, but when she described The Amore as such, she really meant it. All I got was spaghetti, and it's easily the best I've ever eaten.

"Everything taste okay over here?" A voice comes. Rainbow and I look to find a waitress standing there, smiling pleasantly in the low light. She has a light gray coat and a wavy black mane. Her cutie mark is a feather. She looks oddly familiar.

"Oh, hey High Flyer!" Rainbow greets. She was one of the other contestants that advanced to national competition. "Everything tastes great, thanks!"

"Hello, Rainbow Dash!" Her voice is pleasant, and sounds charmingly innocent. "You were awesome today. You looked just like a Wonderbolt out there." Rainbow blushes modestly.

"Thanks... You were awesome too, you know!" Rainbow says. "So you're working as a waitress?"

"Yes ma'am! Just paying the bills until I make it big as a flyer. Though with you out there I might be here a while." She jokes.

"I'll bet they make us both Wonderbolts!" Rainbow says confidently. I levitate my tea and take a drink.

"That'd be nice, huh?" High flyer says with a chuckle. "Well, I'll let you lovebirds get back to your meals. Enjoy!" I choke on my tea and High Flyer gives a mischievous laugh, winking before she walks away.

"I like her." Rainbow declares. She notices my coughing fit and raises an eyebrow. "You okay, Twi?" I finally cease coughing.

"I'm good, thanks." I say with an embarrassed smile. I can feel my cheeks heating up. "So it was you, her, Checkered Flag, and Lightning Dust?"

"Mmhm!" Rainbow confirms through a mouthful of pasta.

"Lightning Dust..." I say, racking my memory. "Wasn't she that troublemaker at the Wonderbolt Academy?" Rainbow swallows her food.

"Well, sorta. We got along pretty well, but she had a habit of taking things too far." She explains. "She's a good flyer though."

"Well then you'll just have to be better." I say confidently with a smile. I've been hanging around Rainbow too long.

"I've never met Checkered Flag." Rainbow says. "I think he's from Canterlot. His dad's a racer, I know that much."

"You think he paid his way into the competition?" I ask quietly.

"Nah, he was actually pretty good. But I bet it gives him an advantage to have that kind of reputation." She says. "I'm not worried."

I don't know if I'm worried or not. I don't know what to expect.

---

My home has never been particularly quiet. Today is no exception.

Pinkie Pie took the liberty of throwing a surprise congratulatory party in my house. It's a relatively small one, for Pinkie's Standards, as only our little six-pony friend group is attending.

She decorated the whole library while Rainbow and I were gone, and I assume she only started after she heard Rainbow had advanced. Which was about five hours ago.

She really does live up her cutie mark.

Streamers line the ceiling and a huge banner that reads "Congratulations Rainbow Dash!" sweeps across the middle of the room. A song that I immediately recognize as Pinkie's favorite is playing in the background. The last time Pinkie did this I was a lot less enthusiastic.

Maybe Pinkie's rubbed off on me too.

"I'm real sorry we couldn't make it to the competition, Rainbow." Applejack apologizes.

"Aw, don't worry about it." Rainbow assures.

"But you can bet your hindquarters we're gonna be there for the nationals!" Applejack promises.

"Thanks, AJ. It means a lot." Rainbow says with a sincere smile.

"I can't wait to see you perform with the Wonderbolts!" Pinkie says.

The music seems a little loud right now, and the lights are a little bright. I know this feeling all too well.

These are the first signs of a panic attack.

I make sure no one is paying me much attention and I go upstairs to my room. It's quiet here, and the only light comes from the moon outside. It's better, but it doesn't do much to help.

I pace around for a few moments before a heartstopping creak comes from my opening door. It's a dimly lit Rainbow Dash, and even with the low light I can make out her look of concern.

"You alright, Twi?" She asks. There's a lump in my throat that prevents me from speaking. I simply shake my head. Rainbow gently closes the door behind her and walks towards me.

"Panic attack?" She asks. I nod. "Any idea what brought it on?" I shake my head, and Rainbow comes to me and takes me in a warm embrace. My heart rate slows just a bit and I take a deep breath before sitting down. Rainbow joins me. I bury my muzzle in her shoulder. I really have no idea why I'm so worked up; usually my panic attacks have a trigger. This one seems to have come out of the blue.

"There you go." Rainbow whispers. "Everything is okay. You're okay."

My heart rate slows some more, as does my breathing. I'm starting to believe Rainbow.

"That's better." Rainbow says. She places a gentle kiss on my head. "Are you ready to go back to the party now?"

I nod, finally opening my eyes. I stand clumsily.

"Thank you." I say, starting to regain my composure. "Hey, Rainbow?"

"Yeah?"

"You're awesome." I say with a faint smile.

"I know." Rainbow says dramatically.

Five More Minutes

View Online

In just one week, Rainbow will be competing in the national competition for the Equestrian Flying League. It's nerve wracking, exciting, and a whirlwind of emotions. It's been just under two months since Rainbow Dash moved in with me, and it's been going fairly smoothly. Other than the occasional (maybe not so occasional) panic attacks and nightmares, I've been pretty good. Rainbow's psychological well-being is much better than mine, even though I can tell she's pretty nervous. I can't say I blame her. This is perhaps her one and only shot at achieving her dream, and she has one routine, under five minutes, to prove she's worthy.

No pressure.

Having the rest of her friends there this time will likely make her a lot less nervous, though. She's been under a lot of pressure before, even life-or-death situations, and has always done just fine. Except this time, she doesn't need to do just fine, she needs to do perfectly.

Again, no pressure.

The owners of Cloudsdale Stadium have generously allowed all of the national contestants access to the stadium the week before the competition. Rainbow and I made the trip up there for the entire week. We’re walking down a calm and mostly empty street in Cloudsdale, heading for the stadium.

"So," I say to Rainbow. "Are you nervous?"

"You kidding?" Rainbow says confidently. "I didn't come this far to lose."

"I'm impressed!" I say. "If this doesn't work out, I heard there's a position open as the Ponyville EFL representative." I tease.

"Haha, very funny." Rainbow says with a roll of her eyes.

"Hey, Rainbow Dash." A voice comes. We turn to the sound, and find a turquoise-coated Pegasus with golden-yellow hair and a lightning bolt cutie mark.

"Lightning Dust, long time no see." Rainbow says earnestly.

"I'm glad to see you'll be competing." Lightning says. "I'm really sorry about what happened back at the academy. I still think you're a great flyer."

"Hey, thanks!" Rainbow says, and looks at me. I give her a comfortable smile. "No hard feelings, right?"

"None at all." Lightning Dust says. She turns and looks at me happily. "The name's Lightning Dust."

"Twilight Sparkle. Pleased to meet you!" I say politely. It's nice to finally meet one of the ponies Rainbow got to know while she was at the academy.

"Sorry for almost killing you." She says with a sheepish smile.

"I almost get killed a lot, it's no biggie. Besides, it was an accident!" I assure. She nods in what I assume is gratitude and turns to Rainbow.

"You wanna practice with me?" She asks. Rainbow looks at me pleadingly.

"Go ahead! I'll just go grab some lunch. Catch you later!" I say, with a wave. Rainbow and Lightning run off toward the stadium.

After a quick dinner at the Cloudsdale Hayburger, Rainbow and I decided to take a walk through downtown Cloudsdale. It’s winter, but there’s very little wind, and no snow, since we’re above the cloud layer and the air is undisturbed here. Weather is always peaceful here. They don’t need rain, and they don’t need wind, and they don’t need snow. They just need sunshine and the occasional breeze.

It’s nighttime, and the lanterns pepper the facades of the buildings that line the streets. It’s not quiet, though; the streets are crowded with ponies talking to one another, shouting for taxis, and laughing. Rainbow and I turn down a quiet street, but I quickly hear something from a nearby alleyway. It sounds like hushed but angry speaking. I hold out a hoof and stop Rainbow in her tracks.

“Shh.” I hush her. “You hear that?”

Rainbow cocks her head for a minute and listens. Her face contorts into uncomfortable suspicion and she looks at me.

“Let’s go check it out.” Rainbow says. I nod in agreement and we slowly and quietly turn down the alleyway. I can see the silhouette of a stallion as he looks up, obviously noticing our presence. He mutters something to his unseen victim and flies off. Rainbow and I stop for a moment, then a sound sends shivers down my spine.

Crying.

Rainbow and I rush over behind a pile of crates and find the source of the crying. A slumped over pegasus with her head in her forelegs, sobbing quietly to herself.

“Hey, what happened?” Rainbow asks. The pegasus looks up and my stomach turns over.

It’s High Flyer.

“High Flyer!” Rainbow and I say in unison.

“Who was that guy?” Rainbow asks, a hint of thinly veiled fury in her voice.

“I’m sorry you have to see me like this.” High Flyer says, barely maintaining her composure.

“What happened to you?” I ask. “Did he hurt you?” High Flyer sniffles, rubs her eyes with a foreleg, and hugs her knees, sitting with her back against the wall.

“I’m fine.” She says, avoiding our eyes.

“Uh, nice try.” Rainbow says. “But you’re obviously not fine.”

“You two should get home; it’s dangerous out here at night.” High Flyer says, closing her eyes, sniffling again.

“We’re not leaving until we get you some help.” I declare. High Flyer looks up at me quickly, her eyes bloodshot and full of fear.

“Thank you for your concern, but there’s nothing you can do.” She says.

“I don’t know about that.” Rainbow says with a chuckle. “I’d be glad to take out that jerk that was picking on you.”

“It’s more complicated than that. I can’t just get rid of him.” High Flyer says, looking at the ground again.

“Why not?” Rainbow asks.

“Because,” High Flyer replies, a look of complete disgust on her face. “I need him.” She chokes. “He pays me.”

“Is he your boss?” I ask. “At The Amore?”

“No.” High Flyer says. “He’s not my boss at all. He’s...bribing me. I can’t say much more.”

“But you’re gonna be a Wonderbolt here in a few days!” Rainbow offers. High Flyer starts sobbing again.

“That’s just it, isn’t it?” I say. “He’s bribing you not to compete.”

High Flyer says nothing and continues sobbing.

“That’s horrible!” Rainbow says. “He can’t do that!”

“What choice do I have?” High Flyer chokes out. “I have to eat. I don’t know if I’m even good enough to become a wonderbolt. But if Che-- if he pays me to not compete, that’s money in my pocket. Money I can use to eat.” It almost sounds like she was about to say who the mysterious bully was. ‘Che-’ something. I’ll have to think about that later.

Rainbow and I look at each other. At this point, we’re both tearing up, but it seems there’s nothing we can do. This really is a tight situation. We look back at the trembling pegasus in front of us.

“Come on, we’ll walk you home.” I offer. High Flyer gives a bitter laugh.

“Here we are.” She says, looking up. “This is where I live.” She’s homeless. Rainbow and I look at each other, and tears are running down both our faces at this point. My heart is in a million pieces.

“Come with us. You’re staying at our place.” I declare.

“Don’t worry about me.” She says. “It’s been like this for… a while.”

“No buts.” Rainbow says. “You’re coming with us.” High Flyer looks up and takes a shuddering breath, finally standing shakily. I give her a small smile before she follows us out of the alleyway and back towards our hotel.

Checkered Flag. It came to me in my sleep last night that the bully had to have been Checkered Flag, the contestant from Canterlot. He's a fellow competitor, a stallion, and his name starts with "Che".

High Flyer stayed in our hotel room last night. She insisted on sleeping on the pull-out couch, but it’s certainly a step up from a cold, damp alleyway, even it’s made of clouds.

She had work the next day, so she had to leave relatively early. She really appreciated the hotel breakfast, and our letting her use the shower. After she left, Rainbow had asked me if we could talk.

“Okay, what are we gonna do about her?” Rainbow asks. “She deserves to compete. I say we turn in the guy.”

“It’s not that simple.” I explain. “We need evidence, first of all, and secondly, We’d need High Flyer to testify in court.”

“You don’t think she would?” Rainbow asks.

“I don’t. You saw her, she was so afraid…” I say, a lump appearing in my throat. “As awful as it is, I don’t think she wants to cause trouble.”

“Good point.” Rainbow laments. “Well then we’ll need some evidence. If we can catch him in the act, and take a picture or a video or something, then we can take it to the police and they’ll lock him up, right? He couldn’t hurt her?”

“In theory, if we presented evidence, they could make an arrest before he had a chance to get payback.” I confirm. “But how are we gonna get evidence?”

“It’s simple.” I say. “We just follow him when he goes to talk to High Flyer, and we’ll get footage of him roughing her up some. I’m sure we can buy a camera around here in Cloudsdale, right?”

“Sure! It’s a plan.”

As I’d promised, later that day I went and bought a camera. Rainbow stopped by our hotel room to let me know she’d be hanging out with Lightning Dust for a while. I suppose that’s fine; better to make friends than to make enemies.

She didn’t show up in time to catch Checkered Flag. I’m pretty sure I got some clear footage of him yelling at High Flyer in her alleyway home. After he left, I once again took her back to our hotel room. Of course, it wasn’t without a bit of a fight, but eventually she agreed.

But now I’m getting really worried. Rainbow didn’t come home last night.

This morning I asked High Flyer if she knows where Lightning Dust lives. She does; she and Lighting used to be good friends when they were younger. And right now, she and I are heading over to Lightning’s house to see if Rainbow stayed there.

Her house is not unlike most houses in Cloudsdale; several pillars, a small Rainbow fountain in the front yard, one story, and a door made of compacted clouds.

I still have no idea how they make those.

I bring a hoof to the door and knock. There suddenly comes the sound of a large crash, and erratic hoofsteps before the door finally opens to reveal Lightning Dust, her hair completely disheveled, her eyes red, and her posture slumped and tired. She squints, as though she can’t see clearly. After a moment, she apparently recognizes me and smiles.

“Hey, Twilight. Hey, Fly.” She slurs. “What’s up?”

“Have you seen Rainbow Dash?” I ask. Behind her I see empty bottles of some unknown substance, though the smell of alcohol is creeping from the house.

“Yeah, she’s asleep on the couch. Come on in.” Lightning mumbles, shielding her eyes from the sun. High Flyer and I timidly enter the house. I nearly gasp when I see Rainbow, sprawled out on the couch, her mouth hanging open, snoring. She smells like cider and her mane is disheveled like Lightning Dust’s.

“Rainbow Dash!” I say sternly.

“Five more minutes.” She mumbles.

“Rainbow Dash, why are you sleeping on Lightning Dust’s couch?” I ask. She freezes for a moment, then quickly sits upright, taking in her surroundings. Her eyes go wide as she realizes where she is.

“Uh, hey, Twilight.” She greets groggily. “Hey, Fly. Say, why’s it so bright in here?”

“Because you’re hungover.” I glare. “You never came home last night. Was there some kind of party?”

“I…” Rainbow shields her eyes and looks off into the distance, deep in thought. “I’m not sure. I think so. Can I go home now? I feel like trash.”

She looks like trash.

“Come on.” I say, melting a bit at her apparent innocence.

Shortly after arriving back at the hotel, High Flyer had to leave for work. I made her promise to come back to the hotel and stay with us again tonight, and she reluctantly agreed. As soon as she left, I turned to Rainbow, who is lying on the hotel bed, an icepack on her head, and a pained look on her face as she tries to read the fifth Lightning Scar book.

“Rainbow, what happened?” I ask. “I’m not mad, I promise.” I assure. “I just want to know what happened.”

“Look, I’m sorry, Twilight, really.” Rainbow says earnestly. “I went over to Lightning Dust’s for a drink, and one drink turned into...a lot of drinks.”

“Was it just you two?” I ask.

“What?” Rainbow says, with a confused look. “I mean...I don’t really remember.” She decides. “Why? What does that matter?”

I open my mouth to speak, but I have no immediate answer. I look up and away from Rainbow, and I close my mouth.

“I don’t know. What if you two...did stuff?” I ask, the words stinging my tongue as they come. Rainbow gives a genuinely confused look.

“Why would you even wonder…” She begins. Her expression softens and a sly grin crosses her face. “You’re jealous.”

“What?!” I nearly shout, an intense blush filling my cheeks. “What would give you that idea?”

“Admit it!” Rainbow says, hopping off the bed and walking toward me. “You only care because if I...did stuff with her, it would ruin what we have going on here!”

“I never said--” I begin, but I’m interrupted by Rainbow.

“It’s okay,” She says confidently, and turns away from me. Looking back she says, “I know I’m pretty awesome. I understand.”

“Rainbow, I do not have ‘feelings’ for you!” I challenge as Rainbow continues walking away. “I just think it’s an awful idea to be getting drunk five days from contest time. You want to be in your best shape.”

“Uh huh.” Rainbow says, a sly grin on her face, a tone of disbelief in her voice. “You take all the time you need.” I blush and roll my eyes.

“Anyway,” I growl. “While you were out partying last night, I got footage of Checkered Flag picking on High Flyer. Now how about we take it up to the police station and turn him in?”

“Sounds like a plan!” She says.

“Great. Now let me grab the footage,” I say. “And we can get going.” Where did I put that footage?

Oh, right, I put it on the bedside table. Except it’s not there. I definitely put it right there, and it’s gone.

“Rainbow,” I beckon. She’s near the door, putting on her saddlebags. “Did you do something with the package that was right here, on this table?”

“What package?” She asks. Then it hits me.

High Flyer must have taken the package.

“Ponyfeathers.” I mutter.

“What’s up?” Rainbow asks, walking toward me.

“High Flyer must have taken the package.” I say. I curse and punch the bed. “She must not want us to say anything about Checkered Flag. Dangit, he can’t just push her around like that! We have to do something, Rainbow!”

“Twi, there’s nothing we can do.” Rainbow says. “I know it sucks, but all we can do is talk to her. It’s up to her to make the choice on her own.” I sigh. She’s right.

“You’re right.” I say.

“Of course I’m right.” Rainbow says. “Now come on, let’s go train some. Maybe it’ll get your mind off it until she comes home tonight.”

“Alright,” I concede. “Let’s go.”

Rainbow is really getting good. She displays complete mastery of her routine. Her form is graceful, and she makes it look easy. She swoops through the open air of the Cloudsdale Stadium, forming wide arcs, spinning all the while, occasionally flying upwards, doing a backflip, and swooping downwards, as though the air were solid ground, and she was merely sliding along it.

She isn’t flying alone, though. Several of the other competitors, including Lightning Dust, are flying around. It’s a large stadium, but the turnout is much higher than yesterday. It seems like a bad idea to have nearly ten flyers in the same stadium.

Still, there are relatively few problems. Every time the flyers get near each other, they end their moves prematurely and avoid the other flyers.

I watch as Rainbow completes another loop. As she nears the bottom, she spots an orange pegasus and swerves to her right to avoid him, but quickly spins out of control. She fast approaches the wall, and tilts herself to the left to try and lessen the blow.

It does little.

She smashes into the wall, both her wing and her side taking the full force of the blow. She lets out a sickening grunt of pain and promptly begins to drop out of the sky. My heart stops and my stomach twists as my mouth gapes open. All heads in the stadium turn to see the source of the sound. Lightning Dust audibly gasps and bolts downwards, toward Rainbow Dash. She makes quick work of catching her and bringing her back into the empty stands. I rush over to her limp body. Even at full speed it doesn’t seem like I’m running fast enough. I skid to a halt in front of Rainbow.

Her wing is badly damaged, and her side is scratched and bloodied. I’m out of breath, and I choke on my tears. My heart is racing.

“Rainbow Dash!” I shout. “Rainbow, can you hear me?”

There is no response.

“She’s breathing.” Lightning Dust says. “Come on, we should get her to the hospital.” She dives into the stadium, finding a small tuft of cloud and pushing it toward the stands. She stops in front of Rainbow and I use my magic to carefully lift her and place her on the cloud.

“Do you know where the hospital is?” I ask Lightning.

“Yeah, I’ll take you there.” She says.

Rainbow is lying in a hospital bed, still unconscious from her crash. The room is nearly empty, save for a cart with medicine on it, and a row of cabinets that line the wall on the left side of the room. A streak of light spills in from the sun outside, draping Rainbow in a striped array of brightness over her casts and hospital gown.

I can tell she’s not completely knocked out because she’s tossing and turning every so often as though she were sleeping, which she probably is. I’m sitting on a cushioned bench next to the bed, under the window, watching her sleep. I pity her, really. It’ll likely come as an awful shock when she wakes up and finds out just how hard she crashed. Lightning Dust is still here, standing. We’ve only been here for a little over an hour, and we’re still waiting on the doctor to return with the results of the X-rays. I can tell be the way she’s eyeing the clock that Lighting intends to leave any second.

“You know, the doctor said she’ll be fine. It’s really nice of you to hang around, but if you’ve got places to go, I’ll understand.” I assure.

“Well, I suppose I should go get High Flyer, and then I should get back to practice.” Lightning agrees. “But hey, you know where I live now. Keep me posted.”

I nod, and with that, Lightning Dust leaves the room.

I sit in silence for a time, watching Rainbow sleep. I don’t know exactly for how long I sit there. I’m glad Rainbow is going to be okay, but the question that still makes my heart race is whether she’ll be ready by Saturday. She will definitely recover eventually, but it would be an awful tragedy if she isn’t able to compete.

I turn my head as the sound of the door opening breaks me from my somber thought. The doctor stands in the doorway, levitating an X-ray with his magic, wearing a stoic expression on his face.

“She’ll make a full recovery.” He says with a slight smile. “However, she did break two of her ribs.” My heart sinks, as do my shoulders. “Her wing is merely sprained, though. In theory, she could fly short distances, but I imagine it would be painful. Any extended flying would be damaging to her ribs and likely mess up the healing process.”

“So she won’t be able to fly by Saturday, huh?” I ask. The doctor sighs and shakes his head.

“I’m terribly sorry, Ms. Twilight.”

“Thank you for all your help.” I say sincerely. “How long will she need to stay here?”

“Oh, just until she wakes up. She will likely not want to get up very quickly though.” The doctor predicts. I chuckle.

“Oh, I don’t know about that.” I muse.

“Feel free to stay as long as you need to.” The doctor offers, and turns to leave.

“Thanks,” I say quietly as he leaves. Rainbow shifts her position slightly, as though to stretch, but immediately recoils with a groan. I sit up and watch her.

“Rainbow?” I call quietly.

“Five more minutes.” She mumbles. I smile. The way she says that every time she wakes up is...kind of cute. But I’d never give her the satisfaction of admitting it.

“How’re you feeling?” I say instead. Rainbow opens one eye and looks at me.

“Cruddy.” She says. “Where are we? A hospital?”

“Yeah,” I confirm. “Do you remember what happened?”

“I remember flying in Cloudsdale Stadium, but not much else.” She recalls. The door opens again to reveal High Flyer, panting, her eyes full of worry.

“I came as soon as I heard.” She sputters. “How is she?”

“Cruddy.” Rainbow and I say in unison. I giggle.

“My side hurts really bad.” Rainbow says, looking at me.

“About that…” I say uneasily. “You...broke two of your ribs.”

Rainbows expression melts from that of curiosity to that of shock. She looks from me to High Flyer, and back to me again.

“I can’t fly, can I?” She asks. “I can’t fly Saturday?” I sigh and shake my head. Rainbow looks down at the sheets before her. I see tears well up in her eyes. Mine mirror hers. It’s devastating news for me, I can hardly imagine how heartbreaking it must be for her.

“I was so close…” Rainbow chokes. “Five days away from living the dream…” She sniffles and lets out a single sob. I place a comforting hoof on her back, and she lets out several more sobs, before stiffening and looking up, directly at High Flyer.

“Fly,” She addresses. “You have to win, okay? For me.” High Flyer tenses and her eyes dart back and forth nervously.

“But -- Rainbow, I --” She stammers.

“Please,” Rainbow chokes. “You’re my friend. I want you to win.”

High Flyer’s eyes turn red and fill with tears, and she sighs.

“I’ll do my best.” She says. “What am I supposed to do about Checkered Flag, though?”

“We’ll take care of Checkered Flag.” I say, with a hint of bitterness. “As soon as you give my back that tape.”

“If I turn him in, he’ll kill me after he gets out of jail.” She says, her voice shaking with fear. “There has to be another way.”

“If--when you win, you’ll be a Wonderbolt, and he won’t be able to touch you.” Rainbow says. “And if he tries, I’ll gladly give him a nice kick, square in the face.”

“Thanks,” High Flyer says with a small smile. “I--I guess I should go practice now, huh?”

“Make me proud.” Rainbow says. High Flyer wipes her eyes with a forehoof and plants it firmly on the ground. She nods, and turns to leave. As the door closes, I turn to Rainbow.

“The doctor says you can leave whenever you’re ready.” I say gently. “Knowing you, I assume that’s ASAP.” Rainbow looks at me, ponders for a minute, and shakes her head.

“What’s the rush?” She says. “You’re here to keep me company, right?” I nod. “In that case,” She begins, painfully scooting over in the bed. She feebly pats the spot next to her. “Make yourself comfortable, Twi.”

Do I?

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Darkness. All I see is darkness. I’m standing on a cold and hard floor, and the air is just barely too cold to be comfortable. The lack of sight is disorienting, and I fumble about on the ground, before finally falling to a sitting position. The hair on the back of my neck stands up when I hear the nearby sound of heavy breathing. One voice sounds almost like a furious growling, the other like desperate fear. There is a deafening screeching noise as the lights turn on, and I see the source of the breathing, two ponies, directly in front of me:

High Flyer and Checkered Flag.

High Flyer is strapped to a table, her chest rising and falling intensely as she hyperventilates. Checkered Flag is breathing more slowly, holding a butcher’s knife, facing High Flyer with a face full of pure rage. His eyes are bloodshot and wide, his pupils manically small.

My heart starts to race, and my fur dampens with sweat.

“High Flyer!” I cry. “Checkered Flag, leave her alone!” They both ignore me. I stand, now able to see the ground, which is made of concrete and covered in stains. I sprint as fast as I can toward High Flyer, but stop with a painful and abrupt crash before I can reach them. Some invisible force is keeping me from getting any closer.

“Twilight!” High Flyer cries, looking at me, tears rolling down her cheeks. “Help me, please!”

My entire body aches with fear as I pound the invisible wall with all my might. It is to no avail. My hooves are bloody now, and tears sting my own eyes.

“Twilight!” High Flyer cries, more intensely. “What are you doing? Help me!”

“I can’t get through!” I yell. She takes no notice.

“Shut up, you miserable wretch.” Checkered Flag says to High Flyer. “You’ve been a thorn in my side for far too long.”

“Leave her alone!” I scream at the top of my lungs, pounding more at the invisible wall. My hooves are in excruciating pain.

“I’m going to make sure you never fly again.” He says quietly, holding up the butcher knife. He begins to bring it toward High Flyer’s outstretched wings.


“NO!” I scream, shooting into a sitting position. High Flyer is gone, as is Checkered Flag. I’m lying in bed, completely covered in sweat. I stand quickly, not bothering to see if I woke Rainbow Dash. My stomach twists in knots and I quickly sprint for the bathroom, vomiting into the toilet. After the heaving ceases, I clumsily and shakily flush the toilet, and lie on my back, sobbing. The door to the bathroom opens.

“Twilight, what’s wrong?” Comes the voice of Rainbow Dash.

“I thought…” I choke. “I thought I’d beaten the nightmares.” I manage through my uncontrollable sobbing.

“Are you in here throwing up?” Rainbow asks.

“I was.” I admit. My stomach feels better now, but I’m still in a horrible panic.

“Well, come on, brush your teeth, I’ll stay up with you.” Rainbow says. I sniffle, taking a deep, shaking breath and I stand, wobbling with fatigue.

What time is it?

I grab my toothbrush, sloppily slather it with toothpaste, and brush my teeth.

“There you go,” Rainbow says as I spit. “Any better?”

I nod.

“Come on, let’s go back to the other room.” She offers, slowly walking out of the door. I follow her.

I haven’t had a single nightmare since…well, for a few weeks now. The panic attacks were more mild, and half the time I didn’t even need to wake Rainbow. The other times, she was very accommodating. The panic attacks are easier to handle than the nightmares.

Rainbow sits on the edge of the bed, and pats the spot next to her. I comply, slouching beside her. She drapes a wing over me.

“Oh, Rainbow.” I say. “It was so vivid.” I shutter. “Checkered Flag had High Flyer strapped to a table, and he was about to cut her wings off.”

“High Flyer is just fine.” Rainbow assures. “She’s safe and sound in the room we got her.”

“I tried to help her, I really tried!” I insist. “But there was some invisible wall keeping me from her. She kept asking me ‘What are you doing? Help me!’ and there was nothing I could do!” I break down into sobs, and bury myself in her shoulder. “I couldn’t help her, Rainbow.”

“Shh…” Rainbow says, nuzzling my head. “It’s okay, Twilight. It’s just a dream.”

“It’s just a dream.” I echo. “It’s just a dream.”

“That’s right.” Rainbow says.

“Rainbow?” I say, my face still buried in her shoulder. “I’m afraid to go back to sleep.”

“Well, uh…” Rainbow says. I can hear her heart start to beat a little faster. “What if...I sang you a lullaby?”

“I…I think I’d like that.” I say. Rainbow gently clears her throat.

“Sorry, I’m kinda bad at singing.” Rainbow apologizes in advance. She takes a deep breath, and begins her lullaby.

Hush now, quiet now,

it’s time to lay your sleepy head.

Hush now, quiet now,

it’s time to go to bed.”

Rainbow lied; her voice is beautiful.

“Drifting off to sleep,

Leave the day behind you.

Drifting off to sleep,

Let the dreamland find you.”

She continues the lullaby until I feel the dull wave of sleep wash over me. I have no more nightmares that night.

A bright and gentle light wakes me from my sleep. My eyes drift open slowly and I remember where I am. I yawn and rub my eyes, coming to a sitting position. I slouch, looking to my right, and notice Rainbow Dash is gone. She must be in the shower or something.

I reach my arms to the heavens in a blissful stretch, then stand next to the bed. My stomach rumbles. I’m hungry, and I could really use some pancakes. I walk up to the bathroom door, which hangs open. Looks like Rainbow isn’t in the hotel room. I walk up to the mirror and levitate a brush, fixing my disheveled mane. I drink a glass of water and leave the hotel room.

I hobble down the stairs and begin my walk down the hallway toward the breakfast room. I study the carpet. A pattern of green and brown spans the length of the hallway, a complex tessellation that's a cross between plaid and diamond shapes.

I accidentally collide with another pony in my carpet-induced trance. I rub my head and apologize to the blue Pegasus.

"Sorry," I mumble, continuing down the hallway.

Wait a minute...blue Pegasus?

"Rainbow?" I call. She turns and faces me.

"Hey, Twi!" She says. "Didn't realize it was you." I jog to catch up to her, and we continue walking.

"Where have you been?" I ask. Rainbow flinches briefly, her eyes flaring subtly. "And why are you so sweaty?"

"Uh..." She stammers.

"Have you been flying?" I inquire suspiciously. Rainbow hangs her head as we climb the stairs. "Rainbow, you're supposed to be getting rest."

We round the corner at the top of the stairs and walk to the door to our hotel room.

"I know, Twilight, but I'm just so bored." She complains as I open the door and walk inside. "And I feel better, honest!"

"For now, maybe, but what if you make it worse? What if you get hurt again?" I ask.

"I'm not gonna get hurt again, Twi." She assures.

"That's what you thought yesterday, before you crashed and broke your ribs!" I retort. Rainbow rolls her eyes in frustration. "I just don't want to see you get hurt."

"Who cares if I do get hurt?" Rainbow says angrily. "It's not like it matters or anything."

"Rainbow..." I say, my ears dropping.

"You know, that’s the upside to this whole thing:" Rainbow says bitterly. "Now I have nothing to lose. I don't have to worry about ruining my future because I don't have one anymore."

"Rainbow, that's not true!" I insist.

"Yes it is, Twilight. Flying with the Wonderbolts was my dream." She says, her voice breaking on the last word. "I was so close..." She says quietly. "And I blew it."

"Rainbow, I know you're upset. I can't even begin to imagine the grief you're going through." I say. "But you can't go getting yourself killed. Ponyville needs you. I need you. You're the element of loyalty, right? Well... Please be loyal to yourself. There's always next year."

Rainbow's eyes are filled with tears now, and her lips are held tightly together in a desperate attempt to keep her composure.

“Twilight…” She squeaks, her voice breaking. She lets out a shuddering sob and sits on the floor. I go to her and sit next to her, draping a foreleg over her shaking back.

“Is this what your nightmares feel like?” Rainbow asks.

No, my nightmares aren’t real.

“Yes,” I say instead. “And just like my nightmares, this won’t go on forever.” Rainbow nods next to me. She takes a deep and shuddering breath and looks at me.

“What did I ever do to deserve you?” She asks. My ears go back and I blush.

“You’re my best friend, Rainbow. And you’re awesome. You deserve the world.” I declare.

“Thank you,” She says. “For everything. I mean, you took me into your house, and you trained me for the competition, and now you’re being, like, the best friend ever. You’re perfect.”

Normally seeing Rainbow so sad and humble would concern me. But ‘You’re perfect’ is quite the leap from ‘You’re amazing’. My stomach growls.

“Have you eaten?” I ask. Rainbow chuckles. I think she’s starting to catch on to my obsession with food.

“Nah, I got up early and went flying right away.” She says, wiping her eyes with a foreleg. “You’re hungry, aren’t you?” I chuckle sheepishly.

“A little.” I admit. “Don’t you think some pancakes might cheer you up?”

Rainbow chuckles and gives a heartwarming smile.

“I think they might.”

“Well get showered. You’re sweaty and covered in tears.” I say with a giggle. Rainbow nods and stands, walking towards the bathroom. The door closes, and seconds later I hear the familiar trickling of water.

“There’s always next year…” I say out loud, to myself. “The Wonderbolts will understand.”

Then it hits me.

“That’s it!” I say. “The Wonderbolts!”

In a fit of excitement, I run into the bathroom and fling open the shower curtains, revealing Rainbow Dash, singing opera to herself. Her face turns a deep crimson as she sees me.

“Twilight, what are you--” She begins. I ignore her.

“That’s it, Rainbow,” I say. “The Wonderbolts!”

“Why are you in here?” She demands.

“If we tell the Wonderbolts about High Flyer, maybe they can help!” I explain.

“O...kay?” She says, confused. “Can I get back to showering now?”

I finally notice the horrible breach of privacy I’ve committed, and I feel my face get hot. I chuckle nervously and close the shower curtain, walking out of the bathroom.

After a shower and a much-needed breakfast, Rainbow Dash and I are headed out to the Wonderbolts’ Headquarters. We’re walking down a busy downtown street in Cloudsdale, bustling with noise and ponies. The weather, as usual, is perfect.

“Oh my gosh, Twilight, this is so awesome!” Rainbow says excitedly. “I know I’ve talked to Spitfire a couple of times, but now I’m gonna get to see all of them! Maybe they’ll like me so much they’ll let me join without even flying!” I roll my eyes and give a smile.

“Jeez, Rainbow,” I say. “You’re starting to sound like Pinkie Pie!”

“Hey, it could happen, right?” Rainbow says confidently. I give her a disbelieving look.

“We’re here to talk to them about High Flyer, alright?” I say. We arrive at the building, a grand building with rainbow fountains feeding prismatic liquid into a small moat surrounding it. I look at Rainbow, whose eyes have widened, and her jaw has dropped. After a few moments she smiles wide and jitters excitedly, quickening her pace.

As we enter the building, we find ourselves in a lobby, with a secretary sitting at a desk. She eyes us as we walk in.

“Hello, girls, can I help you?” She asks.

“Yes, I’m Twilight Sparkle, and this is Rainbow Dash.” I say, gesturing to the smiling pegasus on my left. “Rainbow here is a contestant in the national EFL competition this Saturday, and I’m her trainer. We have a question to ask the Wonderbolts.”

“Rainbow Dash, huh?” She says, inspecting Rainbow. “Yeah, I did see your name on the list. I’ll go get Spitfire.”

“Thank you!” I say cheerfully as the secretary walks away, rounding a corner. Rainbow and I look at each other. Her face is plastered with a heartwarming grin from ear to ear. Moments later, the secretary returns, tailed by the instantly recognizable Spitfire, who is dressed casually in dark blue Wonderbolts sweats. A quiet and excited squeal escapes Rainbow next to me.

"Hey, guys." Spitfire says with a relaxed smile. "You wanted to talk to me?"

"Hello, Spitfire, ma'am." I say.

"Uh...he-hello." Rainbow says, stammering with happiness. "I mean, hi. Ma'am." I smirk at Rainbow and continue talking.

"I'll cut to the chase, ma'am." I say bluntly. "We think there's foul play going on in the EFL competition."

"Whoa, what?" Spitfire says. "What brought you to that conclusion?"

"We saw it ourselves." Rainbow says.

"One contestant is being intimidated into not competing, and then paid off not to tell anypony." I say. "She's too afraid to come forward."

"Intimidated into not competing..." Spitfire says, pensive. "Oh, no."

My heart skips a beat.

"What?" I ask frantically. "What is it?"

"That pony wouldn't happen to be High Flyer, would it?" She asks.

"Yes, why?" Rainbow asks, uneasy and suspicious.

"She officially dropped from the competition this morning." Spitfire says.

"What?!" I cry. "We're too late?"

"Well..." Spitfire says, pondering something. "I suppose under these circumstances I could make an exception."

"Oh, thank you so much--" Rainbow begins, but is interrupted.

"But good luck finding her. She skipped town right after she resigned. She didn't say where she was going." Spitfire says.

Skipped town? She must have been so overwhelmed with pressure and fear that she had no choice but to run away... Rainbow and I put so much pressure on her to compete, and now she's run away to Celestia knows where, and we have no clue where to find her. Should we even find her? Maybe a clean slate would be good for her; a fresh start, no competitions, no mean stallions threatening her, no nosy unicorns butting in to her personal life...

"Come on, Twilight." Rainbow says, a hint of bravado in her voice. What is she planning? The voice is retreating, and I turn to see Rainbow walking towards the door.

"Rainbow, wait!" I call, running after her. I turn back to Spitfire. "Thank you, Spitfire, for your help!" I run after Rainbow once more. "Rainbow, where are you going?!"

“We need to find out where High Flyer went.” She says as we pass through the open door.

“You still want to go after her?” I ask as we walk down the front stairs. Rainbow turns down a narrow city street, and I follow her.

“Well, duh! We can’t just give up. She deserves to compete.” Rainbow says, looking straight ahead.

“She doesn’t want to compete.” I insist. Rainbow finally looks at me, her expression relievingly genuine.

“She’s too afraid to compete.” Rainbow corrects me. “I know she wants to.”

“Who are we to make her face that fear?” I ponder, half to myself. Rainbow sighs.

“I like to think we’re her friends, Twilight.” Rainbow says. “And I think her emotions are getting in the way of her success. She could really go places, you know.”

“Isn’t emotion what it’s all about? The glory and happiness that comes with the Wonderbolts?” I offer.

“Maybe for some.” Rainbow says. We take a turn to the right, and I’m starting to wonder where we’re going. “For High Flyer, it’s different. It’s about getting somewhere better. Getting out of this mess.”

“You don’t think that’s exactly what she’s doing?” I point out.

“Maybe. I don’t know.” Rainbow says, a hint of doubt leaking into her voice. “You could be totally right, Twilight. Maybe what she needs is to start over fresh in a new town. But at the very least, we should make sure she’s okay. And maybe give her an apology.”

“Well…” I say, trying to think of a retort. I can think of nothing. “Fine.” I decide. “We can go see her. But let’s try and not make her life any more crazy than it already is, okay?”

“Deal.” Rainbow says with a grin. There is a short pause as we continue walking down the street, which looks oddly familiar.

“Rainbow, where are we going?” I ask.

“The only place I know High Flyer goes.” Rainbow says, looking to her right. I follow her gaze until my eyes meet a humble sign hanging from a building.

“The Amore.” I say. “Good thinking, Dash!”

We walk through the door and are assaulted with the wonderful smell of gourmet food. Our walk and subsequent meeting with Spitfire has put us here at lunch time, and I’m not sure about Rainbow, but I’m starving.

“You maybe wanna…” I begin, looking to Rainbow for signs of hunger.

“...Eat first, ask questions later?” Rainbow finishes. I try to contain my excitement. “Maybe our waiter will know something.”

“Good idea.” I say.

“Table for two?” A voice comes. Rainbow and I look in front of us to find a watier standing patiently in front of us.

"Yes, please." I say. He nods, his gaze lingering on Rainbow for a moment before walking toward a booth. We sit at the dimly lit table, popping open the laminated menus lying on its surface.

"Can I get you anything to drink?" He asks, once again looking at Rainbow a bit too long.

"Yeah, could I get a soda?" Rainbow asks, seemingly oblivious. The waiter grins and subtly cocks his head to one side.

"Of course you can." He says. He turns to me. "And for you, dear?"

"I'll just have a water." I say, expertly hiding a bit of bad mood.

"Absolutely." He says. "I'll bring those right out." He looks from me to Rainbow, lingering on her once again. I watch him go.

"Yo, Twi?" Rainbow says. I snap out of my staring and look at Rainbow. "You okay?"

"Am I okay?" I echo. "I'm fine, why?"

"You look kinda..." Rainbow eyes me suspiciously. "Ticked."

"I'm fine." I repeat, consciously softening my expression. "Let's just eat some pasta, ask him some questions, and we'll go find High Flyer." Rainbow seems unconvinced, and gives a concerned expression.

"Okay then." She says slowly. The waiter comes back, carrying our drinks on his wings.

"Here you are, ladies." He says, setting them down gently. "Are you ready to order?"

"I'll have the pasta." I say as politely as I can.

"Yes ma'am." He nods. He turns to Rainbow. "And for you?"

"I'll have a Hayburger." She says. "Extra cheese, please."

He gives a smile and a nod, and begins to walk away, but Rainbow calls out to him.

"Do you know High Flyer?" She asks. Damnit, I thought we were eating first! He freezes, and, after a moment, turns to face us.

"She...she's my best friend." He says somberly. "Why?"

"We're trying to find her." I say. "Do you know anything that could help us?" He freezes for a moment, his face tense and blank.

"No, sorry." He says. I give him an incredulous look.

"Are you sure?" I deadpan.

"I wish I could help you." He says nervously.

"Oh, I think you can." I say, my brow lowered and my tone accusatory.

"Look, can we at least have this talk in the kitchen?" He asks. Rainbow and I look at each other, and nod simultaneously. We stand, following the waiter into the kitchen, shuffling past a few waiters carrying trays of food.

"Alright, now tell us what you know." I demand in a whisper.

"I told you," the waiter insists. "I don't know anything." I frown at him in frustration.

"No?" Rainbow's voice comes from my left. I look to see her step closer to the waiter slowly. "I think you know something." Is Rainbow...flirting with him?

"Well..." The waiter responds, blushing. "Okay, I know something." He admits with a sigh. "But I promised not to tell."

"We're her friends too." I offer. "We're trying to help her."

There is a silence as the stallion looks between Rainbow and me.

"Please?" Rainbow says, batting her eyes. I feel my face get hot and I start to become irritated.

"She went back to Canterlot. To her parents' place." The stallion admits quickly, looking away. "That's all I know."

Rainbow and I grin victoriously.

"Thank you!" I say cheerily, turning to leave.

"Make sure she's safe, okay?" The waiter says shakily.

"We will. Thanks for your help." I promise. I turn to my right and spy a plate of pasta sitting on the kitchen counter. I throw a few bits on the counter and levitate the dish. I see a Hayburger sitting next to it and levitate it as well. I look at Rainbow, who cocks her head to the side and raises a brow. I light my horn and teleport us out to the street in front of the Amore. Rainbow stumbles, and sits on the sidewalk.

"Jeez, Twi." Rainbow says, a hoof on her temple. "Robbery, much?" I give a mischievous giggle. I can't deny it felt pretty cool interrogating a guy, grabbing some food, and disappearing in a flash of light.

"I paid for it." I assure. Rainbow smiles softly, then frowns.

"No drinks?" She teases.

"I can only be so awesome." I say with a chuckle. There is a short pause before my face gets hot as I remember Rainbow's behavior.

"Hey, what was with all that flirting in there?" I say, my heart beating fast.

"It was awful. I don't even like stallions!" Rainbow complains. "But it worked, right?" She looks at me with a smile, but it fades when she sees my glare. She rolls her eyes. "You're jealous." I flinch in surprise.

"Why are you so obsessesed with me being jealous?" I demand. Rainbow cocks an eyebrow.

"You are jealous." She says with an excited smile.

"No I'm not!" I say, my voice shaking with anger. Or maybe with nervousness. "And even if I was, what's it to you?"

"Oh, nothing." Rainbow says, stifling a giggle. "Just that you have a crush on me."

That's ridiculous. I don't have a crush on Rainbow. I'm far too busy for trivial stuff like relationships. It's not like despite having wonderful friends I still have a lonely hole in my heart and a longing for companionship that Rainbow Dash has effectively filled for the past month. I don't have a crush on Rainbow Dash!

Do I?

Pick Your Battles, Twilight Sparkle.

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If there’s any irony that Rainbow Dash can truly appreciate on a personal level, it’s the fact that Rainbow Dash, finalist in the national Equestrian Flying League competition, had to fly to Canterlot in a chariot.

Her ribs are slowly healing, but she’s still in no condition to fly long distance. I hadn't flown in one of those chariots since my initial arrival in Ponyville.

We arrived in Canterlot this morning, and we spent the entire day looking for someone who knows High Flyer. We found a total of three ponies who had even heard of her. None of them knew where she lived, or, more importantly, where her parents live.

Tired and frustrated, Rainbow and I retired to my parents' house, my childhood home, as the sun was setting. I'd told mom that I'd be in Canterlot today and possibly tomorrow, and she graciously offered Rainbow and me a place to crash.

It's just past midnight now, and I'm horribly lonely. I'm lying in my childhood bed, alone, wishing Rainbow weren't sleeping in the guest room. I'm not even close to sleeping. Luna's moon sits fully in the sky, illuminating my room just a tad too much.

I know Rainbow is frustrated about our relatively unproductive day, but I'd be surprised if she was as frustrated as I am currently. We've come so far, only to have all of our dreams turned on their heads, and to have all of our nightmares come true. Tears sear my eyes.

I've never felt more powerless.

Rainbow's house was foreclosed because, despite trying her best, she wasn't able to impress the Wonderbolts. Just when she was about to finally achieve her dream, it crumbled because of a flying accident that she tried to avoid. If we had it our way, High Flyer would be taking on the competition, but because of some stuck-up jerk, she was faced with an impossible decision and had to run away to her parents' house. And to top it all off, after we thought we'd finally fixed her problem, we can't find her. We've asked countless ponies, and life has still refused us success.

No matter what we try, no matter what solutions we devise, we're always sailing into a headwind. It was when I lived in this very house that I was promised that if I try my hardest, and always make the right choice, everything will work out in the end.

Why did I believe that?

None of my success was any of my own doing. My magical aptitude is a talent I was born with. Heck, I almost failed my school entrance exam, except for a freak accident. All of my 'grand epiphanies' from my previous adventures were consciously spurred on by Princess Celestia. She obviously knew the answers before I did.

There's nothing special about me. It could have been anypony that was taking their entrance exam when I was, and they could have been startled into uncontrollable magic, and they would have been the Princess's personal protégé. She would have sent them to discover the magic of friendship. She would have tasked them with defeating Nightmare Moon. Discord. Sombra. She would have invited them to the gala.

I would still be here, lying alone in my bed. Not because of anything I did or anything I thought. Just because the secretary at Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns penciled some other pony in for noon instead of me. That's all it would it take.

Perhaps I've risen to the challenges I've been presented with, but I don't deserve to have been presented with them.

I let out a quiet sob and bury my face in my pillow. I'm so lonely. I've never felt so isolated. I can't afford to keep feeling this way. I need to talk to somepony.

I can't wake up Rainbow. Not again. I've kept her up plenty of nights, and now is not the time. She's been through everything I have and worse, and she isn't in here complaining to me. And I'm certainly not waking my parents. They've been gracious enough to let Rainbow and me stay in their house; I couldn't bother them.

Who would be up at this time of night?

Oh, of course.

With a sigh, I stand by my bed and slowly walk through the moonlight to my door. Gently opening it to ensure it doesn't creak, I slip into the hallway and quietly make my way out the front door.

I walk the dimly lit streets of Canterlot. They are deserted. The only illumination comes from small laterns hanging from the fronts of buildings, and the occasional bedroom candlelight from the apartment buildings. I come to a tall, slim marble tower and look between the two stallion guards that stand in front of it.

"Good evening, Twilight Sparkle. You may pass." Says the one on the left.

"Thank you." I say quietly. I walk into the tower and I eye the spiral staircase that winds to the top. I begin my trek. The staircase is longer than it looks. By the end I'm fighting gravity and my innate fatigue from the active day. Finally I reach the top of the tower and find the pony I'm looking for, standing, relaxed, looking through a telescope. Without looking away, she speaks.

"Twilight Sparkle." Princess Luna says.

"Princess." I greet. "I hope I'm not bothering you."

"Not at all, friend." She assures, turning to face me. "The night is beautiful, but we--I am thankful for company. May I ask what brought you here tonight?"

"I...to be honest, I wanted your advice." I admit.

"Oh?"

"You wouldn't happen to know anything about the Equestrian Flying League competition this Saturday, would you? And what's going on with it?" I say, softly kicking at the ground.

"Your friend Rainbow Dash was to compete." Luna says. "And then she injured herself, and now she cannot fly."

"W-what?" I stammer. "How did you...?"

"I have seen your dreams and nightmares, Twilight. Yours and Rainbow Dash's. I know of all that has happened with you, and with High Flyer, and with Checkered Flag." Luna explains. "You have not had the best of times this week."

I chuckle at the understatement.

"You could say that." I muse. "I'm just so hopeless. Things have just been getting worse and worse."

"Perhaps not, Twilight Sparkle." Luna says with a grin.

"What do you mean?"

"Where was Rainbow Dash a month ago?" She prompts.

"Sleeping on my balcony...?"

"Rainbow was living on a dwindling supply of income, homeless, fruitlessly trying to impress the Wonderbolts." Luna explains. "Now she's a national-level competitor in the Equestrian Flying League, certainly under the radar of the Wonderbolts, and now she is living comfortably with you, Twilight."

I stand silently for a second, processing the new perspective.

"Even High Flyer." Luna says, walking past me to a telescope on the opposite side of the tower, peering through. "A month ago, she was homeless, bullied by Checkered Flag, working as a waitress, with a tiny chance of making it as a flyer. And now, she's living with her parents, she's a prestigious EFL competitor, no longer bullied, no longer worrying about her next meal."

I look at the ground. When you put it that way, maybe this all hasn't been so bad...

"I know you feel like you are not in control of your destiny - your nightmares have a pattern, you know - but that is because you are concerning yourself only with things you cannot control, and not with the many things you can control." Luna says, turning once again to face me. "Do you know to what specific thing I am referring?"

"I...can't say I do, your highness." I confess.

"You have felt lonely at times, recently." Luna says. "Your friend Rainbow Dash has been a faithful companion to you all this time."

"She really has been wonderful." I concur.

"She fends off your nightmares." Luna says. "And she occupies your dreams."

I blush.

"You...saw those too, huh?" I say bashfully.

"There is no need to be embarrassed, Twilight." Luna assures. "Your dreams are sweet and innocent. But..." She gives another sly grin. "I do sense some young love at play."

I feel my face get hot and I look at my hooves.

"To be honest, your highness, I don't know how I feel about Rainbow Dash." I admit, and look back up at Luna. "I know we share a pretty profound bond. She's my best friend. And she certainly seems to think I have a crush on her."

"Perhaps she is perceptive." Luna offers.

"You might be right." I say, and my heart beats fast and my face feels hot. So I've finally admitted it to myself. I do have...feelings for Rainbow Dash. Feelings I can act on. Something I can do that'll have some effect.

"Pick your battles, Twilight Sparkle." Luna says firmly. "High Flyer has made her choice. Fate has made hers. This is your choice."

I smile gratefully and nod.

"Thank you, Princess Luna." I say sincerely. "Thank you so much."

"Anything for you, Twilight." She assures. I turn and make my way down the stairs with a new spring in my step. The trek down is much easier now that gravity is on my side.

I trot briskly by the guards, down the streets of Canterlot. The laterns that pepper the facades of the buildings are bright signs of life in an otherwise deserted city street. I round one last corner to find my childhood home, its windows shining with activity.

Oh no. They must be up and looking for me!

I see and hear the front door slam open and in the doorway is just the pony I want to see: Rainbow Dash. I smile to myself and we begin walking towards each other.

"Twilight, where did you go? We're all freaking out back here." Rainbow explains. As I get closer I can see her fur is matted with sweat.

"We looked everywhere; where did you--" I wrap a foreleg around the back of her head and pull her into a kiss, right on the lips.

At first she's frozen in shock, but she gently returns the kiss after a moment. We break apart. She blinks, wide-eyed, and in the moonlight I can see her blush.

"W-w-what was that for?" She asks, her voice trembling.

"Because I can, Rainbow." I say with a happy sigh. Rainbow simply cocks her head to one side.

"You what now?" She asks.

"All this time I've been worrying myself sick over things I can't control. Life can get crazy, and sometimes things are just out of our hands. But right here, right now, I have the power to tell you how I feel. And while I hate to admit it: you were right. I have a pretty big crush on you, Rainbow. No matter what happens, good or bad, you're always there for me the whole way through. And I don't know if you were just teasing me about having feelings for you, but it's true. I really do feel about you...like that."

Rainbow stands still, her eyes shifting subtly between mine, her mouth agape. She shuts it and brings me in for another kiss.

I suppose that answers that question.

"Oh, get a room, you two!" A voice comes. It's my mother's. Rainbow and I break apart and blush intensely, looking at the silhouette of my parents in the doorway.

“Mom! Dad!” I say nervously. “How long have you been standing there?”

“Long enough.” My mother chuckles.

“Twilight, dear, where did you run off to?” My father asks.

“I needed to catch some air, and I ended up walking quite a way.” I say. It’s not entirely true, but there’s no need to worry them.

“Looks like you got your head clear, little lovebird.” My mother teases. “Now come inside, girls, and get some sleep.” With that, both of my parents walk inside. As the door shuts and the light ceases to spill onto the porch, Rainbow and I face each other.

“So?” Rainbow says eagerly. I blink and subtly shake my head, confused.

“So what?” I prompt.

“Am I a good kisser?” Rainbow asks confidently. I let out an exasperated sigh and smirk.

“Really?” I deadpan. “That’s all you got out of that?” I walk past Rainbow and towards the door.

“Hey!” She calls. “Where are you going? You didn’t answer my question!”

---

Lightning Dust. The answer is Lightning Dust. It has been all along. High Flyer gave me the answer herself, a few days ago.

“Me and Lighting Dust used to be good friends when we were younger.” She’d told me. I sent Lightning Dust a letter this morning and asked her if she knew where High Flyer’s childhood home was. She did, and she promptly wrote back to me, and, as it turns out, High Flyer lives not far from my parents’ house.

Rainbow and I are walking the short distance to High Flyer's house when Rainbow turns to me.

"So you never told me where you really went last night." She pries. I look away, pondering if I should answer the question. I suppose I should be honest with Rainbow; goodness knows she deserves it.

"I went to talk to Princess Luna. She told me that I need to pick my battles, and she made me realize that there was...something else on my mind. Somepony else." I say, my gaze drifting to Rainbow. "She said she'd seen my dreams about you..." I blush and Rainbow snickers.

"You have dreams about me?" She says with a teasing smile. "That's sweet." She says, stifling a laugh.

"Don't be so coy, Rainbow. She told me all about your dreams too." I lie.

"She--she did?" Rainbow says nervously. Her face turns red. "How much did she tell you?" I giggle at my trickery.

"She didn't say anything." I admit smugly. "But it's nice to know the feelings are mutual."

"Very funny." Rainbow says, still blushing intensely. After a few silent moments, she playfully bumps into me, and I nearly fall. I laugh and go to shove her back, but I fall on my face when she's stopped and not there to receive the blow. She breaks out in laughter.

"That...was perfect!" She manages. "Anyway, this is the place." She gestures to the humble, two-story townhouse similar to my parents'. "Are you ready?"

"Ready as I'll ever be." I confess.

We walk up to the door. I give Rainbow a final look, which she returns, and I bring a hoof to the door and knock. After a few seconds, High Flyer opens the door.

For a split second her expression is blank. Then she realizes who it is and her eyes go wide, and her pupils shrink slightly. She stands silently for a second, before her mouth closes and her eyes redden with tears.

"I'm sorry..." She chokes. "I'm so sorry, I was too weak to face you, to face him."

"No, Fly." Rainbow says. "You don't have to be sorry."

"That's right." I confirm. "We're here to apologize to you."

"You...you what?" High Flyer sniffles in surprise.

"First of all, I'm sorry I tried to pressure you into doing something you weren't ready to do." Rainbow says. "It was pretty selfish of me to push my dreams on you."

"And I'm sorry we butted into your business and possibly put you in danger." I offer. "And I'm glad you were able to get yourself somewhere safe."

"I...don't know what to say..." High Flyer says. "You came all this way just to apologize to me?"

"Of course!" Rainbow says happily. "We owe you that much, at least."

"So we just wanted to let you know that whatever happens, we wish you the best, and we hope you keep flying. You're one of the best out there." I say.

"You really think that?" High Flyer asks.

"Well of course!" I confirm. High Flyer smiles sadly and looks at the ground.

"You know, I am starting to regret resigning." She says. "But thank you, that gives me hope. I need some hope."

"Well, about that..." Rainbow says. "We kind of talked to the Wonderbolts, and Spitfire said she'd let you back into the competition if you wanted."

"She...she did?!" High Flyer says, amazed. Rainbow and I nod. High Flyer looks at the ground again in thought. "You're absolutely sure I've got a real shot?"

"Sure as can be." I say. High Flyer looks up, and bites her lip.

"Okay." She says. "I'll do it. I'll compete."

Rainbow and I look at each other in surprise.

"Really?" I ask. "Just like that?"

"I've wanted to compete from the start. I was afraid, but you two have shown me that if it's your dream, then you never give up, no matter how hard things get. I'm willing to risk it all for my chance. Because if I'm not good enough for the Wonderbolts, then there's no use staying in Cloudsdale anyway. It's worth it."

"That's the spirit!" Rainbow cheers. "Now come on, the competition's tomorrow! We've gotta practice!"

"Right behind you!" High Flyer says, stepping through the doorway. Rainbow looks at me.

"Ready?" She prompts.

"Ready." I affirm.

This is going to be an interesting weekend.

The Big Day

View Online

It’s 7:00 in the morning. The streetlamps in the rising sun cast sharp, long shadows on the clouds underhoof. High Flyer, Rainbow Dash, and I stand still for a moment, gazing up at the colossal Cloudsdale Flight Arena. It’s a behemoth of a stadium, and in the morning fog, it’s difficult to see from one end of the square building to the other. Being so early on a Saturday, the street out front is empty and calm. The only sound comes from the trickling water of the fountain fixtures that decorate the plaza we’re standing in, near the entrance to the stadium. It’s just enough noise to keep the silence from being deafening.

“This is it,” High Flyer breathes, looking straight ahead.

“The big day,” Rainbow agrees. High Flyer lets out an incredulous chuckle.

“I can’t believe you two talked me into this,” She says, a little louder.

“What are we waiting for?” Rainbow Dash says, looking between High Flyer and I. “Let’s get inside before you change your mind!”

We walk slowly and deliberately into an archway in the front of the stadium, which opens into a large atrium. It’s sparse, save for a small table manned by two pegasi -- a pink one, who is reading a magazine and doesn’t notice our entrance, and a lavender one who appears to be asleep. As we approach the table, the pink one looks up and quickly elbows the lavender one, who sputters awake, seems annoyed for a moment, and then dons a professional demeanor as she notices us.

“Name?” The pink one prompts, picking up a pen. I look down and notice a list of names on the desk next to a tangled pile of name tags attached to lanyards. It’s hard to read upside down, and there are about ten names. I can’t be sure, but I don’t think I see Checkered Flag’s name. I let myself be optimistic to calm my nerves.

“High Flyer,” the eponymous pony says with just a hint of forced bravado to cover up her otherwise shaking voice.

“Are these your trainers?” The lavender pegasus asks. High Flyer pauses and looks between Rainbow and I.

“Yeah,” she decides. “They can come back with me, right?”

“Of course,” the lavender pegasus assures. She reaches down to the name tags, and, after some effort untangling them, hands High Flyer hers.

After being equipped with two blue wristbands, the pink pegasus leads us down a long hallway toward the area where we’ll be waiting for High Flyer to compete.

After Rainbow’s injury, we told the rest of our friends not to bother coming. It would have been nice to see them, but it seemed silly to drag them all the way to Cloudsdale if Rainbow wasn’t competing. Besides, we’d be back in a day or two. Rainbow and I only got to see High Flyer’s routine a few times, as we had to get back to Cloudsdale from Canterlot in time to sleep at the hotel and get up in time for the competition. Even in her emotionally battered and physically drained state, she seemed to be in top form. Having been at the practice sessions the week prior, Rainbow and I had seen most of the other competitors, and after seeing High Flyer perform, we were certain she could win. As we watched her practice, I snuck several glances at Rainbow. Every time, she had the same look on her face -- a tumultuous combination of pride, determination, concentration, and bittersweet resolve. Looking to her now, I notice she has the same look on her face as we walk. My eyes drift to the bandages around her midsection.

Heavens, what must be going through her mind right now. The pain of broken bones, the pain of losing her dream, the nervousness and hope for High Flyer, and the confusion of where our relationship stands now.

We arrive at our destination. It’s not so much a room as it is the end of the hallway as it opens to the air of the arena proper. There’s no lighting inside the hallway, but the light from outside spills in and bathes the area with natural light. There’s a bench and water fountain, and not much else.

“The bathroom is down the hall and to the left. We’ll be back at the check in table if you need us!” Our escort offers.

The time passes slowly. As the grogginess of morning leaves us, we become a little more lively as we’re filled with nervous energy. There’s plenty to talk about, from how Rainbow and I first met, to how High Flyer grew up, to the Elements of Harmony, to working at the Amore. We steer clear of discussing High Flyer’s austere living conditions, operating under the assumption that by the end of the day that situation will be a thing of the past.

After an hour or so, another pegasus comes to let us know that the doors are opening and that the competition will be starting soon. She explains the rules: you have five minutes to do your routine, the time starts when the announcer says your name, and entering the arena early will disqualify you. With the start of the competition imminent, the weight of the event begins to press on High Flyer, who begins warming up and stretching. She is contestant number four of nine, and by contestant three, all three of us are pacing nervously.

Lightning Dust is contestant three. As the announcer begins introducing her, High Flyer goes to stand at the entrance to the arena to wait her turn. Rainbow and I look at each other expectantly. Unsure of what to say, I chime in.

“High Flyer, we’re really proud of you for doing this,” I venture. I look to Rainbow to gauge the appropriateness of my statement.

“Yeah, we know this is really tough for you,” Rainbow adds. “And coming out here anyway is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.”

As Rainbow speaks, High Flyer turns to face us. At first she’s beaming, but her eyes widen and her smile falters as she looks past us and sees something.

“We had a deal, Fly,” An ominous voice calls from behind us. Rainbow and I whip around to find a gray stallion walking towards us several feet down the hall.

“Checkered Flag…” High Flyer whimpers. Rainbow and I look at each other. Her face reads fury, and I’m sure mine reads terror.

“Checkered Flag?” I echo. “But the police…”

“Yeah, they stopped by,” He admits, stopping a few feet away from us. “And I told them the honest truth. You guys know it’s not illegal to give someone money, right?”

Rainbow and I exchange sheepish glances. High Flyer walks away from the entrance to the arena toward her backpack, which is sitting on the bench.

“Oh yeah?” She says, her voice shaking with a mixture of suppressed rage and terror. She reaches into her backpack and pulls out her wallet. She throws it across the room, bits spilling across the floor. “You can have your money back. I don’t want it anymore. I’d rather starve.” Checkered Flag laughs, shaking his head with a look of pity.

“This isn’t about money anymore,” He says darkly. “It’s about principle.”

As he begins to walk toward High Flyer, Rainbow steps between them.

“What do you think you’re doing, creep?” Rainbow demands.

“Get out of my way, you little gnat,” Checkered Flag sneers.

“Make me,” Rainbow tests.

Checkered Flag gives a mirthless smirk and a small chuckle. Without warning, he lifts his left foreleg, smacking it into Rainbow’s right side -- the injured one -- and shoves her to the ground.

“Rainbow!” My voice cracks and tears well up in my eyes as I cry out. Checkered Flag continues his menacing walk towards High Flyer.

“You leave her alone!” I scream, tears streaming down my face. “You hear me?” He doesn’t seem to care.

“Yo, Fly, just go, he’s not gonna follow you out there,” Rainbow croaks, the wind clearly having been knocked out of her.

“But I’ll be disqualified!” She pleads. The echoing voice of the announcer begins to sound through the hallway. The introduction should only last thirty seconds or so. As soon as he says High Flyer’s name, she’ll be allowed to fly out into the open.

“Time’s running out, Fly,” Checkered Flag says menacingly, getting dangerously close to High Flyer, who backs away slowly. Checkered Flag raises a hoof to strike her, and my instincts kick in. I use my magic to hold his raised hoof in place.

“What the…?” Checkered Flag turns to face me, his hoof still caught in my magic. He looks between me and High Flyer, and his confusion turns to fury.

“...please welcome, High Flyer!” The announcer’s voice finally comes.

“Go!” Rainbow and I shout simultaneously. High Flyer blasts out into the arena.

“What’s going on back here?” A voice comes from further down the hallway. I keep my magic grip firm on Checkered Flag’s hoof. As the staff member arrives, accompanied by two uniformed security guards, he stops abruptly as he surveys the situation. Rainbow, who is slumped against the wall next to the bench, is wheezing as she tries to catch her breath. The three strangers look between me and Checkered Flag, before the staff member’s eyes light up with recognition.

“Checkered Flag?” He says. “You were disqualified for bribery, you’re not authorized to be here! Boys, detain him!”

I relinquish my grip just in time for the two security guards to apprehend Checkered Flag. As they escort him out, he looks back at me with a look of pure hatred. As relief washes over me, I simply beam at him.

“Are you okay?” The staff member asks. As realization hits me, I look to Rainbow, who is still slumped against the wall, on her back, her face clenched in pain as she tries to steady her breathing.

“I’m fine, but I think my friend needs medical attention,” I explain.

We leave the arena before High Flyer is done with her routine. Rainbow tries to protest, but the medics won’t have any of it. I follow them to the hospital. After a couple of hours and a series of x-rays, Rainbow is surprisingly unfazed to learn that she has another broken rib, bringing her grand total to three broken ribs in a single week, not even on the same occasion. Knowing her, she’ll wear it as a badge of honor soon enough.

We’re in the same hospital we were in just a few days ago, albeit a different room. I still get a sense of deja vu; I’m sitting on the bench under the window, looking tiredly out, and Rainbow is lying in bed, eyes closed but not asleep.

“Miss Dash?” A stallion’s voice comes from the doorway. “You have a visitor, shall I send her in?”

“Sure,” Rainbow says, finally opening her eyes, exhaustion coating her voice. The stallion steps aside and in walks none other than High Flyer. She bolts over to Rainbow’s bedside, taking Rainbow’s hoof in hers.

“Oh my goodness, Rainbow, are you okay?” She asks, and then looks up at me. “Twilight, are you okay?” She doesn’t wait for us to answer. “I’m so sorry I dragged you both into this.”

“High Flyer, we dragged you into this,” I assure. “And I wouldn’t change a thing.”

“Thank you, Twilight,” She softens a bit. “But if I had just faced my problems on my own, you guys wouldn’t have gotten hurt.”

“Some problems are too big to face on your own,” I offer. “But there’s nothing that can’t be accomplished with some help from your friends.”

High Flyer gives a sentimental smile and pauses for a moment.

“In that case, at least let me pay for this hospital visit,” She proposes.

“Um… no offense,” I say cautiously. “But how would you be able to afford that?”

“Well, actually...” She begins, a smile creeping across her face. She reaches into her saddlebag, pulls out a pin of some kind, and hands it to Rainbow Dash. It’s too far away to see, so I walk over next to High Flyer. My heart leaps as I realize it’s a Wonderbolts pin.

“You… you won?” I breathe. High Flyer nods, an excited smile on her face.

“I’m a Wonderbolt,” she quietly sings, shifting sheepishly, as if she’s trying out the words for the first time. We both look down at Rainbow, who is staring intently at the pin, her expression brimming with emotion but ultimately unreadable. Tears begin to well up in her eyes. Finally, she reaches her forelegs out and hugs High Flyer as tightly as she can, crying loudly in a mixture of relief, pride, sadness, and joy.

---

“You remember what we talked about?” I ask.

“Professional. Confident. Uh…” Rainbow forgets the third word.

“Polite,” I finish for her.

“Polite!” She echoes. I give her a proud smile as I adjust her necktie. She’s dressed in a black blazer with a striped rainbow tie.

“You’re gonna do great, Rainbow,” I assure.

“Duh, of course I am!” She agrees. “I’m the best flyer in Ponyville, they’d be crazy not to hire me! I mean -- ” she stammers for a moment and then clears her throat, putting on a serious face. “I would be a great asset to the Ponyville EFL branch office.”

“That’s the spirit! Now get in there and knock their socks off!” I cheer. I spin her around to face the door, and, feeling a bit confident myself, give her a loving smack to her rear, which sets her in motion. She looks at me with a blush and look of shock and embarrassment, but keeps walking nonetheless.

As Rainbow disappears behind the door to the building, I find a bench next to the sidewalk out front and sit down with a sigh. It’s been a few days since we returned from Cloudsdale, and Rainbow approached me shortly after we arrived about the Ponyville EFL Representative job I had jokingly mentioned to her earlier. While I was kidding at the time, the job was real, and Rainbow was interested in applying as it would be a significant pay raise from her current weather-pony job, and a way to get her hoof in the door with the Wonderbolts. And here we are, with Rainbow having landed an interview with ease -- everyone around here knows her name from the city and regional competitions she won.

Nearly all is well -- we made it home safely from Cloudsdale, and High Flyer won the competition. But Rainbow and I still haven’t talked about what happened between us in Canterlot, and I’m not sure where our relationship stands. Usually in the romance novels I’ve read (Yes, I do read fiction!) after the ‘big kiss’ they live happily ever after. But after all of the excitement of last week, Rainbow is acting like nothing happened. Not that I’ve brought it up or anything. Rainbow Dash flies very fast, but maybe she likes to take relationships slowly? Has she ever been in a relationship?

These thoughts dance through my mind for the half an hour that Rainbow is in the EFL office. Finally, she emerges, a glowing infectious smile plastered on her face.

“How’d it go?” I ask excitedly.

“They gave me the job on the spot!” Rainbow exclaims, looking about ready to launch into orbit.

“Rainbow, that’s amazing!” I congratulate, pulling her into a tight hug.

“Heck yeah it is!” She agrees. We pull apart. “Now I’ll get to help up-and-coming flyers, I’ll have some money, and I can get my own place!” The last part stings badly, and my face falls with the realization that Rainbow will be moving out now that she’s back on her feet. She notices my expression, however, and concern washes over her face.

“Twilight?” She prompts. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” I steel myself. “I just… like having you around.”

“You… don’t want me to move out?” She asks slowly.

“Look, I know we never really talked about what happened between us in Canterlot,” The gears in my mind turn for a moment. “And I know this probably isn’t the time to bring it up, but I meant what I said. I have romantic feelings for you.” It feels weird to put it so matter-of-factly, but I figure clarity is more important than waxing poetic right now.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t in the same boat,” Rainbow says, rubbing the back of her neck. “But I’d also be lying if I said I know what to do. I’ve never been in a relationship with anypony before.”

“Me neither,” I admit. “I just figured as soon as I put my feelings out there we’d live happily ever after. I know real life is more complicated than that.”

“Yeah…” She trails off, and we stand in awkward silence for a moment, looking at the sidewalk. “We could ask Rarity.”

Her comment breaks the tension and we both laugh.

“We could ask Rarity,” I concur. “You’re willing to give this a shot?”

“Yeah,” she smiles. “It could be fun. We can split the rent at the library.”

“I’d like that,” I say with a relaxed smile. There’s another awkward silence.

“So, should I, like, kiss you or something?” Rainbow asks, looking away.

“Hmm…” I ruminate. “Nah, it’d be kind of weird right this moment.”

“Yeah, definitely weird,” Rainbow agrees quickly. “We really need to talk to Rarity.”

“Like right now,” I agree, nodding my head enthusiastically. We start walking in the direction of the boutique. I feel Rainbow drape her wing around me, and my face heats up.

All at once, the future is more certain than ever and less certain than ever. I guess that’s what happens when you put Rainbow Dash and me together. On the one hand, Rainbow has a steady job now, and we know where she’ll be living for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, a relationship is totally uncharted territory for both of us.

But that little bit of uncertainty isn’t scary anymore. It’s exciting.