by MyOwnNameWasTaken

First published

How Rainbow Dash seems upset at the prospect of a hooficure -- even for health reasons! Fluttershy tries to help -- and uncovers a shocking secret.

When a crash reveals how badly Rainbow Dash has been neglecting proper hoof care, her friends insist she get a hooficure. It's for her own good, after all! But why does the prospect seem to bother her so much? A concerned Fluttershy tries to help... and uncovers a painful secret she never suspected.

Rainbow has always kept her friends at foreleg's length -- can the two ponies' relationship survive such close contact?

1 - A Crack in the Armour

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“Oh my goodness! Rainbow Dash, are you alright?”

“Unf! No problem, Fluttershy,” insisted the blue pegasus pony, once she’d peeled her face off the trunk of the library tree. “ ‘Guess I need to shift my trailing wing a bit more during those tight turns.” She dropped off the tree and let her wings catch her in mid-air.

“Are you sure you’re not hurt?” Fluttershy glided in to hover next to her, forehooves pressed over her mouth in worry.

“Argh!” An angry exclamation sounded from within the library and a window was thrown open, revealing a rather put-out purple unicorn.

“Why is it that every single time I get every single last book and scroll in this library perfectly organised and properly shelved, somepony -- and usually one very specific somepony -- has to knock her head into it and send every last book and scroll tumbling to the floor?!”

“Heh, heh. Sorry, Twilight,” chuckled Rainbow, rubbing the back of her head in contrition, “I’m just working the bugs out of a new routine.”

Twilight gave a long-suffering sigh. “Rainbow, you’ve got to find something softer to crash into when you lose control. The welfare of the library’s books aide, I’m worried that you’ll hurt yourself one of these days.”

“Ah, lighten up, Twilight,” scoffed Rainbow as she let herself drift to the ground. “Any crash you can walk away from, right? OW!” She yelped in pain as soon as she touched down, instinctively spreading her wings to maintain her balance as she abruptly drew up her right hind leg.

“Oh, Rainbow,” gasped Fluttershy in alarm, diving down to her friend’s side. “Are you hurt? That sounded painful!”

“I’m OK, really!” Rainbow assured her with a wince, “I must've landed on a pebble or something....”

“Oh, let me see! It could be serious!” The worried pegasus darted around her to catch hold of her hovering hoof.

Rainbow twitched her leg back and hopped around awkwardly, trying to slip away. “Fluttershy, don’t be such a worrywart!”

“What did I just say?” intoned a burst of purple sparkles as Twilight materialised before her. “You’re going to hurt yourself!”

“Relax, Mom,” laughed Rainbow, smiling at the unicorn’s worried expression.

“Oh. Oh, my...” said Fluttershy in a soft voice.

“W-what? What's going on back there?” asked Rainbow, somewhat more quickly than she had intended.

“Rainbow... I’m afraid you’ve split your hoof.”

Twilight gasped in horror. “What?! That sounds awful! Let me see!” With that, she dashed around Rainbow to get a look for herself.

“Get real, Fluttershy! There’s no way I could’ve split my hoof just from landing like that,” Rainbow protested, as both her friends now crowded around her hind leg.

“I’m afraid it’s true, Rainbow,” insisted Fluttershy, “you must have split it when you crashed.”

“But it only hurt when I put my hoof down!”

“It’s very fine, and it doesn’t go all the way up to the coronet. But please don’t put your weight on it again! You might widen it!”

“Just great,” groaned the injured mare. Her head drooped in a combination of annoyance and resignation. “This means another trip to the hospital, doesn’t it?”

At least this time I can borrow a few books off Twilight, she thought, but every day I spend in the hospital is another day I fall behind in my training. What lousy luck!

“Actually,” Twilight cut in hopefully, “you may be able to avoid that. I happen to know a few mending spells that might help. I couldn’t heal a coronet injury, at least not easily, but you only split the lower capsule. That’s not living material -- not any more -- so I think a spell can mend it. Unless being attached to a living being complicates matters....” Twilight’s brows furrowed in thought.

“I think I’d better read up on this first,” she concluded. “But don’t worry, I know just which book I need, and where it -- oh.” All three ponies looked to the library, gazing through a window at the sea of tumbled books.

Twilight moaned, putting one hoof to her face. “I think it’ll take me a little longer to find it than I thought. Look, why don’t you two just fly up to my bedroom? Rainbow, you can lie on my bed or something so you don’t aggravate the injury.”

“Uh, sure Twilight,” conceded Rainbow, “good idea.” She took wing and glided through an open upper floor window.

“Um, Rainbow?” asked Fluttershy as the blue pegasus settled herself on their friend’s bed, “if you don’t mind, there’s something I’d like to check as well.”

“What’s that? Hey!” She snatched a forehoof back as Fluttershy tried to take it up in her own. “What are you doing?!”

“I -- just -- need -- a look -- at your -- hooves,” panted Fluttershy as she tried to clasp her friend’s foreleg, which Rainbow kept pulling away.

“Well look then -- ouch!” Rainbow winced as a sharp stab of pain shot up her injured leg: she’d managed to bump it while trying to squirm away.

She snorted in annoyance, both at her friend and at herself. You’re acting like a filly. She’s gonna think you’re weird.

“Fine,” she said with some effort, and grimly stuck out a forehoof. “There! OK?” In spite of her determination, she still flinched a little when Fluttershy took hold of her hoof. But true to her word, all her friend did was look. She pored appraisingly over each of Rainbow’s hooves in turn, taking extra care with her injured leg. Rainbow found it a little unnerving.

“Well?” she demanded when Fluttershy had finished, “What was that about?”

Fluttershy opened her mouth to answer when, with a sudden poof!, Twilight Sparkle materialised behind her. Giving out a startled squeak, the spooked pegasus bounded over the bed, to cower on the far side.

“We’re good to go,” exclaimed Twilight, levitating several books, an abacus, and a small blackboard full of equations and diagrams. “I was worried for a while that a re-structuring of the disrupted α-keratin aggregates would be hampered by your inherent morphologic field, since it can generally be a problem with transmutational and polymorphic spells, providing ontological inertia that resists the magic, but in this case we’re in luck, as we’re altering an organic but relatively biologically-inert structure by returning it to its prior molecular arrangement before your morphologic field has adjusted to the injury, meaning that ontological inertia assists the magic rather than opposing it!”

She favoured her confused friends with a beaming smile.

“So...?” began Rainbow Dash.

“I -- I heard we were in luck,” ventured Fluttershy, peeking over Rainbow.

“Does that mean you can do it?” asked Rainbow, her ears perking up hopefully.

“I sure can,” Twilight assured her. “That’s what I just said,” she added somewhat reproachfully, waving a hoof at her calculations. “Anyway, just hold still, this should only take a few seconds....”

Twilight’s horn shone brighter as she brought her magic to bear on the injured hoof. Rainbow gasped and kicked her leg involuntarily.

“Rainbow, you have to hold still! Does it hurt?”

“No! It just... feels weird.”

“Oh, is that all?” Twilight smiled. “Well, it won’t be too long. You can hold it steady for a couple of seconds, can’t you?”

“Sure I can! W-watch!” Rainbow gritted her teeth and tensed every muscle in her leg, willing it to stay still as the tingling sensation of Twilight’s magic began to spread through her hoof once more. She shut her eyes in concentration. Her leg trembled a little, but it stayed put. Eventually, the feeling of the magic faded.

“There you go; good as new!” chirped Twilight, happy to have been of service.

“Um, actually...” said Fluttershy, raising a hoof and timidly trying to cut in.

Rainbow took a deep breath to help herself relax. She wiggled the formerly-injured hoof, then twisted off the bed to place it against the floor. She gingerly shifted weight onto it, and found it to be completely sound.

“Awesome! Thanks, Twilight! I really wasn’t looking forward to another stay at the hospital.”

“Oh, you might still have to go, if --” Fluttershy tried, only to be interrupted by Twilight.

“Think nothing of it, Rainbow! I was glad to help. Now, if you wouldn’t mind helping me put a few books back in order....” She gave Rainbow a meaningful look.

Rainbow chuckled nervously. “Yeah, I guess I owe you one....”

“You’re not in the clear yet, Rainbow!” Fluttershy finally exclaimed, flying down between the two ponies, forelegs outstretched to either side.

“What do you mean, Fluttershy?”

“Yeah, what gives?”

Fluttershy turned to her fellow pegasus. “Rainbow, when was the last time you had your hooves trimmed?”

“My...? Well, that was... uh....” Rainbow scratched her head nervously with one hoof, not quite able to meet Fluttershy’s unusually intent gaze. How long ago had it been? She couldn’t quite remember the last time....

“You simply must get them trimmed soon, Rainbow Dash,” Fluttershy insisted. “They’re getting far too long!”

“Hold on a minute,” asked Twilight. “What is this so important? I don’t think I’ve ever had my hooves trimmed in my life, not until you and Rarity started taking me to the spa, anyway.”

“Oh, I understand your confusion, Twilight,” said Fluttershy. “This isn’t a problem for unicorns and earth ponies because you walk everywhere. You hooves wear down naturally, all on their own. Only a pony who’s been bed-ridden for a long time ever needs to get them trimmed -- unless you’re a pegasus pony, that is.

“We spend a lot of time flying, and clouds are far too soft to put any wear on our hooves. Every pony in Cloudsdale needs to get her hooves trimmed back on a regular basis. Overly-long hooves are unhealthy: they become brittle, and that makes them prone to chipping or splitting when we do walk on a solid surface.”

“So you’re saying that Rainbow’s hoof split in that crash because it was too long?”

“As if! That was just a fluke,” objected Rainbow.

“I don’t think so, Rainbow,” said Fluttershy. “With your hooves like that, you’re just waiting for another accident. You really need to get them trimmed!”

“Wow. I had no idea being able to fly could cause such a problem,” said Twilight. “So all pegasus ponies have to do this?”

“Not really. It’s usually only a problem for cloud-dwelling ponies. My hooves haven’t needed trimming once since I moved to Ponyville: everyday walking wears them down just fine.”

“Hang on,” interjected Rainbow Dash, unwilling to give in, “I live in Ponyville too!”

“Yes, but you never walk when you can fly,” Twilight pointed out, “and you live on a cloud.”

“I’m afraid she’s right, Rainbow. You spend so much time in the air that your hooves just aren’t wearing down enough on their own.”

“OK! OK, fine,” she conceded at last, “I guess I’ll have to give them a trim.”

“But... but you’ve been forgetting, haven’t you? We might have caught it this time, but what if they grow out again? You might hurt yourself much worse next time! Oh, that would be just awful!” Tears of sympathy sprang to Fluttershy’s eyes at the very thought of her friend suffering another accident.

“What you need is a nice, firm schedule to keep yourself on track!” Twilight was clearly eager to extol the virtues of a well-ordered life. “You should make an appointment at the spa! There may not be any pegasus ponies over there, but I’m sure they can file your hooves down just right.”

“What a wonderful idea, Twilight! A full hooficure would take care of everything!”

“A -- a hooficure?!” Rainbow was aghast.

“And you could schedule them regularly; that way you’ll never neglect your hooves again,” Twilight continued, trying to impart her love of schedules.

“L-look, girls! We covered this: I don’t do hooficures! They’re just not... me!” With one flank pressed against Twilight’s bed, and two overly-enthusiastic friends pressing in on the other side, Rainbow felt good and cornered, but was determined to hold what ground she had.

“Now, Rainbow,” Twilight began soothingly, “I know you may be worried about your image --”

“ ‘Worried’?! I’m not -- Who says I’m worried?!”

“But this is for your health, Rainbow,” Fluttershy implored. “You just can’t ignore this!”

“Think of it as sports medicine!”

“You don’t want another injury, do you?”

“Alright already!” cried Rainbow Dash, throwing up her forehooves. “I’ll go, I’ll go! I’ll just fly over there right now and make an appointment, OK? Are you two happy now?!”

“Gee, you don’t have to get all huffy,” said Twilight.

“I’m sorry, Rainbow. I never meant to put so much pressure on you....” Fluttershy guiltily scuffed at the floor with a forehoof.

“I didn’t mean --” Rainbow gave an exasperated sigh. “Anyway, I’ll just go there. Now. Y-yeah. Bye,” she added absently as she flew out the open window.


Rainbow Dash flew high over Ponyville, beating angrily at the air with her wings as she approached the spa with growing apprehension. She pulled up into a hover as it came into view.

Well, it looks inviting enough. It’s nice inside too -- big and roomy. The ponies there must be decent: Fluttershy wouldn’t keep going back if they weren’t. How bad can it really be, right?

Her attempts to reassure herself were not working. She felt as though there were eels writhing around inside her stomach. Unpleasant twinges kept shooting up from her hooves, and her breath was coming in short gasps. Worst of all, she could hear a sneering voice rising up from the back of her mind, lilting --


“AAAAH!” Rainbow yelped as her mane and tail stood on end. She rounded on the pony who had surprised her. “Fluttershy!

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Rainbow,” replied her friend, abashed. “I didn’t mean to startle you.” She wrung her hooves, eyes downcast.

Rainbow forced herself to take a deep breath. “So? What is it?”

“Well, um... I was worried.... Rainbow, you are going to get your hooves trimmed, aren’t you?”

Rainbow waved angrily in the direction of the spa. “I’m going there, aren’t...!” She wrestled her voice back under control. “Yes, I’m going, OK? I said I would, didn’t I?”

“It’s just that you seem to be, I don’t know, a little nervous.”

“Nervous?! Me? Aw, c-come on! W-why would I be....” Rainbow found she couldn’t look her friend in the eye.

That’s not true. I’m lying to her. She’s never lied to me... not really lied. Not once.

“I-I guess... yeah. I am -- a little.” It was a wrench to admit it. She could feel her cheeks growing hot.

“But why?”

“I just....” She crossed her forelegs and looked away. “I just don’t like other ponies touching my hooves,” she muttered through gritted teeth.

She looked back at the spa, waiting for her down below. She sagged. “But I gotta do this. I know you’re right, Fluttershy. I remember those grooming lessons we had back in school too. It’s just... hard.”

“Um, Rainbow...?”

She groaned. Oh, what now?Yes, Fluttershy? What is it?”

“I was thinking... if it really bothers you... I could trim your hooves for you -- if you like.”

Rainbow started, then turned to stare at her. “You?!”

“Well, um,” Fluttershy stuttered, fidgeting, “it was just an idea... I know the spa ponies can do a better job, but every Cloudsdale pony knows how to trim a hoof, and if it bothers you so much, I thought maybe it would be easier if... if it was somepony you knew....”

“No, it’s cool!” exclaimed Rainbow, sweeping her friend up in a tight hug, “Great, even!” She meant it: all the constriction around her chest had vanished when Fluttershy had put herself forward. After all, she was a friend, and more to the point, she was Fluttershy. If Rainbow couldn’t trust her, she couldn’t trust anypony.

“Alright, then,” said Fluttershy, “do you want to do this today? I had planned to spend the afternoon watching you practice, after all, and you’d better not try any more stunt flying until we’ve gotten your hooves trimmed back. We have time.”

“Uh, sure! ’Guess we’d better take care of that ASAP,” admitted Rainbow. “So... your place or mine?” That last sentence sounded a little strange to her.

“Your house is probably closer,” said Fluttershy, considering. “You have a grooming kit, right?”

“Sure do!” Somewhere....

“Wonderful! It’s settled then,” smiled Fluttershy.

2 - Shifting Weight

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“Here we are, home sweet home,” said Rainbow as the two pegasus ponies alighted on the cloud from which her house was shaped.

“You have such a lovely house, Rainbow! It takes me back to Cloudsdale every time I see it. It’s like a piece of the city broke off and drifted over to Ponyville!”

“That’s ‘cause it kinda did,” Rainbow admitted. “It is a piece of Cloudsdale. I just... moved it. I, uh, I wanted a reminder of the place, I guess.”

“The rainbow cascades are my favourite part,” Fluttershy added as she glided over a gap to the pool of swirling rainbow that formed one of the cascades' lower reservoirs. She spotted a murder of crows flying by and beckoned them over. Dipping the tip of her tail in the rainbow pool, she waited until the crows flew directly overhead before whipping it out in a wide arc, suddenly transforming the birds’ black feathers into a palette of brilliant colours. She giggled as the suddenly coquettish birds broke formation, swirling around each other admiringly, in a kaleidoscope of vivid rainbow hues.

“Fluttershy... do you ever think of... of going back to Cloudsdale someday?”

“Hmm?” The yellow pegasus was still waving at the receding flock of suddenly joyous crows. “Oh, no. I visit once in a while -- my family lives there after all -- but Ponyville is my home now. All my friends are here... even the pony ones!” She giggled at her own joke, then stepped to the very edge of the cloud to take in the sweeping sight of Ponyville spread out below. “I wouldn’t leave this for the world,” she sighed happily.

“Yeah.... I figured you’d say that.” Rainbow’s smile stayed fixed, but she could feel that it didn’t reach her eyes anymore. She stared down at the bit of cloud-stuff between her forehooves. Then why’d you have to ask, huh?

“So,” she said, pulling her head up and trotting over to open the door, “as I was about to say, come on iiii...!” She shut the door. Holding up a hoof, she flashed a nervous smile at Fluttershy. “Actually, hang on just one sec....”

Rainbow opened the door a crack, slipped through, and promptly shut the door behind her. She quickly darted about, leaving a criss-crossing rainbow streak in her wake as she gathered up discarded containers, stray balls, Tank’s flying harness, piled-up books and other sundry debris and quickly stuffed them into a closet. She had to push hard to force the door closed, and it bulged and creaked ominously, but at least the floor was clear. She winged herself over to the front door and opened it.

“Come on in!” She waved her friend into the wide, open atrium that made up the centre of every Neo-Classical Cloudsdale home. Above them, the open shaft gave unrestricted access to the second floor before a ceiling cut off further ascent.

Fluttershy took a step over the threshold and started at the click her hoof made on contact with the floor.

“This is new! You’ve put flooring down everywhere. When did this happen?”

“When I got Tank. He can’t walk on clouds, so I had to put flooring in on all three levels and re-do the bedroom stairs. And pad out the cloud a bit more to boost the lift.”

“Oh, of course! I never even thought.... I could have helped, you know. It must have been so much work.” She looked downcast.

“Don’t sweat it, Fluttershy! Tank helped out a lot -- it was for his own good, after all!”

Fluttershy still seemed to feel a little guilty. “I guess I don’t drop by to visit as much as I should: that was an awfully long time ago....”

“Really, it’s cool! I see you lots, right? It balances out!” Rainbow drifted back across the atrium, inviting her friend to follow.

Soooo... what are you supposed to do when you have guests over? Rainbow racked her brains frantically. “D-do you want something to drink? I got... hang on --” Rainbow shot across the atrium into the kitchen and rifled through her icebox, crafted of woven cirrus clouds. Long strands of ice-crystal clouds unfurled about her, waving around like kelp in an underwater current.

“I got... hay-flavoured protein shakes?” She held up a can with a not-too-hopeful smile as Fluttershy hesitantly peeked in from the atrium. “They really do taste just like hay...?”

“...I think I’ll pass -- if that’s OK.”

“Well, I got... uh, this....” Rainbow held up an unlabeled clear bottle filled with a violently pink fluid. “Pinkie gave this to me after a party. She called it ‘Gummy-ade.’ I think she makes it herself.... A-and she said it would ‘fill a pony with so much pep--’ ”

“ ‘--That she’d just pop,’ ” Fluttershy finished for her, shrinking back a little further, ears drooping. Rainbow realised that she had been subconsciously holding the bottle at legs’ length.

“You got one too?”

Fluttershy nodded nervously.

“And did you ever... try yours?”

Fluttershy gave a frightened shake of her head.

Only then did the two ponies notice that the fluid was turning a deep violet, the colour spreading out from where Rainbow’s hooves were touching the bottle, and that bubbles were beginning to form along the inner surface of the glass. Without another word, Rainbow gently lowered the bottle back into the ice-box and carefully shock-packed it with cloud, for safety. With Pinkie Pie, you just never knew.

Rainbow gave an embarrassed chuckle. “Sorry, Fluttershy, I guess I’m not as well-stocked as I thought.”

“Oh, that’s quite alright, Rainbow. I wasn’t really thirsty anyway....”

“Wait! I think I’ve got --” Rainbow folded the ice-box shut and thrust a foreleg deep into the cloud out of which her house was built, rummaging around. Finally, she pulled out a double hoof-full of cloud, but this was not the white cloud which composed her home. Rather, it was dark grey and heavy with unshed rain.

“Ha!” she exulted, “I knew I had a bit left over! We had a little surplus rain after the last downpour, so we all took some home. Being in the Weather Service has a few advantages. Who’s up for fresh-squeezed rain?”

Fluttershy brightened visibly. “Goodness! I haven’t tasted pure rain since I moved out of Cloudsdale. I’d love some.”

“Done! Let me just find some clean glasses....” Rainbow used her tail to flick a dishcloth over the ugly pile of unwashed dishes lurking in the sink before Fluttershy could catch sight of it. “Uh, why don’t you just head on up to the dining room and lie down while I get everything ready?”

After what seemed like an interminable time spent rummaging around, all the while telling herself to clean up more often in the future, Rainbow glided out of the kitchen carrying a large bowl filled with a few folds of cirrus into which were thrust two glasses, each with its own drinking straw. She had the raincloud tucked under her chin. She flapped up the central shaft to the second floor.

Fluttershy was already reclining on one of the three cloud-sculpted klinai, or chaises longues, that made up Rainbow’s small dining room. Arranged in a U-shape, they afforded the diners, through the open French doors, an excellent view of the cloudscape stretching out behind the house.

“Here we go,” announced Rainbow, setting the bowl down on the small circular dining table placed in the middle of the klinai. The rain cloud floated lazily between them. “Aw, look,” she continued, “we don’t have to be all formal. Hang on a bit....”

Rainbow hooked a hind leg under one kline and sent it spinning away, backwards and upwards. It bounced gently off the wall and drifted up to the high ceiling, still slowly spinning around its long axis. She then spun the third kline around so that both of them could recline in the same direction, face-to-face across the table.

“Oh! I wasn’t expecting that,” giggled Fluttershy, surprised.

“It’s the flooring,” Rainbow explained. “None of the klinai are anchored anymore, so they’re pretty easy to move around. The drifting felt a bit weird at first, but it’s kinda convenient. Hey, what’s a triclinion minus one, a biclinion or a diclinion?”

“I have no idea,” laughed Fluttershy. “Pre-Classical languages were never my strong suit. We’ll have to ask Twilight one day.”

Fluttershy smiled in appreciation as Rainbow took the raincloud in both forehooves and, holding it over one of the glasses, carefully squeezed it, causing a light drizzle of rain to fall into the glass. Once the glass was about three-quarters full, she released the pressure, allowing the rain to cease, before moving the somewhat-diminished cloud over to the next glass and repeating the procedure.

“You have such deft hooves,” said Fluttershy admiringly. “I remember never being able to squeeze rain out properly. It never rained but it poured, I guess you could say,” she tittered, “and then I’d have to move the cloud from one glass to the other as quickly as I could -- which didn’t really make a difference, since half the rain would fall around the glass!”

Mes-sy,” Rainbow teased, laughing. “Like I said, being in the Weather Service has some advantages. Practice makes perfect!”

She gave the lightened cloud a gentle tap, sending it floating up to a higher altitude, and rotated the bowl so that each mare had a glass facing her. Condensation was creeping up the sides of the glasses, from contact with the cirrus strands.


“Cheers, Rainbow.”

Both ponies sipped gently on the straws.

“You’re right,” Rainbow declared, “there is a special taste to pure rainwater, isn’t there?”

“I think it’s more that there aren’t any other tastes mixed in. It’s straight from the factory. Everything else we drink is still mostly water, after all. This is nothing but water.”

“One more great thing to come out of Cloudsdale,” said Rainbow. She dropped her eyes to her glass, suddenly feeling a little sad. Stop bringing that up, alright?

“We ought to get our friends to taste this someday,” mused Fluttershy. “I suppose we could try to collect rainwater -- as long as we caught it in clean glass containers, it shouldn’t change the taste. But I do like the squeezing part. Do you often have leftovers after rainfalls?”

“Huh?” Rainbow snapped back to attention. “Uh, not usually. We try to use it all up -- the plants need it to grow, right? Only we had to cut the last downpour short ‘cause the snowmelt had swollen the dam reservoir a bit more than we’d figured, so they had to increase the outflow into the river.... We didn’t want to flood the fields!”

“Oh, well. I suppose we could just import some from Cloudsdale....”

The conversation lulled. Both ponies sipped their drinks in silence. Fluttershy sipped with her eyes closed and a foreleg up to keep her flowing mane out of her face.

Her raised leg drew Rainbow’s gaze down it and along her friend’s body. Her wing was half-opened to help maintain her balance. She was lying on her left flank, her right hind leg draped decoratively over the left, with her tail criss-crossing over the soft curves of hindquarters like a pink river winding through rounded yellow hills.

How does she do that? It’s not like she tries to strike a pose or anything, but she always ends up looking like... like artwork or something. It’s not like she looks cool, exactly, more... nice? Pretty? Yeah, ‘pretty,’ I guess....

Rainbow shifted uncomfortably on the kline, curling her tail back over her own body. She felt oddly exposed. Her eyes slid off Fluttershy’s body and focused instead on the end of her tail, which went over the edge of the kline and actually touched the flooring.

Does she really wear tail extensions? How do you extend a tail, anyway? It’s not a unicorn magic thing, right? Can you just glue extra bits on, or what?

The end of Fluttershy’s tail was still coated with rainbow. It made Rainbow Dash smile. Heh, our tails look the same, now. Her eyes went over to her own tail. They did look similar... save for her own tail’s unruly bushiness, or the tangles she hadn’t bothered to brush out that morning, or the scattered leaves and twigs she must have picked up when she crashed into the library tree and hadn’t even noticed --

She flicked her tail out of sight behind her. They didn’t look the same after all. She gave a short sigh, and turned back to her glass.

Fluttershy was looking at her. Rainbow gave a small start in surprise, which caused Fluttershy’s eyes snap up to her face. Their gazes held for a heartbeat before her friend blushed and cast her eyes down with an timid smile. Rainbow leaned back and stared at the ceiling, where the remnants of the raincloud were slowing orbiting the third kline. She tried to think of something to say, but couldn’t come up with a topic.

Why is this so hard? We could always talk before! Like when we.... That time when we....

But Rainbow found that she couldn’t clearly remember the last time they had talked. She could remember hanging out with Pinkie Pie plenty of times, or with Applejack. She had even stayed up half the night with Twilight once, chatting about Daring-Do. But when was the last time that she and Fluttershy had really talked?

Waiting in line for cider doesn’t exactly count, does it? Or getting your ear talked off about butterflies when you’re thinking about racing? ...Does that mean Fluttershy was thinking about butterflies all those times we were talking about flying? She’s never really been into flying....

Rainbow bit her lip. Her stomach had just given a small lurch, as though she’d flown into an unexpected low-pressure pocket. Her oldest friend was lying just across the table from her, and yet Rainbow felt a little lonely.

A slight slurping sound caught her attention: Fluttershy had just emptied her glass. Rainbow quickly leaned forward and drained the last third that remained in her own glass.

“Well, that was lovely,” said Fluttershy, sitting up, “but I guess we really should get started on your hooves.”

Rainbow’s heart skipped a beat. “Uh, yeah....”

“Where do you keep your grooming kit?”

“It’s in --” Rainbow remembered her overstuffed closet. “Oh. Just wait here, and I’ll grab it....”

Rainbow cautiously descended towards the bulging door. With the pastern of her left foreleg pressed thoughtfully under her chin, she carefully examined the dangerously distended door, shifting first to the left to check how far the it had stretched out from the frame before returning to centre. Biting down on her lower lip, she wiped the sweat out of her eyes with the back of her right foreleg. Rearing up on her hind legs, Rainbow rubbed her forehooves together, brows furrowed and tongue stuck out in concentration as she pondered how best to approach the precariously unstable system before her. Then she sagged a little, her features set in a resigned expression.

Yeah, right. Not with my luck. Suck it up, Rainbow Crash.

She reached out and tapped the door handle with a hoof, and was immediately swallowed up by an avalanche of debris, household goods and sporting equipment. A single red ball covered in white stars bounced out of the wreckage and rolled across the room.

3 - Widening the Wound

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“Oh, my goodness! Rainbow Dash, are you alright?”

A single blue hoof thrust triumphantly out of the pile, holding aloft an old, battered wooden case. “Got it!” exclaimed a somewhat muffled voice.

“But you’re not hurt, are you? That looked painful.”

“Aw, don’t worry about it,” joked Rainbow, waving off her friend’s concerns.

Fluttershy took the grooming kit from her and, after a moment’s inspection, gently dusted it off.

“So, where do you want to do this?”

“Uh, let’s see....” Rainbow’s eyes darted quickly around the area. “How about the dining room?”

“Good idea! Those klinai would be perfect.”

And it’s airy and open, Rainbow added silently. She could feel her heart rate accelerating steadily. She shut her eyes and exhaled nervously.

'Figures it wouldn’t be as simple as ‘get Fluttershy to do it.’

She followed Fluttershy back into the dining room with growing apprehension. The yellow pegasus set the grooming kit down on the flooring and, sitting down in front of it, flipped open the lid and began checking the contents.

“Take a seat anywhere, Rainbow. We can get started in just a minute.”

Rainbow shifted the kline she had been lying on previously so that it was directly in front of the open doors leading outside and sat down. She looked at the wide sky stretching out beyond the doors, with snow-capped mountains poking through the distant clouds.

It can’t get any more open than this unless we go outside. Come on, just get it over with!

She swung her hindquarters onto the kline and lay down carefully. She could feel her wings sink into the sculpted cloud, compressed under the weight of her body. Her hind legs curled and uncurled reflexively, hooves rubbing nervously against one-another. She pressed her forehooves together. Her heart was pounding against her ribcage.

Get a grip on yourself, Rainbow. She hasn’t even started yet!

Fluttershy loomed over her, large file in hoof.

“Ready, Rainbow?” she asked pleasantly.

“Y-yeah. Go.”

Fluttershy’s smile dropped. She look at her friend for a moment.

“Are you sure?”

“Sure I’m sure! Start already!”

She moved to the foot of the kline, transferring the file to her mouth. Rainbow looked out the open doors and thought desperately of flying, of soaring free through the sky with the wind whistling in her ears, feeling her mane and tail flapping in her wake --

She gasped and flinched away when the file touched her right hind hoof. She shut her eyes in frustration and embarrassment, feeling her face growing hot.

“Sorry,” she muttered. Gritting her teeth, she stretched out her right hind leg once more, inviting Fluttershy to continue.

After what seemed like an eternity, her friend touched file to hoof again. Rainbow drew a hissing breath through her teeth, but this time she was ready, and didn’t pull her leg away. Fluttershy began to scrape away at the hoof capsule, while Rainbow forcibly pressed her forehooves together to stop her forelegs from shaking.

Just lie still, OK? It can’t take that long -- how long does it take to trim four hooves, anyway? Twenty minutes? Twenty minutes isn’t long, right?

...How many breaths in twenty minutes?

She was already fighting for air, each breath coming in short and shallow. She could feel her wings writhing under her, fighting against the cloud on which she was lying. Her eyes darted around the room, desperately searching for something to distract her, but neither the high, airy ceilings above or the open skyscape before her provided any comfort. She tried closing her eyes, but that was no escape either.

Worse, in the back of her mind she could hear a voice....

Oh no, thought Rainbow desperately. No, no, no, no -- please, no!

She ground her forehooves together desperately. Her ears flattened against her head, but that couldn’t keep out the mocking, sing-song voice.

Don’t freak out in front of Fluttershy! Don’t --

It was no use.

“Oh, Raaiiinboow,” lilted the horrid voice, “What tiiime it is?”

“Stop, stop!” Rainbow rolled off the kline and landed with legs splayed and all four hooves firmly pressed into the flooring, gasping for breath. She unfurled her wings, spreading them as far out to either side as they could reach.

Fluttershy, alarmed, pulled the file out of her mouth. “Rainbow, what’s wrong? Are you alright?”

“No,” Rainbow shot back.

“Oh, no! That was the hoof you split! Does it hurt?”

Rainbow shook her head, still panting. “Fixed,” she gasped, “Twilight fixed it. It’s fine. It doesn’t hurt, it’s just....” She stamped a hoof in frustration. “It’s just me. It... it’s me.”

“Is -- is it that bad when other ponies touch your hooves?”

“Y-yeah,” admitted Rainbow, humiliated.

“Um... Oh! Do you have -- I’ve heard some ponies have a natural reflex... you know how some ponies just can’t stand the sound of a hoof being drawn across a chalkboard, but others don’t mind it? I’ve heard some ponies are the same way with their hooves: they just can’t stand other ponies touching them. Do you think that might be what’s happening here?”

“Uh... y-yeah....”


“No wonder you were so upset about getting a hooficure! Oh, Rainbow, I’m so sorry! We had no idea!”

“Hey, h-how were you to know, right?”


“I’ve made a terrible mistake,” said Fluttershy, guiltily clutching the file to her chest. “That must have felt just awful! Please forgive me!”

She considered for a moment.

“...Well, clearly nopony but you is ever going to be able to trim your hooves.... We’ll just have to make sure you stay on schedule,” she added in a hopeful tone. “Maybe if you did it on fixed days? Then we could just remind you....”

Rainbow still stood with all limbs awkwardly splayed out, every muscle pulled taut and her eyes screwed shut. She’d heard the expression “feeling torn in two” before, but only now did she truly understand what it meant.

She was getting everything she wanted: Fluttershy was backing off, the whole unpleasant business was going to be dropped, and Rainbow would never be bothered about grooming or hooficures ever again.

And all she had to do was keep lying to a friend who trusted her and would never doubt a word she said.

She’s never lied to me. Even when it was hard to talk about, even when she was upset, she’d always.... She’s never lied to me!

“...Or maybe we could get you a schedule book. You could write down when you--”

“Fluttershy, it’s not like that,” Rainbow blurted out. “It’s not a reflex and I wasn’t born that way and it’s not -- it’s not like that!”

Her friend stared at her, surprised at the sudden outburst.

“What do you mean, Rainbow?”


Rainbow turned away and looked longingly up at the wide sky spread beyond the open doors. Oh, how she wanted to streak out into the deep blue heights, faster and farther than anypony could follow and be all alone and not have to talk to or look at any other pony -- but how would Fluttershy feel if Rainbow flew off like that and left her behind?

I should have just gone to the spa! What do those ponies care, as long as I pay my bits at the end?! Or -- or I should have done my own hooves! I’ve always done them before; so what if it was sloppy?! At least then I’d be by myself and not trapped in my own house having to talk about -- I should have done it on my own!

She hated herself for it, but right then her most fervent wish was that her oldest friend were gone far, far away.

“Oh, I didn’t mean to pry,” said Fluttershy, clearly sensing her reticence. “You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to....”

Rainbow made a pained grimace.

But now you know that something’s wrong, and you’re going to worry about it, aren’t you? And you’ll never ask me about it, and you won’t tell another pony because it’s personal, and you’ll keep it all to yourself and you won’t know what to do about it and it’ll eat away at you, and... and I know what that’s like....

She took one last mournful look at the beckoning sky before turning back to her friend.

“Look, Fluttershy... uh... l-let me ask you this: are... are you ticklish?”

Fluttershy blinked, nonplussed, before breaking into a smile. “Oh, Rainbow, is that what you’re worried about?” she asked, reaching a hoof out to her friend.

NO!” A snap of Rainbow’s wings shot her straight up to the ceiling, so quickly that Fluttershy flipped over onto her back, all four legs sticking straight up in the air, with a goat-like bleat.

“Oh, ponyfeathers! Fluttershy, are you OK?” Rainbow swiftly swooped down to pick her friend off the floor.

“I’m fine, just a little startled,” Fluttershy assured her.

“S-sorry,” Rainbow mumbled as she lowered them both back to the flooring. “But look -- just answer my question: are you ticklish?”

“Well, I guess I am a little....”

“And... do you... like being tickled?”

Fluttershy considered for a moment. “I wouldn’t say that I like it, exactly. I suppose I can take it or leave it.”

“But -- but it doesn’t hurt or anything?”

Fluttershy smiled at the idea. “Why, no! Why would it....” The smile slid off her face as she realised what the question implied.

“You mean... it hurts you?

YES,” Rainbow gushed, “it hurts! It hurts a lot! It feels like... like needles being shoved under my skin -- knitting needles! Heated, even!”

“I... I had no idea....”

“Of course not!” Rainbow ranted, gesticulating wildly. “Nopony does! Because you smile! You smile and you laugh like an idiot when you’re getting tickled and even when you scream at ponies to stop it always sounds like you love every moment of it and everypony thinks it’s a big joke and they just keep going on and on and... and it hurts!

She slumped, suddenly listless. “It... It really hurts...” she finished lamely.

“I’m sorry, Rainbow. That sounds terrible.”


“But, um... you know,” Fluttershy pointed out gently, “a hoof trimming only works on the capsule. There aren’t any nerves in there. It’ll never tickle, no matter what I do.”

“I know,” said Rainbow wretchedly.

“Then why...?”

Rainbow hesitated one final moment before the plunge.

Well, what’s she going to do? Laugh? Fluttershy would never!

“When... when I was just a filly,” Rainbow began, “a little filly -- this was years before we met -- I had this foalsitter... and she’d tickle me. A lot. Mostly on the soles of my hooves, ‘cause I was really sensitive down there, and... and ever since, I’ve never been comfortable with anypony... touching my hooves.”

Rainbow turned away dejectedly. “All because of one stupid, lousy foalsitter.”

Gah! That sounds so lame!

“That’s a shame,” said Fluttershy after a moment. “But you know, Rainbow, I’m sure she didn’t mean any harm.”

“What.” A muscle beneath one of Rainbow’s eyes began to twitch spasmodically as her teeth reflexively ground together.

“You said it yourself: most ponies can’t imagine that tickling would actually be painful. Of course, what happened is very sad, but I just know she thought it was all good clean fun.” She laid a comforting hoof on Rainbow’s shoulder.

Rainbow turned on her angrily, knocking her hoof away.

‘Know’?! What do you --” She shut her mouth with an audible snap of her teeth.

No, she doesn’t know, Rainbow scolded herself. She wasn’t there, and she thinks every pony’s as nice as her. ...Don’t shout at her for that.

She turned away from her staring friend, pacing angrily across the floor as she forced herself to continue in a more controlled tone.

“Look, she knew, OK? She never let up... she’d keep going until I couldn’t even breathe! Until I.... until I wet myself,” she added in an undertone.

What?!” gasped Fluttershy, horrified.

“UNTIL I -- !” Rainbow checked herself. “Y-yeah, you heard me.” She halted before the open doors, to stare up at the sky beyond.

“A-and when you’re that age, it feels like an accomplishment, you know? Like you’re a big girl now ‘cause you don’t have ‘accidents’ any more, and....” She hung her head, wings drooping.

“...And she took that away from me....”

Suddenly Rainbow’s head snapped around to face her friend again. “So don’t tell me she didn’t know what she was doing,” she snarled, her anger flooding back in full force.

“Oh, Rainbow, that’s horrible,” said Fluttershy earnestly as she walked up to her. She reached out a hoof to her friend. “Did you try --”

Rainbow jerked away from her, fanning her wings out.

“ ‘TRY’?! ‘TRY’?!

Stop shouting!

“You think I -- just took it -- ?!”

Don’t shout at her! Don’t!

“L-look,” she said, somehow managing to contain herself, “I tried, OK? I tried everything! O-only she had twice my size, and-and three times my wingspan, so what was I supposed to do, huh?!

“I-I tried running, I tried fighting, I tried... begging.... Nothing worked, alright? I couldn’t get her off me! I -- I couldn’t....”

“Did you try talking to your parents about it?”

“I -- Well, I tried,” stuttered Rainbow, suddenly flustered, “Only they thought it was just... just horseplay, you know?”

“But if she was making you --”

“They... they didn’t know about that part....” Rainbow swallowed hard, fighting an uncomfortable lump that was growing in her throat. “I-I never told them....”

She hung her head, wings drooping. “...I never had the guts....”

“Oh, Rainbow,” said Fluttershy, laying a wing over her friend’s back.

“Yeah, pretty stupid, huh?!” Rainbow pulled roughly out of Fluttershy’s embrace, returning to her angry pacing.

“Not at all! I never meant --”

“But it is stupid, isn’t it?! I mean, my parents weren’t idiots! I could have talked to them! If I just -- if I’d explained... I could’ve had her off me in like, five minutes! ...I had her for two years, Fluttershy! Two years! She was my parents’ favourite! I used to dread when she’d--” Rainbow shuddered and shook her head.

“And the only reason she finally got out of my life is because, because her family moved off to Los Pegasus or, or wherever, and she probably found some other foal to make miserable over there, a-and I could have stopped all that if -- if I just had... had the nerve to ask for help one time...!”

Rainbow trailed off, hot breath snorting out her nose, tail lashing dangerously. She was shaking with shame and barely-contained rage, most of it turned inwards. She shut her eyes against the tears she could feel burning at the edges of her vision, and hated herself all the more for their being there. She barely registered Fluttershy’s desperate pleading above the rushing in her ears.

“Oh, Rainbow, you mustn’t think like that! It’s so easy to look back and see what you should have done, but you were young -- it wasn’t your fault!” And then Fluttershy put her forelegs gently around her friend’s neck, to draw her into a hug.

“STOP TOUCHING ME ALREADY!” Rainbow exploded, rearing and wheeling so fast she sent Fluttershy sprawling across the floor. Rainbow’s wings snapped down with an audible crack as she lifted off, looming over her stricken friend.

“I SWEAR YOU’RE AS BAD AS --” The rest of the sentenced died on her lips as her mind caught up with what she was saying. Her diaphragm seized. Her eyes shrank to pinpricks. Her brain went blank.

For a moment, she forgot how to fly.

Her left wing missed the next downstroke, sending her drifting drunkenly into one of the kline. Off-balance, she scrambled for a hoof-hold as the unanchored cloud tilted under her, sliding her down its width and spilling her hindquarters onto the floor.

She lay there, breathing hard and staring at her friend.

Fluttershy lay motionless. She had tried to open her wings to catch herself, but had not been quick enough: one wing was canted up into the air at an odd angle, the other was crumpled beneath her. Her mane and tail had fallen in pink swirls around her, and for an agonisingly long moment she did not move at all.

Rainbow reached out a hoof to her and then snatched it back, as though she had thrust it into an open flame.

I hit her! I -- I hit her!

Fluttershy stirred at last, dragging her forelegs underneath her and slowly raising her forequarters off the floor. The afternoon light streaming through the open doors behind her outlined her, leaving her face in shadow.

I promised....

Rainbow’s heart hammered in her chest. She parted her lips, made an attempt at speech, but only a weak, choking sound came out. She couldn’t think, couldn’t string two words together, couldn’t get any air past the ever-expanding lump in her throat --

I can’t breathe.

Fluttershy tilted her muzzle up to look at Rainbow. Rainbow could glimpse her friend’s soft blue eyes through her flowing pink mane, which partly obscured her face. Rainbow slowly shook her head from side to side, but still she could not speak. Tears were welling up in her eyes, causing Fluttershy’s form to blur and swim, and try as she might, Rainbow could not hold them back.

I can’t breathe!

Rainbow remembered the day Ponyville’s dam had given way into her: the sudden crack of the concrete, the shock of the cold water striking her, the irresistible force of the rushing waters knocking her from the air and sweeping her away.

“I’m sorry, Fluttershy!” she cried, and then she bolted. She clambered blindly over the kline, which rocked madly beneath her like an unstable rowboat. The cloud pitched her forward; she struck out a hoof to catch herself and a shock of cold ran up her leg as she put her hoof in the bowl of cirrus still sitting on the table. The bowl slid across the table’s small surface, the table tipped beneath her, and Rainbow flipped forward, going head-over-hooves as she crashed to the hard flooring.

Somewhere two empty glasses were shattering across the floor, somewhere a voice was calling her name, but Rainbow rolled with the impact, scrambled to her hooves, and dashed out of the room. Her vision was a blur of tears; she could not fly. She put her left wing to the wall and ran alongside the edge of the open shaft, galloping up the circular stair that led to the third floor, and her bedroom -- the only refuge she had left.

Rainbow shouldered open the door to her room, kicked it shut, and crossed over to her bed in one gliding bound. She caught up her thickest pillow in her forehooves, thrust her face deep into it and bit down hard to muffle her voice as she screamed. She screamed a long cry of shame and anguish, that finally broke up into wracking, choking sobs. She could feel the pillowcase dampen against her face as it soaked up her tears.

Idiot! Moron! Jerk! Creep! How could you?! She was only trying to help! She’s always come through for you, and what have you ever done but shout and shove? Now you’ve... I’ve.... Oh, Celestia help me, I’m going to be sick....

She was suddenly aware of a soft tapping at the door. “Rainbow?” Fluttershy’s soft voice called timidly. “May I come in?”

“NO!” Rainbow rushed across the room, reared up and put both forehooves against the door, leaning her whole body into it, desperate to hold it shut. “Don’t come in,” she pleaded, “don’t come in!”

“Rainbow, how... how are you feeling? Are you alright in there?”

Rainbow bent her forelegs and pressed her forehead against the door. She tried to speak, but her sobbing got in the way; she tried to bring her breathing under control and failed. She shook her head, flicking glittering tears off her muzzle, which spattered across the flooring in a short arc before the door.

“Rainbow, I’m so very sorry....”

Rainbow ground her forehead against slightly-yielding cloud-stuff that made up the door and clamped her mouth shut to stifle her sobs, but only managed to reduce them to a string of low, whimpering gasps.

Why in Equestria is she apologising to me?!

She felt she had to say something; she tried timing the words to match each gasp for breath in an attempt to sound more natural.

“Look... Fluttershy... I’m not up to... this right now.... Can we... talk later... or something...?”

“ ‘Later?’ But, um....”

“Yeah... Sorry about the mess.... Th-thanks for dropping by.... C-catch you later, I guess...?”

What the hay am I saying?!

“Rainbow? I don’t think --”

“Fluttershy, would you just go already?” Rainbow collapsed against the door, sliding down along it on her left side. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but I can’t -- I don’t....

“I want to be alone,” she sobbed. “Fluttershy, please just... just leave me alone!”

“Well,” said Fluttershy hesitatingly, “if... if that’s what you really want....”

She hesitated a little longer, but finally gave in. “Goodbye then, Rainbow. I hope you feel better soon.”

Rainbow heard the forlorn clip-clop of her friend’s hooves as they turned away from the door and slowly made their way back down the stairs. There was a pause as Fluttershy glided to the lowest floor, before the sound resumed. Rainbow tracked it across the atrium to the entrance, and finally heard the door close softly.

She forcefully slammed her head into the bedroom door; her vision flashed white.

“I’m sorry, Fluttershy,” she sobbed miserably into her hooves, “I’m so sorry....”

4 - Intervention

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Rainbow Dash still lay crying, crumpled up against her bedroom door, when she felt something give her a gentle nudge. She looked up and recognised the curved green blob even through the blur of her tears.

“Oh, hey Tank,” she said, managing a small smile in spite of everything. “Sorry, did I wake you up?”

Aw, who am I kidding? The whole neighbourhood would have heard that if this house were on the ground!

She dragged herself to her hooves, picking up her pet and balancing him on her croup before walking slowing back to her bed, wings trailing limply at her sides.

“Oh, Tank, I really messed up with Fluttershy.” She clambered onto her bed, shifting Tank around to her front before lying down, as the tortoise wouldn’t be supported by the cloud-mattress beneath the covers.

“She was just worried I’d get hurt again, ‘cause she cared, you know? I could’ve just said something -- I can never talk when it really counts.... And I hurt her! I said -- I said....”

Rainbow could not bring herself to repeat it. She could not imagine a worse insult, and she had screamed it at her friend! She hugged Tank tightly to her chest, feeling new tears running down her face.

“And then I yelled at her to get out! Like it was her fault! She’s probably flying home crying right now. I bet she’s real upset.... How am I ever going to face her again? I ruined everything! I... I don’t deserve a friend like that....”

“Rainbow Dash?”

Rainbow gave a start at the soft voice, sounding suddenly, and so close. She glanced around wildly -- and found Fluttershy standing in the middle of the room. Rainbow quickly rolled over onto her right flank and spread her left wing out to screen herself. The bedroom door was still closed....

“How -- how did you get in here?” she asked, desperately trying to wipe the tears off her face with a forehoof.

Yeah, right! She’ll see the streaks in your coat. You can’t hide those!

“Through the balcony door: you’re not the only one with wings.

“Listen, Rainbow,” continued Fluttershy in an uncharacteristically firm voice, “I know you asked me to leave, but you’re obviously upset, and I just don’t think you should be by yourself right now.”

“I’m not,” tried Rainbow, holding her pet up for Fluttershy to see, “I have Tank, haven’t I?”

Tank looked over at Fluttershy, nodded slowly, and retracted his head and limbs back into his shell.

Traitor, thought Rainbow, plopping him down onto the floor.

“You have me, too.”

“Aw, come on! L-look, I asked nicely, didn’t I?”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“Fluttershy, please! I -- I don’t want you to see me like this....”

“Then I won’t look,” her friend answered simply.

Rainbow bit down on one hoof in helpless frustration. Of all the days for her to become more assertive, why did she have to pick today?!

She heard the clip-clop of Fluttershy’s hooves on the flooring and felt the cloud-mattress shift as her friend stepped onto it. Cringing, Rainbow snatched up a pillow and stretched her wing further, to hide her face. She twitched as something cool and hard touched her back. The touch lingered a moment, then gently, if fumblingly, felt its way up to the base of her outstretched wing, and from there onto her shoulder, where it gave a reassuring pat.

It’s her hoof. What in Equestria is she doing? It’s like she’s -- Rainbow bent her wing down a little and gave Fluttershy a tentative glance -- blind....

Her eyes were closed. She was standing over Rainbow with her muzzle tilted back and her eyes closed, feeling her way along her friend’s body.

She said she wouldn’t look.... Rainbow almost wanted to laugh -- there was something ridiculous about the whole situation -- but at the same time, she felt suddenly and intensely grateful.

Her friend’s hoof slid off her shoulder and felt its way along her neck. Once Fluttershy was sure she was not stepping on Rainbow’s mane, she lay down beside her. Her weight made the cloud shift and tilted Rainbow’s spine back against her flank. Without a word, Fluttershy extended her left wing and gently folded Rainbow’s wing down, before spreading her own wing over her friend’s body, although she was careful to avoid touching her directly.

“C-come on, Fluttershy! I’m not a baby!”

“I never said you were.”

Rainbow lay there clutching her pillow defensively, feeling humiliated and vulnerable, but at the same time, strangely afraid to move away.

Neither of them spoke for a while.

“Rainbow,” said Fluttershy at last, “every pony has things she’d rather keep private. You don’t have to tell me anything that you don’t want to, or don’t feel comfortable talking about. I’ll understand. Only, please don’t ever feel you have to run or hide from me! That’s... very upsetting.”

“Fluttershy, I hit you,” Rainbow interjected.

“Rainbow, I lost my balance. That’s all. And that was my fault, anyway. Bringing up all those unpleasant memories... I should have known you wouldn’t react well to another pony touching you, no matter the intent. I wanted to help, but I only made things worse, and I apologise for that.”

Rainbow stubbornly shook her head.

“I... I shouted at you. Again. I’m always shouting at you. I don’t mean to! You’re my oldest friend, why would I want to -- but I never really noticed! I know it sounds horrible, but I didn’t notice! And, and then I did notice, and I promised myself I wouldn’t do it again. Only I did... I made a promise and I couldn’t keep it. I’m sorry. I -- I don’t know what else to say. I’m sorry....

“And... you’re not like -- like her at all! I swear I don’t think that....”

There was another long silence, finally broken by Fluttershy’s voice. “Is that why you ran from me?”

Rainbow sniffed and gave a small shrug.

“I’m very lucky to have such a caring friend,” said Fluttershy, “but you’re being far too hard on yourself. Rainbow, you weren’t shouting at me back there, you were venting. It’s not the same thing at all! We all have have feelings; sometimes they can be hard to bear. I know I’ve felt so frustrated I just had take a moment and scream -- more than once, even.”

Rainbow gave a short snort of laughter in spite of herself. She hadn’t meant to, but the picture of Fluttershy screaming in frustration somehow couldn’t quite come to her.

“R-really?” Rainbow asked, still not quite believing it.

“Oh, yes. We all feel angry or afraid or upset sometimes. And when we do, it’s usually best to work those feelings out, rather than keep them bottled up inside.”

“I... didn’t want to hurt you,” said Rainbow.

“That was very thoughtful of you, Rainbow, but it wasn’t necessary. I know I can be a little shy, but I’m not a porcelain doll. And I’m your friend. You can tell me anything!

“...And it’s better that way,” she added after a pause. “Feelings like that are powerful, and no-pony can keep them locked away forever. Eventually, they’ll find their own way out, and that’s when you’ll really hurt the ponies you care about. I... I know I did,” she finished sadly.

“What, you? No way! You’re the kindest, sweetest pony ever! You couldn’t hurt a --”

“You weren’t there to see it, Rainbow,” she said quietly, “but I could. And I did.”

This time, Rainbow did not laugh: there was something in Fluttershy’s voice that stopped her. “What happened?” Rainbow asked her friend softly.

“I hurt Pinkie and Rarity, Rainbow. I hurt them very badly. Oh, I felt just awful once I realised what I’d done. I wouldn’t have blamed them if they had never wanted to speak to me again. In fact, I was afraid to go near any other pony, in case I hurt them, too.

“And do you know what happened then? They came to see me. They were worried -- about me! I don’t think I really told them how grateful I was. Honestly, I don’t think I ever could. We’re so lucky to have such good friends, Rainbow.”

“Yeah,” said Rainbow earnestly, “we are.”

After a moment, Rainbow spoke again. “Uh, look.... That whole story about that foalsitter.... I know it sounded pretty bad -- and it was pretty bad, and it... it left a mark, but.... Look, I don’t cry myself to sleep over it every night or have nightmares about it or anything! I mean, I’m older now, and a lot bigger and stronger -- if I met that creep again, I’d probably just give her a good kick to remember me by! I’m mostly over her.

“It’s just... sometimes, something reminds me, you know? And all the feelings I had back then come rushing back and.... Remember when you girls talked me into trying a hooficure?”

“I remember.”

“Yeah, well, I thought I’d be cool with it, but then I had to lie down on that couch, and feel my wings pinned under me, and just lie there and wait while some strange pony fiddled with my --” She shivered. “I felt trapped, like the walls were closing in, and I -- I just had to get out of there!

“Now I can’t even let a friend trim my hooves,” she added miserably. “...Stupid.”

“Rainbow... I don’t mean to presume, but from what you’ve told me, the trouble you have with other ponies touching your hooves seems similar to the trouble I had with performance flying. Not that I mean they’re exactly the same! I’m sure you’ve had a worse time that I have. But, still....”

“Yeah... I guess I never thought about it that way....” And I wasn’t half as nice when you told me, she added guiltily to herself.

“And if that’s the case,” Fluttershy continued, “then you should be able to overcome it -- given time. Now, it’s not going to be easy -- trust me, I know how hard that sort of thing can be -- and it will take a lot of effort and courage, but I know that won’t be a problem for--”

Rainbow felt her whole body tense; she sucked in a ragged breath through gritted teeth. Oh, no. Please don’t go there. I can’t take this right now!

“-- a brave pony like you. Why, you’re practically fearless. We all think so...” Fluttershy went on inexorably, and every word cut like a knife, because it was so heartfelt and sincere. Rainbow folded her ears flat against her head and ground her face further into her pillow to choke out a sob.

She would think that, wouldn’t she? Whenever her timidity gets the best of her -- when she has something to say but isn’t able to cut in, if she wants something but some pushier pony gets there first -- there’s probably a little voice inside her saying “Oh, if only I could be as brave as Rainbow Dash!”

Rainbow felt ill. It was a cruel joke on both of them: Fluttershy admired Rainbow for her bravery.

Tell her. You owe her that much. Tell her.

“Fluttershy --” Rainbow started, interrupting her friend’s ‘pep talk,’ “Fluttershy, I’m not... I’m not brave, OK? I -- I’m not.”

“Oh, don’t be modest,” Fluttershy answered soothingly, “everypony knows --”

“Well, everypony’s wrong, then! ...Look, Fluttershy, do you want to be ‘brave’ like me? It’s easy: just close your wings and dive. That’s what I always do -- it’s all I ever do.” She gave out a bitter chuckle. “I’m a one-trick pony: whatever the problem is, I just jump right in. I don’t give myself time to think, so I don’t have time to get scared. That’s all. That’s not ‘bravery.’

“Do you remember that time when that big dragon set himself up on that mountain for a long, smoky nap?”

A shudder ran through Fluttershy’s entire body at the memory of that particular adventure. Rainbow felt it though her own back, running from her withers to her dock. “Oh, I don’t think I’ll ever forget that day,” muttered Fluttershy.

“Yeah, me neither. But look, we got to the dragon’s cave, right? And I was all fired up to send him packing, and the first chance I got, I flew right in there and kicked him in the snout! And then... well, then I was nose-to-nose with, like you said, a huge, gigantic, terrifying, enormous, teeth-gnashing, sharp-scale-having, horn-wearing, smoke-snoring, could-eat-a-pony-in-one-bite, totally all-grown-up dragon -- and I’d just gotten him good and mad.”

She hugged the pillow to her chest. “I got scared, Fluttershy. Really, really scared. I said something -- I dunno, some lame excuse I guess -- and then he sent me tumbling out of that cave just like a leaf on the breeze, and then he came rearing out, and....”

Rainbow blinked a few tears away. “I thought that was it. We all did! And then -- and then you came swooping in, and you totally schooled him! I mean, you made him cry like a little foal!

“...That was the bravest and the coolest thing I’ve ever seen any pony do in my life. And... and I didn’t... I didn’t....” The words stuck in her throat.

“Didn’t what?”

I didn’t want you to come!” sobbed Rainbow. “I thought you’d get in the way -- that you’d slow us down! We would have died without you, and I didn’t want you to come! I nearly killed us all... all our friends -- it would have been my fault!

“Oh, Rainbow, you can’t blame yourself for that! No-pony can know the future -- well, not without Pinkie-Sense, anyway -- and I didn’t want to come along either! I never would have made it up that mountain without all of you to help me. And we were all scared! It’s nothing to be ashamed of....”

“No, we were scared. You were terrified! And you did it anyway! That’s what bravery really is. And that’s the thing: you have... something inside you, Fluttershy, that I don’t think I have.”

Rainbow waved a hoof absently as she searched for words. “Sometimes, I feel like... like a hollow eggshell, you know? Eggshells are pretty tough; if you squeeze ‘em right, they can take a lot of strain.” She held her hooves up, facing each other, in front of her face, miming the act of holding an egg. “But one crack, one little weakness and --” she brought her hooves together with a click -- “Crunch.”

Rainbow let her head drop back limply onto the cloud bed. “So there you are: the great Rainbow Dash. ...Pretty lame, huh?”

“Never,” said Fluttershy firmly. “None of us think that; you certainly shouldn’t think it about yourself!”

“Yeah, sure. I guess.” Rainbow pushed her pillow away. “Whatever.” She felt drained. Spent.

Fluttershy nuzzled her ear. “Thank you,” she whispered.

“For what?”

“For trusting me enough to share all that with me. It couldn’t have been easy.”

“Yeah,” scoffed Rainbow, “I’m real brave.” She regretted her words instantly: her friend was only trying to make her feel better, after all.

“Oh Rainbow Dash, I wish I were better with words. Pinkie Pie would know just what to say to cheer you up, but I’m... a little at a loss.”

I guess neither of us is all that good with words. “It’s OK, Fluttershy,” Rainbow said aloud, “only, um....”

“What is it?”

Suddenly Rainbow felt shy. “Could we just... stay like this? Just for a little while? It’s... nice.”

Rainbow craned her neck around to take a peek at her friend. Fluttershy’s head was cocked to one side, ears swiveled forward to listen and eyes still closed. It made her expression somewhat blank, and hard to read.

“Of course, Rainbow. Whatever you like,” she said with a small smile, before laying her head down next to her friend’s. Slowly, haltingly, Rainbow hooked a hoof around the edge of Fluttershy’s wing and pulled it down against her. Without a word, Fluttershy bent her wing to better hug the contours of Rainbow’s body.

The moment stretched. Rainbow’s eyes swept around the room, but nothing caught her attention. She felt awkward, and yet.... It was oddly comforting to just lie there under her friend’s wing. Fluttershy was warm; the warmth of her body seeped into Rainbow’s back. She could feel Fluttershy’s flank rise and fall softly with her breathing; it helped steady her own.

She hadn’t done anything like this since her last sleepover with Fluttershy, and that had been when they were still fillies, long before either of them had left Cloudsdale. She had never been all that fond of those sleepovers herself -- perhaps if Fluttershy had been more interested in pillow-fights -- but she found herself missing them now.

Fluttershy’s mane was partly draped over Rainbow’s neck. Rainbow drew in a deep breath through her nose. Working with animals everyday as she did, a pony would expect her friend to smell like a barnyard -- or at best like clean hay -- but she didn’t. She smelled of meadowflowers. She’d smelled of meadowflowers for as long as Rainbow had known her.

Now that had been a crazy couple of days, when they became friends. Getting their cutie marks had only been the start of it....

She had been elated at finding her special talent -- not to mention pulling off a sonic rainboom! -- but when she tried to find that yellow filly she had defended, she was nowhere to be seen. When it was realised she was gone, the teachers tried to organise search parties, but they couldn’t leave the other fillies and colts unattended, and most of the stronger fliers in Cloudsdale had been dispatched to hold back a storm front that was drifting out of the Everfree Forest. By the time a proper search could be arranged, it was late afternoon. They had looked, but had had to call the search off at dusk, to start again the next morning.

Rainbow had gone looking as well, all by herself. She was not allowed, of course, but she felt responsible. That, and it bothered her that she had had to ask a camp leader what ‘that yellow filly’s’ name was: all she’d ever heard anypony call her was “Klutzershy.”

She had had no better luck than the search parties, but had stubbornly stayed at it until it was too dark to see anything. She finally went to sleep curled-up on a low-lying cloud, and woke up the next morning -- to meadowflowers. Specifically, a large bouquet of them being shoved into her face by an excited Fluttershy trying to say “Look, look!” around the stems she was grasping in her mouth. She wore a crown of woven flowers on her head. And she was surrounded by butterflies.

Neither of them had ever seen these things up close before. Oh, they had read about them in books at school, but that didn’t compare to the genuine article. It was hard to believe the ground was so colourful: it just looked like large patches of greens, browns, and blues from Cloudsdale.

“What do flowers need so many colours for?” Rainbow remembered asking.

“They come in all the colours of the rainbow,” Fluttershy had rapturously explained, “just like your mane!”

And then she had insisted on weaving a second crown of them for Rainbow to wear, in thanks for standing up for her. Rainbow did not object -- she had to admit, they looked pretty cool. Even the butterflies were kind of cool, although they creeped her out a little. After Derpy had shown them how to weave --

That’s when we met Derpy, Rainbow recalled with a sudden pang. The way that pony acted sometimes, it was so easy to forget she was years older than they were. Ponyville’s newest mailmare had gotten lost looking for an address and had found Fluttershy instead, just before dark. They had spent the night together under a tree, and in the early morning, as Celestia’s sun began to warm the land and the air currents shifted, Derpy had taught Fluttershy how to ride thermals, so she could get back up to Cloudsdale despite being an under-powered flyer. And Derpy had gone up with her to make sure nothing went wrong.

Rainbow found it odd: Fluttershy had been pushed and prodded through weeks of flight camp and it hadn’t helped her at all, but Derpy had needed only a couple of hours to show her how to ride air currents “like a stream of bubbles.” And she looked like a bubble herself, her belly stretched wide and tight over the foal she was carrying.

She shouldn’t have been flying like that... I wonder if she realised that. The thought certainly had not occurred to Rainbow or Fluttershy, but they were only fillies at the time....

Derpy had let them feel the foal through her skin. Neither of them had any younger siblings, so it was another new experience, strange and wonderful at the same time, and doubly so once she taught them to recognise the hard little nub that was the foal’s horn. A unicorn. Every pony in Cloudsdale was a pegasus by necessity; every pony they had ever known had been a pegasus -- but this pegasus was carrying a unicorn inside her. It was unthinkable. It was... magical.

The foal shifted when their hooves put pressure on its horn, and the movement caused the little stub to depress their frogs. It tickled -- Rainbow remembered the sharp, shooting pains -- but she did not pull her hoof away, not for a long time. It had felt worth the discomfort to feel that little horn, to know that it was real.

Eventually, the three of them had drifted back up to Cloudsdale together. Even Rainbow learned something from Derpy -- she had always relied on her wings to fight through adverse currents, but if you stopped struggling and rode them just right, you could cut clean through with little resistance. And she would have landed in a whole heap of trouble when they got back to camp -- after all, the search parties were now looking for two fillies instead of one -- but Derpy had said something. What did she say? Rainbow couldn’t remember, but it was something that had made a strange sort of sense. You simply could not argue with it. The same thing had happened when Rainbow had laughed at Derpy’s eyes:

“How come your eyes are like that?” she’d giggled.

“How come your mane is like that?” Derpy had asked in return.

“I dunno. It’s always been like that.”

“Same here,” said Derpy, and she had winked, and when her eye had opened again, it was looking in another direction. They all laughed then.

I guess I shouldn’t really have laughed, thought Rainbow somewhat guiltily, but she didn’t seem to mind....

And Derpy left them with one last miracle to round out the day: she gave them her firefly lamp. Fluttershy simply could not stop gushing about it, but Rainbow did not believe a word. “Glowing bugs? Hah! I’ll believe that when I see it!” And come nightfall, she did. They flared rainbows for light in Cloudsdale; neither of them had seen the like before.

Rainbow had wanted to show every filly in the dorm, but Fluttershy felt uncomfortable at the idea of getting up in front of everypony, so instead they had made sure all the windows were closed, and had simply let the fireflies free. Then they had made just enough noise to wake a couple of the lighter sleepers. Rainbow smiled remembering what happened next.

Some ponies were awed, some freaked out completely, everypony was flapping around in confusion.... Even the leader who came in to check on all the ruckus had never seen fireflies up close before. She was quite moved by the sight. And Rainbow and Fluttershy lay together under the covers of Fluttershy’s bunk, shaking with laughter and each with one hoof in the other’s mouth to keep her “partner in crime” quiet.

Best. Night. Ever!

She and Fluttershy had been fairly close after that, and while Fluttershy never pulled another prank in her life, for Rainbow there had been no going back. She could not say, however, if she had ever managed to top that first time.

But Fluttershy could no longer keep her head in the clouds. She was always riding the currents down to the ground, and coming back up with baskets of flowers. Rainbow often went with her: she was not all that crazy for flowers, but seeing the many different types of animals Fluttershy kept befriending was interesting, and some things down there -- like the challenge of jinking through tangled tree branches or the thrill of skimming over ponds and watching your wake carved out on the water -- were really cool.

Fluttershy moved down to the ground as soon as she was old enough to leave the nest. Rainbow had not been sure she would actually do it, being so timid, but she moved to Ponyville, where she already knew one pony: Derpy had kept in touch, even delivering the letters herself, when she could, although Rainbow had never seen the point of writing a letter if one was then going to show up in person.

Rainbow followed Fluttershy within six months. She loved Cloudsdale; it would always be a second home to her... but she missed the scent of meadowflowers.

“Hey, Fluttershy...” said Rainbow at last.


“Derpy’s little filly... what was her name again?”

“You mean Dinky?”

“Oh, yeah! That was it. I’d... forgotten somehow.” Rainbow pushed the tip of her left forehoof into the base of her right, depressing the frog. She let me feel her through her skin... and I forgot.

“Don’t you and Derpy work together whenever she helps out with the weather? She talks about you often. She’s very proud of you: she says you work hard.”

“Really? We don’t... talk that much, I guess.” Rainbow did tend to zip ahead of her: Derpy’s double-vision threw off her depth perception, so she had rely on her talent for reading air currents to manoeuvre, and simply could not fly as fast as most pegasi, let alone Rainbow Dash. She even spoke slowly. And Derpy was pretty clumsy... sometimes -- most times -- Rainbow simply shot ahead and did the whole job herself. And she thinks I work hard? Hearing that didn’t make Rainbow feel proud.

“I guess, uh, Dinky’d be about old enough to get her cutie mark now, huh?”

“She’s at that age, yes,” Fluttershy agreed, “although she doesn’t have hers yet. What’s brought this on all of a sudden?”

“Oh, just... thinking about stuff.”

“I was wondering,” continued Fluttershy, “considering... everything, have you ever -- had a massage before?”

“Huh? Uh, no. I’ve... never had one.”

“Would you like to try? I’ve -- I’ve got a bit of practice, and it might help you relax.... Don’t worry, it won’t tickle -- in fact, it can’t! A tickling touch is light and fast, but a massage is slower and uses much more pressure. It’s not the same at all. A-and you can tell me to stop at any time, if you want. I promise I’ll stop right away!”

“Calm down, Fluttershy,” said Rainbow, patting her friend’s wing, “I know I can trust you.”

Well, why not? It can’t make things worse.

“OK, Fluttershy. Let’s... let’s try it.”

“Wonderful! Now, this is a cloud-bed; it’s no good for a massage. We need a firmer surface. I think we’ll have to use the floor, but we can pull the covers off the bed and use them to pad things out a little. It doesn’t have to be rock-hard.

“Sure, whatever. You’re the expert,” said Rainbow, sliding out from under Fluttershy’s wing to bite down on part of the coverlet and begin pulling it back. Then she caught a glimpse of her friend, and had to spit it out, giggling.

“Um, Fluttershy....”

“Yes, Rainbow?”

“You can open your eyes, now.”

“Oh, thank goodness! It was getting a little awkward.”

5 - Recovery

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“So, Fluttershy... how do we do this?”

“I think we should start with your back; that’ll keep your wings free for now. Just lie down on your stomach and spread out your wings to either side.”

“OK, I can do that,” said Rainbow, lying down on the folded coverlet. It was still warm from the two of them lying on it earlier. “Do you want my wings more up or dow -- oof!”

“Either is fine. You’ll have to adjust them as we work, anyway.”

“Um, Fluttershy.... Isn’t the massager --”

“Oh, it’s masseuse. Or masseur if the pony's a stallion.”

“Where’d you get a fancy name like that?”

“I think it comes from Prance.”

“Whatever. Isn’t the ‘masseuse’ supposed to be off to one side or something?”

“Normally, yes,” said Fluttershy, straddling Rainbow’s hips and settling her rump on her friend’s dock, “but things get a just a teensy bit trickier when you’ve got wings. This really is the best way to work on a pegasus in the flare position. But, um, I can sit to one side if you want, only I won’t be able to work both wings together....”

“Well, whatever works best, I guess,” replied Rainbow, a little embarrassed. “I’m just glad Gabby Gums and her spy-cameras got retired.”

She felt Fluttershy shudder. “Oh, please don’t remind me! Now lie still,” she continued, gently feeling her hooves up Rainbow’s spine, moving from her lower back to the base of her skull.

“I thought you said a massage involved a lot of pressure?”

“Oh, I’m just getting my bearings. It -- it doesn’t tickle, does it?” asked Fluttershy, suddenly freezing in tense anxiety.

Trust me, Fluttershy: if it does, I’ll let you know!”

“Oh, good. Now, if you could take a deep breath and then let it all out, please?” asked Fluttershy sweetly, putting both her hooves on Rainbow’s lower back.

This stuff is more complicated than I thought, mused Rainbow. Still, she took in a deep breath and --

A disturbingly loud POP! sounded as Fluttershy depressed her spine.

“Whoa! What was that?!” gasped Rainbow, bounding to her hooves in panic.

“Eeek!” yelped Fluttershy, hanging on for dear life. “Calm down, Rainbow! You had a few misaligned vertebrae; I just pushed them back into place, that’s all!”

“But I felt something move! Inside!!

“Yes, I moved them back to where they were supposed to be. Correct spinal alignment is very important, especially for a sporty pony like you! Haven’t you felt your back getting stiff lately? Like you always want to crack it to relieve some pressure?”

“Actually... yeah, I guess, now that you mention it,” admitted Rainbow. She had been feeling a bit stiff, especially just below the wings....

“Well, most of that should be fixed now,” Fluttershy assured her. “Although,” she added, wiggling her hindquarters a little, “it feels as though your hips are a little off, too. We’ll have to adjust those later -- I can’t do it from this position. Right now, we’ll walk up the rest of your spine, and then move back down working on your muscles.”

“ ‘Walk up?’ Uh... OK.... Y-you know best....” Rainbow settled back down on the coverlet. She was a little surprised by how collected her friend was. Fluttershy had been a little hesitant while suggesting this whole massage thing, but now that they were into it, she was quite forward and, well, authoritative. She wasn’t usually this confident.

I guess she just knows what she’s doing. That would make you more confident, right? Gee, I sure hope she knows what she’s doing....

After Fluttershy had moved up her spine, making a few additional adjustments, and coaxed a disturbingly musical assortment of cracks and pops out of her neck, it was time for the muscles. Rainbow found it unexpectedly educational.

A few months ago, she had borrowed a collection of books on sports training from Twilight, hoping to learn some new techniques. One book had been a study of pony anatomy, but she had not been able to get much out of it. Twilight liked her charts big and busy, but Rainbow got lost in them. She was used to working out her routines using the feel of her body as it moved through each stage. Trying to match that intuitive sense to complex charts in a book had been more trouble than it was worth.

But with Fluttershy running her hooves along each muscle group, naming individual muscles as she picked them out, it all began to make sense to Rainbow. She was surprised at how many of the book’s complicated names she could remember.

She was also surprised at the sad state her body seemed to be in. Fluttershy’s probing hooves teased out sore spots and tender tendons wherever they went, finding them in places Rainbow didn’t even know she had!

“I’m always careful to stretch,” she protested.


“Well, almost always....”

“And you push yourself very hard as well, Rainbow -- but don’t worry. We’ll get you all sorted out.”

And she was. Fluttershy worked like a mass cloud-clearing, leaving nothing in her wake. She patiently worked down Rainbow's back and along both outer and inner wing surfaces, smoothing out every kink and knot she could find. Then she slid off to one side and straightened out Rainbow’s hips by twisting her hindquarters through a convoluted pattern that Rainbow would have sworn only Blossomforth could manage.

“Now, Rainbow, normally you’d lie on your back for the rest of this, but if it bothers you to have your wings pinned under you, I suppose you could lie on your side and I could do one flank at a time....”

“Well...” Rainbow craned her neck around and gazed at her wings, flapping them once. Then, with a sudden movement, she folded them tightly up, favouring her friend with a determined look. “What the hay. Let’s just do it the normal way.”

She rolled over quickly on her back, refusing to give herself enough time to reconsider. The floor felt surprisingly comfortable -- but then her back had not felt this loose in ages; that probably had something to do with it. Fluttershy squatted down on her hindquarters next to Rainbow and started working down her neck.

Rainbow twiddled her hooves absently. Part of her field of vision was taken up by Fluttershy, but she was busy concentrating on the massage, so Rainbow let her gaze drift past her and follow the contours of the ceiling. She shifted her back against the floor; decided that she didn’t feel too nervous.

“Hey, Fluttershy,” she said, “I gotta admit, this whole massage thing feels a lot better than I thought it would.”

“Oh, I’m so glad!” Fluttershy gushed happily. “Massages have so many benefits, especially for active ponies like you -- or Applejack, for that matter! Do you know she often goes to the spa? She’s not really into perms or facials, but they offer a whole set of massage services, and after a long week of farm-work, they’re just the thing to relax all those bunched-up muscles. Maybe the two of you could go together sometime?”

“Huh. I guess we could.” She give Fluttershy a tentative smile.

“Now brace yourself,” said Fluttershy, sliding her forehooves over Rainbow’s collarbone and positioning them at the top of her chest, on either side of the sternum, “I’m going to have to get a bit rough.”

“ ‘Rough?’ What for?”

“It’s time to work on your pectoral muscles,” she answered, suddenly shifting nearly all of her weight onto her forelegs and twisting her hooves to dig deep into the muscle. Then, with a small grunt of effort that somehow still managed to sound elegant, she parted her hooves and slid them down along either side of Rainbow’s ribcage, from the breastbone right to the base of the wings, keeping the pressure constant all the way down.

Rainbow’s eyes went wide; she felt her spine arch beneath and her hind legs kick the air reflexively. She sprawled back limply on the floor as Fluttershy reached the end of the stroke.

“Oh, wow,” Rainbow gasped in shocked surprise, as Fluttershy caressingly slid her hooves back up her friend’s chest, repositioning again on either side of the sternum, a half-hoof down from the previous position.

“H-hang on, are you going do... that all the way dowww--” Her sentence gave way to another gasp as Fluttershy’s hooves answered the question for her. Rainbow’s head slumped backwards on the coverlet as she ran her forehooves through her mane.

Sweet Celestia! How can something that hurts so much feel so good at the same time?!

“I did say it was a little trickier with wings,” said Fluttershy apologetically, repositioning again. “We pegasus ponies have all the -- hnnnffff -- muscles that unicorns and earth ponies have, but we also -- hnnnffff -- have an additional set of muscles to work -- hnnnffff -- our wings, and it just so happens that the avian -- hnnnffff -- pectoralis muscles overlay the equine ones -- hnnnffff -- with the supracoracoideus muscle, which -- hnnnffff -- creates the wing upstroke, lying right between them, so we -- hnnnffff -- need an awful lot of pressure to loosen up the -- hnnnffff -- lower muscle strata, especially in your case, since your -- hnnnffff -- wing musculature is so well-developed!

“There,” gasped Fluttershy, pausing to wipe the sweat from her brow with the back of one foreleg, “did you get all that, or.... Um, Rainbow?”

Rainbow lay somewhat askew on the floor before her, tongue lolling out and eyes counter-rotating in her head.

“Y-yeah,” Rainbow panted dazedly, “pecs get in the way -- n-need pressure. G-got it.” She shook her head to straighten out her eyes.

“How do you feel?”

“Well...” Rainbow shifted around experimentally and was immediately ‘rewarded’ with a virtual symphony of shooting aches and pains reverberating up and down her ribcage. She shuddered involuntarily, which only made it worse, before slumping limply back against the floor.

“I think the word is ‘sore’,” she groaned. “B-but not in a bad way! It’s like... all those aches you get after a really hard workout. Sure, it hurts, but... I don’t know, it makes you feel alive. Like you can feel every muscle, you know? Oh! Owww...” she groaned as another set of aches ran through her.

“I’m afraid it’s the only way to reach the deeply-buried muscles; the upper layer gets pretty sore. But now that we’ve loosened the underlying strata, we can focus on your outer pectorals and soothe all those aches away,” cooed Fluttershy reassuringly, moving back to the top of Rainbow’s ribcage to gently knead her traumatised muscles.

“I -- I’m not stopping you,” moaned Rainbow blissfully, as she felt all her aches progressively fade under her friend’s expert touch. Whoever said that it was the earth ponies who had their magic in their hooves never met Fluttershy, she decided.

“...Fluttershy, I don’t think I ever would have tried anything like this if it hadn’t been for you,” she admitted, “ so... thanks.”

Her friend blushed a little and dropped her gaze. “Oh, you’re very welcome, Rainbow,” she said, “but you don’t need to thank me. To be completely honest, this isn’t... entirely selfless.”


Fluttershy gave Rainbow a shy glance from within her flowing mane. “Promise you won’t laugh?”

“Uh, OK...?”

“To tell you the truth,” she explained, not taking her eyes off her work, “I’ve wanted to get my hooves on you for a long time.”

Rainbow blinked twice.

“It’s just,” Fluttershy continued hurriedly, “you’re so strong and so well-built -- it’s silly, but to an under-powered pony like me... I suppose I’m a little envious. Every part of you is so firm and toned,” she added admiringly.

And every part of you is silky and soft, Rainbow added silently. She looked away toward the ceiling, and then back at her forehooves, feeling a little awkward. She pressed her hooves together and sighed.

“Fluttershy, I’m... I’m always pushing you around or dragging you off places.... I don’t mean to upset you or anything, it’s just -- I don’t want you to miss out on stuff, I guess. We don’t -- don’t do that much together, so....” She looked away. “I’m sorry if it bothers you.”

“Oh, you know, Rainbow, I don’t mind that much. It is a little unsettling when you drag me off somewhere, but I can be a little shy, and a bit of a homebody, so I probably would miss out on a lot of things if I didn’t occasionally get a little push out the door.

“But no more dragons,” she added in a voice suddenly grown hard, skewering Rainbow with a withering stare.

“No more dragons!” Rainbow agreed desperately, holding up her forelegs to shield herself from her friend’s dreadful gaze. “I got the message, I promise! Pinkie-Promise, even!”

“Oh, good,” the once-again sweet and mild Fluttershy sighed with visible relief, moving off Rainbow’s abdomen and onto a hind leg.

“At any rate,” she continued, “I think I’m awfully lucky to have friends that want me to be the most I can be, even if it does mean pushing me out of my comfort zone... once in a while. So don’t worry about it.”

“Fluttershy... all this stuff -- I’ve never talked about it with any pony before, ever. Or let any pony just... do things to me. It, uh.... You help me be the most I can be.” Rainbow winced to hear her own words, pressing a hoof against her face in embarrassment. “Ugh, that sounds really sappy, but I mean it! Only I... don’t know how to say it right.”

Fluttershy favoured her with a small smile. Neither pony spoke as she finished working on Rainbow’s legs. Finally, she laid the last leg down onto the coverlet and gently slid one hoof back along Rainbow’s body to rest it on her chest.

“I didn’t do any work on your head this time, but aside from that, that’s more-or-less what a massage is like. How do you feel?”

Rainbow twisted back and forth and rolled out from under her friend’s hoof. Lying on her side, she flicked her tail up over her head, caught in it her forehooves, and pulled. Tilting her head back, she nearly managed to touch her nose to her dock. She let go of her tail and twisted onto her stomach, unfurling her wings. A quick snap sent her soaring, and she slithered through an extremely sinuous figure-eight and a tight cork-screw twist before coming to hover before Fluttershy.

“Did you see that?!” she laughed excitedly. “I’ve never been able to do anything that tight before! Heh, watch your flank, Blossomforth, Rainbow Dash is coming! Everything just feels so... fluid! I-I really needed that, and I didn’t even know! Thanks, Fluttershy!”

“You’re welcome, Rainbow, I’m glad it helped....” Fluttershy opened her mouth, as though she intended to add something more, but then seemed to hesitate.

This did not go unnoticed by Rainbow Dash. “What is it?”

“I was thinking, if that massage made you feel better, there’s... oh, but I’m not sure it’s such a good idea....”

“It can’t hurt just to hear it, right? Spit it out, and we’ll see.”

“There’s another type of massage we could try, only, it’s a... hoof massage,” she finished in an undertone.

“Oh,” said Rainbow uneasily, fore and hind hooves reflexively drawing into one another.

“The masseuse uses the tip of one hoof to apply gentle kneading pressure on a number of target points, called 'reflexes', in the soles of the recipient’s hooves,” explained Fluttershy as she demonstrated using her own forehooves. “Each reflex is supposed to correspond to a part of the body -- Twilight wasn’t too sure about how verifiable that was, but it really does help the recipient relax. Only of course, in your case, it would have... unpleasant side-effects.

“Rainbow, you react badly to other ponies touching your hooves because you associate the sensation to what that terrible foalsitter did to you when you were little. I thought, if we could just link something more pleasant to that feeling, it would help you overcome your problem.”

Fluttershy shook her head, clearly distressed. “Oh, but I don’t know if it really works that way! What if it makes things worse? Or just makes you feel awful? I’ve put you through enough today already!”

Rainbow drifted down to alight at Fluttershy’s side and put a hoof on her shoulder. “Hey, come on. You couldn’t know; I never told anypony. And you sure made up for it after! Don’t beat yourself up over that.” She sighed, let her foreleg slide off her friend’s shoulder, and walked off a few paces before sitting down on her haunches. She looked down at her forehooves.

“But I don’t know about this hoof massage thing either, Fluttershy.” She dropped her forehooves down and pressed then against the floor. “It’s... well, it’s kinda scary.” Rainbow was not one to admit fear readily, but she didn’t mind this time; she knew Fluttershy would understand.

“Hey,” answered Fluttershy, “close your wings and dive, right?”

Rainbow stared at her. Fluttershy smiled shyly and gave a timid shrug. Rainbow turned her face away. After a moment, her shoulders began to tremble.

“Rainbow?” asked Fluttershy, clearly anxious that she’d said the wrong thing.

Rainbow burst out laughing. She fell over backwards, rolling back and forth on the floor, clutching at her abdomen. For a long time, she simply could not stop.

“Aw, heck,” she gasped, still smiling, when she could speak again, “it’s what I do best, isn’t it?”

Fluttershy, who had been smiling, sobered suddenly.

“But listen, Rainbow: the thing about a dive is that you can pull out of it whenever you want. You don’t have to go all the way. I think... I think you feel you always need to prove yourself, to every pony you meet, every time you meet. You have so much potential, and you set such high goals for yourself -- and whenever you reach a new level, you set your sights even higher. I’ve always admired that about you. But you should do that for your own sake, not because... because you’re worried everypony will forget everything you’ve already done if you don’t keep coming up with new tricks!

“...Do you remember when we first met?”

“Sure I do.”

Fluttershy caught Rainbow’s gaze in her own.

“You’ve already proven yourself to me, Rainbow Dash. You don’t need to do it again. You can never fall in my eyes; only rise higher. And... you’re so good at that.”

Rainbow felt herself blush deeply. She looked away, nervously rubbing a forehoof against the opposite leg.

“I wasn’t trying to impress anypony,” she mumbled.

“I know. That’s why it did impress.”

“...Wow, Fluttershy. When did you get so forward?

“I-I did take an assertiveness course.... Is it too much?”

“No, it’s cool. It’s just, I think -- no, I know -- that’s the... the nicest thing any pony’s ever told me... and I, uh, I can’t come up with anything to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything, Rainbow. That was my point.”

“Aw, but that feels like short-changing you somehow....” She rubbed a foreleg over her eyes, swallowing hard. “Sorry, I’m mushing out a lot today, aren’t I? I just -- give me a minute....”

“...Would you like a glass of water?” Fluttershy asked tactfully. “There’s still a bit of that raincloud left.” Even Rainbow Dash could tell she was offering her some time alone without Rainbow having to ask for it.

“Yeah, I'd like that,” answered Rainbow with a grateful smile. “M-my throat is kinda dry.”

“I’ll be back in a little while,” added Fluttershy gently as she exited the room.

Rainbow’s tears began to fall the moment her friend had left. She wiped them away, only for more to well up in their place. But she was still smiling, because it didn’t hurt this time, it didn’t hurt at all, for it seemed Fluttershy didn’t mind all the awkwardness or the silences or the hang-ups or the shoving -- and the sheer relief of knowing that meant more to Rainbow than she could ever put into words.

She felt herself being nudged gently, and turned to find Tank standing there with a concerned expression on his small features. She picked him up and held him tightly.

“You always come and find me when I need you, don’t you?” laughed Rainbow through her tears. “But I’m not sad, you know? I’m glad! Real, real glad. I thought I’d lost her, Tank. I thought I was losing her and that I’d just smashed whatever was left, and I didn’t, and I wasn’t, and it’s all cool and... and I’m so happy, but I can’t stop crying. How freaky is that, huh?”

She clung to Tank for a long while. Everything in a cloud house was soft-textured and slightly yielding; even the new flooring was only semi-rigid. Rainbow liked the feel of the firm, rough shape of Tank’s shell, with its hard edges digging lightly into her flesh. It was oddly comforting.

“You know, Tank,” she reflected, “before you moved in, I don’t think I ever really noticed how empty this house can feel. Sometimes, it’s like... well, it’s all vapour, you know? I mean, that’s normal for a Cloudsdale house, and pegasus ponies can walk on clouds, but sometimes it just... feels a bit unreal. It’s nice to have something solid to hold onto....”

6 - Progress

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Rainbow had stopped crying by the time Fluttershy returned, holding a glass of water on a rather damp tray. “Sorry to keep you waiting,” she said apologetically, “I had a little trouble finding the glasses.”

Rainbow was sitting where Fluttershy had left her, leaning back against Tank and fiddling with the frog of one forehoof with the tip of the other. She looked up and smiled as she took the glass.

“Thanks, Fluttershy. Sorry my place is such a mess.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it, Rainbow.”

The two friends sat together in silence as Rainbow drained the glass of water.

“Fluttershy,” Rainbow asked at last, “this hoof massage... does it work on the frog at all?”

“The massage covers all parts of the sole, including the frog, yes.”

“Can you focus on that or something?”

“I can spend more time on the frog if you like. Would that make you feel better?”

“Yeah, I think it might. ...OK, let’s try it. I -- I want to give it a shot, at least.”

“Alright, Rainbow, if you’re sure. Now, we don’t need a hard surface for this, so we can move back onto the bed if that’s more comfortable. And again, if lying on your wings bothers you, you can lie on your side. As long as I can reach your hooves, we’ll be fine.”

Rainbow walked back to her bed and stood in thought for a moment. She unfurled her wings and flexed them a few times. Finally, she lay herself down in the centre of the bed, on her back -- but with her wings spread out to either side of her, rather than folded up beneath her. I can always switch up if it bothers me, she told herself. Fluttershy settled down next to her, on her right side.

“Remember, Rainbow: you’re the one in control here. We can stop whenever you like, and there’s no need to push yourself; if it’s not working, we can always try something else.”

“I know, Fluttershy,” Rainbow reassured her. She took a deep breath, let it out slowly, if somewhat unsteadily, and extended her right forehoof to her friend. She looked up at the high ceiling, with a strong feeling of butterflies in her stomach.

Just think of something nice; something positive, she told herself. She closed her eyes.

“I can’t feel it.”
“It’s there, Rainbow. I promise!”
“Move your hooves a little to the left, Rainbow.”
“No, the other left.”
“How can there be two lefts, Derpy?!”
“Oh! I felt it! Ohmygoshohmygosh I can feel it! It’s true! It’s a horn! You’re -- you’re going to have a unicorn! Iiii! It’s moving -- It tickles!”

Rainbow jerked violently as her friend touched a hooftip to the sole of her hoof, but Fluttershy had hooked a foreleg just behind Rainbow's hoof, and her leverage kept Rainbow’s leg stationary.

“S-sorry,” muttered Rainbow, embarrassed.

“Don’t apologise, Rainbow. We both knew this was going to be difficult for you.” Fluttershy shifted her hooftip back and forth, kneading a point in Rainbow’s sole. Rainbow felt her frog shift. “This is what a hoof massage feels like. I’m basically going to work my way over your entire sole like this. It doesn’t hurt, does it?”

“N-no. It doesn’t hurt.”

“Good. If I do hit a sore spot, you need to tell me right away so I can work around it. Aside from that, just... try to relax.”

“Relax. Y-yeah, OK. Sure. Right.” Rainbow’s heart was beating madly against her ribs. She was already breathing hard. She tried to take a deep breath and found she couldn’t hold it in. She crossed her left foreleg over her eyes to shut out as much distraction as possible, but the real distraction was the contact with her sole. Fluttershy was being as gentle as possible, but her touch alone was enough to set her friend off.

Rainbow writhed involuntarily on the bed, her wings twisting beneath her. She felt trapped; worse, she felt scared, because she couldn’t keep her thoughts clear and she couldn’t fight or run from any of this because it was always lurking inside her and was now rising to swallow her again --

She was being pulled out of a closet, curled into a tight ball with her hooves pressed together as hard as she could, so no pony could get to her soles, but it was useless: she was too ticklish, she had too many sensitive areas, she couldn’t cover them all, and she wasn’t strong enough; she was being pinned, her hooves were being forced apart, and all the time she had that evil, sneering voice in her ears and she couldn’t breathe --

I’ve got to tell Fluttershy to stop. I can’t take this. I can’t breathe! This is --

“Hyperventilation,” chirped a voice in the back of her mind.


It was not been the taunting voice she had been dreading. In fact, it sounded a lot like Twilight Sparkle’s.

“Hyperventilation,” the voice continued in Twilight’s prim, didactic tones, “is a state characterised by overly-rapid or overly-deep breathing, depleting the carbon dioxide content of the bloodstream and thus compromising oxygen uptake....”

Rainbow recognised these words: she had read them in one of those books on physical training that she had borrowed from Twilight. But she had only skimmed that passage, since it described symptoms she had never encountered while flying, and she had been alone when she went over the book; why the words were coming back to her now, in Twilight’s voice, she could not guess.

“...Said uptake is further compromised by the increasing alkalinity of the bloodstream brought about by decreasing carbon dioxide levels --”

Great, thought Rainbow. Even in my head she can’t stop lecturing. Mare in distress, here? Can we just skip to what to do about it?

“...The best immediate means to counter hyperventilation are to encourage the sufferer to deliberately slow her rate of breathing by counting in her head during inhalation and exhalation --”

Rainbow tried to take a deep, slow breath -- and choked, blowing it back out almost immediately.

“...The sufferer will be unable to do this at first, but what matters is the attempt. By endeavouring to control her breathing and employing a counting technique, the sufferer draws her attention away from the panic response that accompanies hyperventilation, ultimately enabling her to progressively reassert control over her respiratory --”

OK, got it! You can lay off now, Rainbow told her inner Twilight.

Rainbow tried again, and choked again. It said it was going to be hard at first, she reminded herself, just keep at it!

She tried once more, counting as she drew a breath in: One....

She was forced to blow it out.

It felt like drowning, but she fixated on her count as a drowning pony might clutch at a passing branch. Her whole world shrank: there was nothing beyond the next breath. At each measured inhalation, her instincts rebelled, begging, crying, screaming for more air, more, faster, we’re dying, we need air, air! It took every ounce of willpower she had to keep at her count; she would remember it as one of the most brutal struggles she had ever fought.

Fought, and won. It was hard going -- radiant Celestia, how it was hard! -- but slowly, ever so slowly, the count increased. She could repeatedly reach a count of two, then three, then five.... As she gained more control, she was able to progressively draw out the exhale as well. And as her breathing stabilised, the blind, desperate panic that had been gripping her gradually eased, and her wings and hindquarters stopped thrashing.

...Nine ...ten ...eleven. Inhale: one... two... three....

“Rainbow? Rainbow, how -- how are you feeling?”

Rainbow drew her foreleg off her face and blinked up dazedly at Fluttershy.


“I’ve finished with your right forehoof. Are you... alright? I was worried when we started, but you managed to calm down towards the end....”

“I... feel a bit dizzy, actually,” said Rainbow, “but I think I’m OK.” She was lathered in sweat. She pulled her right foreleg out of Fluttershy’s hooves, stretched it up towards the ceiling.

“My leg tingles a bit.”

“Oh, that’s a natural side effect of working the frog: it hyper-oxygenates the leg. It’s a good, mild detox as well.”

“...Cool,” said Rainbow, still a little light-headed. “Are you gonna do the left leg, now?”

“Do you want me to, Rainbow?”

Rainbow favoured her friend with a weak smile. “Yeah. I think... I think I can actually do this.”

Her friend returned her smile. “Alright then, it stops when you want it to.”

Fluttershy lifted off with a few wing flaps and drifted gently over Rainbow, repositioning herself on Rainbow’s left side. The blue pegasus extended her left foreleg to her friend, folding her right foreleg over her eyes.

Inhale: one... two... three....

Rainbow opened her eyes, frowned, blinked a few times, and rubbed a foreleg across her eyes. When had it gotten so dark? She rose sleepily to a half-seated position, disturbing in the process the coverlet that had been draped over her. She pushed the bedsheets back absentmindedly as she looked around.

Night had fallen. As her eyes adjusted to the gloom, she noticed a mound in the blanket next to her, and a swirl of pink hair emerging from beneath. The sight made her smile: Fluttershy had never liked night-flying. She had probably felt safer staying over.

Rainbow slipped out of bed very gingerly, cautious not to wake her friend. As she did, she very nearly tripped over Tank; the tortoise was snoring softly, curled up in his shell, at the foot of the bed, perched on a battered old wooden case. Rainbow gently stroked the shell with a hoof, before spreading her wings and gliding silently over to the balcony door. She carefully opened the door and stepped out into the balcony, crossing it and standing at the railing, forelegs up on the railing and her chin in one hoof.

The cool night air felt crisp and clean, and Rainbow breathed it in eagerly. It helped clear her head as she reviewed the day’s events in her mind. What a strange day it had been! She looked up -- straight up -- at the glorious swath of stars wheeling majestically overhead. Rotating on a hind leg, she leaned back against the railing and tilted her head back as far as she could. She could see virtually the entire star field visible beyond the overhang of her roof -- right down to the horizon behind her, if she rolled her eyes back as far as they could go.

Had she ever been this flexible? Even now, she could only half-believe it. Massages really worked! And how could she have failed to notice the mess her body was in? That was something she needed to address: it was one thing to push oneself, quite another to neglect an injury. She could really hurt her performance -- and herself! And she felt so much more able right now. Ironically, it seemed going a bit easier on herself could help her accomplish more.

Maybe I ought to try a few appointments at the spa, she thought ruefully. Or... or maybe Fluttershy wouldn’t mind doing this again, sometime. I’m -- I’m game if she is! It’d be something we could do together. Maybe she could teach me some of that stuff; it’d be nice to return the favour....

A cloud of concern crossed her face. Would she be too rough? Fluttershy was a little delicate.... She looked down at her forehooves, rubbed them together.

She did say I had deft hooves, though, Rainbow reminded herself. The thought made her smile, as she looked back into the bedroom where her friend lay. Something drew her gaze to Tank, illuminated in a ray of silvery moonlight, sleeping on her grooming kit.

...Didn’t we leave that downstairs?

She gave a sudden start. She stared at her hooves, rubbed them together again, then lifted off to inspect her rear hooves as well. They were trimmed. All four of them were neatly trimmed and cleaned. Rainbow could not believe her own eyes. When had this happened?

Did I...? I fell asleep? She was fiddling with my hooves and I fell asleep?! Ha! Graze on that, you sick --

A sudden shudder ran through Rainbow at the thought of her sadistic foalsitter. Her ears flattened against her head and her hooves pulled tightly against each other of their own accord, forelegs pressed against her chest.

Breathe, Rainbow, breathe! The count, remember? Inhale; one... two... three....

By the time she had cycled her breath four times, her heart rate had returned to normal, and she was able to will her clenched muscles to relax. She slid one forehoof past the other and used the hooftip to depress the frog of the opposite hoof.

OK, so there’s no miracle cure. That’s fine. We’ll just file today under... ‘progress.’

A determined smile crept over Rainbow’s face. Even this felt like such a victory! Had she won a championship derby she could not have felt more triumphant. She was suddenly giddy with excitement. Oh, this called for a celebration! She wanted to rocket around her home a few times and streak out over Ponyville with her patented Buccaneer Blaze, or --

Actually, no. The victory fly-by could wait until tomorrow, when there were ponies to see it. And after that, she would drop by Derpy’s place for a visit. She was overdue for some catching up. At the moment, however, there was something else she wanted to do.

Rainbow snuck back into the room, drifting up to the bed as silently as she could. She slid back under the covers ever so carefully, so as not to wake her sleeping friend. She snuggled down next to Fluttershy, pushing down softly on the cloud mattress just behind her, slowly rolling her friend into her forelegs and taking her up in a gentle hug.

Rainbow brought her mouth up to Fluttershy’s ear. “Thanks, pal,” she whispered, “I’m... I’m really glad you stayed.”

Fluttershy flicked her ear twice and moaned something incoherent. She writhed gently, wriggling deeper into Rainbow’s embrace, before sinking back into deeper slumber with her forehooves clutching softly at Rainbow’s own.

Smiling, Rainbow buried her face into her friend’s silky mane and drifted off to sleep, borne on the scent of meadowflowers.

~ FIN ~

Author's Afterward

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Greetings, everypony! Thanks for reading my 'fic! This is one of the first pieces of creative writing I've done in my life, and certainly the first I've shared with complete strangers on the 'Net, so your kind comments were very encouraging! I'm sorry for those who seemed to be expecting a much longer tale, but this was a first attempt, and I felt it reached a natural conclusion. This story is, after all, about Rainbow and Fluttershy making, well, Contact. Further developments in their relationship will have to be explored in later stories -- or I suppose I could switch this story's status back to "Incomplete" and keep going from there. Either way, I didn't want to keep waiting indefinitely for something that may not come.

I realise an afterword isn't standard procedure at, but while I've seen authors post their acknowledgements and attributions in their stories' long descriptions, I felt it would interfere with the description's aim of hooking potential readers, and so I've added them as an additional chapter. As long as I publish it immediately after the last chapter to contain actual story, I shouldn't get a "bump" and so abuse the submission system.

This story owes a great debt to CLAVDIVS CEASAR's Ditzy Doo's Dismally Derpy Day, already mentioned in the Author's Notes. Not only did the author dream up an explanation for Derpy's cutie mark so fitting that I simply can't imagine it meaning anything else (and thus, I used it in this 'fic), but the details on hoof structure prompted me to do a little research on my own, which led directly to my imagining that pegasi might need to trim their hooves regularly, creating the hook for this story.

I would like to extend a big thanks to my pre-reader for all the helpful input!

This story is dedicated to Mai, who taught me that tickling isn't always fun and games.

"Is this really Romance?" Alternatively, "Isn't this Dark?"

I hesitated over whether to add the Romance and Dark tags to this story.

I put something quite dark in Rainbow's past, but the story isn't about her abuse, but about that abuse acting as a catalyst to allow her to finally open up to another pony, about many things that might have been weighing on her mind, especially when one considers how much Dashie has grown as a pony since she first crashed into Twilight in "The Mare in the Moon." As such, I felt that the Dark tag didn't reflect the tone, and that the Teen rating and cover picture were sufficient.

Contrariwise, this 'fic can be read as a pure friendship 'fic, but I felt the Romance tag was necessary, because I see Rainbow Dash & Fluttershy's relationship as romantic.

Edit: I have since removed the tag. While I see their relationship in this story as romantic -- my reasons are explained below -- a number of commentators didn't, and ultimately tags serve as tools to guide readers to the stories they want to read. A reader coming here expecting a full-blown FlutterDash romance is going to be disappointed, so I finally decided the tag would be best unchecked, at least until I return and extend the story.

Both pegasi were raised in Cloudsdale, and both left it behind, moving to Ponyville. Fluttershy's reasons for doing so are obvious: she didn't belong in the clouds. Rainbow, on the other hand, clearly loves Cloudsdale: this is obvious even in "Sonic Rainboom," and Discord broke her by trapping her between her loyalty to her friends and her loyalty to her home -- explicitly shown to be Cloudsdale. Further, she aspires to join the Wonderbolts, and she lives for flying. Everything about her, right down to her colour palette -- rainbow on azure -- calls her skywards... and yet she turned her back on that sky to live in Ponyville, a sleepy (well, it was, until Twilight came) little town where she works a two-bit job as a weather pony, a job that clearly neither interests nor challenges her.

The only thing that could have drawn her there was Fluttershy, and yet Fluttershy proved such a draw that she outweighed everything else. This is all the more telling when we realise that Rainbow and Fluttershy can hardly be described as "friends," at least according to C.S. Lewis.

Lewis termed the love between friends philia, and defined it as a powerful bond that comes from sharing mutual interests or activities. Rainbow is ceaselessly trying to do things with Fluttershy, mostly by forcibly dragging her off on escapades, but once even trying something Fluttershy wanted to do (specifically, watching the butterfly migration referenced in "Dragon Quest"). Rainbow is trying hard to develop philia with Fluttershy, but one must wonder why it matters so much to her.

She actively avoided Pinkie Pie, regarding her as a nuisance, until she learned that they were both pranksters. She didn't spend time with Twilight until she discovered the joys of reading, after which she began dropping by the library. She has yet to voluntarily do anything with Rarity that didn't involve the whole group, because they share virtually nothing in common. And yet, while Fluttershy has no more in common with Rainbow than Rarity, Rainbow keeps trying to make friends.

I believe that Rainbow actually craves romantic love, which Lewis called eros, from Fluttershy, probably without realising it. Eros is characterised by a deep, intimate emotional connection to another, or at least, the longing for such a connection. (Note that it need not involve physical attraction.) While this story is only the tentative beginning of a possible romance, my view of their relationship coloured the writing throughout, and thus I felt the Romance tag was necessary.