“So... this is my house. Pretty cool, huh?”
“It’s so... big.”
The word that Fluttershy was really looking for was ‘empty’, but that assessment sounded a little bit harsh. Still, it was unnerving to stare at a house made entirely of clouds. It wasn’t entirely without decoration, of course. Here a column stretched up toward the ceiling, finely crafted in the classical Peloponysian style. There a long bench grew up out of the floor. And off in the next room there was the rainbow pool. But it was all so... sterile, and not at all what she had expected. There were no posters of the Wonderbolts, no clutter, no hastily discarded training equipment, no anything. Fluttershy gave the place another wide-eyed look that shook her rain-soaked mane just enough to send it flopping over her eye. Oh right. No towels, either.
“Um, do you have any way to... you know...”
“To... oh! Not really, no. Usually just let the wind and the sun take care of it, it’s easier that way.”
Rainbow Dash now found herself staring almost nose to nose at the saddest looking pony she had ever laid eyes on. The whimpering, watery look in Fluttershy’s one visible eye would have been enough to melt even Nightmare Moon’s icy heart. Naturally, it had Dash rolling on the floor in stitches.
“Pffff...hahahaha! Oh wow, you should see yourself, Fluttershy! You look so... bahaha!”
It took quite a while for the sky blue pegasus to compose herself. She hadn’t laughed that hard since... actually, when had she laughed that hard? This was even funnier than Pinkie Pie’s pranks, or that time she actually managed to catch Twilight reading ‘The Egghead’s Guide to Running’. The why of it escaped her completely; maybe she just needed to laugh? Whatever the reason, Dash felt like she could have laid there chuckling all night, if another look at the now thoroughly miserable and humiliated Fluttershy hadn’t snapped her out of it.
“Um, this isn’t... what we’re going to do all night, is it?”
“Sorry, sorry,” Dash managed between snickers as she finally stood herself back up, “Lemme think. The usual would kind of destroy my house, so... let’s try this instead.”
With a grin and a wink, she reared back onto her hind legs, and began to beat her powerful wings. Fluttershy winced as a stiff breeze wafted over her body. With nothing substantial or at all very groundlike to dig her hooves into, she worried very much that she would get blown through a wall and back into the rain. Already a hundred different disaster scenarios were playing out in her head, the worst of which ended with a stern admonishment from Rainbow Dash for being careless enough to damage her home. But all of the usual doubts and fears couldn’t stop the rush of air from feeling much warmer and more exhilarating than she knew it was supposed to. Gradually she began to lean into the pegasus powered winds, a smile creeping its way onto her face.
And then all at once, it ended with Dash on the floor laughing again. It was no mystery as to why: Fluttershy could feel the way her mane had managed to stick itself in a blown back position, as if a firecracker had gone off too close to her face. Her own soft giggles joined the other mare’s laughter in filling the room as she prodded the disobedient pink tuft back into its well-trained position framing her face.
“Thank you, that’s much be-- oh my goodness, your wings!”
“What? What’s wrong with them!?” In that instant the warmth of the previous moment evaporated. Dash tensed and whipped her head around to check her pride and joy.
“N-no, nothing!” Fluttershy squeaked, wincing at her word choice. “It’s just, um... well, your feathers are so... ruffled. Isn’t it uncomfortable for you?”
“Eh, this is nothin’. You can’t be a Wonderbolt if you let getting a little messy bother you, right?” Dash was grinning now, holding her head high.
“Still, um, maybe I could straighten them for you? I’m really good at tending to wings, and... I want to say thank you. For, um, letting me stay the night.”
Rainbow Dash was silent. She stared at Fluttershy long and hard, only breaking away to look at her wings again. They really were a mess. It was a minor miracle she hadn’t sprained them, if she was being honest with herself. Even so, the idea of ‘proper’ grooming irked her. That was for prissy ponies like Rarity, not a rough and tumble ace flier like her. Champion athletes took care of themselves, and that was that. She turned to face Fluttershy again, to say ‘thanks but no thanks’, and there was that yellow pegasus with a look of half apprehension and half hope on her face. And then the words got muddled up in her throat. ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ Not that hard to say. But what came out was:
“Eh, what the hay. Just this once, though.” Dash tried to hide her own vexation with a calm-as-you-like shrug of her shoulders.
“Oh, great! Here, just lie down and stay still...”
It was incredible, the way Fluttershy’s confidence suddenly shot up now that she was in control of the situation. Dash flopped against the soft clouds that made up her floor and tried not to tense up, now that she wasn’t in control anymore. She chanced a nervous look at the other mare, who just smiled.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle...”
There was a tiny bit of pressure as Fluttershy pressed a hoof gingerly against Dash’s spine. A small whooshing noise as the blue-feathered wings snapped to full extension of their own accord. The softest of laughs from Fluttershy as she watched all this happen. Rainbow Dash felt her cheeks flush crimson. Great, now even her own body was betraying her. And the sensations had just begun.
It was unlike anything she’d ever felt before. Here she would feel Fluttershy’s snout brush up against her and gently coerce a feather back into proper alignment. There she would feel a tickling sensation where that soft pink mane would fall along the edge of the bones and musculature. And every so often, a gentle nip from the other pony’s teeth, fine tuning the work. Rainbow Dash liked that feeling the most. She shivered each time, then relaxed a little more. By the end, her brain was the only part of her that hadn’t softened into putty, and even that was only because it had been working on overdrive to keep from letting any embarrassing noises slip out.
“Oh my gosh...” she managed at last.
Fluttershy smiled demurely and lay down alongside her longtime crush. That had gone better than she could have hoped for. At least now Dash would have something to remember her by other than the ums and squeaks and that miserably awkward confession from the afternoon. It made her feel bold. It made her feel confident. It made her feel - she let out a tiny yawn - tired. She let her head rest against the floor, and closed her eyes.
“Bed time, huh?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I just, well, I’m not normally up so late.”
“No worries, Fluttershy. It’s been a long day and stuff. Lemme guess though: you’re gonna need a blanket.”
“I-If you have one, it’d be... nice.”
Rainbow Dash chuckled. “I swear, you are the least pegasusy pegasus ever. It’s like you were secretly meant to be an earth pony.”
“I’m sorry...” Fluttershy frowned ever so slightly. She had a feeling this would be a blanketless night, after all. The thought was interrupted almost immediately by something warm and soft draping over her. And feathery. She looked to her left to see Dash’s wing stretched over her, and suddenly a rosy color joined the soft yellow one on her cheeks.
“Best I’ve got. Does it work?”
If Fluttershy nodded any faster, her head would have fallen off. As it was, she merely drew another long laugh out of Rainbow Dash. Such a pretty sound. She snuggled up against Dash’s side, reveling in the warmth and firmness of the athlete’s body, and let her eyes drift shut again.
“Heh... goodnight, Fluttershy.”
“Goodnight, Rainbow Dash.”
Morning came entirely too quickly. Fluttershy awoke, reluctantly at first and then all at once as she realized she was by herself. She looked around frantically, but everwhere there were clouds... and no Rainbows. She was all alone, in Rainbow Dash’s house. And without the brightly colored pegasus there, it managed to seem even emptier than it had in the night. She squealed in fright, backing into a wall only to leap into the air when she hit it. If it was true what they said, that a pony’s home was a window into their heart, then why was it so empty? Her heart raced as she hurried outside, tripping on a note that had been left there for her. Dash’s writing style was something she hadn’t seen before. Aggressive strokes rushed across the page, somehow oddly elegant considering the haste with which it was written. It definitely suited the pony who penned it. Fluttershy smiled at the thought, and focused now on the words:
“Sorry to bail on you. Couldn’t sleep anymore, and I’ve got my hooves full today clearing up last night’s storm. Not coming back until late, so just head on home when you get up.
Actually, I think it’d be better if we just kept to ourselves for a while. I’ve gotta think about a lot of stuff, and I get all screwed up when I’m looking at you. Give me a day or two. I’ll figure this out.
PS. Shouldn’t have to say this, but you’d better not tell anypony about any of this. Not. A. Word.
Fluttershy wasn’t sure how many times she read that note. Or how many different ways she’d interpreted it. Minutes ticked by in silence until at last she sighed quietly, folded the paper in half, and held it in her mouth just long enough to fly down to the ground, after which she tucked it under a wing.
She supposed that it would be faster to fly home, but at the moment she didn’t particularly feel like doing anything very fast. The past day had been more than full of enough risks and frights and thrills, and now there was a very real need for the comforting sensation of having all four hooves on solid ground. For something safe and familiar. For – her stomach churned and gurgled, interrupting her thoughts – for something to eat. The walk home was long but quiet; tiny beams of early morning light shone through a line of violent tears in the clouds and wove an intricate tapestry of both turmoil and peace over all of Ponyville, that only two particular pegasus ponies would fully understand.
Breakfast was a quick and simple affair: a plain salad garnished with a daisy or two she happened to have leftover from the last time she'd cooked. She didn't bother to savor it. The mood wasn't there, and there really wasn't time, not with all the animals that needed her after she had abandoned them last night in favor of her night with Rainbow Dash. Guilt gnawed at her, and it emptied her plate in a flash and hurried her straight back out the door.
In reality, there was very little to worry about. The ferrets, the songbirds, the turtles, the chickens, and the bunnies each greeted her with cheerful expressions and happy chittering, and if they had been upset to miss her in the night they only showed it by being pleased she had returned. The only creature who seemed at all upset with her was Angel... and if Fluttershy was being honest with herself, it would honestly have been more concerning if he had been something other than upset. But she wasn't being honest, and showered the poor bunny with apologies.
“Oh Angel, I'll never do it again! That was so selfish and cruel, I... what if something had happened to you?” She nudged an Apology Carrot toward him, the third one of the day. He tossed it back in her face.
“You must be so angry at me. I understand,” she repeated for the umpteenth time, pushing the carrot to him again, “If it hadn't been an emergency, I wouldn't have even done it this once!”
Angel pawed at his face. For as many lectures as Fluttershy gave him about tummy aches, she could be remarkably stupid when it came to figuring out how much food he could actually fit in his little bunny body. But, he knew the timid pegasus better than she knew herself: when she got like this then something was bothering her. And lately the only thing that had been bothering her was that technicolor nightmare that went by the name:
“Rainbow Dash...” Fluttershy sighed the name. Angel braced for impact. Time to earn his keep as her diminutive confidante... “I really hurt her yesterday, maybe more than anypony has before. Well, that's... but... um... anyway, it was so, so important to tell her how sorry I was. I stood waiting all day and night just to make sure she got the message.”
What, was that it? No way. There was definitely more to it than some little tiff. Angel folded his arms over his chest and glared up at her, trying his best to will her to continue before she popped. To Fluttershy, it looked a bit like he was hugging the carrot.
“Can I tell you something, Angel? She accepted my apology. And then... she asked me to come inside her house! She helped dry me off from the rain, and we even... snuggled,” Her cheeks tinged red with embarrassment at the mere mention of the word. The scandal! Imagine if somepony heard her... she cleared her throat and tried to get back on her train of thought, “But, I don't understand what any of it means. She was gone by morning, and there was this note, and... I can't tell if she feels the same way as me, or if she was just being a good friend. Oh! I don't even know if she's even really interested in mares! Angel, I'm so stupid. It was so stupid to tell her...”
Tears were welling up in her eyes, and she trembled trying to hold herself together. Angel hopped over next to her... and kicked her foreleg as hard as he could. She startled, met his 'are you kidding me or are you just stupid' stare, and nodded.
“You're right,” she sniffled, “I shouldn't worry about Rainbow so much when you and the other animals still need me. Besides, I'd just get in her way. She should have somepony brave and adventurous, like she is. Somepony who can cheer right when she's doing amazing stunts. It's only been one night, and I'm already being a burden. I'll... tomorrow. Tomorrow I'll tell her I don't want a relationship. Today I'll pretend that I do. Um, that is, unless you think I shouldn't.”
Angel shook his head, and Fluttershy meekly winced. It was moments like this he hated the language barrier between them. If he could, he'd shout at her for giving up on her dreams so quickly. He'd kick her for using him as an excuse to do so, but he'd already tried that and it only made things worse. If she was this determined to break her own heart... what could he do? In the sky above, the last clouds were breaking up and fading into nothing. And rabbit climbed on top of pony, and together they watched the deep blue that carried Celestia's sun across the sky...
Morning took its sweet time coming. Rainbow Dash had woken up and fallen asleep a good five times waiting for the sun to rise, and each time she did she was startled by the presence of Fluttershy curled up under her outstretched wing. And every time she woke up, she would move to stand up and walk around, but the sleeping pegasus beneath her would stir and guilt compelled her to stay right where she was. And now, she was stiff and uncomfortable, trying not to fidget while she waited for the right excuse to finally start moving around.
At long last, she saw something that remotely resembled daylight, and her muscles screamed at her to get the hay going, already. Gingerly, she extricated herself from the two-pegasus pileup, and sighed with relief when Fluttershy slumbered on. The second she stood up, Dash tripped and nearly face planted on the floor, noting with displeasure that both of her right legs and her wing were all limp and crawling with that tingly-asleep feeling that she always swore was a punishment for ponies wasted the day sitting still. She made several angry faces as she shook the appendages out, getting blood flowing again and regaining her range of movement. Gah. Stupid...
She couldn't finish the thought. Watching her as she slept, it didn't sit right blaming Fluttershy for something Dash had basically volunteered for. But all of those poets and authors who romanticized sleeping positions like that were going to catch holy hell if she ever talked to one, that was for sure. Puh. Bunch of eggheads probably never tried it in their lives. Not that this was meant to be romantic to begin with. Just... making something up to a good friend. But for some reason that thought made her chest get tight and made it difficult to breathe. She could feel tears welling in her eyes as memories of the previous day flooded over her. She sighed quietly; maybe it would be better to just get an early start on the day...
She was halfway out the door before guilt called her back. Stealthily, she glided across the house and fetched a pencil and a spare bit of paper, and scribbled a note. It took a much longer time to write that little note than her penmanship would suggest. Rainbow Dash stared uselessly at the blank paper, pen dangling from her mouth, for minutes on end. The words she needed were swimming around in her head, but how could she make them come out? Maybe if she started with an apology. Suddenly her pen was dancing across the page, and while the words that came out weren't quite the ones she was expecting, they worked. She shrugged, slipped the note somewhere Fluttershy could find it, and got out her flight goggles. And with that she was gone, into the open skies and free. Free to fly, free to think.
As hour after hour drifted away in the winds like the clouds she was breaking against her hooves, it occurred to Rainbow Dash that she wasn't really in a thinking mood. The leftover rain clouds were heavy, and getting them broken up and moved where they should be took a lot of concentration. And every time she let her mind wander, her wings would freeze up and she'd drop a good thirty feet. Which was utterly humiliating, even without the rest of the weather team (or anypony for that matter) there to see her fall. She could hear the mocking laughter ringing in her head anyway. 'Nice one, Rainbow Crash!' the imaginary voice crowed, again and again. By the time noon had come, she was scowling and ready to scream at the first pony to try and make conversation. And, she was noticing, her wings were getting messed up again. She'd never cared about things like that before... which only made her blood boil more.
“Screw it. I'm done today. If the guys can't keep schedule with this kind of head start, it's their flanks, not mine.” she snapped at the empty air, tearing off a chunk of the cloud she had been working with and flying off with it for use as a bed.
But Dash wasn't in a sleeping mood, either. Her brain didn't seem to care that she didn't want to think, it was going to and damn the consequences. Mostly, it wanted to think about relationships. About how nice it would be to have somepony to spend the days with, to share her secrets and never ever judge her. Somepony who would support her and help work to make her dreams come true.
“I'm going to be a Wonderbolt,” she told her brain while reclining on her bit of cloud, “So I've gotta be out there training all the time. I don't have any time for this mushy stuff.”
Oh, sure. Because there's totally no Wonderbolts who are married or anything. Name 'em, Dash. You know you can.
Now there was a war zone floating over Ponyville. The air crackled with an unseen electricity as Rainbow Dash leaped up from her reclining position to glare down at the cloud she had been trying to rest on. And, as clouds are wont to do, this one seemed to take on a shape. In this case, it was a face. Her face. Cloud-Dash stared back with a look of haughty contempt, and the battle between pegasus and imagination was on.
“W-well... ok, fine. But that's different! There's a commitment! I can't stop training just because I wanna be with somepony, I'm not swapping dreams here! I've got to stay focused, not go chasing tails I'd hardly ever get the chance to see.” She punctuated the thought with a harsh stomp of her left front hoof.
Yo, watch the face! Her wispy mirror-self recoiled, taking a moment before flashing a sardonic grin. Is this the true face of Rainbow Dash I'm seeing? Big, tough Dashie is scared to go after something she wants because it might not work out?
“Hey, who said I wanted--”
Cut it out! You can fool the others with that garbage, but not me. Not me, and not you. Quit trying to lie to yourself, you want her. You want her bad. Now, come on. You wanna train? You wanna be a Wonderbolt? Do you really think Fluttershy of all ponies doesn't know that? Someone as special as her wouldn't help you make it work?
“Fluttershy is not special,” Rainnow Dash snarled, “Somepony who says 'I love you' isn't special! She's just some stupid pony with a crush who can't see the way things really are!”
The cloud rolled its eyes, an act which started to break it apart. No, not special. Just the first one to say it. First one to mean it. Only one to put up with your nonsense for... how many years, now? Yeah, they're just selling Fluttershys on the corner for a Bit a dozen, huh? You're a piece of work, Rainbow Dash. And you don't deserve her. Screw this, I'm out of here.
As the face distended, it seemed to try and spit on the pony who had been standing on it. Rainbow Dash felt moisture on her cheek. And then more. And more, like a tiny stream. She looked up, trying to find the rain cloud that had been moved over her, and it dawned on her: tears. Crying again. Crying again. Beneath her hooves, the cloud dissipated unnoticed. Not just crying, but falling as well. The momentum took a moment to register, and Dash scrambled to pull up, but too little too late. Her wings were sluggish, her body was made of lead. She crashed against the ground, kicking up a wave of dust.
She sighed, shakily standing herself back up and giving her body a once over. A little bit of bruising, maybe a muscle tweak or two, but at least everything seemed to be working. But heavy, much too heavy. She had told Fluttershy to wait a day or two, but if she gave it any more thought it might kill her. Besides, she knew what she needed to say. She turned in the direction of Fluttershy's cottage, and... began to walk.
“I don't deserve it.”
The sun had already drifted to the horizon by the time Rainbow Dash reached her destination, the brilliant yellow sphere now melted into a soft red light. Somewhere, a poet was looking over this same scene and putting a pen between his teeth to describe the beauty of it all for lover's eyes. And it was easily the most beautiful sunset that anypony had ever rejected another under, Dash thought to herself. She paused to take a deep breath. This was going to hurt; Fluttershy would almost certainly cry, and she had to make sure not to join her. But this wasn't love, and it wouldn't work. And even if it was, even if it could... it wouldn't. Just cut to the chase. She could see Fluttershy sitting outside just a little ways away, watching the sunset with that rabbit she was always with. Ok, showtime.
“Rainbow Dash?” Fluttershy squeaked and whipped herself around with a speed that had Angel clinging desperately to her mane. “I... um, I didn't think I'd see you again so soon. What's – oh my goodness, what happened? Are you ok?”
“It's nothing, I'm fine. Just... a minor accident working out.” Dash lied. She coughed in the awkward silence that followed, and quickly tried to re-rail the conversation, “Look, we need to talk.”
Fluttershy nodded meekly, unconvinced and unsure how to press the issue. She could tell the blue pegasus had been crying, and wanted nothing more than to hug her and nuzzle her rainbow colored mane and tell her that everything would be all right. But more than ever she could see Rainbow Dash needed to be set free. She swallowed hard and opened her mouth to say the words, and got a face full of rabbit foot for her troubles. Angel shook his head and pointed frantically at Rainbow Dash.
“I need to tell you,” she began, “that I...”
Don't get distracted by the bunny, Dash. Stay on message. Pony up, look her in the eyes and say it. 'I don't love you. You're my friend, but I don't want that kind of relationship.' Say it. Get it out and move on.
The words balled up in her throat. Damn it Dash, stop over thinking it. You can do Rainbooms, you can do this.
“I want to be with you.”
“I-It's ok, Rainbow. I under-- you do!?” Fluttershy's eyes widened. And though she didn't mean for them to, they twinkled.
“I want to be with you.” Rainbow Dash repeated. She tried to stop herself, but the dam had already burst. “You're beautiful and kind and thoughtful and... don't make me say it all out loud. I've never done this before, and I just want to try. I--”
It was the second most surprising act of the evening. Fluttershy stole forward and pressed her lips to Rainbow Dash's, stealing away whatever words the normally brash and cocky pegasus had left. It was tentative, and it was over in an instant, but it was also warm. Pleasant and tingly in some wonderfully indescribable way. Fluttershy shot back a good ten feet and tried to find something to hide behind.
Well Dashie. Total crash and burn as far as plans go, huh?
There was a playful twinkle in the athletic pegasus' eyes, and a goofy grin on her face.
“I went and got my wings all messed up again today,” she lifted one to prove the point, glancing every which way like a conspirator planning the downfall of Celestia, “Do you think you could... do that thing from last night?”
“Well...” Futtershy had to pause to get her giggling under control, “I could probably manage this one more time. But only for you, Rainbow. Here, come inside...”
As the door shut, the final rays of sunlight disappeared under the horizon, leaving only the moon and a very self-satisfied Angel bunny outside as witnesses. He dusted his little paws off and shrugged as nonchalantly as a bunny has ever managed. Ponies. Sheesh.