The time since their last conversation had not gone the way that Fluttershy had envisioned. The initial thrill of knowing that Rainbow Dash heard and appreciated her cheering during her greatest moment had begun to wear off, and it wasn’t helping that Dash was almost always too busy to spend time with or even to chat. Those rare moments when the rainbow-maned pegasus wasn’t wrapped up in weather duty, Fluttershy could only ever seem to find her napping.
Those moments were like something out of her dreams. She was having them almost every night: there would be Rainbow Dash, curled up on a cloud, and Fluttershy would happen upon her. The moments would tick past in silence, one pegasus watching the other sleep. And then, ever so gently, she would snuggle up alongside the object of her desires and try to forget how uncomfortable clouds felt. Just when it would start to feel unbearable, there would be this comforting warmth and weight of a wing stretched out across her back...
Fluttershy shook her head to rattle her brain into submission. Too late; she could already feel the heat rushing through her cheeks. Lousy lovely little dreams... why did it never work out that way in reality? She was on the verge of abandoning the whole idea; day after day of waiting for that perfect moment to fall into place was beginning to take its toll on her nerves. This would be the last try, and it would be a real attempt, so help her Celestia.
Today, as it turned out, was a napping day. A lucky napping day at that: instead of the usual tree branch or the like, Dash had chosen an unusually large cloud, more than large enough to support two pegasi. Images from her dreams flashed like sunbursts in front of Fluttershy’s eyes. She shook like a leaf as she looked down at the sky blue mare. Her eyes hungrily took in every last detail: the smooth lines of her body, lithe but powerful muscles that had been exhaustively worked into shape for maximum speed, and most of all the prism of colors flopped carelessly across the pegasus’ face. Dash never was much of one to spend time on grooming, but that was part of her appeal. It was almost like looking at a wild animal, just begging for the right pony to...
Fluttershy felt a nervous lump building in her throat. She gulped nervously, trying to quell the feeling, and it was the loudest noise she could ever remember hearing. So loud she had to bite her tongue to keep from squeaking in fright. Which did precious little to help because now all she could think about was her mouth, and she was still staring right at Rainbow Dash, and the next thing she knew her body was moving all by itself. Traitorous thing. What was it doing? Closer and closer she leaned, kneeling to close the final bit of distance, and planted the softest of kisses on the sleeping pony’s cheek.
In an instant, everything was wrong with the universe.
“...Fluttershy? What the hay!?”
“Eek!” Fluttershy backpedaled with such suddenness that she nearly fell off the cloud. “I-I... um, this isn’t...”
Rainbow Dash shot a look at the other pegasus like she had just grown a third eyeball. “What were you doing? Why are you up here?”
“Um, I... I don’t know.”
A withering glare. Not a good enough answer.
“That is, I... Rainbow Dash, I need to tell you something.”
“It couldn’t have waited? I really needed that nap, you know!”
Fluttershy hesitated a moment, then shook her head slowly.
“All right, all right, just gimme a sec,” Rainbow yawned, rubbing sleep from her eyes, “but this better be good.”
“I’m sorry. But, um, I needed to say that Iloveyou.”
Fluttershy could only squeak in response. She could feel Dash’s irritation and impatience growing, and that only made things worse. The words spun in the pit of her stomach, making her sick. For a moment, she looked like she would pass out. But then the words tumbled free like escaping convicts: “I love you!” Words of such incredible power, they shattered two worlds at once. Magenta eyes locked with teal, and narrowed in suspicion. Rainbow Dash snapped her head in every direction, ears twitching in anticipation of the laughter she knew wouldn’t be far behind.
“Who put you up to this? Tell me!”
Dash snorted in irritation at the silence that followed. Fluttershy hid her face behind her pink mane, but it was impossible to miss her mouth agape in horror. The question was repeated, with more insistence.
“I’m sorry! I-I didn’t mean to, um, that is, I just needed to... s-say it to you. Oh no...”
“You.” She didn’t so much say the word as hiss it. “All by yourself? What, did you do some snooping around Cloudsdale when I wasn’t looking? Thought you’d drag all of the old rumors down to Ponyville and have yourself a big old laugh? I don’t believe it. You.”
“...No, never! Never ever! I... I meant it! I really do lo--”
Rainbow Dash’s voice split the sky and tore Fluttershy’s heart in half. The distance between them was closed in an instant, Dash pressing her face up against Fluttershy’s, who flattened herself uselessly against the surface of the cloud. Dash’s eyes burned like hot coals, not letting the frightened and regretful filly look away for even a second. It was too much. Fluttershy sobbed openly, choking on unintelligible words.
“I don’t know what you heard,” Rainbow Dash’s voice was barely above a whisper, “but I am not a f... I’m not like that!”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry...”
An awkward semi-silence hung in the air between the two, filled only by the sounds of tears and heavy breathing. Rainbow Dash turned abruptly and took several steps away.
“Get out of here, Fluttershy. Go home.”
Rainbow Dash didn’t wait for a response, and took to the skies with such force that it ripped the cloud they had been standing on in half. She tore through the skies as a multicolored streak, leaving a terrified Fluttershy to scramble to keep her footing long enough to remember that she still had wings. Stiff, unresponsive wings that wanted nothing more than to glue themselves to her sides. She sunk more than she flew below the cloud line, and slumped against the ground the moment her hooves made contact.
Some small part of Fluttershy’s brain told her that she should be angry about this. And if it had been anypony else, or for any other reason, she probably would be. If only. Then, she would go home and make some tea. Tend to her animals and let all the negative feelings wash away. She would ask that other pony later why they had done what they did and told them how it had made her feel. Then there would be an apology and all would be well. But watching this pony shrink into the distance, she couldn’t think of any of that. Her eyes followed the trail in the sky to the only place it could possibly be going: Dash’s cloud house. ‘This is my fault’, her heart told her. ‘This is my fault and I have to do something.’
“Oh Celestia, what have I done?”
“...Darn it, Fluttershy, why did you do that?”
Rainbow Dash shot through the air as fast as her wings could carry her. Get away, get away, get away from her. Her vision blurred from the sting of the wind and her tears. Don’t you dare, Rainbow. Not here. With one final burst of motion, she dove through the entrance to her sanctuary, locking herself inside. Only now that she was alone did she finally allow herself to cry in earnest. Hoarse wails and raspy breaths were muffled by the fluffy white walls, keeping her weakness a secret. She let out a scream tangled in emotions, and kicked a nearby wall as hard as she could. The thunderclap could be heard for miles; less of a secret now.
“Why? Why!? I’m supposed to be past this! I... I showed everyone! I’ve been living the dream!” At this point she couldn’t help but puff her chest out proudly, if only for a second.
“So why does this hurt so much?”
Rainbow Dash flopped onto her bed with an unceremonious ‘whump’ sound. Her head spun and her muscles ached dully while her thoughts struggled to organize themselves into words: Fluttershy. Betrayer. Liar. Just like before. Not again. Not again not again not again not againnnnnnn...
Heavy eyelids drifted shut. And Rainbow Dash dreamed.
“--Dash? Ms. Rainbow Dash?”
“Wha?” Dash brought a foreleg to her eyes and rubbed the bleariness out of them. “What’s going on?”
“Really Ms. Dash, with as much money as your parents are spending to send you here, you would think the least you could do to repay them is pay attention!”
She’d heard the lecture a thousand times already, but it never failed to jolt her awake. Rainbow Dash snapped to attention, shifting her leg up a little higher to salute her teacher and drawing mocking laughter from the ponies gathered around her. She let out an annoyed huff. Flight school was just the worst.
“Right. Now then, if you would all be so kind as to follow me to today’s training course? There’s quite a lot of work that needs to be done on your control today.”
Today’s course had a particularly exciting look about it. Long columns of cloud had been stretched across the sky in a winding slalom pattern, weaving their way toward a series of progressively tighter rings that rose up in loop-de-loop patterns. Only an expert would be able to clear the course cleanly with any real speed. Rainbow Dash caught herself grinning at the prospect.
She went first, of course. Her teachers had a tendency to punish her napping by adding the pressure of being the pony to set the pace for the rest of the class. Whenever she would put up a bad time or get beaten, she wouldn’t hear the end of it for the next week. Not this time. She was off like a rocket, weaving through the columns like thread through the eye of a needle. Her wings flexed subtly as they cut through the skies, tingling pleasantly when she caught an updraft and shot through the first series of rings. She chanced a glance down at her peers while she could still see their faces and savored the intensity of their glares that tried to hide their building nervousness.
But today somepony new caught her eye: a pure white filly who had to be the prettiest thing Dash had ever seen. The other girl gave her a coy wink, and her brain turned into scrambled eggs. The next thing she knew, she was on the ground, surrounded by her classmates, who could not contain their laughter.
“Nice one, Rainbow Crash! A Cloudsdale record!”
“Yeah, first one to not finish! Hahahaha!”
“Puh. If it’s so easy, you do it!” she snarled back. More laughter ensued.
“We already did, dummy. You’ve been lying there like a dork through the whole class!”
In an instant, she was in the air and gone. Running away would only make things worse later, but what choice did she have? Kick the jerk in the face and get expelled? To say nothing of the humiliation she would suffer if they realized she was crying... Dash shook her head violently, kicking herself for being so stupid. How could she let herself get distracted? By another filly, no less?
Stupid, stupid, stupid! Get those thoughts out of your head, Rainbow Dash! You’ve got it tough now? Just imagine if they knew you looked at girls like that! Stupid loser idiot Dash!
Night fell, and found Rainbow Dash alone staring up at the course that had defeated her earlier that day. It was going to be another all nighter, but she couldn’t let herself stop until she could nail this course forwards and backwards. Her wings flared, and she tensed her body for takeoff... wait, was that a giggle?
“Thought I’d find you here.” It was the snow-white filly from before.
“Huh?” Rainbow Dash sputtered.
The other pony giggled. It was the most beautiful sound Dash had ever heard. “You didn’t get to finish the course, right? You looked so cool, I wanted to see you finish!”
“Eheh... well, I just, you know. I hate getting beat. Hehehe.”
“Has anyone ever told you you’re cute when you’re nervous?”
Light blue cheeks were suddenly very pink. The white pegasus smiled demurely, and trotted up alongside her prey, eyes flashing with something that looked like triumph.
“Thooooouuuuuught soooooo~” she sang out, bursting into another giggling fit. “You’re into fillies, aren’t you?”
“Me!? N-no way!”
“No? Then you’re telling me you wouldn’t feel anything if I did... this?” She leaned in, closing the remaining distance between them with surprising quickness, and gave Dash’s ear a playful nibble. If the wink from before had scrambled her circuits, it was nothing compared to what was happening now. She felt the tickle of the other girl’s tongue on her cheek, and her body betrayed her, wings slowly stretching up and fanning her feathers out on full display.
“Oh, I seeeeee. You don’t like girls at alllllll, huh? Come on, it’s ok. Nopony’s going to see you here.”
Rainbow Dash shivered in pleasure. Her mind raced, looking for an acceptable response to the situation? Fight or flight? Fight or flight? ...Fight! It was nothing but blind instinct (tinted with the tiniest bit of hope) as she darted her head forward and stole a clumsy kiss. Her first ever. It somehow lacked the electricity she thought it would. Maybe because it hadn’t played out the way she’d always imagined it. But it was over and done with, and it felt incredibly liberating. She opened her eyes to see the other filly looking away at something in the distance.
“Really? Wow. Easiest five bits I’ve ever made.” She chuckled.
“...Wh-what?” Dash went pale.
“Hm? Oh, you’ll see. Have fun on the course, Rainbow Cr-- er, Dash!” She said, spreading her wings and flying away.
By morning, pictures of everything that had happened that night were plastered all over the school. Some showed her kiss, others focused on her awkwardly flared wings, but they all shared one thing in common. On each one, three words were scrawled in angry, red letters, “Rainbow Dash: Fillyfooler”. She screamed.
Her eyes snapped open and she bolted upright, drenched in sweat. It took a few seconds for her to figure out she was in her own home, safe from bullies and traitors and Cloudsdale. It took much longer than that to slow her breathing back down. Fresh tears welled in her eyes as she sat on her bed listening to the sounds of solitude around her. She could hear the sound of rain falling below her; apparently there was a night shower scheduled. Wait, it was night? Just perfect. Now she’d be up the entire time with nothing to do but think about this.
Well screw that, and screw the rain. Steam needed to be let off. She was going flying. But as soon as she set out the door, she felt something was wrong. Indeed, right below her house somepony was just standing there, letting themselves get completely drenched. It couldn’t be... Fluttershy? Dash stared down at the other pegasus while the rain fell. A full minute ticked by in silence. Screw Fluttershy, too.
Rainbow Dash sped off into the stormy night without bothering to look back. As if there was anything for either of them to say! She spit at a nearby cloud, bubbling over in anger as her dream and her memories from the afternoon blended together in a haze. There was the white filly on her napping cloud in Ponyvile. Now here was Fluttershy destroying her life with that first miserable kiss. She could hear both of them laughing at her...
Faster now, faster. Dash dove below the clouds and hurtled toward the ground. This was not a night for tricks and practice. No, tonight she would break stuff. Down, faster and faster she went, and pulled up at only the last possible second to hurtle through the cloud barrier and tear a large hole in it. Back down. Another. Back up. Another. Every pass through was accompanied by a kick and a satisfying weight on her hind legs as she broke through the resistance of the cloud formations.
It was starting to get difficult to fly now. Her entire body was drenched in rain and sweat, and she had managed to knock quite a few feathers out of alignment. Her chest heaved with the exertion of the past... how long had she been at this? Rainbow Dash shrugged inwardly. Long enough to feel a little better, at least. Long enough for the rain to drive away any unwanted visitors.
But Fluttershy hadn’t taken a single step. If she had even moved an inch, it was only because she had started to shiver. As she approached the bedragled yellow pegasus, Dash’s vision swam once more with spectres of the past. And what she saw frightened her more than she would ever be able to admit. Because, just for a second, Rainbow Dash could swear she was staring at her younger self. She rattled her head and the vision faded, but there was Fluttershy all the same. Her lips were moving. Saying... something. Dash touched down and moved closer to hear the words:
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry...”
“...How long have you been here?” Dash cut her off, finally making her presence known.
Fluttershy’s sopping wet mane clung to her face. She trembled and looked at the ground beneath Dash’s feet. “Um, a while.”
“Waiting for me?”
“It’s my fault. I wasn’t thinking, and I hurt you. I-I’ll leave now. I just... needed you to know, Rainbow Dash. I didn’t mean to do it...”
Tears. Even in the rain, such a distinct feeling of wetness. And for Rainbow Dash, surprising. Pieces of the puzzle fit together instantly in her head, and with a horrible sense of clarity, she realized just how stupid she had been. ‘Past it’? As if. Not if the lessons of her youth taught her that even somepony as gentle as Fluttershy secretly had it in for her.
“No, I’m the one who’s sorry.” Dash hung her head. “You’re the nicest pony I’ve ever met. And I treated you like you were just another bully. I keep thinking about... what I mean is... argh! I am not good at this. Can we start over?”
Fluttershy was quiet as she walked up to Rainbow Dash to stand face-to-face with her. There wasn’t any gleam of victory or malice in her eyes, and only warmth in the tiny smile on her lips. She leaned her head against Dash’s neck. “...This is ok, isn’t it?”
“Y-yeah. This is ok.”
“Then, um, maybe we can start from here?”
“Eh. Why don’t we, you know, get inside and get out of the rain first? Think you can spend one night in the clouds?”
Of all the terrifying prospects Fluttershy had ever been presented with, none had ever sounded half so wonderful as this.