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To Fix You

Chapter 1

When you try your best, but you don’t succeed,

When you get what you want, but not what you need,

When you feel so tired, but you can’t sleep,

Stuck in reverse,

And the tears come streaming down your face,

When you lose something, that you can’t replace,

When you love someone, but it goes to waste,

Could it be worse?

        In an empty field outside of Ponyville, drops of liquid fell out of the sky and hit the ground. The citizens of Ponyville were more than familiar with rain, especially those weather pegasi who created it, but this particular event was different. Ponyville had, of course, experienced strange weather phenomena before, with the chocolate milk raining down from cotton candy clouds during the brief reign of Discord still fresh in everypony’s mind, but most ponies had another reason to avoid the falling drops in this field. That is, if they even came across them and paid attention to them at all. For one thing, unlike what most rain was apt to do, these drops fell not from a large bank of clouds, but instead from a single cloud that floated alone, high in the sky. Had anypony bothered to investigate, they would have discovered that these salty drops were not, in fact, rain. The cloud they fell from was not a rain cloud, but a small white one, and they fell not from the interior of the cloud but from the edges. But nopony noticed the strange, lonely, drops as they fell to earth.

        Had anypony noticed, they might have discovered this peculiarity. Had a pegasus discovered it and flown up to investigate, they would have discovered the source of the faux rain. They would have seen the drops slipping over the edge of the small cloud, dripping down from the small puddles where they had pooled. But no one did fly up there, so no one saw the abnormal pools of liquid that had collected in dimples on the surface of the cloud. But most importantly, no one saw the cyan pony with the Rainbow mane who actively filled these pools with one of the only liquids that could be supported by clouds - the tears of a pegasus. The tears that came streaming down her face after slipping from her magenta eyes, only to pool on the surface of the cloud, and eventually slip off and fall down.

        Rainbow Dash had never been one for showing much emotion. On the rare occasions when stress or emotion got to be too much for her to hold behind her tough façade, Rainbow had always retreated to a cloud high above town to allow herself a few minutes to calm down. Today however, was different. Minutes had turned into hours as she lay on the cloud, crying. The hours had stretched out over the entire duration of the day, yet she was still unable to bring herself to return to the ground below. No amount of time seemed able to take away any of her pain. In the waning afternoon light, Rainbow was surrounded by nothing but the open sky around her, memories from the day before, and a deep, overwhelming sense of failure.

        “Sorry, Rainbow Dash. Looks like you just didn’t make the team this year.” The disembodied voice of Spitfire played through Rainbow’s head for what felt like the hundredth time in the last few hours.

        “Yeah.” Soarin’s voice joined his teammate’s in Rainbow’s mind, “We’re really thankful to you for saving our lives at the Best Young Flier’s Competition, but we can’t exactly favor you in the contest now, that wouldn’t be fair to the other contestants.”

        “We were still rooting for you,” Spitfire’s voice continued, “but you were outperformed by just one other pony. We had to give them the spot on the team.”

        “Don’t feel too bad, you still did really well.” Soarin’ had tried to reassure her, “I’m sure that when we have another opening, you’ll make the team for sure!”

        “You’re a great flier, and you’ve still got your whole life left to live. Don’t let this get you down too much. There will always be another chance.” Spitfire’s voice faded to nothingness after this remark. It didn’t matter how many times the reassuring words from her memory ran through her consciousness, they were still just words. Words couldn’t change reality, and the reality of the situation was simple.

        “I failed.” Rainbow sobbed to herself as she lay forlornly on the soaking cloud. “I failed the tryout. I failed my best chance at getting on the team. I’ll never be a Wonderbolt.”

        Rainbow Dash stood up on the cloud’s surface. She had always enjoyed the springy yet firm feeling of a cloud beneath her hooves, but today it was of no comfort to the cyan pegasus. Her pelt was soaked across her face and in places where she had lain in the pool of tears that had grown beneath her while she wept. As high up in the sky as she was, the cold air of the altitude bit into the wet areas of her pelt and chilled her to the bone. She shook herself in an attempt to warm up and sniffed to gain control of her rebellious tear-ducts. As she stood, somewhat under control of herself for the moment, she surveyed her surroundings. She was almost shocked when she saw the cloud’s surface - she hadn’t cried this much in a long time. ‘Nice going, Rainbow Crash.’ She told herself, feeling some insatiable need to punish herself in her own mind, ‘You think you’re a tough pony? You’re just weak. Look at yourself, crying your eyes out on some cloud. Why? Because you’re weak. You’re pathetic. You’re a failure. You’ll never be a Wonderbolt and you don’t deserve to be. You didn’t even deserve the chance.’

        “STOP IT!” Rainbow yelled out, more to her own mind than anything else. “I already know I’m weak.” She said to the sky, with the cold, unfaltering, tone of a pony who has given up evident in her voice. “I already know I’m a failure.” She stopped for a moment. Hours had already passed in this cold, lonely, place for her, it was almost sunset. It seemed like nothing she did up here was working to get her out of her latest depression. ‘Maybe,’ she thought, ‘Maybe saying everything out loud will be better than just storing it all up.’, with this decision made, she continued speaking to empty air. “This is nothing new. My whole life has been nothing but a series of failures. It’s been my life’s dream to become a Wonderbolt, and now I went and blew that chance. I guess my dream is… is… over.” The finality of that statement nearly brought her to tears again. ‘No, Rainbow.’ She thought, trying desperately not to go back there again, ‘No more crying. I’m a tough pony. I don’t need to cry. I can get through this. I’ve gotten through worse before on my own. This is nowhere near as bad as the… the… the accident.’

        She couldn’t help it. This final memory was too much. Collapsing back to the cloud surface, she broke down crying again. For years, ever since she was just a little filly, she had blocked out memories of that day – the day of the accident. Thinking about it was always too much for her. It was all she could stand to refer to it as now, ‘the accident’, the memories were too painful to think of it by any other name. Without warning, before she could even think to try and stop them, images and memories from the day she would like most to forget flashed unbidden through her mind. A lone cyan blue pegasus filly with a rainbow mane, happily trotting home from a friend’s house in the dark. The faint orange glow seen over the crest of a hilltop in front of her. Her childhood home, glowing bright with the orange flames that were beginning to engulf the structure, as seen from the hilltop. The feel of the wind rushing in her hair and the blood pounding in her ears as she flew furiously towards the burning house. The frantic tone of emergency in her voice as she screamed: “MOM!” “DAD!”. The licking tongues of orange flame singing the hairs of her pelt and the tips of her wings’ feathers and she tried to find an opening in the advancing fire to see through and reach through. The sound of other ponies dashing to the scene, shouting orders, screaming, hollering, calling for water. The strong front hooves of the earth pony stallion who had grabbed her around the midsection and pulled her away to a safe distance from the growing inferno. The astonishment and disbelief of watching her own home, weakened by a blaze she knew not the cause of, collapse right in front of her. The cold, unfathomable certainty of knowing that her parents wouldn’t have, couldn’t have, didn’t, get out alive.

        Tears had not fallen that night, for there was too much shock and disbelief for them on that day. They had fallen on nights afterward, keeping her awake every single night of the two weeks she spent at her friend’s house in town after that night. They had prevented sleep for the three days she had spent on the road after fleeing her small hometown, desperate to escape from the memories. They had even followed her into Cloudsdale, where she had fled to, before finally subsiding. She gave the entire event the title: ‘the accident’ and filed it away in the back of her subconscious, forcefully locked away to keep out the pain.

        Locked away, that is, until this day. On this day, the tears for her parents fell afresh. For years, the distractions of Flight School, followed by racing, and finally dreams of the Wonderbolts, had kept her preoccupied with a purpose in life and a goal to reach forward to, a crowning achievement to attain. In one fell swoop, those dreams were gone, gone and replaced by the sadness and the fear they had helped keep locked away for so long.

        The emotional assault grew to be too much. In one movement, Rainbow shakily stood herself back up on the wet cloud. The cold wind chilled her again, but she no longer cared. In a solemn, grave voice, she began to speak to the emptiness again. “I… am a failure. I watched my parents die in a house fire, I didn’t save them, I didn’t protect them; I failed. I left Cloudsdale flight school to escape the bullying and the rules, I fled; I failed. I struggled for years to admit my feelings to the mare of my dreams, I made excuses, and I chickened out; I failed. I didn’t perform well enough to join the Wonderbolts, I flew horribly, and I was outshone by another pony; I failed.” She drew in a deep breath as she reached her final conclusion and spoke it to the world in front of her. “There is nothing left here for me.”

        With that, she spread her wings and took flight. She left her tiny safe haven of a cloud behind and soared out over the open sky, feeling the cold wind biting at her wet fur. She looked down. Fields, trees, roads, even her cloud house looked small from her height. It was from this height, staring down at the wide expanse of the world below her, that Rainbow really got a feeling of how small and insignificant she was compared to the world. She didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Right then, at that moment, the ground looked so comforting, so inviting, so final. Without a moment’s hesitation, she locked her wings to her side. Without their provided lift, the cyan pegasus immediately began plummeting towards the ground, gathering speed as she fell, faster and faster. She closed her eyes and let the wind play with her body as she tumbled through the unforgiving sky.

Thoughts of her mother and father passed through her mind as the wind passed through her hair. Images of their faces before cruel fate and an accident had ripped them from her.

        ‘I’m sorry, Mom and Dad.’ She thought.

        Images of the Wonderbolts soared by, faces apologetic as they denied her greatest dream. As did images of her friends, Fluttershy, Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, laughing and having fun without her. She didn’t deserve friends.

        ‘I’m sorry, everypony.’

        But lastly, and most importantly of all, the face of the one mare she cared about the most. The face of the mare of her dreams, who she had been too afraid, too weak, to tell the truth to for the years they had known each other, remained as a fixed image burned into her mind’s eye as she sped towards the earth. An image of the face she knew she would never see again.

        ‘I’m sorry, Applejack.”

        Pinkie Pie was working at Sugarcube Corner that afternoon, standing at the counter in front of the bakery. Today had been a somewhat slow day, causing her to feel unnaturally bored. Assortments of treats, muffins, cupcakes, and every other snack available for consumption by the citizens of Ponyville, were on display in the glass case below the counter that she rested her head on, but surprisingly few of those citizens had stopped by to purchase treats on this day.

        Pinkie was bored. ‘But all that is going to change at the party tonight!’ She thought excitedly, ‘Rainbow Dash is going to be a Wonderbolt, and she’s going to love the surprise party I have planned for her this evening! I can’t wait for her and Fluttershy to come home from Cloudsdale!’ Pinkie Pie felt a pang of sadness for not being able to come with her friend to support her like she did at the Best Young Flier’s competition, but Mr. and Mrs. Cake had entrusted the shop to her while they were out of town. Lost in thought, Pinkie barely even registered any recognition when the bell hanging above the door rang, signaling that someone had entered the shop.

        “Um… Hello… Excuse me, Pinkie Pie?” A soft, quiet voice wafted through the air of the shop, causing Pinkie to look up and see her friend Fluttershy standing before her.

        “Fluttershy!” Pinkie Pie cried, her boredom forgotten at the sight of her returned friend, “you’re back! How’s Rainbow! Is she a Wonderbolt now? Huh? Huh? She must be! I have a party planned and everything! This is so exciting!”

        “Well… actually… Pinkie, she got… second place in the competition. She didn’t win. She isn’t a Wonderbolt.” Fluttershy stammered, saddened as she thought of her grief-stricken friend who had flown out of Cloudsdale in tears before Fluttershy could even say anything to her.

        Pinkie’s cheeriness also visibly diminished. “All of this is my fault. If I hadn’t been working the shop I could have been there to cheer for her.” She stated glumly.

“Oh, Pinkie,” Fluttershy soothed, “Don’t blame yourself. You needed to run the shop because the Cakes aren’t here. And Rarity is still working on that big order of dresses, Applejack was busy on the farm, and Twilight won’t get back from Canterlot until later tonight. It’s none of you girls’ faults for not being there. I just wish I could have helped her win since I was there. She seemed so sad when it was announced that she only got second place.” Fluttershy lamented.

“Well where is she! She needs cheering up! We have to find her!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed, bolting to the door without a second thought.

“But, Pinkie, don’t you have to stay in the shop?” Fluttershy asked, afraid of letting her friend ditch her responsibilities.

“This is more important, Fluttershy.” Pinkie said with a certainty that surprised the yellow pegasus.

“But I don’t know where she is. She flew off without me right when she found out that she didn’t win.” Fluttershy said, suddenly ashamed that she had lost her friend.

“Well then I guess we’ll just have to fin-” Pinkie started to say, but was cut off as her entire body began to vibrate up and down violently.

“Oh dear.” Fluttershy cried, “Pinkie, are you OK?”

“It’s just my Pinkie sense!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed when she had gotten out of the bout of vibrating. “I haven’t gotten that one in a while. It means there’s a doozy coming!”

“W…w-what does that mean?” Fluttershy asked tentatively, scared of what this premonition foretold.

“It means something really unexpected is going to happen! The last time I got this feeling was when Twilight accepted my Pinkie sense!” Pinkie exclaimed, “Something is going to happen, and we need to be ready for i-” she was cut off again as another bout of shaking rocked her for a few moments, “And it’s going to happen at Dashie’s house!” She cried when it stopped, “We have to go now!” She shouted at Fluttershy, tearing off down the road that led to Rainbow Dash’s house, Fluttershy having to fly to keep up with her energetic friend, even with Pinkie halting intermittently to vibrate in place.

It didn’t take long to reach the field underneath Rainbow’s house. Fluttershy and Pinkie stopped there, looking up at the cloud castle with its flowing Rainbow waterfalls. “Can you fly up there and see if she’s there?” Pinkie asked.

“I already tried that when I got back to town. I thought she’d be here after she flew off, but she wasn’t.” Fluttershy lamented.

“But she has to be here! Why else would the doozy be happening here?” Pinkie Pie cried out, before scanning the skies for several moments, hoping to catch a glimpse of rainbow hair somewhere up in the clouds. “There she is!” She cried out suddenly, as both ponies craned their necks to see, high above them, a familiar blue pony shape with barely-visible rainbow mane and tail spread her wings and take off into the sky from a high cloud. From their vantage point down below, both Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy could see the exact moment when Rainbow Dash’s wings, which had been spread wide, retracted sharply to snap into her body. Both watched agape as their friend began to fall, plummeting towards the hard ground and picking up speed as she passed through the air.

It was at this moment, when she realized what was happening, that Pinkie’s body went into convulsions. Gathering up speed at the same rate as Dashie fell and contorting itself into all manner of strange contusions. This was the doozy. For her own part, Fluttershy just stood there for a few seconds, mouth agape. Unwilling or unable to accept the situation she was being faced with, she watched as her oldest friend fell nearer and nearer to impact, until a switch flipped in her mind.

With Rainbow Dash still plummeting and Pinkie Pie rendered immobile, Fluttershy shot off the ground and took off on an intercept course for the downed pegasus before her. “Oh my goodness oh my goodness oh my goodness,” she cried as she flew, her heart racing with adrenaline brought on by the fear of losing her oldest and best friend. Putting on an additional burst of speed, Fluttershy soon found herself directly below her falling friend. With mere seconds to prepare herself, Fluttershy flipped over in the air and caught Rainbow Dash in all four hooves. She ignored the pain as she felt the momentum of her friend transfer into her. With Rainbow in her embrace, Fluttershy cautioned a look down to see that the ground was still approaching. Fast.

In a last ditch effort to slow themselves before impact, Fluttershy threw open her wings to the widest extent that they could go. The addition of this extra surface area caught more air under them and instantly had the effect of beginning to slow the pair of pegasi, but space to stop was quickly running out. Fluttershy continued to glance downward as they slowed, tears being ripped involuntarily from her eyes as she realized that they were still going to hit the ground below, and entirely too hard. Her wings still thrown out as far as possible, Fluttershy shut her eyes and tried to brace as best she could for the unpreventable impact. The motionless body of Rainbow Dash enveloped in a tight embrace as they both neared the ground.

Pinkie Pie stared. Eyes locked on the scene unfolding before her even as her body continued its random and seemingly impossible pattern of contortions. The horror of the situation was quickly becoming apparent. Two of her best friends in the whole wide world were crashing to the ground, and she could do nothing about it.

Fifty feet.

Twenty feet.

Ten feet.

Five feet.

One foot.

The sound that hit Pinkie Pie’s ears as she was final released form the grip of her own Pinkie Sense was that of a low, dull, earthen thud. Nothing but a dull thud and the sharp but brief cry of a pony in pain before silence reigned. The deep, all-encompassing, unfathomably relentless silence carried with it a note of quiet finality. No sound, not even the sobbing of an injured pony or the snap of breaking bones could be worse than the silence that permeated through the scene.

Pinkie Pie’s mane fell straight against her neck and her tail hit the ground as her usually bright colors instantly changed to dull shades. Slowly and with no small amount of trepidation, Pinkie Pie began to make her way towards the spot on the ground where she could see the bodies of two of her best friends lying motionless. Neither one making a sound.

The small stones and pebbles of the path to Sweet Apple acres crunched beneath Applejack’s hooves as she trotted into town. Her chores had taken excruciatingly long today, which was doubly bothersome on this particular day, seeing as how it had forced her to miss out on Rainbow Dash’s Wonderbolt tryouts. Applejack felt somewhat annoyed with herself for missing out on the chance to cheer on her best friend, but work was work, and if she didn’t do it, no one would. Trotting down the road with fields on both her right and left sides, Applejack noticed a large floating cloud house in the distance - Rainbow Dash’s house. The sight of it brought another tinge of guilt to her mind, but she was able to push it aside at the thought that she was heading into town to attend Pinkie Pie’s “Congratulations, Rainbow Dash!” party. Even if she wasn’t able to make it to her best friend’s tryouts, she could still support her at the party, and Applejack entertained this thought as she continued on down the road.

Then, suddenly, unexpectedly, a voice reached her ears. “AAAAPPLEEJAAACK!”. The voice sounded familiar, but it had a strange note to it… almost like…

“Pinkie Pie?” Applejack asked incredulously as she caught sight of the pink party pony bounding towards the road. But something was wrong. Pinkie Pie looked as if her colors were noticeably dimmer, and even at this distance, AJ could clearly see that her friend’s hair had fallen straight. This wasn’t the Pinkie Pie she knew, this was a Pinkie Pie that she hadn’t seen since the day of the surprise birthday party in the barn so long ago. It was a view of her friend that Applejack had wished to never see again, ever since she had come to know this side of her personality, but here she was coming straight towards her.

“Applejack!” Pinkie Pie cried when she reached her orange friend, “Help me! Help me please! I… I… I can’t…. I can’t move them on my own!” Something was clearly wrong. Tears were streaming thickly down her face and Pinkie was making no effort to stop them. “Please. Help!”

“Woah, there Sugarcube!” Applejack said, concern for her distraught friend clearly evident in her voice. “What exactly do ya mean?”

At this question, Pinkie broke down completely. She hung her head, straight mane cascading down all around it, Applejack could barely understand her through her sobs. “l… l… l-l… l-look…” She finally managed to choke out as she lifted a shaking hoof to point behind her. Applejack’s gaze following Pinkie’s unsteady hoof, and off in that general direction she saw a hint of rainbow color showing through the green of the surrounding flora.

“Rainbow Dash?” She called, galloping towards the spot where she could see the mane of her best friend when she didn’t receive a reply. Pinkie Pie was right behind her. The sight that reached her eyes when the fallen body of her friend befell her vision would haunt her for a long time to come. Rainbow Dash lay motionless, she was clearly unconscious. Her mane and tail were askew haphazardly, and her left front leg appeared to be bent at an odd angle. Crimson liquid slowly leaked from several gashes on her body and Applejack had to fight to urge to cry out in terror. For the first few seconds, she found herself so entranced by the seemingly lifeless body of Rainbow Dash that she failed to notice one of the most glaring discrepancies of the spectacle - two yellow wings that lay splayed out from a position under the blue pegasus. Feathers ruffled and bent, some lying on the ground next to the wings they had been part of, they could only belong to one pony. “Fl-Fluttershy?” Applejack said weakly as the full situation dawned on her. Pinkie could only nod in response.

Before another thought crossed her mind, Applejack had her muzzle down by the cerulean pegasus’s chest. She gently wriggled her head underneath, careful not to damage anything further as she pried the body up off of the yellow one beneath. Then, with her head directly beneath Rainbow Dash’s chest, she stopped. She listened. She listened for a sign, for anything, to tell her what she wanted to hear. She listened and hoped beyond hope for any sign of life. Then, when her own stressed breathed slowed and quieted enough, she heard it. The sound was distant, faint, and almost non-existent, but sure as sugar it was there.

“Ka-thump…. ka-thump… ka-thump…” It was weak, but it was good enough for AJ. In one smooth move she push her head out the other side, getting her neck all the way underneath the lighter pony’s body, and lifted up to roll the cyan pegasus onto her back. Her muscles strained under the extra weight, but she lifted herself back to her hooves with the new load all the same. She stepped backwards to reveal Fluttershy below her, and almost immediately regretted it. Fluttershy was in even worse shape that Rainbow Dash had been. She had obviously been pinned beneath the other pony, and from the looks of things both of her ragged wings seemed bent to an odd angle by an obvious direct impact with the ground. Her head was thrown backward and her mouth opened in a cut-off scream. Applejack couldn’t tell if she was breathing or not, but she certainly wasn’t moving. Judging from her body and the ground around her, she had clearly lost a lot of blood. With Rainbow Dash on her back, Applejack couldn’t hope to bend down enough to check for a heartbeat, so she turned to Pinkie, now standing on the other side of the stricken yellow pegasus.

“P-Pinkie? F-Fluttershy is l-lighter than R-Rainbow.” She stammered, unable to move her eyes from her fallen friend; Fluttershy, the image of innocence, torn and perverted by a terrible accident. “Do… do ya… do ya think ya can lift her? We… we need ta… ta get them to the hospital.” She finished, voice almost cracking.

Pinkie only nodded in response. She lay herself down next to Fluttershy, wiggling close to try and get a wing and two side hooves across her back. Applejack hung her head down and used her muzzle to roll Fluttershy over once and the rest of the way onto Pinkie’s back. She hoped she didn’t further any of Fluttershy’s injuries by moving her, but she had to, or else Pinkie could never lift her.

They both stood up, somewhat unbalanced by the weight on their backs, but Applejack led on towards the path. She had a look of steely determination set in her eyes. Her friends were still losing blood, and she needed to pick up the pace if she was going to reach the town and the hospital in time. “Come on Applejack,” She started talking to herself, “You can do this. You’re the strongest pony in Ponyville. Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, and all the girls are counting on you to get to the hospital. Faster. Faster. Come on. It’s just one hoof in front of the other.” Pinkie Pie’s seemingly endless reserves of energy helped her keep up with Applejack as momentum and ever-increasing hoof-falls propelled the orange mare surely forward. “One hoof in front of the other.” She repeated.

A shaky, nearly dismayed voice sounded from behind her. “One hoof in front of the other. One hoof in front of the other.”

“One hoof in front of the other.”

Author’s note: Attention all Coldplay fans!

I have prepared a challenge for you!

For every chapter of this story after Chapter 1, I will be referencing a new Coldplay song, (besides “Fix You” obviously)

Your challenge is to read the chapter, looking for a quote from a different Coldplay song. If you find it, post your guess in the comments, the answer will be released along with Chapter 3!

Chapter 2

Lights will guide you home,
And ignite your bones,
And I will try… to fix you,

        A set of eyes opened to find a scene that was reminiscent of many in Equestria, but at the same time was somehow new and unfamiliar to the beholder. With her head lying on the ground, the grass mat beneath her felt cool and soft against her pelt. The light breeze that cooled her blew blades of grass across the bottom of her vision, waving back and forth across a backdrop of tall trees framed by a perfectly blue, cloudless sky that was illuminated by the bright sun hanging high above. She breathed in deeply, inhaling the earthy, fresh aroma of the blades of grass. She noticed that each sense seemed heightened as she took in the scene around her. When she shifted the position of one of her hind legs, she reveled in the sensation of hundreds of feather-like tips slipping gently over the skin of that limb. Her ears perked up to the sound of birds chirping around her, they sounded happy and at ease. But there was another noise in the background. It was a low roar, but not a threatening roar, it sounded rhythmic, relaxing, soothing even. The cycle of sounds seemed to grow, peak and recede in pitch, creating a soothing ebb and flow of sound that matched the harmony of the scene.

        The pony stood up and looked around some more, determined to discover the source of this strange cascading rhythm of pleasant sound that was sweeping through the entire scene. Trees hemmed in her vision, and nothing within her view seemed to be producing the sound. Undaunted, she began to walk; crisp blades of grass crunching beneath her hooves as she slowly moved in the direction from which the rhythm seemed to be emanating from. The noise grew louder as she walked, but never so loud that it dominated the scene, it always seemed to underscore her surroundings. But as she grew ever closer, it became more distinct, and she began to recognize the sound for what it was, the repetitive splashing of water. Suddenly, in parting two branches with her front hooves, the entire scene opened up to the pony. Beyond the line of trees was indeed a source of water, but it was unlike anything that the pony had expected. Water, calm and perfectly flat, stretched from where it met the land to as far as they eye could see out towards the horizon. The crashing and receding pattern of sound was caused by gentle wave after wave drawing their way up a stretch of sand, pulled back and forth by the force of an unseen tide. The breeze, stronger on this beach, ruffled her fur and shook the branches of the trees that she had left behind her. Birds remained chirping, and the sun illuminated the entire scene with a bright yet soft light, lending her surroundings a soothing, surreal quality.

        “Is this where you go when you die?” Rainbow Dash asked the empty sky, a sky so immense and seemingly boundless that she could imagine herself soaring forever in its great expanse.

        “No. This is the place in-between.” A voice answered her.

        Rainbow Dash jumped backwards. She thought she had been the only pony here, she had not seen anypony else in the surrounding area, yet there had certainly been an answer to her question. She looked around quickly, magenta eyes flicking from spot to spot within her vision, looking for the hidden pony. Her gaze finally settled on the water below her. A series of ripples extended out from a spot a few yards from shore, the ripples rising and falling with the gentle back and forth action of the placid waves. The disturbance was created by the head of a pony, whose entire body was submerged beneath the surface of the water. The face of this intruder looked familiar somehow. Rainbow Dash found herself looking in close to try and discern who this pony was. The pony who bobbed up and down with the action of the water faced her calmly, returning her gaze as if she had not a care in the world and enough time to do nothing for as long as she liked. The other face looked familiar, yet somehow strange. Sporting recognizable features, the pony was also grey, and framed by a mane that, under closer inspection, appeared to be made up of six different shades of grey…

        Realization hit Rainbow Dash like the aftershock of a sonic rainboom. This other pony was her, but grey. She was staring into the grey eyes that duplicated her own magenta ones in every aspect save for color. This intruder was her grayscale doppelganger.

        Memories of her own self being under the influence of Discord came crashing to Rainbow Dash’s mind. She figured that this other pony must be the disloyal version of herself. She immediately dropped down into a fighting stance, keeping her head close to the ground and her flank in the air, glaring at the look-alike who still bobbed apathetically in the water. “Who are you?!” Rainbow Dash snarled at the other mare, “Are you a spy?”

        “I may be whatever you choose to call me.” The spy responded, “But you may know me best by the quality that I represent: Hope.”

        “What in the hay is that supposed to mean? Who are you? Why are you here? Why am I here? Where are we?” The stream of questions flew from Rainbow Dash’s mouth as she suddenly realized the absurdity of her situation.

        “Who am I? Have you not figured it out yet, Rainbow Dash? I am you! I am here because you are here, and you are here because of your most recent decision. Do you not recall what I said not moments ago? This is the place in-between.”

        “You’re not making any sense. How can you be me? I’m me. I’m the only Rainbow Dash there is! And what in the hay does ‘the place in-between’ mean!” Rainbow Dash was close to screaming now, her confusion and anger apparent in her voice and rising emotion. As her anger heightened, unbeknownst to Rainbow Dash, the wind started to pick up. For a few seconds she stood glaring daggers at the spy in the water, before she finally noticed the wind, now more than a gentle breeze, picking up her fur.

        “Do you not understand?” The spy across from her seemed to be getting angrier as well, “I am best known by that quality that I represent: Hope. Yet I am you, because you are the one for whom I represent it.” The spy paused to let this sink in before continuing, “And as for your location, look around you! What do you see?”

        Rainbow Dash turned her head and twisted her body around to gather a full view of the scene. She looked long and hard at everything, both the familiar features and the new, before returning her glare to respond. “I see trees, grass and other plants. I see rocks here and there and faded mountains on the horizon. Everywhere behind me looks like it could be Equestria, yet when I look out in this direction and all I see is endless water and sky. I see emptiness, nothingness. You can see all this! Why are you asking me! Part of this place looks like home but the other part is a just nothing as far as I can see!” she paused before screaming, “THIS MAKES NO SENSE!”

        The wind began to blow even more, which caused the treetops behind rainbow Dash to sway back and forth, adding their rustling and groaning to the growing noise of the sea, which was now rolling with increasingly more intensity than it had been before. “Exactly!” cried the spy from the water, “You are in the place in-between. Behind you is Equestria, everything you know, everything you love, everything you have ever known to exist, all lies behind you. In front of you lies the endless sea, the void, the great unknown. You stand on the beach, the edge, about to complete the action you began in consciousness. You are to leave your life behind.”

        “Are you crazy?” Rainbow Dash was screaming now, emotion surging out of her body like the high wind that now blew in from the sea in front of her. Branches of trees behind her were whipped even further into a frenzy. A large bank of clouds appeared over the horizon where the expanse of water had once met clear sky. The winds brought the bank of clouds closer to the pegasus on the beach at a rapid rate, and the waves of the sea before her grew further in height. The environment around her seemed to react to Rainbow’s rising emotion as she continued shouting. “Why would I want to leave everything I know? Why would I ever even go out into some big empty expanse of nothing?”

        “Don’t ask me.” The spy retorted, mocking her now, “You’re the pony who tried to kill herself. Or do you not remember?”

        “That was different! That was because… Hey!” Rainbow Dash cried, finally realizing something, “You said you were me, but I don’t know any of this stuff! How can you know all this when I don’t?”

        “I am only a part of you - a part that has broken away. I have already journeyed into the great unknown and back, that is how I know. Would you care to hazard a guess as to what I really am?”

        “You said you represent hope…” Rainbow Dash tried to collect her emotions enough to think clearly, “Are you saying that you are my hope? That doesn’t make sense! Hope can’t be seen, it’s just an idea!”

        “Oh, but you misjudge the power of where you are right now. Down here, the world is not governed by the physical limits of reality. Down here, ideas, concepts, anything can be manifested in physical form. I am the physical embodiment of whatever hope you had left, your mind’s own manifestation of what it has lost. Take a good look at me. Tell me - what do you see? We are not so different, but it is what makes us different that is important.”

        “You… you’re… you’re gray.” Rainbow Dash stammered, feeling stupid for stating the obvious, even though her mind was still turning over itself trying to understand her situation.

        “Precisely.” The spy stated, “I am gray, dull, fading, diminished, dying… Yes, dying. Do you understand what that means?”

        “That… That I’m… I’m hopeless?”

        The gray head in the water chuckled. “More or less, yes. Tell me, would you like to see my companions?”

        “Companions?” Rainbow questioned, incredulously.

        “Yes, companions. I’m sure you would love to see them again.” As the spy spoke, the water on both sides of her began to bubble, as if something was rising to the surface in both spots. Gray pony ears appeared, and as Rainbow stood, staring at the boiling water as two pony heads rose up from it. “Rainbow Dash, meet Joy, and Love.

        For several moments, Rainbow Dash could only stare in shock. Then, she spoke. “Mom? Dad?” It was undeniable. She was standing, staring at the faces of her mother and father, who had risen to either side of her doppelganger, and were just as gray.

        “Hello, sweetie. We’ve missed you. Won’t you come on in and join us?” Her mother’s voice was smooth and welcoming, just as she remembered it from all those years ago. Slowly, tentatively, Rainbow began to advance on the water’s edge. The rolling in front of her, the frenzied forest behind her, the crazed wind that whipped all around her, and the dense clouds that now covered the scene were all erased from Rainbow Dash’s perception as her senses narrowed down to focus on but two things - the faces of her mother and father, smiling, beckoning her closer and closer to the water’s edge. Suddenly, one wave, washing up onto the shore, reached closer to the hoof of the pegasus that was being set down on the beach, right in the water’s path.

        The instant the tip of her hoof made contact with the water, an intense, blinding, unexplained pain shot through Rainbow Dash’s head. She closed her eyes and stumbled backwards as the migraine assaulted every one of her senses. She fell to the ground, writhing in pain as arcs of it shot through her skull. Then, just as suddenly as it had begun, the pain stopped. Rainbow Dash found herself lying in the sand, the water that had shocked her with its effect left behind, and her senses returning. She could feel the wind rushing through her hair and she heard the combined sounds of crashing surf and wind-blown trees. Before she re-opened her eyes, she sensed something that made her spine tingle.

        Her nostrils flared as a new scent hit them. It was not the stench of the sea, nor the pine smell of the forest. It was a sharp, unique smell, one that Rainbow could pick out easily from having dealt with it in her past. She had not experienced it for years, but even from having only been touched by its strength once, many years ago, it was so ingrained in her memory that she recognized and feared it instantly. It was a smell that instantly brought back more painful memories of ‘the accident’ - The stench of death.

        Rainbow Dash’s eyes flew open again instantly. She saw that she had stumbled a good few yards back from the water’s edge, but the frenzied waves were now reaching ever closer, drawing nearer and nearer to the frightened pegasus with each new crest. Rainbow Dash immediately jumped to her hooves and backpedalled some more. But it was not merely the prospect of the renewed pain that the water brought that made her shy away, but what she saw in the water. In a small round patch of the swirling water’s surface, rainbow saw red. She had no doubt that it had come from the spot where her hoof had touched the water. She hazarded a glance at her hoof but saw that there was no cut on it. What she saw wasn’t her blood, or at least she hoped it wasn’t, while she tried to determine where it came from.

        She glanced back to the water. What she saw baffled her even further. The patch of red, which, if it was blood, should have been mixed in with the water by all the swirled action, was doing the exact opposite. As Rainbow Dash watched in absolute transfixion, the spot of red grew, spreading outward and enveloping more of the water. It was as if the water itself was turning blood red, and as the stain spread, the stench that assaulted her nostrils grew stronger.

        Rainbow Dash looked back out the where the three pony heads had been. The gray versions of herself, her mother, and her father were rising up out of the water. “JOIN US, RAINBOW DASH!” They called, voices no longer normal sounding but high-pitched, demented, and terrifying. Their grey bodies slowly began to expose themselves as the rose from the pounding surf, apparently unaffected by the waves which crashed around them. The expanse of blood-water had grown to envelope them as well, and Rainbow watched with a mixture of horror and fascination as their wings and shoulders rose from the pounding, frothing red conflagration. Suddenly, all three ponies seemed to rear up on their hind legs, as if they were standing half in and half out of the water. When their chests were exposed to her, Rainbow Dash drew in a sharp gasp and felt her own blood run cold. In the middle of each pony’s chest, right where one would expect to find a heart underneath the skin, there was a hole. Rainbow stared in abject horror at the forms of herself and her parents, perfectly round holes cut straight through their chests, blood-red liquid draining from each hole as it ran down to join the foaming red of blood that the sea had become.

        Rainbow Dash turned heel and ran. She ran for the forest, towards the representation of everything she knew and loved – her life, her home, Equestria. She was stopped at the forest’s edge. The trees, whipped into a frenzy by the wild weather, shook violently and offered no safe path away from the beach of death. Everywhere she tried to get through, a tree blocked her path. It was as if the trees were alive and actively seeking to keep her there.

        Unwilling to go forward and unable to go back, Rainbow Dash turned to the last option that was available to her. She spread her wings and took to the air. As she did so, everything seemed to go crazy around her. The wind buffeted her back and forth, and she had to strain to keep herself from being driven into the ground, or worse, the sea of blood, below. She flew to the tops of the trees, trying to see an opening in the canopy of the forest, trying to find a way to safety. She immediately stopped short of the treetops in the air as she nearly collided with one. It was as if the limb had come up to meet her, and as she flew upwards, Rainbow realized that that was exactly what was happening. The limbs of the trees were growing, reaching up towards her, trying to grab her out of the sky. Rainbow ducked and weaved as she flapped furiously, fighting the elements in order to rise above the reach of the trees.

        Reaching what she deemed to be a safe height, Rainbow chanced a look down. The entire expanse of what had been water had now changed to a seething, frothing, foaming, blood-red liquid. The spectacle and the stench combined would have made any normal pony lose their lunch, but Rainbow Dash was flying for her life. She rode every single change in the flow of air over her wings as if her life depended on it, and it probably did. She stared down into the midst of the sea of blood, and saw three sets of eyes staring back up at her - herself and her parents, Hope, Joy, and Love - the spies, starkly gray against a backdrop of red. She stared at them and they stared back at her.

        The spies came out of the water. The holes in their chests seemed not to affect them as they flew, undaunted by the winds, towards Rainbow Dash. “JOIN US, RAINBOW DASH! YOU CANNOT ESCAPE. THIS IS YOUR DESTINY.” They cried as the rose to meet her.

        “NO!” She screamed. In the instant that it looked like they might catch her, she threw every ounce of her strength and all of her raging emotions into the one ace card she knew she held: her speed. She raced the wind, riding the currents of air as she fell into a groove, letting the winds help her as she flew, gathering speed and height as she flew onwards, flying with the storm. The wind bit her face as she strained her wings to propel her faster, trying not to get sidetracked by random gusts as she rode the prevailing winds inland, soaring high above the shaking trees that were no longer able to reach her. The cloud cover was absolute, and to her horror, Rainbow Dash could not see anywhere to land in the dense canopy beneath her. There was no way out, and she couldn’t keep flying forever.

        Suddenly terrified of losing her race against death, Rainbow Dash hazarded a look behind her. To her disbelief and horror, the spies were right behind her. They did not gain on her, yet she could not lose them. They were right behind her, keeping pace with her strained flying as if it was easy for them. Desperate to get away, Rainbow strained her muscles and her wings for everything they were worth, and flew higher to try and find a more favorable wind. She reached the ceiling of the sky realm that she inhabited, and flew along as best she could with the bottoms of the endless dark gray clouds serving as a barrier above her. Glancing back again, she found that she was still seemingly unable to lose the three gray pegasi behind her.

        Then, she saw it. Out of the corner of her eye, something caught her attention. Like a faint, glimmering ray of hope, something bright seemed to flicker in and out of focus ahead of her. Then, like a beacon shining with the promise of freedom, a hole opened up in the clouds and a column of light poured out, cutting an illuminated swath through the sea of darkness. Out of options and running on waning strength, Rainbow Dash made a beeline for this new intrusion, hoping against hope that this powerful light, if it could cut a hole in the cloud ceiling, might be her ticket out of this mad dreamscape.

        She felt, rather than saw, the gap between her and her pursuers closing. Behind her, the spies saw that she had a chance at escape, and they seemed to be defying the elements that surrounded all four as they closed the distance between them and their quarry.

        The shaft of light was just ahead, but Rainbow could feel her energy reserves starting to run dry. It was a race to reach the escape hole as she felt the spies behind her breathing down her neck. The face of a certain mare flashed through Rainbow’s vision - Applejack. The thought of seeing her, if only for one last time, compelled Rainbow Dash to draw strength from every fiber of her being. In a last huge exertion of pent up emotion, Rainbow strained to give one last burst of extra speed, angling herself up to aim straight for the hole that loomed directly ahead of her.

        As she passed through the hole in the clouds, she got one last look back at her pursuers. They had come close, but they couldn’t touch her, because they were just spies.

        She turned back to face her new environment, and her vision was immediately confronted by hundreds upon hundreds of dazzlingly bright lights. She was also suddenly aware that she was no longer flying, but seemed to just be floating. Finally noticing how tired she was after expending so much energy in a desperate flight through a storm, she closed her eyes and gave her mind and body a rest. She floated blissfully as the lights enveloped her. At ease and confident, she allowed herself to rest…

        …confident that the lights would guide her home.

Chapter 3

And high up above or down below,
When you're too in love to let it go,
But if you never try you'll never know,
Just what you're worth,

        The lights were bright.

        She tried to open her eyes but only made it about halfway before the sudden influx of blinding light forced her to shut her eyelids again. Gradually, her other senses began to come back to her. She no longer felt as if she was floating, but lying down – lying down on something soft. The surface was soft yet not as fluffy and springy as the clouds she normally lay on. She got the sensation that there was something on top of her as well, something scratchy, like linen. As she became more self-aware, she began to notice a dull throbbing in her head. The pain grew and was then augmented by pain from more areas of her body. Her head hurt, her wings hurt, and her legs hurt. Her left fore-leg especially hurt, it felt as if it had somehow been broken, while her right fore-leg was marked with a pain that resembled a continuous pinprick. In fact, her entire body hurt all over. The throbbing pain in her head continued to grow until she could hardly stand it anymore. Desperate to relieve some of the headache and the lesser aches from around her body, she began to open her mouth to groan or call out to somepony – anypony.

        Or, she tried to, at least. The instant she opened her mouth, she found it so dry and parched that she could barely get air in. Suddenly conscious that she needed to breathe and that her throat was somehow useless, her nose twitched and she sharply sucked in air through it. The scent that she picked up was fresh, but it had the tang of various chemicals and disinfectants on it. Regardless, the fresh air helped with the pain and she began to think enough to wonder where she was. With her curiosity piqued and headache down to more manageable levels, the pegasus tried to open her eyes again to get a look at her situation. Again, her eyelids, black against her vision, only made it about halfway up before the light forced them down again. Undaunted, she tried again, and was able to keep them open for a little longer the next time. She continued this cycle of blinking until the most annoying rays of light had dimmed as her eyes got adjusted to the brightness. Gradually, colors appeared as blurry shapes swam in and took form amongst the white light.

        “Hey! She’s waking up!” She heard a voice call as her vision focused enough to reveal the blurry shape of a white pony leaning out a black passageway. The pony turned away from the doorway and advanced on her, a kind smile was visible on a white face framed with a red-pink mane. The rest of the room swam into focus as the pony stopped and looked right at her, speaking now to address her. “Hello, Rainbow Dash. It’s good to see you awake. I’m Nurse Redheart and I’m here to take care of you. Do you need anything?” Redheart spoke slowly to make sure Rainbow could articulate what she was saying.

        Rainbow Dash tried to respond, but fond that she could only cough. She coughed several times as she tried to speak, her parched throat unwilling to let recognizable sound come out. Her message seemed to get across, though.

        “Oh. You must want some water, don’t you?” Nurse Redheart reached across the bed to a side table and gingerly balance a glass of water in her hooves, bringing it to the needy lips of the cyan pegasus lying below her. Rainbow Dash drank ravenously, the cool liquid spilling down her throat taking much of the bite out of the dryness that had covered her mouth.

        Finally, when she had swallowed enough water to moisturize her throat, she found she could talk. “W… w-where am I?” She asked in a wheezy voice that was even raspier than usual.

        “You’re in Ponyville Hospital, recovering from a very serious fall. In fact…”

        “DAAASHIIIEE!” A new voice cried, completely cutting off Nurse Redheart as a faded pink earth pony mare with a darker pink mane and tail hanging limply at her sides bounded from the doorway and crossed the room in less time than it took Rainbow Dash to even register her presence.

        “Oooof” She gasped out as a solid pink mass collided with her body in the bed and wrapped its fore hooves around her in a death-grip.

        “I… I was s-so w-w-worried about y-you!” The hysterical pony sobbed as she cried into her friend’s rainbow-colored mane.

         “Miss Pie, please restrain yourself. You run the risk of injuring her further!” came the stern tone of Nurse Redheart.

        “S-sorry nurse. I was j-just… I’m s-sorry.” Pinkie Pie choked out as she released Rainbow Dash from her embrace and moved to stand next to her bed.

        “It… it’s great to see you too, Pinkie.” Dash rasped out, before turning back to Nurse Redheart.

        “Now,” Redheart began again, “as I was saying before I was interrupted… You were completely unconscious when you were brought here. You had suffered a concussion and your body was bruised significantly. You also lost a lot of blood due to both internal and external bleeding. Your wings were bruised but not fractured, thankfully. Your left foreleg was dislocated, but we managed to place it back into position, although I imagine you are experiencing significantly more pain in that joint now.”

        “Yeah, my head too. My head probably hurts the most.” Rainbow said, bringing a hoof up to rub her temple as if to stress this point.

        “Well I should think so. Out of all your injuries, your head trauma was certainly the worst. We actually had a Unicorn Doctor come in and perform a magic scan to test for brain damage. Luckily, there doesn’t appear to be any. You only managed to knock yourself unconscious and open a pretty severe gash on the back of your head.” She paused for a moment before continuing again, “You should actually count yourself very lucky. In most cases of a fall from this height, we’d see far more widespread injuries. You should be glad your friends were there for you, and that they’ve been here this whole time, waiting.”

        “Well where are they?” Rainbow said, confused.

        “There’re still coming.” Pinkie Pie answered solemnly. “I was so excited to see you that I ran from the waiting room ahead of them at top speed to get here.”

        “Oh…” Rainbow settled down to wait for the rest of her friends to show up, but at this moment became aware again of the strange pin-prick like-feeling she had in her right foreleg. She craned her neck from Pinkie on her left over to her right to get a view of the limb. She saw that there seemed to be a needle stuck into her foreleg, the point of acute sensation where it contacted her skin was hidden under a bandage, but she could see it there all the same. The needle was attached to a clear tube that seemed to have liquid running through it. She followed the tube upwards with her eyes until it reached a hanging pouch with a clear liquid suspended in it. This pouch hung on a metal rack next to her bed right beside a similar pouch that was filled with a red liquid. ‘Blood?’ Rainbow thought as she turned back to address the nurse again. “Ummm… What is this thing inside me?” she asked with trepidation.

        “What? That? Oh. That’s just an IV. We used it to give you doses of nutrients while you were unconscious.”

        “Why would I need that? I could sleep just fine before. I don’t need some needle stuck in me!” She attempted to pull it out with her other forehoof, but the pain of her previously dislocated left limb forced her to set it back down before she could reach the offending needle.

        “Well, I suppose it is no longer necessary, seeing as how you’ve awoken. If you would prefer it, I see no harm in removing it now.” Nurse Redheart explained, just to calm Rainbow Dash’s nerves, “but I assure you, you couldn’t very well eat or drink while you were unconscious.”

        “Wait, eat or drink? But that means I must have… I’ve been asleep for…” Rainbow Dash started stammering, the cold reality of her situation finally hitting her. She had no idea what time it was, or what day, even. She was in a hospital room with extensive injuries and strange fluids hooked up to her. Most of all, she didn’t even know how she had survived. “How long have I been…”

        “Ya’ve been out for two whole days, Sugarcube.” Rainbow Dash looked up at the sound of the voice that had interrupted her. From across the room, her eyes locked with the green ones of the mare who was now trotting in through the doorway. It was not how she had wanted to see Applejack again. Instead of the bright, smiling, happy face that had been haunting both her happiest dreams and her most despairing moments for the past few months, Rainbow saw a dejected looking face. The green eyes that had seemed to shimmer like the depths of an emerald pool before now seemed dull, as if their usual mirth was clouded by pain. Behind Applejack, both Rarity and Twilight Sparkle entered the room. The corner of Rarity’s mouth was twitching, as if she was biting back something she desperately wanted to say. Twilight hung her head.

        All four mares gathered around the hospital bed of their friend. Nurse Redheart retreated to the other side of the room, content to just watch now that she had taken the IV out. Rainbow’s gaze flitted from face to face as she looked up at her four friends gathered around her. The mournful looks sported by both Pinkie and Twilight, the incredulous, confused blank stare of Applejack, and Rarity’s fiery glare all met her gaze.

        Pinkie was the first one to find words. “Why, Dashie… why?” she asked, tears beginning to well up in the bottom of her eyes as she looked at her friend.

        “Why what?” Rainbow answered cautiously, knowing full well what she meant but not wanting to admit it.

        “You know exactly what she’s talking about, Rainbow Dash.” Rarity looked like she was ready to explode, and seemed to be doing all she could to keep her voice down to acceptable levels. “Why did you do this? How… how could you do this to us, your best friends? How… how could you… how could you try to… try to… how could you even think about…”

        “…killing yourself.” Twilight finished in a small voice, so quietly that is was as if she didn’t want anyone to hear her, as if the mere mention of such a thought was too horrible to speak out loud.

        Rainbow cringed. This was not the conversation she wanted to be having right now. Quickly, she tried to think of a lie to cover her tracks, or at least buy her some time. “But I wasn’t… I didn’t… I wasn’t going to…”

        “Don’t you try to lie to us, Rainbow Dash.” Rarity nearly shrieked, almost beside herself with anger. “Pinkie Pie told us that she saw you lock your wings up during flight when she saw you fall. You did this on purpose. You were perfectly content to just fall to your death without a care to what we felt, weren’t you?”

        “Rarity… Rarity, please.” Twilight almost whispered, barely able to stand the rising emotion.

        “I… I failed the Wonderbolts tryout.” Rainbow said lamely.

        “Oh sure, we had to hear that from Pinkie too, while we all waited in the lobby for the doctors to tell us if you were even going to make it!” Rarity seethed, “Tell me, Rainbow Dash, does that seem like a good reason now to throw yourself off a cloud? You would be dead now if your fall hadn’t been broken. I hope you realize that.”

        It was in this moment, looking from face to face of her four friends while she tried to think of a suitable response, that Rainbow realized something was wrong – very wrong. “Wait a minute… Where’s Fluttershy?”

        “Rainbow,” Applejack quickly said in order to cut off Rarity’s next outburst, “She broke yer fall Rainbow. Fluttershy did everything she could to save yer life, and it worked.”

        At that moment, Rainbow Dash wanted nothing more than to break through a hole in the ceiling and escape this new nightmare. But she couldn’t. This was the real world now. “Fl-Fluttershy saved me? I landed on her? Is she… is she…” Rainbow couldn’t even bring herself to ask the question that now burned at her mind. Fluttershy – sweet, innocent, kind, caring Fluttershy, had come between her and the hard ground?

        “She’s in the next room over.” Nurse Redheart called from her chair over by the wall, “We managed to get her breathing and her heart rate stabilized, but she is still comatose and she is still in critical condition.”

        “I hope you realize what that means.” Rarity snapped before Rainbow Dash could inquire further, “Fluttershy is in even worse shape than you are right now. She could have died trying to save you, Rainbow Dash.”

        “Well she didn’t.” Rainbow shot back, “She’s still alive, and she’s OK, right?”

        “Weren’t you listening to the nurse?” Rarity’s voice was continuing to rise, even against her own better judgment and sensibilities, “She’s in critical condition. We’ve all been waiting here for two days for you both to wake up, and Fluttershy still hasn’t shown any signs of improvement besides a weak pulse and ragged breathing. She might not make it!” Rarity was close to crying now, but still managed to push on, “She might still die, Rainbow Dash! And if she does, it will be entirely your fault.”

        “You don’t need to remind me of what I did!” Rainbow shot back, starting to get angry with Rarity, “It’s not like I was trying to hurt her!”

        “But it was your stupid decision that put all of us in this situation!” Rarity shouted, any semblance of previous etiquette slipping away.

        “I didn’t ask Fluttershy to try and save me!” Rainbow retorted, her own volume rising, “I didn’t want anypony to save me!”

        “And just what was she to do? Leave you to fall to your death of your own accord?” Rarity cried, “Would letting you kill yourself solve anything?”

        “Shut up, Rarity! You don’t know my life, OK? You don’t understand anything about me. You have your fashion world and your dreams of being a designer; you have everything you could ever want! You don’t know what my life is like! You know I’ve always wanted to be a Wonderbolt, but now all that is gone. I’ve got nothing left to look forward to. You’ll never understand. You still have your dreams! You still have your family!”

        “Just what are you implying, Rainbow Dash?” Rarity returned fire while Twilight, Applejack, and Pinkie could only watch in fascination and horror, “That I’m the insensitive one? I’m the one with a perfect life? You’re the one who just about ended her life without a thought towards what her friends would think!”

        “The Wonderbolts were all I had left! They were the only thing that kept me going for years – ever since my parents died! I had to watch my parents be burned to death when my house caught fire, Rarity. My entire childhood went up in flames and my entire family was lost right in front of my eyes! I had to go to Cloudsdale alone and raise myself for years, and that entire time the only reason that I kept me waking up each day was my dream of becoming a Wonderbolt, and now that’s gone too. I have no family, no future, nothing!”

        “What about us, Rainbow Dash?” Rarity seethed, “Aren’t we, your best friends, worth living for? Don’t you think we could have helped you? Do you think you’re the only one who has lost family members?”

        “You still don’t understand! I lost my entire family in one day, and I had to watch my entire world burn and crash down around me! You have Sweetie Belle; you still have your family! How could you understand?”

        “Of all the insensitive notions!” Rarity nearly screamed, having noticed that Redheart had conveniently left the room, “Of course I have Sweetie Belle, she lives with me! Have you ever stopped to consider how unusual that is Rainbow Dash? That a little filly such as herself should be living with her sister instead of her parents? You’ve never even met my parents! Don’t you wonder why? Rainbow Dash, you are not the only pony who has lost her parents.”

        “R… Rarity, I… I-I didn’t know…” Rainbow choked out, only now realizing the folly of her shouting match.

        “Oh, save it.” Rarity snarled as she turned hoof and began to stomp towards the door. “You don’t care about me or my parents. You obviously don’t care about us if you’re willing to just throw your life away without a care towards what we would have thought. Some element of Loyalty you are, Rainbow Dash. I’m going to go sit with my best friend, who could be dying just because she wanted to save your sorry flank.”

        Rainbow Dash could only stare for a few seconds after Rarity left the room. She had made her friend angry; she had yelled at one of her best friends. Rarity was right, she was no element of Loyalty. Unbeknownst to Rainbow Dash, a new tear began to form and slip from her eye, sliding down her face as she contemplated the loss of a friend.

        “Come on girls,” Twilight managed to say in a very small voice, “I think Rainbow needs some privacy.”

        In that moment, as she watched Twilight and Pinkie step out the door, Applejack just behind them, Rainbow realized something. No matter what, she didn’t want to lose her friends. Right now, she was close to losing two of them, she didn’t want to risk the others, especially the one she cared about most. As Twilight and Pinkie slipped out of sight out the doorframe, Rainbow cleared her throat to call out. “A-AJ!” she called, just loud enough so that the orange mare in the doorway heard her, stopped and turned around. If Rainbow Dash knew one thing, she knew that she didn’t want to be alone.

        “Yeah, Sugarcube?” Applejack responded form the doorway.

        “AJ… AJ please… Could you… Could you stay here… with me? I need… I need somepony here.” Rainbow said.

        “Sure, Rainbow. Sure.” Applejack said, walking back into the room and pulling up a chair.

        “AJ… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get so mad. I didn’t mean to shout at Rarity; I didn’t want to get her angry. I didn’t even know about her parents. I’m so sorry.”

        “It’s OK, Rainbow. I know you weren’t trying to pick a fight.” Applejack replied in as soothing a tone as possible, “We’ve been waiting here worried sick about y’all for two whole days. Ah guess Rarity just got too stressed. You know how she can be, and this has been a hard time for all of us. We were all worried about ya.”

        “But she’s right. I almost abandoned you guys in the worst way possible. I don’t deserve to be the element of loyalty. I don’t deserve friends like you.”

        “Don’t say that, Sugarcube.” Applejack said, picking up a hoof and lifting Rainbow’s chin so she could stare right into her magenta eyes, “You just made a mistake, Rainbow Dash. What’s done is done. You’re alive now, and you should be thankful for that. Ah don’t want ta see ya beating yerself up over this Rainbow. Ah don’t want ya ta hurt yerself anymore.”

        “You’re not mad at me? I thought everyone would be mad at me. I’ve been a terrible friend.” Rainbow said glumly.

“No, Sugarcube, Ah ain’t mad at ya.” Applejack’s words were calm, soothing the cyan pegasus. “Ah’m scared for ya, and Ah’m scared for Fluttershy, but Ah ain’t mad. Ah don’t think you deserve that.”

 “Th-thanks, AJ.” Rainbow said meekly, feeling reassured by the mere presence of the beautiful pony beside her. “Applejack? Could you please stay in here, with me? I don’t want to be alone.”

        “Sure thing, Rainbow. Ah’ll stay right by your side.” Applejack smiled for her friend and Rainbow could swear she saw those green eyes sparkle - a sign from happier times. “Now. Ya should go back to sleep. Ah imagine yer pretty tired after all that, and ya need rest to recover.”

        Rainbow smiled as she gazed up into the face of the mare she cared about most. With that happy image burned into her mind’s eye, she closed her eyes and soon felt the grip of sleep begin to take her, hoping against hope that it would be undisturbed.

        The hospital was dark when Rainbow Dash next felt the sensation of being woken up. She opened her eyes and looked about the room, she was sure she had felt somepony shake her awake, but there was nopony in sight. Not even Applejack. ‘Figures she wouldn’t stay with me once I fell asleep,’ Rainbow thought to herself, ‘I’m not worth it.’

        She glanced down at the leg that had been in such pain earlier, it didn’t look so bad. She decided to test it, just to see if it was still hurting. Tentatively, she flexed the limb, expecting pain but not feeling it. Empowered by her seemingly healed injury, she thrust the scratchy linen sheet that had lain on her off her body in one motion, tossing it to the side. She spent but a few minutes taking in her body as it lay exposed before her. Bandages were in places where she had felt cuts and scratches before, but beyond such cosmetic damages and a restricted throbbing pain that persisted in her head, she looked and felt perfectly fine.

        Rainbow Dash carefully pushed herself up off her back so that she was sitting up in bed, her shoulder joint only giving mild protest at her using her leg to prop herself up. She glanced around the room, confirming that there was no one else there. The IV stand still stood to her side, the half-empty bag of nutrient solution still dangling next to a bag full of red blood. For the first time, Rainbow looked down at the bedside table which had sat alongside her, just below her field of vision when laying down, and saw what rested on it. One more bag, just like the ones above, only empty. Empty that is, except for the minute traces of crimson liquid which had pooled in the creases of the plastic bag that lay expended and discarded on the table’s surface. ‘More blood?’ Rainbow thought as she looked upon the used transfusion bag, ‘Did I need blood from somepony?’

        She turned away from the sight and instead fixed her gaze on the open door ahead of her. As she stared absent-mindedly out into the empty hallway, an idea struck her. An idea that grew to fill her mind and take the form of a scheme, a plan, a reason for being awake. In an instant, Rainbow knew what she wanted to do, she knew why she had been woken up.

        She swung her legs out over the side of the bed and gently set them down upon the linoleum tiling of the floor, careful not to make a sound, lest she be heard and have somepony come running. She gradually lowered the rest of the body and instinctively winced as she tried to put weight on her bad leg, immediately shifting to her other hooves to avoid that joint’s throbbing protest. Now fully out of the bed, she began to tentatively move across the room towards the open door, making sure not to create excess noise as she did so, getting caught would not suit her purposes.

        Rainbow Dash stepped out into the hallway, favoring her right hoof, and began to almost instinctively turn to her right, some unseen force drawing her in that direction even though she had no idea which way her destination really was. As she snuck down the dimly lit passage, the flash of a lone light source reflected off a fixture on the wall caught her attention. Approaching it, she realized that it was a mirror, inexplicably hanging on the wall of a hospital passageway. Drawn by curiosity, Rainbow stepped into its path so that she was facing the reflective surface. What she saw surprised her. Staring back at her were the magenta eyes of a cyan pegasus pony, but her forelock of shockingly bright rainbow hair was pressed and matted to her forehead by a large wrapped bandage. For a fleeting instant, Rainbow wondered if this might explain the headaches that she had been feeling, if there was a gash there large enough to warrant such a substantial bandage, might that be where she had lost all the blood that was replaced via tube?

        Drawn ever onward by the same unexplained compelling force that brought her from her bed, Rainbow tore herself away from the grip of the mirror and approached another door on the other side of the hallway. She didn’t even bother to check the name on the plate outside before fumbling with the latch and swinging the door open silently. She crept into the room, which appeared identical to her own except for the figure resting on the bed. With one glance, a glimpse of a bright yellow patch of fur convinced Rainbow Dash that her instincts had been correct. She had found the correct room; the only problem was that Fluttershy’s face was not visible. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, Rainbow decided. Even though her friend’s entire head seemed to be wrapped in white bandages, it was as clear as day to Rainbow that Fluttershy was still unconscious. The only sound that permeated the room was the steady beeping of a machine that seemed to be hooked directly up to Fluttershy. A bright green line trailed across the screen in front of Rainbow and cut through the darkness of the room, a line which jumped and scattered itself up and down with every beep of the machine. Rainbow Dash knew enough about hospitals to recognize this machine for what it was doing: recording her friend’s heartbeat.

        “H-hey… Fluttershy.” Rainbow spoke in a whisper, aware that the two of them were the only ponies in the room and that Fluttershy couldn’t possible register what she was saying, but feeling the need to communicate nonetheless. “I… I wanted to see you. I-I was worried about what the girls said about you, so I came up to meet you; to tell you I’m sorry.” She paused for a moment, unsure whether or not to continue on. “I heard what you did,” she continued after but a moment’s hesitation, “You risked your life to save me, and it worked. You saved my life, Fluttershy, and you hurt yourself doing it.” She began to feel tears tugging at the corners of her eyes as she struggled to keep up their one-sided conversation, “Fluttershy, you didn’t have to do that for me. You’re so innocent, you don’t deserve pain like this.” Rainbow’s defenses had long ago crumbled, and she now felt the teams come streaming down her face again, she was unable to hold them back as she gazed at the blank, bandaged face of her friend.

        “Do you… do you know what, though?” She finally said as she calmed down enough to resume speaking, “I’m glad you did. I made a mistake, and I’m glad you were there to correct it for me. You may have hurt yourself, but I’m still alive because of it. I’m alive thanks to you. You’ve helped me with my problems before, especially back in Cloudsdale, but this… this is the biggest of them all, and you didn’t even hesitate to do all you could for me. You don’t know how lovely you are, Fluttershy.” Rainbow shook her head a few times before continuing on. “And I almost blew it. Everything you’ve ever done for me, and I almost threw it all away. Well no more,” She said, looking up again, “I’m not going to make another mistake that you have to fix. I’m going to make my life worthwhile now that you gave it back to me. I’m going to start over and make sure I don’t mess up like this again.” She paused, still staring at the mass of bandages that should have been Fluttershy’s face. “Did you hear me, Flutterhsy?” She said louder, hoping to break through the separating wall of unconsciousness, “I’m going back to the start.”

        Suddenly, Rainbow noticed something. The beeping of the machine in front of her, which had previously been drawn out, was growing faster. The timespan in between pulses dropped from several seconds to less than one, the noise growing in frequency, signifying that Fluttershy’s heart was beating faster. Rainbow was nearly stunned into silence. Had Fluttershy heard her? Was she waking up? Rainbow could feel her own pulse quickening as she imagined at any second that Fluttershy would stir and rise from her slumber.

        Then, as suddenly as the time between beeps had started dropping, it vanished altogether. Each individual blip melded into one continuous noise that drowned out all thought from Rainbow Dash’s mind. The chill of absolute horror washed over her body and froze all function as she watched the jumping green line suddenly go flat and drag across the screen, never to pulse again. The prolonged whine of the machine was all that sounded to lament a sudden loss.

        Immeasurable time was spent as Rainbow Dash stood frozen, rooted to her spot on the tile floor. The whine of the machine was still blaring in her ears when she regained vocal function, her eyes as yet unable to tear themselves away from the flat green line playing across the screen.

        “No,” She whispered.

        “No.” She gasped.

        “No.” She said.

        “No.” She cried.


Chapter 4

Lights will guide you home,
And ignite your bones,
And I will try to fix you,

Tears stream down on your face,
When you lose something you cannot replace,
Tears stream down on your face,
And I...


        The scream woke Applejack and brought Nurse Redheart running towards the room.

        Thrust up from sleeping by the sudden noise, the orange earth pony mare rubbed her eyes as she tried to make sense of the scene before her. As the blurriness of sleep faded from her vision, she shook her head to fully activate her awareness. Her gaze fell upon the bed in front of her, and what she saw caused her to jerk her head up, senses aroused by the sight before her. She sat up in the chair that she had fallen asleep upon the night before. The cyan pegasus who she had watched drift off to sleep herself only a few hours ago was now awake and thrashing around in the hospital bed. Frozen in place and not quite understanding the situation she was now confronted with, for several moments Applejack could only stare at the blue pony before her.

        “She’s dead, she’s dead!” Rainbow Dash suddenly cried, jerking up in bed and flinging her sheets to the floor, “She’s dead and I killed her! I killed her. I killed her! Oh Celestia I killed her!” Finished with her outburst, Rainbow’s head dropped into her hooves and she began sobbing uncontrollably.

         “Sugarcube?” Applejack asked as she jumped up from the chair, immediately rushing to the side of the bed, “Rainbow? RAINBOW!” She cried, reaching her hooves out to grasp the head of the pegasus before her. “Rainbow, wake up!” She started to shake the inconsolable pegasus, trying to get a response from her.

        Rainbow Dash looked up, tears brimming in her eyes as she stared up into the face of the pony above her. “Applejack, I… I… I killed her Applejack. I killed Fluttershy. It’s all my fault. She’s dead because of me, because she tried to save my life! That should be me, Applejack. She should never have tried to save me. I should have died instead of her; she didn’t deserve this.”

        “Oh, Rainbow.” Applejack said, embracing the blue pegasus by the neck, “Don’t talk like that; ya don’t deserve to die. And how could ya possibly know about Fluttershy?”

        “I… I saw her… I watched her die, Applejack. I watched her heart stop!”

        “Watched who die?” Nurse Redheart, just trotting through the doorway, asked, “Just what is wrong in here?”

        “I… I woke up in the middle of the night. I walked down the hallway because I wanted to see Fluttershy. Then I saw her… and I talked to her…” Rainbow began to speak, tears forming in her eyes even as she did so, “Then… then her… her heartbeat stopped… I… I killed her… It’s my fault.”

        “But, Sugarcube, that’s impossible. You’ve been in this room all night. Ah slept here right next to ya, so ya couldn’t have left without me knowin’ it.” Applejack said, pulling her face away from that of her friend’s, but still keeping her hooves wrapped around Rainbow’s neck.

        “Besides, Fluttershy isn’t dead.” Nurse Redheart said, still standing back by the door. “I can assure you that Doctors have been with her all night. They told me that even though she is still in a coma, she is going to live. She won’t die, Miss Dash.” She paused for a moment to let this information sink in, “Now, I have other patients to attend to, so unless you are hurt in any way, I think I’m done here.”

        Rainbow Dash shook her head and Nurse Redheart left the room. Without saying another word, she pulled Applejack in for another hug. She buried her face into the Blonde mane before her. Applejack had taken the bands out of her hair when she went to sleep, and her mane now fell loose about her shoulders. Rainbow breathed in the scent of apples from her mane as she began to cry again. This new information was almost too much for her to take, but for the moment, she had her face buried in the mane of the mare she loved. Even if she couldn’t admit her love to her, just having her in her arms was enough.

        “It’s OK, Sugarcube.” Applejack whispered comfortingly into her ear, “It was just a dream. Fluttershy’s gonna be alright. Ya only had a nightmare.”

        “But… but it felt so real!” Rainbow Dash said, still unsure.

        “How could it have been real? Ya haven’t been awake outside of this room, ya wouldn’t even know how to find Fluttershy’s room, let alone get in without anypony seeing you. Doctors have been in there all night, and they sure wouldn’t have even let ya in her room if you had managed to find it – let alone even allow you to leave your own room in the middle of the night.”

        “But there were no doctors, I didn’t see anypony else… not even you.” Rainbow said.

        “Exactly, Sugarcube.” Applejack told her, stroking her hexachromatic mane as she spoke, “If it had been real, ya would have seen me when ya woke up. Ya would have seen doctors in Fluttershy’s room. You’re alone only in your dreams.”

        “But… but why... why, Applejack... why does my mind want to torture me?” Rainbow sobbed into the sweet golden straw that had become her pillow.

        “Oh, Rainbow. Maybe it’s just because you’re feelin’ guilty.” Applejack told her, “Ah know you must feel terrible right now, but believe me, Rainbow Dash. Everything is going to get better. You’re still alive, Fluttershy is still alive, you’ll both be healed soon enough, and then everything can go back to normal. You’ll see.”

        “No, Applejack.” Rainbow said, resting her chin on the orange mare’s shoulder, “Nothing is ever going to be the same again. I made a huge mistake, Applejack. I almost killed myself. I almost killed Fluttershy. My life will never be the same again.”

        “Ah know it feels bad Sugarcube,” Applejack continued to console her, “But everypony makes mistakes. Even if this was a big mistake, ya can’t live your whole life feelin’ bad about it. Ah don’t want ta see ya do that to yerself, and Ah know Fluttershy wouldn’t want ya to do that either. She cared enough about ya to risk her life ta save yers. She wouldn’t want ya ta beat yerself up over it.” Applejack paused to reflect on something before speaking again, “Ah certainly didn’t carry ya all the way here to watch you hate yerself.”

        “You… you carried me here?” Rainbow asked, perplexed now.

        “Yep.” Applejack responded, a hint of pride missed in with her solemn voice, “Ah was headin’ into town when Pinkie found me and told me what happened. At first Ah was worried that you and Fluttershy were dead, but I leaned down and listened for yer heartbeat, and when Ah heard it Ah knew that Ah had ta save ya. So Ah put ya on mah back and carried ya all the way into town. Pinkie carried Fluttershy right behind me.”

        “But Applejack… what about the other girls? Where are they now, even?”

        “Well… Rarity kinda left in a huff yesterday. But Rainbow, she doesn’t hate you. Rarity is just stressed right now, and you know how badly she handles stress. Twilight leaves every night because she’s takin’ care of Fluttershy’s animals for her. She stopped in to talk with me last night while you were asleep. She told me the instant that they got back to the waiting room Pinkie Pie crashed on a couch and fell asleep…” Applejack started chuckling involuntarily at this.

        “What’s so funny?” Rainbow Dash sat back down in the bed, confused.

        “Oh, it’s just that Ah think Pinkie’s endless energy has finally run out.” Applejack said, obviously trying to lighten the mood, then she continued to speak in a more sober voice, “Ya know, she watched you and Fluttershy fall to the ground. Ah think that out of all of us, she was the worst affected for the past two days. She never got a wink of sleep. She would just stay up all day and all night, pacin’ the floor and whisperin’ ta herself.” Applejack paused, her tone suddenly much more serious, “We tried ta get her ta snap out of it but she wouldn’t. You know how she is when her hair falls flat… Then, when Nurse Redheart told us you were awake, she took off running here without us. Ah’m just glad she finally found time to sleep, at least, according to Twilight. Ah can only imagine she’s still curled up on a couch. Twilight left to put Spike to bed and tend to Fluttershy’s critters after she stopped in to see us. Ah think Ah fell asleep a few minutes after that.”

        “You… you… you slept here all night?”

        “Of course Ah did, Sugarcube. What are friends for, anyway? Ya asked me ta stay with ya, and Ah did.” Applejack gave her a smile, and Rainbow could swear she saw a sparkle come to her tired green eyes for but a fleeting instant.

        “You’re a much better element of loyalty than I am.” Rainbow said, hanging her head, suddenly feeling dejected.

        “If ya keep thinkin’ like that, you’ll never feel better about yourself, Rainbow. Ya need to be strong. Ah can’t stand ta see ya treatin’ yerself like this.” Applejack told her, lifting Rainbow’s chin with her hoof to look directly into those sad, magenta eyes.

        “I know, AJ.” Rainbow responded, “It’s just so hard not to… I feel like… I mean, it feels like… it feels like… like…”

        “Like the whole world is just against you, and you’ll never be able to feel happy again?”

        “Y-yeah.” Rainbow managed to say, “AJ? How… how did you… know?”

        “It’s a long story.” Applejack sighed, “Let’s just say that Ah… Ah understand your situation a little better than most ponies.”

        “Applejack?” Rainbow Dash propped herself up, suddenly curious and slightly concerned, “Did you… where you ever… well, you know… are you saying that… that… you were like me once?”

        “Well… not exactly,” Applejack paused for a moment, appearing deep in thought. Finally, she spoke, “Ah guess Ah could tell ya the story.” Without warning, Applejack climbing up into the bed and lay down next to Rainbow. She smiled as she lay her head on the pillows. Rainbow Dash, perplexed for only a brief instant, lay down to face Applejack. She stared into the green eyes across from her as she reveled in the chance to be closer to Applejack. She smiled at the mare she loved, willing her to begin as she received a kind smile back. “Do ya remember a couple weeks ago when Applebloom had her birthday party, but Ah wasn’t there for the first half?”

        “Yeah, I remember thinking that was strange.” Rainbow answered, “And when you got there, you looked like you had been crying, but I didn’t want to say anything because I thought it was too personal…”

        “Well… that’s because Ah was cryin’, Rainbow.” Applejack paused before continuing again, “Ah was cryin’ because that day… the day when Applebloom was born, was one of the worst days of mah life.” A silence descended on th two ponies, Applejack caught in a flood of memories, and Rainbow trying to think what to say to the pony before her.

        “A-AJ? You… you don’t have to tell me this if it feels too bad…”

        “No.” Applejack said, breaking her reverie instantly, “Ah want ta tell ya, Sugarcube. Ah think it will help ya.” With that said, she began her story again. “Many years ago, on the day Applebloom was born, Ah was just a filly. Ah didn’t even have mah cutie mark yet. Ah lived with Ma, Pa, Granny Smith, and Big Macintosh back then. Ma had grown up on the farm, and when she married Pa they took over operations from Granny Smith and Grandad. They were getting’ old, so when Grandad passed away we were all still sad, but it wasn’t really a surprise. Then, we all got some happy news. Ma gathered the whole family in the kitchen one day and told us that she was going to have another foal. Granny Smith explained to me that Ah was going to get a new little brother or sister, and Ah was so excited! As the months wore on, Ah watched mah mother get bigger an’ bigger, and eventually the day came for her to leave for the hospital. Ah don’t even remember why now, but Granny Smith made me an’ Macintosh stay back at the house while Ma and Pa went away. Then, that day came - the day when they were supposed to come back and the day Ah was goin’ to meet mah new baby sister. That day, Pa came in carriyn' the cutest little baby filly Ah ever did see in his hooves. I ran up to him and Ah asked where Ma was, ‘cause Ah didn't see her anywhere. Then he started cryin’. Ah’d never seen my Pa cry before, so Ah knew somethin’ must have been terribly wrong. Pa wouldn’t talk to us. Granny Smith had to explain to Macintosh and me how Ma had died of foalbirth, and she wasn’t comin’ home no more.”

        “AJ?” Rainbow spoke up, “AJ… I had no idea. I’m so sorry AJ…”

        “Ah know Sugarcube. Thanks.” Applejack leaned over to give Rainbow Dash, who had fresh tears in her eyes, another hug before continuing. “Ah was upset. For the longest time Ah just couldn’t understand why Ah could never see mah Ma again. Ah started blamin’ everypony for what happened. Ah blamed Pa for not savin’ her. I blamed Applebloom for killin’ her when she came into the world. But most of all, Ah blamed mahself… ah blamed mahself for not bein’ able to do anythin’ for her. Ah took to lockin’ mahself in mah room for hours on end. Ah was takin’ it pretty bad, but Ah think Pa took it even worse. Most days he would leave in the afternoon and not come back until evening. He would stumble into the house and collapse on the bed. Then, one day, he left in the afternoon and didn’t show up that night. He didn’t come home the next day either. We went searchin’ for him, but we never found him, dead or alive. To this day, Ah still don’t know what happened to him. He just got up and walked out of our lives, and we haven’t heard from him since.” A hush fell over the two ponies, and for several moments after this, Applejack was silent.

        “But… but how could he do that?” Rainbow asked, “How could he just leave? How… how could I just leave? Oh Celestia, I almost did the same thing! I almost abandoned you just like he did… Applejack? I’m sorry. I’m so sorry… so, so sorry…”

        “It’s OK, Sugarcube.” Applejack said, “Ya know what? Even though he did what he did, Ah forgive him now. Ah forgive him, and Ah forgive you. Ya know why? Because Ah almost did the same thing. When Ah lost both Ma and Pa, it was almost too much for me. It was terrible. Mah whole family was split wide open. It felt like the whole world was just against me, and Ah felt lke Ah would never be happy again. That was when I started thinkin’ about just endin’ it all. I thought about doin’ the same thing you just did, only Ah couldn’t fly up and let mahself drop. Ah decided that a rope would do it for me. Ah got as far as tyin’ one of mah favorite lassos, but Ah could never do it. Ah could never do it because very day –every mornin’- Ah would wake up and see the sunrise. And every day the sunrise seemed to say to me: ‘Hold on. Hold on for one more day.’ So Ah did. Ah lived one day at a time for a long time, until Ah finally decided ta just leave. Ah didn’t want ta spend the rest of mah life on a muddy ol’ apple farm… but there was more to it than that. There were too many memories on the farm. There were too many happy memories and too many sad memories - Memories of mah Ma and mah Pa – memories that made me sad. Ah didn’t want ta think about them anymore, because thinking about them was just too painful. So Ah left for Manehatten.”

        “And that’s when your cutie mark story starts?” Rainbow asked, recognizing the path Applejack’s story had taken.

        “Yeah. And Ah know ya’ll’ve heard that story before, but Ah have one more thing ta say.” Applejack took a deep breath, suddenly and inexplicably looking very nervous as she began to speak again, “When Ah felt homesick in Manehatten, and Ah had no idea what ta do, a rainbow showed me the way home. Ah ran all the way back home ta be with mah family, because Ah realized in that moment that family is the most important thing, and that Ah needed ta be with them. Ah came home, and Ah’ve been happy ever since. Ah have mah family again, and Ah’ve raised Applebloom like she was mah own, because everypony deserves ta have a lovin’ family.” Applejack breathed deeply again. Rainbow Dash was confused. As they both lay on the hospital bed, she continued to look into Applejack’s eyes, but Applejack was starting to look nervous, and Rainbow Dash couldn’t fathom why.

“Are you OK, AJ?” She asked, confused and suddenly concerned for her friend.

“Sugarcube…” Applejack began to speak again, “That rainbow Ah saw, that was you. Ya’ll were the one who led me back home. Ya were the one who showed me what was important in life. Ya saved me from making a huge mistake, even though ya hadn’t met me yet. And when Ah did meet ya, ya know how fast we became friends. Well… Ah’ve… Ah’ve always felt like we were more than friends… more than best friends, even… That’s why Ah ran into town with you on mah back, Rainbow Dash. Ah couldn’t stand the thought of losin’ ya. Ah couldn’t bear to lose ya because… because… because Ah love you too much, Rainbow Dash.”

        Rainbow Dash lay in stunned silence for a while. Could this be? Could Applejack have really just told her that she loved her – loved her back? Desperate for answers, Rainbow Dash broke the silence. “You… You love me?” Was all she could stammer.

        “Yeah, Sugarcube, Ah guess Ah do.” Applejack paused, unsure whether to continue, “Ah know it seems weird, us both bein’ mares an’ all, but Ah love you. Ah have for a while. If… if you… if you want me ta leave… Ah can…” She said finally, propping herself back up in the bed.

        “NO!” Rainbow Dash suddenly cried, startling the orange earth pony, “Don’t leave. Please. AJ… I… I…” Rainbow stopped, unsure what to say now, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner? If I had known… if I had known then I might… I might not have… I might not have tried to…” She couldn’t bring herself to say it. She couldn’t even mention how she had thought of Applejack when falling. She couldn’t begin to say that this information might have prevented her from falling in the first place. She couldn’t make Applejack feel guilty about not telling her sooner, but she could say one thing. “I love you too, Applejack. I love you and I was never able to tell you before – I was always too afraid. I’ve been such a stupid foal lately. I almost abandoned you without telling you – without knowing how you felt. I’m so sorry.”

        “Do ya… do ya really mean that, Sugarcube?” Applejack whispered, lying back down.

        “Yes.” Rainbow Dash said, voice full of a newfound confidence, “I do. Oh, Applejack. Please don’t leave, please don’t leave me here.” She reached over and grasped the orange mare lying next to her, burying her face in the loose golden strands of apple-scented hair once again. “I… I don’t want to be alone again.” She said solemnly.

        “Ah won’t, Sugarcube.” Applejack whispered into the blue ear of the pegasus, clutching Rainbow Dash in her own hooves as well. She reveled in the sensation of the pony she held sobbing gently into her mane. She had told Rainbow her secret, and she could not have hoped for a better result. “Almost losin’ you… well, it made me think how fragile life was, and Ah knew Ah had to tell ya how Ah felt. Ah’m so happy ya feel the same, Rainbow Dash. Ah can’t stand the thought of life without ya.”

        “I thought… I thought when I had that dream… that nopony wanted me anymore. I thought that I was just going to leave everypony behind… and I almost did.” Rainbow said, still unwilling to let go.

        “The dream where you saw Fluttershy die?” Applejack asked, wondering what Rainbow meant.

        “No… I… I had another dream.” Rainbow said slowly, “I wasn’t going to tell anyone about it… but… here goes.” She swallowed as she repositioned herself on the bed, staring deep into Applejack’s eyes, ready to tell about the dream, visions of which had haunted her ever since she woke from it. “I was in this forest.” She began, “It seemed peaceful at first, but there was this noise. I was curious, so I followed the noise until I got out of the woods. Then, I was standing on this beach. Behind me was Equestria, but in front of me was an endless sea of water, perfectly calm except for small waves that washed onto the sand every few seconds.” She paused. It was strange, normally she couldn’t recall the details of dreams so well, especially so long after she had experienced them, but this one seemed engrained into her memory, as if it had been real. Rainbow Dash still wasn’t entirely sure that it hadn’t been so.

“Then I heard this voice. I was startled but I looked down. There was a head poking up out of the water. I realized that it was me, only grey. We spoke for a while. Whatever it was basically told me that I should have died. It said that I was in between life and death, and that I had to follow it to finish what I had started. I guess that meant I was supposed to wade into the water and take myself away from my life for good. I don’t know why, but I got really angry. It was like this thing embodied everything I hated about myself, and I was afraid of it. As I felt myself getting angrier, the wind started and the sea got furious, it was like the whole world was following my emotions. Then, my parents came out of the water. I haven’t seen my parents for years, and they were suddenly right in front of me. I wanted to be near them, even though they were grey. I felt like… like if I left my life behind, I could be with them again. So I started to walk to the water, only when I touched the water, it hurt. It hurt a lot.” Rainbow Dash winced involuntarily, remembering the searing pain that had shot through her head. The pain she remembered felt all too real.

        “When I opened my eyes, the water was turning red and the storm was breaking all around me. Everything was going crazy. The trees were moving as if they were alive, the water seemed to be turning into blood, it smelled like… it smelled like my house did when I watched it burn down. Then, my grey parents and grey self rose up out of the water and I saw… I saw that they each had a hole right through their chest. I was scared, so I ran, but I could get through the trees. So I just jumped up and flew. I flew upwards, right through the storm, and they chased me. I had to outrun them, but I started to get tired. Then a hole opened up in the clouds and there was this light shining down. So I flew through it and escaped. Then I… then I woke up here, with the lights in my eyes. I haven’t forgotten any of that dream, but I wish I could.” She finished.

        Applejack leaned over to embrace Rainbow again. It felt good, to have her eyes mopped by a soft golden mane and to have her fears taken away by the strength and warmth of the pony she loved. Rainbow Dash smiled as she breathed in the sweet scent of Apples again. Even if she harbored so many bad memories, she knew that she could still be at peace here, with the mare whose strength was enough to bring a tortured soul in from the cold and out of the dark. “What do ya think it means, Sugarcube?” Applejack whispered.

        “It means… it means I was close to death, I was on the brink, but I chose not to. I chose not to go into the sea; I chose to stay out of the great unknown. I chose to stay her with you. I chose life.” Rainbow said, slowly catching on to the significance of her strange nightmare.

        “Well,” Applejack said, “Ah think ya’ll made the right choice, Rainbow. Do ya know why?”

        “Why?” Rainbow asked.

        “Because you belong with me; not swallowed in the sea.”

Chapter 5

Tears stream down on your face,
I promise you I will learn from my mistakes,
Tears stream down on your face,
And I...

Lights will guide you home,
And ignite your bones,
And I will try to fix you.

        Rainbow Dash didn’t remember falling asleep. In truth, as her mind slowly recognized the minute details of self-awareness that heralded a slow trip back into the world of conscious thought, she struggled to recall anything that had happened the preceding day. Instead of the idle thoughts and early musings that were normally apt to fill her groggy mind at such a time of day, the first coherent product of her newfound consciousness was an image. It was an image that started out shrouded in a palette of blurred colors and unintelligible shapes but gradually grew more and more perceivable as her mind’s eye reached new levels of clarity with every passing instant. Before long, after details had finally emerged from the canvas of the mental portrait, Rainbow Dash found herself staring inward as a pair of sparkling green eyes stared back.

        Applejack. The mere sight of her beautiful, smiling face, even if it was but a mental image, was enough to allow a flood of emotion and memory to come crashing over the dykes of Rainbow Dash’s self-conscious. A feeling of content washed over a waking Rainbow Dash as she relived the sensations of the previous day. Burying her face in Applejack’s loose mane, wrapping her hooves tightly around her orange torso and receiving the same gesture in return, being soothed by word and body alike, listening with rapt attention to Applejack’s life story, these memories built upon one another as Rainbow Dash reveled in the recollection of each one. One inescapable, happy though rose up above the rest and latched itself into her subconscious: ‘Applejack loves me.’ She told herself, a smile spreading on her face even though her eyes remained closed as she repeated the simple sentence to herself over and over again.

        The sudden onset of abject terror was therefore all the more surprising to the cyan pegasus. A new thought, rising up unbidden from the dark depths of her mind to challenge the happy one; ‘What if that was just a dream too?’ Rainbow Dash shuddered as she heard this question posed by her own voice. Might AJ saying that she loved her be just another dream in the series that had been concocted by her mind, calculated to hurt once she woke up and realized its lack of truth? Questions of the legitimacy of her recalled experience swirled about her mind like wind-whipped storm clouds, until a new sensation cut its way through the storm. On one side, she felt the well-known scratch of the starchy linen hospital sheet she lay on. On her other side, however, the one that should have been exposed to open air, she felt a new and unknown pressure on her pelt. It was light, and had she not twitched suddenly she might not have noticed it, but it was distinct, and it felt like… like…

        …like the foreleg of another pony, draped over her side. In that instant, Rainbow Dash had her answer. The happy memories that fed her newly-conscious mind were from no dream, they had been real. ‘Applejack loves me, and now Applejack is holding me!’ she told herself excitedly. Rainbow shifted to find the rest of the orange mare’s body beside her, and as she did so, she felt Applejack’s form begin to stir, as if she too, were just now waking up.

        “Good mornin’, Sugarcube.” Rainbow reveled in the sound of Applejack’s accented voice as she lazily opened her eyes to reveal a shock of cotton-candy-pink mane.

        Wait. Cotton-candy-pink mane? In an instant, Rainbow Dash’s eyelids went from languidly sliding upward to jumping open - a reaction spurred by the unexpected sight before her. “P-P-Pinkie Pie?” Rainbow Dash stammered in disbelief.

        “HI DASHIE!” came the excited voice of the equally excited pink party pony inexplicably lying next to her.

        “WOAH NELLY!” Rainbow Dash felt the hoof that had been draped over her side slide off as its owner rolled over the edge of the bed in shock and hit the linoleum floor with an audible thump.

        “Oh Applejack, you silly pony, that’s not how you’re supposed to get out of a bed!” Pinkie Pie chirped, a wide smile planted across her face.

        “Pinkie Pie?”, an incredulous Applejack rose up from her spot on the floor, rubbing her head with a hoof, “What in the hay are ya doin’ here?”

        “Well… It all started when I woke up. Nurse Redheart came to see me and she told me you and Fluttershy were doing better and I was so happy! Then I ran to Fluttershy’s room but she hadn’t woken up yet so I came here to see you guys and I saw that you were sleeping in the same bed! So I thought: ‘They must be having a sleepover!’ and a sleepover is a PARTY! And you know how much I love parties so I just had to join you guys, so I did and then you woke up and here we are!”

        “Uhhh… Pinkie?” Rainbow was clearly still winded from the shock given to her by the pink pony, “We weren’t exactly having a sleepover….”

        “Huh? But… but you guys were in the same bed and hugging each other and everything…” Pinkie paused as realization suddenly dawned on her, “Oooohhh, but that must mean that you guys are…”

        “No, wait, Pinkie, it wasn’t like that!” Applejack scrambled to try and explain, fearful of her friend getting the wrong impression.

        “…A COUPLE! You know what this calls for?”

        “A party?”

        “A PARTY! Wait, how’d you know?”

        “Wait. Hold on a second Pinkie.” Rainbow Dash had finally gotten her thoughts together and had just now realized something was amiss. “Your hair isn’t flat anymore.”

        “What? Oh yeah! No, I’m not Saddy Waddy Pie anymore,” Pinkie Pie chose this moment to throw her hooves around the cyan pegasus before her and lock her in a bone-crushing hug, “I’m not saddy waddy anymore because you’re back Dashie! And Nurse Redheart said Fluttershy is going to be OK! My best friends aren’t going to leave me, so I’m happy!”

        Rainbow struggled to get a word in edgewise between Pinkie’s exclamations and her own gasps for breath from underneath the smothering embrace. “P-Pinkie… Pinkie… I’m so sorry I put you through that Pinkie, I made a huge mistake and I‘ve been a terrible friend. I can’t imagine all the pain and fear I must have put you through. Can you ever forgive me?”

        “Of course I forgive you, Dashie! Everypony makes mistakes. And you’re not a terrible friend, you’re one of my best friends, and I’m just glad you’re back. But please… please don’t try to hurt yourself again?” The sad, dejected tone Pinkie had possessed at their last meeting was just barely in evidence in her last statement.

        Rainbow and Pinkie managed to reposition themselves enough to accept Applejack in for a group hug. “I promise I won’t Pinkie, I promise with all my heart.” Truer words had never been spoken.

        The sound of brisk hoofsteps echoed off the walls of the hospital corridor. The sharp clicking of each hoof on the linoleum tiles gradually grew louder as a white earth pony approached the room that held Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and Pinkie Pie. With her pink bun of hair bouncing behind her as she trotted and her white cap adorned atop the rest of her rose-colored mane, Nurse Redheart approached the door to the recovery room. Upon reaching her destination, she reached a white hoof out in front of her to push the door open, clipboard held firmly in her teeth as she stepped into the room.

        The room’s three occupants looked up at her as she set the clipboard down on the side table before her. The obstruction now free from her mouth, Nurse Redheart looked down at the notes and pictures attached to the board and cleared her throat to address the three assembled ponies. “Well, Miss Dash. According to these X-rays, after being re-set, your leg has fully healed over the last few days. There is no evidence of any other internal injuries, and your external ones seem to be healing quite nicely. If your head injuries are no longer prevalent then I believe we may have you cleared to leave the hospital by this afternoon.”

        “So that means I can walk again?”

        “Well… Yes. But first, I want to replace the bandages on your head and check on the wound there. If the bleeding has stopped, and I’m sure it has, I’ll replace the bandages with some smaller protective ones and make my recommendation for your release. After that, there is still some paperwork to be filled out before you can leave the building.”

        “But can I leave my room before then? Can I go see Fluttershy?”

        “Certainly. Just let me check your head and give you some fresh bandages first.” Rainbow Dash leaned forward submissively as Nurse Redheart bent to examine her bandages, lifting Rainbow’s tri-colored forelock out of the way to access the damaged area. She slowly pealed back each individual layer to reveal a gash across Rainbow’s forehead. From the scarring left behind, she could tell that the wound was definitely smaller than it had been last time she replaced the bandages, and it was no longer bleeding. The cut was well on its way towards being fully healed. “Just as I suspected - no more bleeding. And the new skin has already begun the process of resealing it. It should take a few weeks for new skin to fully cover it and for your fur to regrow in that spot, but I daresay you can cover this with your mane. You’re going to heal just fine, Rainbow Dash, although if I were you, I would refrain from hitting my head against anything else for a while. I would also count myself lucky that somepony donated her own blood. She probably saved your life.”

        “Does that mean I’m cleared? Can I leave today?”

        “Yes. You’ll be discharged sometime this afternoon. I’ll send my recommendation for your release to the office soon, and then you can go once the paperwork is completed. In the meantime, I have other patients to attend to.” Retrieving her clipboard, Nurse Redheart once again headed out into the corridor, leaving Rainbow in a much better mood.

        Tentatively, Rainbow swung her legs out over the side of the bed and carefully lowered herself down onto them in order to stand. The small ache in her shoulder joint was nowhere near the protest of pain she had expected to receive when first setting weight on the limb again. Before she even had the chance to walk though, she found herself blindsided by another one of Pinkie Pie’s hugs. “YAY! DASHIE! I’m so happy for you! Now you don’t have to be cooped up in this boring old room anymore!”

        “Thanks, Pinkie.” Rainbow Dash patted her friend on the back, waiting patiently or the hug to be broken. Once it was, she smiled for her pink friend before turning towards Applejack.

        “Good fer you, Sugarcube!” Applejack gave one of her charismatic smiles and stood up on her hind legs, spreading her fore hooves wide. Rainbow accepted the invitation. She threw her own hooves around the orange torso of the mare before her and rested her chin on her love’s shoulder. She breathed in deeply, enjoying once again the sweet aroma of apples that arose off the golden mane that fell across her face. She felt hooves wrap around her neck and smiled warmly to know she was loved back. But something wasn’t right… the more she thought about it, the more she was sure she could feel something on the back of her neck – not the soft fur of Applejack’s pelt, but something else that felt rougher.

        She held on for a few more moments before they released each other. As Applejack’s foreleg came past her head, Rainbow brought up a hoof to stop it in midair. She quickly stole a glance, and in the crook below Applejack’s elbow she saw two bandages. They were placed across one another in the shape of a cross, and Rainbow was sure that they were what she had felt pressed into the back of her neck. “What’s this, AJ?”

        “What? Oh, that? That’s just where they put the needle in. Doesn’t even hurt or nothin’, really.”

        “What needle? Wait… AJ? Did you… did you give me blood?”

        “Well of course Ah did, Sugarcube. Who did ya think it was?”

        “AJ… You… you gave me your own blood…. You saved my life.”

        “Nah. Fluttershy saved yer life, she’s the one you should really thank. Ah just brought ya here, and when Ah got here, Nurse Redheart said you might be needin’ a donation, so Ah volunteered.”

        Rainbow reached back out and pulled Applejack into another embrace. “Thank you, Applejack,” she whispered in the mare’s ear as she hugged her.

        “No problem, Sugarcube. Ah love you. You know Ah’d do anythin’ ta help ya. For you… for you Ah’d bleed mahself dry.”

        It was in that moment which Pinkie Pie chose to burst her way into Rainbow Dash and Applejack’s private universe. “Come on, you lovebirds! Let’s go see Fluttershy!” She bounced out of the room, followed sheepishly by Rainbow Dash and Applejack, both blushing from ear to ear at having been interrupted and walking flank-to-flank.

        “She looks so peaceful.” Rainbow had been expecting to see Fluttershy’s head completely covered in bandages, just like it had been in her dream, but what she found was reassuring. Even though there was gauze wrapped around her forehead and the back of her head, her face was clearly visible. Her eyes were closed gently and her mouth spread into a small smile. Rainbow Dash watched as the blankets covering Fluttershy’s chest rose and fell with every small breath she took. She looked to all of Equestria as if she was just sleeping and might wake up at any moment, but Rainbow knew deep down that that was not going to happen very soon.

        “Yeah, Sugarcube. Yeah she does.” All three ponies were standing around their friend’s bed. All of them seemed mesmerized by the sight of Fluttershy, staring at her unconscious form and none saying a word. The silence of the recovery room was broken only by the steady beeping of the heart monitor and the scattered bits of a conversation that nopony seemed particularly willing to continue for very long.

        Suddenly, all three spun around as they heard the click of the door opening. They stared as a lavender unicorn stepped into the room, not seeming to notice them as she began talking. “Sorry I’m late Fluttershy. I got held up at your house trying to feed this rabbit who just wouldn’t cooper- Oh. Hi girls. Rainbow? You’re out of your bed. You must be feeling better.”

        “Hey there, Twi. We were wonderin’ when ya would show up.”

        “Hi Twilight. Yeah, I’m feeling better. Thanks.”

        “Did Nurse Redheart say you could be up and about?”

        “Yeah. She even said I’m going to be released this afternoon…” Rainbow Dash paused as she looked at her unicorn friend, trying to put together what to say next. “Listen, Twi…. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything I did and for worrying you so much. I guess… I guess I just wasn’t thinking about how the rest of you girls would feel when I did what I did. It was a huge mistake, and I never should have done it. Can you forgive me?”

        Apology accepted, Rainbow Dash.” Twilight smiled, “But I think there’s still one pony out there who you should go and see.”


        “Yes. She deserves your apology too, and I know she went a little far when she started yelling at you, but she was just as worried as the rest of us were, she just has a different way of showing it.”

        “I know. I’m going to go see her once I get released. This is entirely my fault anyway, I need to make things right.” Rainbow Dash turned back around to face Fluttershy. She stood next to Applejack and watched as Twilight Sparkle stepped up to join her friends at the bedside. Deep in her mind though, Rainbow could not keep the nagging doubt of worry from affecting her. She knew she had to apologize to Rarity, but she was nervous. Rainbow knew that Rarity had every reason to still be angry with her, she just hoped she wouldn’t still be. Glancing over to her left, Rainbow saw Applejack gazing at her, warmth and compassion glinting in her deep emerald eyes. Without a moment’s hesitation, Rainbow stepped closer to the earth pony mare and leaned her head against a comforting shoulder.

        “Don’t you worry, Sugarcube. Ah’ll come with ya.” Rainbow heard whispered in her ear, almost as if the orange pony had read her mind.

        “Nervous, Sugarcube?” Applejack and Rainbow Dash both stood outside the front door to Carousel Boutique. Rainbow had her front hoof poised to knock on the purple door, but was holding back.

        “Yeah… AJ? What if she’s… what if she’s still mad at me?”

        “Only one way ta find out.”

        “You’re right.” Raising her hoof again, Rainbow Dash knocked on the purple face of the dress shop’s front door. To her surprise, when it opened, she did not see Rarity but a small unicorn filly with a curly pink and purple mane.

        “pssst. Rarity. It’s Rainbow Dash and Applejack. Should I tell them you aren’t here?” Sweetie Belle whispered to the side of the door.

        “Oh, never mind, Sweetie Belle,” In that moment, Rarity stepped into the doorway as her little sister trotted off into the shop, “Good afternoon Applejack, Rainbow Dash. Is there something I can do for you?”

        “Cut this nonsense out, Rarity. Rainbow has somethin’ she wants ta say to ya.”

        “Rarity… I’m… I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything. I’m sorry for being a terrible friend and almost abandoning you girls without thinking about how you would feel. I’m sorry I hurt myself and Fluttershy and worrying you so much about us. I’m sorry I let myself get angry and yell at you and I’m really sorry that I accused you of not understanding. I had no idea about your parents, Rarity, I had no idea that you lost them too. I… I felt awful when you left. I felt like I had lost you as a friend. Please, Rarity. I don’t want to lose you as a friend. Can you… can you ever forgive me?” She hung her head as she said this last sentence, preparing for the worst.

        “Oh, Rainbow Dash. I’m sorry too.” Rainbow Dash looked back up to see both tears and genuine regret in Rarity’s dark blue eyes. “I never should have gotten so angry at you that I yelled at you, especially after all you had been through. I was just so worried about you and Fluttershy that it became too much for me. I was scared for both of you, and because I was scared I got angry when I heard that you were awake and I blamed you for everything. I took all of my anger out on you when you didn’t deserve it, and I must have looked like a horrible pony because of it. I’m the one who should be begging for forgiveness.”

        “But it was my fault! You were just upset, I don’t blame you for getting mad and yelling at me, I deserved it.”

        “No, Rainbow, you didn’t deserve it. It was wrong of me and for that I am sorry.”

        “Thanks, Rarity. I’m just glad you’re not still mad at me. I don’t know what I would do if our friendship ended because of this.”

        “Me neither, Rainbow Dash, me neither.”

        Luna’s moon had already risen high over the sleepy town of Ponyville. Its soft light descended upon hospital, house, and farm alike as it bathed the countryside in a cool glow from its position high amongst a seemingly infinite sea of sparkling stars. The sky was perfectly clear and allowed the rays of soft light to fall upon everything without resistance. Most ponies were already retiring to their beds at this hour, although some would stay up late reading, having night-time fun, or just sitting back to enjoy the spectacle of a late-night lightshow.

        The moon’s rays glinted off the smooth, shiny skin of the unripe apples hanging from trees in the town’s neighboring farm, Sweet Apple Acres. It was here, amongst the long, faint shadows cast by numerous apple trees standing against the soft glow of the lunar body that kept them barely lit, that two ponies walked, side by side. They themselves were also bathed in the cool blue light that permeated the entire scene as they shared a stroll and each other’s company underneath the never-ending ceiling of stars.

        “Applejack? Where are we going again?”

        “Just be patient, Rainbow, we’ll be there soon. It’s one of mah favorite places on the farm, and Ah’ve never shown anybody else.”

        The cool, dew-laden blades of grass were momentarily crushed each time Rainbow Dash and Applejack took a step, only to string back up again when the hoof was lifted. In this way, blades of grass tickling their hooves and a light breeze tussling their manes, the two ponies meandered through the orchard, passing row after row of sweet-scented apple trees. The brisk night air nipped at their pelts and sent chills down their spines as they walked, but the full moon beaming down on them seemed to have a warming quality of its own, so neither pony felt cold.

        A sudden wind blew its way through the narrow confines of the orchard. This passing gust picked up strands of hair in the manes of both ponies as it passed the by, creating the soft sound of rustling branches and leaves as it went, leaving nothing but a chilled sensation and a few leaves fluttering their way down to land softly on the ground. “Fall’s comin’, it’s gettin’ close to Applebuck season,” the farmer remarked as they resumed their stroll after the momentary disturbance. The soft breeze that replaced the brief gust carried no noise with it, leaving the scene deathly silent save for the soft squish of pony hooves on dew-covered grass.

        High above their heads, catching their attention for an instant, a tail of a lone shooting star burned its way across the deep blue night sky, falling out of view behind a canopy of trees almost as soon as it had been noticed. Thousands of twinkling, yet stationary relatives were left in its wake. They shone both high in the sky and reflected in the magenta and green eyes of the two ponies below, gazing up into the heavens with a sort of surreal wonder that could only be borne of such a perfect moment.

        “Look at the stars, Rainbow. Look how they shine for you.”

        “No. Not for me,” the cyan pegasus responded, eyes alight with abject fascination as they took in the bountiful tapestry of the endless sky above them, “for us.”

        As they approached their destination, the distinct and altogether pleasant smell of clean, fresh water filled their nostrils. Before them, the last few gaps in the trees melted away to reveal the shining mirror that spread out before them. A small lake, tucked away deep in Sweet Apple Acres, stood perfectly still in the night air, even the gentle breeze not making a dent on its surface. “Welcome to paradise, Sugarcube.” Both Applejack and Rainbow Dash slowly approached the water’s edge, mindful of disturbing the perfect peaceful quiet as they left a trail of hoofsteps in the spongy ground. Pausing just before mirror-still surface of the lake, Applejack turned to Rainbow Dash. “Ah think there’s one more pony you have to apologize to, Sugarcube. Take a look.” She gestured towards the water’s surface.

        Leaning out over the edge and stared down at the calm surface beneath her. She was confronted with a reflection of her own face, lit by the soft moonlight and silhouetted by a surrounding aura of thousands upon thousands of pinpricks of light, reflected from the night sky. Magenta eyes met Magenta eyes and Rainbow Dash saw into herself – for the first time – truly understanding. Her eyes closed as tears that had again formed began to flow out and stream down on her face again. “I’m sorry, Rainbow Dash. I’m so sorry.” A single teardrop fell from her muzzle and penetrated the glassy sheen of the lake’s surface, disturbing it with tiny concentric circles that expanded ever outward. “I promise you I will learn from my mistakes.” She looked up and turned to face Applejack, tears again streaming down on her face. She gazed right into Applejack’s deep green eyes as they slowly approached her. “And I…”

        Rainbow Dash never got to finish her next statement. For in that instant, in that one, indescribable instant by the edge of a glassy lake underneath the lights of the night sky, Rainbow Dash felt an orange muzzle pressed to her own and a set of pony lips onto that of her own. In this instant, when time had no meaning and the universe stopped to revolve around her and Applejack, Rainbow Dash understood everything. Head thrown back from the pleasured force of the kiss, she opened her eyes to once again gaze up at the stars.

        Those lights, those tiny pinpricks of light that shown out of the depths of blackness, had guided her home. But home, as Rainbow Dash came to understand it in that perfect instant, was not this spot by the lake, nor was it the cloud house in the sky that she had not seen for days. Rainbow Dash, at one with the universe for the first time in years, came to understand one simple truth. Home is not necessarily the place that you live, home is the place where you want to be and the place where you love to be. In that unending instant Rainbow Dash wanted nothing more than to be with Applejack and she loved nothing more than being with Applejack. Applejack was her home.

        Entranced by the stars and the knowledge they bestowed, Rainbow Dash barely noticed as Applejack pulled away from the kiss. In a daze, she heard a voice reach out from the darkness. “Ah love you.”

        “AJ… can I… can I come home with you?” It was the only thing on her mind when the kiss broke, and in her relaxed state, she did nothing to prevent the question from slipping out. Still staring deep into the eyes of the mare she loved, Rainbow Dash waited for an answer.

        This question clearly caught Applejack by surprise. “Well, sure ya can, Sugarcube, but Ah thought… Ah thought you’d want to go back to your own house, especially since ya haven’t been there in days…”

        “I don’t… I don’t think I’m ready to go back there. I’m always alone there, and there are too many… memories there. I feel like I want to stay here with you forever, but we can’t do that. Please, AJ, let me come with you. I… I don’t… I don’t want to be alone anymore.”

        “What do ya mean, Rainbow?”

        “I don’t know how to explain it… but… whenever I’m alone, I feel broken, and whenever I’m with you, I… don’t.”

        “Well then, Sugarcube, I will try to fix you.”


        Rays of sunlight streaming in through the glass panes of a window filled the room, shining a bright spot of sunlight onto the face of a sleeping cyan pegasus. She rolled over to try and keep the light off her eyelids, willing herself to hang on to just a few precious extra moments of sleep, but it was no use. Mere moments after having her face and the fur of her pelt warmed by the sun, Rainbow Dash found it impossible to sleep through the light which now cascaded over her. Slowly, she opened her eyes, blinking a few times to remove the blurriness of sleep and the glare of the morning’s light.

        She jolted fully awake with a start at the sight of the room before her. Her eyes swept the room, from the papered walls to the carved wood furniture, something just didn’t seem right to Rainbow Dash in her dazed early morning state. It took a few seconds of wondering where all the clouds were before her mind caught up with her. She giggled lightly to herself as she realized her mistake - of course, she did expect it would take a while to get readjusted after her big move. Finally giving in to her need to wake and deciding to embrace the day, Rainbow Dash rolled over and sat herself up in her bed – the only cloud in the room. She idly mused to herself about how she had been unable to give up the comfort of a cloud bed, and she chuckled remembering how she had forced this cloud through the small window when she first moved in a couple weeks ago.

        Setting her hooves on the panels of wood below her that constituted the floor, Rainbow Dash turned around to get a look at the other side of the room. She smiled as she laid eyes on the other bed in the space – a hoofcrafted wooden one with a comfortable looking green blanket spread over it. However, it was not the bed nor the blanket that Rainbow smiled at, but what was underneath that blanket. The deep green of the bedspread rose and fell with the rhythm of the deep breaths of the pony sleeping peacefully beneath it. With her favorite brown Stetson hat hanging on a bedpost and her head resting on a soft, white pillow, Applejack seemed to be dozing comfortably despite the sunlight.

        Rainbow Dash was somewhat perplexed by the scene before her eyes. Applejack was usually the first awake – often due to the work she had to do on the farm – but Rainbow rarely ever had the occasion of waking up first. She strode across the room and approached the bed quietly. She paused to contemplate the pony beneath her. She really was cute when she was sleeping. Her golden straw hair, loose and untied, fell across her shoulders and sprawled out over the pillow. A small smile was visible on her sleeping face as she lay peacefully. Rainbow Dash almost hated to disturb her beautiful slumber.

        Almost. Excitedly, Rainbow Dash bent her head down, aiming right for the three freckles on her love’s cheek, and planted a kiss right there. She felt Applejack stir underneath her and was soon rewarded when the orange mare’s eyes flicked open and blinked to adjust to the conscious world. Applejack turned her head over to look up at Rainbow with her tired green eyes. Rainbow Dash almost could almost feel herself slipping into those deep emerald pools, but she settled for leaning in for another kiss. She pressed her muzzle onto Applejack’s and felt the force of the other mare pressing back just as hard, locked in a miniature contest as they shared the pleasure-filled moment.

        It was a moment neither really wanted to let end, but all the same, they were forced to soon enough. “Good mornin’ Sugarcube.” Applejack smiled again for her marefriend when they pulled apart.

        “Morning, AJ. Aren’t we up a little late?”

        “Nah, Ah don’t have any work for today, so Ah’ll just catch up on mah rest for a while. You’re welcome to join me, Sugarcube.”

        It was an offer Rainbow Dash couldn’t refuse. She gently climbed into the bed and pulled the other mare close, breathing in the scent of apples off her loose mane as they cuddled. Applejack ran a hoof through the beautiful rainbow mane before her and received a nuzzle in response. Suddenly, their early-morning antics were interrupted by a bright flash of green light, an intrusion which caused them both to jolt up from the bed.

        Rainbow Dash peered at the ground and to her surprise, her gaze rested on a scroll that lay on the floor at the foot of the bed. “That looks like one of Spike’s letters.” She pointed it out to Applejack.

        “Ah thought he could only send them to the Princess?”

        “Me too. Let’s see what it is.” Rainbow swooped down from the bed and scooped the scroll into her hooves, unrolling it to read its contents. “Well, however she got it here, it’s from Twilight. She says that the doctors think Fluttershy might wake up soon, and we should get over to the hospital as soon as possible!” In almost no time at all, Applejack was out of the bed and standing next to Rainbow.

        “Well what are we waitin’ for, Sugarcube, let’s go!”

Applejack galloped down the road at a high speed as Rainbow Dash flew alongside her. Partly distracted by the site of her marefriend, the farmer pony failed to notice a tree root which stuck out of the ground. As soon as her front hooves met this root, the orange earth pony found herself falling face-first towards the ground.

“Ah, horseapples,” moaned Applejack as she sat up from her fall. She started to brush the dirt off her pelt as Rainbow Dash landed a few feet away from her.

“Are you okay, AJ?” asked the cyan pegasus as she approached the earth pony.

“Ah’m fine, Rainbow. It wasn’t that bad of a fall,” replied Applejack with a stern voice. Although she was not injured physically, the tone of her voice made it clear that her pride had taken the blunt of the impact. As she stood up, she noticed the weather pony was holding a hoof to her mouth, trying to contain her laughter at the situation.

“An what do ya think is so funny?” continued the farmer pony, annoyance clear in her voice.

Rainbow Dash gently nuzzled her cheek before turning her head to Applejack’s ear to speak. “Sorry, I just think you look cute when you’re upset like that,” she said with a chuckle.

Applejack calmed down and started to smile. “Ya really think so, Sugarcube?” she asked Rainbow, with the annoyance in her tone quickly dissipating.

        “I insist. In fact-” Rainbow dash cut off abruptly as her gaze fell upon something just past AJ’s shoulder, something that made almost all coherent thought stop. Floating in the clear, blue sky, A towering mansion of cloud hovered in the distance. Even from her position, it was unmistakable. The springs of falling rainbow water made the identity of the structure even more clear, as did the “For Sale” sign, planted on a small cloud outside the entrance. Rainbow Dash’s eyes followed a path upwards from her old house to a patch of sky. It was a place high above that seemed just like any other such area of the sky that surrounded the two ponies, but this particular spot held unparalleled significance to the cyan pegasus. No small, high cloud resided there now, but in the memories that now unwittingly assaulted her subconscious, that high cloud felt all too real. Like a flood, the pained knowledge of failure, the crushing sense of hopelessness, and the terrible loneliness swept through her mind. Memories of that day weeks ago, brought on by a chance encounter with her old house, were still too much to bear.

        Concern piqued when Rainbow’s voice trailed off, Applejack followed her lover’s line of sight to understand immediately what had invaded her mind. Turning back to Rainbow Dash’s now-frozen face, she leaned forward, knowing full well what she must do.

        For Rainbow Dash, the sudden appearance of AJ’s face in her vision, coupled with the equally sudden sensation of a muzzle and lips being pressed to her own snapped her out of her reverie. She found herself pressing back just as hard, opening her mouth to accept her lover’s tongue and closing her eyes, getting lost in the moment and wishing for it to never end.

        When it did, Applejack pulled away and smiled warmly at her marefriend, keeping her held tightly in her embrace. “Don’t get caught up in the past, Rainbow. Ah love you, and Ah want ya to feel better. Ya’ll never be alone again.”

        They arrived at the hospital, walking flank-to-flank, to find Twilight Sparkle waiting for them in the lobby, muzzle buried in a book. Rainbow Dash bent down to read the title before she acknowledged their presence. “‘Love and Tolerance; a Guide to Helping Your Depressed Friend’, seriously, Twilight?”

        “This has been hard on us, Rainbow. I still don’t think I know what to do…”

        “I’m sorry Twilight.” Rainbow Dash sighed, the gravity of her friend’s concern reaching her just barely too late, “Can we go see Fluttershy now?”

        “Sure. Rarity and Pinkie are already there.” The three mares made their way through the corridors of the hospital towards Fluttershy’s room, a route which all three now knew by heart. Upon arriving, they opened the door to see Pinkie Pie and Rarity both standing at the side of Fluttershy’s bed, the mare herself was shifting her head back and forth on the pillow, but still seemed unresponsive

        “Fluttershy, Fluttershy? Can you hear me, Darling?” Rarity gently stroked her pink mane, hoping to illicit some sort of response from the waking pegasus.

        As if on cue, Fluttershy’s eyes suddenly blinked open and she groaned softly, the light of day reaching her for the first time in weeks. Seeing this, Nurse Redheart rushed over with a glass of water and administered relief to the coughing pegasus. After a few tense minutes, Fluttershy seemed to register her surroundings and her eyes settled on the face of her best friend, looking down at her. Senses coming back online for the first time in three weeks, she blinked a few more times before mustering up the will to speak. “R… R-Rare… Rarity?”

        “Oh, Fluttershy, Darling!” Rarity cried, throwing herself onto her friend. Pinkie Pie did the same, shouting her own joyful greeting, and soon the newly-unconscious yellow pegasus found herself held tightly by both mares.

        “Oh… H-hello Pinkie. Hello Rarity. W-what’s going on?”

        “Fluttershy, we’ve missed you ever so much. You might not believe this, Darling, but you’ve been in a coma!”

        “A c-c-coma? Oh... oh my. That sounds serious.”

        “Oh it was! Tell me, Darling, are you OK, how do you feel?”

        “I… I feel… nice. Like I just woke up from a nice nap.”

        “A nap? Well it was much more than that! You’ve been unconscious for three weeks, dear.”

        “Th-three… three w-weeks?” Fluttershy noticeable blanched, her mouth falling into a frown as she shook her head in incredulity. “Oh, no no no. I can’t have been asleep for three weeks…. What about my animal friends? Are they OK? What about… what about…” Fluttershy froze as a sudden deluge of memories crashed upon her. In an instant, she relived every moment leading up to the point when her recollection went blank, a look of pure horror crossing her face. “What about Rainbow Dash? Where is she? Is she… Is she safe? Is she OK? Is she…”

        “I’m right here Fluttershy, and I’m fine. I’m fine thanks to you.” Rainbow Dash trotted across the room to the bedside from her position by the door, speaking up for the first time since watching Fluttershy blink her way back into the world of the living.

        “Rainbow Dash…” Fluttershy stared at her, blue eyes locked onto her own magenta ones. Rainbow waited for her to say something more. “Rainbow Dash… Rainbow Dash… how… how could you…?” Ever since she had awoken, Fluttershy had spoken in her usual, quiet, shy little voice, and everypony expected as much since they assumed she would be very weak after her ordeal and her three week sleep. For this reason, it came as a major surprise to everyone assembled when the quiet mare’s voice unexpectedly sharply rose in volume. “HOW COULD YOU!? HOW COULD YOU DO THIS, RAINBOW DASH!?” Pinkie Pie and Rarity leapt backwards in shock and nearly everypony else was stunned into silence the likes of which they had not heard since the Grand Galloping Gala.

        Stunned herself, Rainbow found she could do nothing more than stammer before she too trailed off. “F… Fl… Fluttershy…?”


        “I’m sorry… I… I wasn’t thinking… I just… I felt so hopeless and… and… alone… I’m sorry…”


        “I… I… I wasn’t thinking…” Rainbow Dash was near tears now.


        “I know. Thank you Fluttershy… thank you for catching me… thank you for saving my life... thank you so much.” Rainbow rushed forward and threw her hooves around the upset mare, finally letting the barrage of tears that had built up go, crying as she held onto Fluttershy dearly. Even as she did so, however, she felt hooves pushing on her chest, trying to push her away.

        “DON’T YOU EVER SCARE ME LIKE THAT AGAIN…” Fluttershy choked. Even as she felt her own hooves pushing on the cyan pegasus before her, she felt the grip of terror and fear release her, and her anger dissipated instantly. She had been distraught with worry over her friend, but now that she felt wet, hot tears dripping onto her pelt and hooves grasping her, her raging emotions reversed completely.

        Rainbow Dash felt Fluttershy’s hooves freeze just as her voice abruptly stopped, and then they left her chest entirely, only to return a split second later to wrap forcefully around her midsection. Before she even had time to register what was happening, Rainbow felt herself pulled into a crushing embrace by the very same mare who had been screaming at her mere seconds earlier.

        Fluttershy hugged her friend with all the force of a mother terrified to lose a child. She too, began to cry as she realized just how worried she had been about Rainbow Dash and how mean that worry had made her sound just a few seconds ago. Tentatively, she lifted her head to whisper softly into Rainbow’s ear. “…please?”, and she broke down completely.

        For Rainbow Dash, hearing the small, soft voice usually harbored by her friend address her once again was enough to make her squeeze even tighter as Fluttershy wept. Rainbow was just glad to have her timid friend back, and the tearful whisper she received seemed to confirm that all was going to be alright between her and her oldest friend. Resolutely, Rainbow answered her distraught, sobbing friend. “I promise, Fluttershy. I promise you I won’t do it ever again. I… p-promise…” Sobbing again herself now, Rainbow Dash joined her friend, both of them letting their fears, their worries, and their emotions, spill out in the form of innumerable salty drops.

        Feeling a hoof stroking her hair, Rainbow Dash pulled her face away to look up into the green eyes of the one pony who loved her more than any other. There were tears there too. Even through the brimming tears, those green eyes, twinkling with a light that could forever guide her home – a spotlight shining upon her – said more than words ever could. Without hesitation, Rainbow reached out and pulled the mare she loved into her embrace as well. Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Twilight Sparkle soon found themselves sucked into the growing group hug as well.

        Rainbow Dash lost her entire family to tragic circumstance and searing flame as a young filly. For the first time in the many years since then, Rainbow realized that she was not alone. She had a family once again.

        She was home.