(Blunder & Lightning, Epilogue)
The sun was just about set, leaving the tiniest sliver of orange hue across the horizon. As the Cutie Mark Crusaders climbed down the hill, Fluttershy and Gilda followed in a slow flight.
Once they were back on the ground, the Crusaders ran home towards Ponyville, and when they were out of earshot...
"Gilda, I need to ask you something very important."
"What is it?"
Fluttershy hesitated, choosing her words and recalling her memories as calmly as she could manage. Some of them still made her shudder from their intensity, but she steeled her nerves and willed herself to go on with her dialogue.
"Yesterday, I was passing by Ponyville Urgent Care, when I thought I heard my name. So I went closer, and looked through the window... and I saw Rainbow Dash crying, and you comforting her." Fluttershy took a deep breath. "And... you said I was 'alive.'"
Gilda cursed in her mind. Fluttershy had actually seen that? Talk about the worst possible pony at the worst possible time..."What? No, no, that wasn't you we were talking about. That was... um..."
"You're as bad at lying as I am, Gilda. Remember when you told me I was 'where this all started?' I think I'm finally ready to know what you meant by that."
Gilda sighed. "Knew I shouldn't've said anything about that. Look, if you're asking me all this, then that means she never told you. And honestly, I'm not sure I should be the one to. It might make things worse."
"I'll take responsibility. You can tell her I held you at animalpoint."
Gilda blinked. "Animalpoint?"
A small smile slowly crept across Fluttershy's face. "A great many animals in the nearby meadows and forests know me. I've even befriended dragons. If I gather enough creatures in one place, they can be very, very persuasive."
Glida simply stared. Fluttershy's smile persisted.
"That... is CREEPY," Gilda finally said. "Okay, you got me. Remember the Sonic Rainboom? I mean, the first one. The one that she made when you two were fillies."
Fluttershy nodded. "Oh, yes. That was a glorious day!"
"Well... Dash told me how you got your cutie mark."
Fluttershy nodded again. "Okay..."
"Do YOU remember how you got it?"
Fluttershy nodded again, with a happy sigh. "Of course! I was falling towards the ground, when I was suddenly saved by lots of wonderful woodland creatures! There was singing, dancing, love all around..."
"Oh, for-" Gilda hit her forehead with her own wing. "I... I'm trying to be subtle here, and you ain't helping! Okay, different angle. Look, since Dash arrived at Ponyville, has she ever seen somepony falling from a huge height and just completely freaked out?"
"Oh, yes, very! In fact, that's one of the few things that DOES make her... what you said."
"And she's always gone through extra lengths to make sure she saves them in time, right?"
"Absolutely! There's Twilight, Rarity... gosh, she and Rarity don't even get along that well, yet when she was falling, we got another Rainboom, and..."
"Okay. Here's the one for all the gold bits. Who's the only pony in her life, that the three of us all know of, who she's never managed to save from falling?"
"I... um..." Fluttershy scrunched her face in thought.
"Shouldn't be too hard to figure out," said Gilda, rolling her eyes. "She's really close to you."
"I... it's... well, the only pony I can think of who's ever fit that description would be... oh my gosh!" Fluttershy froze with a shocked and scared gasp. "You mean....?"
Gilda slumped to the ground with an exhausted groan. "Finally."
A shout from Pinkie Pie interrupted Fluttershy's reverie. Looking around to see just how that was possible, she spied the pink pony hovering close by in her flying machine.
"Hey, are you on your way to Rainbow Dash's?" asked Pinkie.
Fluttershy nodded. "Yes, I am."
Pinkie beamed. "That's great! 'Cause I am too, and I just added a passenger seat to the Pinkie Flyer 2.5! Wanna lift?"
"Um..." Fluttershy slowed her flight, looking at the Flyer with pronounced hesitation.
"I promise you'll looooooooove it!" said Pinkie Pie. "This baby's totally fast! Faster than most... um... things that do the stuff this does?"
Fluttershy giggled in response. "Thanks, Pinkie, but I'm in no rush. I want to find my way to Rainbow's at my own pace, and under my own power. Besides, when I get there... I need to talk to her alone."
"Oh! Well, that's totally okay, then! See you later. Wa-hooooooooooo!" And in a flash, Pinkie was gone in the distance.
Fluttershy simply smiled, and with a shake of her head, kept along her flight path...
Meanwhile, the owner of Fluttershy's final destination was shaking in her horsehoes.
"All right, Gilda," Rainbow Dash said from behind her changing screen. "I'm going to come out from behind this thing--and when I do, I want you to go easy on me."
Gilda rolled her eyes. This had been the third time in the last ten minutes that Dash had said something to this effect. "Yeah, yeah. I got it. Though I still dunno why you're so worked up about this-"
"Geez, all right, all right, I promise!" Gilda yelled. "I won't laugh or judge or anything, okay? Now get out here already, ya scaredy-pony!"
Gingerly, Rainbow Dash did so, revealing a blue rainbow-maned pegasus in a black dress with white frills--resplendent with a pre-sewed-on white apron, and a blush bright enough to overshadow nearly the entire color spectrum which currently adorned her.
For ten full seconds, Gilda simply stared, mute and frozen. Several feelings flushed through her all at once--and from them, she chose to express the one that would make things the least awkward:
"Gilda!" said Dash, now steaming. Still lost in laughter, Gilda didn't answer. "You... you said you'd go easy on me!"
"I... ahahaha... I am! Wow, and here I thought you said your hometown forgave you! That's what you have to wear next week? Seriously?"
Rainbow Dash sighed and lowered her head. "Yeah. Catering Applejack's party." She flopped on her bed with an annoyed groan, and looked at the ceiling.
Gilda's laughter finally died down. "Ahhh, well, it could be a lot worse."
"That's what Applejack said. I'm beginning to believe her less and less."
"It's true, though. Remind me to show you pictures of me as a chick." Gilda gestured at Dash's outfit. "Just as many fashion crimes; embarassin' as all get out. Parents tried to raise me as the sweetest girl possible. Didn't last long," she said with a toothy grin. "I'm laughing with you more than at you here, Dash. Promise."
Rainbow Dash smiled and sighed. "All right, all right. Not that either of us are in any shape to fight you over it. Speaking of my town, how'd you enjoy yourself in it?"
This time it was Gilda's turn to groan. "I swear, Dash, I can only spend so much time down there. Even when they're nice to me, they make me crawl all over," she said with a mock-shiver. "Ponies."
Rainbow Dash laughed. "Aw, c'mon, admit it. We're not so bad."
"I admit nothing," Gilda said. "But hey, at least I didn't eat anypony. That's a good sign, right?"
"Long story. But yeah, things went... better than expected. I learned what a 'Zecora' was, sampled a few cakes I'm gonna need to swipe the recipes for..." Gilda stopped when she heard--and looked over to see--Rainbow Dash ruffling around inside one of her dresser drawers. "...wait, what're you doing?"
Rainbow Dash stopped digging, and took out a book. "Check what I found in the attic not too long ago."
Gilda did so, reading the title. "'Junior Speedsters Flight Camp Yearb-'" Gilda gaped. "Oh, Dash. You didn't."
The pegasus simply grinned and held the book out to the griffon. "I totally did."
Gilda cocked her head to one side and closed her eyes. "I ain't lookin'."
"C'mon, G! You gotta! And I'll look with you."
"No way! Lotta... lotta stuff in there I don't wanna think about, okay?"
"I know," said Dash, her voice turning from playful to earnest. "Same here. But hey, closure always helps, right? At least, that's what you're always telling me..."
"Aaaaaaaargh.... you know I hate when you turn my advice back on me." Gilda sighed. "Okay, okay..."
Rainbow Dash opened the book, the two peered in together, and they instantly saw a picture that made the both of them blush.
"Well, I'll be," said Gilda as she stared of the shot of the two of them, wing-in-wing. "That is us. Tiny and crazy."
"I was tiny," Rainbow Dash said. "You were crazy."
"Pfft. As if!" Gilda sighed. "Still, good times. Too bad the next level up didn't go so well. "
Dash flushed warmly. "Yeah. What happened to you after I got kicked out?"
"I didn't last much longer. And I didn't want to, either. In Junior, all you have to worry about is getting picked on for being a griffon. Past that, you gotta start dealing with politics. Not my strong suit." Gilda closed her eyes. "I just wanted to fly. They wouldn't even let me do that..."
"Hey, at least we ended up all right for ourselves," Rainbow Dash said.
The room fell silent for a bit.
"So, before you go," Rainbow Dash said, "there was something I wanted to ask you a month ago. Better late than never, I guess."
Rainbow Dash smiled. "Turn to the back of the book."
Gilda did so, and two small cards fell out. She held them up, scanned them, and almost instantly did a double-take. "...the Starlight Carnival? You mean that festival with the killer light shows that most of Equestria only gets to see from a distance?"
Rainbow Dash beamed and nodded. "The very same! Cloudsdale's holding it next month. I want you with me when I go."
"...well, yeah, I..." Gilda' s blush ran even deeper at this point. "...sure, of course! But... Cloudsdale's total pegasus country. What makes you think I'd be able to set one talon in there?"
"Because," Rainbow Dash replied in a determined tone, "if anypony has a problem with you, they get to take it up with me. And as fast as I am, you know they won't last long."
And in another of those rare moments, Gilda's face softened, and she blinked to ward off a stray tear. "...you're a class act, Dash," she said.
"Nah," Rainbow Dash said with a wink. "I just get kicked out of 'em."
"I'll second that," said Gilda, and a high-five was shared. "All right, it's gettin' pretty late. Gotta get back to my neck of the sky for now."
Rainbow Dash's face visibly fell. "Awww. Already?"
"'Fraid so. Duty calls, and stuff. Don't worry, you'll see me again. And Dash?"
"Yeah?" the pegasus said, seconds before gasping upon receipt of a full-scale wing embrace. "Gilda..."
"I'm glad we're still cool," the griffon said.
Rainbow Dash hugged back. "We never weren't. We just had a fight, that's all. Even best friends do that once in a while." She pulled back with a sheepish grin. "We, uh, probably should wait a while before the next one, though."
"That's a fact. You keep me sane. So as long as you want me to, I'll do the same for you."
"I'm holding you to that," Rainbow Dash said.
"Heh. Be my guest."
The two headed out to the cloud mass surrounding Rainbow Dash's castle--and no sooner had they done so than they heard a noise, faint in the sky so start, but growing louder and closer with time.
"Hey, what's that?" asked Gilda, looking up towards the source of the voice.
Rainbow Dash looked as well, and recognized a pink blur moving--and screaming--at top speed. "Whoa! Pinkie Pie?!"
Sure enough, Pinkie Pie was careening towards them in a tailspin. Knowing just where and how she was about to land, she made sure to reply quickly:
Griffon and pegasus flew to the side just in the nick of time, allowing earth-pony to crash-land into a cloud, upside-down in a heap, completely wrecking her aircraft.
"Pinkie!" the two cried out, rushing to her side. "Are you all right?" asked Rainbow Dash. "C'mon, speak to us!"
"Huh," said Pinkie, her eyes twirling. "So this is what it's like to be you. Y'know, it kinda smarts..."
Amidst laughs from Gilda, Rainbow Dash roughly righted Pinkie back on all fours. "It'll pass," she grumbled. "Twilight's spell still not wear off?
Pinkie nodded with a huge smile. "Pretty much!"
"Heh. Well, I was just heading off. I'll leave you with your magical friends, Dash," Gilda said, before looking straight at the pink pony next to her. "Oh, and just so we're clear: you were lucky this time, Pinkie Pie. Next time, I might not care enough to bail you out, I don't care how long a journey you make."
Pinkie kept smiling. "You just keep telling yourself that."
Gilda silently stared back... and after a few seconds of contest, she blinked and lost. "Tch. Whatever. We'll talk later, Dash!"
"You bet!" said Rainbow Dash, waving at a soaring Gilda.
Once Gilda had disappeared to parts unknown, she looked at her mangled wreck of a flying machine. "Hey, look at that," she said. "I'm stranded here."
Rainbow Dash perked up, looked at Pinkie, and let her smile grow gradually. "Ayyy-yup."
"Heh heh. Uh... don't suppose you could.. um... give me a ride back down?"
Rainbow Dash nodded, turned around, and motioned for Pinkie Pie to mount her. Once Pinkie did so, Dash went airborne. "...eventually," she said.
"Relax," said the pegasus. "I just wanted to say some things first. That being... look, I didn't expect you to be the one to set all this off. Grabbing Gilda for me when I was in the middle of my... um..."
"Grumpiness?" suggested Pinkie.
"Yeah, that'll work. Anyway, that was really good thinking." Rainbow Dash closed her eyes, her voice going soft. "You figured it all out and on top of that, if you hadn't, I'd probably still be out one of my best friends. A simple 'thank you' doesn't sound like enough in this case..."
"Don't worry," said Pinkie Pie. "I totally get you. But..." Pinkie's voice went soft as well. "...you wanna know a secret?"
"I only half did this for you."
"What?" said Rainbow Dash. "Then who was the other half?"
"Me, silly," Pinkie said. "You have no idea how bad I felt ever since the first time Gilda came to town. I can't stand it when a party I throw goes wrong. Driving friends apart isn't what parties are supposed to be about! They're not what I'm supposed be about. So I wanted to fix things. But..." Pinkie Pie sighed. "When I brought her back, then saw you two fighting again..."
"Whoa," Rainbow Dash said. "You must've felt awful!"
"I did! I thought I made everything even worse and that you'd totally hate me along with Gilda, and you'd never come back and everyone would know it was my fault and then I'd have to run away again andnyaahaa!-"
Rainbow Dash air-bucked to cut her off. "But it all turned out okay in the end. So don't think about how it could have gone. 'Cause it didn't. And you're a hero for it. You rock, Pinkie."
Instantly, Pinkie Pie was all boisterous smiles again, and she firmed her grip on Rainbow Dash. "Awwww, thanks! This mean I can take matters into my own hooves again next time you have a problem?"
"Not a chance."
"Awwww. Oh, well. Then can I ask you for one teensy weensy little favor?"
"Good. This is the first time I've seen you smile in a week--so try keeping it for a while, okay?" Pinkie Pie giggled. "Otherwise, as the mare officially in charge of Ponyville's happiness, that's just more work I've gotta do!"
"I knew it! Look at you taking credit for everything, now!" Without warning, and with several laughs, Rainbow Dash did loops and rolls in the air, chuckling as Pinkie Pie screamed and held on for dear life.
"Whooooooooooa! All right, all right, I get your point! But seriously--oh gosh now I'm dizzy--we're all here for you, okay? I hope this little adventure of yours taught you that."
"Yeah." Rainbow Dash nodded as they flew over Sugarcube Corner. "Completely drilled."
An hour later, Rainbow Dash was back at her castle, laying in bed, finally alone for the first time in days.
She was half-asleep and completely spent, but with the happy, accomplished smile on her face reflected just how much she'd considered the expended energy to all be worth it. Now it was time for sweet, hopefully-blissful rest...
...or not--for just then, knocking sounded at her door.
She groaned, wondering who it could be at this hour of the night, and as the knocks continued, she briefly considered just not answering it. In the end, however, she decided she still owed Ponyville whatever she could give them after the episodes of the week past. She flew over to the door, and opened it to reveal...
"...Fluttershy?" Dash said, calling out to the yellow pegasus who had given up and turned around to leave.
Fluttershy jumped, squeaked, and returned to the door upon hearing her name. "Oh! Thank goodness. I thought you'd, um, moved?"
"Don't gotta. House does it for me."
"Yes, indeed it does. It took me longer to find it than usual tonight." She smiled. "Hello, Rainbow. You look... um... cute."
"'Cute?'" Rainbow Dash looked down, and realized that she still had her caterer's outfit on. "Aw, no! I forgot to... all this time-"
Fluttershy giggled. "No, it's okay. I don't get to see you like this often. It's a nice change of pace."
"Hnnngh... yaah!" Wearing a huge blush, Rainbow Dash threw the outfit off of herself and onto her bed. "A change of pace you'll never see again if I have anything to say about it!" She sighed. "C'mon in."
"Actually," Fluttershy said, "I was hoping you would fly with me."
"'Fly?'" Rainbow Dash blinked. "Are you sure...?"
Fluttershy peered closer at her friend. "I am a pegasus, Rainbow."
"Well, yeah, I know, I didn't mean anything by--oh, let's just go."
They left Rainbow Dash's home, and flew silently for quite some time before Fluttershy spoke again. In a rare moment, she cut straight to the chase. "Gilda told me about your dreams."
"Dreams?" Rainbow Dash's voice shook a tiny bit. "W-what kind of dreams?"
"About how I almost didn't survive your very first race. She says you you never forgave yourself for back then. Is that true?"
Rainbow Dash slowed down, mentally cringing. "Ahhh. Um..."
"Please, just tell me," said Fluttershy. "I want to hear it straight from the pony's mouth. Is it true?"
"I... I..." Rainbow Dash sighed and hovered, looking at the ground. "Yeah. It is."
"Then you know what question I'm going to ask next."
"Yeah." Rainbow Dash nodded. "Do I gotta?"
"No. I will always respect your feelings. But if you can trust me with them... then I think I can help."
Rainbow Dash stayed silent in thought for half a minute... then relented. "All right. Well, you know I won that race all those years ago--but when I returned to the starting point to grab you, you were nowhere to be found! I looked everywhere too, and nothing! That's when I found out you'd fallen off the cloud, and it hit me..." Rainbow Dash closed her eyes in somber recollection. "I almost killed my best friend because I was focused so much on winning."
"But I came back," Fluttershy said. "With a cutie mark and everything."
"Yeah! Which was great! But I was still scared! Scared about what could have too-easily happened instead. Scared for days... until I promised myself I'd never go all tunnel-vision like that again."
"I see." Fluttershy said. "Didn't you start that race to defend me?"
"So the reason you were so focused about winning... was all for a friend's sake. I would say that's rather noble, wouldn't you?"
"Maybe, but..." Rainbow Dash shook her head. "Look, it's okay to be awesome. I prove that every day. But it's another thing to be awesome at somepony else's expense!" She threw up her hooves. "Yeah, I was racing to help you! But none of that matters if there isn't a you left to help!" Dash's voice cracked, and she managed to hold back all of her tears except one. "It's been driving me crazy for years! Through all my flight camps, since moving to Ponyville... you know why I crash so much? Because I'm always so busy making sure nopony else does while I'm cutting loose!"
"So yeah, I've been paranoid for a while. And I get weird dreams sometimes that remind me exactly why. But I don't care! I don't care about being afraid of what's important--and I don't care what paranoia does to me, as long as nopony else suffers just 'cause I wanted to have my fun!" A second tear ran down her cheek. "Especially you."
Rainbow Dash was forced to catch her breath at the end of her impromptu speech... and at the height of her frustration, she felt Fluttershy warmly drape her forelegs around her.
"Oh, Rainbow Dash," Fluttershy said, shaking her head. "I was afraid of this."
Rainbow Dash draped back, shuddering in the embrace. "Afraid of what?"
"Rainbow... what if I, the one who almost died then, were to tell you that there is absolutely nothing I would change about that day?"
"Wh-what? Are you serious? But... how-"
"All risks aside, that race was the very first time I ever saw Rainbow Dash go all out--and I wouldn't see it again until years later, at the Best Young Flyer's Competition. Only there did I realize how much I missed seeing what I liked best about you."
"What, my speed? The Sonic Rainboom?"
Fluttershy smiled serenely. "Not quite. It's the fact that you never let anything stop you. Not bullies, not the sound barrier, not gravity or anything else. Even when I was a filly, that was what led me to become your friend in the first place. I let lots of things stop me all the time--so I wanted to learn how you avoided it. Then you knocked me off of that cloud... and I learned. My cutie mark soon followed... all because of you."
"I... Fluttershy, I-I..." Rainbow Dash sniffled, and Fluttershy firmed her hug in response.
"Because of all that, Rainbow Dash, whenever I look at you, I don't see the girl who put me in danger. I see the girl who gave me my life's greatest gift. And I also see the girl who can make miracles happen when she puts all of herself into something."
"You... you mean I've had it wrong all this time?" said Dash. "You don't blame me for-"
"The only thing I blame you for is always being there for me," said Fluttershy, pulling back and giving Rainbow Dash's forehead a kiss. "Please... don't stop being Rainbow Dash. It's the only way Fluttershy will ever learn how to fly alongside her."
"I... I'll try," Dash said.
"Try hard," Fluttershy said with a quick wink and smile. "Or I'll call Gilda back, and we'll both make you. Good night, Rainbow Dash."
And with that Fluttershy flew off, back to her home, leaving Rainbow Dash alone in the star-filled night sky, with a warm feeling in her chest, and a solitary thought running through her mind:
I love you guys. Really... I do.