The Wrong Side of Tomorrow

by Pascoite

Chapter 1: The Sun in Flight

Rainbow Dash kept her distance from the cluster of ponies massed in the hallway. Who did they think they were fooling? They were making so much noise that Princess Celestia could probably hear them all the way over in Canterlot.

“Did you bring the present?” Twilight Sparkle whispered.

Sweetie Belle nodded and pointed to a box perched on Apple Bloom’s back. Covered more with tape than anything else, its wrinkled cardboard showed through gaps in the mismatched scraps of wrapping paper. Rainbow caught herself grinning at it before she remembered not to be interested and huffed out a “let’s get this over with” sigh.

“Cake?” Twilight asked.

Pinkie Pie rolled her eyes. Yeah, like Pinkie’d go anywhere without cake.

Twilight jerked her head toward the open door. “Okay. We jump out on three. One—”

“Wait, sugarcube. Right on three, or is there a ‘go’ afterward?” Applejack said as she scratched her head.

“On ‘go,’ I guess,” replied Twilight. When everypony else had nodded back, she took a deep breath. “Okay. One… two… thr—”

Surprise!” Pinkie cried, leaping through the doorway with the cake balanced on top of her head.

“Surprise,” came a halfhearted murmur in echo as the rest filed in behind her. Except Fluttershy. She’d ducked her head to the floor and had it covered with her hooves.

“Is it over?” she squeaked.

“Yes, dear. You’re the only one miss—” Rarity’s head soon poked back into the hallway and found Rainbow Dash still leaning against the wall. Raising an eyebrow, Rarity perked her ears up. “Are you coming?”

Dash shrugged. It was just another kid party. It’s not like she didn’t have better things to do.

“Come on, Rainbow Dash. You know what this would mean to her.” Suddenly, Rarity’s eyes didn’t have that usual sparkle.

Dash tensed her legs to walk, but… she just scratched a hoof at the floor. If she gave in, then Rarity won. Or something. Besides, if she went in, she might—Rainbow tensed her cheeks and bit her lip.

“Rainbow Dash, you get in here this instant!” Rarity growled through a clenched jaw.

Finally, her hooves were listening to her. Or Rarity. Whatever. She trudged the last few steps down the hall and into Scootaloo’s room.

“Happy birthday!” everypony chorused as Scootaloo sat up in her bed and buzzed her wings. Her mouth gaped open, and she swung her head from one side to the other, taking in all the cheery grins directed at her.

“And happy almost New Year’s Eve, too!” Pinkie added.

Scootaloo giggled and bounced up a little on her mattress. “Wow! I wasn’t expecting—”

“O’ course not, sugarcube!” Applejack said through her chuckling. “Now, put out that candle and make a wish!”

Scootaloo clasped her hooves together, closed her eyes, tilted her head back, and let the corners of her mouth turn upward faintly. After a long minute, Fluttershy and Pinkie exchanged glances, but Scootaloo finally opened her eyes again and blew the candle out.

As soon as Pinkie had given a hearty “Woo hoo!” and carried the cake over to the desk to cut it up, Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle hopped up on the bed beside Scootaloo.

“Happy birthday, Scootaloo! We got you this!” declared Apple Bloom as she bucked the package into the air, then bounced it off the top of her head and let it plop down in front of Scootaloo, who immediately tore at the paper and flipped the box’s lid open.

From the back of the crowd, Rainbow Dash rocked up on her hooftips, flared her wings, and craned her neck to see over everypony. A warm sensation flooded her chest, and she held her breath at the immense grin on Scootaloo’s face until…

Scootaloo held up a new helmet, painted with rainbow stripes. “I love it!” she shouted, tugging her new prize over her head and fastening the chin strap.

Dash felt the blood rush from her face. Why couldn’t that filly obsess over somepony else right now? Even a week ago, she would have welcomed the chance to have Scootaloo follow her around, hang on her every word, tell her how awesome she was. And Rarity was right—she’d agreed to join the party, but now that the day had arrived, she only wanted to crawl back into bed, at least until after tomorrow. She sank to her haunches, folded her wings back, and tried to keep her knees steady.


Dash rubbed her side where Rarity had jabbed her in the ribs. She almost shot a glare back, but Rarity pantomimed drawing a smile on her face—Dash settled for a forced grin, but she still leveled a half-lidded stare at Rarity.

“Today’s your special day!” Apple Bloom shouted as she leapt back and forth across Scootaloo’s bed. After the third hop, Applejack put a hoof on her sister’s shoulder and shook her head slowly. Frowning, Apple Bloom hung her head and folded her ears back.

“You can do anything you want!” said Sweetie Belle, her tail swishing around. “So, what are you gonna do for the perfect birthday?”

“Hm. I was thinking…” Scootaloo held a hoof to her chin and stuck her tongue out the side of her mouth.

“Yes?” said Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle in unison as they leaned forward and opened their eyes wide.

“Well, I’ve got an idea for a new crusade.” Scootaloo snapped a sharp nod and beckoned them closer. She flicked her eyes back and forth between them. “It seems to me that we’ve never done much crusading in the snow. Now, obviously my cutie mark will be about speed and style. I think it’s time we hit the slopes.”

Apple Bloom drew her eyebrows together for a moment. “But… there’s no snow on the ground. And we’re not scheduled to get any for a couple o’ weeks.”

A bright grin spreading across her face, Scootaloo spotted Dash ducking behind Rarity and Fluttershy. “I know. Rainbow Dash can do it!”

Everypony turned to look at Dash, and a shock ran down her spine. She jumped and rubbed a hoof at the back of her neck. Perfect. No chance of slipping out of here unnoticed. If not for Rarity, she might have gotten out of this altogether. “Oh. Well… I dunno. I’d have to request a permit for a temporary weather modification. Could take a week or two…”

“Oh, Dash,” Twilight said, wrinkling her nose and shaking her head. “Are they really going to care about one hill out in the countryside? Besides, you’re the one who issues permits around here.”

Cocking her head and giggling, Pinkie said, “Hee hee! Silly filly! Dashie’s just pulling your leg. Of course she can do that for you, Scootaloo!”

“Um… Heh heh.” Rainbow took a steadying breath and let her shoulders slump. No avoiding it, then. “Yeah, I guess that would work. When do you want to go? Sometime after lunch?”

“Why not right now?” Scootaloo answered. “I’ve got a lot planned, so we better get started early!” She tossed the blanket off and bounced down to the foot of the bed with Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle.

“Oh…” Rainbow froze and rolled her eyes down toward the floor. Of all days! When they’d first scheduled the party for today, she’d gone along with it, no problem. But she’d had far too long to think about it since then.

She bit her tongue—why was Spike looking at her like that? Like… he knew. Her stomach churned. If she could go home, or to work, or… wherever. As long as she was alone.

“Ssst!” Rarity hissed under her breath, glaring at Rainbow. “You said you’d help out!” she added in a harsh whisper.

“Yeah, but I didn’t think I’d have to do everything,” Dash muttered. When she looked back up, there were enough stern glances directed back at her to make her shudder. Fine. She squared her shoulders and tried to look bored. It was just one morning. She could make it through okay.

Dash managed a weak smile and gestured toward the door. “Right this way, kids.” She let out a long breath—no reason to take it out on the fillies, she supposed. They hadn’t done anything wrong.

She glanced at Spike, still up on Twilight’s back. “You wanna come, too?” He nodded vigorously, but that strange smile remained. She wasn’t sure she liked it. “Well, c’mon.”

“I-I’ll catch up in a minute,” he said, hopping down to the floor.

For a moment, she stared him down. What was he playing at? With a sigh and a shrug, she stepped out into the hallway—the fillies had already gone downstairs. She smirked, paused just outside the door, and pricked her ears.

“Did… anypony else think Rainbow Dash was acting a little odd?” Spike asked. Dash clenched her jaw.

No answer, but a couple of ponies cleared their throats.

“I think she’s upset about something,” he continued.

“Um… good call,” Twilight said. “I think you’re learning to read ponies well.”


“Yes, number one assistant. I’m proud of you.” Dash could hear the smile in Twilight’s voice, clear as day.

“C-can I… Can I be the one to talk to her about it?” Spike asked. The scratch of a claw scuffing against the floorboards carried into the hall. “You girls always get to tell Princess Celestia about what friendship lesson you learned and write in your journal, and… I’d like to do one.”

“I think that’s a great idea, Spike,” Twilight answered. “That’s very sweet of you to want to help. Just… go easy on her.”

Dash squeezed her eyes shut, and the bile rose in her throat. So everypony thought they had everything figured out, huh? Well, they didn’t. Nothing more than a bad mood. Tomorrow, or… maybe the next day. Things might get better. And then they’d leave her alone. Quietly, she flapped down the hall before Spike could catch her listening.

“This is the perfect one, Dash!” Scootaloo shouted, pointing up a long slope just outside Sweet Apple Acres. “I could get going so fast down this one. I can see it now: my cutie mark’ll be a flaming icicle!” She flashed a toothy grin and rubbed her hooves together.

“A flaming what now?” Apple Bloom remarked, scrunching her face up. “Do those things burn?”

“If you get it going fast enough, I bet anything can.” Scootaloo nodded sharply.

“I can try to light one,” Spike offered, “but… Princess Celestia might not appreciate it.”

“Oh, c’mon!” Sweetie Belle said, giving him a pointed stare. “That wouldn’t happen! That only works for paper, right?”

“I was just kidding,” Spike muttered as he folded his arms and turned his back.

Rainbow forgot herself for a moment and chuckled, but she caught it before it got away from her. This day couldn’t end fast enough for her taste. So, the weather, then.

She glanced around and spotted a large gray cloud in the distance and left them discussing flammability as she raced out to get it. After she’d checked it over, she braced her hooves against it and shoved it back to their hill. She grabbed a pointy tendril at one end in her teeth and swung it around and around, faster and faster, until the cold air had turned the few drops leaking from it into ice.

That should be chilled enough. Next step: get all that ice on the ground. “Heads up!” she called, and the Cutie Mark Crusaders retreated over to the next hill.

Dash rubbed a hoof at her chin and nudged the cloud this way and that, finally satisfied that she had it centered over the hillside. She rocketed straight up into the sky, then turned back earthward. Each second, she built up more and more speed, the icy blast of wind making her eyes water. She braced a shoulder against the impact and plowed into the cloud, which immediately plopped a thick white blanket over the hilltop. The snowy wave rolled down the incline, leaving the whole thing buried under several inches of fresh white powder.

Perfect! She couldn’t wait to see the big smiles on their—

Rainbow clenched her jaw. Why couldn’t she get those fillies out of her head? She only had to stay out here a token hour at most, and then she could go home, get away, try to forget…

She wiped at the tingle in her nose. Not now. She needed to keep it together.

Before she even had a chance to bite her lip, a bolt of green flame erupted through the snow at the foot of the hill, and Spike climbed out from under a thick drift. Rainbow hurried to his side and rubbed a hoof down her muzzle. “Oh, jeez. Sorry, Spike. You okay?”

“Yeah. Heh. That was fun!” he said, giggling.

“Thank goodness,” Dash hissed through her teeth.

“Um… Dash?”

He had that same look on his face, like he did earlier in Scootaloo’s room. Whatever “talk” he wanted to have with her, she knew enough to wriggle out from under it. “Hey,” she said, pointing to where the three fillies had already clambered to the top of the hill. “You’d better get up there while you can. Only so many hours of daylight.”

Spike squinted at her, opened his mouth again, and kicked at the snow, but at the sound of squeals coming down the slope, he rushed around to the back and clawed his way up.

Over and over again, the girls flew down the hill on their sleds, and Spike on his belly scales. Screeches and laughter and shouting floated through the air, and perched in a nearby tree, Rainbow grinned from the bare branches. She couldn’t help it—Scootaloo giggled until she wheezed, dragged her sled back up so many times that her legs shook, and never lost that beautiful smile. Lost in the moment, just like she deserved. Like a child should be.

Dash closed her eyes and listened. If she concentrated, she could keep a straight face, and maybe they would think she’d fallen asleep. Alone at last. Kind of, anyway. Not so she could let herself go, but… she breathed a little easier and pricked her ears forward—

A frightened yell. Dash’s eyes shot open—a sled, its front end buried in a mound of snow, and Scootaloo in midair. Her limbs flailed about as she tumbled toward the hard ground past the snowdrifts.

Dash bolted from the tree, snatched Scootaloo from the air, and wrapped the filly in her hooves. No time to flap her wings and get airborne again—she arched her body around Scootaloo and took the full impact on her own shoulder.

For the longest time, she lay there shivering. She barely heard Scootaloo saying something, and the others, too. Their voices came from all around, but her own panting flooded her ears, and her heart raced.

“You okay?” finally made it through the fog and into Dash’s head, but she didn’t know who’d said it. Apple Bloom, maybe. She nodded and gulped.

“Look,” Rainbow said, letting Scootaloo go with a pat on the back and folding her forehooves to keep them from shaking. “Maybe we should call it a day. Sun won’t be up much longer anyway.” She gritted her teeth against the buzzing in her head.

Scootaloo stuck out her lower lip. “Aww. I really got launched that time. I bet I could go even farther!”

That girl sure had some nerve—Dash had to give her credit. But she shook her head. “’Fraid not. We should get back to town.” And then Dash could finally go home and… what? Try to find some other distraction? Being alone sounded worse all the time, but still the best of a bunch of bad options. She punched a hoof in the dirt.

“But Dash! I thought we’d still do some more stuff together!” Scootaloo said.

Was this kid really going to hold her hostage all day long? “What did you have in mind?” Dash grumbled, and immediately regretted it when she saw Scootaloo’s drooping ears.

“Can we have lunch together?” Scootaloo asked in a soft voice. “You know, that place you always say has the best grilled mushroom sandwich in all of Equestria?”

“Long past lunch, squirt.”

“Well… I guess it can be dinner, too.”

Dash bit back the sharp words she felt gathering in her throat. “Fine.” Wasn’t all morning and half the afternoon enough? It’s not like she needed to beg—of course Rainbow would do that for her, except… Rainbow sighed. The day had actually gone okay so far. A little more wouldn’t hurt, and she shouldn’t lump all this on Scootaloo, either. She softened her expression. “Sure, Scoots. Let’s go.”

“Sorry, girls—and Spike,” Scootaloo said to her friends. “It’s in Cloudsdale. You couldn’t walk on the clouds.”

“Oh, y’all go on,” Apple Bloom replied with a wave of her hoof. “We’ll stay here and do a bit more sleddin’. But don’t forget this!” She daubed a snow cutie mark on Scootaloo’s flank, and all three fillies giggled.

While they hugged and waved good-bye, Spike sidled up to Rainbow. “You sure you’re okay?” he asked.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Dash gave him a pointed stare.

“I just thought… you seemed…”

“Ready, Dash?” Scootaloo said.

“Yeah, kid, c’mon—”

Spike tugged softly at her wing. “I… Rainbow Dash, I’ll still be here when you get back. Will you stop by and tell me how everything went? Please?”

First Rarity, and now Spike, too? Did anypony else want to run her life today, too? She forced out a sharp breath. “Yeah.” She guessed she owed him for burying him in the snow, anyway.

Rainbow bent low to let Scootaloo scramble onto her back. The poor thing was still breathing heavy from her sledding. A gentle flight, then, nothing too strenuous. She trotted off, gathering speed gradually for takeoff. “You okay?” she said over her shoulder, and she felt a nod against her neck. Would Scootaloo admit it if she wasn’t? Not all ponies would—

Dash bit her lip hard.

“I can see Canterlot from up here!” Scootaloo shouted. She opened her wings straight out and twisted them a bit in the air stream, experimenting with the force of lifting herself a little off Dash’s back.

“Yeah. And way over there is the mountain where we chased off that dragon.” Rainbow added a punctuating snort. “I kicked him. Right between the eyes, and he never came back.” At their easy pace, she only needed to flap once every few seconds. It was actually… relaxing. She let her hooves dangle limply below her and soaked up the sun’s warmth at her back. Every few seconds, she felt the little tug of hooves at her mane as she towed Scootaloo along, and the occasional gasp or comment reached her ears.

It felt so nice. She could lose herself forever. But a forever on the wrong side of tomorrow.

“Well, duh! He didn’t want to mess with Rainbow Dash!” Scootaloo said. Rainbow’s mind snapped back to reality. Tucking her wings in, Scootaloo settled down onto Rainbow again and let go of her mane.

“Heh.” Dash’s smile lingered a little while as she angled toward Cloudsdale’s downtown area. Just her and the kid. This… wasn’t so bad without everypony else around. Maybe—maybe this would turn out okay. She took a deep breath and tried to convince herself of that.

At the end of their brief flight, Rainbow weaved through a few streets near the edge of the city, then set down in a back alley, where a flickering neon sign read “Skyline Diner.” They walked in the front door, and the jingling bell prompted a head to pop out the kitchen door.

“Rainbow Dash! It’s been a while! Your usual seat?” the cook asked, jerking his head toward the corner booth.

Dash nodded. Greasy Spoon had the same apron as always. Stained in—heh!—a rainbow of colors, and she was sure that none of them was the original. “Good to see you again, Spoon.” She slid into the bench just inside the front window and patted its surface next to her. “Best seat in the house!” she remarked to Scootaloo.

The filly craned her neck a bit to where she could see a narrow patch of sky between a couple of the buildings. From there, she found the edge of the weather factory, where new clouds puffed out a few times a minute. “Um… nice view?”

“That’s why we call it Skyline Diner!” Greasy Spoon roared as he gave Dash a hearty clap on the shoulder. “Who’s your friend?”

“Greasy Spoon, this is Scootaloo,” Dash said, one side of her mouth curled up into a slight grin.

“Out for an evenin’ on the town, huh?” He scratched behind his ear with his pencil.

“Nothing too exciting, Spoon. Gonna head back home after this, I think.”

“Ah. Saving it up for New Year’s Eve, I see. Got big plans for tomorrow, then?” Spoon shot her a knowing look, but he creased his brow when Dash shook her head quickly and cast her gaze down.

He didn’t know any better, but that didn’t keep his words from stabbing her like needles. She struggled to mash together some kind of reply—maybe Scootaloo hadn’t heard.

“No, not going out tomorrow,” Scootaloo replied absentmindedly as she fiddled with the pepper shaker. That sweet smile on her face, so trusting. All of them, too trusting. Everypony just assumed that…

“Alright, what can I get ya?” Spoon squinted at Dash’s forced smile.

“Two of your mushroom specials and some hot cocoa. Water, too.”

He scratched a few lines on his notepad. “Comin’ right up.”

When he’d left, Rainbow studied the well-worn tabletop and didn’t say anything. What was there to say? In the sky, at least she was an expert. Here… She just watched Scootaloo, who seemed fascinated with those batches of fluff floating out of the factory like clockwork. Cloud after cloud, all the same, but still she stared, that little smile never leaving her face.

And Dash stared, too. She stared at some other day, maybe a few years past. When times were simpler. All of them, out in the park, tossing a ball around or splashing in the lake. Not like now, with Dash and her—and her stupid self, trying to run away and hide from…

Scared. Just like when she’d cowered in the ready area during the Best Young Flyers Competition. And when Discord had convinced her to abandon everypony to go save Cloudsdale. Always scared, always running off to be alone. Dash rubbed her eyes and held a breath. And Scootaloo—she could somehow shrug it all off. So, what would Dash do this time? Run away again or do something to earn the trust that Scootaloo placed in her?

The clink of plates against the table jerked both of them back into the moment, and Dash forced a cough to cover the sound of her sniffle. Sinking her teeth into her sandwich, Scootaloo let out a low moan. “Mmmm. It’s even better than you said!” By the time Dash was halfway through hers, Scootaloo had already wolfed the whole thing down. And seconds later, she hiccupped. Then again.

“Whoa! Take it easy!” Dash leaned over and thumped Scootaloo on the back. “Drink some water.”

Scootaloo drained half her glass, and when she came up for air, she sat still for a minute before smiling. “They’re gone.” She took a deep breath, then munched on her potato chips and pickle slowly while waiting for Dash to finish her meal.

Dash did so in silence, looking anywhere but at Scootaloo. All around them, the few late-afternoon customers chatted away, and sounds of silverware clinking against dishes added punctuation. A strong smell of vegetable soup floated out of the kitchen. The front door’s bell tinkled and hinges squeaked every few minutes when the mail carrier came by, the odd police officer wanted a hit of coffee after his shift, or some pedestrian needed a place to get out of the winter air and read her newspaper while enjoying a piece of pie. In the right circumstances, the rhythm could be hypnotic. If she let it. Or needed it to be.

She shook her head.

That filly. Staring at the clouds again, and the occasional burst of rainbow. Was she really happy just sitting there? Rainbow picked up the pace a bit, if only to get this day over with a bit quicker, to get home and—she guessed she’d made her choice, then. Last bite down. “You want the rest of my chips, Scoot? I’m not gonna eat ’em.”

“No. I’m full.” A thin ribbon of blue sky reflecting in her eyes, Scootaloo smiled up at Dash, who kept her gaze locked on her cocoa.

“Anything else? Dessert?” Greasy Spoon asked as he walked over and slid their check onto the table.

“I’ve still got cake waiting for me,” Scootaloo replied, her ears perking up.

“Oh, really? What for?”

Scootaloo gave a sharp nod and flared her wings. “It’s my birthday,” she declared.

“You don’t say?” Spoon poked Rainbow in the shoulder. “Why’d you bring her to a dive like this, then? Hah!”

“I can’t help it if your mushroom sandwiches are the stuff of legends,” Dash answered. She took a deep breath. Almost over. Just a short flight back to Ponyville, then she could hole up in her home and… Not really an improvement, but at least she’d be alone.

“Alright then. Have a great day, the both o’ you. Don’t be a stranger, Dash!”

Rainbow picked up the bill, dug a small stack of bits out of her saddlebag, and tossed a couple extra on the table. She glanced back at Scootaloo and motioned toward the door.

They both took their last swallow of cocoa, and Scootaloo followed her out into the street. “So, was that all? Day’s almost over.” Poor kid. She looked wilted and could barely keep her eyes open. “Shouldn’t we head back?”

Nodding, Scootaloo added, “But can we take the long way? I was hoping to go for a flight.” Her knees wobbled, just barely. But Dash noticed. She clenched her jaw, but what else could she do? Say no?

Again, Dash bent down to let Scootaloo on her back. “I’m not feeling up to doing any stunts this late. You don’t look like you are, either.” The filly’d pushed herself hard today. Dash sure hadn’t, but then why did she feel so tired?

Scootaloo blinked hard, and her eyes didn’t open all the way. She let out a big yawn, and it took all of Rainbow’s willpower to hold one of her own in. “I know,” Scootaloo said. “I don’t care if it’s a lazy flight. I just wanted to spend it with you.”

Rainbow swallowed hard and glanced around at the few pedestrians in the street as her pulse picked up. She trotted the couple of blocks to the city’s edge. Leaping off and into the sky, she turned easy circles to gain altitude gradually, and once she had enough height to clear all the rooftops, she skimmed over toward the far end of town.

“Down there’s my old neighborhood when I was a filly,” she said, pointing at a row of nondescript apartments. “Those old streets are where I first learned to fly. Every day after school. And over there—” she angled her head toward a large open field with a couple of racecourses “—is where I went to flight camp. That’s where I first learned to fly again.”

“Again?” Scootaloo raised her head from where she’d allowed it to rest on Rainbow’s neck.

“Yeah. Raw talent’s one thing, but you don’t get the most out of it if you don’t really understand it.” Banking gently to the south, Dash flew over the city’s large stadium. “And that’s where I was in the Best Young Flyers Competition.” She pursed her lips. Why’d she bring that up? Probably just to torture herself.

“I know,” Scootaloo slurred.

Rainbow raised her eyebrows and craned her neck around at her passenger. “How’d you know that?”

Blushing, Scootaloo looked to the side. “I snuck over and watched from the ground.”

The girl had spirit. Dash had to give her that.

The sun was just dipping below the horizon, and Dash could see the interplay of color in the high cirrus clouds above. She continued circling for some time, letting the orange evening glow wash over her. It was nice. Peaceful. She closed her eyes and took a deep sniff of the winter air. Some fires going in hearths below, somepony roasting chestnuts, maybe some gingerbread baking. The feeling of her hooves dangling free with nothing under them. Dangling free. In fact, she could almost forget…

Eyeing the fading light to the west one more time, she broke the silence. “We can swing by Canterlot, but then it’ll be dark, and we should head back. Okay?” No answer. “Scoot?”

Dash felt a stirring on her back. “Hm?”

“I was just saying—we should go home after we pass by Canterlot. Okay?”


More long minutes of silence. But… Dash’s knotted muscles relaxed a bit. The wind rushing over her wings, that soft breath on her coat. Though there was a bite to the chilly night air, a pleasant warmth ran through her body. In the moment, it was… If she could just stay in the moment, it was blissful. She closed her eyes and couldn’t help smiling. But moments end.

Everything had dimmed to a dusky purple, and Rainbow kept on course for the twinkling lights that drew near, high on a mountain slope. “Rainbow Dash?” came a faint voice from a little below her ear.

If it had been any louder, it might have made Dash jump, but it was just right. “Yeah?”

“I… know you’re tough, Rainbow Dash. I wanna be just like you. That’s why I didn’t wanna risk making you think I was all sappy or something.” A light sigh brushed Rainbow’s neck. “But I wanted to say… I love you.” Dash felt Scootaloo’s muzzle snuggle a little harder into her mane.

Rainbow’s eyes widened. Her mouth worked in silence as she tried to sort out something to say. But what? She had to say something! No way she could leave that hanging out there! She forced air from her lungs, but all she could do was croak. The fan club. Following her around everywhere. Spending her entire birthday with her! It’s not like it wasn’t obvious. Say something!

Her pulse pounded in her head, and lights danced in front of her eyes, but not the familiar ones of Canterlot. She—she thought she might pass out. No! Rainbow Dash didn’t get lightheaded. Weak ponies did that. Not Dash.

Rainbow came to a hover and looked behind her to see she’d overshot Canterlot by several miles. “Scootaloo?” she said, her voice quaking. Maybe she wouldn’t be able to tell. “Scootaloo?” she asked a bit louder, her tightened throat at least making a steadier sound.

That tingling sensation returned. Her head swam. “Scootaloo!” The tears she’d fought back all day surged up again, and she couldn’t handle both them and the air at the same time. She dove for the ground and leaned her head back to nudge her passenger.

“Hm?” Scootaloo finally answered.

Pulling up while still a short distance above the ground, Dash took a few deep, shuddering breaths and buried her face in her hooves. She didn’t think she’d started trembling, but now she felt her hooves shaking against her eyes. “Scoot, I…” She waited a minute, but no further response. Asleep again.

Dash stared at the dirt. Always there, unmoving. It cut her world in half. She hated it. Right now, she hated it more than anything. She… she just needed to go home, alone in the clouds. And take Scootaloo back to Ponyville first, of course.


Dash had forgotten all about Spike. No way he’d stayed out this late. It’d serve him right for butting in, anyway.

She tensed her shoulders and flew toward the snowy hill at the highest speed she could muster. Soon, she saw the frozen expanse reflecting the soft moonlight. Sweeping down the slope, Dash finally spotted a small purple shape curled up at the bottom, asleep and shivering faintly against the snowbank. He lay wrapped up in both Apple Bloom’s and Sweetie Belle’s scarves. Dash hovered above him and jostled his arm. “Spike! Hey, Spike!”

He stirred, blinked a few times, rubbed his eyes, and looked up at her. “I’m sorry, Spike! Scoot wanted to go flying after lunch, and I forgot all about you. You should have gone home!”

Spike shook his head. “I’m fine. Did you two have fun?”

“I think so. At least she did.” Rainbow jerked her nose toward her back. “I…”

“Why don’t you come down here? You’ve gotta be tired from all that flying.”


“But Rainbow—”

“No!” Dash could just make out his scowl in the pale light.

“Why not?” he asked as he stood and brushed the snow off himself.

“I… I don’t know.” Dash shook her head and looked away. “I don’t know why. I’m just not ready. Okay?”

Spike clasped his claws together and didn’t answer. She gave him a minute, but everypony seemed determined to keep her from doing what she wanted to do today. “Go home, Spike. Twilight’d let me have it if you caught a cold on my account.”

“But I wanted to…”

“Spike. Spit it out or let me go,” she growled at him.

He pursed his lips and sat a moment longer, but then the words came rolling out. “I know why you’ve been upset lately, and I asked Twilight if I could talk to you, since I never get to be the one to write what I learned about friendship. So she told me I could, and I don’t wanna let her down.”

“Spike, I’m really not the touchy-feely type. I’d rather not—”

“She’s going to be okay, Rainbow Dash.” He peered up at her in the dim glow. “You’re worried about Scootaloo. But she’ll be fine. It’s not that big a deal. Nopony else seems so concerned, including Scootaloo. Just think of how much better she’ll feel afterward.”

“That’s what they say…” Rainbow turned her face away from the moonlight, but the glistening snow didn’t give her much darkness. “I dunno. I just want… I don’t know!” she said, forcing a steadiness in her voice.

Her back turned to Spike, she wiped a hoof across her nose. Maybe he didn’t notice. She flapped harder, her movements less crisp and more labored than before. That weight on her back…

Dash sniffled hard and coughed. “Spike… keep this to yourself, okay?”

He nodded. “I won’t rat you out.” She’d given him a fragile smile and ascended a bit to fly away when she heard his voice again. “Why don’t you come by the library tomorrow? Nopony else will be there, and you can wait with me and Twilight. Just us, nice and quiet.”

She hovered in place for a moment longer. “Thanks, Spike. You might even have something to write in our friendship journal.” Rainbow smiled, more genuine this time, as his eyes lit up. Then she flew off again.

Her shoulders protesting with each flap, Rainbow winged toward town. The last few familiar landmarks passed by below: Town Hall, Carousel Boutique, the river. She found her destination and hung in the air over the front walk for a minute before a tightening in her wing warned her of an imminent cramp. Whether she wanted it or not, the flight was over. She dropped the last few inches to the pavement and didn’t let her knees absorb the landing. It jolted her. It hurt. It should.

By some miracle, Scootaloo didn’t wake up.

After several hours of darkness, the harsh artificial light of the lobby stabbed into her vision when she went through the front door. She trotted down the hall, up the stairs, and found Scootaloo’s darkened room. Number two-eighteen. That warm breath still on her neck… She sighed and leaned over, letting Scootaloo slide into her bed, then rolled her onto her side and pulled the covers up.

“Dash?” Scootaloo mumbled.

“Yeah, kid?”

“I had fun. Thanks.”

“No problem. Say, when is your birthday really?” Dash leaned in close to hear the whispered answer.

“In four days. On the third. But I probably wouldn’t have felt up to it then.”

Rainbow patted her shoulder and smiled in the darkness. “Well, I hope you had a good one.”

“Yeah.” Scootaloo’s breathing slowed, and Dash figured she’d already dozed off when she spoke again. “Dash, I-I’m a little scared. I didn’t wanna tell you, but…”

“Nothing wrong with that,” Dash answered. She gently unstrapped the rainbow-striped helmet, slid it off, and placed it on the bedside table next to the covered cake platter.

Bravery didn’t mean having no fear. It meant accepting that fear and going on in spite of it. Even more so to admit it. Dash stopped fighting the feeling in the pit of her stomach. No more running away—she’d face that hurt head-on. “Scoot?” No answer. Just the steady rise and fall of her chest and the soft rush of breath.

She leaned over a little farther and kissed Scootaloo on her forehead. “I love you too, kid.” There might have been a faint smile, and Scootaloo wriggled a little harder into her pillow.

Stepping out into the hallway, where the lights had also been dimmed for the overnight hours, Rainbow looked in both directions and didn’t see anypony. Just a few cabinets and scattered bits of equipment. She turned toward the stairs and went far enough to be out of Scootaloo’s earshot.

Dash remembered from her own time in the hospital that a shift change happened right about now. The day nurses would sign out, and the night staff would pick up their assignments downstairs. She probably had about ten minutes before somepony came up here.

Just a minor heart defect, one that had made Scootaloo get easily fatigued lately. And one the doctors said was very straightforward to repair. No problem, nothing to worry about. So why had it hit Dash like a ton of bricks?

And why was Scootaloo the strong one? Everypony should know Rainbow Dash as the unbreakable pony. Nothing bothered her. Gritting her teeth, Rainbow winced at a cramp in her spent left wing.

She wouldn’t hide at home tomorrow. Not in the library either, though she did appreciate the offer. No, tomorrow she’d wait right here. She’d watch Scootaloo wake up after her surgery, and she’d get back to the business of earning that filly’s adoration.

“I love you too, kid,” she whispered into the silence. About ten minutes of solitude left—a little less now. She slumped against the wall and slid down it until she lay huddled on the floor, her head in her hooves. Rainbow Dash cried as quietly as possible.

Author's Notes:

The chapter title comes from Dylan Thomas's poem "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night." This is the third title I've taken from that poem, but while only the particular line held any meaning for the previous ones, the entire poem fits the theme of this story. The specific stanza matches Rainbow Dash's fears, and the setting sun appears as the same symbol in both. The full stanza is:

"Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night."

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