The mood in Fluttershy’s living room was apprehensive, almost precarious; as if the tension, seemingly balanced on the head of a pin, might tumble to disarray at any given moment. A pewter tray sporting a matching teapot and several steaming teacups sat, untouched, on the coffee table, where Fluttershy had set it not moments before, hoping to defuse the situation. Instead, the six gathered ponies sat around the room, perched uneasily on couches and chairs, glancing briefly at one another before returning their gazes elsewhere, uncertain, unspeaking. The assortment of resident animals had long since sought refuge in other parts of the house, leaving the room unusually still. The silence had become oppressive.
Applejack coughed and looked between Spectrum and Firefly, drawing the older pegasi’s attention. “Ah don’t know what y’all are playin’ at, but Ah think it’s about high time to start explainin’ things.”
“Applejack, please.” Rainbow Dash swallowed her apprehension and exhaled deeply, her wings, twitching slightly before, relaxed at her sides. “Let me handle this.” Applejack frowned and settled back into her seat, still casting uneasy glances Rainbow Dash’s way as the cyan mare took a few more deep breaths and then turned to face her parents, who stared intently directly at her. “Mom, Dad, I… uh… wow, this is hard.” She paused, faltering, her front hooves fidgeting before her, “You know, I’m still pretty mad. And I don’t really know what else to say right now, so you should probably just start talking.”
Spectrum and Firefly exchanged a glance before turning back to her. Firefly sighed before she began. “We’ve made so many mistakes. I’m surprised you’re even willing to call us mom and dad, after what terrible parents we’ve been. But, for what it’s worth, Dash, waking up this morning and reading… reading that our own daughter had been attacked; that was the worst feeling I’ve ever felt in my life.” The mare became quiet, her words trailing into nothing as she held a hoof to her forehead, choking as she tried to breathe. She shook her head, descending into sobs as her husband reached a hoof up to pat her back.
“Seeing something like that, especially in a newspaper, well, that’s something no parent should ever go through.” Spectrum nodded gravely. “It shocked us, and it really tore your mother apart. For a while I didn’t even know what to think, except that we’d failed you.”
“The worst part was knowing, somehow, somewhere deep down that—” Firefly sobbed, gasping as she pushed away the stallion’s hoof. “That it was all our fault! That we were responsible and that it never should have happened like this, not to you.”
“You came here, though. After all these years I never saw you once, and now you’re back. Why? I don’t understand.”
“We needed to see you. We needed to tell you how sorry we were.” Her mother wiped at the tears in her eyes, “How very, very sorry we still are. We let this happen. We let this happen and I’ll never forgive myself for it.”
“After all these years, after everything you said, I thought you hated me. I thought I would never see you again. I never even saw you after I left.”
“No! Sweetie, no, we never hated you. We just—”
“You never came looking for me! NOT ONCE!” Rainbow yelled, her anger finally breaking. An uneasy glance shifted between Twilight, Fluttershy and Applejack. “And now you expect me to believe you suddenly care?”
“We were so confused back then, we were confused and we made so many mistakes…”
“I trusted you!” Rainbow Dash covered her face with her fore legs, before throwing them off in exasperation, “I trusted you with the biggest secret of my life! I told you I was gay and you made me feel like dirt! You hurt me! You really did!”
Her father shook his head slowly, “We were wrong, we were so, so wrong…”
“Oh, yeah. Now. Now you say so. Of course!” Rainbow Dash jumped up from the couch, turning to pace the floor before her parents, stomping angrily back and forth across the rug, throwing burning glances their way at every turn. “Just when my whole life is falling to pieces, you decide to turn up and act all innocent!”
Applejack jumped up, looking ready to intervene, but found her way blocked by a lavender hoof. She glanced over at her unicorn friend, alarm written into the creases on her face, and threw her a questioning look. Twilight Sparkle shook her head slowly. “Just let her blow off some steam,” she whispered.
The sounds of quiet weeping undercut the tension in the room. Spectrum looked in alarm from his wife to his daughter and back. “Rainbow, please. You’re making your mother cry.”
Rainbow Dash rounded on her father. “So she should! It’s not like you two didn’t make me do the same plenty of times!”
“Rainbow, please calm—”
“NO!” She glared daggers at the stallion. “I won’t calm down—not anymore! You told me I was confused! You told me it was just a phase that I would grow out of, and that I was just ‘acting out against you’. I remember every word you said to me! You treated me like I didn’t know what I was talking about, like some sort of idiot! Never mind that it was the hardest thing I’d ever done just to work up the courage to admit it to myself, let alone you guys! Never mind that I was scared and barely even knew what it meant. And I thought I could trust you, I thought you’d support me! Do you know what it feels like to know you’re wrong, that your parents don’t support you, that they probably don’t even love you anymore because of the way you are?”
Her mother whispered quietly into a cushion, tears leaking down her cheeks and staining the fabric. “We… we never stopped loving you.”
“Well you might as well have!” She resumed her pacing, shaking her head back and forth. “The way you treated me, the way you made me feel! It was like you didn’t care about me anymore!” Rainbow’s voice cracked sharply on her final word.
The elder mare was shaking in her seat. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“You should be!” She stopped once more, facing the wall, and closed her eyes, shaking her head back and forth. “You should be…” She whispered.
Firefly wiped her face clear, peering at her daughter, “Rainbow? Are you Ok?”
She took a few deep breaths, magenta eyes opening again, and she turned to face the other mare. “I’ve got news for you, mother. I’m gay. I’m gay and I don’t care what you think of that. And, if you can’t accept that, you should just leave. I have a new home now, and I ran away from home once. I’m not going to do it again.”
“If you’re willing to give us a second chance, we want to do whatever it takes to fix our mistakes.” She nodded earnestly, Spectrum joining in.
Rainbow Dash’s hard gaze persisted for a few more seconds before it fell, and she looked to the floor. She sighed. “I don’t even know why I care. I was done with you guys. I was done. I came to Ponyville with only one friend in the world, and now I have so many more. And they accept me for who I am, and that’s more than you ever did for me. Now all I want to know is, why?” She shut her eyes, stamping a hoof against the rug, “Just, why?”
The older mare slid a hoof down her face, looking towards the ceiling. “We were afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“Afraid for you.” Firefly nodded earnestly, staring intently at her daughter.
Rainbow Dash stared back at her, blankly. Spectrum sighed. “What your mother means is…” He paused, his lips pursed in thought, “Do you remember when you were a filly, and you had those run-ins with the bullies at flight camp?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Do you remember the day you flew home crying; the day they called you a fillyfooler?”
Applejack fidgeted in her seat, prompting Twilight to glance over at her. “Everything alright?”
“Ah’m not rightly sure Ah’m comfortable with this,” she confessed. Twilight nodded.
Rainbow Dash was too busy staring at her parents, her mouth hanging slack, her eyes wide. Slowly, quietly, she found her voice again. “Wha—what does that have to do with it?”
“Because…” He spoke calmly, deliberately, picking his words with care. “You know how competitive other pegasi can be—especially school-age colts and fillies. The only reason those young colts picked on you was because you were different. They thought they could get a rise out of you. For the most part, it worked. I recall you getting into several minor fights during flight camp.” He chuckled lightly, confusion still plain on his daughter’s face. “Don’t act so surprised. We’ve always known what a quick little temper you have. But, imagine several years later, you’re in high school, and somehow word slips that you’re actually gay. Some colt thinks that makes you weak and pesters you about it to show how tough he is to his buddies. Your temper snaps and who knows what happens. We had never even considered the possibility until you told us, and once you did, we were terrified.”
She blinked at him. “I—I’m confused.”
In turn, her mother spoke up. “You were already out of the house so much back then. We lived in constant fear of losing you, especially when you didn’t come home for days at a time. Then, when you told us you were… you were gay; it was too much. We panicked. I thought for sure, any day, we would open the front door to some police pony, somepony who would tell us there’d been a fight, and you were hurt, or worse.”
Twilight Sparkle, listening intently, felt a nudge on her shoulder, and looked over in surprise to see Applejack standing beside her, her face unreadable. “Twi, d’ya mind if ya meet me outside fer a bit?” Twilight gave an uneasy glance back to Rainbow Dash, but Fluttershy caught her gaze and gave a little nod.
It was all she needed. “Alright, but I’d prefer to make it quick.” Silently, Applejack nodded, and the pair slipped from the room, taking care not to let the creaking of the front door bring too much attention to themselves; Nopony paid them any heed.
“For a long time,” Firefly started once more, shaking her head, “we wanted to believe that you were just saying it to be rebellious, or that it was just a phase you’d grow out of. So we tried to deny it. We denied it to ourselves and we denied it to you, never even thinking that all we were doing was driving you away. Even after you left, we had this hope that you’d come back and it would just have been one big misunderstanding.”
Spectrum nodded. “We tried so hard to play it off, to just have our little girl back, that we never realized what was important until it was too late. We wanted to protect you, and we never considered that we were the ones hurting you the most. To think what you needed most was our acceptance, but we never even took you seriously. We were so blind back then.”
Her mother took a deep breath. “We’ll understand if… if you can’t forgive us. That isn’t what we came here for, anyway. We just wanted to let you know that we were wrong, and that even though we were so stupid, we only thought we were doing what was best for you. We were never trying to hurt you. And… and we’re proud of the mare you’ve become. We’ve been following your story in the papers, even if we were too afraid to come see you before now. We’re proud of your accomplishments, and we love you, Rainbow Dash. We’ve always loved you, even if we didn’t know how to before.”
“Why should I trust you? You took this long just to come find me; did you even care until now?”
“No, Sweetie. We still cared. We found out what a huge mistake we’d made as soon as we realized you weren’t coming back. We—”
“So what? You keep talking about all the mistakes you made ‘back then’, but it still took you five years to try and come find me! I guess I just wasn’t important enough to you.” She paused, looking the pair over. “And stop calling me ‘Sweetie’. I hate that.”
Spectrum sighed. “We were afraid of what you’d think of us, Rainbow. We felt for sure you didn’t want us in your life anymore, so we decided to let you go. It was another mistake we made of many. We should have tried to make things right from the beginning, but we didn’t, because we were too scared. It’s another thing we’re going to have to live with, of many. We failed as parents, and we’ll take that to our graves. The best we can do is try to make things as right as possible now, even if we are too late.”
Rainbow Dash just sighed, turning so her back faced them. “I think, uh, I think I need some time alone now.”
Spectrum looked surprised. “Are you sure? Because we only just got to talk, and—”
“Yeah.” Rainbow nodded quickly. “I’ve got too much to think about now. And, to be honest, I’m not so sure I really even want to see you guys any more tonight. I just need time to think.”
Firefly shifted in her seat. “We’re sorry, Rainbow Dash. We’re really, truly, sorry.”
“Please, just, go. I need to be alone now.”
Silently, and with a shared final glance at their daughter, Spectrum and Firefly stood to leave. Rainbow Dash didn’t turn around until she heard the door click shut. For a few silent moments, she stared at its wood face, gazing in quiet contemplation. Finally, Fluttershy cleared her throat.
“Do you want to talk about—”
They both remained silent for a few minutes more, then Rainbow Dash muttered something unintelligible and turned from the door. “Where am I sleeping tonight?”
“My room. I’ll take the couch.”
“I can’t do that to you. You should be in your own bed.”
Rainbow’s mouth opened, as if to protest further, but she ultimately decided against it. Nodding her thanks, she trumped her way up the stairs, and a satisfied smile crept onto Fluttershy’s face.
Letting the door close quietly behind them, Twilight and Applejack strode out into the cool evening. The unicorn flashed a concerned look at her earth pony friend. “Is something the matter, AJ?”
Applejack exhaled slowly, glancing back at the door. “Ah just didn’t feel comfortable in there. Not around them.”
“Have you met them before?”
“No, it’s just, from everythin’ Dash told me about them, Ah always thought they were bad ponies. Now Ah don’t know what ta think anymore.”
“Maybe you should give them a second chance, too?”
“It’s more than that, though…” She sighed. “Twi, Ah never told anypony this, but when Ah first met Rainbow, she was stealin’ apples off mah farm. Not just a couple ones, either. Ah caught her makin’ off with darn near a whole bushel. An’ Ah was right mad, until I saw how bad she looked—like she hadn’t eaten in days. So Ah invited her for dinner. Turns out, she didn’t have any food, any bits, a job, or a place ta stay. So Ah made her spend th’ night. That’s when she spilled her guts ta me. Told me about how she liked fillies, about her parents, everythin’. We’ve been fast friends ever since.” Applejack shook her head, chuckling bitterly. “To tell the truth, Ah think she needed somepony to tell all those secrets too, just ta get that weight off her shoulders and get back on her hooves.”
“I—I had no idea.”
“O’ course not. Ah never told anypony else—figured Rainbow wouldn’t like a story like that goin’ around.” Applejack shook her head. “That was almost five years ago. Family’s always been so important ta me, and back then, Ah was still reelin’ after losin’ mah own folks. Ah just couldn’t imagine how somepony’s parents could treat ‘em like that. It scared me.”
“So now you don’t think they’re as bad as you once did?”
“That’s what Ah don’t know, Twi. Ya never knew Rainbow like Ah did. Ya never saw her until after she got her life together. She wasn’t like the Rainbow Dash we all know, and now after what Soarin’ did ta her, she just seems so vulnerable. Ah never want ta see her go back ta the way she was. Her parents hurt her once, and Ah don’t know if we can trust ‘em not ta hurt her again.”
Twilight sighed, looking towards the ground. “Well, if they’re going to be a part of Rainbow’s life again, that’s her decision. And whatever she chooses, we’ll honor than and hope for the best.”
Applejack nodded. “Ah know. You’re right, Twi. Ah just wish ya warn’t.”
“I know the feeling.”
The two friends fell into silence for a while, staring off into the starlit sky. Applejack kicked absentmindedly at the ground. “Ya know, Ah think Ah’m gonna head back ta the farm. There’s somepony Ah need ta talk to.”
Twilight nodded silently, and Applejack turned to leave just as the door opened. Both ponies turned to see Spectrum and Firefly step silently from the cottage. For a long moment, the two pairs stared across the pathway at one another, before husband and wife exchanged a glance and moved along, right past the two mares.
“Nice night.” Firefly nodded towards them, trying a smile.
“Yes. It is.” Twilight returned, her aspect constant. Applejack’s eyes traced the couple until they were a little ways down the path.
“Y’all made her ashamed of who she is.” She called out, making them stop, turning to stare back at her. She held firm. “Ah was the first friend she made in Ponyville. She told me her secret, but she was too afraid to tell another soul, thanks to you.”
“We did a lot of things we’re not proud of.” There was a twinge of nervousness in Firefly’s voice.
“What are ya hopin’ ta do now?”
Spectrum looked hard at her. “We just want to make things right.”
Firefly glanced at him, then back to Applejack. “We want our family back together.”
Spectrum nodded. “It is.”
“Ah consider Rainbow Dash mah family too. And Ah protect all mah family members. Ya hear?”
Silently, the pair nodded, and Applejack strode past them.
A breeze wafted in from beyond the window, drifting lazily across Rainbow Dash’s face and through her mane as she stared outwards, countless stars reflected in magenta eyes. She had long since given up trying to get comfortable in the foreign bed, having already kicked several thick quilts and blankets to the floor. Now, the chill of the night air tasseled her forelock, brushing multi-hued hairs across her eyes and she gazed deep out into the night, waiting for the first winking light of the sun to break up over the distant mountains, ready to signal the start of a new day. Maybe then, she could finally get some rest.
A gentle knocking came at the door, which hadn’t been shut all the way, and it swung open, letting a stream of soft light spill in from the hallway beyond. Rainbow Dash groaned in protest. “Rainbow? Are ya there?” A voice called out to her, laced with a thick, instantly recognizable drawl. Rainbow Dash rolled over, glancing toward the door, where a shadowy figure stood, waiting expectantly.
“AJ? What is it?”
The farmpony pushed the door open wider, stepping into the room. “Can’t get any sleep, huh?”
Blearily, Rainbow Dash rubbed at her eyes. “I guess you could say that.” She muttered, “What’s up?”
“Ah brought ya a special visitor. She couldn’t sleep very well either.”
From the hall, a voice sounded; one that instantly made Rainbow Dash jolt upwards. “Big Sis—I mean, Rainbow Dash?”
“Hey, hey. Squirt?” Rainbow Dash sat up, glancing, surprised, to Applejack before a much smaller figure crept in through the door, drawing her attention. Slipping from the shadows revealed a face of orange fur set under a messy purple mane, dried tear streaks evident beneath wide eyes. “What’s wrong, kiddo?”
“I’m… I’m sorry, Rainbow Dash. I—I heard about what happened to you. And… I’m sorry. I’m sorry that happened to you.”
Rainbow Dash winced, blinking at the younger pegasus, then glared briefly at Applejack. “Hey, Scoot. Come on up here. Come up here with me.” With a powerful kick, the filly hopped from the floor and up into the bed, beside Rainbow Dash. “Did mean old AJ tell a little filly like you about a bad thing like that?” Scootaloo just nodded. “I thought so. She should’ve known better. That kind of stuff isn’t for your ears. C’mere.”
Applejack just shook her head. “Hardy har. Get some rest you two, Ah’m headed back to the farm.” She strode from the room without another word, pausing only to look back through the door, watching as Scootaloo silently settled in next to Rainbow Dash. Applejack smiled as she let the door close behind her.
The orange filly snuggled up tight against her role model, burying her nose in underneath Dash’s chin. Rainbow Dash actually let slip a small grin, wrapping a wing around the younger pony and pulling her close against her body. “Thanks for coming, Scoots. It means a lot to me.”
Muffled by her idol’s neck, Scootaloo still murmured, “I’m sorry,”
Rainbow Dash could have sworn she could feel tears wicking into her own fur. Gently, she maneuvered so she could see the filly’s face, lifting her chin so she could look into her eyes. “Hey. Don’t worry about me. I’m going to be ok. You’ll see.” Then Dash hugged her even tighter, though she continued to sniff loudly, her face pressed once more up against Rainbow’s side. “I’m just happy to see you. I haven’t seen you in such a long time.”
She remained there for a few more long moments, before pulling her face away, looking up at her longtime hero. “I was scared. If… if somepony can hurt you, then how… how can anypony be safe?”
Rainbow Dash lifted a hoof to wipe some tears away from the filly’s cheeks, and smiled down at her. Struck by a sudden wave of emotion, she felt some welling within her own eyes, yet her smile refused to leave. She leaned down and kissed Scootaloo’s forehead. “How can anypony hurt me when I’ve got you here to protect me?”
The younger pony finally let her had fall against the mattress, and Rainbow felt her body relax in her embrace. “I love you, Rainbow Dash.”
“I love you too, little sis.”
It was only just before dawn when Twilight Sparkle put her hoof to the door of Fluttershy’s cottage, giving several sharp, resounding knocks. Mere seconds later, the mare in question answered the door. Fluttershy smiled as she saw her friends standing around outside. “Please come in, everypony.”
“Today’s the big day, Fluttershy. Where’s Rainbow Dash?” Twilight looked about the living room as she, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, and Applejack all filed into the cottage.
“She’s in the kitchen eating some breakfast.”
“And how is she doing?” Rarity asked, glancing around the corner to ensure she wouldn’t be overheard.
Fluttershy practically beamed. “Oh, just wonderful. I think being out of that musty, scary old hospital these last couple weeks has really done her some good.”
Twilight nodded. “Let’s hope so, because the trial is right around the corner, and we need to be ready for it.”
Applejack looked over at the unicorn mare. “Exactly how much time are we lookin’ at, here?”
“Only a few days, AJ. That’s when our day in court is set to begin.”
The farmpony felt a chill run down her spine. She shivered. “That’s not as much as Ah’d hoped. Don’t this seem ta be movin’ a little fast?”
Twilight shrugged. “When this begins, it will have been almost a month since the crime happened. I think that’s been more than enough time.” She found herself shuddering, and tried to shake it off. She could feel creeping doubts about the strength of her case sneaking up on her, and did her best to brush them aside. There was no use worrying about details like that now, she reasoned, not with such little time remaining. Desperate for a distraction, she glanced up at the wall, her gaze settling on a clock. “And speaking of moving fast,” She spoke hurriedly, suddenly moving towards the kitchen, “It’s almost sunrise, and that means the carriage will be here any minute!”
Rainbow Dash looked up from a half-eaten plate of toast as her friends entered the room. “Hey guys, what’s—OOF!” The wind became immediately knocked out of her as a pink missile struck her head-on. With only some slight difficulty, she managed to get her fore hooves around her friend’s body and pat her on the back. “Hey, Pinkie Pie. I’m happy to see you too.” She gasped, feeling the force of the earth pony’s hug constrain against her lungs.
Finally, the party pony released her, a wide grin upon her face. Applejack chuckled as Rainbow Dash took in several deep breaths. “Probably shoulda seen that one comin’, eh Dash?”
Twilight Sparkle cleared her throat. “Alright, well, I just wanted to say that our ride should be here momentarily, so finish up eating. We need to get going before it gets too bright out.”
Rainbow Dash shoved the plate away from her, down the table. “I’m good now. Let’s go.” She went to join her friends, trotting out of the room alongside Twilight, Rarity and Pinkie.
Fluttershy went to clear away the leftovers, placing the plate gingerly into the sink. Applejack hung behind the others as well, sidling up next to the pegasus. Fluttershy glanced up, looking over at her. “What is it, Applejack?”
“Have Rainbow’s parents been around at all since Ah last saw ‘em?”
Fluttershy shook her head. “No, we haven’t seen them. I think they really do want to make things right, so they’re giving Rainbow Dash the space she needs to think things through.”
Applejack shrugged. “Well, Ah suppose that’s as good a news as any. Thanks Fluttershy.”
“Hurry up, you two slowsie-poksies! The carriage is here!” Applejack chuckled as the unmistakable sound of Pinkie Pie filtered in from outdoors.
“Sounds like our cue.” The two rushed out of the cottage.
A team of impeccably clad, pristine white pegasus stallions stood on the front lawn, a large golden carriage strung up behind them. Twilight approached the leader of the group. “Hello. I’m Twilight Sparkle.” The stallion dipped his head in response. “I’m sure the Princesses must have briefed you already, but I’d just like to make sure of something. It is crucial that we arrive at the castle in as inconspicuous a manner as possible. I don’t want to risk the possibility of anypony seeing Rainbow Dash arrive in Canterlot, and we especially cannot have the newspapers catching wind of this story. Does that make sense?”
“Understood, Ma’am.” The Royal Guardspony gave a curt nod.
“Thank you.” Twilight turned to see her friends all standing around her, looking apprehensive. She tried for a reassuring smile. “Alright, everypony ready?” She was met with an assemblage of nods. “Good, let’s hurry, then.” The six friends climbed into the carriage, and at Twilight’s signal, the team of pegasi thundered across the ground, taking to the sky in a few short strides. And away they flew, off towards the sunrise, towards the mountains, and towards their awaiting fate in Canterlot.