The Price of Loyalty - Part 2
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Rainbow Dash stood before the entrance to the Everfree Forest, gazing up at the dark clouds above her. Raindrops masked her still tear-speckled cheeks. She narrowed her eyes and spread her wings, cursing her own exhaustion.
Rainbow kicked off from the ground, pushing upward toward the clouds. Thick raindrops pelted her face, forcing her eyes closed. Her wings begged her to let them rest, but she pushed on, regardless. Just before she reached the clouds, a sudden gust shoved her back toward the earth. She flailed wildly, desperately trying to gain control of herself. A solid wall of rain blinded her as she fought to regain control of her descent. Extending her wings at the last moment, she managed to level out just as she collided with the ground. She slid through mud and grass, splattering debris all over her face.
Rainbow's pounding headache shot a bolt of paralyzing pain through her skull, forcing her to convulse slightly. She bit her lip and let out a muffled scream, waiting for the sensation to subside. The gash in her forehead burned as droplets of blood fell to earth, staining it a dark sanguine. Somehow, the beaten pegasus summoned the willpower to pull herself up off the damp ground, swaying dangerously.
Scootaloo, Rainbow thought desperately. I have to help Scootaloo. If I can just clear out this storm...
Spreading her wings once more, Rainbow rose a few feet into the air. She flapped as quickly as she could, but the fierce gale locked her in place. She fought against the wind with all her strength, but only managed to hover in the air for a moment before her wings crumpled and she fell back to the ground. She landed at an awkward angle, popping her knee with a sickening snap.
Rainbow collapsed again, grunting in agony. The rain bombarded her as she lay writhing in the mud. Tears welled in her eyes, but were quickly masked by the downpour.
"Rainbow Dash! What in Equestria are you doing?"
Rainbow weakly raised her head and looked around, looking for the owner of the voice. Despite her blurry vision, a vague shape materialized out of the rain. She stared at the figure for a moment before her vision cleared, revealing a rather panic-stricken unicorn.
"Twilight?" Rainbow muttered as she pulled herself out of the mud, her newly injured knee screaming in protest. "What are you doing here?"
"I should ask you the same question," Twilight snapped. "Rainbow, I know you're worried about Scootaloo. I am too. But getting yourself hurt even worse isn't going to help her!"
"Twilight," Rainbow growled. "I already explained this. You're not taking me back. Not yet."
"I know," Twilight blurted out.
"I said no- Wait, what?"
"I know," Twilight repeated. "Rainbow, I can see that you're really upset about this. You're placing all the blame on yourself. This isn't your fault, but you feel compelled to help Scootaloo, even if that means putting yourself in danger." Twilight trotted over and gently wiped Rainbow's muddy face with her hoof. "You're very brave. I can respect that. It doesn't make any sense, but I can respect it."
A weak smile blossomed on Rainbow's face. "Thanks, Twilight," Rainbow said as she gazed into the unicorn's deep violet eyes. "That means a lot coming from you."
Twilight returned the smile for a moment, but soon took a more serious tone. "However," she said, "I just can't let you wander around out here by yourself, Rainbow. You know as well as I do how dangerous this storm could be. You're in no condition to fly around like a lunatic with nopony watching you. With that in mind, I'm sure you understand why I insist on going with you."
Rainbow's smile disappeared. "No," she said firmly. "I've already done enough harm today. I couldn't live with myself if something were to happen to you, too." In her mind, Rainbow Dash realized that she was being unfair, but the thought of Twilight being hurt out in the forest... It was too much for her to handle.
"Come on, Rainbow Dash. You're going to need all the help you can get."
Twilight's matter-of-fact tone caught Rainbow off guard. "Fine," she muttered finally. "Wait, what about that search party? As much as I hate to admit it, we can't count on finding Scootaloo ourselves. We need the others."
"I told Spike to go speak with the mayor. She should be able to rally the troops."
"Alright," Rainbow responded, content with Twilight's answer. She turned toward the thick line of trees, wincing slightly from the pain in her knee. "Let's get going."
Though limping slightly, Rainbow still managed to keep a reasonable pace. The splash of hooves in the puddles behind her told her Twilight was following closely. The imposing trees of the Everfree Forest enveloped the pair, surrounding them in darkness, but also offering some protection from the unrelenting rain. Rainbow pushed through leafy shrubs and plodded over the damp earth, her head still buzzing slightly.
"Scootaloo!" Rainbow called out. "Where are you, kid?" Rainbow shook her head in frustration. "I can't see anything in here!"
"Hold on," Twilight said. She closed her eyes in concentration for a moment before her horn began to glow with a bright indigo light. She shone the light on the ground before them, illuminating their path.
The two ponies surged deeper into the forest, both calling Scootaloo's name desperately. Even with Twilight's magically produced light, Rainbow could barely see ten feet in front of her. Despite the cover of the forest's canopy, thick rain pelted the troubled duo. Lightning streaked through the sky, producing low, booming rumbles of thunder. Both ponies were soon covered in mud and filth.
Rainbow and Twilight continued their search for what felt like hours, though there was no way to tell how long they had really been out there. Eventually Rainbow spread her wings, intending to fly above the treetops and get a better view, but Twilight stopped her, insisting that the fierce wind would throw her off course just as it had so many times that day. Disgruntled, Rainbow had no choice but to give in to Twilight's logic.
"I can almost see her beaming face right now," Rainbow muttered somberly. "She looked up to me. She depended on me. But now..." Rainbow could almost feel her heart breaking. This entire situation could have been avoided entirely if she hadn't been so reckless. It tore her apart.
"Shh, Rainbow," Twilight comforted. "I know. It's okay. Everything will be okay."
Rainbow accepted the unicorn's response quietly. "I hope you're right, Twilight."
Rainbow's body ached and burned. Her exploits that day had taken their toll on her. The gash on her forehead had long since stopped bleeding, but the stinging sensation remained. Her sprained knee threatened to give in. She didn't know how much more of this punishment she could take. Twilight watched her closely, a deep frown painted on her face.
"Scootaloo!" Rainbow called again as she shoved a leafy branch out of her way. She stepped forward into a small clearing. Here, the rain pelted her with unrestrained force. Twilight strode into the clearing right alongside her, scanning the area. In a flash, the unicorn's eyes widened. Twilight galloped frantically to the middle of the clearing, focused on a small patch of grass. She stood over the spot, shining her light down onto the ground. Rainbow's hindered vision blurred the image.
"Twilight," Rainbow called curiously. "What is it?"
Twilight did not respond. The unicorn began to shake slightly. Tentatively, Rainbow trotted over next to her and and gazed down at the object lying in the grass. She gasped quietly. There, lying in the damp grass, was a pair of small purple goggles.
Twilight collapsed onto the ground, weeping openly. Rainbow's mind kicked into overdrive. Why were Scootaloo's goggles abandoned here in the middle of the forest? Could she have lost them while she was falling? Or did it mean... Another crashing wave of guilt swept over her, swallowing her whole. Tears welled in her eyes.
Rainbow tore her eyes away from the goggles and focused on the unicorn weeping beside her. Something broke inside her heart as she watched Twilight release her sorrow. She knelt down beside the unicorn and sat up straight on her haunches. She gingerly snuck her front hooves around Twilight's neck and pulled her in close to her chest, wrapping both her wings around her in an effort to comfort the distraught unicorn. The meek sound of Twilight's sobbing somehow managed tear through the uproar of rain and thunder.
"Shh," Rainbow muttered into Twilight's ear. "It's okay, Twilight. It's okay. I'm here."
Rainbow didn't know what she was doing. She felt just as devastated as Twilight looked. Scootaloo was missing, and now they had evidence that the filly was probably injured, perhaps badly. Despite her own guilt, Rainbow couldn't stand to see her friends in such a depressed state, especially the mare pressed up against her chest right now...
A single tear slid down Rainbow's cheek as she desperately tried to quiet her companion. Twilight's head convulsed against her, a solid stream of tears clearly visible despite the rain. They sat like that for a long while, Twilight squirming in Rainbow's arms. Rainbow patted the back of the mare's head and nuzzled her cheek. Anything to comfort the unicorn.
"I'll always be here for you, Twilight."
Twilight's convulsions weakened. She lifted her head and gazed directly into Rainbow's eyes, an odd expression creeping onto her face. It seemed almost like the expression Twilight used when she had solved a particularly challenging riddle. Tears still dripped from her eyes, but she stopped sobbing.
Twilight slowly reached up and placed her hooves around Rainbow's neck, returning the warm embrace. The sudden shift surprised Rainbow Dash, but she unabashedly accepted the intimacy.
Rainbow glanced down at the goggles once more. The harmless object now had a cruel emotional bond attached to it. Scootaloo was missing, leaving behind nothing but a single pair of goggles. Part of Rainbow wanted to grab the goggles and treasure them forever, but another part of her wanted to crush them into the mud and leave them there. She only had a moment to fight with her emotions, however, before an odd patch of mud caught her eye. Rainbow squinted a bit.
"Twilight," Rainbow said quietly. "What are those in the mud over there?"
"W-what?" Twilight asked, cutting off her sobbing. She glanced over at the spot Rainbow pointed out. "I... I think those are... hoof prints!"
And so they were. Upon closer inspection, Rainbow could make out a long, winding trail of hoof prints spanning the mud patch and leading back into the dense growth of the forest. They seemed a bit big for a filly as small as Scootaloo, but perhaps her eyesight was simply too impaired for her to make an accurate observation.
"Well," Twilight said as she wiped her cheeks in a futile attempt to dry her face. "Th-This doesn't really mean anything, does it? I mean, Scootaloo could be fine. She could have just lost her goggles. Yes, that must be it."
Twilight slowly pulled herself out of Rainbow's embrace and stood up. As she moved, her muzzle softly played across Rainbow's soggy coat. The brief contact accentuated Twilight's withdrawal. Rainbow yearned to throw her arms around the unicorn once more, but she restrained herself.
Twilight bent down and clenched her teeth around the goggles. After a brief adjustment, she managed to work them around her neck where they hung loosely. She turned back and looked directly at Rainbow Dash, her mouth forming the faintest trace of a smile.
"What's that look for?" Rainbow asked suspiciously.
"Nothing, Rainbow," Twilight muttered as she turned and trotted back into the dense shrubbery. A long line of trees formed an arched tunnel before her. "It's nothing. We should get going. Scootaloo's still out here somewhere."
"So do we just keep looking? It seems like we've searched this forest top to bottom, and we still haven't found her..." Rainbow fought to hold back the tears. "I can't believe this... Scootaloo must be hurt, and it's all because of me."
Twilight shot her a compassionate look. "We'll find her, Rainbow. Trust me."
"What makes you so confident all of a sudden?"
"Just a feeling."
"What do you mean?"
Twilight slowed to a stop. She stood perfectly still for a long moment before speaking. "You've made me realize something, Rainbow Dash."
"Me? What did I do?"
Twilight whipped around and took a large step toward Rainbow. Her voice came in a breathy whisper. "You showed me that even when things look their bleakest, and there doesn't appear to be any chance of a happy ending, your first concern is to help the ponies around you. No matter how bad things may seem, you never give up... I've never known a pony like that before."
Rainbow felt her cheeks redden. "What are you getting at, Twilight?"
Twilight bit her lip and gazed up at the dark sky. "I'm saying that I admire your loyalty. It's nice to know that I'll always have somepony to talk to... Somepony to laugh with."
Twilight returned her warm gaze to Rainbow's eyes. The simple connection filled Rainbow's heart with longing. She couldn't stand it anymore. She had to tell her. Rainbow opened her mouth to speak, but Twilight blurted out a sentence at the same time.
"Twilight, I need to tell you something."
"Rainbow, we need to talk."
Rainbow blinked. "You go first, Twilight."
"No," Twilight responded, blushing slightly. "You go ahead."
Rainbow took a deep breath before beginning. "Alright. I don't know if you've noticed or not, but I haven't really been myself lately." Rainbow lowered her gaze. "I guess I've been a little more... reserved than usual. I didn't realize it at first. For the most part, I acted normally. But whenever I got around you, I-" Rainbow's voice trailed off. She turned her back on Twilight and limped a few steps away from her. "There's no easy way to say this, Twilight."
"That's okay, Rainbow," Twilight responded. "If you feel like you need to say it, then you should."
Rainbow turned to face the unicorn once more. She took another deep breath to steady herself. "Alright, Twilight. I just wanted to say that... You're pretty cool."
Twilight barked out a short laugh. "Me?"
"Yes, you. You're smart. You're funny. I've never seen anypony more talented at magic. You're pretty. You-"
Rainbow caught her breath. Did she just say that out loud?
Rainbow sighed heavily and raised one hoof to her forehead, her cheeks now a bright crimson. "I guess what I'm trying to say is... I think I... I kinda li-"
The nearest tree splintered and cracked under the lightning bolt's power. The hefty tree trunk gave away and tipped over slowly, bearing down upon Twilight. The unicorn stood rooted the spot, staring up at the tree as it toppled, her face a portrait of surprise.
Time seemed to slow down for Rainbow Dash. She reacted instinctively; kicking against the ground, she shot forward and spread her wings. Staying low to the ground, she whipped her exhausted wings into action and aimed herself directly at Twilight's quivering body. Her muscles strained. Rain beat down into her eyes, blurring her vision. At last, Rainbow collided with her target. She shoved Twilight with all her momentum, pushing her out of the way. Twilight collapsed onto the ground a few feet away before-
Pain. Rainbow cried out into the storm, her body searing with white-hot intensity. Her heart raced and her vision faded in and out. She glanced down at the tree trunk lying across her body. Her right wing and front hoof were pinned underneath the enormous mass. She wriggled and squirmed, but the tree held her tightly in place. Rainbow panted heavily. The searing pain numbed her senses. She could barely make out Twilight standing in front of her, screaming, but her words were intangible. With the last of her strength, Rainbow breathed out one short message. "I'm sorry." Rainbow exhaled before she let herself slip from consciousness once more, fading away into the familiar nothingness...
"Rainbow Dash! Rainbow Dash!"
Terror set into Twilight's heart as she gazed down at the suffering pegasus. A fresh stream of tears flew from her eyes. She let out a spark from her horn, pointing at the enormous tree. She strained and pulled, but the tree refused to budge. She could not focus. All she could think about was getting Rainbow Dash out of there, but her overwhelming emotion made it impossibly difficult to channel her magic.
Panicking, Twilight realized that if she could not free Rainbow Dash using focused magic, she had no choice but to use sheer power. Her horn began to grow a brilliant white, basking her and the forest around her in a shining light. Her head began to shake erratically, recoiling from the power in her horn. Sweat trickled down her neck as she fought with the force, trying to keep her aim focused on the tree. Slowly, the colossal tree began to shimmer with a faint purple light. Twilight doubled her efforts, straining profusely. The light solidified into a shining purple aura, and the tree rose a couple inches off the ground. Twilight tilted her head to one side, and the tree lurched in the direction she pointed. As soon as the tree had cleared Rainbow Dash's body, she released her grip, and it fell to the ground, sending low rumbles throughout the forest.
Twilight threw herself onto the ground beside Rainbow, her renewed sobs cutting through the monotonous downpour. Rainbow looked terrible. Her right wing looked crumpled, and it showed the discoloration of a large bruise. Numerous cuts littered her entire body. Twilight gently placed two hooves on Rainbow's shoulders and shook the unconscious pegasus in a futile attempt to rouse her.
Rainbow was as still as the grave. A horrible thought thrust its way into Twilight's mind. She placed one ear over Rainbow's chest and listened closely.
Please, she thought desperately. Please, no... Not now! Not now!
At last Twilight heard what she was listening for. It was very faint, but the recognizable sound of a heartbeat worked its way to her ear. Twilight let out a sigh of relief. She shakily pulled herself off the damp ground, exhausted after her magical display.
Small rain droplets fell onto her muzzle as she looked down the tunnel of trees before her. Nothing could but blackness could be seen on the other end. It was not like Twilight had much of a choice, though. She knelt down and elevated the unconscious Rainbow Dash, adjusting the pegasus over her shoulder. After a long moment shuffling, Twilight managed to pull Rainbow Dash up onto her back. The added weight was torture for the already worn-out unicorn, but she took the burden. One step at a time, she trudged through the trees, the goggles around her neck swaying gently.
"It's okay, Rainbow Dash," Twilight gasped between sobs. "I'll get you out of here. You'll be okay. Please be okay."
Every weak step drained Twilight of precious energy. Rainbow's limp body hung off her shoulders, shaking slightly. Twilight did not know where she was going, only that she had to get Rainbow to safety. The storm hammered away at her weak frame. Thorny shrubs tore her coat. She ignored the dangers around her. Rainbow Dash had saved her life, and now she had to return the favor.
Stepping onto a particularly marshy patch of ground, Twilight slipped and collapsed onto one knee. Rainbow shifted and slid, threatening to fall off of her back. Grimacing, Twilight pushed herself out of the mud at the last moment. Rainbow settled back into her place on Twilight's back.
This trial lasted for an eternity in the unicorn's mind. She stumbled through the forest, her legs buckling every few minutes. Every time, she struggled back onto her hooves and pushed onward. Her muscles screamed at her, begging for a rest, but she did not falter. She would have been just as adamant to help anypony, but Rainbow Dash... Rainbow Dash deserved it most of all.
"I'm not going to stop, Rainbow," Twilight told her unconscious companion. "You taught me that. You taught me never to give up."
The journey through the forest passed by in a blur. Twilight could not focus on anything in particular, she just kept moving, never looking back. Step by step, she pushed further into the unknown, hoping for a light in the darkness. As she worked her way through a grove of towering trees, ready to collapse, she found one.
A faint shimmer of light flickered about upon one of the trees. Twilight approached the mysterious sight, hoping that she had at last found salvation. As she neared the tree, she noticed a brighter light flashing on a different tree nearby. She trotted to tree after tree, each accompanied by a light brighter than the last. Finally, the grove opened up into another small clearing. In the middle of clearing was an enormous, gnarled tree. Light emanated from two small holes cut in the side of its side. Small jars hung down from leafy vines tied to the splayed branches. A large wooden mask leaned up against the familiar structure.
"Zecora's hut," Twilight whispered, amazed. "We've been going in circles this whole time."
Twilight stumbled over to the hut and rapped one hoof against the door. A few seconds passed before the door creaked and swung inward. Twilight caught her breath. Instead of Zecora, a pony stood before her, looking up at her astonished face. The little filly had a light orange coat and a dull purple-pink mane. Twilight blinked rapidly to make sure her eyes weren't playing tricks on her.
"Scootaloo!" Twilight exclaimed. "You're okay!"
"Twilight! You found my goggles!" Scootaloo exclaimed, her eyes falling upon the purple goggles hanging around Twilight's neck. Her eyes flicked upward, however, and her smile disappeared. She stood perfectly still, staring straight ahead.
It took Twilight a moment to realize what the little filly was looking at. She cast a worried glance at the pegasus lying across her back.
"T-Twilight? Why is Rainbow Dash sleeping?" Scootaloo asked.
"It's okay," Twilight said in a comforting tone. "She's just tired. Everything will be alright."
Scootaloo accepted the response quietly. Twilight convinced herself that she wasn't really lying to the filly; she just wasn't telling the whole truth. There was no need to make her worry any more than necessary.
"Scootaloo, they are in pain. Bring our guests in from the rain."
Twilight lifted her gaze to the owner of the thick accent. Zecora stood further back in the hut, gazing at her. More specifically, she seemed to have her eyes focused on Rainbow Dash's limp figure. Scootaloo stepped aside, allowing Twilight to lurch into the hut, dripping a trail of moisture onto the floor. Zecora motioned to a large bed that ran along one wall. Twilight shuffled past a large pot in the middle of the room and knelt down beside the bed, sliding the unconscious pegasus onto the furry blanket. At last, Twilight gently lowered Rainbow's head onto a puffy pillow. She breathed a sigh of relief and stretched her back.
Zecora popped up beside her and looked down at Rainbow Dash. The zebra wore a grim frown as she inspected Rainbow Dash's injuries. "Her body is bruised. Her breath is weak. Let's hope her future is not bleak." Zecora spun around and grabbed a few herbs from a nearby shelf. Twilight recognized most of them from her discussions with Zecora earlier that day. "I will make a medicinal brew, but truly she owes her life to you." Zecora examined the herbs for a moment before tossing them into the large pot, content with her selection. The leafy greens sank into the bubbling broth.
"I'm no hero, Zecora," Twilight responded. "Rainbow Dash is the real hero here." She delicately brushed a hoof through Rainbow's mane as she said her name. A thin smile crept onto her face as she looked down at the sleeping pegasus. She did not want to leave Rainbow's side, but her aching muscles demanded it. Twilight slowly plodded over to other side of the hut and collapsed onto the wooden floor, resting her head up against the wall. She glanced over at Scootaloo, who was still staring at Rainbow Dash quietly. The filly had a few minor nicks and cuts, but otherwise seemed free of injury. Twilight's body begged for rest, but her curiosity overruled her instincts.
"So, Scootaloo," Twilight began. "How did you end up here?"
The filly looked over at Twilight, clearly surprised by the sound of her own name. "Well," she replied slowly. "I can't really remember very much. Rainbow Dash was going really fast, and I thought, Whoa, she's going to do a sonic rainboom! She's really going to do it! But then there was this big flash of lightning, and then we started spinning really fast... I fell off of Rainbow's back, and then... I woke up in that bed over there." Scootaloo tilted her head toward the bed in which Rainbow Dash now slumbered.
"I found her outside in the storm," Zecora said simply. "So I brought her in here where it's warm." The zebra grabbed a wooden spoon hanging from one wall and proceeded to stir the contents of the pot. A warm, cinnamon-like scent wafted from the mixture and filled the hut. Twilight watched Zecora wearily, having spent all of her energy in her desperate trek though the forest.
"Well, I'm sure I speak for everypony in Ponyville when I say I appreciate you taking care of Scootaloo," Twilight said as she gave Zecora a wide smile. She shifted her head slightly and locked eyes with the filly. "I know Rainbow Dash will be overjoyed to see that you're alright. She was really worried about you."
Scootaloo gazed intently at Rainbow Dash, frowning slightly. "It's cool that she was worried about me," Scootaloo muttered, "but right now I just hope she's okay. I mean, she has to be okay, right?" The filly trotted over and lay down beside Twilight. "She's Rainbow Dash! She's too tough to let a stupid old storm get the best of her!"
Twilight forced a weak smile and patted the filly's head with one hoof. "You're exactly right, Scootaloo. Rainbow Dash will be just fine." Twilight drew her eyes back to the pegasus lying on the bed. "She has to be," she added in a voice so low Scootaloo could not hear her.
Zecora sniffed her concoction. Pleased with her brewing abilities, the zebra scooped a small wooden bowl through the liquid. Careful not to spill any, Zecora trotted over beside Rainbow Dash and held the bowl in one hoof. She used her other hoof to elevate Rainbow's head as she gently poured the liquid into Rainbow's open mouth. "This will help the pain when she wakes," Zecora said, "but she will still have cramps and aches."
"Thank you for all your help, Zecora," Twilight yawned. "We'll need to get Rainbow to the clinic in Ponyville as soon as we can, but for now we all need to get some rest and wait for this storm to let up."
Twilight was uncertain just how today's hardships would manifest themselves in the future. In her condition, it was a very real possibility that Rainbow may not be able to fly very well, if at all. Her right wing seemed crumpled in an unnatural position. As Twilight watched the sleeping pegasus, however, she felt a growing surge of hope. Rainbow's breathing was still weak, but stabilizing. She's alive, Twilight thought. That's what matters.
A nagging doubt remained in Twilight's mind, however, concerning the conversation she would have with Rainbow once she awoke. She knew what Rainbow Dash would ask her, and she would need an appropriate response.
Twilight lay her head down on her hooves and shut her eyes. Scootaloo snuggled in closer to Twilight and did the same. Poor filly, Twilight thought as she cracked one eye open to look at her. She's had such a rough day...
Breathing deeply, Twilight shut her eye once more and settled in for a nap. She could hear Zecora shuffling around on the other side of the hut, throwing more herbs into the large pot. The otherwise deafening sound of the downpour outside was dulled by the hut's thick walls, producing a low, rhythmic hum. The faint noise calmed Twilight, allowing her to gradually slip into a-
Twilight's head shot up. She watched as Zecora stepped away from the pot and trotted over to the door. The zebra pulled the door open, and the hut was filled with the clamor of the storm. Squinting her tired eyes, Twilight tried to peak her head around Zecora to get a clear view of their new visitor, but the zebra's spiked-up mane made her efforts futile.
"Howdy, Zecora. Ah' hate to bother you, but we've got a bit of a crisis on our hooves."
Twilight recognized the accent immediately. "Applejack?" she called.
"Twilight?" the voice replied.
Zecora stepped aside. There, just outside the door, stood applejack. The pony's drenched mane hung limply down to one side. Behind her stood her brother, Big Macintosh, and another Earth Pony named Caramel.
A look of pure joy manifested itself on Applejack's face. "We've found 'em, boys! We've found 'em!"
Rainbow Dash's eyes shot open in a flash, her mind racing. The first thing she felt was the pain. Her head had begun to throb again, her right fore-hoof was bruised badly, and her right wing felt as if it was on fire.
She blinked a few times as she attempted to gather her bearings. She lay flat on her stomach, her muzzle buried deep into a large, fluffy pillow. She rose her head and glanced down at herself. A dozen small bandages covered her body. One particularly large patch stretched across the left side of her forehead. Rainbow wiggled for a moment before realizing her right wing was held in place by a thin cast.
Rainbow shifted her head slightly to look at the sheets on the bed. They were dark blue, and were adorned with crescent moons and stars.
"Wha- But this looks like-"
Rainbow glanced around the room. Both the ceiling and floor were wooden. A large, overstuffed bookshelf ran along one wall. A wide window was set into the side of the wall nearest the bed, giving Rainbow a clear view outside. A bright full moon dominated the sky. Though still drizzling, the storm outside had died down. Thin, wispy clouds hung low in the sky, but nothing to compete with the immense gray pillars she had seen earlier. She shifted her gaze downward and spotted a large sign outside the front door. Light from the building illuminated the sign, displaying a picture of an open book.
I knew it, Rainbow thought. I'm in the library! And this is-
Rainbow blushed as she realized she was lying in Twilight's bed.
Rainbow adjusted herself onto her side, careful not to disturb her injured wing. Only after this did she notice the white mare standing in the corner, jotting down something on a clipboard. The mare had a short pink mane which she wore tied back in a bun.
"Nurse Redheart?" Rainbow groaned.
The mare glanced up from her clipboard and shot Rainbow a smile. "Hello, Miss Rainbow Dash. I'm glad you're awake. You have visitors."
"Yes. I'll let them know they can see you now."
Nurse Redheart turned and trotted down a nearby set of steps. Rainbow Dash watched her go, wincing from the pain in her wing. A few moments later a curly tangle of pink hair popped up over the landing, immediately followed by a pair of excited blue eyes.
Pinkie Pie leapt up the remaining stairs and began bouncing in place. "Dashie! You're okay!" Pinkie shouted, grinning widely. "I knew everything would work out okay! Now we have a reason to celebrate! We can have a big party over at Sugarcube Corner with balloons and cake and oh-my-gosh-I-need-to-get-baking-soon-but-it's-going-to-be-so-much-FUN!"
"Calm down there, sugarcube," Applejack stated as she stepped onto the landing as well.
A stream of new arrivals trotted up the stairs and gathered around Twilight's bed. Rarity, Fluttershy, and Spike joined Pinkie Pie and Applejack, forming an incomplete semi-circle around Rainbow Dash and offering her their well-wishes. As the last visitor stepped onto the landing and filled the gap, Rainbow's heart soared.
Twilight stood over her wearing a warm smile and looking as beautiful as ever. A young orange filly straddled Twilight's back, poking her head over the unicorn's mane.
"Twilight! Scootaloo!" Rainbow exclaimed, suddenly overcome by joy. "You're both okay!"
"Thanks to you, Rainbow," Twilight responded, a single tear sliding down her still-grinning cheeks. Scootaloo simply beamed down at her, clearly excited to see her idol awake again.
"Hey, Rainbow Dash!" Scootaloo said eagerly. "Are you okay? I mean, of course you're okay, you're Rainbow Dash! But still, how are you feeling?"
Rainbow chuckled lightly and stiffly shifted herself so that she could better address the filly. "I've been better, kid. I've been better."
Taking a more serious tone, Rainbow lowered her eyes to Twilight. "I do have to wonder, though... Just what is the damage, exactly, Twilight?"
Everypony in the room caught their breath. Twilight's smile weakened, but she delivered the news with a relatively light-hearted tone. "Nurse Redheart said your wing is pretty badly damaged, Rainbow... She said it will be at least a month before you will fly again."
Rainbow's mouth fell agape. A month? She couldn't fly for an entire month?
"But," Twilight said quickly, most likely sensing Rainbow's shock, "she also said you would make a full recovery. Just take things easy for a while, and you should be just fine."
"Oh, darling, I know how you must feel," Rarity interjected. "Why, I can only imagine how terrible I would feel if I couldn't design dresses for a month. It would be simply dreadful."
"Oh, please don't say that in front of her, Rarity," Fluttershy said. "We don't want to make her think about it."
Rarity recoiled a bit, surprised by her own carelessness. "Oh, terribly sorry, Rainbow. I'm sure everything will be just fine. Besides," Rarity said in a sly voice, "since you can't fly back to your home for a while, you'll have to stay somewhere else. I heard that Twilight is more than willing to take care of you while you wait." Rarity then winked at her, sporting a knowing grin.
Rainbow's heart skipped a beat. Did the white unicorn know her secret? If so, how had she figured it out? These thoughts stumped Rainbow for a moment, but she soon decided to push them out of her mind. She had more important things to worry about.
The group chatted late into the night. Rainbow dozed lightly, managing to ignore the twinges of pain in her wing. Spike mirrored Rainbow's exhaustion and excused himself from the gathering, heading in the direction of his own small bed on the floor below. Scootaloo gave Rainbow a big hug and thanked her for everything she had done. Progressively, the rain quieted and cleared, revealing a beautiful black canvas in the night sky dotted with stars. Pinkie Pie told a long and ridiculous tale about oatmeal, eliciting pleasant laughter from her audience. Eventually, though, even Pinkie began yawning and stretching. Shuffling along the floor, the tired ponies said their farewells and headed down the stairs. Applejack promised to take Scootaloo home on the way back to Sweet Apple Acres. Twilight followed after them, wishing them a safe journey back to their homes.
A quiet clattering indicated to rainbow that the door had closed downstairs. A minute later Twilight reappeared, failing to stifle a huge yawn. Rainbow gazed intently at Twilight as the unicorn reorganized a small selection of books into the bookshelf.
"Some day, huh?" Rainbow asked casually.
"Definitely," Twilight said. "We should both get some rest. We'll feel much better in the morning." She trotted over to a small table beside the bed, intent on blowing out a lit candle, the room's only light source. Just as she inhaled, however, Rainbow cut her off.
"Twilight, I need to tell you something."
"Hm? Sure, Rainbow. Go ahead."
"Thanks," Rainbow said as she took a deep breath. Okay, she thought. Let's try this again. Come on, Rainbow. You can do this.
"Alright, well... I wanted to let you know that... I mean, you're really awesome and everything, and... Um..." Rainbow stared up at the ceiling, searching for the right words. "I've been sort of... quiet lately, you know, and uh..."
Rainbow raised one hoof and tapped herself on the forehead. Think, Rainbow! How do you tell her?
Twilight peered into her eyes, her thin smile slowly growing wider.
"I, uh- I guess what I'm trying to say is that I... Um... Well, I-"
Twilight giggled softly and placed one hoof on Rainbow's lips, cutting her off. Rainbow's eyes widened as the unicorn learned over her, placing her muzzle just a couple inches away from Rainbow's. The candlelight played across her face, basking her in a warm glow. "It's okay," Twilight whispered. "I know."
Twilight leaned down even further and closed her eyes, letting her lips hover over Rainbow's mouth. Her breath filled Rainbow's nose with its sweet scent. Blushing crimson, Rainbow sat up straighter and wrapped her fore-hooves around Twilight's neck, pulling her head down into contact with hers. Their lips touched, and a euphoric sensation spread through Rainbow's body, masking the aches caused by her injuries. The unicorn tasted like an interesting blend of sweet and bitter lilac. Rainbow stroked her hooves through Twilight's mane and began bobbing her head slightly, pulling in and out of the kiss. Twilight rested her hooves against Rainbow's sides and copied her movement.
Rainbow felt Twilight twist her body and raise one hind leg over the edge of the bed. Soon, the unicorn lay beside her, pulling Rainbow into a tight embrace. Rainbow accepted the adjustment, groaning slightly, and rubbed her chest up against Twilight's shaking body. A surge of emotion filled Rainbow's mind. For so long, Rainbow had watched Twilight from afar, hiding her feelings. Now, as she shared an intimate moment with this beautiful mare, tears of joy slid down her cheeks. Rainbow found herself wishing that the moment would never end.
Slowly, Twilight withdrew her lips. She placed a few small pecks on Rainbow's cheeks before pulling away and resting her head against Rainbow's, careful not to disturb the large patch on her forehead. Twilight ran her delicate hooves through Rainbow's coat.
Rainbow panted lightly as she cracked open her eyes. Twilight had her eyes open as well, and was gazing at her with a satisfied smile. Rainbow returned the warm expression, still fondling the unicorn's hair.
"How long have you k-known?" Rainbow gasped.
"I just figured it a f-few hours ago," Twilight responded with just as little breath. "It was when we w-were sitting out in the storm, looking at Scootaloo's goggles. You said you would always b-be there for me. It was then that I realized that... I liked the idea of that. I liked the idea of you." Twilight nuzzled Rainbow's cheeks affectionately. "Though I am still curious about one t-thing, Rainbow."
A curious look fell across Twilight's face. "Why me?"
Rainbow stifled a laugh. "Just look at yourself, Twilight. You're amazing. You do have a habit of over-thinking things, though."
Twilight giggled again. "Alright, alright. That works for me. So, I was originally planning on grabbing an extra blanket and sleeping downstairs, but... Would you mind if I stayed here? I promise to be careful around your wing."
Rainbow simpered for a moment before scooting over to allow Twilight more room. Twilight squirmed and found a comfortable position. Rainbow held her hooves around the unicorn's stomach. Twilight lay her head down on her pillow, settling in for the night.
"Goodnight, Dashie," Twilight whispered.
Rainbow Dash glanced out the window at the clear night sky. It's sort of funny, she thought. No matter how powerful the storm may seem, it always disappears at the end of the day. Rainbow rested her head down beside Twilight's and nuzzled her hair. Despite her inability to fly, Rainbow had high hopes for the coming month. In fact, with Twilight to take care of her, she had a good feeling that it would turn out to be the best month of her life. With this thought in mind, the tired pegasus closed her eyes and settled in for a well-deserved rest.