Fair Feather Friend
Disclaimer: Yes, it's another one of these. Shut up.
It was another wonderful Saturday afternoon at Sweet Apple Acres. The pegasi, as was their custom, scheduled no rain for Saturdays and Celestia seemed to specially bless the day with her radiance. So, as always, it was the perfect day for the children of Ponyville to play.
Somepony should have told the Cutey Mark Crusaders. Just like every Saturday, they were in their clubhouse, hard at work figuring out how to discover their special talent.
Scootaloo was holding a clipboard with one hoof, with a pencil sticking out of her mouth like a cigar. "Okay, so we're gonna try milking cows, professional pie eating and stamp collecting. Hm… what else… I know! What about water polo?"
Sweetie Belle was lying on her back by the window, in danger of slipping off to sleep in the warm rays. She yawned, "Do we know the rules to water polo?"
Scootaloo shrugged. "It can't be too different than regular polo."
Apple Bloom said, "Ah guess you can add that to the list. Ah wonder if Twilight Sparkle has a book on it."
Scootaloo quickly added water polo to the itinerary. "Alright, anyone else have any ideas?"
Sweetie Belle was about to speak up when she was interrupted by the sound of a dog barking outside.
Apple Bloom's ears twisted around, zeroing in on the sound. "Hey, that's our dog Winona!"
Scootaloo said, "What's she doing here? I mean, we're practically in Lemonjack's farm out here."
At the name of Applejack's hated rival, Apple Bloom's features hardened. "She must've run off. We gotta get Winona back! Those lemon folk are right ornery about people going on their land."
Sweetie Belle got up and stretched. "Plus, we can get our cutie marks as dog catchers!"
The three raised their hoofs in the air in a three pony high-hoof. In unison, they shouted, "Cutie Mark Crusaders Winona Wranglers!"
They were outside in an instant. None of them had any equipment for catching an unwilling Winona, but what they lacked in preparedness, they made up for in enthusiasm. They didn't have far to run before they found the wayward dog… and she wasn't alone.
Of all ponies, there was Rainbow Dash. The blue pegasus didn't notice the Crusaders. She was too busy… playing catch with Winona. Rainbow Dash would kick the red ball deep into the orchard, Winona would run to get it, barking happily all the way, and the process would repeat itself. Both dog and pony seemed oblivious to their presence. The Crusaders watched this for a few minutes, unsure what to do.
Scootaloo blinked. "Uh, Apple Bloom, what's Rainbow Dash doing?"
"Ah… guess she's playin' with Winona," Apple Bloom said.
Sweetie Belle said, "All by herself? This far from the farm? That's weird."
Apple Bloom nodded. "Yeah, it is."
Scootaloo looked uncomfortable and glanced around. "Well, what do we do?"
"Ah guess we should go say hi," she said with trepidation.
The three young ponies walked up behind Rainbow Dash. Rainbow didn't notice them until Apple Bloom called out, "Well howdy, Rainbow Dash! What brings you all the way out here?"
Rainbow Dash whipped her head around. The big, goofy grin plastered across her face transformed into a look of shock and… terror?
Sweetie Belle said, "Yeah, what…"
With a mighty flap of her wings, Rainbow Dash was airborne and flying back towards town, leaving a rainbow in her wake. The three little ponies coughed in the dust cloud kicked up by the rapid takeoff.
Apple Bloom coughed out, "What's her problem? You'd think we were three cockatrices or something."
Sweetie Belle shuddered at the memory. "Don't mention those things, please."
Meanwhile, Scootaloo… "caught" Winona. This consisted entirely of walking up to the sheepdog, followed by the Winona jumping up and licking her face. "Ha ha, quit it, that tickles!" Scootaloo managed to shove away the overly friendly dog. "Hey guys, did I get my Winona Wrangler cutie mark?"
Apple Bloom said, "No."
Scootaloo sighed. "Well, I guess that's for the best. I wouldn't want my only special talent to be catching Winona."
When Apple Bloom got home later that night (after failed attempts at water polo, stamp collecting, cow milking and pie eating), Applejack was out with her friends dealing with some crisis. Big Macintosh wasn't sure what it was, having gotten his information from Granny Smith, who didn't have the best hearing anymore. Apple Bloom tried to stay up for Applejack, but just couldn't keep her eyes open after ten o'clock.
It wasn't until the next day that Apple Bloom got the chance to mention the strange encounter to her sister. Applejack was taking her to Rarity's house for another Crusader meeting, before taking care of some farm business in Ponyville. Applejack furrowed her brow as Apple Bloom recounted the story. "That's just plain weird. An' you're sure none of you got on Lemonjack's land?"
Applebloom said, "For the last time no! Everyone was on our land the whole time. We know better than to mess with them lemon folk."
Applejack said, "Good. Keep it that way. Now, as fer Rainbow Dash… ah don't rightly know. Ah mean, playin' with Winona's nothin' to hide." Applejack gasped slightly. "Hey, no wonder Winona's been tired lately, if Rainbow Dash has been playin' with her all the way out there. And ah have had trouble findin' her pretty regular. Ah'm gonna have to have a word with that pegasus. Winona's a workin' dog, not a house cat."
Apple Bloom said, "Maybe she thought you'd be mad because she's a workin' dog?"
Applejack snorted at the suggestion. "That filly's one of mah be… she's one of mah friends, but dang if she can't be selfish sometimes. She wouldn't even think of that." Finally, they arrived at Rarity's. "Well, here we are."
Applejack knocked on the door. The two waited for a long time. Finally, they could hear the sound of Rarity walking towards them. Just before the door opened, they could hear Rarity snap, "Scootaloo, you put that down this instant!" When she opened the door, the unicorn was all smiles. "Applejack, how good to see you! Apple Bloom, your friends are waiting in the living room. Could you… encourage them to go to Sweetie Belle's room? Please?"
Apple Bloom said, "Yes'm," and ran inside. There were loud squeals of girlish joy, followed by the clops of little hooves up the stairs.
Applejack smiled. "Heh, good luck with those three."
Applejack turned to leave, but Rarity spoke up. "Would you like to stay for tea? I could really use some adult company right now."
Applejack thought for a moment. "Sure, why not? Mah errands won't take long and ah'm stuck in town 'til Apple Bloom and her friends are done."
The two ponies walked into the kitchen and Rarity put a teakettle on the stove. Applejack said, "Is that a new teakettle? Ah like the pattern."
Rarity sighed. "Yes. Scootaloo happened to the last one. They were, how did they put it, 'Cutie Mark Crusader Teetotalers.'"
Applejack blinked. "That ain't what a Teetotaler is."
Rarity sighed, telekinetically put a few cookies on a plate from a jar. "It really isn't worth disagreeing with them when they get an idea like that in their heads. Were we ever like that?"
Applejack said, "Ah'm pretty sure not, though Granny Smith says otherwise." The two laughed at that. They carried on that way for a while, catching up on each others' lives, when there was a knock at the door.
Rarity said, "Who could that be? I'm closed on Sundays."
Applejack shrugged. "Ah guess you run that risk running a business out of your house." Rarity checked herself in her kitchen mirror (Who has a kitchen mirror?) and, satisfied, went back to the living room and answered the door. Applejack followed.
Rarity smiled, though it was slightly forced. "Hello, I'm terribly sorry, but the Carousel Boutique is not open right now."
The rest of Rarity's prefabricated speech was abandoned when she saw the look of panic on Bon Bon's face. With a speed that would have impressed Pinkie Pie, the cream colored pony said, "I'm sorry to bother you, and I know you're closed, but have you seen my puppy, Buttons?"
A look of mild surprise crossed Rarity's face. "You have a puppy?"
Bon Bon rolled her eyes. "Yes, I have a puppy. I wouldn't be here asking about a nonexistent puppy."
Rarity said, "How long have you had him?"
Bon Bon seemed to relax and said, "Oh, about six months. He's such a little sweetie. Wanna see pictures?" Before Rarity could agree or disagree, Bon Bon had produced a wallet-full of photos from her purse.
As she admired a picture of Bon Bon hugging Buttons, Rarity put a hoof to her chin and said, "Six months? Hm, I suppose it has been too long since we've had a chat. I've been so frightfully busy with making dresses and fighting monsters, I'm sure you can understand. We need to catch up. How would you like to come over tomorrow for coffee at, say, 3-ish?"
Bon Bon got out a personal planner and started writing in it. "Sure, that'd be great! Can Lyra come too?"
Rarity smiled more sincerely than before. "I don't see why not. The more the merrier!"
Applejack coughed into her hoof. "Uh, ladies? Missin' dog?"
Bon Bon's eyes widened and she grabbed the photo back from Rarity's telekinetic grasp. She shifted from "proud pet owner" mode to "panicked pet owner" so rapidly that Applejack got mood whiplash. Bon Bon hugged Applejack and started wailing. "Oh, my poor little Buttons! I went to the market and when I got back, he'd dug out of the yard! I've been looking for hours and he's just nowhere to be found!"
Applejack became nauseated at all of this sentiment and gently pushed Bon Bon off. "It'll be fine, Bon Bon. We'll find yer Buttons. Now, what does he look like?" In an instant, Applejack was face to face with a photo of a fine looking golden retriever. Applejack gently pushed it away. "Alright, ah'll take charge of this puppy wranglin' operation. Rarity, you…"
"Now hold on a moment, Applejack," Rarity said in her most regal voice. "Why do you assume you're in charge?"
Applejack said, "Because ah'm the one with the most experience wranglin' animals, that's why!"
In a sing song voice, Rarity said, "I seem to recall a bunny stampede…"
Applejack fixed Rarity with a glare. "Ah thought we agreed not to talk about that whole sleep deprivation thing again. 'Sides, do you really wanna be in charge of a dog hunt?"
Rarity thought for a moment. "No, I suppose not."
Applejack said, "Alright, Bon Bon, you an' Rarity split up an' get anyone else who's free to help. Ah'll get Rainbow Dash so we can get ourselves some air support. Don't you worry none, Bon Bon, ah'll find yer dog."
"Whatever." With a flash of orange and "yee-hah," Applejack galloped for Rainbow Dash's cloud house at the edge of town as fast as her legs would carry her. She just hoped Rainbow Dash was home. Knowing that pony, she could be napping anywhere, at any altitude, in a twenty mile radius.
She needn't have worried, though Applejack's worry turned to anger as she took in what she saw. There was Rainbow Dash, in the shadow of her house, rolling around with Buttons. Both dog and pony were in their own little world of petting and licking (the pony doing the former, the dog the latter).
Applejack's anger softened when she heard Rainbow Dash refer to the dog as "snoogie-woogums," though only slightly. She didn't think those "words" were in the tough pegasus' vocabulary. "Rainbow Miriam Dash! Just what the hay do you think you're doing?"
Rainbow Dash froze again. She considered fleeing like yesterday… but when Applejack started breaking out middle names, fun and games were over. "Um, what's up, Applejack?"
Applejack was in her face in an instant. "Don't you 'what's up' me! Care to explain all these dog-nappin's you been committin' lately?"
Rainbow Dash blinked with honest confusion. "What dog-nappings?"
Applejack sputtered, "What dog-na… Winona and Buttons, fer two! Though, as far as I know, yer criminal enterprise goes deeper'n that!"
Rainbow Dash said, "I didn't dog-nap Buttons!" Her tone was less combative than it might have been otherwise; Applejack was just plain scary when she was mad.
"Aha!" Applejack started poking Rainbow Dash's chest with her hoof. "But you did dog-nap Winona, is that what yer sayin?'"
Rainbow Dash shook her head. "Nuh-uh, I didn't dog-nap anyone! Sure, I've been playing with Winona, but I never took her off your farm! And I found Buttons just wandering around!"
Applejack did something that Rainbow Dash hated. She leaned in so close that they were almost touching and met Rainbow Dash's gaze. It was almost hypnotic, like a cobra staring down a bird. Fluttershy had "the stare," but Applejack had the eye of an experienced parent. It felt like Applejack was staring into her soul, looking for any hint of dishonesty.
At last, Applejack's eyes softened. "Alright, ah believe yah. Let's get Buttons back to Bon Bon, before she gets even more worried." Applejack whistled for Buttons. "Git along, little doggie!" With a happy bark, Buttons followed the two back to town.
They trotted in silence for a bit, neither sure what to say, if anything. Finally, Applejack got things rolling. "So, uh, ah never knew you liked dogs."
Rainbow Dash said, almost morosely, "Yeah, I love 'em. We had a bunch of 'em growing up."
Applejack said, "So, why're you playin with mah dog in secret?"
"I get lonely sometimes, and your farm's so big, I never thought I'd get found out."
Applejack said, "Uh, that ain't exactly what I asked. Ah mean why didn't ya just ask me?"
Rainbow Dash sighed, as it became obvious she wouldn't be able to avoid this line of questioning. "Oh yeah, how awkward would that be?" Her eyes brightened up as she started a glib pantomime to go with her words. "Oh hi, Applejack! I'm not here to see you, but can your dog come out to play?" She settled back down into her funk. "I'm not that tactless."
Applejack snorted. "Ain't more tactless than stealin mah dog fer hours on end. Ah do need her sometimes, and she does work fer a living. So seriously, next time you wanna borrow mah dog, just ask."
Rainbow Dash sighed. "OK." After a moment of Applejack's expectant stare, she added, "I'm sorry. And stuff."
Applejack smiled and said, "Apology accepted. What I can't figure out is why, if ya love dogs so much, you don't just get one of yer own?"
Rainbow Dash gave Applejack a fine selection from her many flavors of sarcastic expressions. "Uh, hello? Dogs can't exactly walk on clouds. Plus, even if they could, what if he fell off? I live 50 feet up."
Applejack blushed. "Oh… right. Ah guess ah didn't think it through."
Rainbow Dash pouted, "Well I have. And it all sucks."
They travelled in silence again and were soon at the outskirts of town.
Applejack said, "Alright, go find Bon Bon and let her an' everypony else in the search party know that we got Buttons."
Rainbow Dash, now that she was in public again, put up her "armor" again. Gone was the repentant pegasus Applejack had been trotting with for the last mile, replaced by the normal, confident Rainbow Dash. "Right! I could use a good flight after all that… awkward stuff." Rainbow Dash got into the air, but paused, hovering over her companions. "Hey Applejack, before I go, can I come over and play with Winona tomorrow?"
Applejack shook her head. "Sorry, Dash, but Winona's gonna be busy all week. I'm hiring her out to Wooljack for the shearing season."
Rainbow Dash sputtered, "But, but you said…"
"Ah never said the answer was always gonna be yes. Hit me up next week and ah'm sure it'll be fine."
Rainbow Dash sighed. "Fine."
Rainbow Dash got up late the next morning. On Mondays, she didn't have much to do, aside from work on any stunts she might think up. That was one advantage of being a part-time weather pegasus: the pay wasn't the best, but the hours were flexible.
However, this particular Monday, she wasn't in the mood for stunts. As she got out of her cloud bed and walked (in specially made cloud-compliant slippers) to her cloud living room, she realized how much of her spare time Winona had been eating up lately. That alone was depressing. She shouldn't have been spending that much time tossing balls with dogs if she wanted to get into the Wonderbolts. Her training regimen had slackened a bit since she had been literally crowned the best young flyer in Equestria.
"But that isn't the only reason, is it," she said to nopony in particular. Her voice echoed slightly in the empty house. She made herself some breakfast and tried to think of something other than being alone. She turned on the radio.
"This is KPNY, brought to you by the Fillydelphia Dog Treat company, reminding you to treat your best friend to the be-"
With much more force, she changed the station. "I'm not in the mood for classic rock anyway. Maybe some speed metal?"
"-KHRS, bringing you the best metal from Ponydanavia! Up first, Lars Hüff with 'Dog on a Chain.'"
The station was changed again with even more force. "Maybe something upbeat? I know, that lame-o station Fluttershy listens to whenever she comes over!"
"How much is that doggy in the window?
The one with the-"
The song was cut off as Rainbow Dash grabbed her radio and chucked it out the window. It was oddly satisfying. "Music's dumb anyway." Rainbow Dash's funk was interrupted when she heard a surprised shriek from the ground below. "… oh crap." "Oh crap" was her speedily repeated mantra as she raced the ground, praying to Celestia that she hadn't hit anyone.
Waiting for her was a thoroughly startled Pinkie Pie standing a few feet from the now thoroughly wrecked radio. Pinkie Pie went from startled to cheerful in three seconds flat. "Oh, hi Rainbow Dash!"
Rainbow Dash glanced from the radio to Pinkie Pie worriedly. "Oh man, Pinkie Pie, are you okay? I didn't think anyone would be down here!"
Pinkie Pie waved away her concerns. "It's okay. It's a good thing, actually, 'cause I had a twitchy tail all morning and no idea what it was about! Now I can relax!"
Rainbow Dash breathed a sigh of relief. "So, what are you here for, Pinkie?"
Pinkie Pie put an arm around Rainbow Dash's shoulder. "Well, a little bird told me you were feeling blue 'cause you couldn't have a dog, so I decided that this was a job for your Auntie Pinkie Pie! So, pranks and parties! All day and all night, if we have to, until you're feeling better!" She started rooting through the bag around her shoulder. "Let's see, where's that smoke bomb…"
Rainbow Dash slipped out from under Pinkie Pie's grip. "Whoa whoa whoa. Somepony told you?"
Pinkie Pie nodded and frowned. "Yeah, it made me so sad! I don't know what I'd do without my precious little Gummy-Gator, so I can't imagine how bad you must feel!" She perked up again as she went back to work with her pack. "So, do you want to put the smoke bomb in the Mayor's mail box or in Spike's bed? He always takes a mid-morning siesta, so we can still catch him if we hurry!"
Rainbow Dash glared at nopony in particular, in the general direction of Sweet Apple Acres. "Did the little bird who told you I was unhappy have a cowboy hat and freckles?"
Pinkie Pie shook her head. "Uh uh, that's a secret, and friends always keep secrets." Her features darkened. "Forever!" She smiled innocently again. "So, Spike or the Mayor?"
Knowing how far away Sweet Apple Acres was, and how suspicious Pinkie Pie would be if she immediately targeted Applejack, Rainbow Dash decided it was best to save her revenge on Applejack for later. However, she could work off some steam in the meantime…
Pinkie Pie laughed as Spike rubbed his eyes. "Hah! Smoke bomb under the pillow! A classic!"
Spike, between coughs, laughed along with her. "Yup, you got me good! Better get ready for some payback, Pinkie! I owe you three pranks now."
Rainbow Dash sighed, bored at the whole spectacle. Spike and Pinkie Pie noticed the lack of mirth and stopped their own laughter. Spike, between coughs, said, "Uh, is something wrong, Rainbow Dash?"
The blue pegasus sighed again and leaned against the wall. "I guess I'm not in the mood for pranks after all. This good-natured stuff isn't doing it for me."
Pinkie Pie said, "Well, what do you want?"
Rainbow Dash shrugged and in a casual tone, said, "I guess I just want to crush my enemies, see them driven before me and hear the lamentation of their fillies. That'd be best."
Pinkie Pie somehow got a black and white referee's uniform and a whistle. Where she got these was a mystery, but Rainbow Dash and Spike had long since learned to stop asking. Pinkie Pie blew her whistle in Rainbow Dash's face. "Whoa there, that's a Pinkie Pie Prankster's Protocol Penalty! You never prank when you're mad! You prank to spread cheer based on humiliating other ponies, knowing that they can do it to you too in good fun!"
Spike coughed, "Yeah, I mean, if it isn't in good fun, pranks are just random acts of cruelty."
Rainbow Dash sighed. She was getting a lot of practice at it today. "Yeah, sorry guys. My heart's just not in it today. I'm too mad and stuff to do anything in good fun." Rainbow Dash started to fly off. "I'll catch you some other time. I need to work off some of this angry energy."
Pinkie Pie shouted behind her, "Wait! What about this cake I made for you?"
Rainbow Dash called over her shoulder, "Let Spike have it! I'm not hungry anyway!"
Spike licked his lips and rubbed his hands together. "Don't mind if I…" Some errant smoke from the bomb found its way up his nose and he sneezed, making the cake disappear in a puff of green smoke.
It was Pinkie Pie's turn to sigh. "I'm a terrible Auntie! I ought to have my Auntie license revoked! Oh well. I hope Princess Celestia likes white cake with lemon frosting."
As it turned out, it was Celestia and Luna's favorite. However, that's another story.
Pinkie Pie had said not to prank while angry, and all of Rainbow Dash's teachers had always told her never to fly angry. As she zoomed over the countryside around Ponyville, Rainbow Dash ignored the latter's advice. After all, flying defined her. If she was angry, she was going to fly angry, and nopony was going to tell her otherwise.
As she zipped over trees and barns, she… well, she wasn't really thinking. With the mood she was in, she was a long way from anything so concrete. Instead, she had a feeling that this was why she loved flying. While she was flying, she was alone, but it was okay. It wasn't an empty house with nopony to share it with. It was her, the sky, the wind and, as a backdrop, the ground. The only real things in the world were whatever she had to avoid in front of her. She even felt good about not being able to have a dog as playful as Winona or as sweet as Buttons. After all, no dog would be able to keep up with her in the sky, so why bother with them? Why bother with friends who accused her of stealing and then blabbed her problems to Pinkie Pie, of all ponies?
After several hours of this, Rainbow Dash landed on top of a tree near the edge of the Everfree Forest. Her wings burned with the exertion and her skin was raw from being buffeted by wind, but she felt great. It was a good sore. She hadn't flown that hard in weeks. She was even starting to soften towards Applejack. She hadn't forgiven her yet, but she didn't want to shove a smoke bomb down her throat anymore.
Rainbow Dash stretched out and was about to take off for a cool down flight. "Don't wanna seize up tomorrow," she said to herself. Just as she was about to lift off, though, there was a loud thump and a bestial screech below her. She hesitated. This close to the Everfree Forest, it could be just about anything, and she was alone and tired. Just about anypony else would have listened to their common sense and run off.
Rainbow Dash wasn't anypony. Her hesitation ended almost as soon as it began and she swooped down to ground level. What she saw was the prone form of a brown falcon lying at the base of the tree. She'd often seen the birds while flying, but she'd certainly never been this close to one before. It looked so... small, when it wasn't soaring. It was a beautiful animal. It was a shame that the only way she got to see it up close and personal was when it was dead.
"No wait… is it breathing?" She was about to get face to face with it when she remembered something Fluttershy told her once.
"Rainbow Dash, if you find an injured wild animal, don't touch it with anything you can't afford to lose."
So, instead, she searched around until she found a fallen stick that still had some leaves on it. Maneuvering it in her mouth, she managed to get the leaves over the downed bird's face. She was completely still. She held her breath, as though afraid she would ruin the test. And then… the leaves moved.
She dropped her branch and jumped back ten feet with a yelp… not that she was afraid. Nope. Rainbow Dash feared no living thing! She jumped because she thought it might be a zombie falcon, which meant it wasn't alive, which meant it was okay to be afraid. Yeah, that was it. She slapped her face. "Get it together. It isn't a zombie, it's just knocked out. So… what now?" She sat there watching the unconscious falcon for a minute as her mind came up with nothing. "What would a smart pony like Twilight Sparkle do… investigate!"
Ignoring Fluttershy's advice, she got several parts of her anatomy that she didn't want to part with very close to the bird. She inspected its wings. Those were in order; after years of flight school and flight camp, Rainbow Dash knew a busted wing when she saw it. In fact, if she could apply pegasus anatomy to falcons (could she? She wished she'd paid more attention in biology…), this thing was completely healthy, aside from a bad knock to the head.
"Hm. I guess he's alright." She paused. "Now what? I can't just leave him here."
And then… inspiration hit. "Falcons fly! Flying animals can live on clouds. I can do better than a pet dog! 20% better! That'll show Applejack and Pinkie Pie… no wait, Pinkie Pie tried to make me feel better. I won't rub HER nose in it. But still! Falcon, you're coming home with me!"
The falcon, predictably, said nothing as Rainbow Dash gently scooped him up and took off.
End of Chapter 1