Wow, it's been a long time. I know I say that every time, but... it always is. I can only hope you guys think my writing's of good-enough quality to forgive the ridiculous amount of downtime.
Anyway! Time for my first ponyfic. It's Gilda-centric, obviously, and while I don't intend this to be a shipfic, there will be some rather obvious girl-crushing going on. Take that as you will. The astute reader will note a number of shout-outs to Jetfire's It's A Dangerous Business, Going Out Your Door - a fantastic story available on Equestria Daily and, I think, Ponychan. These references are made with his gracious permission, and while Dangerous Business is nowhere near required reading for this fic, I heartily recommend it to all my readers - though my own writing will only suffer in comparison, I think.
Aside from that, please enjoy!
There were certain duties associated with the title of Coolest Pegasus In Equestria. Rainbow Dash, Ponyville's resident Wonderbolt hopeful and self-appointed holder of the title, accepted this as fact. After all, being the coolest translated naturally into being the best – at anything and everything. It was only fair that the best sometimes had to show the scrubs that looked up to her the basics, the ropes or whatever it was that scrubs needed to be shown (never having been a scrub, Dash was somewhat fuzzy on that part of it). Still… she might've been all right with giving up the title – just for a little bit! A few hours maybe, until she could get it back with a Sonic Rainboom, which she could totally do on command now by the way – if it meant she wasn't being woken up at three in the morning by a custom work order addressed directly to her. Thunderstorm over Ponyville and Sweet Apple Acres – woo, Applejack wouldn't like that one bit. Still, thunderstorms - and lightning! - were fun, and pretty simple.
"You've done it again, Dashy," she congratulated herself, settling back into a nearby puff of thunderhead and surveying the cloudscape before and around her. It rumbled with dark promise, rising and falling like a disturbed sea, and flashes of bright white spat between mountainous projections of cloud, leaving their sharp, familiar taste behind. The gentler sparks dancing through the water vapor prickled at her feathers and her back, making the tuft of her mane she could see frizz up and out, and she laughed, not bothering to try to smooth it down. "Not only are you the coolest, you're the best at making storms, too." She yawned hugely and blinked once or twice; as much fun as the lightning was, it wasn't doing anything for her tiredness, and after a few more seconds of lavishing praise on herself, she kicked open a hole in the cloud layer with her hoof and let herself fall into the open air down below.
Dash opened her eyes full seconds later - close enough to the ground to feel that little squeeze in her heart - and snapped her wings open, slicing into the wind at a vicious angle as she leveled out, wingtips just barely clearing the lowest branches of Twilight Sparkle's house in the Ponyville Library. She couldn't help but give a whoop as she pulled up, coasting entirely on momentum, and spiraled back up into the sky as lightning crackled and the first raindrops began to fall. As much fun as flying through stormclouds was – and it was fun; a lot of ponies just didn't get how to ride completely unpredictable air currents, and they let lightning spook them, and stuff like that – it was late, and time to head back to bed. The Wonderbolts were putting on a show over Canterlot tomorrow, and she was totally going to be able to see them from her house, if she was awake on time.
By the time she saw the soft, pillowy clouds of her own home – moved from its usual spot to avoid the worst of the downpour – in the distance, the rain had begun in earnest, and she was shaking her head every few seconds to unstick her sodden mane from its stubborn place directly over her eyes. Pulling in her wings to settle down, Dash sank about an inch into the normally springy cloud, and frowned down at her feet. She'd have to wring out her house after this, which wasn't exactly hard, but it was a pain. And it could get really cold if the rain soaked down through the roof and into her blankets, and there was that one time when an actual chicken, no lie, had been blown through her floor during one particularly strong storm, and – Dash stopped short. There was someone else on her cloud.
It was hard to see, what with the dark and the rain and all, but the figure was silhouetted pretty well against the puffy cumulus clouds that were her walls. It wasn't a pony, that was for sure; it was too tall, and the shape was wrong. It looked like it had giant hands stretching up over its head; its body was a dark blob underneath. And a thin, switchy tail was lashing the air behind it… Dash's eyes narrowed, and she lowered her head a little, ready for a fight. "Hey," she called, kicking up a little tuft of cloud with her back hoof. "I don't know who you think you are, but you picked the wrong pegasus to mess with, buddy. Get ready, 'cause here comes Rainbow –" she stopped midsentence and skidded to a halt for the second time in as many minutes. She recognized the silhouette.
And the silhouette recognized her. It raised a clawed hand into the air from underneath the folded limbs and waved somewhat weakly, somewhat sheepishly – words that Dash knew, certainly, and had even used on occasion, but had never in a million years dreamed would be applied to the soggy-looking gryphon sitting in a miserable lump on her doorstep, her wings raised in a half-hearted attempt to keep the rain off her head. "Hey, Dash," said Gilda the Gryphon, offering a beaky smile that looked unconvincing even at three in the morning. "Mind if I crash at your place for a bit?"
Rainbow Dash stood stock-still for a moment, then her eyes narrowed. "Gilda," she said, her voice cautious. "I didn't think I'd see you around again, after what you said about my friends." She gave the last word a bit of a twist, and felt an ugly bit of satisfaction as her unexpected guest flinched a little.
"Yeah, I guess life's funny like that," Gilda said with a weak laugh, giving her wings a flick. Rain spattered in a loose circle in front of her, and she brought her wings back up. It was hard to tell in the dark, but Dash thought the tips of her pinfeathers were shaking a little bit. "So, anyway, yeah. What d'you say? I know you got that super-sweet couch you showed me last time –"
Dash shook her head, which flopped her mane back into her eyes. She blew it up out of her face, frowning. "Gilda. Maybe you forgot, but last time we saw each other, you were a huge jerk. Something about everypony being a lame-o and me being a flip-flop for wanting to hang out with people who-"
"Hey, that's got nothing to do with this," Gilda growled, getting to her feet. "I just want-"
"-who don't bully and ruin parties-" Dash continued to talk over her, voice gradually rising in volume to keep ahead of the gryphon.
"-all I'm asking is for you to let me crash for a night-"
"-and act totally uncool-"
"-and if you were cool and were really my friend-"
That did it. Dash leapt forward and dug her hooves into the cloud, pressing her forehead into Gilda's with a thud. "Really your friend? Really your friend? If you were really my friend, you wouldn't have ruined Pinkie Pie's party, or bullied Fluttershy, or been so lame to my friends that I picked! I can't believe-"
Gilda reared back, roaring in frustration. "What is with you and your stupid friends? You used to be cool, Dash! We used to be cool together! We sure as hell didn't need any lamebrain hugs-and-flowers ponies! What the heck happened to you? I don't get it!"
Dash closed her mouth, abandoning the rest of her sentence. "No, I guess you don't, Gilda," she said, frowning. "Go home. I'm tired and I wanna go to bed." She stepped around the gryphon, who turned with her, dumbstruck at the sudden lack of resistance.
Gilda found her voice again as Dash stepped through the door and turned to close it behind her. "So that's it? You're just gonna leave me out here 'cause you don't like what I said about your dumb friends?"
"Everything you said about my friends, you said about me," Dash replied, quietly but fiercely. "Go home, Gilda." Cloud doors don't slam well – they make a soft 'poof' sound no matter how hard they're closed – but Dash gave it a shot.
Gilda stared at the flat cloud wall for a moment, then her talons clenched. Ripping up huge chunks of cloud from beneath her feet, she screeched with rage and lashed at the air with her powerful wings and forelegs. "Fine! Whatever, loser!" she shouted, turning on her back legs with a disdainful sneer. "I'll go hang with someone in Cloudsdale! Someone cool! No one back home misses you, you know! Loser!" Firing the last word over her shoulder, she took off with a powerful leap into the storm.
"Stupid lame Rainbow Dash," she hissed, turning west toward Cloudsdale. "Dumb loser lamer pony with dumb loser friends. I'll show her. Someone cool in Cloudsdale will let me hang with them." Oh yeah? Like who, birdbrain? "Like… uh… shut up, I know a ton of cool people in Cloudsdale…" How many of 'em still think you're cool, huh? And even if you do find someone, they're not gonna be anywhere near as cool as her—
Gilda shook her head fiercely. "Shut up, shut up, shut up!" She caught the top of a massive pine tree with her talons and clung to it as it swayed in the wind and rain, shouting at herself to drown out the niggling little voice in the back of her mind. "I – am – the coolest-!"
There was a sudden sensation, like a massive updraft, as all of Gilda's hair and feathers stood on end at once. She had time to look up. "Oh, shi—"
It was summer again, which meant that thunderstorms now and again were to be expected, really. They were important for giving rain to plants and animals, and some ponies liked the flash and noise, the strange prickling of their coats before the first rain began to fall, the distant rumbling of thunder in the distance…
Fluttershy couldn't hold back a small shudder. It was just as well that she'd been asleep for most of the storm last night. She'd hated them ever since she was a filly; it was okay if she had someone else to comfort, because then she could just focus on making them feel better, but Angel enjoyed thunderstorms and Hummingway didn't care about them either way. So it was hard for her sometimes.
A few hops behind her, Angel noticed the shudder and shook his head. He tapped Fluttershy's leg impatiently, gesturing further down the simple dirt track that ran past the chicken coop and into the skirts of the Everfree Forest. Fluttershy started at the contact, then smiled at the rabbit.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Angel," she said, bending down to pick up the simple basket at her feet. "I just got a little distracted, that's all." Putting the basket on her back, she looked up at the sky. The horizon to the east, over the still-sleeping Ponyville, was streaked with vibrant purple, navy and gold; to the west, over the forest, remnants of the night and the storm combined to hang dark and still overhead. Fluttershy didn't feel any more rain in the air, though, so she set out with what was, for her, confidence.
The ground was still soft and cool from last night's rain, and every now and then, water collected in a leaf somewhere would overflow and drip to the ground. This was the best time to gather stormflowers; the grey blossoms streaked with royal blue and silver when it rained, but unless they were picked like that, they lost their color in just a few hours. There was a field of them growing nearby, and Fluttershy picked her way toward it, doing her best not to jump in fear at every little sound. This was just the outskirts of the Forest, after all, and Ponyville… and her friends… were just a short run away.
"Uuuuuuogh…" Fluttershy froze as a deathly moan echoed through the trees. Run away, was it? Yes, that sounded like a great idea. She took off, Angel following angrily behind, only to slow and finally stop as the sound repeated itself.
"Angel, that doesn't sound like someone trying to be scary," she said, looking back. "Do you think… maybe someone needs help?" Angel looked iffy, but he followed Fluttershy as the yellow pegasus turned and walked cautiously toward the sound.
As it happened, the origin of the sound wasn't far away at all, and Fluttershy felt a little tickle of fear as she got even closer. She rounded a particularly wide pine tree and stopped, struck by the sight in front of her.
A mass of brown and white, a bedraggled gryphon, lay crumpled among a vast carpet of stormblossoms. A large area of the blooms had been crushed by the creature's powerful wings and legs as she rolled around, leaving a vaguely circular flat patch around her. As Fluttershy stepped closer, she was able to get a better look at her. The end of her left wing was burned; it didn't look too serious, except for the missing pinfeathers, but it must have hurt – meaning the gryphon was unconscious, not asleep. Not that deeply, though, since she groaned again.
Fluttershy set the basket down, then took a step forward. "I'll be right back. Don't you worry," she said soothingly. She turned to Angel. "Will you watch her for me? Please?" At the rabbit's nod, Fluttershy smiled. "Thank you." She dashed off through the trees, heading back to Ponyville. Angel watched her go, then sighed and shook his head. Pulling the basket closer, he started picking the flowers that hadn't been trampled by the gryphon or the pony.
The first thing that Gilda registered as her mind surfaced, from the depths of unconsciousness through dreaming and finally into wakefulness, was the pain. Well, the pain and how she didn't feel it anymore, which was a nice change from the past… however long the pain had been there. The sogginess and the chill were gone, too; she was wrapped in warmth and softness, like the cloud beds at Flight School, but also somehow like her parents' nest in the foothills of the Drackenridge Mountains. It took something special to remind her of that. There was a pillow under her head and a blanket over her shoulders – carefully arranged so it didn't ride over her wings – and all was right with the world.
"I knew you'd come around, Dash," she murmured, eyes still closed. This was obviously Dash's couch (which really was super-sweet, apparently), and she was resting in Dash's living room. There was a quiet little squeaky sound from somewhere to her right, but she ignored it. "See, you really are cool after all. I guess I was wrong – it was those dumb ponies that made you act like that. I guess I should-"
There was another squeaky noise, and this time it resolved itself into words. Kind of. "You're… Gilda… oh no…" Which didn't sound like something Dash would ever say. Which meant…
Gilda's eyes flew open and she pushed herself up, looking around. She was in some kind of cottage filled with junk – birdhouses and doll furniture and crayon pictures, paintings of flowers and vines on the walls… and a timid little lump of a yellow pegasus, trembling by the staircase. Late afternoon light filtered through a nearby window. "You," Gilda hissed, levering herself to her feet. "You're that whiny little crybaby." The springy mattress under her feet – not clouds, just whatever it was stupid earth ponies slept on – sank unpredictably, giving her trouble, but she managed to stay upright. At least, until she tried to spread her wings.
Pain shot through her left wing, along with a horrible feeling of confinement – it wouldn't open! She had time to glance over and see it wrapped in bandages, and secured to her side, before the imbalance tipped her off the bed and sent her sprawling to the floor. She came up roaring, talons digging into the floorboards, and advanced on Fluttershy. "Oh, yeah, I remember you, you spineless wimp. You're the one who told Pinkie Pie to set up that dumb party."
Fluttershy backed up into the corner, head down and legs tucked in. Her eyes were glued to the angry gryphon. "N-no, that wasn't… I mean… Gilda, you shouldn't be out of bed…"
"No? Oh, I'm so sorry," Gilda snarled. "Untie my wing! Right now!"
Fluttershy shook her head, nearly in tears. "I- I can't," she murmured. "You're hurt. Please get back in bed-"
"You telling me what to do?" Gilda shouted, sitting. "Fine! I'll do it myself!" She twisted to cut at the bandages with her talons, but suddenly – Gilda didn't even see her move – Fluttershy was in her way. And she was staring into Gilda's very soul.
"Stop picking at your bandages and get back into bed, young lady," she said firmly. Gilda found herself obeying without any intention at all of doing so, and in no time she was back in bed, feet folded under her and surprisingly calm. There were a few seconds of silence.
"I… what the heck did you just do to me?" Gilda finally asked, shock for the moment overriding everything else. Fluttershy seemed to melt at the question, and she looked pretty much everywhere but at her grumpy patient.
"O-oh, it's… it's nothing special," she said, quietly enough that Gilda had to hold very still to keep any rustling fabric from overriding her. "I'm sorry I used it on you – I didn't mean to, really. I deal with hurt animals all the time, though, and I just…" her voice trailed off into silence.
"You calling me an animal?" Gilda asked, annoyed. The ease with which the little yellow pegasus had steered her ruffled her feathers, literally, and she gladly took the opportunity to start getting angry again. She knew angry, knew how it worked and how to rock it. Anger was her home. "Yeah, I've never heard that one before."
Though it didn't seem possible, Fluttershy shrank even more. "N-no… I… I didn't mean… it was just kind of… instinct, you're so badly hurt…"
"I'm not hurt at all," Gilda snarled. "You don't know shit about gryphons, pony. You're really gonna sit there and lie to my face?" She sat up and twisted to her side again, then paused and sarcastically held her claws up to show she had no intention of picking at her bandages. And then, for the first time, she got down to actually inspecting her injuries.
A chill ran down her spine as she took it in. Her wing was securely and professionally bandaged to her side; she might not know gryphons, but Fluttershy obviously knew wings. Most of the bandages were very familiar – simple linen strips, good friends of Gilda's from every sprain, tear and pull she'd accumulated over the years. Under those, though… under those, there was heavier fabric. Not a lot of it, but enough to make her feel very lucky there wasn't more. Burn bandages.
"…How bad is it?" she asked finally, looking away. The anger had been doused in an instant, and the ashes lay sick and curdled and dripping in her stomach. It was the first thing any eaglet learned: a damaged wing meant sloppy flight at best, no flight at all at worst. And there were things in the night that not even a full-grown buck gryphon stood a chance against, if he was grounded. If the damage was permanent…
"You lost several of your primaries," Fluttershy replied quietly, "and you've suffered some burns to the down and skin in that region." She seemed slightly more at ease discussing medical matters, and her voice grew stronger as she continued. "If you rest and eat well, you should be better in a few weeks, though I don't know when your feathers will grow back."
Gilda swallowed hard against the rush of relief that filled her throat. "Cool," she finally managed to croak. "That's… that's cool." She settled back down to the mattress, hoping that Fluttershy wouldn't notice the shakiness in her arms. She closed her eyes for a moment, then looked over at the pegasus, who was looking at her with an odd expression. "…What?"
Fluttershy jumped. "O-oh, nothing," she said, hiding behind the pale pink curtain of her mane. "It's nothing, really, Gilda." She straightened up very slightly, and took a step closer to the bed. "You should get back to bed," she said. "I'm sure you're tired." And as she said it, Gilda noticed that she was. She hadn't gotten Stared this time, though, so it probably wasn't pony mind control again.
"I'll tell you when I'm tired," she shot back, but it was a poor effort and she knew it. Fluttershy didn't even shy away from her. "I'm only gonna stay tonight, got it?" Gilda continued, settling down. "Don't get me wrong. If I spent a whole month here, I'd go absolutely buggy with you laming it up all over the place. So I'm leaving as soon as it gets light." She pointedly ignored the fact that it was currently around noon, judging from the light coming through the window.
Fluttershy nodded along with her. "Do you need anything else?" she asked. Gilda shook her head.
"Just get the lights," she said, closing her eyes. There was a quiet sound of hoofsteps, and the blanket was pulled back up over the gryphon's taut shoulders and gently guided over both her wings. Gilda grunted dismissively and the vaguely flower-scented presence moved away to the head of the stairs. The lights dimmed – she even remembered to close the shutters – and then there were a few moments of warm, dark quiet.
"Um… sleep well…" Fluttershy offered, almost hopefully.
Gilda snorted at her. "Yeah, whatever." She waited until the pegasus' hoofsteps on the stairs had faded, then turned over, resting her chin on the pillow. It was almost all gone by now, but still… somehow, under the soft whatever it was of the mattress, she felt straw, and clouds, and mountain sunrises and sunsets. She buried her face into the pillow.
There we go. Unlike Fluttershy, I don't know wings, so I don't know how badly Gilda's injury would actually set her up; let's just say a few weeks and go with that, huh?
There will be more! Sometime!