It was late morning, sunny and bright but not yet too warm. Rarity and Twilight sat at the outside table to the local eatery, looking over their menus and enjoying both the weather and one another's company. Applejack trotted up to their table from the road, but neither unicorn noticed her over their menus.
"Pardon me." she said. "But Ah think we've got a problem." she got both Twilight and Rarity to look up.
"Oh, hey Applejack, what's the matter?" Twilight asked, her face immediately breaking into a troubled frown. Applejack nodded over her shoulder.
"This." with that she turned, showing both unicorns Rainbow Dash slung like a bag of flour over her back, fast asleep and lightly snoring.
"Ah found 'er in th' barn this time." Applejack told them. "Won't wake up for th' end of the world. And this ain't the first time."
"Oh, hmm, maybe we worked her too hard last night." Twilight worried, turning to Rarity as she spoke.
"I let her go at sunset." Rarity replied, looking surprised at Twilight's words. "She was going simply stir-crazy, and I felt she had learned her lesson."
"Tastes like.....so blue...." Rainbow muttered in her sleep. Applejack raised an eyebrow at her.
"Well somepony needs t' talk some sense into her. Or at least get her t' stop sleepin' on mah land." she was clearly looking at Twilight as she said this. The purple pony sighed and nodded.
"Alright, leave her here, maybe she'll wake up soon." Twilight told her. Applejack shook the young speed-demon off of her, letting her slump onto the ground. Dash just muttered in her sleep, ending with a giggle.
"Now Ah like that pony more than th' next gal, but sometimes she seems a few apples short 'f a bushel." Applejack told them, pointing her hoof at Dash for emphasis.
"I don't see what's so upsetting about it." Rarity said, leaning over to see Dash on the ground, legs splayed out. "She's almost cute like this, in her own tom-coltish manner."
"Well now, y' wouldn't see, would ya?" Applejack said, more than a little irritated. However, when Rarity shot her a look, Applejack backed down with a shake of her head.
"Naw, Ah'm sorry. Ah guess Ah'm juss jealous. All this un seems t' do is laze about or goof off. That's juss not how Ah was raised."
"I think there may be more than just Dash's laziness going on here." Twilight said, scratching her chin. "She wasn't always this bad, was she?"
The question made Applejack think, and after a moment she gave a nod. "Ah reckon yur right. Ah only started findin' her on mah land a few months ago. Ah mean she was always a mite bit lazy, but this...." she nudged Rainbow with her hoof.
"....like a cloud..." the comatose pegasus murmured.
"And now that I think about it, she rather clearly had some place to be yesterday evening." Rarity added. "Though I can't imagine why she wouldn't admit to it."
"Hmmm." Twilight looked deep in thought. "We'll talk to her. Thanks for bringing her here AJ."
Applejack nodded. "Now, if'n y'all pardon me, Ah've got apples t' sell." she turned trotting away. Twilight's horn glowed with a pale purple light, and Rainbow Dash's unconscious form was lifted off the ground. Twilight brought her on to a pile of hay next to their table, even going so far as to put the cyan pony in a sitting position, positioning her like a doll.
"Huh, what?" Rainbow stirred awake as she was moved. 'Awake' wasn't quite the word for it, but she was at least semi-conscious. She looked around, found Twilight, and just blinked at her, clearly confused. The glow around Twilight's horn faded, and Dash jolted a little as she suddenly found herself sitting under her own power. It woke her up enough to speak.
"Oh hey Twilight...when did you get here?"
"Dash, do you know where you are?" Twilight asked. Dash looked around.
"Woah, I really didn't make it home this time." she said, more to herself than anypony else.
"Make it home? From where? Were you out or something?" Twilight asked. Rainbow turned back to her, and her eyes widened.
"What? Oh, uh, sorry, I guess I'm still asleep. I... Ignore me."
"Uh huh." Twilight responded, Rarity just looking on. "Actually, Applejack brought you here. You were asleep in her barn."
"Oh, heh heh."
"Dash, what's going on?" Twilight asked, her expression softening. "Are you okay? You're completely out of it. Are you sleeping okay? Are you sleepwalking?"
"It's nothing, I'm fine. Look, I'll be more careful, okay."
"More careful about what?" Twilight pushed. "Come on Dash, we're your friends. Is there something you need help with?"
"Come now." Rarity picked up where Twilight stopped. Dash jumped and turned to her, apparently unaware of her presence until that moment. "We may have our disagreements, but we'll always be there for you."
Rainbow Dash bit her lip, and would not meet either pony's gaze as she thought this over.
"Well, it's..." she sighed. "It's nothing. It's nothing! I guess I've just been practicing too hard. Been giving these babies a work out." she flared her wings, putting on a false smile.
"Rainbow, I-" Twilight began, but didn't have time to continue as Dash sprang up into the air.
"Gotta go guys! Sorry, maybe later!" Dash was away before either pony could stop her.
"Well, she can be more uncouth than Applejack, and that's saying something!" Rarity said in a huff. Twilight frowned.
"I don't get it. She's keeping something a secret from us."
"So it seems, so it would seem... but what can we do about it?"
"Hmm." Twilight thought this over. That was when the waiter trotted over to them, reminding both ponies that they were still having lunch. They ordered and tried to enjoy their meal. The whole time, however, Twilight's mind was turning, planning.
"Twilight, I do not approve of this!" Rarity hissed. It was almost dusk, just getting dark, and five ponies were crammed together, hiding in one small bush. Rainbow's cloud home was right above them.
"Well then y' can leave." Applejack replied over Twilight's other shoulder. "Ah don' like it none either, but Ah also don' like being lied to!"
"Girls, girls, quiet down or she'll hear us." Twilight told them. Pinkie Pie giggled from somewhere else in the bush while Fluttershy stayed silent, peeking out with her eyes steady on her friend's home.
"There she is!" her meager voice was barely audible, but it made the rest of them crane their necks. Rainbow Dash was flying slowly out of her home, and even by the meager light of dusk it was clear to make out a few changes in their rambunctious friend.
"Oh, now look at her..." Rarity cooed. "I didn't even think she owned a brush." she was referring to Dash's smooth mane, which was flowing down her neck in a manner quite unlike her usual scruffy hairdo. Her tail was equally eloquent, looking like a pure rainbow trailing behind her. She had also clearly applied a bit of polish to her hooves, enough it was visible even in the low light.
"Now what's she going gettin' all gussied up for?" Applejack asked. Rarity responded with a laugh.
"My my, this I must see."
"Come on, we need to follow her." Twilight whispered. She did her best to sneak from bush to bush along the road, each pony in turn following along with various levels of stealth - from Applejack's cautious yet clumsy tip-hooves to Pinkie Pie's carefree yet completely silent hops. They followed Dash into town, replacing bushes with alleys and stands to hide behind. Rainbow didn't seem to notice them, always facing where she was going, a smile on her face the whole way. They successfully followed her right up until she took a sharp turn into a narrow alley.
"Quickly!" Twilight hissed, afraid to lose Dash in the failing light. The group galloped towards the alleyway. Twilight only just spied a closing door as she reached the alleyway, light spilling out of it as Dash entered. The five of them looked at each other. Twilight went ahead and approached the door, cocking an ear to it.
"I can hear music." she told the others. They all got closer, showing various levels of surprise and intrigue.
"I didn't think Ponyville had any sort of night life..." Rarity muttered. Twilight looked around at her friends.
"Well, we can't turn back now, can we sugarcube?" Applejack replied. Twilight nodded, took a breath, and opened the door.
"Woah." the five ponies said in unison. Inside was a large, warehouse-like room. It was fairly dim, lit only with sparse colorful spotlights that illuminated a floor full of dancing ponies. The only clear spaces were near the door and across the room from them, where on a small stage a white unicorn with wild blue hair thumped her head in time with the music, one hoof on a turntable in front of her. Her goggles shimmered as her head bobbed, reflecting the brightest spotlight in the room trained on her. Rainbow Dash was talking to a mare by the entrance, and the group's vocal surprise caught her attention. She did a double take and turned around.
"Guys! What are you all doing - you guys gotta get out of here!" she shouted over the music, immediately nervous. The five ignored her, too curious, and trotted further away from the door, spreading out slightly.
"Oooh, is this a party?" Pinkie Pie asked, beginning to bounce for the dancing ponies. "Without me?" Rainbow rushed over and tried to block her.
"No, guys, listen, I don't know how you found this, but-"
"My my, so hip, so fashion nouveau!" Rarity said, gazing around, looking up at the stage. Rainbow tried to keep Pinkie Pie in check yet still reach over to Rarity.
"Look, stop, don't..."
"Rainbow, what is this place?" Twilight asked, her eyes wide and her jaw slack.
"It's, see, you've got to-"
"Heeeey Rainbow Dash!" an orange mare with a pink mohawk of a mane approached the spectrum-maned pony from the crowd, putting a hoof around her in familiarity. "Good to see you again. Listen, now, it ain't me, but there's a sweet little filly over there who I think's been crushing on you since last night. You and Scratch are still going steady right? Because if you could just let her know, maybe Candy can show her something sweeter, heh heh. Oh hey, did you bring friends? Oooh, purple...hey sweet stuff, want me to show you around?" the flirtatious mare ended with a wink to Twilight. Every one of the five had stopped as the pony had gone on, and as she finished five sets of wide eyes were trained on her.
"Theywerejustleaving!" Rainbow blurted, her wings flaring. In a multicolored blur, every one of her friends found themselves shoved out the door before they could react. They were back in the alley, bunched together and pushed into a sitting position. Dash hastily kicked the door closed behind her, muffling the music.
"What are you guys doing here?!" she asked, clearly angry. Twilight was the first to get her brain working again.
"Uh, Dash, you see...what was that exactly?"
"Why's that club got nothing but mares innit?" Pinkie Pie chimed up. The rest turned to her.
"What? No one else noticed?"
"Oh great" Rainbow Dash said, sitting down and bringing a hoof to her face. "I...wait, no! I'm not explaining- why were you guys here? Were... were you spying on me?"
"Um..." was all Twilight could say. Applejack looked at her hooves, Rarity hung her head, and Fluttershy seemed to have spaced out.
"Yep!" Pinkie Pie said innocently, smiling at Dash.
"We, we were worried about you, Dash!" Twilight tried, her voice wobbling. "Do, do you spend all night in there? Were, was that..."
"It's a...girl's club." Rainbow Dash said. She sighed, took a deep breath and looked up at them, suddenly determined. "I'm a fillyfooler. This is a club for mares like me. So yeah, there it is."
"Dash, I..." Twilight tried before another pony cut in.
"Why didn't you tell us?" Applejack stood up straight. The others turned to her. Applejack's nostrils flared. She stood firm and looked Rainbow square in the eye, but the pegasus didn't falter.
"I was going to. I thought I could trust my friends. Maybe I was wrong."
"And you were just waiting for what exactly?" Applejack argued back.
"P-please don't fight..." Fluttershy mumbled, looking like she was finally coming to.
"Maybe some time when I wasn't getting bugged by everypony!" Rainbow retorted.
"Darn it Dash! We bugged you because we were plum confused! We thought somethin' was wrong! Here ya are leadin' some second life - wi'out us!"
"Maybe because I was afraid of, I don't know, something like this!" Dash yelled, wings flaring in anger. "Maybe I didn't want to risk it, huh? Maybe I knew you wouldn't understand!"
Applejack looked like she had been struck, leaning away from the angry pony, her own anger falling away. She tried to reach out to Dash.
"N-now hold on there pardner, it ain't like that."
"Oh yeah?" Dash challenged, stamping one hoof. "Look at you! You all look like I just turned into a bear, or lost my wings, or something!" she glared at each of them in turn. Fluttershy hid under her hooves, Rarity looked away, Pinkie Pie's smile disappeared and Twilight wouldn't look her in the eye. Then she met Applejack's gaze and saw honest regret.
"Now, Dash..." Applejack tried, "We've all been right foals here..."
"Yeah" Dash agreed, not letting up. "You have." she turned around, opened the door, stepped through, and slammed it shut. The five ponies were left feeling sorry for themselves in the deepening darkness of the night.
"Now...now this ain't as bad as it..." Applejack sighed. She couldn't even lie to herself. "Darn it Dash! Ahh....Ah need to get out of here before Ah do somethin' somepony will regret."
"I agree." Rarity replied. "A lot of emotional things were said tonight, but it will all work out in the end. We can't just stay here all night." she began to walk away, and Applejack took her lead.
"But...I don't get it." Pinkie Pie complained. "Isn't she still Rainbow Dash? I was just surprised because nopony ever pulls a fast one on me! I was impressed!" she sounded sincere, making Applejack stop and smile.
"Well you tell her that in the morning, I'm sure she'll listen. Fluttershy?" she turned back around. The yellow pegasus had started staring at the door, looking as still as stone. She blinked once.
"...I....I, um...." she blushed. Applejack sighed, walked back and got behind the timid pony, nudging her forward with her head.
"It's okay sugarcube. Come on, Ah know you've got Angel waiting for you." slowly she began to get Fluttershy moving. She glanced back to Twilight, finding she hadn't budged either. She looked lost in thought, staring down at her hooves.
"Huh? Oh." Twilight looked up. "Just give me a minute, okay?"
"Well alrigh', you get home safe." Applejack replied, realizing that Fluttershy had stopped moving as soon as her nudging had stopped. With a sigh she got to work pushing the pony along out of the alleyway. Rarity was at the alley's mouth now and stopped to wait for the others. Pinkie Pie passed by and walked on, for once not skipping or bouncing. Rarity focused her attention on Twilight.
"Poor girl." she said lowly to Applejack as she passed by with Fluttershy. "She's still very sheltered in some ways."
"She's got a good head on her shoulders. She'll be fine." Applejack said, realizing Fluttershy was walking on her own now. Rarity nodded slightly and followed them out. Meanwhile, Twilight continued to stare at her hooves.