Chapter 4: Feathers

Opening Comments: Fluttershy time! Also, I finally obtained a copy of Huxley's Brave New World, too. I'm in the process of reading it now.

*****

        Fluttershy slowly made her way through the crowded hallways as students began to make the daily mad dash to their lockers. The end of the school day was always hectic, and her voice was so small that no one would likely hear her if she were to get squashed in the sea of bodies. For that reason, she was content to stick to the wall of lockers and gently pick her way through the crowd whenever a clear opening appeared. This process was time consuming, considering that she had to come from the far end of the school's west wing to the center of the main building, but her desire to save time was trumped by her desire to avoid physical pain. By the time she actually reached her locker, the hallways were mainly cleared, save for a few stragglers and the couples who enjoyed flirting in their so-called "discreet" spots.

        When she reached her locker, she gently placed her books on the ground and then began entering the combination on her lock. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a hand slam up against the locker next to her. She jumped and let out a small "eek" before turning to see to whom the hand belonged. A boy's face met her gaze, inches from her own. His hair was buzzed close to his head, and he was wearing his uniform was in a completely disheveled state. "Hey there. How's about you and me go and get something to eat beautiful?" His breath smelled like a mixture of cigarettes and morning breath, causing Fluttershy to stifle a gag. She began to quiver in fear, for she was not used to having someone this close to her.

        "Um...I...well...you see..." she stammered out, looking everywhere but at the boy, her voice barely audible.

        Before the boy could say anything else, another male voice called out to him. "Yo, Steve, whacha doin over there?" The second boy approached the two of them to get a better look. His appearance was similar to that of the first boy, although his features were sharper and he wore his pants in the appropriate place, as opposed to around his thighs. As he reached the two of them he began to smile. "Oh, so you finally worked up the nerve to ask her out. What's her name again? Felicia?"

        Steve gave his friend a mischievous look. "Yeah man, but I like that cute little nickname her friends have for her. What was it again? Fluttershy? Yeah man, that's it." He looked back at the terrified girl in front of him. "So whadaya say 'Fluttershy'? How 'bout I take you out and we get rid of that 'shy' part?"

        At this point, Fluttershy was visibly quaking with fear, her eyes wide as she glanced back and forth between the two boys. Her back was pressed against the lockers, and the boys had her blocked in fairly well from all other sides. There was nowhere to run, and even if there was she doubted her legs would have the strength to carry her far. She began silently praying for some kind of help, when she heard a familiar voice call out, "And just WHAT do you think you're doing with my friend?" Fluttershy looked over to see Rarity standing to Steve's right, her hands on her hips, and her face red with anger. A few feet behind Rarity stood Twilight, her arms overflowing with books.

        Smiling, Steve took his hand off the locker and turned to face Rarity. "What's wrong babe? You jealous cuz I'm not hittin' on you?" he asked, his tone cocky. "Sorry honey, but I'm just not into purple hair, even if it is rare. Brian here, on the other hand, might be willing to take you out." He used his thumb to gesture at the second boy, who was still standing to Fluttershy's right.

        "You listen here you miscreant," Rarity fumed, jabbing her finger into Steve's chest, "if you don't leave right now, I will have the Perryville Police Department here in the blink of an eye to arrest you for sexual harassment! I think the word of three upstanding students will be more than enough to get you two delinquents hauled away!"

        The cheerful, cocky look on Steve's face quickly dissipated, replaced with a look of sheer annoyance. "Look ya stuck up bitch, don't go makin' threats at me!" he shouted back at her. Rarity cocked an eyebrow at him.

        "Threats? That wasn't a threat, that was a promise. Do you want to hear a threat? THIS is a threat: If you don't back away from my friend right now, I will rip off whatever pathetic excuse you have for testicles and shove them down your throat! I will then gouge your pathetic eyes out with my perfectly manicured nails while the football team uses you as its personal punching bag. If by some miracle you are still alive, I will have whatever's left of you hauled off to the juvenile ward of the state prison. I'm sure you've heard what happens to guys like you there." She paused for a moment to catch her breath, and to allow her words to sink in before continuing. "How's THAT for a threat?!"

        Steve stared at Rarity, his face blanched and mouth agape. It wasn't that he was actually afraid of her threats that caused his shock--anyone would know that they weren't realistic--but rather the fact that she came up with all of that in an instant. He tried to utter a comeback, but after stammering endlessly he simply settled on "Bitch" before shuffling away with Brian at his heels. Fluttershy slowly dropped to her knees, her hand over her frantically beating heart. Rarity knelt down next to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

        "Are you okay?" she asked, her voice filled with concern.

        "Yes, I'm...fine," Fluttershy replied hesitantly, forcing a smile that didn't manage to reach her eyes.

        Twilight joined the two girls, setting her armload of books on the ground. "You would think that people like them wouldn't be allowed in a school as prestigious as this," she commented, shaking her head in disapproval. Rarity looked up at her with a look that was caught somewhere between pity and disbelief.

        "This is a school for the rich, first and foremost. Not everyone becomes rich by, shall we say, 'respectable means'," the fashionista explained. She proceeded to stand, assisting Fluttershy to do the same, before continuing. "While the majority of the students here are from respectable families--or, at least, respectable backgrounds--there are also a small number who are from mob families and the like. It's one of the school's worst kept secrets."

        Twilight bit her lip and shook her head, more than a little frustrated at Rarity's explanation. She wanted to express her displeasure for the situation, but quickly reminded herself that Fluttershy was more important. Her overly shy friend had already begun to empty the contents of her locker without saying another word. "Hey, Fluttershy, are you sure you're okay?" Twilight asked, placing a hand on Fluttershy's shoulder.

        "Yes."

        "Really? Because a book that I read said that sometimes, after events like this, victims might--"

        "I said I'm fine. You know Twilight, just because it's in a book doesn't mean it applies to every situation." Fluttershy shrugged Twilight's hand off of shoulder and began to walk away from her two friends, completely avoiding eye contact.

        "Fluttershy, wait!" Rarity called, shooting Twilight an angry look.

        "I...have to go feed the animals," Fluttershy replied, her soft voice almost inaudible due to the distance between them. She rounded the corner and disappeared from sight.

        Rarity sighed and retrieved her share of the books from Twilight's pile. "I understand that facts are your specialty, but sometimes saying nothing and just being there is the best thing you can do," Rarity lectured, placing a hand on Twilight's shoulder. "Well, you did say you lacked any significant social interaction before you came here. I suppose you'll learn in time." With that she left Twilight alone in the hallway.

***

        Fluttershy knelt down in the grass, placing a bowl of food into one of the many rabbit hutches. She came here every day after school to care for the animals that were part of the Animal Grooming and Car (AGC) program, which she was a part of. Technically the task was supposed to be broken up amongst the students in the class, but no one else in the class really cared to be bothered, and Fluttershy enjoyed taking care of the animals, so the task fell solely on her shoulders every day. For the most part, she was only responsible for the small animals used in the program--birds, rabbits, ferrets, and the like--although she did feed the horses that were used for both the polo team and the AGC program. The rabbit hutches were always her last stop, as the rabbits had always been her favorite, and she believed in saving the best for last. She reached  back into the hutch and extracted a small, white rabbit, placing it on the grass in front of her. "Did you enjoy playing with your friends, Angel?" she asked, patting the rabbit on its head. The rabbit just sniffed the grass and hopped around in a circle. Fluttershy sighed. "Oh, it's just not the same."

        She couldn't admit it to the rest of her friends, but for as long as she could remember she had been having dreams like the one Twilight described. In her dreams, she was a pegasus who lived in a small cottage, surrounded by animals day and night. While she was still shy in that world, she found that she was capable expressing herself better. There were some nights where the dreams seemed so real that she felt as if she actually have hooves and wings. She would wake up in excitement, only to be disappointed when she discovered that she was still human. When she was a child, the jarring realization that she wasn't actually a pony was so shocking that she would end up crying uncontrollably.

        "Wouldn't it be great to live in a world like that Angel?" she asked, picking up the small rabbit and hugging him. The rabbit was her attempt to capture a part of the dream world that she loved so much, but the Angel in that world had quite a unique attitude. "It's just not the same," she sighed again, placing the rabbit back on the ground. She closed up the rabbit hutch, and made sure the door was secure. Angel sat outside of the hutch, staring at the other rabbits within. Fluttershy picked him up and wrapped him up in her uniform jacket, cuddling the bundle in her arms. School rules dictated that animals were not allowed in dorm rooms, but Fluttershy had been smuggling Angel back and forth between her room and the rabbit hutches for the past several months. She did nothing to draw attention to herself, and as a result was able to move about without question. After a few quick glances at the surrounding areas, she turned and proceeded to head back to her dorm room.

***

        Fluttershy closed the door behind her, locking the deadbolt for extra security. She then proceeded to extract Angel from her jacket and placed him in the small cage she kept in her room. The small bunny immediately darted for his water bottle, licking furiously at the little metal ball. "I guess it got pretty hot in there," Fluttershy commented, watching the rabbit with pure amusement. She observed him as he finished indulging in his water and began hopping around the cage before finally settling on a spot to lay down. After assuring that the rabbit was indeed comfortable, Fluttershy moved to her dresser and extracted a yellow t-shirt with blutterflies on the front. She stripped off her school blouse, pausing to look at her back in the full-sized mirror against her wall. Long, pale scars ran diagonally across her back. They were more prominent in some spots than others, a sign of where her abusers aim usually struck. Tears began to well in her eyes as the memories flooded back to her.

        She was thrown across his broad lap, her shirt stripped from her body. If he heard her screams, he made no motion to indicate it. She tried to wrestle free, but he was too strong, his one hand being more than enough to keep her small body pinned. The sound of a belt being removed from its loops was followed by that of cracking leather. Pain seared across her back, and she began screaming, the volume increasing each time the hard leather made contact with her bare skin. CRACK! "You will bleed this evil out!" the man's voice hollered. CRACK! "We will not have your witchery here!" CRACK! CRACK! CRACK!

        

        The memory faded, but the cracking of the belt still rang in her head, a sound that would haunt her to her dying days. She brushed away the tears flowing down her cheeks. "You have   good life now. You have friends, and people who care about you. He can't reach you here," She silently reminded herself as she slipped her t-shirt over her head, covering the painful reminders of that past life. A knock at the door brought her completely back to reality. Hastily, she grabbed a spare sheet from her hamper and tossed it over Angel's cage, in case the visitor was a school official. "C-coming," she gently called, her heart still beating faster than normal. As she reached the door, she peered through the small peep hole. Rarity's face filled her field of vision, distorted by the convex shape of the lens. With a sigh of relief, she unlocked the door and flung it open.

        "Hello Rarity. I'm surprised to see you here."

        Rarity smiled and grabbed Fluttershy by the shoulders, pulling her into a tight embrace. "I went home with the chauffer, but I just couldn't stop worrying about you, dear. I had him bring me back here."

        Fluttershy returned the embrace, resting her head on her friend's shoulder. "Thank you. I really am fine, but I appreciate your concern."

        The two broke from their embrace, and Fluttershy could tell that Rarity was inspecting her. There was clearly a sour look on her face. "If you're fine, then why have you been crying?"

        "What do you mean? I wasn--"

        "Fluttershy, don't lie to me. You have such fair skin, so it's obvious if you've been crying, even just a little. So tell me why."

        Fluttershy shifted nervously, doing everything in her power to avoid eye contact with Rarity. "It didn't have anything to do with what happened today. It was something from my past. I'd really prefer not to talk about it."

        Rarity sighed and took Fluttershy's hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "I really wish you'd open up to me a little more. I'm your best friend, after all, but I won't force you to tell me more than you're comfortable with."

        With a smile, Fluttershy brought her head around so that she was looking directly at her best friend. "Thanks Rarity. That means a lot."

        "Of course, dear. Now come on, I'm taking you to the spa. It's Friday night, so we have to live it up a little! Besides, there's nothing like a good massage to ease away the stress of a bad day."

        Fluttershy hesitated for a moment and then said, "I'd um...prefer a nice facial instead. I don't really like massages."

        "You always turn down the massage. Come to think of it, you turn down anything that really requires you to expose your upper body. Are you sure there's not something you haven't told me?" Rarity replied, a suspicious stare plastered on her face.

        "I...guess I'm just overly modest," Fluttershy offered, hiding the lie behind a smile.

        Rarity threw her arms up. "Well, who am I to argue with your morals? We'll get you taken care of, and then perhaps we'll have a nice dinner. Just a good old girl's night on the town. We haven't done that in AGES."

        A pang of guilt shot through Fluttershy's stomach, but she just couldn't bring herself to tell Rarity the truth, at least not yet. "Yes, that does sound lovely. I just need to finish changing," Fluttershy said, indicating the fact that she was still wearing her uniform skirt. She invited Rarity into her room while she stripped off her skirt and retrieved a pair of blue jeans from her dresser. She slipped them on and checked her appearance in the mirror. Pleased with what she saw, she slipped her sneakers on and then turned back to her friend. "Okay, I'm ready."

        "Well then, right this way, my lady," Rarity replied with a chuckle, linking her arm with Fluttershy's and leading her out the door.

*********

        Twilight was hard at work on her studying, pouring over pages of complicated physics formulae. She had been going at it for three straight hours, stopping only to take a quick call from Rarity to confirm that everything was okay with Fluttershy. Now she was stuck, scratching her head over one particular formula that just didn't seem to make sense. The book's explanation was lacking at best, simply explaining what the individual letters meant, but offering nothing in reference to the formula's application. She grabbed a handful of hair in each hand and groaned loudly, pushing herself away from the desk. Her eyes flew to her own personal collection of books, scanning the spines for anything that might prove helpful. They stopped on The Student's Guide to Applied Physics: Formulas, Methods, and Applications. Excited to possibly find a solution to her conundrum, Twilight shot up from her chair and approached the bookshelf, her arm extending towards the desired book. The book shot out from its location on the shelf, smacking against her hand and landing on the floor with a dull thud. She stood frozen in place, her mind trying to grasp what just happened.

        "What the hell was that?!" a familiar voice called from her doorway. Twilight turned to see that her door was partially opened, and that Rainbow Dash's face was filling part of that gap.

        "R-Rainbow Dash...don't you know how to knock?"

        "If you don't want people coming in, you should lock the door," Dash replied, opening the door up and stepping into the room. She closed the door behind her.

        Normally, Twilight would have lectured her friend on the basics of common courtesy, as well as their necessity in a modern, polite society; however, this was not a normal night. Her gaze fell back to the book that was lying at her feet. She nudged it with her toe with no effect. "How do I even begin to explain this?" she muttered, looking to Dash as if she expected an answer.

        "Maybe it was a practical joke?" Dash suggested, turning to examine the bookshelf. She pulled out a few of the books surrounding the space where the physics text had been and then examined the area behind them. Sliding them back into place, she turned to face Twilight. "I don't see anything back there that could have caused that."        

        Twilight knelt down and picked up the text from the floor, holding it at arm's length and examining it. By all appearances it was just a normal book, with nothing to indicate that anyone had tampered with it. With a sigh, she walked over to her desk and sat the book down. "I would just chalk it up to a trick of the mind due to exhaustion, but you saw it too," she said, turning to look at Rainbow Dash. "Why did you come here, anyway?"

        Dash's eyes darted from the book to Twilight and back again several times before she seemed to process the question. "Oh, yeah, I came to give you an update on Pinkie. Her fever broke, and she seems to be back to normal--well, Pinkie Pie normal. She wasn't awake much, but when she was she didn't say anything about a pony world. Now, about that book..."

        With an aggravated sigh, Twilight picked up the book again and walked over to the bookshelf, replacing the tome. She suddenly found herself devoid of any desire to continue studying. "You know, I really don't even want to think about it. Whatever happened, I can't explain it."

        "That doesn't sound like you. Normally you aren't content until you have an answer," Dash replied, her face a mixture of confusion and concern. In response, Twilight pointed to one of the spiral notebooks that lay open on her desk, showing two pages completely full with writing.        

        "I have to have all of that done by the end of the weekend, and that doesn't even begin to cover my own personal studies that I hope to pursue during that time. I'll admit, I'm both intrigued and scared by what we saw this evening, but I really don't have the time to question it. Maybe it really was just a shared hallucination. I'm tired from studying, and I'm sure you're tired from caring for Pinkie Pie."

        The look on Dash's face indicated that she wasn't at all convinced with Twilight's explanation, but she decided to drop the subject. Twilight could be stubborn when she wanted to be, and there was little point in arguing with her when she was. "Well, if you're that busy, then I won't hold you up. I just wanted to let you know that Pinkie's okay," Dash replied, reaching for the doorknob. She paused as Twilight called out to her.

        "Hey Dash...thanks for taking care of Pinkie Pie. She might be weird, but she's still a good friend," Twilight said, a small smile spreading across her face.

        "No problem. Everyone knows they can always count on Dash!" Rainbow Dash puffed out her chest and jabbed her thumb at herself. She let out a small laugh and opened the dorm door, stepping outside. "Well, g'night Twilight!"

        Twilight waved back in response. "Good night, Rainbow Dash."

        Out in the hallway, Rainbow Dash pulled the door shut behind her and muttered, "I'll bet she spends the rest of the night studying that book."

****

After-chapter thoughts: I had way too much fun writing that Rarity rage scene. If I had any drawing ability whatsoever I would draw that scene in a heartbeat, just for my own amusement. "A Dog and Pony Show" is one of my favorite FiM episodes, so when the idea for that scene came to me, I just ran with it. Also, if you think my description of Steve's appearance and actions was over dramatized or overly harsh, then I really envy you. I went to high school with so many guys who looked and acted just like that, and I hated every moment of it.

Just to provide a heads up: chapter 5 may be a bit longer in coming, as I will be going to Florida for a week to celebrate my graduation from graduate school. I plan to take my laptop with me, but I really don't know how much writing I'll actually be able to get done. Thanks for continuing to read my work! I know this isn't the best story every (it most certainly isn't the best thing I've ever written), but I have fun writing it all the same, and I hope you have fun reading it! I could always use a pre-reader, as well. I try to catch errors myself, but I know that I’m not perfect, so if you’d be at all interested in pre-reading for me, feel free to let me know. As always, you will be able to find a more in-depth discussion of the chapter on my blog, if it interests you.