“I... I don’t know, Rainbow Dash.” Scootaloo shuffled her forehooves, the fur of one leg scritching nervously against the other. Her eyes looked off to the side, seeking escape.
“It’s not a big deal, squirt,” Rainbow Dash assured in smooth tones and with a winning smile. She even threw in a teasing eye-roll before locking back on her mark. “Tons of ponies do it. It’s one of the best-kept secrets, but all the greatest athletes got to where they are this way. I’d list off half the Wonderbolts’ roster just naming the ones I’m one hundred percent sure about.”
“Can’t I just train harder?” the filly pleaded.
Rainbow allowed her grin to fade into a sterner expression, while still keeping it open and understanding. She wasn’t the enemy; merely an educator. “Look kid, you wanted me to coach you to be the best you can be. And as your coach – and your big sister – I’m telling you: If you want to reach the next physical level, this is what you need to do.”
She once again extended a hoof, and in it – the product. The thing that could give Scootaloo the edge she needed. The thing that her parents and her school had warned her never to even touch, let alone partake of. To the filly, it was as if the offered hoof, despite its familiarity, were coated in infectious sludge, and she recoiled instinctively. Rainbow didn’t press any further, but neither did she retreat.
“Isn’t it illegal?” Scootaloo looked from side to side, jogging her memory. “I– I mean, isn’t it banned in official competitions?”
The older mare rolled her eyes again and gave a dismissive snort. “It’s not illegal. Nopony’s gonna throw you in a dungeon.”
“But, in competitions–”
“Only in some of the nationals. Maybe in a few places like Canterlot or Manehattan. But there’s nothing they can do to stop it. Long as you quit for forty-eight hours, there isn’t even a test that’ll peg you. You just use some for training, to give yourself more energy and build up stronger muscles. The day before the competition you eat plenty of oats and drink plenty of water, everything gets flushed out of your system, and you’re good to go. There’s no way for anypony to tell.”
The young filly had heard the warnings – the effects on a pony’s body could be devastating.
“But– but... it’s dangerous, isn’t it? It makes you sick.”
A touch of impatience was worming into Rainbow Dash’s demeanor. “I’ve been doing it for years. Do I look sick to you, kid?”
“N– no.” Scootaloo watched her hoof scrape weakly at the dirt. “You look great.”
“Exactly!” Watching her student-slash-little-sister practically tearing herself in two over this decision, the mare tossed her spectrum mane back, looked to the sky, and drew a deep, calming breath before trying again. Adjusting her approach slightly, she withdrew her foreleg and placed the current threat back in its brown paper package and out of sight.
“Okay. You’re right about one thing. We’re not talking about children’s chewable vitamins here. What we wanna do is change the way your body works. But that’s not a bad thing. You’ll get to be faster, grow bigger and stronger. Make yourself into a real sportsmare.” The corner of her lips turned up near-imperceptibly. “Maybe even get those wings of yours knocked up a couple of sizes.” She gave Scootaloo’s feathers a friendly poke.
At this, the little orange filly snapped out of her inner battle. “You mean... I could fly?!”
Rainbow began to smile in earnest once again, but stopped short of declaring victory. “I dunno. I can’t promise you that, squirt.”
Scootaloo’s ears drooped.
“But, I do know it’s your best chance. And I think you owe it to yourself to at least try. Life’s about pushing yourself harder and taking every chance you get.”
And just like that, the little pony was back inside herself, the war still waging.
If she gave in, it could put her in the hospital. It could even kill her. That’s what all the lessons and the lectures and the posters and the roleplays and the “Just say ‘No!’” campaign at school had taught her. She was playing with fire here. Ponies had died.
Croaked. Pushing up daisies. Worm food. All because they thought they could beat nature and fast-track themselves to ill-gotten victory.
But here was Rainbow Dash – her idol, her mentor – telling her the exact opposite.
“But...” the losing side made a desperate push, launching the last of its weapons. “But even if you’re right, what about all the toxic stuff they put in it? I mean, the ones who sell it – to make more money, they fill it with all sorts of junk that’s bad for you, don’t they?”
The adult mare was back in confidence mode, knowing that, whether the filly was aware of it or not, she’d already come to the right decision. She just needed to understand it.
“You’re talking about filler. Yeah, it happens – if your supplier’s some shady creep. You don’t have to worry about that. Gilda hooked me up with a guy years ago. I trust him. He only supplies top product. And the griffons know their stuff; heck, they invented it!”
Scootaloo bit her lip and said nothing.
“Besides, I wouldn’t ever give you something I wasn’t using myself. This stuff’s good; I guarantee it.” Rainbow looked at the poor filly still putting up a hollow front of resistance.
She sighed. “It’s your decision, squirt. I’m not going to force you to do anything. If you wanna play it safe... I can roll with that.” The emphasis was delivered with expert precision.
Scootaloo lifted her head, eyes fresh with determination.
Rainbow Dash unwrapped the brown paper.
That was it. The struggle inside her had come to a close. In reality, the outcome had been determined years before, when Scootaloo had first laid eyes on the pure marvel of athleticism, adventure, and attitude that was Rainbow Dash – and decided that she would do anything to be like her.
Despite her age, the filly was not blind to the truth. She knew that Rainbow Dash wasn’t perfect.
But ‘perfect’ didn’t mean the same as ‘awesome’.
And Scootaloo wanted to be awesome.
Her young hoof reached out, and received.
“So... what exactly is this called, again?” she asked as she brought the dark-red-and-white-mottled stick to her mouth, and took a determined first bite.