Rainbow Dash quietly sulks in the wheelchair you’re pushing as the two of you exit the hospital. You can practically feel her frustration and annoyance hanging in the air around you, and you can vaguely see that the backs of her ears are flushed with a light rosy glow. It might be the most irked you’ve ever seen the blue pony. You, on the other hand, are all smiles. Strangely enough, both of your moods stem from the same thing.
You see, Rainbow Dash is a rough-and-tumble kind of pony, but even she gets hurt sometimes. In a recent training accident, she ran face first into a tree somehow, and she’s adamantly refused to tell you how it happened. What you do know, though, is that she contacted you to come get her in the hospital after she’d gotten a bunch of stitches in her cheek, right below her eye. When you arrived and came into the hospital room, you’d instantly broken into a raging fit of laughter.
Because Rainbow Dash was wearing a cone over her head.
Now, as you wheel her out the front door, as protocol dictates, you’re grinning ear to ear and she’s glowering before you. And it’s definitely the best day ever.
“So,” you say brightly, “the doctors told me you need to have a meal before you take your pain meds, and that I need to watch you to make sure you don’t get too loopy or anything. And that you might need some help. So, anywhere you want to go to eat?”
“Home,” Dash grumbles. “I don’t want anypony seeing me like this.”
“Now now!” you say in a cheery, sing-song way. “You know I can’t follow you up onto that cloud, and you need to be looked after.”
You hear her groan, and assume she’s rolling her eyes.
“I’m fine,” she growls. “I can take care of myself!”
“That’s not what the doctor said!”
“What do they know?” she scoffs. “It’s just a little cut.”
“You know it’s more than that,” you say. “It’s a deep cut, and apparently your habit of pawing out your stitches makes you a huge risk of infection. So you’re stuck with me until it heals enough that you can take the cone off.”
She groans louder.
“Anon, I’m not going to scratch my stitches!”
“You and I both know that’s not true.”
“Know what? I’ve had enough of this,” she says, “I’m so outta here.”
You try to grab her, but she leaps out of the wheelchair nimbly, and easily rises into the air. With a few flaps of her wings, she’s way out of your reach.
“Get back here!” you snap at her.
She just sticks her tongue out at you and moves to fly away. She’s barely gone a few feet before a gust of wind picks up, and she lets out a sudden cry. The cone, like a beautiful sail, catches the breeze, and with a yelp, Dash tumbles backwards through the air. She careens back and forth, trying to keep equilibrium, as the cone clunkily directs her from one side to the other. You’d be concerned for her if the whole display wasn’t so damn funny. At last, with an exhausted cry of frustration, she half falls, half lands solidly on the ground. You try to stifle a snicker as she climbs up and dusts herself off.
“You done?” you say, a chuckle in your tone.
“Okay, so I can’t fly,” she grumbles, shooting you a glare. “Still doesn’t mean I need you to follow me everywhere.”
“Oh yeah?” you say, voice teasing. “Would you rather I call Twilight? I’m sure she has lots of experimental ways to help you get around, and I bet she can make a full nutritional and physical rehabilitation plan for you.”
Rainbow Dash continues to glare, but she shuts her mouth and lets out a sigh through her nose.
“Okay, good point,” she says. “But I’m not getting back in that chair.”
You hold up your hands off the wheelchair in a sign of defeat.
“Have it your way,” you say. “But we still have to get to a cafe or something to get you some food so you can take your medicine, okay?”
“Fine,” she snaps. “There’s a small one nearby here, the Hay Bale. But we go, we get some food quick, and then we leave, got it? Hopefully no one will even notice me.”
As it turns out, the cafe is particularly crowded today, and more ponies are lingering over their meals than expected. This is mostly happening because they have a source of entertainment around, namely Rainbow Dash. She sits across from you, looking around furtively, and occasionally glancing nervously back at you.
“Is everyone staring?” she half-whispers. “I can’t see out of the corners of my eyes with this thing on. So you gotta tell me.”
“No,” you lie. “No one’s looking.”
A foal two tables over points at Dash and lets out a soft giggle. Dash turns her head, and the cone dexterously knocks over her glass of water, all over the table. You catch the glass before it tumbles off the table, and Dash moans in embarrassment.
“Why couldn’t they have made this thing smaller!” she whines.
You use both her and your napkins to dab up the water spill across your table.
“Well, then you would have been able to mess with your stitches.”
“So what if I did?” she says bitterly. “Not like it matters, I’d heal anyway.”
As if to prove her point, she reaches up and paws with one hoof at the side of her cone, right where the large, angry stitches below her eye are.
“Don’t do that, you’ll irritate it,” you tell her.
“It’s my stitches, I’ll do what I want with them!”
“You’re not very good at letting yourself heal, are you?”
“Strong ponies don’t need ‘time to heal’” she says, doing a high nasal imitation of your voice. “We just tough it out until we get better.”
“I’m sure you’d say that right up until the moment gangrene set in.”
“Until what set in?”
“Never mind,” you say, waving her off. “The point is, you have to listen to the doctors who took care of you. They’re like… the wonder bolts of the medical world.”
She opens her mouth as if to retort, then shuts it again and thinks this over. As she does this, she subconsciously reaches up with a back hoof and scratches at the side of the cone. It makes a soft squeaking sound, like the noise it makes when you move a straw up and down in a fast food soda cup.
“Don’t,” you say firmly.
“Okay, I get it,” she snaps. “I’ll do what the doctors say. But I still want to just eat and get out of here.”
As if on cue, the waitress pony arrives with a tray of your food. For you, a hay burger with extra sauce, to try to get rid of that dry scratchy feeling these always give your throat. For her, a bowl of spicy chili. You’re pretty sure she ordered it just to seem more badass, trying to make up for her rather embarrassing appearance.
You reach down and take a big bite of the burger, swallowing it quickly before you can taste that earthy alfalfa flavor these usually have. Even then, it’s hard to get down. But before long, you’re distracted from your meal by the sound of grunting and clinking across the table from you. You look up to find Dash, carefully balancing a spoonful of chili in front of her. She reaches up to the edge of the cone, holds the spoon past it, then rotates it so it’s pointing into the dish. Then, she opens her mouth and reaches out futilely with her tongue to barely lap at the side of one bean. You clamp your mouth shut as hard as you can to keep from openly laughing. She looks like a giraffe during feeding time at the local zoo.
After a moment more of attempting to eat, she tries to take a hasty bite and lunges towards the spoon. It spills onto the inside of her cone and, even as she licks at it, whining, it slides off and then back down onto the table. At this point, she looks up at you pathetically, and quickly resumes her glare.
“Anon,” she says, trying to sound formal. “I think I may need… your help.”
She says the last word like it’s acidic.
“Why Dash,” you say, feigning ignorance. “Whatever do you mean?”
“I need you to…”
“Will you just come over her and help me eat?!” she at last nearly shouts at you.
Now you do let out a laugh, and as she sneers at you, you get up from your chair. Deftly, you scoot your chair around to her side of the table, and seat yourself shoulder to shoulder with her.
“What’s the magic word?”
“I will end you in your sleep.”
“Alright, alright, I get it,” you say with a good-natured shake of your head. “Just open up and say ahh.”
You lift a spoonful of chili and blow on it to cool it off. Then, you position it inside the cone and wait for Dash to open her mouth. She reluctantly looks away from you and opens her mouth with a small “ah.” You resist the urge to make airplane noises as you move the spoon into her mouth and allow her to close her lips around it and swallow the chili down. She glances up at you briefly, then away again as a blush of embarrassment covers her face.
“It tastes nice,” she grumbles.
You hear a soft cooing “aw” from a nearby table at the spectacle you two are making. To be honest, you’d be surprised if you’re not blushing a little yourself right now. The flustered look on Dash’s face, the ruffled fur fluffing out below the collar of the cone, and the little “ahm” noise she makes as she takes each spoonful from you is positively adorable. It’s making you feel warm in the middle of your chest in ways you never felt around your friend Rainbow Dash before, and oddly protective. Maybe it’s some latent fathering instinct in you. At least, you hope that’s all it is.
As you move each spoonful to her mouth, this feels more and more natural somehow. She begins to eat less awkwardly, and begins to open her mouth more eagerly as you move toward her. She even almost, almost smiles once as you give her a bite with extra grated cheese on the top. Before long, the bowl of chili is nearly empty.
“Last one,” you warn her.
She looks almost disappointed.
“I’l have to come back here and have more sometime,” she says. “It’s pretty good! You know… after I get this stupid thing off my head.”
You place the spoon in her mouth one final time, and she makes a little “mmh” sound as she swallows. The sound of it is enough to make you feel like there’s actual sugar water in your veins.
“A-anyway,” you stutter out as you reach into your side pocket. “You’ve eaten now, so it’s time to take your meds.”
Rainbow Dash looks at you, then at the bottle of pills you’re opening, then back at you.
“Uh, no thanks,” she says. “I’ll let my body heal on its own.”
“You said you’d listen to the doctors,” you remind her.
“Yeah, with everything else. I don’t need any pills.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Anon, cut it out, I’m not gonna take those!”
You sense that Dash is about to become a flight risk, and you quickly jump to your feet. She lets out a little yelp, and spreads her wings. She may not be able to fly away, but you’re pretty sure she can at least use those wings to get a good running head start, and even then she’s faster than you can manage.
You make a lunge at her as she turns to run, and catch her by one of her retreating back legs. She gives a cry of surprise and frustration as you haul her back towards you with a grunt. Between her flailing limbs and the swaying cone around her neck, chairs go flying, your burger tumbles off the table, and Dash’s water once again sprays across the table and ground. Ponies all around you stare on as you wrestle dash into your arms and use your teeth to open the bottle of pills. She shouts in protest, but you reach into the cone and grab her under her mane by the scruff of her neck.
“Anon, DON’T YOU DARE!”
“You have to take your damn medicine you stupid horse!” you shout at her.
You drop the bottle of pills to the ground, having grabbed one. It too spills over the ground, but that’s another problem for another time. You use your fingers to pry her mouth open from the side, and as she tries to give another cry, you shoot the pill as far back towards her throat as you can manage. With both hands, you clamp her mouth shut and hold it tightly. Instantly, Dash begins to squeal and thrash against your body. You try to use your legs, your elbows, anything to keep her from wiggling, but it’s a losing battle. The two of you roll across the ground, but you refuse to release her muzzle. No, not until she’s taken these pills!
All at once, she goes very still, and you can feel her panting. Her eyes go wide, and dilate, like she’s just experienced a horrible trauma. You take one hand and quickly, aggressively rub her throat in a downward motion, trying to make sure she swallows. You wouldn’t put it past her to pretend she’s taken it, only to spit it into your face once you release her. You feel her throat move upwards, then down as she swallows hard, and you let out a sigh of relief as you let go of her mouth. She opens her lips slightly, breathing hard, and you luckily see that there’s no pill left lingering under her tongue or against her gums. She slowly turns her head and looks up at you, her expression one of betrayal.
“See, no sweat,” you say to her between heavy breaths. “Just have to do that…”
You glance at the pill bottle, and your face goes pale.
“…twice a day.”
You approach your small cottage with a semi-conscious Dash slung over one of your shoulders. She’s mumbling something, as she has been for the last half hour or so as you payed for your meals and the damage, before walking towards home. The painkiller seems to have set in quickly, and it’s punched her pretty hard. You can see why the doctors wanted someone to keep an eye on her after taking it.
“Puddle fums,” she says right into your ear, her words heavily slurred.
“Mulderfers an ig gonders.”
“You don’t say.”
You’re pretty sure she has no idea you don’t understand what she’s saying, but she seems calmer as long as you keep talking back to her. You can feel her limbs going more and more slack over your shoulder and neck, and you try not to think about how your arms are gently cupped around her more than ample rear. You’re pretty sure you haven’t stopped blushing since you left the cafe.
You adjust to hold Dash against your hip as you pull out your keys and unlock the door. You carefully duck inside, taking precautions so that you don’t bump her on the frame. She gives a soft whisper as you move, like she preferred to be set in your arms more firmly. Maybe she liked the way you were holding her close against your chest. Or maybe she’s just high off her rocker, it’s hard to tell.
You head to the bedroom and pour more than set her into your bed. She gives a soft groan as she curls into a little ball, her hood pressing sideways so that her ears look all out of sorts. The cone also points slightly up now, like a weird satellite dish, but it frames her face in a way that makes the rest of her body look extra tiny. Yeah, there’s absolutely no denying that she’s super cute like this, and you stifle a “daw” as you pull up the comforter and gently tuck it in around her mostly-sleeping form. You even have an impulse to reach down and kiss her on her forehead, but you instead opt for a gentle pat right between her ears. Even then, it’s hard not to notice how absolutely soft her scruffy-looking mane is.
You turn to go, but before you’ve taken more than a step, you hear a soft, grumbling noise from Dash, and turn to look over your shoulder. Even though her eyes are shut, she’s smiling widely.
“Night night mommy,” she mumbles, surprisingly clearly.
“I’m not your mommy.”
Her smile never wavers.
“Oh,” she says. “Okay daddy.”
“Not daddy either.”
“Oh. Okay grampa.”
“I’m not… you know what, okay, sure. I’m grampa.”
“Can I have a kiss goodnight? I’ll sleep better.”
You hesitate, but let out a sigh. Well, if it helps the blasted little thing sleep better, there’s no harm in it. You walk back to the bed, lean down, and quickly brush your lips across her cheek. She makes a warm, happy noise, like she’s just taken the first big drink from a mug of hot cocoa. Her body seems to rest, and her shoulders rise and fall more evenly, as if she’s drifting off to dreamland more quickly.
You quietly step back, and sneak your way towards the bedroom door. Just as you reach it, you hear the sound of her stirring again, and a soft voice breaks through the silence.
“Thans for takin care of me.”
You let the words soak in, and they warm you from the inside out more than any hot cocoa could ever do. You can’t help but smile at the small, curled, coned form on your bed.
“You’re welcome,” you say gently. “Just… please try to remember that gratitude when I have to give you your next round of pills.”
“Nothing, nothing, you rest up,” you say with a grin, as you step out of the room and begin to shut the door behind you. You pause for just a moment though, feeling compelled to ask.
“How did you hurt your face?”
You hear a little drunk-sounding laugh from the bed at your question.
“I was chasin a squirrel.”
“It wa cute and I wanted ta catch it.”
Now you have to work all of your muscles to stop yourself from openly laughing at her. You never would have picked Dash for a pony who enjoyed cute little animals, that seems much more like Fluttershy. Even then, she seems to sense your amusement in your barely-maintained silence. She gives a little pouty whine.
“I like cute things,” she says, sounding vaguely offended, “Just don tell anypony. Got a reputation 'n stuff.”
“It’s okay,” you say, cracking a smile. “I won’t tell anyone, cross my heart. Goodnight.”
“Nighty night,” she says dreamily.
And then you hear her give a heavy sigh of relief, and she goes quiet. You stare at her form in your bed, still feeling that warmth permeating your body from the sound of her words. Your arms feel a little empty without her collapsed into them, across your shoulder, and you’re pretty sure you’ve memorized the look on her face and the sounds she made as you were feeding her. You've never seen her like this before, and you know you'll never forget it. As you turn out the lights and start to shut the door behind you, you whisper into the darkness.
“You’re not the only one who likes cute things, you know.”
She doesn’t answer, and you close the bedroom door to leave her to her rest.