Forty seven days passed.
Nineteen times she lost.
Nineteen times her sentence was extended by another day.
That last day of her sentence forever remained a day away.
She had actually considered the prospect of never winning ever again. To her surprise she was really cool with it. Some part of her, a Dash from a past life, screamed in abject horror; She must have gone well and truly mad! There can't be anything that Rainbow Winning Dash loves more than winning!
It might be the loving groomings and belly rubs. It might be the laughs and chuckles over the pop rock shakes. It might even be all time she wasted doing all those chores with him. Whatever it was, it felt like winning all the time. And she never needed to win anything else ever again as long as...as long as this could go on forever and ever.
And Rainbow would do anything to make it so.
The moon shook its moonbeams vindictively at the speeding rainbow bullet as once again it beat the mighty regolith to the horizon. The sun had long since given up trying to rise earlier than the laziest pony in Equestria. Their daily losses had lost them a fortune in a series of poorly-planned bets to the heartless Princess of Love and the merciless Princess of Friendship.
The sun fumed as it reached the little grove housing
Marshal’s cottage the Ponyville dungeon just seconds behind the blue comet. The little whirlwind snapped up the newspaper and emptied the mailbox as she zoomed across the vineyard leading up to the door before slowing to a hovering landing on the porch. She rummaged in her saddlebags with her muzzle and pulled out a brass key hanging on a locket keychain. She was perhaps the one and only prisoner in the history of the universe who legitimately owned the key to her own dungeon.
The inside of the house was still dark but she had long since become able to walk its entire length and breadth with her eyes closed. Thankfully she knew Marshal always thoughtfully left a fully-fueled oil lamp by the door for her. Oil lamp in one wing, she stopped by the fireplace to drop a fresh log in the dying embers. With a gentle flap of her free wing she quickly nursed a merry little flame. Satisfied that her fire was crackling merrily, she trotted off to the kitchen to drop off the mail, newspaper and fresh groceries in her saddlebags. Stopping only to tie off her mane in a practical ponytail, she quickly got to work.
It wasn’t long before the kitchen was bustling with activity. With practice and a lot of help from Bon Bon, she had graduated from cereal and toast to pancakes and waffles. Sure, Marshal would still tease her that her pancakes looked a lot like hearts (“T-th-they came out l-like that, i-i-idiot!”), but she had come a long way from setting off the kitchen alarm by proximity alone. She gave a satisfied little sigh as she lay on a carpet in front of the oven, watching the breakfast muffins slowly rise within. It was one of his favourites, one of the many new things she had learned about the funny human in the past nineteen days.
Tree Hugger had taught her the finer points of tea-making. Rainbow had always been a coffee pony, but she had quickly come to enjoy tea, especially when a perfectly brewed pot gave Marshal that at-home smile. The tea set and the basket of muffins made for the perfect centerpiece to the table she carefully set out, an art she learned from the Cakes. She gave the table a critical look. Yep, it was totally starting to look like home. An awesome one, that is.
With everything prepared to perfection, she gave a frustrated huff as she realized she had run out of excuses to put off the inevitable. Her trepidation only grew with every step closer to his bedroom door. She took a slow deep breath, steeling herself as she nosed the door open.
She half-expected to see the burrow hole beyond.
To her relief the door opened to reveal the familiar bedroom and the curled up form of Marshal under his blanket. Everything was exactly as she had left it last night, even the five alarm clocks she had set up on his dresser.
She held her breath as she crept across the soft carpet floor, her heart silently asking the same question she asked herself each and every day. ‘Will he still wake up today?’ She always anticipated the answer with both hope and fear.
It was fear that struck her that day. Her breath caught. Her heart froze. His form – it was missing the rise and fall of a breathing, living being. “M-Marshal!” She cried, rushing up to his side. She hooked her forehooves over the bed’s edge before giving the blanketed form a fierce headbutt. “W-w-wake up! Ya gotta wake up! Hay!”
“Gotcha, thunderbutt!” A pair of hands suddenly lashed out from the darkness beneath the bed, lashing themselves around her barrel. She gave a loud squeak of surprise as she was suddenly pulled underneath the bed, straight into the inescapable clutches of the prison warden himself. “Heh, finally found the hug pillow I was looking for. I was looking all over….huh?” The warden’s chuckle died away as he felt the little pony quivering in his hold. “Rainbow, uh, sorry, I just wanted to surprise you with a prank, honest. I didn’t mean….Are you okay?” He asked, worriedly. He bit his lip, hesitantly raising a hand up to comfortingly stroke her mane. “Hey, Rainbow? Speak to me, please?” He pleaded, softly.
“Y-you’re a-awake!” She sobbed, half-relieved, half-furious, as she buried her face in his chest. “I-I thought….I thought…” Her forehooves clutched onto the folds of his pajamas like her life depended on it. “Mars! You idiot! You loser! You totally un-radical lame-o!” She punctuated her angry cries with thump after thump of her soft little hoofsies on his chest. Her cries slowly faded away together with the strength in her hooves. She finally flopped down against his chest, sniffling quietly in exhaustion.
Marshal said nothing, instead gently running his fingers through her mane soothingly. Rainbow didn’t even have anymore energy to be indignant, instead allowing him to lull away what remained of her sobs. But her anger would not be calmed, she swore it. She was so angry at him for being such a tease, she was angry at him for being so easy to forgive, she was angry at him for….for making her worry he’d disappear the moment she took her eyes away from him.
She had no idea how much time passed. They remained like that for what felt like eternity, with her sniffling softly and him holding her tight. She finally allowed herself to stir when she felt a strange sensation on her forehooves. It felt, soft, warm, incredibly comfortable...and wet? Her ears twitched curiously as she slowly unburied her eyes from his pajama top. She felt a sudden blush bloom on her face as she discovered what it was - it was Marshal, soothingly kissing her the fur of hoofsies. “W-w-w-what the buck are you doing?” She barely managed to bluster.
“You’ve got a few burns on your hooves.” He said, flatly. “I am a leftover conduit of creation. I transmit the very energy that first created the universe through my lips and tongue.”
“You're really trying hard to sell those horseapples these days.” Rainbow muttered, her blush turning two or three shades deeper. She hadn’t even noticed the burns in her bustle to get everything ready. How does he always notice small things like that?
“Well, you're the one pony who saw through my one bullshit that mattered.” He shrugged in between gently blowing on her burns. “I told you you don’t have to cook for me.” He peered disapprovingly at her over the tips of her hoofsies.
“B-But you cook dinner every day.” Rainbow huffed, looking away.
“But I can cook without making everything heart-shaped.” He grinned his trademark shit-eating grin.
“T-They’re not h-heart-shaped!” Rainbow pouted. “T-they were meant to be, y’know, ‘homes’.” She added, quietly.
It was Marshal’s turn to glow red in the dark. “O-oh, uh, th-thanks, I guess.” He joined her in their newfound sport – competitive eye-avoiding. “Uh, wait a sec, I think I keep the burn cream in the first aid box.” He suddenly blurted out, reaching out for his nightstand for something, anything to end the awkwardness.
“W-wait.” Rainbow squeaked.
“Wait for what?” Marshal frowned.
“I...um…” Rainbow turned the cheery colour of a tomato struggling for self-expression. “I...I think they’re a-already healing with….with whatever it is y-you’re d-doing.” She blurted out.
She gave a sheepish little pony squee as Marshal’s puzzled look melted into a wide, mischievous grin. “Then we should make doubly sure they’re healed. Triply even.”
That was another thing she was angry at him for – she simply couldn’t stay angry at him for long.
The alarm clocks eventually went off as one. They were left ignored. Time did not exist in that little world underneath the bed.
“That was amazing.” Marshal sighed contentedly. “Why are you so amazing, Rainbow?”
“Sorry, the stupid questions office is closed at the moment.” Rainbow shared in his sigh of satisfaction. She didn’t feel like arguing. Her breakfast muffins were pretty awesome. Eating them together on the couch in front of his fireplace somehow made it all that more awesome.
He decided to echo her sigh, just a touch louder.
She frowned a little as she let out an even louder, firmer sigh.
He replied with the very sigh of the meteor that ended the age of the dinosaurs.
She took a long, deep breath before giving a sigh that could have qualified her for the alicorn of sighs.
They sighed together in unison, creating the very sigh that could have solved the meaning of life itself. Except it was ruined by a simultaneous burp. This was quickly followed by yet another of their spontaneous gales of laughter. They laughed and laughed until they finally slumped weakly against each other, gasping for dear life.
They settled there for a while in the afterglow of their mirth, listening to the merry crackling of the fire. “Hey, Rainbow?” He finally said, slowly.
“Yep, that’s me,” Rainbow replied, “You realize that’s a really lame way to start a conversation, right?”
“Yep, you’re Rainbow alright. Gotta check, y’know,” he chuckled, “Uh, I guess I just wanted to say…” He started, strangely awkward. Rainbow’s ears perked up, sensing he had something important he wanted to bring up. “Well, I’m ready to listen whenever you’re ready to talk about it.”
Rainbow’s heart froze. The rest of her body must have done the same as she felt Marshal suddenly shift against her. “U-uh, w-what a-about?” She faltered at his raised eyebrow.
“Filly, I invented bullshit.” Marshal said, flatly.
She sighed in defeat. There was no dodging when she had been that obvious about it. “Y-you noticed, h-huh?” She gave a sheepish little pony squee.
“Well, I’ve noticed the bags under your eyes for a while now. It’s hard to miss you falling asleep on the job as well. Something’s eating you, Rainbow. And whatever it is, it’s probably got a killer stomach ache.” He earned himself a playful jab in the shoulder for that. “What’s worrying you?” He asked, giving her an earnest look of concern.
‘Every time I close my eyes I dream of you going and leaving me behind.’
‘But more than that, I’m scared that if I close my eyes, you’ll leave me for real.’
She opened her mouth to reply. But for some reason the words were buried under the leaden weight in her heart. The only thing that made it were her tears. She shook herself, willing the answer to come out. But all she managed was a soft whimper.
“Hey, it’s okay. There’s no rush,” he whispered, his gentle caress lulling her tears in that special way only he could do. “Let’s sort it out one thing at a time. You haven’t slept in a while, have you?”
“I-I did, I…” Rainbow began.
“I mean proper sleep. Not dozing off and planting your face on the condom practice models in the middle of Cheerilee’s sex ed class.” He pointed out, deadpan. “My point exactly.” He nodded at the sudden blush on Rainbow’s cheeks.
“But...I-I dun wanna sleep.” Rainbow mumbled.
“Tell you what,” He grinned a mischievous little grin, “Today’s challenge is staying awake. You snooze, you loose.”
“What?! That’s not fair!” Rainbow cried in protest at his blatantly dick move. She only had one day left on her sentence. She can’t afford to win even a single challenge! And he knew it, the smug lame-o!
“What? You don’t wanna sleep, right? It’d be an easy win.” He said with a triumphant smile. “In fact, I’m feeling reeaaaaaal sleepy now after all that awesome chow.” Marshal let out a long, exaggerated yawn. “Y’know what? I’m really feelin’ the siesta now. Wake me up when it’s poprock shakes time...”
“Wait! I-I’ll…” Rainbow grit her teeth as she glared up at him angrily. “Fine, I’ll do it.” She finally bowed her head in defeat, giving in with a sigh. “I’ll take a little nap, okay?”
“Hey, don’t look so glum about it.” She felt his hand gently rub her withers. “I’m actually a Tantabus crafted by Starswirl himself. But I broke out of his dreams one day by distracting him with a particularly hot wet dream involving a couple of sirens, a chicken and a soup ladle. Being a creature of dreams, my hand has the power to craft the best snoozes by touch alone and…”
“Okay, okay, I get the it.” Rainbow gave an exasperated sigh. “Use your freaky tantabus touch thingy. Just...just promise me you won’t let me go.” She said, placing her forehoof in his palm. “I mean, seriously, if you’re not there when I wake up, I’m gonna make you eat that sleigh for breakfast tomorrow. I’m gonna check, I swear.”
“Promise.” He grinned, grasping her forehoof in his hand before wrapping a bright red cloth ribbon around both. For some reason the ribbon tying her forehooves reminded her of the day they first met, the day he introduced himself by arresting her.
“Hay, what gives?” She huffed. She still put a hoof down on the knot to help him tie it, however.
“Hey, I can't have you getting away from me now, can I?” He chuckled, echoing his words from that day. “See? It’ll take a crowbar the size of a hydra to pry us apart.” He said, demonstrating the strength of knot.
“T-that’s totally unnecessary.” She muttered, aiming her blush at anything but him. “And no weird wet dream things,” she quickly added.
“Well, that’ll involve tying the Element of Modesty around the ribbon, but…” Marshal waved a familiar pair of underpants.
“O-okay, maybe a bit of the wet dream thing. But not too much,” Rainbow conceded with an exasperated sigh as she flopped back against his shoulder. She gave the knot around her forehoof one last experimental tug. Happy that it would certainly take a hydra-sized crowbar to tear them apart, she settled down as Marshal pulled a blanket over them both. “Hay, Mars? You’re really gonna be there when I get up, right?”
“I will,” he smiled, curling an arm around her withers in a gentle hug, “Promise.”