• Published 12th Jul 2011
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On Feathered Wings - Tarath

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Chapter 4


The panic in Applejack's voice disturbed her the most. Dropping the large pile of severed tree limbs by simply cutting the magic that flowed from her horn, Twilight turned and immediately dashed up and over the thick trunks of trees in mad gallop to an open area some fifty yards away from where she'd been searching. Coming up upon her apple gathering friend that was currently desperately digging into a pile of debris. A pile of debris with a single outstretched wing smeared with blood and tufts of missing feathers.

The unicorn froze in place, staring at the broken wing in stunned horror.

“Oh Celestia.. no..”

Applejack rounded on her at the sound of her voice, her pupils like dots in her tear filled eyes-- a look that would sear into Twilight's mind forever.

“D-Don't just stand there Twi-- Do something!”

The shock faded, and with a flare of her horn the top layer of limbs that were too heavy for Applejack to kick away on her own glowed that magical hue and lifted up quickly but carefully-- then tossed themselves feet away to expose more of the pegasus beneath them. Twilight had to move closer, skidding in beside AJ, who still dug around the mud encrusted, motionless body of their shared friend.

“D-Darnit n-no! No NO NO! Rainbow!” Her hooves shook the blue maned pony, Applejack's screams ringing into the otherwise silent wasteland.

Twilight had to do something. “Let me get her out!”

She had tried to keep herself calm, but her voice betrayed her as she wrapped her forelegs around the panicking and sobbing Applejack-- forcefully pushing her away. Inadvertently sending her falling back upon her flank, skidding down into a small pile of leaves and timber with nothing more than an interrupted sob of misery.

“O-Oh god..” Applejack just looked up at her, her face mirroring some sort of look of complete disbelief.

Twilight couldn't focus on that now. Or even apologize. Her attention spun back to Rainbow-- who was still half buried under wreckage-- propped upon her side with her one injured wing sticking nearly straight into the air. Held in place by.. by..

“Applejack..” She muttered, unable to look away.. “G-Go to Ponyville. Get Nurse Redheart or Tenderheart. Make sure they bring a unicorn doctor.” A sweep of her horn scattered away more debris, causing Rainbow's body to shift in the slightest. Her wing, bent at an... awkward angle, fell against her flank with a wet slap.

“I-Is.. Is she--”

“GO. Now!” Twilight screamed. She didn't mean to. She just did.

Applejack recoiled, her breath catching in her throat-- but she skidded back, crawling away from the pair before spinning around, kicking timber and dirt behind her as she took to her hooves and galloped faster than she ever had before back towards the farm. Back towards Ponyville.

Twilight was alone now. Alone with Rainbow Dash.

“R-Rainbow...?”

She knelt besides her broken friend, examining her closer in the pale light of the mood. Her coat was marred with mud, nearly from her head to her hooves, and her mane and tail had lost most all their color. Matted with dirt. Her face was laying against the ground-- pushed into the mud. Twilight felt sick-- but her horn flared and she gently cupped Rainbow's cheek as gently as she could. Lifting her face from the dirty muck.

Her eyes were closed. A dark mark was across the top of her muzzle, up beneath where her normally bright bangs hung over her face-- and something other than mud smeared itself down across her cheek. But there was more coming from her mouth. A dark black in this unnatural moonlight, setting itself apart from the dirt.

Rainbow didn't move on her own accord during any of this.. and for a moment, Twilight didn't think she was breathing.

Not like this Rainbow Dash. Don't let it be like this.

She moved till she was nearly right atop her friend, lowering her horn and sweeping it across her body in a lazy arch-- sending the wall of her magic coursing through her body in a single motion that flowed from her head to her flanks and back again. She stopped on her chest, focusing with intent. Listening and waiting.

There was a soft tha-thump. Weak, faint, and nearly inaudible. But with a sudden rush of relief, Twilight realized that-- somehow-- her friend was still alive.

“Hang in there sweetie..” She brushed Rainbow's face with the will of her magic-- even as she swung her horn down her body. Examining what lay beneath the surface.

Her lungs were inactive. One was filled with what Twilight could only assume was blood. The other..

“O-Oh my god Rainbow.” She focused, pulling her friend as carefully as she could up from the bed of wood she lay upon-- using her magic to grasp the thick branch that was stuck.. stuck between her ribs..

Swiftly, as carefully as she could manage, it was removed. Rainbow's heart skipped a beat-- Twilight felt the slightest twitch. Nothing else happened.

She ran her magical aura down her body once again. Looking for anything else. Nothing but surface wounds. Her underside was bleeding heavily, but what was endangering her more was on the inside. As nasty as things looked on the outer layer. Particularly with her wings..

“Rainbow..” She muttered, looking up to her friend's face. She looked like she was merely sleeping. Her mouth only parted. But oozing blood.

But Twilight couldn't lose herself on these things. She had to remain analytical. To keep her calm. To not lose herself to the pulls of her heart to just scream and beg for Rainbow to return, good as new. It all rested on her shoulders. She would do this.

Twilight focused, staring deeply into her friend.. “Dash.. I want you to stay with me now.”

She prayed silently that, in whatever state Rainbow was in, she could hear her thoughts. That their spell was still between them. A moment later, the briefest flicker of activity fluttered across Twilight's subconscious. Rainbow acknowledged her, whether she knew it or not.

“That'a girl Rainbow.. You hang on to my voice, you hear me?”

Her eyes fell back upon her chest, and her magic centered on it again-- fishing for her lungs. Encasing the one that had sustained the most damage. She felt it's perimeter. The ruptured and torn muscle.

Twilight's knowledge of healing arts were limited. She'd practiced on hurt animals before, in the royal gardens in Canterlot. When she got old enough and more experienced, she occasionally helped the rare injured foal that had fallen and scuffed a leg, or suffered a bruising from a bit of rough play. Never once had she gone this far-- or ever had to. She tried to remember the lessons Celestia had tutored her in. Telling her she hoped she never had face a situation in which these abilities would have to be used.

With a deep breath, Twilight began to case her magical spell. Her eyes shut, but she focused her sight through her magic. She watched through her mind's eye as her aura encased the organ within her friend's body. Forming a perfect cast in which to give Twilight an image of what she was working with. The damage was severe-- too severe for Twilight to reasonably fix before that faint heartbeat would beat it's last. She flowed her magic to the other, feeling it for damage. There was bruising-- and the lung was full of exactly what Twilight expected-- but it was a more reasonable fix.

She swallowed, pushing her magic through the thin walls and 'gripped' the fluid within. With a grimace, she did exactly what she had to do.

Rainbow's body shifted almost unnoticably as a trickle of thick crimson red poured from her mouth. Twilight couldn't see it, but she shuddered at the sound alone. It made her want to wrench-- and she was almost positive that the only reason she would not was the solid knot that had formed in her chest.

“Th-There we go..”

The lung drained, Twilight returned to it's lining-- feeling the bruised and battered walls until she was sure she'd found the bleeding. Her magic seeped into the tissue, and with a rush of power she felt the muscle respond. Warmth flooded through Rainbow's chest, and the dullest of glows radiated from under her blue fur as Twilight knitted her lung as best she knew how.

By the time she was finished, she nearly tottered over-- only catching herself by closing her mind's eye and opening her real ones. She looked down to see the glow fade, and turned her gaze to the pegasus' face.

Rainbow still wasn't breathing.

“Breath for me.”

There wasn't an answer. Just the feeling of something beneath the surface. It seemed to only acknowledge her presence. But for Twilight, that seemed like all she could expect of her, giving the circumstances. Rainbow wasn't there. At least not in whole.

But the soft beat of her heart had grown dimmer. There were more abnormal beats. Weak and faded, and Twilight's own heart responded by beating it's hardest in her life right within her own chest.

“Dash, don't you dare. Not now.”

She looked down, her magic searing through her horn and back into her filly friend's chest-- searching for her repaired lung. She seized upon it's functions with magic, feeling herself drained almost instantly. It took a lot just to control this one thing on a pony. Even she had her limits, she realized.

She -made- Rainbow Dash take a breath. Expanding the lung and forcing the unconscious filly to suck in air past her blood filled mouth. Rainbow made a sick noise, and Twilight winced in mental agony. The exhale was no better.

Still, her friend did not react. The heartbeats began to dwindle.

“Dash..”

Dash's spark was fading. That magical signature that represented life. Twilight watched as it flickered like a candle's flame in the breeze.

“Stay -with- me..”

The fluttered motions of her mind slowly stopped as well. It only pushed against her voice for a moment more before it, too, flickered.

Then Rainbow's heart stopped beating.

“Bucking hay Dash, no!”

Twilight leaped over her friend, her hooves all four spreading out till she was hovering over her whole crumpled body. There wasn't time to be subtle about it-- she pulled the lifeless pegasus over so she rolled upon her back. Upon those broken wings. Her head limply turning towards the sky.

“Come back!” She screamed it, both in her head and out loud-- her horn bursting with light as she flooded her with everything her magical abilities could give.

No longer did she focus on her lungs or her heart, she touched and melded into everything she could find. The tendrils of her being coiled around Dash's spine, seizing upon the shattered vertebrae and nerves that would've left her friend paralyzed for life. Her essence flowed through the puncture between her rib-- encasing the wound with an insulating casting that connected destroyed and ripped muscle and skin. The warm aura encircled that heart. That wonderful heart, which lay motionless within her chest-- slowly losing it's warmth.

Twilight Sparkle poured her all into this. She filled Rainbow with every fiber of her magic until her mind's eye simply reflected a brilliant shape of her friend back to her-- flowing with light and power that surprised even Twilight during her panic and desperation. She did not fear for herself. Of crossing her limit. Loyalty meant something to Dash. It meant something to Twilight too.

With only last breath, she cast her spell, and the light that burst from her horn could be seen from Sweet Apple Acres all the way across the hills halfway to Ponyville.

•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

Applejack didn't slow even as her lungs burned and felt like they would burst within her body. She kept moving, her hooves beating against the battered earth as she left the road and passed through the gate of her former farm-- the trio of ponies behind her panting for breath. They crossed the house, where Apple Bloom was sat upon their front porch, watching with wide and painfully confused eyes as her big sister ran past with the nurse sisters and Docter Lighthorn behind her.

Even Big Macintosh, torn from his shock by the flash of light just minutes prior, turned and watched in confusion as they sprinted off across the remains of his farm. After a moment, he followed. Apple Bloom did not.

AJ was almost afraid she would be lost in this featureless range-- scampering as she was over logs and torn up earth. But above them the moon began to wane. It drifted across the sky faster than natural. It even faded in distance, moving back to give way to the coming of the sun. A second dawn.

Before the morning sky would even part the hills surrounding them, Applejack crested the mound of debris where her friends should be-- but what she found shocked her. The three other ponies stumbled to a stop next to her as well, eyes scanning around until they too found what Applejack's eyes were frozen on.

In the small pit of dug out timber laid the love of Applejack's eye-- upon her back with her wings blooded and marred beneath her like torn feathered blankets. Her front was covered in drying blood, but her chest rose and fell in strong, but struggling gasps for breath. Next to her lay Twilight Sparkle. Flopped upon her side like she'd just... keeled over. Unmoving.

Before Applejack could even react, the two nurses and the one doctor leaped into action. Moving swiftly to the two downed ponies. Even as they surrounded them, AJ just stood there. Unsure what had happened-- unmoving as even her brother stepped up beside her. Visibly shaken at the sight.

“Applejack..” He muttered, his eyes regaining their life as the sun finally shined upon them. “What did Twilight do?”

AJ didn't know. How could she? She watched as Lighthorn flashed a stretcher in from out of nowhere-- his assistant, Nurse Redheart, tenderly cupping Rainbow's head in her hooves. Checking her vitals with careful tenderness. The smile that blossomed across her face made Applejack's breath catch in her throat-- a shaky sob rocking her shoulders.

“S-She saved her.”

She watched as Nurse Tenderheart did the same to the unconcios unicorn. Who, besides from looking dirty and soaking wet, looked like she was sleeping as peaceful as anypony would be. Cradled in the earth pony's lap.

“She saved Rainbow Dash.”

•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

“Oh my goodness-- Applejack!”

Applejack's eyes opened, her head snapping up from where she had dozed off to find Rarity upon her in an instant-- squeezing her in a tight hug that almost forced the air from her already sore lungs. Behind the unicorn stood the ever cheerful looking pony Pinkie Pie, and the smiling and just as happy looking Fluttershy.

“Girls..” AJ could feel the happiness bubble up inside her as well, seeing her friends all safe and sound. She didn't fight the smile that spread across her face as she returned the hug from Rarity ten fold. Squeezing that prissy uppity unicorn tight. “I can't tell y'all how glad I am to see ya..”

“We came as soon as we heard you and the others were here. The whole -town- is in a panic!” Rarity wheezed. “A-Almost everypony is gathered in the square, waiting on official word from the mayor.”

“Everypony except us, that is.” Pinkie Pie bounced over, taking over for Rarity the moment she finally pulled away. Actually returning the force of Applejack's hug. “Not like we'd leave you three sitting here all my yourselves!”

Applejack laughed. She never thought she'd be so happy to hear Pinkie Pie's voice again in her life.

“O-Oh Applejack..” Fluttershy stepped up, looking at her with those worried and caring eyes she always did. “Your head..”

AJ's eyes glanced up as if to look at her own forehead-- where a sizable bandage covered the scratch from earlier. “Sugarcube, this ain't a thing. It'd take much more than a little bump on the noggin' to do anything to this pony.”

Pinkie Pie giggled happily, “I'd say! This is Applejack we're talking about here, remember?”

Rarity smiled along with them, “Well, she most certainly has a hard head. That's nothing new.”

On other occasions Applejack would've been slightly insulted. For now, though, she just laughed. Leaning back into her seat. “I'm just glad to see everypony's okay.”

Fluttershy spoke up again, her smile never truly having returned. “But not Twilight and Rainbow.. right?”

“Oh.. Yes.. Are they still being seen to darling?”

“Yeah, where's Dashie? I need to know about that Sonic Rainboom she pulled off today!”

Applejack's eyes drifted to the side, towards the hallway leading further into the hospital. Where her friends were, no doubt.

“Twilight's alright. Sleepin', somethin' like a magical coma-- so the doctor says. S'what happens when--”

“Unicorns overuse their magic.” Rarity finished, breathing a sigh of relief. “Nothing serious-- except for cases with old mares. A unicorn of Twilight's caliber should be up and around in a few short hours!”

Applejack nodded.. still averting her gaze.

“Rainbow... Rainbow's pretty bad.”

She couldn't bring herself to look upon any of them right then. She could hear enough to know that Fluttershy had gasped-- and Pinkie Pie's smile cracked into a shocked expression of un-Pinkie-ness that would chill anypony's heart. Rarity was the only one that stayed composed.

“Is it.. life threatening?”

AJ blinked, twisting in her chair. Finally looking back at her friends. “I don't see how it couldn't be, sugarcube.. I don't rightly know what's happenin' back there. Twilight did somethin' after we found her. Big Macintosh said that a flash of light like you wouldn't believe shot up from the middle of the orchard just before I got back with the doctor. But before I left to get them..”

She looked down..

“... I thought Rainbow was dead.”

Rarity's comforting hoof lay upon her shoulder, and Applejack looked up sadly to meet those sympathetic eyes.

“But she's not.”

Pinkie Pie put both her front hooves down. “Of course Dashie's not dead. Can you imagine? Dash? Beaten by -weather-?”

Fluttershy nodded, moving to Applejack's side to give her cheek a soft nuzzle. One AJ returned graciously with a smile. “That doesn't sound like the Rainbow Dash I know...”

“When are we going to be able to see her?” Rarity turned and looked around for the doctor. “Just imagine the poor dear, waking up in some cold hospital room in such a state. All alone. She needs her friends with her!”

Applejack had to agree with her there, but there was nothin' doin' about that. Applejack had insisted on being with at least one of her two friends when they first arrived, but neither the nurses or the doctor budged an inch on that.

“I'm sure they'll let us in when they can.” Applejack slipped out of the chair and stretched her sore legs. She briefly wondered how long she'd been there. A glance outside proved it was night time. Natural night time.

She blinked, “Say.. Has anypony gotten word on what the hay happened today?”

Rarity turned back to her, looking similarly confused. “No.. I'd imagine that's why everypony is going to the mayor right now. Waiting on some sort of official decree.”

Pinkie rolled her eyes. “Some ponies were saying that it was Princess Luna coming back for round two.” Pinkie actually sounded angry, Applejack noted. “Can you believe that? Suspecting poor Luna just because of that whole 'Nightmare Moon' thing.”

“Well..” Fluttershy began, shuffling her front leg over the other.. “Can.. we really rule that out..? I mean, you all saw the night sky in the middle of the day..”

Applejack didn't even get a chance to weigh her opinion before Rarity stepped in.

“It wasn't that. At least, I don't think it was. Twilight Sparkle received that letter from the Princess, remember? Shortly before the storm arrived.” Applejack could only blink in confusion-- but Pinkie Pie nodded excitedly. “It said that Princess Luna would arrive 'as soon as she could be spared'. Her night sky disrupted the rest of the storm, too.”

Applejack hummed in thought, her eyes turning down to the white pale tile of the floor. That certainly made a little sense as to why there were two sunrises in a single day. And why the storm was so quick to end.

“Applejack.” Fluttershy caught her attention, and she had to wonder if maybe she had been speaking to her already. “Do you.. want to go to the meeting?”

She was quick to shake her head. “Nothin' doin'. I ain't goin' nowhere till we get some word on Twilight and Rainbow's wellbein'.”

As if on cue, a deep voice cleared it's throat-- and Applejack turned to find the same doctor that'd rushed with her out to the farm standing just behind her. “Perhaps I can put some of your fears to rest then.”

Instantly her friends and her formed a tightly packed semi-circle around the front of the auburn coated unicorn, several questions rounding on him at once.

“Oh doctor, how are they?”

“Is Dashie alright?”

“Please, doc, tell me they're both goin' to be okay.”

He raised a hoof, which calmed Applejack only slightly. “They're both in stable conditions. In fact, Miss Sparkle is awake and asking for you all already.”

Bright smiles erupted from each of them-- with Pinkie Pie doing a little cheerful bounce in place.

“W-What about Rainbow Dash?” Fluttershy stepped forward, her smile fading almost as soon as it sprouted. “Is she awake? Can we see her too?”

The doctor only shook his head, offering a sympathetic smile. “I'm afraid we're keeping Miss Dash under magical sedation for the time being.” The worried looks that flashed across their faces were not hard to miss. “I assure you that she's fine, however. It's simply a precaution..”

Rarity was the first to question him.. “A precaution for what..? I thought you said she was fine?”

The averting of his eyes, even for a second, made Applejack's heart flutter. “What's wrong? What's wrong with Dash?”

“Please.” He began again, lifting the hoof up for silence once more. “I believe it best if you would all follow me to Miss Sparkle's room. That way, I can tell you all at once.”

He didn't waste a moment before he turned, gracefully, down the hall and began trotting without a word otherwise. Applejack briefly felt offended, wanting to shout and demand the information, but realized that it would probably be best to just move on. Rainbow was safe. Twilight was safe. That's all that mattered.

It only took a minute for them to reach the small hospital room-- and the doctor politely held the door open with a soft glow of his horn. Inside, the four ponies found just enough room for all of them to stand around a single bed-- a chair off to the side taken by a single, drowzy but still happy looking dragon.

Twilight Sparkle smiled weakly atop her large pillow, tucked securely and snugly underneath the thick comfortable looking blankets. “Girls! I'm so glad to see you.”

Before anypony could say otherwise, Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie nearly leaped upon the bed, wrapping their hooves around the unicorn in a tight-- squealing embrace. Rarity herself stood awfully close to the bedside, her happiness radiating across her smiling face. Applejack herself waited at the end of the bed. Happy and smiling, but restraining herself out of respect for Twilight's condition.

Twilight herself didn't seem to mind tight hug one bit.

“When we heard you three were in the hospital ward, we thought the worst!” Rarity fussed, leaning up against the side of the bed with her hooves on the sheets. Applejack felt compelled to do the same-- just at the foot of the bed still.

“Not me!” Pinkie Pie yelled, grinning wildly. “I knew a storm wouldn't be able to keep ole Twilight Sparkle down!”

Twilight only smiled, seemingly elated just to have her friends surrounding her again. “Oh, I'm just fine. A bit tired is all.”

She certainly looked it. Her body was clean and markless from what AJ could see-- but her eyes betrayed her exhaustion. The unicorn looked wilted and in dire need of rest.

“A 'bit' tired nothin'. You look plum beat!” It would be up to Applejack to see to her friend getting some of that much needed rest. “We can mosey on back another time. There's always tomorrow.”

Before the disappointed faces of her friends could even really turn to her, the doctor once again cleared his throat. Focusing the attention of the room on him again.

“I agree that Miss Sparkle needs her rest, but I thought it best to inform you all of your other friend's condition at the same time.” A clipboard and quill were floating in the air beside him. Seemingly having appeared from nowhere. “As well as ask Miss Sparkle some questions about what happened.”

Twilight raised a brow, looking confused. “You mean.. Dash? I thought you told me she was fine.”

“She is.” He stated simply. “Stable and recovering. Under magical sedation.”

Twilight's confusion moved towards surprise. “Sedation? Why?”

Applejack was getting angry. Perhaps she was just overly excited from the day's events. Or maybe she was just naturally impatient. Either way, the aloof nature of this doctor was not doing anypony any favors.

“Miss Sparkle, the extent of Rainbow Dash's injuries were very apparent the moment my nurses and I arrived at Sweet Apple Acres. Given that you yourself had succumbed to a magical coma, I can assume you played a good hoof at stabilizing her condition till we could arrive.”

Eyes rounded upon her now, and Twilight managed to give a slightly uncomfortable grimace at the attention. “Erm.. Yes.. I'd imagine so.”

The doctor simply stared at her expectantly.

“I can make a few.. educated guesses, as to what Miss Dash's condition was when you found her.” The tip of the quill tapped against paper. Testing the ink. “It would be a great help if we could get your account of the incident. The extent of the damage and the areas you gave the greatest care to heal first, for starters.”

Twilight frowned-- glancing down at the sheets tucked up to just beneath her forelegs. “Well.. Once we found Dash, we uncovered her from the trees.” She glanced up to Applejack, who felt sympathetic-- of course. She didn't want to recall the scene anymore than Twilight, she was sure. “That's when I sent Applejack to get--”

“Yes yes, this is known already.” The doctor's agitation was easy to hear, and it drew more than just Applejack's angry gaze. “After she left. When you took to caring for Miss Dash. Where did you begin and how?”

The silence stretched for a few moments longer than the doctor seemed to like-- his impatient sigh matched with a tapping of his quill against his board.

“Miss Sparkle.. You're obviously a very gifted unicorn. The pride of the Princess herself. Your abilities are certainly to be admired, but the quality of Miss Dash's recovery is.. well.. phenomenal. That a pony with no focused medical training could pull of such a feat is, quite frankly, astounding. Unheard of.”

That seemed to be just about all Fluttershy could take herself, though she hardly sounded angry when she raised her head and muttered, “I-I don't know if Twilight is feeling up to..”

Twilight headed her off, however. “I don't remember.”

That seemed to surprise the doctor, who glanced up with a blink of surprise. “You don't remember?”

Twilight shook her head, her eyes slightly narrowed. “I don't. The only thing I remember was sending Applejack away, examining Rainbow and pulling... her.. out of the tree limbs.”

There was something Twilight wasn't saying, however. Her eyes flickering over towards Fluttershy. Maybe the others didn't catch it, but Applejack did. And so did the doctor.

“I.. see. So you remember.. nothing?”

Twilight seemed to think for a moment. Or maybe make a show of it. Applejack wasn't sure. “I.. remember.. clearing Rainbow's lung. And I remember Rainbow wasn't breathing. Then.. her heart stopped..”

Applejack felt a lump in her throat. She wasn't the only one feeling the uncomfortable weight of this conversation either. Fluttershy had lowered her head to the bed, looking close to being in tears. The rest were silent, their eyes thoughtful and worried.

“I remember turning her over, trying to do something, but.. then I was here.” She looked back up to the doctor. Staring back at him pointedly. “I'm sorry I can't be of any more help than that.”

The doctor stared back, before his quill suddenly wrote a few quick lines upon the clipboard before disappearing with a quick magical pop.

“It's no problem Miss Sparkle. Whatever you did surely saved your friend's life.” He offered a smile-- an obviously fake one, but a smile never the less. “I suppose that is all that is truly important here.”

Spike spoke up then-- reminding AJ that he was even here. “But.. What about the sedation? What's that all about?”

“The sedation.” The doctor began, his forced smile fading instantly. “Regardless of whatever magical spells Miss Sparkle used, Miss Dash was still in a dire state upon her arrival. Blood loss being one of the more stressing issues, but there was still substantial internal injuries that had to be tended to.”

Twilight's ears drooped.. “B-But.. I thought that--”

“That you healed her?” The doctor didn't really offer much in the sense of understanding or sympathy. “Yes. Essentially, you did. You saved her life, but there were injuries that you missed or didn't have the magical power to reach before you, yourself, succumbed to your exhaustion.

“A few partial fractures, bruising, and lacerations were left for us to take care of. Her wings were healed until we could safely bandage them to heal on their own. What's concerning us the most is her spinal injuries.”

Applejack head tilted.. “Spinal.. injuries?”

The stallion nodded. “One would've expected worse, but I believe we can thank Miss Sparkle for that. Despite that, there is a chance Miss Dash could be paralyzed.”

The gasps from the other girls registered faintly to Applejack's ears. She just felt sick. Knowing Rainbow was going to live was the best news she'd heard all day. Knowing the fate that might be awaiting her doused it.

“Dash.. Paralyzed..?” Twilight looked the most shocked, her eyes watering with tears unshed. “But I -saved- her..”

The doctor's horn was already opening the door for him-- his eyes sweeping across those in the room one last time. “Saved, yes. But every pony has their limits Miss Sparkle. Even you, I'm afraid.

“We'll know more in short time. The sedation spell should be wearing out in the next several hours, and a more comprehensive examination can take place. Then you should all be able to visit her at your leisure.”

He gave a bow, and with that, stepped from the room. Before anypony could say anything, Nurse Redheart stepped through the still open door-- offering them a -true- look of sympathy.

“I'm sorry dears, but Twilight Sparkle could do for some rest now. Perhaps you should all get to the square with the rest of the ponies?” She smiled, which eased Applejack's aching heart almost instantly.. “I'm sure a night of rest for everypony would do a world of good. You can all come back first thing in the morning.”

Pinkie Pie was the only one that resisted the idea, but Twilight agreed. With minimal protest, the group of friends said their good byes and gave the unicorn different degrees of hugs. When it was Applejack's turn, she squeezed Twilight's weak frame tight. Whispering a soft farewell. Twilight just smiled, looking worse for wear. The news was rather hard for her to accept, one would imagine. Applejack knew that feeling well.

Upon leaving the care center, Applejack politely excused herself from following the others to the town hall meeting. They protested lightly, but she just gave the excuse that her head was hurting her and that she needed to get back to Big Macintosh and Apple Bloom at the Ponyville Inn. The protests were immediately silenced, and another round of hugs occurred.

Walking alone through the dark and damp streets, Applejack's mind wandered. She briefly debated on turning around and going back to the meeting. Celestia knows she was curious as to what had happened, but as she thought about it, she really didn't have it in her to deal with anymore trauma today. Bad news was sure to come from it, and it could wait until the bright and sunny morning.

Those thoughts drifted to Twilight. To Rainbow. The two ponies of the day. An undying gratitude flowed through Applejack's core towards the unicorn. She'd taken charge where she, in her shock, had allowed all sense to rush out of her mind. In an entirely uncharacteristic panic. Of course, she'd lost her farm. She nearly lost her life. There were reasons.

She'd nearly lost Rainbow.

The sight of the broken pegasus rushed to the front of her mind, and the urge to be sick built inside her gut, but Applejack resisted it. She dove into the thoughts of the wild blue pony. This wasn't a time to push those thoughts back. She was alone, she was upset, and she wanted to think of her. Not of her limp and muddied frame surrounded by the remains of her farm, but of her smiling cocky face. Her flash of rainbow colors as she streaked across Ponyville's skies. A sight Applejack often saw while working out in her orchard.

A hard reality had hit her a long time ago. These thoughts didn't shock, appall her, or shame her. Those days had come and gone. Applejack had close to a year to get accustomed to them, and now she'd long since accepted that she was madly in love with a mare. With Rainbow Dash herself. That competitive show boating pegasus that never backed down and was always there when her friends needed her. That attraction that had, at first, confused her to no end. Now it was obvious and as easy to see as the stars in the sky.

She paused, standing on the street corner just outside of the brightly lit Ponyville Inn. Inside was a room for three, offered to them by the owner herself after hearing about the destruction of Sweet Apple Acres. Big Mac and Apple Bloom were undoubtedly inside. Perhaps already asleep. It'd been a long day after all.

But Applejack couldn't see herself sleeping. She turned, looking towards the rest of the mostly deserted town. She could go for a walk.

The thoughts and memories of Rainbow Dash tagged along.

•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

A gracious amount of time had been spent preparing for that day. Applejack had spent the majority of her week thinking about it, mulling it over in her mind, losing her nerve and regaining it shortly afterward. It got to the point that she couldn't even hide her nervousness from her own family-- with Apple Bloom shooting her weird looks and even Granny Smith giving her a strange glance at the morning table. Applejack had come up with the convenient excuse or two, before bowing out to take care of chores. It worked, for the most part. There wasn't any uncomfortable sit downs or revealing slip ups.


The Gala had been a few months ago now. Life in Ponyville was mostly returning to normal. The preparations for the Summer Sun Celebration were beginning to fill the thoughts of most ponies and the town was more than happy to accept the honor of hosting the festivities a second year in a row. The banners and fliers were being placed and arranged, the royal invitations were being sent out, and the businesses had all been preparing for the influx of traffic through the otherwise normally peaceful and quiet village.


So of course, this meant there was much to do for the Apple family as well. Princess Celestia had requested that Sweet Apple Acres single-hoofedly cater the entire official event. There was no end to the apple fritters, apple dumplings, apple pies and apple cake that had to be made. It was certainly not easy, especially with Granny Smith's declining health, but the pay was enough to see them through for the rest of the year, and Applejack was certainly all for earning good pay with good hard work. It also served as a fine distraction.


Applejack had come to the realization that she had long since fallen for somepony. Somepony that she'd been friends with for a while now, and only recently admitted to herself that they'd found their way into her heart. It was doable at first, to ignore and put these feelings aside while chastising herself over the presumed wrong or rightness of the situation, but in time these feelings expanded. These feelings grew to more than just the minor irritation on a lonely day or the pang of longing on an equally lonely night. What was just a crush had blossomed into much more than that, and Applejack was smart enough to know that it would never rightly go away until it was dealt with and dealt with properly. She was the Element of Honesty, after all.


So after a long day of baking, preparing all different manners of apple-delicious goods for the next days festival, Applejack took to wandering through the rows of her trees as the sky drifted into shades of violet that would normally of grabbed her attention and wowed her with it's beautiful show. But she was too busy in her own world. Too busy trying to talk herself out of this, of turning tail and running back home, swallowing her feelings for her like she always did.


But when Rainbow Dash descended from the sky, no less than a few meters from her, with that cheerful smile across her face that made Applejack's pride heart skip a beat-- it washed those worries away. It made her melt in place, staring at her friend who answered her impromptu message to meet her here at this precise hour for a not-so-precise reason.


“Applejack?” Rainbow's concern was genuine. “You wanted to meet me for something?”


“A-Ayep.” She would admit that she started out rocky. It wasn't easy for a gal like her to do something like this. “It's-- uh.. nothing too.. um.. important or nothin'. I didn't mean to worry you..”


Rainbow had brightened instantly, her smile redoubling across her face. “Oh, good. I was afraid you were upset or something.”


Upset at what, Applejack wouldn't be able to say. Upset that the pegasus had missed the weekly rain across the farm? Perhaps. But Rainbow could forget to coax rain across her crops for a month and it wouldn't change how she felt about her.


“Rainbow.. I just wanted you out here for a talk.” She felt herself smile, stepping up closer to the pegasus. Smelling the sky and rain that seemed to always be present about her. Then she moved along her side. “... Would you like to walk with me?”


There was a brief moment of hesitation in Rainbow, and her wings fluttered undoubtedly from the waver in Applejack's voice. But she had nodded, and turned closely beside her to walk in tow.


Sweet Apple Acres spread out before the both of them, and for a few minutes they simply trotted in silence. Rainbow stepped up beside her, keeping pace-- her eyes trained upwards at the few clouds in the sky that were painted arrays of blue and purple by the setting sun. Reminding Applejack of the colors in the filly's eyes.


“I always.. loved this time of day..” She found herself staring at her, but Rainbow's gaze didn't falter from the sky. “The sky's just seems to stretch forever..”


Dash nodded, and her eyes turned to her's now-- her smile never once wavering. “You should see it from up above sometime. Then it really does stretch forever.”


Applejack broke the stare before anything could come of it, clearing her throat with a shaky laugh, “Of course.. I think I'd rather just keep my hooves on the ground though. Much more at home here.”


“Hah. Of course you would be.” Rainbow's wings fluttered, and Applejack truly realized that there was so much different between them. “Maybe next time you guys come to Cloudsdale you can take a minute to appreciate the sunset.”


“Why in tarnation would I ever wanna go back up there?” She said it lightheartedly, with her head held high and a playful grin. “S'not like you need our support to win this year's Best Flier Competition. You can probably pull those Rainbooms of yours off in your sleep.”


Though Dash's wings flared with pride, her face betrayed her unease.. “Well.. It's nice, you know..? Having you girls there to cheer me on. I mean, Fluttershy is great and all-- like I said. But she's Fluttershy.”


She gave a nod, “Fluttershy is most definitely Fluttershy.”


“So, you gotta be there!” Back to that bold and cocky tune. “Not like you'd want to miss the show!”


Applejack laughed-- and it spread even to Rainbow, as the two leaned against one another as they moved on along. The sun was nearly below the hills by the time they slowed their pace. Before the last rays had disappeared, Applejack glanced up-- letting Rainbow speak while she just simply listened. But her mind atunned to a different train of thought, and she let herself fall behind in a complete stop.


“So then I told Pinkie Pie about how they make cloud topped muffins in Cloudsdale and she just would not--” Rainbow halted a short distance ahead, eyes not on the sky-- but on her. “Applejack?”


This was it..


“Have you ever been in love, Rainbow?”


She didn't have to look to see the confusion on Rainbow's face. It echoed in her voice a short moment later, and made the foundations of her nerves tremble.


“Uh.. Once.. Maybe twice..” She turned around, trotting back closer. Voice growing louder. “Why?”


She still couldn't bring herself to look away from the darkening sky. “What would you do if you loved somepony that you just... didn't feel like you had a shot at?”


Dash sat down upon her flank not far away, a sense of understanding coming to her voice.. “I guess this is what you really wanted to talk about, huh?” A short pause with no reply later, “I don't really know.. I guess I'd pony-up. Tell them how I felt--”


“And if it ruined your friendship?” She looked upon her now, at those confused but thoughtful violet eyes. “And you lost that pony forever?”


Rainbow blinked.. before allowing a sympathetic smile to cross her face. “Then they weren't really your friend to begin with, and never deserved the feelings you had for them.”


Applejack felt the tears coming. She didn't want to fight them, but she did. For now. It made her eyes burned, and had to look away from Rainbow in fear that the weariness would show.


“I-I wish I could be as brave as you sometimes sugarcube..”


There wasn't any boasting. Rainbow Dash just shook her head, casting her with that friendly and sympathetic gaze till the first of those held back tears ran down her cheek.


“Who's the lucky stallion, AJ?”


A sad smile spread across her lips-- and Applejack actually managed to chuckle. Just by closing her eyes, some more tears surfaced. She didn't care. She didn't want to hide her tears from anypony anymore.


“It ain't no stallion.” She looked dead into Rainbow Dash's eyes-- even as a confused look twisted at her smiling features.


“It's you.”


There was a moment of silence as Rainbow's face fell from confused to just plain.. shocked. Her eyes stared into Applejack's-- as if expecting her to suddenly break face and laugh. But she wasn't laughing. In fact, the tears began to build up as Dash just stood there. Staring at her. Like she was suddenly so different.


It didn't take much soul searching to see that Dash's mind was racing. Racing for the easiest way to smooth this situation over. The easiest way to spare Applejack the hurt feelings that were bubbling to the surface. The easiest way to tell her “no”.


“... W-Well.” Applejack couldn't keep her voice from breaking, turning to avoid that stare. “I think I messed up..”


Without a word further she turned to leave, wanting nothing more than to run back to the house and throw herself in bed and cry her eyes out. She barely got a step.


“A-Applejack, wait!”


She halted, but couldn't bring herself to turn around. Not to that.


“I'm sorry Rainbow.” She tried to make herself sound chipper, not as beaten as she felt, but it was difficult. “I should have known better than to just pile this all on you like it ain't a thing.”


She heard Rainbow approach, felt her brush against her flank-- and as she turned around, fully ready to fake a smile to mask her pain-- the blue pegasus had wrapped her forelegs around her neck, and pulled her tight.


“I'm sorry.”


Applejack blinked, her hot tears dripping upon Rainbow's shoulder. She felt her back legs go out, and her body slump against the ground-- pulled in tight against her friend's chest.. and she cried. Her arms came up, wrapped around her just as tight. She clung for dear life and sobbed.


“I'm so sorry..” Rainbow Dash rocked her sweetly, running her hooves up and down her back in the most soothing way she could-- and still AJ cried. She sobbed against that rainbow mane-- pouring it out in one long wail that made her shoulders heave and her body shudder. Her tears matted against her friend's coat-- but she didn't mind.


It wasn't until her crying began to subside that Rainbow dared speak beyond a soft whisper of comfort, her forelegs still cradling the sniffing, shaking earth pony delicately.


“I never knew you were..” She felt Rainbow tense-- obviously catching herself from saying something unintentionally insensitive. “.. attracted to fillies..”


Applejack sniffled, unwilling to let go yet. “No one does.. Not until now..”


The revelation made Rainbow squeeze her tighter-- and Applejack silently melted more into her arms. Just feeling how close Rainbow held her gave her hope that, even if she did not gain a lover, she did not lose a friend. A small silver lining.


“I.. just don't know what to say..” Rainbow whispered in her ear-- still softly stroking along her back.. “It doesn't make me think any less of you. You know that, right?”


Shaking, Applejack nodded-- but on the inside, she was aflame with uncertainty.


“I don't even want to know how hard it must have been for you to keep this a secret all this time..”


“So hard, Dash.” She allowed herself a grim smile-- burying her snout into her friend's mane for one last squeeze. “I-I can't even begin to tell you..”


The moment came where Dash finally pulled out of the hug-- her arms sliding between the two of them, but in a manner that was as gentle as she could be. Her sad smile met Applejack's tear smeared face, and Applejack was forced to look away. A hard blush already forming at her cheeks.


“I-I'm sorry.. I'm bawlin' like a little school filly, aren't I?” She cleared her throat, lifting a hoof to brush some of those tears away. “It.. was kind of hard to make m'self go through with all this..”


“I can imagine.” Dash attempted to inject some humor into her voice-- which didn't go unnoticed or unappreciated.


“AJ.. I'm not good with this sort of stuff.. I don't want to hurt you, even though I know it will..” Rainbow's voice oozed with guilt, and that alone was enough to make Applejack's eyes squeeze closed..


“I love you, but.. but I can't love you like that..”


It wasn't unexpected, so it didn't shatter her heart into a million pieces-- but Applejack still felt the pain course through her like a sudden electric shock. Rainbow's voice was so soft and tender that even she knew that she was trying to put as much into sensitizing this for her as possible. It helped the pain, but it certainly didn't stop it from coming.


“I know that you're probably regretting telling me now... I don't want you to.” Her hooves fell upon her shoulders, and Applejack opened her eyes to look into Rainbow's as they stared deep into her. “I'm happy that you would think of me like that.. You're one of the only ponies I know that I really worry about when it comes to how you think of me..”


Applejack blinked, and it was her turn to look confused. “W-What do you mean?”


Rainbow smiled in the middle of a sigh, shaking her head. “You're the only pony around that's even close to my level-- competitively. We like a lot of the same things, love to get our hooves dirty, and don't do all that frilly-froo-froo stuff all those other fillies do.”


Applejack realized that some of those were reasons why she, herself, had fallen for Dash in particular-- but her embarrassment told her it was best not to interrupt.


“A lot of the times I've wondered if you liked me at all.. I know we've butted heads once or twice, and I can be..” Rainbow hesitated. “.. kind of a jerk, sometimes.. But I've always wanted you to like me. More than most the other ponies..”


Applejack was surprised-- needless to say. She'd always felt the two had a lot in common, and were fitting rivals for each other, but she'd never noticed Dash's compulsive need to have her like her. That always just.. was.


“Sugarcube..”


Rainbow interrupted, “And all this time.. I never noticed you were hurting so bad.. I guess I was so afraid of losing you as a friend because of the way I act that I wasn't really paying attention to you at all.”


Now Rainbow looked like she was close to tears, and her hooves slipped from her shoulders slowly.. There was nothing but guilt etched across her face. Mixed in with her voice. A greater guilt than Applejack could have imagined.“I guess.. I've been a bad friend for you..”


Applejack wouldn't have that. “Now hold up.” Her hooves took one of Rainbows between them, holding it tight. “You've been a mighty fine friend Rainbow. It was me and my foolishness that kept somethin' like this from bein' dealt with a long time ago.”


“But--”


“But nothin'!” If there was any trace of that crying Applejack left in her, one wouldn't be able to see it. “It was how you acted that made you stand out to me. You don't take no for an answer, you don't back down, and you never give up-- least of all on your friends, and if that ain't something to be admired, I don't reckon I know what is.”


She continued, staring deep into those horizon colored eyes. Which stared right back, as lovingly as she would imagine Rainbow could. “You never had to push yourself on me to get me to like you, because.. Rainbow, I've loved you since plum near the first time I met you. It's embarrassin' to admit it like this, but it's true. And I'd know a thing or two about that, even if my track record speaks ill of me.”


“I'm glad I told you, and I feel all the more like a foal for believin' for a second you'd stop wantin' to be my friend just because I'm not into stallions and have a little crush on you.” Hardly little, but that wasn't the point.. “You're the Element of Loyalty for Pete's sake.. and the best friend a pony like me could ever ask for..”


Rainbow looked stunned, but her soft smile returned after a few seconds, and her other hoof laid upon the two the clutched it's twin.


“It don't matter one bit that you don't feel the same way I do or that you ain't into fillies. You needed to know the truth, and I done went and told you. I feel all kinds of better just knowin' you ain't offended. The last thing I would ever of wanted was to lose you, Rainbow Dash.”


“And you won't.” Rainbow sniffled herself-- a tear running from her eyes. “I swear, Applejack. You never will.”


Applejack couldn't help it. She surged forward and wrapped her forelegs around Dash in another hug-- one that she initiated and controlled. Squeezing the filly till she gave a laugh. Wrapping her arms around her in turn.


The two would stay there well into the night, relaxing against the trunk of one of the farm's largest apple trees. They talked about themselves, their secrets and their worries. In the end, Rainbow only left when sleep began calling for them both. With a warm goodbye, Rainbow took off with several beats of her wings and Applejack only watched her leave.


It wasn't the out come she would've wanted, but her tears had been shed-- and though her heart was aching, she renewed her hope that, one day, she'd be able to share with the others her secret. Regardless, she was glad she'd still have that particular pegasus to call a friend.

•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

You still love her, after all.

The inn was before her again, and it confused Applejack to no end for a few moments before she realized she had walked all the way around Ponyville and back. For a second, she wondered if the town was actually that small that she didn't notice or if she'd simply lost track of time. A glance up to the sky told her it was the latter.

She sighed, glancing over the multiple windows that had been lit up before-- but were now dimmed or completely devoid of light. No doubt Apple Bloom and Big Mac would be asleep by this point, writing her off as staying at the hospital or going to the town meeting. She'd simply tell them that she stayed with Twilight longer than she'd meant to. If they even bothered to ask. Something told her that they'd all be in foul moods over the next few days. Particularly her brother.

Never the less, the morning promised to be emotional. The thought of seeing Rainbow made her happy, but to see her potentially crippled for life? It was heartbreaking enough just to know what she went through.

A yawn interrupted her fretting, and she shook her head of her troubled thoughts. A nap at the hospital earlier had been all the rest she'd had that day. It was about time some real sleep was allowed to work it's magic. Celestia knows she could use it.

She crossed the street and went inside-- trying and ultimately failing to leave her worried thoughts at the door.

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