• Published 28th Apr 2015
  • 2,953 Views, 80 Comments

Love and Other Bandages - Cold in Gardez

What is the best medicine? How do we respond when life challenges us? Six variations on a theme.

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Rainbow Dash lifted a feather from the bench and held it before her eyes.

The shaft was hollow steel, reinforced inside with a carbon-composite honeycomb lattice whose cells were barely wider than a hair. The vane was not a mesh of fibers, like a natural feather, but rather an overlapping series of crystal scales grown in a laboratory and sharpened to an edge only a few atoms thick. The artificial sapphire glimmered in the naked barracks lights, and she observed her reflection staring back at her from within.

Its color didn't match her coat perfectly. It was a shade too light, and if she turned it over, she could have read the tiny letters stamped at the base of the shaft indicating that it was designed for a stallion. Fortunately her wings were large for a mare's, and the difference in size was negligible.

Satisfied, she carefully slotted the feather into her primaries. She could slash with it, or in a pinch fling it like a dart with a flick of her wings. It wouldn’t penetrate the rolled tungsten armor the gryphons used to cover their breasts and crowns, but there were always weak points – eyes, necks, shoulders – and her aim was the best.

Rainbow Dash lifted another feather from the bench and held it before her eyes.

* * *

“...and teams seven through twelve will be responsible for securing the western air corridors.” Spitfire paused to highlight the relevant portion of the map with a laser pointer. “Intelligence doesn’t show any large gryphon formations in that area today, so the most we’re looking at is scouts or possibly some skirmishers. Dash, you’ve got the lead for those elements.”

“Got it,” Dash replied. She had already folded her copy of the map and stuffed it in a special flat pocket alongside her barrel, where she could reach it in flight.

“Great. Questions?” Spitfire waited, and when no one replied, stepped in front of the display board. “Nothing heard. Dismissed.”

Everypony jumped to their hooves, stood at attention, then relaxed and began filing out the back. Conversation resumed as ponies discussed their assignments, and Rainbow Dash gathered the last of her briefing materials.

“Hey, Dash,” Spitfire’s voice came from few feet away, and Rainbow looked up to see the commander standing in front of her. “You’ve got a visitor in the break room.”

“Really? Now?” The minutes before a combat sortie were busy enough without somepony else stealing her time.

“It’s important.” Spitfire glanced away. “Just go see her.”

Rainbow Dash frowned, but Spitfire didn’t seem inclined to continue. She shrugged and went to find her new friend.

* * *

A purple unicorn with a large set of wings was in the breakroom, inspecting a recruitment poster on the wall, when Dash opened the doors. She turned, and they both froze.

Dash recovered first. “Princess.”

Twilight Sparkle stared at her for a long moment, her mouth held open. She blinked a few times before speaking. “Rainbow! Wow, you look really… really different in all that.”

For the first time in years, Rainbow Dash wondered what their other friends would think of her armor. Rarity would probably hate it. She shook her head at the thought. “Yeah, keeps us alive, though. What brings you here? Should you even be this close to the front?”

“I’m meeting with General Masterstroke this afternoon, but I wanted to…” Twilight paused and licked her lips. “I wanted to see how you were doing.”

“I’m fine.”

“Good. That’s good.” Twilight glanced down at her hooves, then back at Rainbow. “I, uh, also wanted to say how sorry… Are you sure you’re fine?”

Rainbow Dash suppressed a sigh. This conversation again; she'd been through it a hundred times in the past week. “Yeah, that’s what I said.”

“I know, but, I know how close you two were, and—”

“And he’s gone, and I miss him,” Rainbow trampled over Twilight. “But he died doing his duty, and that matters more my feelings or what either of us wanted. So I’m fine, and if you’ll excuse me, I have a mission to prep for.”

She was halfway out the door when Twilight’s hoof touched her shoulder. She paused and turned to see her friend’s trembling expression just a wing’s breadth away.

“Dash, you can’t mean that.”

Rainbow whirled on her. “I do. I mean it more than anything I have ever said. I’m not just fine, I’m… I’m happy. I’m happy for him, Twilight.” She was panting, she realized. Almost out of breath, but still she continued.

“I’m happy! He did his duty, and I am doing mine, and I am happy! I have never been so happy!” She clenched her eyes shut, trying to stop the hot well of tears threatening to betray her. “I am fine, and this is the happiest... the happiest day of my life!”

So saying, shouting, she turned back to her duty, and let it salve her heart.