• Published 29th Dec 2015
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Lost Time - bookplayer

When Rainbow tries to change the course of the zap apple harvest to keep her date with Applejack, she finds that ancient magic loves an ironic twist.

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If Not Now, When?

The farmhouse looked exactly the same as when she flew in that morning. Rainbow was pretty sure of that. Except for the red apple weather vane being a zap apple. And… were some of the curtains different? And the chicken coop should be orange, and it was brown. The more she looked, the more details she found that she was pretty sure weren’t right.

As they stepped inside, she was totally sure the living room wasn’t right. There was a big fluffy-looking couch, a trophy case in one corner, and kids’ toys everywhere. The rocking chair and old-fashioned couch were nowhere to be seen, and the wood trim and curtains were still dotted with apples, but the walls had totally different pictures than they had the last time she was here.

“Leaf, keep an eye on Cider and Sky,” Applejack said, taking the baby out of the carrier and setting him down to toddle across the floor. Then she turned and nudged Rainbow toward the stairs.

“Sure…” the colt said with a nervous glance at Rainbow.

“Can we have fritters?” the filly asked, looking from Applejack to Rainbow with wide, green eyes.

“One each,” Applejack said, nudging Rainbow again and following her up the stairs without a glance at the kid. “And there’s a dozen there, so there’d better be nine left.”

Rainbow had only been in Applejack’s room a few times, but the door Applejack led her to wasn’t it. Applejack opened a door at the end of the hall that Rainbow had never been through.

The room was big, with a large bed in the middle. The walls were split between wooden panels below and bright blue paint above, which made it feel almost like it was open to the sky. The bed was covered with a fluffy white quilt embroidered with zap apples, and the curtains were white with rainbow trim.

That was as much as Rainbow took in before she turned to see Applejack glaring at her. “If this is a prank, it ain’t funny.”

Rainbow flapped into the air, scowling. “It’s not a prank, I don’t know what the hay is going on!”

Applejack’s face softened, her mouth gaping and her ears starting to droop. She hesitated, then said softly, “You really think it’s 1005?”

“Yeah, because that’s when it is!” Rainbow insisted, because she had to. Because any other option didn’t make any sense. Because if it wasn’t the year she thought it was, when could it be?

“Dash, that was fifteen years ago,” Applejack said, her expression unchanging except for her slowly widening eyes.

Rainbow just stared at her. She knew Applejack’s expression was probably some combination of shock, fear, and panic, because that’s exactly what Rainbow was feeling and her face started to mirror Applejack’s.

“AJ… stop it. This really isn’t funny.”

“I ain’t laughin’.” Applejack shook her head. “What’s the last thing you remember?”

“I came to see you. You were just starting zap apple harvest, and we had a date for that night, but you had to reschedule. I flew away, and… uh, ran into a storm, and next thing I know I’m laying on the ground and that kid is looking at me.”

“I—I remember that, I think. The third sign kicked up right after you crashed, two days early, but then it was near a week before the fourth one. That was when the zap apple harvest started goin’ as it pleased. The fourth sign came on our first date.”

She paused and bit her lip before she looked Rainbow in the eye and said, “We been married eleven years now.”

Rainbow took off, flying in circles around the room. It was cramped, but she had to fly to process this. There was no way to mistake the plain truth coming from Applejack, so Rainbow started to try to wrap her head around it. Married. Eleven years. That was, like, half of her life! But it wasn’t, because she was fifteen years older than she thought she was. She was thirty-six. That was almost old!

Then something else hit her like a brick, and she stopped in the air and turned a terrified gaze on AJ. “Applejack… those foals who keep calling me mom…?”

“They’re ours. Apple Leaf, Cider Splash, and Orchard Sky. You are their mom,” Applejack whispered. “You… don’t remember your own foals?”

Rainbow worked her mouth a few times before words finally came out. “I—How—We’re both mares!”

Applejack took a breath. “Well if you wanna get all technical about it, I had Leaf and Cider, and you had Sky last year. But you’re their mom, no questions about that.”

“I have foals?” She started flying in circles again. “Three foals? What about the Wonderbolts? How do I have time?”

“You left the Wonderbolts eight years ago, not long after Leaf was born,” Applejack explained in a gentle but dazed voice.

I left the Wonderbolts? Why would I do that?”

“You wanted to spend more time with us.” Applejack shook her head. “Could you land already? You’re makin’ me dizzy.”

Rainbow landed in front of Applejack, her eyes wild. “So I went nuts?”

Applejack laid a hoof on Rainbow’s shoulder. She looked calm and strong, though it was obviously taking a lot of effort. “Rainbow Dash, I think you gone nuts now. You’re missin’ fifteen years.”

“This can’t be happening. This can not be happening.” Rainbow squinted her eyes shut. “It’s… it’s a dream! Princess Luna! Help!”

“Keep it down, the kids’ll hear ya,” Applejack said with a brief glare. Then she took a breath again. “It ain’t a dream, but we gotta get you to a doctor.”

“A doctor will fix it, right? I’m not stuck like this?” Rainbow pleaded.

“Course they will. And if not, we’ll head straight to Twilight. We’ll get you patched up before supper.” Applejack nodded, then she glanced nervously at Rainbow. “I—uh, I reckon we shouldn’t tell the kids? It’d be awful scary thinkin’ their own mom don’t remember ’em.”

“Why are you asking me?” Rainbow waved a hoof. “I don’t know anything about kids!”

Something shifted behind Applejack’s eyes, but she swallowed hard and said, “Okay. We won’t tell ’em until we know what we’re workin’ with. Let’s just tell ’em we’re goin’, and pretend nothin’s wrong.”

“Okay.” Rainbow took a deep breath. “Got it.”

Rainbow followed Applejack out of the room and down the hall. By the time they came to the bottom of the stairs, all three foals were waiting, the baby perched on the back of the older colt.

Rainbow stared at them. Now that she knew, she could see that the pegasus filly, Cider Splash, she guessed, looked just like AJ except for the wings and darker colors. The earth pony colt, who must be Apple Leaf, had Apple family coloring, but he wore his mane in a spiky style like Rainbow’s. And the baby… that was the one she’d had. Orchard Sky did look an awful lot like baby pictures of Rainbow, except for his mane.

“Kids,” Applejack said calmly, almost cheerfully. “Me and Mom need to go to the doctor. We’ll take Sky over to Uncle Mac’s, and Leaf, you stay here with Cider—”

“When will you be back?” Cider asked, a frown on her little face.

“That depends what the doctor says, half-pint,” Applejack said as she strapped the baby carrier around her waist.

“But Mommy is supposed to take me to get flight goggles for Flight Camp this afternoon!” Cider’s ears drooped and her eyes seemed huge and pitiful as she looked up at Rainbow. It seriously wasn’t fair that kids could do that, even if Rainbow knew that this was kind of more important than flight goggles.

Applejack sighed and rolled her eyes as she set the littlest foal in the carrier. He grabbed the end of her mane and waved it around a few times, but she pulled it away from him without looking back. “Well then… Leaf, you wanna take Cider to get flight goggles?”

“Sure,” he said with a nervous smile and a glance at Rainbow.

Before she could think, Rainbow raised an eyebrow. “Hold up, does he know how to pick out flight goggles?” She might not know about kids, but she knew about flying, and she was pretty sure that somepony who knew about flying had better make sure the girl was set for flight camp.

Leaf looked at her, confused. “I got you yours last Hearth’s Warming. You said they were awesome.”

Rainbow glanced at Applejack, who was giving her an almost panicked look.

“Oh! Yeah, I mean… they were… great!” Rainbow smiled, probably a bit too much. “I was just wondering because… because she’s so small, and it can be hard to get the right fit on little foals! And you gotta get them off to the right start, if they’re gonna grow up to be Wonderbolts.”

The kid raised an eyebrow at her, then looked over to Applejack. “Ma… are you sure Mom doesn’t have brain damage?”

Applejack sighed and nudged Rainbow toward the door. “She’s gonna be fine. Just trust me, Leaf. I’ll explain later.”

Once they were outside and on their way toward Ponyville, and Rainbow had glanced back at the house a dozen times to make sure Leaf and Cider hadn’t followed them, she leaned in and whispered, “That kid is onto me. What’d I say?”

“Dash, that kid is your son,” Applejack whispered back. Then she glanced back at Sky and went on softly. “And he knows more about flyin’ than you do. He can talk about flight goggles ’til the fruit falls from the trees. And we all know Cider’s got less chance of bein’ a Wonderbolt than I do. If that girl’s cutie mark ain’t in cookin’ or farmin’, I’ll eat my hat.”

Rainbow tilted her head. “He’s an earth pony, why would he know about flight goggles?”

Applejack glanced at her with a sadness in her eyes that made Rainbow sorry she’d asked the question. “He’s been goin’ to Wonderbolts shows since he was born, to see you. Then after you left the team, you’d always take him to watch. He loves it, wants to be a flight choreographer or somethin’ or other.”

Rainbow frowned. “Um… he’s… an earth pony.”

Applejack was silent for a moment, then she said softly, “You always said he’ll be the best one ever.”

“Oh… sorry.”

“That’s okay. You didn’t know.”

The frown remained on Rainbow’s face, but it had nothing to do with the kid. Maybe she was blowing smoke up his tail, maybe he was a genius at designing flying tricks, how the hay did she know? She didn’t know anything about him; she barely knew anything about foals except that they were little, dumber ponies. She didn’t know anything that was going on right now, and everything she said felt dumb.

Sweet Apple Acres seemed the same as they walked through it. The bright green trees in the sunlight with their red dots of apples felt like a trick. Everything was normal, she and AJ were just walking to Ponyville… until she saw the kid on AJ’s side.

Now that she looked closely, Applejack herself had changed a little—she was a little softer, though the weight had landed in the right places, and her blonde hair hid it well but there seemed to be a few streaks of white in her mane. Rainbow decided that AJ looked hot, for a mom who was pushing forty. But not quite as hot as she looked back when Rainbow asked her out last week.

It hit Rainbow that she hadn’t looked at herself. There was nowhere to find a mirror on the path, so she glanced back at her body. She’d put on some weight, just barely. She had had a kid, after all. But her wings looked better than ever, and there was no gray in her tail or mane that she could see.

As they came to the edge of town, Applejack stopped at a cottage where Cheerilee answered the door. Rainbow waited while Applejack unstrapped the foal and Cheerilee scooped him up in one arm. They had a quick conversation Rainbow wasn’t paying attention to, though as they walked away Cheerilee called out, “Get well soon, Rainbow Dash!”

Rainbow just frowned.

“Cheerilee’s been married to Mac a while now,” Applejack said as they walked toward the hospital. “Since just after Granny passed.”

“Granny Smith died?” Rainbow blinked.

Applejack nodded. “She was an old pony, died in her sleep. I was tore up at the time, but you were right there for me through it.”

“How long ago was that?”

“’Bout ten years now.” Applejack frowned. “It was rough. Sweet Apple Acres just seemed so empty without her and Mac. And you were a Wonderbolt, and Apple Bloom was gettin’ ready to move out. That’s when you got it in your head we oughta have Leaf.” A smile started to creep onto her face. “You were never big on havin’ foals, but you said I’d lose my mind if I didn’t have a family, and you didn’t wanna be married to a crazy pony.”

Rainbow just furrowed her brow, trying to imagine that playing out in her life. “What else changed, AJ? I mean, it feels like pretty much everything, right?”

Applejack took a breath and her eyes widened. “Oh boy, just about. Fluttershy’s married to Bulk Biceps, they got two foals and they’re livin’ in Fluttershy’s cottage. Pinkie and Cheese Sandwich got twins, they travel a bunch, but darn if she ain’t back in Ponyville for just about every birthday here, so she’s around plenty. Rarity got married to a fella from Manehattan, but that’s over now, and good riddance. Durin’ the divorce I thought I was gonna have to lasso you to keep you from givin’ his flank a good kick, and I was tempted myself a few times. It’s hard, seein’ a friend cry like that.” Applejack shook her head, then smiled at Rainbow. “We still love ’em all. That’s never gonna change.”

Rainbow looked at her. It had never occurred to her that anything could have changed their friendships, though she felt dumb again because in fifteen years anything could have happened. But it didn’t, she reminded herself, and took a deep breath. “Good. What about Twilight?”

Applejack considered that. “She’s… just the same, I think? She didn’t get married, no foals, she says she’s got plenty of time and she’s real busy princessin’.”

A strange sense of relief passed over Rainbow. Maybe she had started to feel like everypony had left her behind… even herself. Or maybe it was just knowing that there was somepony she could go to who would be completely familiar. Whatever it was, she felt a little more optimistic as she asked, “Cool, and the foals? I mean, Apple Bloom and her friends, not your, um, our foals.”

Applejack chuckled. “They ain’t been foals for ages. The three of them are livin’ it up in Canterlot, workin’ with Princess Luna to find ponies with cutie mark problems and havin’ a grand time, from what I hear.”

“That sounds awesome.” Rainbow grinned. At least somepony was having fun, and probably doing amazing stuff, and not being old and boring with husbands and wives and kids.

Applejack nodded. “They oughta live it up while they’re young, I always tell Apple Bloom. Anyhow… we’re here.” She nodded across the street to the hospital.

Rainbow stared at it and nodded. “Let’s do this.”

• • •

A few hours later they were sitting in the library of Twilight’s castle. The ponies at the hospital had poked and prodded and scanned Rainbow every which way, and then shrugged. There was nothing wrong with her that they could find, despite a number of frustrating conversations with both Rainbow and Applejack pointing out that there was very clearly something wrong with her. Finally they were left with nothing left to do but go to see if Twilight could find something.

By the time the pair had explained the situation to Twilight, and listed all the tests the doctors had already run, the princess was ready for a puzzle. Twilight did a few magical tests of her own, and hooked Rainbow up to some fancy new magic equipment she’d never seen before, then pored over the results.

After a half an hour of watching Twilight read, circle things, and do calculations, she finally looked up and trotted over to them.

Twilight gave a half smile. “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the doctors were right. Your brain is absolutely fine. In fact… you’re not even suffering from memory loss.”

Applejack sighed and slapped her hoof to her face. “Not this again.”

“Twilight,” Rainbow said slowly, having had the same conversation with doctors five times already. “I can’t remember the last fifteen years. That’s, like, a ton of memory loss. And I promise, I’m suffering from it.”

“I know.” Twilight’s face fell to a frown. “What I’m saying is that this is magic. Your brain has reverted to a perfectly normal state from fifteen years ago. That’s the bad news: I can’t just get back the memories from the time in between, because they were never formed in this version of your mind.”

Rainbow’s eyes went wide. She had never considered that Twilight might not be able to do something. She was Twilight Sparkle. She was a princess. Of course she could fix it. She started to panic, until Applejack laid a hoof on her shoulder.

“It’ll be okay, sugarcube.” Applejack turned to Twilight. “So, she’s stuck like this?”

Twilight’s face shifted between answers before she finally settled on sighing. “I don’t know, I’m not even sure what happened. But I’ll do everything I can to try to help. She crashed during a storm of wild magic, that’s going to make it hard, there’s no written spell or magical structure to start with. I need all of the information I can get, every detail either of you can tell me about the situation.”

“Whatever you need,” Rainbow said quickly.

Twilight floated over a quill and scroll. “Applejack, what was going on before Rainbow crashed?”

“The timberwolves were howlin’ last night, so we were gettin’ set up for harvest. The second sign hit, and Dash thought it’d be safe to try to fly some of the baskets out to the trees, even though I told her not to do that durin’ zap apple season, ’cause we never know how fast it’s comin’.” Applejack gave Rainbow a look out the side of her eye. “She said that was all the more reason we needed to work fast, and she’d land if anything came up. Then the clouds rolled in like a freight train, and she went down just before the birds started makin’ the third sign. Leaf rushed off before I could catch him, and I grabbed Cider and ran right after.” Applejack bit her lip, her eyes wide. “Thank Celestia Dash was okay. If he’d found her…”

Applejack was blinking back tears, and suddenly she was leaning against Rainbow, her muzzle tenderly nuzzling just under Rainbow’s jaw. Her breath tickled Rainbow’s neck, sending a shiver through the pegasus that was actually pretty nice, but totally weird. Rainbow stepped back quickly.

Applejack looked at her, confused, then closed her eyes and hung her head. “Well, maybe ‘okay’ ain’t really the right word.”

“Um… sorry…” Rainbow said. She hadn’t done anything, but AJ just looked so sad, and that wasn’t cool.

“No, it was my mistake, I’m just…” Applejack swallowed hard.

Rainbow hesitated, then wrapped a wing around Applejack. She felt a tension leave Applejack’s body as she leaned against her.

“Thanks,” Applejack whispered.

“So, Rainbow Dash…” Twilight went on as she finished scribbling on the scroll. “What do you remember before your crash?”

“Me and AJ were supposed to go out tonight on our first date, but the zap apples were coming. We postponed ’til next week, and… um… as I was flying off one of those magic storms kicked up. And I crashed.” Rainbow’s eyes darted nervously. While she totally hadn’t done anything to make AJ sad in the current present, as far as she knew that morning she kind of… totally did do something. But that was technically fifteen years ago, and she was pretty sure if AJ found out she might kill her, so it was probably not important enough to mention.

“That was the first time the third sign came the same day as the second,” Applejack explained to Twilight. “Before that, we woulda been expectin’ the third sign the next day. Dash had no way of knowin’ there could be trouble back then. And it came in strong that year, too. Darn near blew over the barn.”

Twilight nodded. “What do you remember about after she crashed fifteen years ago, AJ?”

Applejack pursed her lips and looked into the distance, concentrating. “Darn, I dunno. It was a long time ago. I—I saw her go down while I was watchin’ the sign, and I ran to her. I know she ended up sittin’ by where I was workin’ the rest of the afternoon. I always thought she mighta got banged up, but wouldn’t admit it.”

Finishing up her notes, Twilight scanned them and said, “So, back in 1005, the zap apple weather starts acting strange, Rainbow crashes in it, then she spends the afternoon hanging out with you, possibly injured. In 1020, Rainbow crashes in the zap apple weather, and then she thinks she’s woken up after the 1005 crash. Are you two sure there’s nothing else important…?”

Applejack nodded. Rainbow opened her mouth, then she caught sight of Applejack, and closed it quickly.

“Well then, there are a few things that could have happened.” Twilight floated books off the shelves as she spoke, opening some of them in front of her and sorting others into piles. “Magical amnesia is the most simple. Head trauma in a highly magical atmosphere can result in brain damage that the magic immediately heals by just ignoring the damaged part. But usually it’s just a few days or weeks missing. Losing fifteen years would indicate something major, it would be amazing that that’s the only way you were affected. Of course, the synchronizing of the events might explain that…”

“Can you undo it?” Rainbow asked.

Twilight frowned and hesitated, the books pausing in the air around her. “It’s never been done before… but, that’s not a no. I can study it, see what’s been tried, and if there’s anything I can think of that might work where other treatments haven’t. It’s a long shot. The problem is that I’m not sure that’s what happened.”

A different set of books floated off the shelf as Twilight went on. “Another possible scenario is that it might have actually brought your mind forward in time. There was probably a lot of wild time magic floating around, since something had broken whatever kept the zap apples on a schedule before that point.”

By this point Twilight was surrounded by piles of books, some of them tottering dangerously.

Rainbow raised her eyebrows. “So… this might really be me from fifteen years ago, here now?”

“Your mind, at least,” Twilight said, nodding. “But Applejack and your kids are here too, which means this is what was supposed to happen. At least in this timeline, which I think is a pretty good one. Though I guess I might be biased…” Twilight got a confused frown on her face and stared off into the distance for a moment.

“I reckon we oughta work with this timeline bein’ right,” Applejack noted, pulling Twilight back into the conversation.

“Yes, of course. Applejack, did you notice anything different about Rainbow after the crash in ’05?”

“I don’t think… huh. I guess I did, but I dunno if it’s worth mentionin’.” She blushed and hesitated, but Twilight motioned for her to go on. “Well, when Rainbow first asked me out she was flirtin’ pretty heavy, and… let’s just say she wasn’t shy about what she was hopin’ for. To be honest, I didn’t think it was gonna work out, I thought I was gonna be pushin’ her off me all night. Even then I knew I needed a pony who wanted more than a roll in the hay, but Rainbow was a friend and I thought it wouldn’t be fair not to give her a shot. But when our date came ’round, she wasn’t pushy at all. She was real sweet, and we had an amazin’ time, and by the time we were watchin’ the meteor shower I was the one that kissed her and… ahem.”

Applejack’s blush grew stronger. Rainbow felt her cheeks warming, too, but she wasn’t sure if it was from knowing that she totally had sex with AJ on their first date, or knowing that before that she had almost totally screwed up her chances of having sex with AJ.

Twilight just looked lost in thought, but it probably wasn’t about Rainbow getting laid. “Hmm…”

“Hmm?” Rainbow repeated. “What’s ‘hmm’ mean?”

“Well, that could be a coincidence, or an effect of your original crash,” Twilight said, scribbling notes on her scroll. “Or, it might mean that you’ll eventually return to that exact point, knowing that you’re only going to sleep with AJ if you keep your tail down on your date. Or your brain got switched.”

Rainbow was nodding, she liked the sound of going back to the same point, but then Twilight finished. “Wait, what was that last one?”

“Your brain got switched. You, from now, are in your body from fifteen years ago. So you’d know enough about AJ to not be a pig on your first date,” Twilight explained.

“If it’s that one, can you switch us back?” Rainbow asked quickly.

“And if it’s that first one, where’s my Dash now?” Applejack added. “Will she come back when this one goes away?”

Twilight held up a hoof to both of them, biting her lip. “One at a time. Rainbow, in answer to your question… I can try. But what’s meant to happen will happen, and… it doesn’t look good. If you’re meant to go back, when you get there you could write a note or leave some kind of hint… you could even have come to talk to me yesterday, knowing that it’s time for you to switch with your younger self, since you used to be your younger self. But… as far as we know, you didn’t do that.”

“That doesn’t mean anything!” Rainbow insisted. “I probably meant to, but I forgot or something! Or maybe there’s some boring thing coming up and I knew about it so I decided to go chill in the past and make past me do it!”

Twilight raised her eyebrows. “I’m not saying that couldn’t happen, but would you really put yourself and AJ through all this just to avoid doing something you don’t want to do?”

“Yes!” Rainbow nodded firmly.

Applejack frowned at Rainbow and shook her head. “No, ya wouldn’t. Not the pony I went to bed with last night. Not without a darn good reason.”

Rainbow looked at her to argue, but there was a certainty in her face…and Rainbow realized that she couldn’t match that. Not about the Rainbow that Applejack knew, at least, the one who left the Wonderbolts and had a bunch of foals. She scowled and crossed her forelegs.

Twilight shook her head clear. Then she closed her eyes. “And, AJ… do you really want to know the most likely answer to your questions?”

There was silence for a few moments. Applejack’s face didn’t move, it was like she was frozen. “I reckon I get the picture.”

Rainbow’s scowl disappeared as she watched AJ. “So… everything is messed up.” She looked from AJ, who just looked away, to Twilight, who reluctantly nodded.

“I still have a lot of work to do on this,” Twilight pointed out. “Nothing is certain, time magic and wild magic are both ridiculously complicated, and the change that AJ noticed might have been a coincidence, or seeing you in a different context. But I’ll do my best with everything we have to go on.”

“We know it,” Applejack said softly. “Thanks, Twi.”

Rainbow nodded, looking down. She wanted to tell Twilight she trusted her. She wanted to beg Twilight to come through for her. More than anything, she wanted Twilight to have an answer for her right now. But Twilight knew all of those things already, so there was nothing really left to say.

Applejack turned to go, and Rainbow started to follow her out of the library.

“And, you guys?” Twilight called after them. They both stopped and looked at her, and she offered them a sad smile. “Well… just take care of each other. You both need it, right now.”

“Will do.” Applejack nodded with a sad glance at Rainbow.

Rainbow hesitated. She looked at Applejack, and she knew that she could count on her. Applejack had always been the pony to count on, the pony who took care of other ponies. And on top of that, she loved Rainbow, at least the Rainbow Dash who was supposed to be here in this life.

But Rainbow was… not that pony. She was many, many, many awesome things, but the pony who took care of other ponies wasn’t one of them.

Still, Applejack was her best friend, and when it came down to it, Rainbow had done some dumb things to her. She was just going to have to be a pony who could take care of her, and be awesome at it.

Rainbow grinned at Twilight and Applejack. “No problem.”

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