• Published 15th Oct 2020
  • 1,008 Views, 62 Comments

Stomachaches - The Red Parade

Lightning Dust’s life has been a perpetual mess. As she struggles to put her life back together and repair her relationships, the last thing she needs is another version of herself appearing on her doorstep.

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All I Want is Nothing

Author's Note:

For my friends, Moonshot and Wish

I’ve been thinking of the application questionnaire lately.

See, there’s this long laundry list of questions you have to answer to get into the weather patrol: background checks, medical records, have you ever had a job before, were you ever arrested, did you get fired, blah, blah, blah. It’s ridiculous and mind-numbing.

But even now that I have the power to change it, I find myself at a loss as to how to do it. Sure, I maybe streamlined some parts and removed some old, outdated, stupid questions, but on the surface it’s the same exam that I had to take when I first signed up years ago.

And that’s what bothers me. Because one of the first questions we ask is “what do you want from life?” And I don’t know.

Of course, I don’t have to worry about passing that exam now. I doubt I’d get in anyways. Who’s ever heard of a one-winged cloudbucker? But that silly little question comes back to haunt me in moments of silence. I can feel it lurking right around the corner, staring at me through windows and hiding under my floorboards. What do I want from life?

A part of me wants to say nothing. And the ponies I know look at me in shock and go, “Well, Lightning, that’s ridiculous! How could you not want anything at all?”

And that makes me know it isn’t true. Because, yeah, I do want stuff. I want my wing back. I want to not be a complete buffoon when it comes to day-to-day activities. I want to change the past.

But obviously I can’t do any of those things. And that leaves me here. Staring into a bathroom mirror and trying not to throw up the two pieces of toast I had for breakfast.

It’s always an absolute blast to stand there and stare at yourself, wondering how the hell you got here. But I guess it’s pointless, because I know exactly how I got here. I got here because I’m stupid, because I’m ignorant, and because I place myself miles above everyone else. Just mention the name “Lightning Dust” anywhere in a hundred mile radius of the Wonderbolts Academy and you’ll get my rap sheet.

I cough a few more times, squeezing my eyes shut and trying to get my stomach to stabilize. With a few more heaving breaths, I wipe the resurgence of toast from my mouth and sigh. “Stupid, stupid, stupid.”

I can barely see my own reflection through the tears clouding my eyes. If I squint hard enough, I can almost pretend that I’m looking at the mare I was twenty years ago, young and stupid, but still in one piece. It’s a fun game to play while you’re crying yourself to sleep at night.

A quick swipe of my hoof clears up my vision. I turn on the sink and splash some water on my face, feeling it soak through my skin as that darned question comes to light again. What do you want from life?

I don’t bother answering. I kill the faucet and grab a towel, trying to pretend like the question isn’t weighing on my mind. With one final look at my reflection, I hang the towel on the rack and trot out of the bathroom.

It takes a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the dimness of my room, but when they do, it looks the same as it always does. Piles of clothes in the corners of the room. Tossed up sheets on my sweat-stained bed. Piles of plates and bowls in my sink.

My room didn’t look like this two months ago. Hell, I wasn’t even living here two months ago. A quick glance at the clock tells me I’ve wasted too much time reminiscing already. I suck in a breath and rub circles into my stomach, as if I can somehow just will all the pain away.

I head for the door, grabbing my padded brown jacket, hat, bandana, and messenger bag on the way out. As I kick open the door, something makes me hesitate and glance back into the room. Shadows dance across the floor and walls, and everything suddenly looks a lot more depressing.

What do you want from life?

I slam the door shut on my way out.

The town outside is as alive as it always is. Early-risers like me are heading down the roads, mentally going through everything they need to do before the sun sets.

Work is nice like that. It gives you something to throw yourself against. Another mask for you to wear, so you can drown everything else out.

The bad part about my line of work is that it’s like trying to drown yourself in a shallow puddle. There really isn’t a whole lot to being the coordinator: you just have to assign patrol routes, check the flare signals from the forward scouts, then wait for something to happen.

But I guess I can’t complain, at least it’s something. And it’s not like there are many lateral options for a one-winged pegasus in weather work besides administrative positions.

I sigh. Mom used to say that I hit the ground flying, and dad used to say I was born to fly high. Funny to think that all I’m good for now is pushing papers around and playing angry wannabee drill sergeant.
But I do my best not to think about those things nowadays. Instead, I just stare forwards and tune everything else out, going through my mental checklist of things I have to do today.

I get about five seconds of peace and quiet before I’m pulled out by someone calling my name. “Mornin’, LD!”

Of course it’s her. I slap on a smile and wave back. “Morning, Fiddle.”

Fiddlesticks beams at me, trotting towards me as that white hat of hers bobs up and down. “Headed into the office?”

“Yeah,” I reply, nodding slightly. “What about you?”

“Runnin’ a few errands,” she replies, stopping in front of me. “Got a busy day on the farm after that.”

A stab of pain flares up in my stomach again. “It’s always a busy day with you, isn’t it?”

“That’s just how it is,” Fiddle answers with a smile. “Work waits for nopony.”

“Yep.” And just like that, I find myself floundering again. There’s a rush of blood to my head and a pounding pain in my chest, and I’m caught in that stupid moment of indecision. Where I know what I want to say, but I can’t say it.

Fiddle’s smile starts to fade, and she paws at the dust. “You, uh… you never did come ‘round the farmhouse. Y’know, I’ve still got that box of your stuff sittin’ there. You ever gonna get it?”

I cringe and avert my eyes. “Oh, shoot. Right. I, uh, I was going to. Just kept forgetting, I guess.”

It’s a lie, of course. The truth is that I haven’t stopped thinking about Fiddle ever since I moved out. The truth, no matter how hard I want to deny it, is that I can’t forget her. Not after everything we’ve been through. Not after everything I did to her.

“I’ll come by soon,” I say to her. “Promise.”

Fiddle smiles again and nods. “Alrighty! Sounds like a plan then.”

My eyes dart up and down the street, and I adjust the strap on my bag. “Yeah, sure.”

“How’s your stomach by the way?” she asks. “Is it still botherin’ you?”

Yeah. More than you could ever know.

“No, it’s been alright lately.”

“Ah, that’s good to hear. Hope you get better soon,” Fiddle replies, adjusting the brim of her hat.

“Thanks, Fiddle,” I say with a smile. I wish it felt real.

Fiddle tips her hat at me. “No problem, LD. See ya soon.”

I return the motion, and we go our separate ways.

But even as she walks away from me, the ghost of her face latches on to my mind and refuses to let go.

My life has had far too many bad days for my liking. Getting booted from the academy, the Washouts getting axed, losing my wing… it makes me wonder how much bad luck a mare is due. But the day that Fiddlesticks and I broke up was something different entirely.

Sure, every one of those things hurt, but that breakup made everything else look like a papercut. And thinking back on it now, it’s probably because I thought she was proof that I’d changed.

Because I hate who I used to be. Before I lost my wing, before I came here, I thought I had something. Thought I was someone. I thought I had grown bigger than the Wonderbolts, and that my future lay with the Washouts.

Then, in a stupid attempt to prove myself to the world, I strapped a kid to a rocket and pissed off the board of Certified Competitive Flyers. Got us banned from every flight competition in Equestria and lost the respect of everyone I had left.

I came to Appleloosa as a broken mare. I came here because I figured I could start new here, in a place where nopony could have heard of my screw-ups.

And then I met her.

To this day I don’t know what drew me to her, but there was something that just captivated me. I saw her playing at a bar, ripping into that fiddle of hers as fierce as any competitive flyer I’d ever seen. Sitting there, wasted and miserable, I suddenly felt that I had to prove myself to her.

I don’t know why she took me in. But she did, and that was the difference I was looking for.

She gave me something to live for. She gave me a reason to prove myself again. Even when I lost my wing, Fiddle was there. Fiddle became my reason when flying became impossible.

But now she’s gone.

What do you want from life?

Honestly? I want what I can’t have. I want to be smarter, I want to be a better pony. I want my wing back, I want to go back in time and smack my younger self silly. I want Fiddle back.

But I can’t have any of those things.

So no. All I want is nothing. Nothing at all. And that’s the hill I’ll die on.

First thing I do when I get to the weather office is beeline it right for the coffee machine. My second-in-command awaits me by the boiling pot. “Morning, chief!” Whitey greets with a big smile.

“Morning, Whitey,” I reply with a nod.

“How’s the stomach, chief?”

“It’s getting there,” I lie, fetching my cup from the counter. “It’ll get better with some of that coffee though.”

“I hear you. One White Lightning special, coming up!”

It’s times like these that make me really appreciate having a mare like her around. Ponies working weather out here like to call us Twin Lightning. She’s got a good head on her shoulders, and I can’t thank the Princesses enough for that.

She fills my cup, and we head back through the bullpen for my office. “But seriously, your stomach still sucky?”

“Yeah,” I confess, sipping from my mug. “Meds are helping a bit.”

Whitey shrugs. “Hope you get better soon, chief.”

“I’ll get there,” I say. “But enough about my gut, let’s talk weather.”

“Righto,” Whitey replies, holding the door open for me as we enter my office. “Gave a glance at the night patrol’s reports from ground scouts and the graveyard shift. Odd clustering of clouds in sector twenty-four, air is shifting up in sector fourteen. Prime dust devil breeding grounds.”

I frown as I ease into my chair. Dust devils are small whirlwinds that rip across the desert plains. Small ones come and go all the time and nobody bats an eye, but out here they have a tendency to get real big real quick. “Thinking we send a team down to keep an eye on it?”

“Read my mind, chief,” Whitey replies. “Quiet night besides that.”

I nod in thanks and start skimming through my ‘in’ tray. Weather work out here on the frontier is somewhat different from the bigger cities. The buffalo tell us that the weather moves differently out here, and so far they seem to be right. The winds can be unpredictable, clouds like to move of their own accord, and rain avoids us like the plague.

That, of course, means it’s nearly impossible for the Weather Factory to give us any help. So instead, some of the few pegasi founders created the Stormchasers to handle dust devils, monsoons, flash floods, and other fun mishaps.

We use a combination of ground scouts and pegasi to keep an eye on the plains outside of town, arming them all with flare guns to signal whenever something big is coming. But beyond that, most of our duties include cloud shunting to build up a water reserve and waiting for things to happen.

“Nothing from our buffalo friends either?”

“All quiet on the western front,” Whitey confirms. “But, uh… I wanted to ask you something, chief.”

I glance up from the papers in my hooves. My stomach starts writhing in pain again as I see the look on her face. “Shoot.”

“Have you… talked with Fiddle yet?”

I sigh, pretending to consider the question as I shuffle some papers around. “I… no, not yet. It’s… look, I don’t think she wants anything to do with me anymore.”

Whitey raises an eyebrow. “Chief, what in Equestria are you on about? You two are practically made for each other!”

“Well, clearly we’re not,” I mutter. “Otherwise we’d still be together.”

“You’ve gotta stop thinking like that, chief,” Whitey snaps. “You’re just going through a rough patch, that doesn’t mean it’s over forever!”

I groan, rubbing my temples in frustration. “Look, what do you want me to say, Whitey? I miss her, I want her back, but that isn’t going to happen.”

“Why the hay not?”

I glare at her. The voice in my hand offers an answer: Because she doesn’t want me back. And even if she did, I’d just find some way to let her down again. I squeeze my eyes shut and forcibly exhale. “Whitey… I just need time, okay? I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

I hear Whitey’s hoofsteps on the wooden floor, coming around the desk before she lays a hoof on my shoulder. “I get it, chief,” she replies softly. “Hope you can figure it out.”

With a small nod, I open my eyes and look around at my office. I never really thought much about how… saturated it is with memories. There are photos of us together hanging on the walls and decorating my desk. I still have both wings in some of them.

I had a friend back then. Now I have an enemy, even if that enemy is myself.

What do you want from life?

I stand up, squaring up some papers against the side of my desk. “Thanks, Whitey. Come on, let’s get ready for the morning brief.”