• Published 15th Oct 2020
  • 1,013 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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She's the Prettiest Girl at the Party, and She Can Prove it With a Solid Right Hook

We cross the hall into the emergency room. Before I can even make it out the door, something rams into my side. “Thank the Princess you’re okay!” Fiddle exclaims as she wraps her hooves around me.

I manage a smile and awkwardly hug her back. I’ve missed this. I’ve missed this so much. I never want to let you go. But I do, and give her a reassuring nod. “Yeah, I’m perfectly fine, Fiddle. Don’t worry.”

Fiddle looks me over before sighing. “I was so worried when I heard you were hurt.”

“Frankly, I’m more worried about that other me,” I reply, glancing at the door.

“Come on, Fiddle,” Braeburn beckons. “You might as well come along.”

Fiddle nods, and the three of us head in.

Sitting on the examination table, rear legs dangling over the side, is me. Her mane, coat, cutie mark… it’s all the same. The only difference I can see is that she looks a lot younger than me. The other Lightning glances up as we walk in, and I see her tense up as she notices me.

“Howdy, howdy. I’m Doc Holliday, this here is Mayor Braeburn, White Lightning, Fiddlesticks, and… well, Lightning Dust,” Doc says as we file into the room.

Other Lightning inhales sharply. “Where the heck am I?”

“You’re in Appleloosa,” Braeburn replies, “but from what I’ve heard, you ain’t exactly home.”

“What’s the last thing you remember?” Doc asks.

Other Lightning scrunches up her face. “I was… I was at the Academy. We were doing the flag hunt, Rainbow called out there was a flag near the bottom of the ravine. She said something… I don’t remember what, but we both dived down towards it. There was this cloud we passed through… then I ended up here.”

And just like that, everyone’s eyes are on me. I take her in again, remembering the color of her flight suit and the familiar gold pin on her chest. “You…” I swallow nervously. “You were at the Wonderbolt Academy?”

“Of course I was!” other Lightning replies, voice rising. “I’m the best flier in Equestria! Where else would I be? Shouldn’t you of all ponies know that?”

A bout of nausea strikes me. “I… I need a minute,” I stammer before stumbling out of the room.

The hallway blurs around me as I lean against the wall for support. A whirlwind of memories rips through my mind. The Academy. The lead pony pin. The expulsion. Things I thought I buried a long time ago. It crashes down around me in a downpour.

“Hey.” And just like that, there’s a beacon of light. Fiddle’s soft voice reaches out to me, and I feel her hoof rest on my shoulder. “You alright?”

“I…” I force myself to focus by taking deep, ragged breaths. “Dear Celestia, Fiddle. She’s me. From all those years ago, before I got kicked out.”

Fiddle nods. “I get it. This is a lot to take in. Here.” She guides me over to a nearby bench and has me sit down.

“Fiddle… what if this is my chance?” I ask. “A chance to fix everything I’ve done wrong? She… she still has an opportunity to become the pony I never was.”

I look up at her and see her smile. It hurts me in more ways than I could ever describe. “I think you’re right,” Fiddle replies. “I reckon you’d be pretty good at talkin’ to yourself.”

She chuckles, and I do my best to return it.

“But really, Dusty, I believe in you,” she says.

And that alone is enough to kill me. Because her words hurt. The nickname, her confidence, her just saying that she believes… it hurts, and it hurts more than any crash I’ve had. It hurts more than the building that I was thrown into, and it hurts more than waking up in a hospital with one wing.

“Thanks, Fiddle,” I reply with a ghost of a smile. “I… Thank you.”

With that, I get off the bench and try to steady myself. I reach for the doorknob and notice that my hoof is shaking. Without thinking, I look over my shoulder. Fiddle stands behind me, giving me a reassuring nod.

I look away and open the door, walking back into the room.

Doc, Braeburn, and Whitey glance at me as I reenter. I clear my throat and jerk my head to the exit. “Could I, uh, have a minute with her?”

The three understand. They nod, gather their things, and head out. Whitey slaps me on the back as she passes. “Good luck, chief,” she whispers.

As the door shuts again, I sit down in a chair next to younger Lightning, trying to figure out how best to approach this.

“So,” I say, searching my mind for fragments of memories, “how are you liking the Academy so far?”

Younger Lightning shrugs. “It’s… alright, I guess. Wish it were more challenging, everything we’ve been doing so far is super easy.”

I nod blankly. “Sounds great. I remember those days.”

“So what the heck happened to you?” blurts younger Lightning. “Why do you only have one wing?”

I grimace at that. “Oh. Well, I got into a bit of an accident years ago. Dust devil tore through town. A huge tornado with a lot of dust. Flew too close to it, and it threw me clean through a building. My wing was pretty much screwed. They had to cut it to get me out.”

Younger Lightning tilts her head in confusion. “Wait, so… you’re not a Wonderbolt?”

I let out a scoff. “No. No, I’m not. I got… kicked out of the Academy. Made a lot more mistakes along the way. And now… now I’m here.”

A weird look came across younger Lightning’s face. “Kicked you out? What, are they out of their minds? How the heck do they kick Lightning Dust out of the Academy?”

“Let’s just say I made some mistakes,” I answer, rubbing my foreleg.

Young Lightning rolls her eyes. “Lame.”

“I guess.” I clear my throat, looking her over again. It’s really disconcerting to look at. Was I really that small when I was younger? Did I really look like that? “Look, the fact is… I was where you were a long, long time ago. And I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve done things I regret. And I want to make sure you don’t do the same things.”

Young Lightning is quiet for a second. “What kind of mistakes are you talking about?”

“Let’s just say that I… didn’t play well with others.”

Young Lightning raises an eyebrow. “What the hay does that mean?”

I sigh, rubbing my chin with the back of my hoof. “To fly with the Wonderbolts, you’ve got to understand it’s about more than yourself. I… Well, we, I guess, have a hard time with that.”

“We?!” Young Lightning smirks at me, leaning back in her cot. “Don’t associate me with you, old mare!”

“What are you talking about?” I ask. “We’re the same pony.”

“As if!” Young Lightning spits. “There is no way that a pony of my caliber would get kicked out of the Academy! They’d be cutting their own wings off!”

I raise a hoof warily. “That’s exactly the kind of thinking that’ll get you kicked out. They don’t care how fast you are if you’re a rotten pony.”

“So you think I’m a rotten pony?”

“What?” I scrunch up my face. “I’m saying that I’m you!”

Young Lightning laughed again. “No way! You wish you were me, buddy. But I’d never end up as pathetic as you are right now.”

My eye twitches as she smiles at me smugly.

“You see this thing?” She taps the lead pony badge affixed to her chest. “It’s a sign. A sign that nothing in the world is going to stop Lightning Dust.”

I take a deep breath to try and stew my anger.

“Kid, look. That kind of thinking… it isn’t going to be good for you. Trust me. I was there once.”

“No. No, you weren’t,” young Lightning replies. “You and I are nothing alike. I’m not a quitter, and I’m not growing up to be some poor, weak old mare.”

That gets a snarl out of me. “What part of this do you not get? If you don’t listen to me, you’re going to end up exactly where I am!”

Young Lightning shoots up from the cot and jabs a hoof towards my eye. “Oh, shut up, you blithering idiot!”

“I’m trying to help you, you arrogant little—”

I barely even realize that young Lightning’s moved, but the next thing I know, my vision goes black, and I’m sent sprawling across the floor.

Even as I raise a hoof to feel my jaw, I catch a hint of a turquoise blur flying through the door.

The others surge in after that, startled cries and shouts coming from the hallway. “Dusty!” Fiddle’s by my side in a second. “What happened?”

“Did she…” I finally get a hoof up to my jaw, as a faint taste of iron fills my mouth. “Did she just punch me?”

“Shut up.” I press the ice bag deeper into my jaw while glaring at Whitey.

She stifles a giggle and waggles her ears at me. “Sorry, chief. It’s just there aren’t many ponies out there who can say they’ve been punched by themselves.”

I grumble, shooting daggers at her from across the room. “Come closer to me and say that to my face.”

Whitey laughs again. I know she means well, but I can’t lie: it makes me feel worse.

There’s a knock at the door, and Braeburn pokes his head in. “Hey, got some word in. Our renegade was last spotted heading east, towards Antelope Canyon.”

Whitey and I exchange glances. That isn’t good. The canyon is notorious for flash flooding and all sorts of other maladies.

“We better dig her out before she gets herself killed,” I mutter, tossing the ice pack aside. “Whitey, go get some kits ready. Let’s try and bring her home before sundown.”

“On it, chief!” Whitey answers with a salute. She nods at Braeburn and heads out of the room.

Braeburn gives a sigh, taking off his hat and running a hoof through his mane. “You alright, Lightnin’?”

“Yeah, think so,” I mutter, getting to my hooves.

“Now hold up a second,” he says. “I’d like to think that I know how to read ponies. And my read on you is that somethin’ ain’t right. That true?”

I try and match his stare, but it only takes a few seconds for that mask to waver. “No, no. Everything’s fine,” I lie, scraping a hoof against the ground.

Braeburn gives me a weary glance. “My cousin is the Element of Honesty, Lightnin’. I can spot a liar a mile away. What’ve you got on your mind?”

“Well…” I feel something turning in my stomach again as the words start to trickle out. The truth is that I know exactly what’s wrong. I’m tired, I’m miserable, and I’m tired of being miserable. “It’s nothing, Brae. I swear on it.”

Braeburn frowns, tapping his hooves together. “I think we both know that ain’t true.”

I sigh and rub my head as the pain crawls up my throat and into my head. “I’ve just been doing some thinking, you know? Wondering if it’s smarter for me to just cash out.” I lean against the wall and fold my forelegs across my chest. “I just need some time to figure stuff out.”

A rather pregnant pause fills the room. “Let me pose you this question. Are you happy here?” Braeburn asks.

No, I want to say. No, I’m not. Because every single day I’m reminded of what I’ve lost. It hurts, and it bleeds over. That anger, that frustration. All of it.

“I’m perfectly happy here,” I lie. “Let’s just… Let’s just worry about the younger me right now.”

Braeburn holds me with a steady, heavy gaze, before he finally relents. “Fine, then. I still think you’re the best shot at this, even if she booked on you. You know where you went wrong and you mean well. You know yourself better than any of us can. If there’s anypony in Equestria that can set her straight, it’s gotta be you.” He flashes me a weary smile. “I trust you Lightnin’. Always have.” With that, he jerks his head at the door. “Better get goin’ now. Best of luck, Lightnin’.”

I offer him as strong a smile as I can. “Thanks, Brae.”

Fiddle’s waiting for me on the other side. She raises an eyebrow when she sees my face. “She clocked you good, didn’t she, Dusty?”

And just like that the stomach pain’s back again. That nickname, that stupid nickname murders me like it always does. Because with it I can feel the love it used to bring and all the memories it’s embedded with.

I shove it down and nod. “Yeah. I’m going to give her a piece of my mind when I find her. You coming with us?”

“Eeyup!” Her smile radiates with a warmth as strong as the sun.

I think back to what I said in my conversation with Braeburn.

“You’re not happy here, are you?”

“Right now? No. No, I’m not.”

A part of me wants to leave. To run away from all of these memories before they kill me. To run away from her ghost that clings to my shadow. But I realize now that’s hopeless. Because there’s only one place I belong in Equestria, and that’s with her.


“Sounds good. Just don’t get lost on me, you hear? I’m not going to stop for you,” I reply, giving her a playful poke.

She shoots me a competitive smirk. “Right, I think you’re the one who’s going to have to keep up with me, Dusty!”

Braeburn coughs from behind us. I give him a glance, and I see the look he gives me. The one that says, “Talk to her, spell it out. Tell her what she needs to know.”

What she needs to know is that I’m sinking fast. What she needs to know is that I’m near my breaking point. And that I want to know if she still cares.

“Everythin’ alright, Lightnin’?” she asks.

I swallow my thoughts and nod. “Yeah. I’m alright. Let’s go find this idiot before she gets herself killed.”

As I lead the way down the hall, that sentence just echoes down my mind.

“I need you to know I’m alright. I need you to know I’m alright. I need you to know. I need you. I need you. I need you.”