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Here at the End of all Things. · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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No Spring Chicken
“Rainbow Dash, you’re getting too old for this.”

“Whatever, Runny.” Despite her throbbing left wing, Dash managed to put on a grin. Or at least she tried too. It hurt all the way up to her face, which made it hard to tell if it was moving the way she wanted it to. “It always the same song and dance with you.”

Doctor Running Start glared and shook her head.

“You’re here often enough as it is,” said the small-framed doctor. “And it’s pretty bad, this time, Captain.”

Running took a hold of Dash’s sprained wing in a soft cloud of magic and tilted it ever so slightly to the side. The pain was still enough to send daggers all the way up into Dash’s eyes. Dizzying spots splashed across her vision as she sucked air through clenched teeth.

“More painwort, doc.”

“I’ve already given you more than I should have,” said Running.

“C’mon, Runny, I’m a big girl.” Rainbow managed to say through clenched teeth. “A little more isn’t going to kill me.”

Running Start sighed. She took the dark little bottle of painkiller back in her hornglow and poured another measure of the thick, black liquid into a tablespoon.

“Last one. Another spoonful, and you’re probably going to be smelling colors.”

Rainbow snatched the spoon and greedily licked it clean. The medicine was bitter as chalk and so syrupy that she almost had to chew it. But it worked almost immediately. Whereas before the pain in her wing was punching her across her face, now it took a step back and was warily eying her up from the other side of the street, like a mobster looking to collect on an old debt.

When she could think again, Rainbow Dash realized she was sweating. She was sweating all over, as if she were doing laps around the academy on a hundred-degree afternoon. And she was shaking all over too.

This was pretty bad, she had to admit. More than twenty-odd years of flying with the ‘Bolts, and she could probably count on her hooves the number of spills that were this bad.

“I need a better look,” said Running. “I’m going to open your wing to full extension. It’s going to hurt.”

Pins and needles spread across Dash’s wing as the doctor took it in her magical grasp. Gently, but firmly, the limb was forced to open.

It was awful. The mobster was back, with friends and a baseball bat. White-hot spikes drove into Dash’s shoulder. Rainbow bit down on a scream and turned it into a moan, instead.

“Just what I was afraid of,” said Running. “There’s definitely some tearing in your flight pectoralis. And I can barely feel any ligamentary resistance. I’m going to put the whole thing on ice.”

Running levitated out several plastered bandages and wrapped them tightly around Dash’s chest and wing. When she was done, she hit them with a drying spell and a chilling enchantment, cold enough to make the hairs on the back of Dash’s neck stand up. Finally, she fit the injured wing into a sling and strapped it tightly—really damn tightly!—against Rainbow’s barrel.

Stepping back from her patient, her Dr. Running Start’s scrunched up in thought.

“That wing is going to need four weeks immobilized. Minimum.”

Dash blinked in surprise. “Horseapples, doc. I’ve bounced back from worse faster than that.”

“Maybe when you were twenty. Maybe when you were thirty. Not anymore.”

Running took out a bright pink lollipop from her stash, unwrapped it in a flash, and bit down on it. They were probably her only vice in the world.

“Four weeks, then we see a muscular regeneration specialist. I know a good one, but nobody can work miracles. With any luck, you’ll be back in the game in three to four months.”

“Three months?” Dash’s eyes popped. “That’s a friggin’ joke, doc!”

“You’re lucky enough that this isn’t career-ending. Still might be, actually” Running opened up a second lollipop and jammed it into her other cheek. Somehow, she was still talking with a lollipop stick poking out of both sides of her mouth. “Two out of three times I see something like this, the pony’s never going to be at one hundred percent again. ”

“Well, that’s not going to happen.”

Dash got up on her hooves. There was a moment of light-headedness, but she shook it off and walked up to the exit of the infirmary and shouldered the doors open.

Behind the doors was the whole team, still in training gear, and still smelling of sweat. When they saw her, Skystriker jumped to her hooves.

“Captain!” she said, fumbling a salute. “I—I just… I didn’t—”

“At ease, Strike. It wasn’t your fault.” Dash waved off the salute with her good wing. “I was flying too hot, and I didn’t make the turn. I’m just glad you weren’t hurt too.”

“But I—”

“But nothing, corporal!” It was a little difficult to get a good yell going, because it jostled her wing. But Dash knew that Strike needed it. “If it was your fault, I’d have you grounded. But it wasn’t, so you’re not. End of story, Wonderbolt.”

Skystriker lowered her head. Ashamed, but relieved.

“Now,” said Dash, turning to the others, “I’ll be fine, but doc says I’m out of commish for now. I’ll be back to get this sling off in three weeks.” She punctuated it with a glance back through the open infirmary doors to Running. The doctor just glared.

“Until then,” continued Dash, “it’s business as usual. Run your drills and get work done on the new routine. Compass has command until I’m back. I’ll draft up the paperwork in the morning. Clear?”

“Clear!” came the response in chorus.

“Dismissed, then. Hit the showers, ‘Bolts.”

When they were all gone, Rainbow turned and let herself limp her way to her office.

Applejack followed the sounds of mayhem into the kitchen. There was the distinct tinkling crash of a breaking plate. Applejack walked faster.

“Amber? Courtland?” she called out, as she rounded the corner.

A pair of upset little faces looked up at her. Fragments of ceramic littered the tiled floor, and in the center of the mess was a sticky, brown, doughy mess.

“Are either of ya’ll hurt?” she asked, stepping between the shards of china as quickly as she dared. “Let me see those hooves.”

Ambersweet was the first of the two to recover from the surprise of it all.

“It wasn’t my—”

“Hush, now,” said Applejack, firmly, as she searched the kids for cuts or bruises. “And that goes for you too.” She shot Courtland a glare before the retort she knew was coming could leave his mouth.

It didn’t take long to make sure both of them were fine. All her experience with Applebloom made the process quick and familiar, if not any less stressful. When she was done, she breathed a sigh of relief.

“Now,” she said, eyeing the mess, “would ya’ll like to explain how my favorite mixing bowl got all busted up?”

“We were—”

“I didn’t—”

They both began at once before shooting each other dirty looks.

Applejack rubbed her temple. “Courtland first,” she said. He was usually a more level-headed than his sister. Only by a little, though.

“We were baking dad’s birthday cake,” he said. “And Amber wasn’t putting in enough cocoa.”

“No!” Amber fumed. “Ms. Pinkie said to use one cup of cocoa for a big cake, and we’re only making a little one!”

“But she also said that you should put more if you don’t like sweet, and dad doesn’t like sweet!”

“That’s enough,” Applejack said, and the argument immediately died. “I’ve heard enough.”

Applejack made it a point to turn to each child individually and make eye contact.

“Do you think,” she said, “your father would like that his kids are hollerin’ at each other?”

“No,” they reluctantly admitted.

“Do you think your father would like that there’s a mess in the kitchen when he comes back from his morning chores?”

“No,” they chorused, more regretfully this time.

“Then the broom’s in the closet, and the mop’s next to the sink. While ya’ll’re cleaning this up, I’ll swing by Pinkie’s and grab a chocolate cake, the way your dad likes them.”

“Thank you, Auntie Applejack,” they replied together. The siblings carefully stepped through the mess. Courtland flew up to grab the broom, and Ambersweet used a wet rag to pick up the sticky dough.

Applejack stayed just a moment longer to watch them before making her way out the back door. As she stepped through, she held the door open with a hind leg and turned over her shoulder.

“And if I ever catch the two of you fighin’ again, ya’ll aren’t going to see the outside of your room for a month!” She called. “Am I clear?”

“Yes, Auntie Applejack,” came the two-voiced reply.

Satisfied, she let the door swing shut, turned her head forward, and nearly walked right into Rainbow Dash.

“Golly gee, girl!” WIth a fumbling hoof, Applejack swept off her hat and fanned herself with it. Surprises were not very welcome things for her, at her age. “How long have you been standing there?”

“Just for a minute,” said Dash. She looked over Applejack’s shoulder towards the farmhouse. The silvered stripes in her mane were very striking; they caught the sun’s light and made the remaining colors glow. “The kids giving you trouble?”

“Yeah, a tad of it.” Applejack blew a raspberry and hoisted her hat back to on her head. “Young’uns don’t know what to do with themselves on a Saturday. They were trying to bake a cake for Mac, and—”

Applejack blinked when she finally noticed Rainbow’s wing was in a sling.

“You foolish, darned featherbrain!” With the side of her hoof, she cuffed the top of Rainbow’s head. Not hard enough to really hurt her, but definitely enough to get her attention.

“Hey!” squawked Rainbow. Her unbound wing instinctively rubbed the point of impact.

“I told you that you were fixin’ to get yourself hurt with that crazy darned schedule of yours!” Applejack shook her head vigorously. “Why don’t you ever listen to me? I know firsthand what overwork can do to a body.”

“The new recruits are still really green,” Dash insisted. “They need to be broken in before our next show. Every ‘Bolt has got to go through hell month, Jack. I’ve always trained my teams like this.”

“Well, much as you won’t admit it, you ain’t as young as you were when you trained your first batch of ‘Bolts.” Applejack frowned and felt her eyes begin to sting. “It could have been a lot worse than a busted wing, you hear me?”

Rainbow’s eyes narrowed. “I know what I’m capable of,” she growled.

Applejack was just opening her mouth to tell Dash off, but she was surprised when the pegasus raised her wing in surrender.

“Okay,” she said squeezing her eyes shut, “That was uncalled for. I’m sorry. I didn’t come to fight.”

“I’m sorry, too.” Applejack sighed. She felt like an idiot for letting herself go and get mad again. But when it came to Dash, sometimes she really didn’t know what to do at all. Her eyes went back to Rainbow’s injured wing. “How are you?”

“Doc says that I need to take a leave. A couple of weeks. Just finished the paperwork a couple of hours ago.”

“Dash…” Applejack pulled at her hat as she tried to find the words to say. “Dash, sometimes I just don’t know what to do with you..”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Rainbow. There was a defensive edge to her words.

“I… I don’t know, partner.” Applejack breathed in through her nose and let it out slow. “What are you doing here, Rainbow?”

“Well,” said Rainbow Dash as she pawed the ground, “I wanted to see you and Mac and Flutters and the kids.” There was a little pause. “I missed you,” she admitted in the end.

“I missed you too,” said Applejack, automatically. But she still meant it. “But I don’t know if that’s good enough anymore. We’re not young mares anymore.”

“Yeah, Jack.” Dash screwed her eyes shut and rubbed at her face. “Yeah, I know, Jack.”

Rainbow turned and walked down towards the path that led to the east side of town.

For a minute, Applejack watched her go. Then she gritted her teeth, wiped at her eyes, and took the opposite fork in the road.

Deliberately, she put Dash out of her mind for now. Because she’d have to hurry to get the cake from Sugarcube Corner before Mac came back for lunch.

Twilight’s castle was still the most glittery and the most gaudy darned thing that Rainbow had ever seen. But at least that made it easier to spot from the ground. Rainbow sometimes still had some trouble finding her way around town if she wasn’t in the air.

Nine times out of ten, she’d touch down on one of the upper balconies and let herself in that way. But today, she knocked at the door.

A teenaged stallion, about a head taller than her and wearing little glasses on the tip of his nose, opened the door. His eyes widened.

“Your wing!”

Dash half-forced a chuckle. “Don’t worry, squirt, doc says I’ll be fine.” She looked up at him, and she didn’t have to fake the grin that spread on her face. “Damn, Joops, you’re getting taller every time I see you. I’m gonna need a stepladder to talk to you next time.”

Jupiter Wind laughed bashfully. “Whatever, Rainbow Dash.” He motioned her to come in.

As Dash entered the foyer, she sniffed at the air. “I take it by the lack of smoke that Spike’s not back yet?”

“Nope,” said Jupiter. “I think he’s supposed to be out for another week or two.”

“Oh,” said Dash. “I hope I’ll get to catch the big guy before I head back to the academy.”

“Yeah,” said Jupiter just as the two of them reached the room that used to hold the Cutie Map. It had become a bit of an unofficial private room for the old Elements.

“So, any chance Twilight’s around?” asked Dash. She fiddled uncomfortably, brushing her wing against the chair—hell, it was really a full-blown throne—that had her Mark on it.

“Yeah, she’s all up in the guts of some kind of project in the basement. Let me give her a call.” Jupiter’s horn lit as he cast a telesonic spell. “Hey, mom. Rainbow Dash is here. Can you come up?”

There was a moment while he listened to Twilight’s reply. Dash caught bits and pieces of it as the spell fed the sounds straight into Jupiter’s ear.

“Yep,” he said, before pausing again. “Nope, I think she hurt her wing. No, the doctor said it was fine. She said so. Well, okay, then.” His hornglow flickered off. “She’s on her way.”

“She sounded worried,” said Dash.

“Mmhm.” Jupiter nodded. “That’s why she’s coming right now.”

“Wait, wha—?”

Twilight Sparkle teleported into the room with a bang. Her mane was frazzled, and there were scorch marks on the fur on her face.

“Rainbow! Jupski said you were hurt!” Twilight tore off a pair of goggles and magicked of her labcoat before reaching out towards Dash.

Rainbow knocked her grabby hooves away and smiled. “You don’t need to baby me, Twi, I’m fine.”

“No, it looks bad!” Twilight’s horn hit up, and a beam of light washed across Rainbow’s body.

Diagnostic spell. Rainbow was pretty familiar with them.

“It is pretty bad!” she said when the spell was complete. “What happened?”

From the corner of the room, Jupiter muttered, “I’ll just leave you guys and…” before he awkwardly shuffled out of the room.

When the door closed behind her, Dash rolled her eyes. “Training accident. It happens, Twi.”

“Well, it shouldn’t,” said Twi, as she prodded at the cast and sling with her magic. “At least, not this often it shouldn’t.”

“Hey, if I wanted the worrywart song and dance, I’ll—Ow! Quit poking!—I’ll go back to Runny.” Then Rainbow got a sour taste in her mouth and frowned. “Or Applejack,” she added.

Twilight’s ear perked up. “Is there something wrong between you two, Rainbow?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Dash admitted. “Well, I don’t know. I’m no good with this stuff. I guess I came for advice.”

“Nothing would be more important to me,” said Twilight warmly. But then a sheepish fear crept into her smile. “...but the thing is, I Ieft some pretty volatile reagents downstairs. I time-locked them right before I came up, but if I don’t go back soon, the spell will probably—”

There was a muffled explosion from somewhere beneath them. The floor shook for a moment.

Twilight blinked slowly. “Hold that thought, Dash.”

Twilight Sparkle teleported away.

Rainbow wasn’t sure if she wanted to laugh or sigh. So she heaved herself over the side of her big throne and lay in it, with her hind legs dangling off one side. And she waited for Twilight to come back.

Dash wasn’t under any illusions. Twilight was probably one of her more eccentric friends. She may not have Rarity’s drama or Pinkie’s… Pinkiness, but the little alicorn was probably just as odd a pony as she was a smart one. And somehow, despite it all—or perhaps, because of it—there was nopony else in Equestria that Dash trusted more when it came to things like this.

A burst of magic interupted Rainbow’s thoughts, as Twilight returned.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” said Twilight. “I just had to make sure it wasn’t cascading; I’ll clean the lab up later.”

“No sweat, Twi,” said Dash.

Twilight sat in the throne next to Dash’s. It was actually Fluttershy’s, a distant part of Dash’s mind noted. A bit of a silence passed before the alicorn broke it again.

“You were saying about Applejack,” Twilight said, gently.

“Yeah, I was.”

A stray bit of mane fell down across Dash’s eyes. It was red, yellow, and graying. Rainbow frowned and pushed it out of her face. Then she covered her face with her hoof. She really didn’t know why, but that always seemed to help when she needed to say something she really didn’t want to.

“I think I’m old, Twilight.” Rainbow Dash pushed more of her stupid hair out of her stupid eyes. “I don’t know when it happened, but I think I got old.”

Dash heard Twilight move around, and then she felt a warm wing on her shoulder. She opend her eyes, saw that Twilight had a sad, faraway look in hers.

“Dash, it’s… It’s okay.”

“No,” said Rainbow, and she felt an angry heat come up into her chest. “It’s dumb. It’s really, really dumb. I know that everypony goes through this, and I shouldn’t really care, but it’s dumb that I really, really do care. And I don’t know why I’m telling you of all ponies. You must really think I’m dumb.”

“Don’t say that, Rainbow,” said Twilight, quietly. “I know how you feel.”

“But… But you…” Rainbow looked up and down Twilight’s face. Her hair was still vibrant, there were no bags or wrinkles underneath her eyes, and her cheeks were still ruddy. There was nothing to show that she was a day over twenty-five.

“You’re… you know…” Rainbow finished lamely.

“I know,” said Twilight. “But I still feel old too, sometimes. Especially when I think about Jupiter. It won’t be long before he’s as old as I was during my coronation. In five or ten years… he’s going to start looking older than me.”

Rainbow had never considered that. It did not leave her feeling good. She growled and rubbed at her eyes, harder this time.

“Twi,” she said, “what’s the point of family?”

Twilight laughed. Rainbow’s heart sank.

“No, no, no,” said Twilight, “I’m not laughing at you. It’s just that Cadance and I talk about this, like, all the time. And honestly, I think she’s probably just as confused as we are.”

Rainbow raised an eyebrow and motioned for Twilight to continue.

“I mean, I’m very happy I have my family. But for someone like me, I guess you can see how sometimes my feelings can be… muddy. I know I don’t have forever to spend with my family, but I guess nopony does. And I guess nopony, not even Cadance, has all the answers.”

“What does she say, anyway?” asked Rainbow.

“She has an interesting little turn of phrase,” said Twilight. “She likes to say, ‘Family doesn’t have a point, because it is the point.’ Not sure if I’m totally on board with that idea, but I admit it there are times when I can see what it’s getting at.”

“Yeah,” said Dash. “It’s a neat saying. Like a proverb, I guess.”

“It’s kind of surprising,” said Twilight. “I remember it more during the rough times than the good ones. I guess that means it’s kind of true, in a way.” Twilight leaned over one of the hoofrests of Rainbow’s throne, and smiled warmly. “I just want to make sure you know, Rainbow, you’re part of my family too.”

Rainbow was tongue-tied for a second, but then she knew exactly how she felt.

“Yeah, yeah, you egghead, I know. You’re part of mine, too.”

A second of amiable silence passed between then, before an idea popped into Rainbow’s head. It was a really, really dumb one. But she couldn’t help it. She snickered, and turned to face Twilight again.

“Twiiiiiiilight,” she moaned, in the creakiest, moldiest voice she could muster. “I’m ooooooold,” she said, pulling her lips over the teeth to hide them. “I’m soooooo old, Twilight!”

It was a stupid, stupid joke, but Twilight laughed. And the more Rainbow smacked her toothless lips, the harder she laughed.

“Raaaaaainbow,” she said, squinting. Her voice was overly-froggy. “My eyesight’s not what it used to be. Where are you Raaaaainbow?”

Twilight deliberately bumped a searching hoof straight on Rainbow’s snout. The pegasus snorted, and that was enough to put them both in stitches. The two of them rolled on the floor together, kicking and laughing.

When they caught their breath, Twilight lit her horn. A crystalline bottle and two thin-necked wine glasses popped into the space between them.

“This… this is that minotaur vintage, isn’t it?” asked Rainbow.

“Yepo! Last bottle.” Twilight passed one of the glasses to Rainbow.

“But I thought you were saving it.”

Twilight thought for a little while, and brought the bottle to her face to study the label. Then she shrugged and pulled out the cork.

“Now’s a good an occasion as any,” she said, pouring them both a heaping glass.

Rainbow felt a little guilty about drinking it up until the very moment the stuff touched her lips.

Mac, Fluttershy, and the kids were in bed. And Applejack was just about to turn in too, when there was a tapping against the window. Applejack took her lantern in her mouth and brought it up close against the glass, so she could see.

“Rnnbew?” she asked when she saw the figure outside. Spitting out the lantern handle, she undid the latch and opened the window. A hundred and twenty pounds of tipsy pegasus tumbled in.

“How in the apple-bucking world did you reach my window without your wing?”

“I, uh, climbed the tree,” said Rainbow, “And then I sorta made my way to the railing. There’s enough space on your windowsill to get a hoof on.”

“Tarnation, girl, you’re going to hurt yourself again!” Applejack stomped as hard as she dared in a house with four sleeping occupants.

“I know!” said Rainbow. “I know, I’m sorry, and I won’t do it again. But, but I had to tell you something. First, though, want a sip?”

Applejack was suddenly aware of a big glass bottle being pressed against her face. It was two-thirds empty. What the hay, why not? She tilted it back and swallowed some of the thin, sweet liquid. It actually went to work on her stress surprisingly quickly.

Sitting on the floor next to Dash, she glanced at the label on the bottle.

“Is this… this is Twilight’s good stuff, ain’t it?”

“Yeah, it is,” Rainbow smiled smugly. “I may or may not have convinced her to open her last bottle. Actually, I didn’t; it was all her idea.”

Despite it all, Applejack felt her anger peel away. A giggle threatened to bubble up and break the surface.

“Dash,” she said, passing the bottle back. “Dash, what are you doing?”

Rainbow took an eager pull of the wine.

“What I’m doing is,” she said, “I’m asking myself a question.”

“And what question is that?” asked Applejack, smiling.

Rainbow drank from the bottle again before she continued.

“My question is, why in Celestia’s name did I not ask you to marry me ten years ago?”

Applejack’s heart skipped a beat, and her smile just kind of slid off her face, leaving an “O” of surprise behind.

“Sugarcube,” she said carefully, “You’re bucking drunk.”

“No, no, no, Jack,” said Rainbow. Her eyes hardened as she blew greying bangs out of her face. “Be serious for a minute. Cause I’m serious!”

“Okay,” said Applejack. “Being serious, maybe you ain’t never asked me because we never dated.”

“We should have,” said Rainbow, in a voice so sad that Applejack was taken aback for a moment. “We really should have.”

A quiet minute later, Applejack held out her hoof and pointed to the bottle. Rainbow passed it back to her.

Applejack took a big swing. A little voice in her head reminded her that she had to wake up early tomorrow, but she resolved to drown that part of her mind. In ethanol.

“Were you…” Rainbow began before swallowing at nothing and trying again. “Were you waiting for me, Applejack?”

Her heart did another flip-flop. Some ugly emotions squeezed at Applejack’s throat, but she breathed in deeply and then exhaled them away.

“I think honestly, I might have been. At least a little.”

“I’m sorry, Jack. That’s not fair,” she said. Rainbow sniffed and rubbed at eyes that were beginning to swell and redden.

“It ain’t your fault, Rainbow,” said Applejack. “At least, not all of it. It takes two to square dance, you know?”

“Yeah, but I’m going to be honest, now. I swear.” Rainbow’s sharp pink eyes met Applejack’s. “I’ve been thinking about my time with the ‘Bolts. And… I think I did some good work. I think it’s enough.”

“What do you mean, sugar?” A guilty little spark of hope lit in Applejack’s chest.

“I mean, I’ve been, like, a permanent friggin fixture at the academy,” said Dash, gesticulating wildly with her good wing. “The recruits I’m training today? I trained the ‘Bolts that inspired them to join when they were kids! Twenty-six years is… a really long time.”

Rainbow took the bottle back and finished it off. She let it fall on the carpeted floor with a thud.

“A really long time…” she said again. “My name’s going to be in the history books for a long, long time, so I don’t need to worry about that anymore.”

“Are you saying,” asked Applejack, carefully, “that you’re fixin’ to retire?”

“That is exactly what I’m saying.” Dash punctuated the word with a jab into the air.

“But what about being a Wonderbolt, Dash? What about living the dream?”

“I did live the dream. For half my life. But I think this season… is probably going to be my last.”

“Aren’t you scared?” whispered Applejack. “Scared of how your life is gonna be?”

Rainbow Dash squinted and rolled her eyes in thought. “Yeah, I guess. But I’m looking at it this way.” She counted off on her fingers. “I’m not a weatherpony, anymore. I’m not an Element, anymore. And by next spring, I might not be a ‘Bolt anymore, either. That’s kinda freeing, you know? I can live my life for me and nobody else.”

Applejack’s heart pounded and her stomach fluttered. She could not remember being this excited and scared and nervous and giddy since she was Ambersweet’s age. She took deep breaths that she hoped Dash wouldn’t see, and then opened her mouth.

“So, what’re you planning to do, then?” Her voice hitched a little, but Rainbow didn’t seem to notice.

“Well,” said Dash. She slid up next to Applejack until their sides were touching and their faces were so close together that Applejack could see every little detail in Rainbow’s eyes. “I was thinking about asking an amazing mare I know out on a date.”

Applejack smiled broadly. “And iffin’ she says ‘yes’?”

“Then,” said Rainbow Dash, “I’ll marry that girl.”

“I thought you were going to be here last week,” said Running Start. She took a wet, warm towel that smelled of solvent and squeezed it against the cast on Rainbow’s wing.

“Yeah, I thought so too,” said Dash. “But vacation suited me.”

“For once.” Running rolled her eyes and flipped her lollipop to the other side of her mouth.

Dash felt the cast began to soften. It felt really good. Her wing had been getting pretty itchy during the last few days, so just being able to feel something happening was a very welcome change of pace.

When it was ready, Running removed the rags and picked up a pair of shears in her magical grasp. She pressed them against Rainbow’s side, starting at the base of her wing and working its way up. Each snip of the shears was slow and deliberate and freed up only a maddingly small amount of her wing.

Rainbow tried to start wiggling her way out of the cast. Running hissed in dissaproval.

“Do you want me to cut something important off?”

“Sorry, doc. Just anxious to get going.” Rainbow looked at the sagging, tired-looking cast. “I’m ready to leave that old thing behind.”

“Well, if you don’t want to leave your wing behind too, then you’re going to have to wait another minute.” Running Start changed her angle of approach, and starting working from the other side of the cast. “Anyways, things were quiet while you were gone. No more crashes, thank Celestia.”

“Yeah,” said Dash. “Compass has got a good head on his shoulders. He played it safe, like he should have.”

Another snip, another half-inch closer to freedom.

“The team needs a cool head like that,” said Dash. She let herself get a little wistful at the thought. “I think he’ll do just fine.”

“As long as that means fewer ponies in here, I’m happy with that,” grumbled Running.

With one last cut, the cast fell away. Rainbow stretched her wing out for the first time in three weeks. It was sore, and weak, and tired, but it was free. This was a new start.

“How are you feeling, captain?”

“Like a new mare, Runny,” said Dash. She smiled from ear to ear. “Like a brand new mare.”

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#1 · 4
· · >>horizon >>Bachiavellian
Alright! I'll start by saying that retirement (and aging in general) was a very good use of the prompt—especially when it comes to Rainbow Dash.

Other than a couple of little spelling mistakes and an extra space between lines, the story was written quite well on a technical level. Rainbow remained very much in character for her parts of the story, and actually showed some growth by the end, which is something that some authors don't allow her.

However, there were a couple of things that stood out to me in this story. The first being a point where the doctor says that Rainbow will have to rest for "four months", to which Rainbow replies "Thee months?". I wasn't certain (and I'm still not) whether this was intentional on Rainbow's part, or merely an error, but if it was intentional I would have liked the doctor to address it somehow (like how the doctor does later when Rainbow says "three weeks" to the cadets).

The next one is the (potential?) romance with Applejack. This seemed to come out of the blue, and probably could have been better set up in Applejack's first encounter with Rainbow Dash. In fact, that scene is probably the fic's weakest point. It felt as if the fic was teasing the parentage of the foals initially, only to come out and say that their mother was Fluttershy. Maybe that was just me reading into things, but that section just felt... off. I had a similar feeling when Jupiter appeared (who is the father? are they around? was Jupiter a magically spawned simulacrum? Or adopted?) and it was a little off-putting when he ended up just being a plot point to talk about he would, one day, out-age Twilight. Which reminds me, if he is actually her son, why isn't he an Alicorn?

Okay, again, maybe I'm thinking too much into it. But those were the points that tripped me up. Other than those little things which felt out of place, I actually really liked the story. Rainbow 'hanging it up', accepting that she's gone beyond the call of duty, and moving on to the next chapter of her life left me with good feelings. And, despite the fact that I said it could have been set up better, I'm a sucker for romance, real or implied, so that certainly helped. Good work!
#2 · 6
· · >>Bachiavellian
I loved this. My only complaint is that I think AJ and Dash need a stronger foundation than "thought about each other for years but never dated" in order to sell the romance. It doesn't make sense that AJ would be ready to marry somepony she's never dated, especially given her character.

I think if you made them former lovers that drifted apart because of Dash's schedule with the Bolts, it would work much better. That's all I have to offer.
#3 · 1
· · >>Bachiavellian
I like the premise of this story, and many parts of the execution are solid, but when I actually read through it, it felt a bit paint-by-numbers. What's here is done well, and I like the portrayal of RD and AJ, but this isn't anything I haven't seen before. More detail would help to bring it to life, or to help us understand why the characters aged the way they did.

I think this will end up solidly in the middle of my slate: well executed, unobjectionable, but it didn't blow me away.
#4 · 3
· · >>Bachiavellian
Genre: Automatic heresy, Big Mac / Sugar Belle OTP :-p

Thoughts: This has a strong overall narrative. I can go through checking off lots of good elements like strong characterization, few if any typos, and clear imagery. Descendants of the M6 can be grating, but these ones felt pretty natural, so bonus points for that.

The romance aspect feels about halfway to being believable right now. It makes sense that Dash would rethink her life priorities under the circumstances, and Twilight was a fine choice to help her with that. I have a harder time buying that AJ can just flip the switch from being sidelined to being all-in so quickly, though. It still mostly works, and I would imagine that fans of the ship would give you a pass. But from the outside looking in, I think it could be framed up more strongly.

Nevertheless, the quality of prose and overall solidity pushes this up into my high tiers.

Tier: Strong
#5 · 5
· · >>Bachiavellian
This was a very enjoyable read. Dash felt completely in character, as did Twilight. AJ was half and half; her main purpose was mostly just reacting to Dash.

Overall, it was sweet and bitter in all the right ways. I just feel this kind of story would benefit greatly from having a bit more to it. This could easily be hammered out into 20-30k words, which would immensely help the romance aspect not feel as sudden.

A few errors are easy to skip over, but Dash counting on her “fingers” really stood out for me. I think you were going for feathers and just forgot. There was also a weird typo where you misspelled Sugar Belle, making it seem like Fluttermac was a thing. How silly.
#6 · 1
· · >>Bachiavellian
Nice bit of noir in describing the pain.

Reads really well through the AJ scene, save that calling AJ "Jack" just feels weird. It's too human of a name, I think, as well as a nickname we haven't actually heard.

The heart-to-heart with AJ at night: AJ prompts too easily for exactly what Dash is thinking. More needs to come from Dash herself, with maybe a little less certainty, like she's just figuring it out some if it as they talk.

Also, ponies don't count on their "fingers." :-)

Alright, got to the end, and this is a very well written story about getting older. It moves at just the right pace showing the milder worries of approaching age instead of the cliches like broken hips or Granny Smith type stuff.

The implied history of romance between AJ and Dash is... well it's a bit obvious, with so many ships in this fandom, but, as a stand-alone story, this story itself doesn't do quite enough to show a strong background/history between the two. It's a minor issue, but it's the main thing I could see where some more detail would bolster it.

Overall though, an enjoyable, introspective story!
#7 · 1
· · >>Bachiavellian
She counted off on her fingers.

What you you even call wing-fingers? Wingers? Hmm...

Anyway. There's a lot of great description going on throughout. It's evocative without getting purple or overstaying its welcome in the word count. I agree that we could use a little more insight into the history between Dash and AJ before we jump on the romance train. AJ's surprise at seeing her at the farm is good, and her biting back feelings and walking a different path in the road is great on top of being a nice bit of imagery hearkening back to their (lack of) history, but doesn't quite sell it.

That said, I'm all aboard this mid-life ship. Choo-choo, bitches! Let's ride.
#8 · 3
· · >>Bachiavellian
And just so I don't end the round on a bitter reviewing note, I want to give this one a shout out as it shoulders its way to the top of my slate.

One of the few stories I've read this round that hits its stride near the end and closes strong. That second to last scene in particular is lovely. But it felt strong throughout.

A little coda on the talk this round on originality. One of Kurt Vonnegut's rules of writing is:
To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Originality can certainly elevate a story (and there are several stories I've praised this round on those grounds). But originality also isn't a panacea. And there are plenty of ways a story can be great without being "original".

You could, if you wanted, call this story a string of cliches, and the characterization would be kinda fair: Dash-breaks-wing, old-mane-six-looking-back-regretfully, immortality-angst, the-next-generation, etc. But the things it digs into are grounds enough for me to ignore that I've read stories like this before. What distinguishes my Top Contenders from my Strongs is, more or less, that I finish the story acknowledging its flaws but not caring about them; and this passes that test with flying colors.

I wish I were as eloquent in dissecting what I thought this did right as I was in dissecting what I thought other stories got wrong. Sorry I can't provide that, author. In exchange you'll just have to take my high vote.

Tier: Top Contender
#9 ·
· · >>Bachiavellian
Negatives first: 'Jack' is probably the weak part of this story - not just the use of the unfamiliar nickname, but that her past history with Rainbow Dash amounted to nothing more than unspoken longing. It seemed to be implied early on that there was a bit more to it than that, perhaps some sort of actual active relationship at some point. If you tune that a little to make what's implied about their history together more consistent, and maybe lose that nickname, I think the story would be better off for it.

But that turned out to be pretty minor, really. I loved this one. My bigger take-away: it does the most important thing a story can do, which is that it engages me throughout. I was drawn in, I wanted to keep reading. I wish I could more easily describe in more precise non-subjective terms why this succeeds, but it's tough because how exactly to accomplish this is not a fixed-form problem. 'Engaging' is an emergent property of interacting parts, rather than one concretely identifiable thing. There are many things that factor into it and many different ways to do it, but also many mistakes that can prevent it, and each story is different in what it takes to make it work.

But this one does everything it needs to, and it does it right. This story will medal. I'd be very, very surprised if it doesn't.

Thanks for a great story, author.
#10 · 5
So, I think I just won my first silver medal, or something. What.

Retrospective: No Spring Chicken

I just want to start by saying thank you to everyone who voted this up. I was actually blindsided when I woke up this morning and saw the Discord notification on my phone of Xepher's congratulations message. Honestly, I thought this would place mid-low on the finals slate.

The general rule I've noticed around the Writeoffs is that the stories that get talked about are the ones that win. It's more true for the minific rounds, granted. But still, the fact that this story was one of the last 3 stories to get a third review and was dead last in review count when I finally went to bed had me honest-to-god convinced that I'd be fighting for 8th or 9th place. I mean, this story was never even mentioned in the Discord chat until a few hours before results came in.

Consequentially there are so many stories (*cough* *cough* HEAT DEATH *cough*) that I felt should have medaled. Anonymous voting can be such a fickle mistress.

Okay okay, shutting up about my surprise now. Will talk about the story.

So, I came up with the idea of retirement when I thought about the prompt for a bit. I actually originally envisioned the story to be a lot darker than what you see now. In my first outline, I had Rainbow refusing to retire because of self-confidence/self-worth issues, until she alienated herself from the other Mane 6. Breaking her wing would have forced her to stop flying, which would eventually lead her to make amends with her friends.

I wrote the first scene on Friday with that tone in mind, and it was significantly grittier. There was blood and swearing and the whole nine yards. Needless to say, on Saturday morning, I took a look at it and rightfully called it garbage. Saturday was spent mostly coming up with a new outline and hacking the first scene down into something that wasn't 2edgy4me. On Sunday, I lost a lot of writing time and ended up finishing the first scene and the rest of the fucking story in one goddamned epic sitting. It was awful.

I finished, barely awake at around midnight with work the next day, so I kind of just searched for formatting issues before I passed out. Hence, why we have "fingers" instead of "feathers".

I'm still very proud that I managed to put this together. This is probably the most writing I've done in such a short time in years. At the very least, it's been more than a year since I last participated in a Short Story contest, so I'm really, really happy that it did so well.

On to responses!

Automatic heresy, Big Mac / Sugar Belle OTP

There was also a weird typo where you misspelled Sugar Belle...

It will be a long and a cold day in hell before I let a one-episode hussy ruin six years of the most perfect ship to ever grace Equestrian waters. I will Flutter my Macs until my fingers are cold, stiff, and dead.

.... But really, I'm glad you guys liked it! Yep, CoffeeMinion is on point about the romance being rushed. I agree with 2mer that the story can be much longer. If I didn't have have a pathological inability to complete my writing projects, I might even think about expanding this one to a multi-chapter story.

Ugh, yeah, that's what I get for not doing a good editing job. The whole three or four months or weeks or what not kerfluffle happened because halfway through I finally realized I should look up and see how long it actually takes these kinds of injuries to heal. And then I changed my mind repeatedly over how long I thought Dash would be willing to keep her wing in a sling. So yeah. Messy. Also, agree that the children were not implemented well. No excuses here, especially since I don't like seeing this kind of kid-characterization when I myself am reading stories. I don't know how you still managed to like the story even after everything, but I'll just say that I'm glad you did!

Very true. Like I said earlier, the Romance aspect was not something I planned until about 2/3 into the writing period. So it's rushed. No two ways around it. I like your idea much more, and I'll probably go with it if I were to expand. Happy you enjoyed the story!

This is actually exactly what I was thinking when I was re-reading the story for the first time on the Monday after writing. Thank you for your honesty; it's good to have my suspicions confirmed. Appreciate you leaving your thoughts!

Darn, I actually liked "Jack" a lot. I thought it gave it a more down-to-earth feeling to complement the maturity of the characters that I was shooting for. But I guess the reader is always right. : P ,,,,,Maybe I can pull off "Jackie"...

Happy you guys liked how the story felt!

I'm surprised that you're complimenting my prose, considering how it's probably one of my bigger frustrations whenever I write. I guess what they say about putting in the extra effort is true. Also, ditto on the shippy business being less than entirely seaworthy. Thank you for your thoughts and for your kind words!

Getting a "Top Contender" from horizon is a hell of a drug. Color me pleased that you liked it so much! I completely agree with your assessment; I by no means consider myself the among the most creative of writers, but I'm glad that I still managed to make these cliches work. :)

Again, big thanks for the silver! I've had fun, and I hope everyone else did too. Till next time!