Rainbow made great time to Cloudsdale thanks to a considerably strong tailwind on the way there. Arriving early, she still had another hour before she had to report to the Cloudesium. Adjusting her heading, she flew towards a familiar neighborhood. A quaint home caught her eye at the corner of the street below her. Dash landed softly on the porch she recognized from her fillyhood. She had spent many an afternoon playing with her Wonderbolt dolls while her mom and dad sat sipping hot cider, watching their daughter pretend to be one of her idols.
Rainbow smiled. She knew after her father passed, the stress of trying to provide for and raise her was tough on her mother. She did what she could, but she could only do so much. While she was working, Rainbow was raised by a whole parade of neighbors and caregivers that either volunteered to watch her, or had been hired to. There was however, a good reason her mother was always busy. She was, and still is the sharpest mind in the field of Quantum Mechanics in all of Equestria.
Rainbow knocked loudly on the door, waiting for a response, knowing that her mother -like her- was a sound sleeper. After a few moments, she heard shuffling from the hallway beyond the doorframe before it opened to reveal a slightly older mare, a few streaks of grey in her otherwise brilliant magenta mane, held tightly together in a bun with a quill.
The elder mare's eyes lit up as she embraced her daughter for the first time in a long while. Rainbow noticed she was still wearing her lab coat, the name Wave Function inscribed elegantly on the breast.
"Hey mom," she sighed.
"Come in, come in!" she said happily, allowing her daughter into the house she grew up in. It was no Canterlot Castle, but it was where Dash spent her formative years, every square inch seeming to hold some memory of days gone by. "It's been too long Rainbow, why don't you visit more often?" she asked in a flat tone. That was her mother all right.
"Sorry ma, I haven't really had a lot of time..." she said turning to face her with a smile spreading across her lips. "Because I've been training to become a Wonderbolt! The tryouts are in an hour!" she said happily, as her mothers expression dropped slightly. Her lack of enthusiasm brought Rainbow down as well.
"What?" she asked, her mother looking her in the eye.
"Isn't stunt flying a bit... dangerous?"
Rainbow's eyes sharpened into a glare. She couldn't believe she was about to have this conversation again.
"It's what I was born to do, mom!" she protested.
"What about your job at the weather center in Ponyville?"
"I quit that noise. I won't need to buck clouds if I'm a Wonderbolt!" she snapped, tired of having to explain her reasoning, first to her friends, and now to her own mother. "I came here because I thought you'd support me for once!"
Her mother sighed. Rainbow got her temper from her father, and it was certainly showing. "Rainbow, I want you to be happy." she assured her, "I... just don't want anything to happen to you..." she whispered sadly.
Dash knew that had to have been what this was about. She felt like a total idiot for not seeing it before. Her mother had already lost the love of her life, and now she risked losing her only daughter? How would she have felt if she was in her mom's position?
Rainbow's glare softened realizing the nature of her mother's worry. "Mom, nothing is going to happen to me, I promise," she swore.
"Your father said the same thing," she added quietly.
Rainbow hugged her mother before deciding it was time for her to take her leave.
"Mom, I promise, when I become a Wonderbolt, you're going to wonder why you ever doubted me," she whispered confidently during the embrace. That was another trait she inherited from her father.
"I know you'll make me proud, sweetheart."
With that, Rainbow bid her teary eyed mother goodbye as she headed toward the Cloudesium, noticing other pegasi flocking towards it as well. It seemed there would be quite a few others competing for a spot. Her heart began to beat faster, as the nerves she was able to suppress so well earlier came roaring back to life. She landed in the center of the arena to find all manner of pegasus, both stallion and mare stretching and warming up their wings, though the Wonderbolts were nowhere to be found. Rainbow took the time to stretch, though she was still nervous about what the day would bring.
She was confident in her abilities, but confidence would only carry her so far. She knew her moves were perfect, and her style, flawless. All that mattered now, was performing it the way she'd practiced. After a few minutes, She noticed a gold and blue streak arc across the sky before landing in the center of the arena. Dash's heart skipped a beat. They were here!
"Alright, as you all know, my name is Spitfire, and this is my co-captain Soarin. If you don't know who we are, you probably won't last very long," she stated plainly, neither her nor Soarin in their uniforms.
"Listen for your name, and let me hear you when it's called," she said as Soarin set a clipboard on the ground in front of her. She began calling out the forty or so names of everypony there, Rainbow waiting anxiously for her name to be called.
"Here!" she called happily, Spitfire looking up from her list and recognizing those eyes and that mane anywhere. "Glad you could join us, kid." Rainbow blushed, her acknowledgment from Spitfire even earning her a few glares from her competitors.
After roll call, Soarin stepped up and addressed the recruits.
"Now then, as you are no doubt aware, there are both stallions and mares here today. That's because we have separate teams for the tryouts. Squad one is my squad. I need all stallions to stand to my left." The males in the group shifted as instructed, leaving only the pegasi females in front of Spitfire.
"Now then ladies," she began as Soarin took his twenty recruits to the other side of the arena to begin the tryouts. "You're with me. One thing I can assure you, is that this will not be easy, nor will it be fun," she said, pacing back and forth in front of the still kneeling mares. "But I didn't promise you a rose garden!" she shouted, startling nearly everypony in the group.
Surveying the group with her fiery amber eyes, Spitfire continued to pace and talk. "There are twenty of you here. In one hour, there will only be ten."
"At the western edge of the city, there is a platform we've set up with twenty pound stones waiting for you. You are to fly there, grab a weight, and bring it back here. The first ten mares to do this will move on, and become that much closer to becoming one of us. The others, train harder, and better luck next time," Spitfire finished, commanding her recruits to stand.
"On your mark, get set, go!" she shouted as the mares took flight towards their target. Rainbow began taking an early lead, her nerves finally settling as she realized she was still the fastest flier to ever come out of Cloudsdale. Setting her eyes forward, a light pink blur zipped by her, knocking into her wings and costing her both speed and altitude.
She focused a glare on whatever just knocked into her only to realize it was another pegasus! She had been... overtaken! Rainbow couldn't believe it. She was the fastest! There was no way this girl was quicker than she was, she had to be cheating somehow!
Rainbow pushed herself, gaining air on her passer. The mysterious newcomer kicked her wings into high gear with a cocky grin flashed in her direction before leaving a contrail of fire behind her that Rainbow had to work around if she didn't want her wings singed.
"Impossible!" Dash said approaching the mach threshold.
All right. If it's a fight you want... she thought, knowing exactly how to put this newcomer in her place. Before she could attempt her signature move, her rival began to slow down, allowing Rainbow to pass as she grinned arrogantly down at her before coming to the horrifying realization that she had slowed down because the platform Spitfire had mentioned was right below them! Rainbow tried to slow herself down, but found she was going to overshoot the platform by a wide margin. Flaring her wings, and turning sharply, she felt her wing muscles begin to seize up.
No! Not now! she panicked, eventually coming out of the sharp turn still able to stay aloft. A sigh of relief and she was on the platform with a few other mares, trying to secure their weights and head back to the stadium. After clutching her stone to her chest, she continued flying as fast as her wings could carry her, her rival nowhere to be found. Rainbow ended up passing three or four others before crossing the finish line, praying her lapse in judgement hadn't cost her a shot at her dream.
Looking up at the scoreboard, she noticed her name next to the number five.
Fifth place? she thought, disheartened. She had qualified, but she had to know who in the hay had just beaten her in her element.
At the top of the scoreboard, the name Firefly rose above the others.
"Hoped you liked my flank, you'll be seeing a lot of it." A voice from behind her jeered. Dash whipped around angrily to see the light pink pegasus with a blue mane and two blue lightning bolts adorning her flank. "I honestly thought the 'fastest flier in Equestria' would have been a bit quicker..."
Rainbow gritted her teeth. Taking a swing at her would certainly cost her a shot at her dream, so she settled on her words.
"I don't know who you think you are, but I am the fastest, and I will, make the Wonderbolts, while you get sent home crying to your mama."
Firefly grinned. She had gotten under her skin, just as she had hoped. "That's not what the scoreboard says," she shot back, her smug tone nearly enough to push Dash over the edge. This was her dream, her moment! She'd be damned if she let some punk take that away from her.
"Wait till the next heat," Dash hissed. "I will destroy you."
The smug grin remained on Firefly's face. "We'll see about that, grandma."
"Grandma?! You mother—"
"Rainbow!" Spitfire called form behind her. "Is there a problem here?" She shot one last glare at her rival before turning to face Spitfire.
"I thought not. Competition is one thing, but fighting will get you both booted out of her so fast it'll make your head spin!" Spitfire barked. "Now both of you get back with the rest of the group, we're only just getting started."
The rest of the day went by smoothly, as there were only elimination heats at the start of practice. Once you had safely secured your spot, the rest was all about what you could bring to the table as a Wonderbolt. By the time it was over, the sun had set, and everypony still there was exhausted. After the final exercise, they took a knee around Spitfire, all of them sweaty, smelly, and beat.
"Alright ladies, that was not a bad first day. I want to see all of you back here at the same time tomorrow. Yes, you will be sore, and yes, you will be tired when you get here," Spitfire explained, "But if you want it bad enough, you'll come back. There are ten of you girls left. There are two spots open on my squad. Take a look around. Everypony else is vying for your spot. Keep that in mind," she warned, "You're dismissed."
After the others began to leave, Rainbow found Spitfire reviewing the notes she'd written on her recruits as Soarin dismissed the stallions for the evening.
"Hey Spitfire! Tough practice today huh?" Rainbow panted happily.
"Yep," she answered, not looking up from her clipboard.
Rainbow expected a bit more response from her, seeing as how they had known each other before this encounter. "Yeah, so any word on who you like for the squad?"
Spitfire pulled herself from her notes and gave Rainbow a deadpan stare. "Listen Dash, I know we're friends and all, but during tryouts, I'm not going to give you any special treatment just because I know you. I'm gonna treat you just like the others," she said flatly.
"Oh, I didn't want anything like that!" Dash assured her, a blush coming over her cheeks. "I just wanted to know if a certain sonic something would increase my chances?"
"Look Dash, I know you're fast, and you're a great flier, but what you did in the past doesn't count for jack here. You have to prove yourself in front of Soarin and I, just like everypony else who's ever worn the winged bolt, understand?"
Rainbow sighed, "Yeah, I know. Sorry."
"Don't be sorry. Now beat it, and get some rest for tomorrow," she said, shooing her away so she could finish her notes as Soarin brought his over.
By the time Dash had made it back to Ponyville, it was near midnight. To her surprise, she found a certain stallion asleep on her porch. She landed next to her door as Mac stirred, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, but giving her the same smile she'd fallen for back in Prairieville. It still wasn't enough to erase the humiliation and embarrassment of coming in fifth place.
"How was your first day?" he asked earnestly.
"I don't want to talk about it," she mumbled, entering her house and closing the door, leaving Mac outside on the porch. He knew when something was up. He'd have to have been blind to miss those signs. He got to his hooves, and tested the door, noting she had left it unlocked.
Ah suppose if she truly didn't want ta talk about it, she'd have locked the door, he reasoned, softly pushing the door open and following her inside. He stood in the entrance to her bedroom, noticing her on her bed, covers tightly over her and facing the wall. One thing he had learned about mares was that when they 'didn't want to talk' about something, that was code for: Make me talk about it because I'm not going to unless you show you care.
Macintosh stepped softly next to her bed, assuming she had somehow not made the cut.
"Ah know there ain't much Ah can say ta make up for you not bein' a Wonderbolt..." he whispered in his most comforting tone.
"I made the cut, Mac," she groaned, not moving from her balled up position beneath her blankets.
His mood lightened, but he was still somewhat confused as to what could have her acting this way. "That's great Rainbow! Ah knew you would!" he congratulated, taking a seat on her bed. "So what's the matter?"
Dash sighed, finally turning to face him. "I came in fifth during the first heat. Fifth!" she snapped, still somewhat shocked about it herself. "I haven't lost a race since I was a filly!"
Mac smiled, "Is that all?"
He certainly didn't mean to belittle her problems, but unfortunately that was exactly the way it sounded to her.
"Is that all?!" she repeated back angrily. "I knew you wouldn't get it. You're just an earth pony," she growled, rolling back over to face the wall, clutching the locket she had left on her bed that morning.
The words stung, but he knew if there was one thing Rainbow wasn't good at handling, it was defeat. She wasn't mad at him, just upset at herself. He knew she'd never admit that.
"You've still got the rest of the tryouts to win your other races, don't ya?"
"Yeah..." she admitted, her mood softening as she realized Mac wasn't going to get in a shouting match with her. Which was really the only way she knew how to handle the emotions she was feeling. "It's this new girl, she was faster than me somehow," she admitted. "She had to have been cheating or something, her acceleration was unreal!" she said rolling onto her back and looking towards the stallion still seated on the edge of her bed.
"You really think she was cheating?" Mac asked, skeptical of her claim.
"No... but I'm the fastest there is! I just don't get how she can accelerate to her top speed that quickly!" she said angrily.
"Well, you still have tomorrow. Just 'cause she beat you in one race don't mean she's better than you," he said comfortingly, sliding down on her bed to lay beside her.
"Ah cleaned myself up before coming over this time," he joked, as she put a hoof over his.
"Thanks, I washed up at my mom's place," she said, putting the locket back into her nightstand, her tired wings demanding she get some rest.
"What was that?" Mac asked.
Rainbow realized he was referring to the locket, and had to decide whether or not she wanted to go into detail about its significance.
"It was my Dad's, he died when I was a filly. It's just a picture of him and my mom," she said retrieving it and allowing Mac to examine it. He could certainly relate to holding onto a physical reminder of a lost loved one. Looking over it, he realized there was something inscribed on the back.
"What's this on the back?"
Rainbow shrugged as she snuggled closer to him.
"I dunno, not even Twilight could figure it out," she admitted.
He gave her back the locket and settled in for the night with her.
"Don't you have chores or something tomorrow?" she yawned.
"Eeyup. Ah won't be able to see ya every night, but Ah got done earlier than Ah expected today. Don't think Ah'll make it a habit, though. Ah'm gettin' tired of climbin' that ladder." he whispered back to her.
She leaned her head next to his and gave him a kiss. "Goodnight Mac, thanks for surprising me, I needed it."
He smiled, wrapping her securely in his forelegs and drifting off into an easy slumber.
For those unaware, Firefly was essentially Rainbow dash from a previous season. So you can put away your mary sue pitchforks and torches, and kindly disperse the mob as I have no idea where my tear gas launcher is and I don't feel like looking for it.