Rainbow Dash sped through the air at a breakneck pace, a rainbow trail streaking behind her, decorating the colorful evening sky. Tears fell from her face, despite the fact that the flight goggles she wore blocked the stinging feeling of the air lashing at her eyes. She blinked away the droplets, allowing them to fall out of her goggles, off of her face, and to the ground hundreds of feet below as if they were raindrops.
Wherever I go, whatever I do...
She cringed. How could she have been so weak? How could she have been so short minded? How could she have...
That's the kind of pony I want to be. For you.
She shook her head and continued on the way forwards, oblivious to everything except for her thoughts.
She needed to be alone.
Dear Ms. Rainbow Dash,
We are writing to inform you on our decision based on your performance at the first-ever open tryouts for the Wonderbolts that occurred last May.
When it came to picking a new team member to fill the open spot in our roster, the decision was based not only on speed, but also on the finesse and professionalism one shows in the air. After all, being a Wonderbolt means much more than simply being a fast flier. Based on these points (and several others, we might add), the Wonderbolts agreed that no other pegasus gave us as dazzling of a performance as yours.
That being said, we would like to extend our most heartfelt congratulations in welcoming you to Equestria's top aerial performance team, the Wonderbolts! Attached to this letter, you should find your brand-new flight suit and goggles, as well as this year's practice schedule. We would ask that, to complete your acceptance to this team, that you reply to this letter as soon as possible and join us at the next upcoming practice.
Once again, congratulations, Ms. Dash. We look forward to having you on the team in the upcoming years.
Barrel Roll, Wonderbolts team manager
Rainbow Dash sighed as she finished reading the letter for what was probably the thousandth time. The date on the letter read over a year ago, but the time that had passed since Rainbow had torn open the envelope felt more like a day. Each and every time she read the letter, it still felt like the first time, and she had to suppress the urge to pinch herself to see if she was dreaming.
Smiling, she peered past the letter to gaze at the mirror that hung in the back of her locker. Her eyes widened as she met the gaze of the pony that looked back at her. It was a pony identical to her in every way except one: the sky-blue uniform that covered the pony's body, giving her the appearance of a sleek missile tearing through the air.
Suddenly, Rainbow Dash laughed. Who was she kidding? She knew that was her; it couldn't possibly be anypony else. As Twilight would say, it was physically impossible. Rainbow wasn't an egghead, though—what did the laws of physics matter to her? Besides, she was Rainbow Dash, self-proclaimed greatest flier in Equestria. Impossible was her middle name.
But every time Rainbow Dash looked in that mirror and saw herself garbed in that uniform, dressed as the icon of all of her greatest childhood fantasies, she couldn't help but protest that this was all a dream. And sometimes, that's exactly what it felt like.
"You coming, rookie?" a voice teased, snatching Rainbow Dash out of her childish daydream. The young Wonderbolt had to suppress a fangirl-esque squeal when she saw the voice belonged to Spitfire, who was dressed in a flight suit of her own. Even with a year or so of being in the company of Spitfire, Rainbow Dash couldn't help but feel like fainting every time she got a glimpse of her childhood idol. Flight goggles were nested just in front of Spitfire's mane, which, as her name implied, danced like tongues of wild flame when she so gracefully sped through the air.
Spitfire raised an eyebrow at Rainbow Dash. "Hey. Rookie. You coming?" she repeated, sterner this time. "You're not really going to miss your first Wonderbolts Derby, are you?"
Rainbow Dash blushed, attempting to focus on anything but the graceful pegasus that stood before her. "Uh, yeah. Sorry," she replied. "Just got a little distracted, is all."
Spitfire snickered. "Whatever you say, rookie." She stifled another laugh when Rainbow Dash began trotting towards her. "Aren't you forgetting something?"
"Huh?" Rainbow Dash said, confused. She couldn't have forgotten anything. All she needed was her flight suit and her—
"Oh. Flight goggles... right. Heh." Stupid, stupid, stupid!
"Don't worry about it," Spitfire reassured. "I made the same mistake my first race, as well."
Spitfire laughed. "No way. I'm not that forgetful."
Rainbow Dash groaned. Who'd have thought that Spitfire was such a joker?
"You grab those quick. I'm gonna start heading out to the track." Spitfire paused at the door and looked back at Rainbow Dash, batting her eyelashes in a seductive manner. "Don't wait up."
The confused look on Rainbow's face was enough to send Spitfire into a fit of laughter. "You're way too gullible, rookie. But seriously... hurry up. There's not much time." The fiery pegasus then left the locker room, muttering something about hazing, leaving Rainbow Dash all on her own.
That was... odd, she thought as she went back to her locker. Flight goggles. Right. Just as she had expected, the goggles were sitting on the top shelf, right where she had left them. They were slightly fogged in the lenses, which, as Rainbow Dash knew, was a recipe for disaster when flying at top speeds.
Nothing a little spit-shine can't fix, she thought. A few spits and circles courtesy of a nearby towel later, she snapped on the goggles to be greeted by a crystal-clear picture of her reflection.
"Perfect," she declared. Which it was. Everything was exactly how she had always imagined it. Here she was—a Wonderbolt. About to race side-by-side with some of the greatest fliers of her time. And, best of all, she had a chance to win. The odds weren't exactly in her favor, but she had something that she imagined most ponies didn't have. It wasn't talent or confidence; the other Wonderbolts arguably had much more of that than she did.
But they didn't have a promise to fulfill.
Rainbow Dash removed her acceptance letter from its perch in her locker and stared at the lone picture that hung behind it.
With a weak smile, she pressed her trembling hoof just below the picture and sighed.
"You," she said softly. "I told you I'd get here." She removed the flight goggles from her face and bowed her head. "I told you."
A lone tear made its way down her face and splashed on the carpeted floor beneath her. She sniffled and removed her hoof.
"I'm not done yet," she declared. "I've still got this race ahead of me. And I know you're gonna be there, cheering me on, because you know I'd do the same for you. So this" —determination radiated from Rainbow's eyes as she addressed the photograph one last time— "this is for you."
And now, Rainbow Dash was ready. With this, she felt unstoppable, and it seemed that even Spitfire wouldn't be able to stop her from taking home the first place trophy. She imagined ponies talking about this Derby and its champion going down as one of the most memorable sporting events in years—in history, maybe. And she wouldn't have it any other way.
With a final look over her shoulder, Rainbow Dash galloped out of the locker room to meet up with Spitfire.
"I thought you'd never catch up," Spitfire said as Rainbow Dash approached her side. "What exactly were you doing back there?"
"Huh?" Rainbow Dash asked, but then blushed as she registered Spitfire's question. "Just a little pre-race routine, I guess." Perfect. It wasn't exactly a lie, but it wasn't the full truth either. Applejack would be proud.
"Ah, one of those superstitious types, then," Spitfire said, nodding. "That's understandable. What's your routine, then?"
Rainbow Dash bit her lip. "Well, I, er... I..."
Spitfire laughed again and punched Rainbow in the shoulder playfully. "I'm just kidding, rookie. That's your thing; nopony else needs to know about it." She frowned when she saw Rainbow staring at the ground rather than at her. "Geez, are you always this serious?"
"No!" Rainbow protested, snapping her head to meet Spitfire's eyes. "Why do you always call me that, anyways?"
"Call you what?"
"Rookie! It's annoying!" Her wings flared. "I'm Rainbow Dash, fastest flier in Equestria! Not some novice!"
"Maybe not," Spitfire said, smirking. "But this is your first year as a Wonderbolt, which, by definition, means that you're still a rookie. So until then" —she stared deep into Rainbow's rose-colored eyes— "you're a rookie. At least in my book."
Rainbow rolled her eyes and continued to plod along next to Spitfire. Rainbow Dash thought that Spitfire seemed to be acting rather strangely towards her as of late. She was teasing her much more than usual, and aside from that dreadful nickname, she was even treating her as an equal rather than as someone below her. In fact, if she didn't know any better, she would have thought that Spitfire was—
"Well, here we are," Spitfire announced as she and Rainbow Dash emerged from the mouth of a tunnel. The pair of pegasi was greeted by the warmth of the sun's rays and the deafening sound of hundreds, maybe even thousands, of ponies cheering. "Welcome to Canterlot Raceway."
Rainbow Dash's mouth hung agape as her head turned on a swivel. Everything about the racetrack was the perfect depiction of all of Rainbow Dash's greatest fantasies, and then some. The clouds that made up the track were some of the softest she had ever felt, giving her hooves the sensation that she was walking on a thin layer of silk, or even frosting. Cruising around the track were some of Rainbow and Spitfire's teammates (or, as the occasion called for, opponents), including Fleetfoot, Rapidfire, and even the team's captain, Soarin. Surrounding the circumference of the track were the massive grandstands, packed to even the highest rows with ponies. They towered over the track, making Rainbow Dash feel as though she were the center of attention, under the intimidating gazes of every single pony in attendance.
Just how she liked it.
But by far the best thing was the melodious pounding of thousands of tiny voices upon Rainbow Dash's eardrums—the screaming and hollering of thousands of ponies that wanted to see her fly. Rainbow Dash knew from experience that there was nothing more amazing than watching your hero trot out onto that racetrack and do a few fly-bys right past where you were sitting as they warmed up for the big race. She had experienced it time and time again with her father when she was a filly, and she hoped that somewhere out there, there was a young pegasus that aspired to be just like her.
"So... awesome," Rainbow Dash finally managed to say.
Spitfire smiled, her goggles now covering her eyes. "Isn't it though?" she agreed. "I remember my first time out here all those years ago. There's nothing in the world like it. The butterflies in your stomach. The loving cries of strangers gracing your ears. The desire to just get out there and fly." She turned to Rainbow, who was still gawking at the sight of it all. "It's amazing, isn't it?"
Rainbow simply nodded. After a few moments, she finally turned to Spitfire. "How did it go?"
"How did what go?"
"Your first race. How did you do?"
"You mean you don't know?" Spitfire said in disbelief. "And here I was, thinking that you knew everything there was to know about all of us."
Rainbow chuckled. "Not everything, I suppose."
Spitfire smiled and stretched, her joints cracking as she lowered herself into a takeoff position. "I guess not," she said. "But that's a story for another time." And with that, Spitfire launched off the ground and flew towards the track to join the rest of the Wonderbolts, a streak of orange in her wake.
"Wait! But..." Rainbow's voice fell on deaf ears, however, as Spitfire was already long gone by the time Rainbow could think of a response.
Guess I'd better join them, she thought, slipping her flight goggles onto her eyes. Let's do this.
She took a deep breath and quickly mimicked Spitfire's stretches, grunting as her muscles loosened and joints cracked.
And then, obeying the pleas of hundreds of voices, Rainbow Dash took a starting pose and rocketed off the ground, her trademark rainbow streak trailing behind her as she made her way to the track. The cheering in the stands seemed to explode as she fell into formation behind Soarin, who greeted her with a simple nod and smile, which was quickly returned. As the first turn on the track drew near, Rainbow Dash closed her eyes and leaned.
The pure feeling of her wings slicing through the air and the adrenaline coursing through her veins was unlike anything she had ever felt before. When she reopened her eyes, she tore down the straightaway like a bolt of lightning, her mane flowing behind her in the sky.
And then, bliss.
As she listened to the cheers of the crowd, one name rang louder than all the rest, dwarfing any and all other chants by a country mile.
"Rainbow Dash! Rainbow Dash! Rainbow Dash!"
She couldn't help but flash a smile.
She had done it.
For years and years, she had trained relentlessly each and every day, sometimes waking before the rise of the sun for an early workout. She had failed thousands upon thousands of attempts to perfect death-defying stunts from her own imagination, becoming discouraged only when she ran out of energy to get up and try again. And, of course, there were the countless crashes she had suffered through that always seemed to be the bane of her existence, sometimes leaving her grounded for weeks at a time.
And in the end, it had all been worth it. Every second.
I told you I'd do it, she thought with a smile, looking towards the sky. And you know I never break a promise.
After a few more laps of (relatively) easy flying, Rainbow Dash followed the rest of the racers' lead and touched down to rest up for the big race. Despite the fact that the flying was over for the time being, the cheering refused to cease.
"You go, Soarin!"
"WOOOOOHOOOOO RAINBOW DASH!!!"
Wait a second... Rainbow Dash thought, ears perked. That last cheer. There was... something unmistakable about it. Something that couldn't possibly be replicated by anypony else. Something...
Sure enough, occupying the grandstands was a squealing pink pony pointing a foam finger skyward as she jumped endlessly. She wasn't alone, however; far from it. She was surrounded by a diminutive dragon, a timid yellow pegasus, an orange earth pony wearing a Stetson, and a fancy-looking unicorn who wore a massive pink hat on her head. All five of the familiar faces waved vigorously at Rainbow Dash, who returned the wave with a chuckle.
But how in the name of Celestia did they manage to—
Rarity! Of course! Rarity was a Canterlot pony now, thanks to Fancy Pants' promotion of her newest dress line. Either Rarity bought these tickets for herself and her friends, or her "business partner" decided to give her a gift.
Probably the latter, Rainbow decided.
"Come on, rookie. Race is starting soon," Spitfire said, seemingly appearing out of nowhere.
"Huh? Oh, right," Rainbow Dash replied, still smiling at her friends. "Guess I just got a little distracted, is all."
"Hm. Seems you've been doing a lot of that today."
Rainbow Dash stared at Spitfire intently as the two plodded towards the starting line. "What are you getting at?"
Spitfire grinned mischievously. "Oh, nothing," she sang. "So those are your friends, I'm guessing?"
"Most of them."
"Good," she replied. "There's some motivation for ya, then."
Rainbow Dash frowned. Motivation? What is... "Just what do you mean by that?"
"I mean you better not screw up now that they're here!"
"Wasn't planning on it. I'm taking home this trophy, whether you like it or not!"
"Well, you'll just have to get through me first," Spitfire challenged.
"Piece of cake," Rainbow Dash boasted. "I could take you with my eyes closed."
"Hmph. A bit of a braggart, are we?" Spitfire replied as the two of them neared the starting line. "No matter. Maybe I'll teach you how to show some humility after this race!"
Under her goggles, Rainbow's eyes widened.
It's important to act with grace and humility.
She shook her head, slightly disappointed in herself.
"I guess this is it," Spitfire said. "Good luck, Rainbow. You'll need it."
"Don't think I do," Rainbow said confidently as she and the rest of the ponies hovered off the ground into a starting position. "I've got something more than just luck on my side."
"You do, eh? And what's that?"
The starter raised the flag.
"A promise to a friend." A promise I intend to keep.
The whistle blew, and they were off.
Spitfire removed her flight goggles as she watched Rainbow Dash tear into the afternoon sky.
"Where is she... what is she doing?" she shouted to nopony in particular, her voice becoming lost in the sea of cheers and the announcer's booming voice. Behind her, dozens of ponies had flooded the racetrack and were swarming a pegasus with an electric blue mane, hoisting a golden trophy high into the air.
Unaware to Spitfire, a single other pegasus had broken free from the throng of celebratory ponies and stood beside her, watching the same rainbow streak. "She's flying," the familiar voice spoke, a tone of wisdom in his voice. "As to where... I don't think anypony knows the answer to that except her."
Spitfire turned her head to the voice and groaned. "Well, thanks! You're sure a lot of help!" she barked. "Who asked you anyways, Soarin?"
"You did," Soarin replied matter-of-factly.
"It was a rhetorical question," Spitfire spat, gritting her teeth. She growled in annoyance and leaned to the ground in a takeoff stance. "I'm going after her."
"Don't!" Soarin exclaimed, extending a hoof in Spitfire's direction. Spitfire paused and stood up straight. "I wouldn't do that if I were you. You saw what just happened to her."
"Yeah, I did! And she's probably a wreck right now." Spitfire blew a raspberry. "Come on, Soarin. Somepony needs to cheer her up."
"Maybe, yes. Or maybe she just needs to be left alone." Soarin removed his flight goggles and stared into Spitfire's eyes intently. "I certainly remember that's what a certain other pegasus wanted the last time something like this happened."
Spitfire flew inches in front of Soarin's face. "I thought we agreed we wouldn't talk about that."
"We don't have to," he said. "I'm just saying that she's in the same boat that you were."
Spitfire sighed, lowering herself to the ground. "I know that," she said, her lips curling up into a weak smile. "But if you wouldn't have insisted that I listen to you that day... I don't think I'd still be here."
Both ponies were silent, oblivious to the uproar behind them.
"Do you know what you're doing?" Soarin finally asked. "You're playing with fire here."
"I think I do," Spitfire said, displaying a confident smile. "Fire's my name, anyways."
Soarin chuckled and stared at the rainbow that had formed in the sky. "Only if you're sure," he cautioned. "And be careful."
"Of course. I know what I'm doing," Spitfire said, slipping her goggles back onto her shining orange eyes. "I learned from the best, remember?"
And then she was gone.
"Rainbow Dash!" The voice called over the sound of the wind whipping past the cyan pegasus' face, a sense of urgency in its tone. "Come here! I need to talk to you!" Rainbow Dash shook her head and ignored the voice, speeding up in an effort to seclude herself from everypony else.
Everypony else except one, that is.
"Rainbow Dash!" the voice called once more. "I know you can hear me! Don't you dare ignore me!"
Rainbow Dash sighed and halted in midair as if she had hit a brick wall. A very confused Spitfire flew past her, frantically trying to slow herself.
Normally, a smile would have made its way onto Rainbow's face out of pride due to her clever maneuver, but for now she had only one thought on her mind: get away. Eying the sky, Rainbow Dash sped upwards, hoping that the clouds above would provide plenty of hiding spots to lose her teammate in.
Speaking of Spitfire, where was she, anyways?
Rainbow Dash looked behind her for some sort of answer, assuming that she would see Spitfire hundreds of feet below her, struggling to catch up.
She had never been more wrong in her life.
Streaking towards her like a bullet was an orange and yellow blur of a pegasus, her face contorted in an expression of pain and determination.
"You're not getting rid of me that easily, rookie!" Spitfire declared. "I've still got a few tricks up my sleeve!"
Horseapples! Rainbow Dash cursed in her mind. How did she even... Spitfire's move would have to wait for later, Rainbow decided. Spitfire's determination rivaled her own, and Rainbow knew this meant that the chase wouldn't end until she was either caught or able to somehow lose Spitfire in the sea of clouds.
Panicking, Rainbow Dash stopped her ascension when she reached the clouds above. She was amazed at just how many of them there actually were—hundreds upon hundreds of massive clouds stretched for what seemed like miles, ending with a humongous thunderhead, its surface flashing with dancing lightning bolts. Perfect, Rainbow Dash thought. Phase one. She then began darting between the clouds with speed and precision that matched the suit she was wearing, her outstretched wings not scraping even a single cloud. Much to her dismay, however, Spitfire was somehow cutting the corners between clouds even sharper than Rainbow Dash, and was steadily gaining on her, showing no signs of fatigue.
"Rainbow Dash!" Spitfire yelled. "I just want to talk! You can't run forever, you know."
Rainbow Dash darted behind a cloud, hoping that Spitfire would tail her and find her. If she couldn't outfly the pegasus, then maybe she would just have to convince her that she needed her space.
She didn't have to wait long for her wish.
"There you are!" Spitfire said, not looking even the slightest bit exhausted. "Now, just—"
"Just leave me alone!" Rainbow Dash barked. "Don't you get it? I lost. I failed. Just let me go home!"
"No buts! Just get your flank out of here and leave me be!"
Spitfire sighed. "Won't you just let me say what I wanna say?"
Rainbow said nothing.
"Okay, good. Now listen to—"
A quick buck to the cloud in front of her was enough to silence Spitfire.
Leaving Spitfire sputtering with her face covered in cloud, Rainbow Dash took off through the clouds again. The clouds themselves were getting darker as she neared the thunderhead, some of them sputtering droplets of rain or reverberating with lightning bolts. Rainbow guessed they were being stored for later use as a rain shower or even a thunderstorm for Ponyville, which was now visible over the crests of the rolling hills.
As Rainbow Dash slowed her pace to avoid contact with the explosive clouds, she looked over her shoulder to see if Spitfire was anywhere nearby.
She shrieked when she saw her not fifty yards behind her, the signature thunder and lightning trail of the Wonderbolts behind her. To Rainbow Dash, it was even more terrifying than staring down a massive hydra or cranky manticore.
Whatnowwhatnowwhatnow?! she panicked, increasing her speed. Spitfire had proven herself to be the more versatile of the two, and now that they were flying through what was basically a minefield, Spitfire had certainly gained the upper hoof. If she didn't do something soon, she would be subject to Spitfire's rage. Or, even worse, embarrassment.
She just needed to be alone, for Celestia's sake.
And then, an idea. It was dangerous. It was crazy. It was downright stupid. But it was her only chance.
She narrowed her eyes at the cloud to her right and dove towards it. Phase two.
Building up as much momentum as she could, Rainbow Dash swirled around the small thundercloud, turning it into a spinning force of electricity.
And then, gulping, she kicked it. She had expected a painful shock, as she knew from experience that thunderclouds could be less than cooperative, but was pleasantly surprised when she was met with what would equate to a mere release of static cling. Maybe it was due to her flight uniform's design. Maybe not. All she knew was that as long as it meant a chance to get away from Spitfire, she would keep kicking.
And then, as she moved to swirl the nearest thundercloud, she had an epiphany:
I'm bucking thunderclouds at Spitfire. She shook her head. What was she doing?
"Rainbow Dash! What in the name of Celestia are you doing?"
Apparently, Spitfire didn't know either.
"Gah!" Rainbow Dash screamed, barely evading a grab at her tail. How did she catch up so fast?
"Please, Rainbow!" Spitfire begged. "I just need to talk to you. Please."
If Rainbow Dash didn't know Spitfire any better, she would have thought that she was choking up a bit. But she couldn't have been. She's not the one that just ruined everything she had been training for. But there was something in her voice that sounded... almost sincere. Not frustrated, like she had expected.
"Are you done running?" Spitfire asked.
Rainbow Dash growled at Spitfire, her words laced with hate. "I'm not running!" she shouted over the sound of thunder. "I just want some time to myself. Can't you see that?"
"Of course I do!" Spitfire replied. "But I can also see how hurt you are. And I hate seeing you like this. It's unbearable."
Rainbow Dash's eyes darted back and forth, searching for something, anything, to say. She knew Spitfire wasn't lying; that much was certain. But no matter what she did, she couldn't shake the craving she had for solitude at the moment.
"Rainbow, it's okay," Spitfire said, drawing Rainbow's attention. "I'm trying to help you. I'm your teammate. I'm your—"
Please don't say it... Rainbow Dash thought, biting her lip. Please don't...
And then, something inside of Rainbow Dash snapped.
Without thinking, she dashed to Spitfire's side and whipped off both of their goggles, tossing them to the earth below. Spitfire's face wore a look of shock, which almost made Rainbow Dash smile. She wanted Spitfire to see the hatred and hurt seething in her eyes so that maybe, just this once, she would understand her.
"We aren't friends," Rainbow Dash said softly, jabbing Spitfire in the chest. "Friends don't act like they're above one another. Rookie." She inched closer to Spitfire's face, gritting her teeth in an effort to keep the dam of emotions pent up inside of her. "Friends don't try to distract each other on the most important day of their lives, when literally everything that matters to them is on the line."
"Rainbow Dash, I—"
"Friends," she interrupted, raising her voice with another jab, "know when to leave each other alone when they're upset." Rainbow Dash could feel the tears streaming down her face and her voice becoming shaky, but she wouldn't allow herself to burst open. Not in front of Spitfire. She felt a few pellets of rain strike her wings, body, and even the tip of her nose as the clouds became unable to hold their contents any longer.
"Friends are always there for each other!" Rainbow shouted, beginning to tower over Spitfire, who had begun to tremble and even cry. Whether it was due to fear or sadness, Rainbow didn't know. And she didn't care. Either was fine with her.
"Friends don't try to show each other up!" Her voice cracked as she continued to back down her teammate, the rain coming at a steadier rate than before. "Friends listen to each other! Friends complete each other! Friends would do anything and everything for each other, even if it meant giving up their life." She narrowed her eyes and leaned completely over Spitfire. "But most importantly... friends understand each other."
Silence hung in the air as falling tears mixed with the rain, the only sounds being the pitter-patter of water hitting spandex.
Rainbow Dash broke the silence, speaking in a whisper instead of the confident tone she normally boasted. "And if you think, for even a second, that you understand me..."
"But I do," Spitfire said, sniffling. "More than you know."
Before Rainbow Dash could protest, she was silenced by the sensation of Spitfire's lips pressing against her own and of warm forelegs wrapping themselves around her neck. She tried to gasp, only to be overtaken by a calming and surprisingly draining sensation that lacked a single sufficient word that could describe its power. The kiss itself tasted salty, most likely due to the streams of tears that continued to leak from Spitfire's eyes, yet was sweet at the same time, with a smidgen of what tasted like apples present on her lips. The fur on Spitfire's forelegs was matted from the rain, yet was surprisingly comfortable in their resting place around Rainbow's neck. Her stomach churned with a familiar sensation that she would later go on to describe as falling through an empty sky.
And then, Rainbow Dash noticed that her eyes had somehow become closed. As she forced them open, the sight she was greeted with nearly made her gasp. It wasn't because of the undeniably beautiful pegasus in front of her, whose eyes were closed in a fit of pure bliss, or because she finally realized what exactly had just happened.
It was because she actually was falling.
In a panic, she broke free of Spitfire's embrace, her air-deprived lungs gasping for air. She reopened her wings into a flying position, as did Spitfire, who looked at Rainbow Dash with a pleading gaze.
"N... no," Rainbow Dash choked, her voice nearly inaudible over the downpour that had formed. "No..."
"Rainbow Dash..." Spitfire said.
"No..." Rainbow Dash repeated, shaking her head. "Nononononononono! Agh!"
"Don't say my name," she instructed, tears still cascading off her face. "I don't deserve it."
"DON'T!" Rainbow Dash screamed at the top of her lungs. "Just..." She searched for the right words to say as her lips quivered endlessly.
Unable to hold her emotions any longer, Rainbow Dash took off in a bolt, accelerating faster than she had ever thought possible. The familiar feeling of a cone formed around her, its seams bursting almost instantly as a massive boom rung out across the sky, a ring of pure, beautiful color radiating in all directions.
She finally spotted her destination as she tore through the sky at mach speeds: a simple hill resting on the outskirts of her hometown. Slightly leaning to the right, she dove towards the ground and slowed her descent. But despite her efforts and precautions, the impact wasn't pretty. Instead of the soft landing she had expected, Rainbow Dash tumbled across the ground several times before stopping, leaving her uniform torn and her mane disheveled and covered in dirt.
When she finally came to a halt, she picked up her head and gasped.
Right there, in front of her, was the pony she had been searching for. The pony whose promise she had broken. The pony who fueled her entire existence.
She collapsed and let the tears flow like a waterfall.
"I'm sorry!" she screamed. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry! Just... please, forgive me. Please."
Rain continued to pour down as Rainbow Dash poured out her heart to the pony that rested in front of her.
And then, Rainbow Dash touched her hoof to the rough texture of the headstone.
"I'm sorry..." she muttered a final time before falling silent. For several minutes, she lay with her head in her hooves, letting the rain fall onto her as she quietly sobbed.
When she finally garnered the strength to look directly at the headstone, she heard the sound of wings flapping, and then of hooves landing on the moist soil.
Just as she expected. She knew it would only be a matter of time.
"You're pretty easy to follow, you know that?" Spitfire said, panting as she leaned against a nearby tree. "A rainbow trail in the middle of a thunderstorm kinda sticks out."
Rainbow Dash simply nodded and continued to stare at the headstone in front of her. "You just don't know when to give up, do you?"
"Not when there's something important on the line."
Rainbow Dash sighed and buried her head in her hooves. "I'm not important," she stated. "I'm just a nopony."
"Not to me you aren't."
Rainbow Dash was silent, save for the occasional sob. She wasn't even surprised when Spitfire left the cover of the tree and joined her on the ground in the pouring rain. For a few moments, no words were said between the Wonderbolts as they attempted to gather their thoughts.
Finally, Spitfire broke the silence.
"I crashed," she stated.
Rainbow Dash examined Spitfire up and down. "You don't look hurt," she said. "What'd you hit? Cotton candy?"
Spitfire chuckled. "Not today. I was talking about my first race."
Rainbow Dash widened her eyes. "You crashed?" she repeated. "But how? I saw you up there in the clouds! You've probably got the best control out of any pegasus in Equestria!"
"That's because I worked on it," Spitfire explained. "I was leading until the last lap." She looked into Rainbow's eyes, choosing her words carefully. "Just like you were."
Rainbow Dash hid her face in her hooves once more.
"I misjudged the last turn," she continued, scoffing. "To this day, I don't know how. There were hundreds of turns before that. So what makes the last one different?" Rainbow Dash shrugged, still hiding herself. Spitfire sighed deeply, a sullen expression forming on her face. "I sprained my wing. Right there, on the track. I didn't even finish."
Rainbow Dash revealed a single glassy eye between her forelegs. "R—really?" she asked. Never once had she imagined that a pony such as Spitfire was that vulnerable. And why would she? In her mind, she had basically been immortal.
"Really. I was out for a few weeks, but the only thing I could think of was that completely embarrassing moment and how helpless I felt." She smiled at Rainbow Dash. "That was my drive. And now look at me. I've got a few Derbies under my belt, and just had another solid placing at this one." She laughed. "Third isn't anything to sneeze at. So you" —she poked Rainbow's shoulder, causing the cyan pegasus to jump— "don't have anything to be ashamed about."
Rainbow Dash snapped her head, glaring at Spitfire. But no matter how hard she wanted to, she couldn't yell. She didn't have any anger left; just sorrow and a touch of disappointment. "Didn't you see what I did? I blew it." She stood up, tears once again streaming down her face. "By all means, I should've won that race."
"You aren't helping," Rainbow said. "Fleetfoot took me on the inside because I wasn't paying attention. In my head, the race was already over." She growled and stomped at the ground with her hoof. "I let myself get overconfident. Again. That's always what does me in. And no matter how many times I think that I've learned my lesson..." She bowed her head, hiding her eyes from Spitfire. "...I fail."
All of a sudden, a hoof raised her chin, and she found herself staring at Spitfire's eyes. They were beautiful; she couldn't deny that. It was funny, Rainbow Dash thought. They always seemed to match Spitfire's mood. When she acted brash and confident, like she was before the race, they flared like a bonfire reaching toward the heavens. Other times, they were a relaxing fire in a family's hearth, seeming to melt away all your troubles when you stared into them. But now, as they leaked droplets under the pouring rain, they appeared as little more than dying coals, struggling to keep their brilliance and color for just a few more seconds.
And then, soft orange fur masked Spitfire's eyes as she leaned towards Rainbow Dash, her breath warming the cyan pegasus as she drew nearer and nearer.
And then, Rainbow Dash stepped back, distancing herself from Spitfire. "No," she whispered.
Spitfire recoiled back as if Rainbow Dash had struck her, her eyes filled with sorrow and surprise.
"You're not a failure, Rainbow Dash," she said. "Don't you get it?"
Rainbow shook her head, gritting her teeth. "Don't you get it?" she barked. "I don't care that I let myself down. I don't care that I lost the Derby, or the trophy, or whatever else comes with getting first."
"Then why are you—"
And then Rainbow Dash burst. "I broke my promise!" she shrieked, her voice cracking on multiple occasions.
"To... who?" Spitfire asked cautiously.
"To her!" Rainbow Dash yelled, pointing a hoof at the headstone that rested next to the pegasi.
And then, she collapsed once more and continued to bawl.
"I promised her," she spoke, her voice muffled by her forelegs, "that everything I would do would be for her. In her honor. Because she risked her life for all of us."
Spitfire placed a comforting hoof around Rainbow Dash's shoulders as she joined her on the ground. If she couldn't have what she really wanted... then this was the next best thing. The right thing too, Spitfire reminded herself.
"I promised her that I wouldn't give up. That no matter how hard things got, no matter how bleak things looked, I would do my best. Because she always did." She cringed. "And I let her down."
There was a long silence that followed, everything being quiet except for the steady rainfall that hit the ground and the bodies that rested upon it. Spitfire rubbed Rainbow Dash's shoulders in an attempt to calm her down, while Rainbow Dash slowly quieted her sobbing and leaned into Spitfire, accepting her warm and comforting embrace. Both pegasi cried, though one was much more vocal than the other with her sobs.
"You loved her," Spitfire whispered.
"Love," Rainbow corrected. "I love her. She was—is the world to me. And yet..." She trailed off, slowly closing her eyes.
"And yet what?"
"Nothing," Rainbow Dash said. "Nothing at all. It's just so..."
"Unfair?" Spitfire suggested.
"Yes, unfair." Rainbow nodded, sighing. "It's like my life got taken away from me before I had the chance to live it."
"Mm." Spitfire stared intently into Rainbow's eyes. "You didn't break your promise, you know that?"
"Yes I did! I—"
"Listen to me!" Spitfire instructed, silencing Rainbow Dash. "You said that you promised her you would never give up, right? No matter how hard things got?"
"Well, yeah, but—"
Rainbow Dash gulped. "Yes. I did."
"Then this is one of those times! If you really feel the way you say you do, then you've gotta pick yourself up, get back out there, and keep on doing your best." She smiled weakly at Rainbow, whose eyes had turned a slight shad of red. "You'll get that Derby eventually. The world knows you've got it in you. I know you've got it in you. You've just gotta think that, too."
Rainbow Dash rubbed her eyes and smiled. "Thanks, Spitfire. I'll try."
"But it won't be easy."
"It never is. But you've got ponies everywhere backing you up."
"I know," Rainbow Dash said, turning away from Spitfire and to the headstone. She whispered something in its direction, but the words escaped Spitfire. She then closed her eyes and resumed her position against Spitfire's side, her chest rising and falling with each slow, deep breath.
"Rainbow Dash," Spitfire nervously muttered, causing Rainbow to open a single rose-colored eye. "Her." She gestured to the headstone. "Is that why you broke the—"
Spitfire winced. "I'm... sorry," she apologized as her ears drooped. "I didn't know."
"I know. It's not your fault." She sighed. "I'm just... not ready for that yet. I haven't moved on." Spitfire bit her lip and cast her eyes downward. "But I'm sorry, too."
With that, Spitfire perked up. "You're sorry?" she asked incredulously. "What in the world do you have to apologize for?"
"For saying you weren't my friend." Spitfire nearly gasped in amazement. Rainbow Dash could have sworn she saw Spitfire's eyes brighten, as if the fire inside of her had been rekindled. "You are my friend, you know that? I don't care if you're not an Element of Harmony or whatever. You've always been there for me. Like today." She stood up and offered Spitfire a hoof in assistance. "Friends?"
And then, instead of taking Rainbow's hoof, Spitfire jumped up and embraced Rainbow Dash, bringing her body against her own. The cyan pegasus gasped in surprise at first, but then willingly returned the hug, grateful for its warmth.
The pegasi simultaneously broke the embrace to be greeted with a clear sky.
"Seems like things are looking up," Spitfire said. "I was getting really sick of that rain."
"Me too," Rainbow agreed.
"You know you've got an interview tomorrow, right?" Spitfire asked, grinning. "There's no way the press is just gonna ignore some rookie taking second in the Derby."
"What? Are you serious?" Rainbow panicked. "There's no way I'm gonna be ready for something like that!"
Spitfire laughed heartily. "Relax. I'll help you prepare tonight. It's not that bad, I promise."
Rainbow smiled. "Thanks, Spitfire."
"No problem" —she eyed Rainbow Dash with a grin— "rookie."
"Too bad this rookie just beat you in the derby!" Rainbow retorted, jabbing Spitfire in the shoulder.
"Hmph. Well, you aren't gonna beat me back, that's for sure." Spitfire leaned towards the ground. "Last one home is a rotten egg." And with that, Spitfire sprung off the ground, blending with the orange background of the setting sun.
"Hey, no fair!" Rainbow Dash protested. "I'll catch you, Spitfire. Just you wait. But first" —she trotted over to the headstone that lay so perfectly nestled in the growing grass and smiled— "I've gotta say goodbye."
She placed a hoof lightly on the headstone and lowered her head.
"See ya, Twilight," she whispered. "I'll get it next time. I guarantee it."
And then she joined Spitfire in the evening sky.
Or, as she liked to call it, the twilight.
Rainbow Dash shook her head and snapped out of the trance she had fallen into. She quickly wiped the corner of her mouth, which, to her embarrassment, had become host to a tendril of drool.
"Um... yes, mister reporter?" she replied, blushing.
A light chuckle made its way across the audience.
"I asked you a question, Ms. Dash," the reporter repeated, his ash-grey face bearing an expression of exasperation.
Rainbow Dash scratched her head, her cheeks turning as red as the crimson part of her mane. "Erm... sorry about that. I guess I just zoned out for a while. If you haven't noticed, I'm pretty famous for that, too."
The laughter returned, only louder this time. Even the stoic reporter couldn't resist turning up one of the corners of his mouth in amusement.
"So, Ms. Dash—"
"Please, call me Rainbow."
"Alright then," the reporter complied. "Rainbow. Your answer?"
Rainbow Dash's eyes shifted back and forth as she bit her lip. When the reporter glared at her once again, she finally responded.
"Um... what was the question again?"
Rainbow Dash never heard a group of ponies laugh so hard in her life.
"Well, Ms.—er, Rainbow," the reporter said between laughs. "You're the youngest pegasus to ever be accepted into the Wonderbolts, and with your finish in the Derby yesterday, you've made it clear that you're going to make a name for yourself as one of the fastest Wonderbolts in history. So, I think we'd all like to know this, Rainbow: what's your motivation? What keeps you going?"
Rainbow smiled weakly, a plethora of emotions and memories surging through her mind in an instant. She looked out to the audience, where a familiar pegasus gave a wide smile and nodded. Rainbow smiled back and gave her answer.
The perfect answer.
"That's for me to know."