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Who does she think she is!
Celestia's golden sun hovered just above the far horizon, announcing the presence of morning. A similarly shaded pegasus mare flew with the speed of vented anger, making her way towards Canterlot with a hope of salvation for her dwindling sanity. Her fiery, two-toned mane whipped in the wind. It was the only part of her that felt good.
Being the Captain of the Wonderbolts was not an easy job, but then again nopony ever said it would be. She had put up with a lot of buck and snort throughout her relatively short career - rookies who thought they were Celestia's gift to the skies; old-timers who fondly remember her grandfather's leadership and questioned whether she lived up to the name; even the media pestering her with the rumors of romantic involvement between herself and the Co-Captain, Soarin'. But never... never had she been so infuriated as this morning. The words still buzzed around in her skull like a swarm of angry Parasprites.
"That's because you were too busy being a camera hog!"
The words of the cyan rookie stung Spitfire with a barb that latched into her heart and refused to let go. In the anger that ensued, she had thrown back the words of the rainbow brat; along with the suit, title, and responsibilities as Captain for good measure. It was not done in blind anger, though. Spitfire knew exactly what she was doing, and took an admittedly sadistic pleasure in the thought of the mouthy filly crumbling under the sheer weight of the accompanying pressure.
She breathed a small sigh. The anger quelled from a terrifying roar into a dull hum. The young pegasus did mention a distraught fan, though details had not been divulged in the subsequent emotional meltdown. Spitfire's mouth contorted into a grimace as she mulled it over. Her grandfather had taught her everything she knew about being a Captain, but he had driven one particular lesson into his granddaughter's young mind.
Always think of the fans.
"I'm so sorry, grandpa," Spitfire weakly muttered aloud, "I've forgotten my most important lesson." Her lower lip began to tremble as she continued the trip into Canterlot.
"Welcome to Trot le Monde."
Any single word used to describe Canterlot's spa resort would merely be an understatement to the grandiose five-story facility. Granite pillars flanked the entrance, both inside and out. The floor of the lobby was laid in marble, with a long line of ponies serpentining across its shining surface in between ropes of velvet, concluding at a crimson-shaded maplewood desk.
For all the unceasing chaos, the receptionist's desk was surprisingly clear of clutter. Papers filed and sorted themselves, surrounded by an orange aura of unicorn magic while the auburn-coated wielder of such power personally greeted each customer and directed them to wherever they requested. The mare's smile was as bright as her amber eyes as Spitfire sauntered up to place her order.
"Welcome to Trot le Monde," the receptionist repeated, her squeaky voice remaining professional. A pen and clipboard hovered neatly beside her petite head. "Name and package selection, please. Our selection is Basic, Relaxing, Natural, and Complete."
"Spitfire. And Complete, please."
The floating pen danced across the clipboard, jotting down the information on its own.
"That will be two hundred bits."
"Of course." The yellow pegasus reached over to her left wing, grabbing a drawstring bag with her teeth which was hanging around the joint. Untying it, she procured the requested amount and gave it to the pony behind the desk.
"Thank you, Miss Spitfire. You'll start off with a soothing mud bath which will relieve your initial tension. Afterwards, you'll be directed to our mineral baths, where all your aches will be washed away. After this, you shall bask in a private steam room, to sweat out any and all troubles. Finally, your pampering will be complete with a full-body massage while simultaneously receiving a facial and accompanying pedicure on all four hooves after our masseur is finished. As a bonus, an optional Mane and Tail stylist is included, though it's not necessary. A diner can be found on the rooftop patio, as well. Enjoy your day here with us at Trot le Monde. The mud baths are right over there." The orange mare pointed her leg backwards towards an archway. Spitfire trotted over and poked her head inside.
The Wonderbolt gingerly stepped next to a rectangle of mud. Curious, she inched one leg ever closer to the in-ground tub filled with the thick, muddy concoction. The soothingly warm substance oozed off of the hoof she had immediately retracted, feeling strange but not quite unpleasant. A sleek stallion approached the confused mare.
The golden mare gave her newly appointed guide a quizzical glance. "I'm supposed to dip into there?"
"Yes ma'am. It's quite relaxing, I assure you."
"Well... alright." A hoof appeared on the yellow pegasus' shoulder, easing her ever gently into the waiting pool of mud. The goo was awkward only for a minute; soon all she felt was complete relaxation. The sensation of weightlessness coursed throughout her body as it was enveloped within the mud. Sweat trickled down her face from the tub's constant temperature. Spitfire contorted her face in futility as one particular bead of perspiration ran its menacing course down the bridge of her nose, causing an insufferable itch.
Her forelegs were useless as they sat trapped in a thick stew of relaxation. Her head waved every which way, looking for anything to rub against and relieve the irritation that was bombarding her defenseless muzzle. Finally, with an embarrassed sigh, she timidly asked her guide for assistance.
"Of course, Miss Spitfire." The guide chuckled lightly as he gently scratched the submerged pony's nose. "Don't fret; this isn't the weirdest request I've ever gotten. It's quite common, come to think."
She responded with sincere gratitude, letting her body wallow in the special mud just a bit longer.
Described in a single word, the second floor holding the mineral baths could only be called luxurious. The center held a massive tub in the floor, surrounded by sprawling granite pillars. Ponies of all sorts were scattered about - some floating in the bath, others just getting out or in.
"I'm sure you know what to do here, ma'am." The guide gave his client a warm smile. "I'll come retrieve you once the time is up."
"Yes ma'am. You don't want to stay in there too long. I'll come get you after an hour or so."
"Oh, alright." With that, the guide made his way around, helping other ponies in need while Spitfire eased herself into the comfortable heat of the bath. Unlike in the mud, she was not struck with the sense of being cocooned in the submersion.
A folded towel was placed under the nape of her neck, acting as a pillow for her reclining head. She breathed a content sigh, sliding her eyelids shut for only a moment...
A bronze pegasus stood before her, his entire body rippling with glorious muscle. This pony held himself proud - his back was straight as his neck was stiff. A full head of pure white hair sat atop his crown, running unruly across his features. His tail was no more groomed, cascading wildly from his haunches, long enough to barely touch the ground. Their folded position could do no justice to the power his wings held. If there were a pantheon for ponies, he surely would sit on it.
"Gra... grandpa!?" Spitfire's voice was small, distant, paradoxically echoing across the vast plane unoccupied save for the two reunited family members.
"Yes, child." Despite Starfire's rough exterior, his voice was a soft, kind sound. From his pair of golden irises came a warmth that the mare had missed greatly. Though, behind that warmth came such a stern gaze that Spitfire reverted to her filly years. Only when she had truly disappointed her revered grandfather did he cast such a glance. Their eyes deadlocked; though she wanted nothing more than to disappear, his gaze had its way of keeping her frozen in place.
"I am disappointed in you, Spitfire. You have forgotten my teachings."
"No! I swear! I just... didn't see the fan!"
"Enough excuses. I did not tolerate them before, I will not have them now. Were you not diligent?"
"I... no, grandpa. I wasn't. I was exasperated. I just wanted the cameras out of my face. I wanted some rest!"
"So you've turned my legacy into a chore that you just wade through."
"What? No! I love it!"
"Do not lie to me. I can see it in your eyes. You've lost your passion, child."
"I..." Her lip began to tremble; tears welled up in her eyes. A cloak of shame shrouded her physique. But then, in that moment, a spurt of anger burst forth. A small grin spread across Starfire's face. "You're wrong, grandpa! I have not lost my passion!" Her wings flared out to their fullest, each feather rippling with pride. "I'll show you, I promise!"
"That." The bronze ex-Wonderbolt pointed his hoof at his granddaughter. "That is what I want to see. That's my girl!"
"Now then, Miss Spitfire..." She turned her head, giving the stallion before her a confused look. He had never addressed her in such a formal way before. He seemed to be moving away, though his legs were still. The world around her spiraled out of control...
"Wake up, Miss Spitfire." The guide prodded his client. She jolted out of her nap, panting as though she were back in flight camp. "Well, we had quite the nightmare, didn't we? It's time to get out of the bath. You've been in there well over an hour."
"Oh... already!? I just closed my eyes for a minute." Her entire body trembled from the sudden awakening, though the dream didn't help any. It burned still, clear in her mind. For all she knew, she could have been magically transported away.
"Allow me." The guide wrapped his leg around hers, pulling her out of the bath. Seemingly from nowhere, he presented her a thick towel to dry with. Thankful, she rubbed her dripping coat vigorously, drying it as best she could.
"Now then," she began, finishing with the towel and giving it to a laundry maid, "what's next?"
Chatter cut through the unceasing fog as ponies sweated themselves in the third-floor steam rooms. Trickles of perspiration glistened on the Wonderbolt's golden coat as she was led past these rooms and into the smaller, private section. A door stood open, a condensed room waiting for its next occupant as steam billowed forth from water cascading down unto a basket of radiating coals.
"Here we are, Miss Spitfire." The yellow pegasus trotted in. Her breath was literally taken away as she crossed the barrier into the welcoming fog. The air shimmered around her as she sat down, sweat slicking down her coat like an oil. Every hair of the golden mare's fiery mane eased down, covering her content face.
"Ahhhh. This is the life."
Spitfire let her thoughts drift up and away with the thick steam as she reclined, the heat wrapping around her athletic body as though it were a comfortable blanket. Images floated up behind her shut eyelids - her family when she was but a filly; excitedly watching her grandfather and his generation of Wonderbolts; her own trepidations the day she auditioned; screaming her joy and reveling in the pride her grandfather radiated when she was named Captain; yesterday's airshow and making Rainbow Dash prove her worth; the pressure of constantly being under camera, judged by millions of ponies worldwide; having the media surround her like an impenetrable wall.
Her dream became fresh again, the words of her sagely grandfather echoing in the canyons of her mind. She remembered the anger at his accusations; it had been all too real. It was just a fancier way of saying what Rainbow Dash had already spoken. Both times, the yellow mare had blown up, but now she saw it was all in defense. She told herself that it was all in the interest of prestige, but that was just a flat-out lie. What did it matter what thousands of faceless fans thought if even one who had been there had been hurt?
There, in that steam filled room, one sweaty, golden pegasus silently vowed to fix that which had broken under her very nose. Perhaps amends couldn't be made right away, but they would be made. She'd tell the media itself to buck off if she had to. Her grandfather did not tolerate their nonsense in his day, and she knew he wouldn't have it now. He would've pushed them out of the way, put the kid on his back, and treated him like a king, all the while defiantly flagging his tail toward the camera.
Instead, she had succumbed to the pressure, acknowledging their presence in a spiritless monotone. But no more. She had been reinvigorated, and from more than just a day off. A flame of determination burned within her soul; her resolve became steel. She'd leave this spa and this day, not a brand new pony, but an old one. One she had not been since first wearing that exalted Captain's uniform, and parading around in it, glowing with the pride that her grandfather had shown.
A knock on the door notified her that her time was up.
Good thing, too. I'm sweating my flank off.
The massage parlor encompassed the entirety of the fourth floor. The marble floor remained, with dozens upon dozens of massage tables adorning the room. Spitfire also noticed a number of clouds floating above - several pegasi rested on these while receiving their own back rubs.
"Welcome, madame." A soft voice appeared next to the yellow pegasus. It took her mind a moment to register the fact that it belonged to a stallion. His figure was lean and his features soft. Icy blue eyes complimented his buttermilk coat. Spitfire wondered for a moment whether or not he was a colt-cuddler.
"Would you prefer a cloud or table, madame?"
"Oh, um, a cloud please. Thank you."
"Right this way, madame." Unfurling his slender wings, he hovered in the air. Spitfire followed suit, trailing the buttermilk pegasus to a nearby vacant cloud. He even flaps his wings effeminately. He glanced curiously back at her as she stifled foalish giggles behind her hooves.
"Oh, sorry." More laughs were held back as Spitfire's cheeks began to glow with a crimson shade, "I'm, um, just really excited is all."
"Of course, madame." He swept one leg over the cloud. "Lie down here, please."
The fiery-maned mare did as she was requested, sprawling on her stomach across the floating "bed". At the command of two soft hooves clopping together, several facialists instantly appeared and began spreading their special mixture onto Spitfire's surprised face. Meanwhile, the masseur began his work. Hooves of silk kneaded their way across a tightly-wound back.
"Mmmmm," Spitfire droned her exclamations of pleasure, "By Celestia this feels heavenly. I could melt into this cloud." Her eyes lulled shut, reveling in the release of seemingly iron-wrought tension. Every one of her muscles affected by his magical hooves were swept over with instant relief. She was convinced that the masseur's hooves themselves were made of the very cloud she lay on as they moved further and further back...
Her back leg automatically cow-kicked out, confirming connection to a firm gut with an "Oof!". Her eyes shot open as her head snapped to the right, ears flat against her skull. A scowl had replaced the satisfied smile she was wearing only moments ago. Her voice came out between gritted teeth in a low snarl.
"Hey pal, this is not that kind of massage! Hooves on the back!"
"Geez, sorry..." His tone was laced with obvious disappointment. The cold glare from his client was enough for the stallion's cheeks to burn. He dutifully resumed his task, with just as much skill but significantly less enthusiasm.
Returning her head to its rightful spot, Spitfire giggled behind her hooves as brushes resumed painting on the mud-mask.
After a delightful, and (thank Celestia) uneventful lunch, the golden mare sauntered out of Trot le Monde lighter in both bits and spirits. Her coat gleamed in the late afternoon sun, casting a noticeable radiance. Celestia's bright orb itself seemed to emanate from the young mare's very being.
She trotted down the busy street, swinging her head every which way, finally spotting the building of her desire. A bell rang as the door squeaked open. Multiple assortments of floral arrangements decked the good sized ground-level floor, with an elderly mare attending to these one at a time.
The mare looked up as the bell above the door rang, spying the newly-entered customer. "Welcome!" She greeted, putting genuine excitement into her tone. "What can I do for you today?"
"Oh, um..." Spitfire muttered and took a deep breath. Closing her eyes for only a second, she brought her resolve back from the brink of its departure. "I would like to buy one dozen yellow roses, please."
"Fancy that, we don't get many such requests." The elderly florist walked to the back room with only a hint of a shuffle, returning moments later with the ordered arrangement.
"Must be quite the fellow," she chimed in, wrapping the stems carefully together for the best possible presentation.
"Oh, he is. These are for the one stallion dearest to me. They're his favorite flower."
"Well then..." The elder finished her job, nudging the bouquet across the counter. "Take them. Courtesy of me."
"Are... are you sure?" Spitfire couldn't believe her luck.
"Of course I am. Like I said, they're hardly ever ordered anyway. At least now they can be truly appreciated."
"I... thank you!" She tucked the bouquet under her wing, giving the old mare a bow before running out. The florist merely gave a smile before returning to her flowers.
"Hi Grandpa!" Spitfire sauntered up, reached around to grab the bouquet in her mouth and let it fall gently to the ground. "I got your favorite flowers again! They always reminded you of me... yellow, and a thorn in your hoof." She gave a small chuckle at her own joke.
"I had a rookie backtalk me this morning, so I did what you'd do! I told her to put up or shut up. She gets to be the captain for the week..." A sigh. "I hope she doesn't mess it up though. I've already chosen her to be my successor. She's going to make a great leader someday. Her name is Rainbow Dash, and she's as feisty as I ever was." The spark in her words dissipated as she came around to the real reason for the visit. Ears drooping, she lowered her head with a twinge of shame.
"I'm sorry, grandpa. You were right. I've forgotten what being Captain meant. This decision is going to help me as much as it helps her. I promise I won't let you down! Never again!" Her wings spread out further and further as she went on. "I swear by Celestia I will fill your horseshoes! I'm going to be the Captain that you, and not everypony else, wanted me to be!"
"I love you, grandpa." Her rushing adrenaline declined, determination being replaced by great sadness. Finally, she lost control, bursting into tears and throwing herself at the headstone. She wrapped her wings and forelegs around the granite, kissing the very top of it ever so gently. "And I miss you every day..."
She sat there for a long while, sobbing against the cold granite, her imagination telling her that it was a certain bronze, muscular chest she was nuzzling once again.
The air was still quite warm as the golden mare raced the setting sun back to Cloudsdale. Her fiery mane whipped back and forth as she pressed even faster, pulling up into a pure vertical climb. The tug of gravity was negated as she smoothed out, flipping backwards, and floating for a fraction of a second in total weightlessness, before finishing her loop-de-loop with a loud cheer and a series of giggles.
It had been ages since she felt so good, so free. One would daresay she was her old, filly self as she played in the air. Now there were no cameras, no crowds, no coordination. Just her and whatever stunt she felt like. More giggles flew from her throat; any hapless pegasus flying by would think she'd gone mad.
"Woo!" An exclamation backed not by a professional stunt flier, but by a foal wanting to break out of her shell. It had been far too long since she flew just for fun. This morning seemed forever ago, already a distant memory. She would apologize to Rainbow Dash first thing in the morning, though she would not retract the responsibilities that had been dumped on the rookie.
She pulled up again, clinging to that sensation of weightlessness just a bit longer than before. She tucked her wings in, falling into a steep dive. With cheeks flapping in the wind, and a tail sticking straight behind, she pulled up and leveled out, using the momentum as extra speed.
With a loud 'whoop!', she flew straight for her temporary home with a renewed vigor she'd not felt in years, ready to tackle the next day.