A U T U M N
Lightning Dust groaned as her alarm went off. Though she usually was up before the sun, the longer and longer nights of autumn made her want to sleep in more. And besides, it was a weekend. Weekends were meant for sleeping, a reward for all the hard work she’d put in during the week!
She fumbled around the nightstand with a wing, just trying to shut the damn thing off, but instead knocked it onto the floor. Cursing, she forced herself to roll out of bed, though it took her a few seconds to wake up enough to fully stand. After covering a yawn with her wing, she quickly spotted the alarm clock and kicked it until it shut off.
“Stupid clock,” she grumbled, turning around and arching her back until her spine popped. Yawning again, she walked across the bedroom and used her forehead to push open the door to the bathroom. She looked up and a tired, turquoise pegasus stared back at her through the mirror, complete with bags under her eyes. Why was she up before seven on a Saturday, again?
At least she had time to relax in the shower. Stepping inside, she set all the knobs to exactly how she liked it, then retreated as cold water dribbled out of the showerhead. Within seconds, it’d warmed up, and sighing, she spread her wings and fanned her feathers out to clean them off with the warm water blasting them. She even turned on the jets in the shower walls, wincing as they pelted her sides but then relaxed as they massaged sore muscles. If there was one thing she really loved about Rainbow Dash’s place, it was the shower. You just couldn’t afford luxury like this without having a lot of bits to throw around.
It was only a quick, military, five minute shower, but once she’d left it and dried off, she spent the next twenty minutes in front of the mirror, using an obscene amount of hair gel to slick her mane back how she liked it. Tilting her head back and forth, she hummed to herself before pulling a few locks down with her hoof so it wasn’t all just one piece.
“Perfect,” she said, smirking at her reflection. Then she tossed the empty hair gel bottle into a bin with a few others and went to the kitchen.
She walked around the kitchen on autopilot, pulling things out that she needed without really thinking: a pan, some butter, some eggs, two different kinds of cheese, and some orange juice. Cracking the eggs together in a bowl, she scrambled them, added some cheese, and dumped them in the pan. She let them sizzle on the pan for a minute as she fluttered across the room, opening the blinds to let in the morning sun. Manehattan’s skyline greeted her, just beyond the tiny patio and garden attached to Rainbow’s penthouse suite.
Fluttering back to the eggs, Lightning grabbed the handle of the pan and flipped them over with a jerk of her head. While the other side cooked through, she poured orange juice in two glasses and set them aside. She was just about to slide the eggs off of the pan and onto a plate when her ears twitched at the turning of a key in its lock. A second later, the front door opened just around the corner, and Rainbow Dash staggered into view, ragged and tired beneath the pressed suit she wore.
“Hey, there you are,” Lightning said, setting the plate full of eggs in front of one of the glasses of orange juice and tossing more in the pan. “How was the tour?”
“It was good,” Rainbow said as she stifled a yawn. “The Las Pegasus tour’s always fun. Wish I could tell you more, but you know what they say…”
Lightning chuckled and gestured to the plate sitting on the island behind her as Rainbow walked up to it. “Yeah, sure. I bet you’re hungry though, so eat up.”
“You didn’t have to do that,” Rainbow said, sitting down at the island. “I could’ve made my own.”
“Yeah, but you just flew back here all the way from the academy. Was the sun even up when you left?”
“Exactly.” Lightning flipped her own eggs, and then slid them onto her plate. “I bet you’re looking for a nap… and to get out of that suit.”
At the mention of the suit, Rainbow’s wings began to fidget. Grumbling, she loosened the tie and undid the top buttons. “I hate this thing,” she muttered, sighing with relief once she’d finally loosened it. “Naked or in uniform, I’m fine, but suits are evil.”
“Could be worse,” Lightning said as she shut off the stove and sat down next to Rainbow. “Could be a dress.”
“Eugh…” Rainbow shivered and stuck her tongue out. “Fair point.” She shoved some of the eggs in her mouth and hummed. “These are good. Not as burnt as I’m used to.”
“That’s because I’m a better cook,” Lightning said with a smirk.
Rainbow chuckled. “Yeah, maybe you should’ve gone to chef school instead of trying for the Bolts.”
Lightning rolled her eyes. “I mean, I’m not that good of a cook,” she said. “When I still worked my weather job, I lived entirely off of sandwiches, eggs, and instant noodles.”
“Jeez,” Rainbow said, blinking. “No wonder your ass was huge.”
Lightning swatted Rainbow over the back of the head, leaving the Wonderbolt snorting and giggling. “Was that the first thing you noticed about me?” she asked.
“No, no, I was mostly just surprised to see you,” she said. “It was only after the initial shock wore off that my eyes drifted toward center of mass… center of ass…”
She ducked under Lightning’s swing and stuck her tongue out at her. Sighing, Lightning put her head between her wingtips and shook it. “You’re lucky you’re wearing that suit, otherwise there’d be egg in your face right now.”
“Silver linings,” Rainbow proudly proclaimed. Shoveling the rest of her meal down her gullet, she burped and stood up. “That was good, LD.”
Lightning snorted. “I’m offended.”
“Fine. Great. Happy?”
“Yeah, yeah. Whatever.” She waved a wing and began to finish off her own meal. “Go take your shower and get changed and whatever. You got any plans?”
Rainbow shook her head. “Nope. Lazy Saturday. You?”
“Same,” Lightning said, and she absentmindedly stretched her right wing. “I twisted some feathers while practicing yesterday. My wing’s still a little sore, so I figured I’d let it heal before practicing again.”
“Cool.” Rainbow walked back down the hall, though she stopped when she got to the bedroom. “Were you using my bed?!”
“You weren’t using it!” Lightning shouted back at her. “And it’s comfier than mine!”
“But it’s my bed!”
“The guest bed is like a mattress stuffed with cinderblocks!”
“What did you do to my alarm clock?!”
“I shut it off!”
“You broke it!”
“That shut it off, didn’t it?”
Rainbow grunted in frustration and slammed the door to her bedroom shut behind her. Lightning Dust had to press a hoof to her muzzle to stop herself from laughing too loudly. Messing with Rainbow was just too easy.
She finished off her plate and dumped both plates in the sink. She thought about cleaning them now, but today was supposed to be a lazy Saturday. That meant no work whatsoever. So, humming to herself, she grabbed a cider out of the refrigerator and cantered out the back door. The air was still a bit chilly out, but as the sun rose, it’d get comfortable soon enough.
She walked over to one of the two lawn chairs and sat down on it, placing her cider on the table at her left. Mornings in Manehattan were always something spectacular, something fascinating. Sure, she couldn’t hear any birds or get lost in the trees, but the city had its own peculiar sights and sounds and smells. Already she could hear taxi carts as they rumbled along cobblestone streets, accentuated by steel-shod hooves clacking and clattering up and down the roads. Occasionally she’d pick out a laugh or a word or two from an energetic conversation, but the ponies of the city were little more than a dull roar, completely out of sight from sixty stories up. The only ponies she saw were pegasi flying above the rooftops of the skyscrapers, darting in and out of her vision as they went along with their lives. And on top of all that, she could smell fresh bagels at the bakery on Seventh Avenue, just around the block. If she hadn’t already eaten, she might have been tempted to fly down and get some.
The sliding door opened behind her, and Rainbow Dash stepped out onto the patio. Lightning didn’t turn her head to see her, but she heard Rainbow shiver at the cool breeze. “Thought you were gonna take a nap,” she said, picking up her cider bottle in a wing and taking a sip.
“Maybe later. I wanted to see what you were up to,” Rainbow said. Her blue coat appeared in Lightning’s periphery, and she snorted as she glanced down at the table. “Drinking? Already?”
“Lazy Saturday,” Lightning sung, though she couldn’t keep a giggle down.
“…You make a good point,” Rainbow said, and her colorful tail flashed as she turned around. A few moments later, she reemerged onto the patio and sat down in the other lawn chair, her own bottle of cider at her side. She took a sip from it, then sighed and slouched back on the chair. “Tastes just how I remember it.”
“Like apples?” Lightning asked her, an eyebrow raised.
“No, like home.” Rainbow tilted her head back and watched the early morning clouds drift by above them. “Now that tour season’s done with, I’m probably gonna go back for the fall and winter. I can’t miss the Running of the Leaves, and it’s almost cider season again.” She lifted up the bottle and wiggled it back and forth between her feathers. “It’s good bottled, but nothing beats that first batch, fresh from the Apple Family Farm.”
Lightning thought for a moment. “They’re known for their apples, though. Wouldn’t it be an orchard?”
“Applejack isn’t…” Rainbow thought for a moment. “I mean, they grow actual crops besides apples, too…”
“Eh, fair enough,” Lightning said with a shrug. She reclined in her chair and put her hooves behind her head, simply enjoying the sun and the air. “Ponyville sounds nice. You’re always talking about it. Though I don’t know if your friends would be happy to see me again after the tornado.”
Rainbow waved a wing. “They’d be fine,” she insisted. “They know I’ve been helping you train and all that. Twilight’s always been big on second chances and that sort of thing. It’s probably filed away in a friendship lesson or something.”
“That’s still just so weird to me that you knew Princess Twilight before she got the wings,” Lightning said. “Who knew so much could happen in such a little town?”
“Yeah, it is kind of funny, that,” Rainbow said. Her eyes scanned the horizon for something that she couldn’t find between the taller skyscrapers around them, and she shrugged. “I mean, Cloudsdale will always be my home, where I’m from, but Ponyville? That’s my home.”
“Heh. I guess you’re lucky then,” Lightning said, crossing her forelegs over her stomach. “I’ve never really had some place I could call a home. I mean, there’s my parents’ place in Cloudsdale and all, but I’ve always been a lone wolf, you know?”
“I guess that explains why you were always so hungry for that number one spot in the academy, then.” Rainbow grunted as she shifted on her chair, and she glanced sideways at Lightning. “Wolves hunt best in packs, not alone.”
Lightning chuckled. “You didn’t come up with that one yourself, now did you?”
“Eh, I know a mare who works with animals,” Rainbow said. “You learn a few wise tidbits of advice disguised as animal facts from her if you stick around long enough.”
“I can imagine.” Lightning took another sip of her cider, and the two mares’ ears perked at the banging of carts down below and angry stallions shouting at each other. When it finally died down, Lightning turned toward Rainbow. “Thanks, Rainbow, for all this.”
Rainbow waved a wing. “It’s nothing, really! I’m just trying to make up for being a lousy wingmare back at the academy.”
“Saying ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t usually involve giving somepony personal flying practice all summer long and letting her live at your place when she’s an idiot who quits her job and can’t afford to live by herself,” Lightning remarked. “I’m just… well, embarrassed, really.”
“Just…” she hesitated, her teeth toying with her bottom lip as she tried to order the words in her mind. “I don’t know. I hate feeling like a freeloader. I shouldn’t have to depend on other ponies to get by.”
Rainbow shrugged. “Yeah, I mean, I get where you’re coming from… but we all need a little help to get by sometimes, right? The bigger the fall, the more help we need.”
“I just wish that I didn’t need the help… but thanks.” Fidgeting, she added, “Not just for the practice and the place to crash, really. But… well, I haven’t had a friend like you in a long time.”
The Wonderbolt raised an eyebrow. “You getting sappy on me, LD?”
Lightning rolled her eyes. “No, seriously. It’s funny that like a year ago, I used to imagine beating you up over what’d happened. And now here we are, enjoying cider together on the patio at eight in the morning on a Saturday like two alcoholics. I don’t think you could get a bigger change than that.”
“You’d certainly have to try hard,” Rainbow agreed. Taking her bottle in her wing, she held it out toward Lightning, and the two clinked the necks together. They both took a big gulp and sighed before they set their bottles back down on their tables. “It really was a fun summer, wasn’t it?”
“Definitely.” She smiled and went back to watching the clouds drifting above, imagining the weather team getting ready to corral them back as a foundation for the day’s weather. “I couldn’t think of a better way to spend it.”
“I certainly could,” Rainbow said. “Hopefully next summer, you’ll be a part of it.”
“Yeah…” Lightning hummed to herself, imagining where she’d be in a year. With any luck, she’d be donning a blue and yellow uniform, even if it was the trimmed down cadet version. Just to be back at the academy again, watching the greats fly around her, was something she’d give anything for. And she knew she wouldn’t blow the second chance Rainbow Dash was giving her.
Rainbow’s chair rattled as the mare shivered. When Lightning raised her eyebrow, Rainbow just crossed her forelegs and rubbed them with her hooves. “I’m still in Las Pegasus mode and I just got out of a hot shower,” she said, licking her lips. “It was still the height of summer down there.”
Lightning rolled her eyes and slid her chair closer to Rainbow’s. “Here,” she said, extending her wing. “A blanket for the baby.”
Rainbow gave the offered wing a hesitant look. “Gee, LD, I didn’t know you swung that way,” she teased.
Lightning Dust smirked at her, a faint heat building in her cheeks. “I would say the same, but for some reason I’m not surprised.”
“Har-har,” Rainbow said, though she quickly angled her face away as a rosy shade started to settle over it. Biting her lip, she sighed and slid against Lightning’s side, keeping her face averted to hide the coloration in her cheeks. Lightning’s turquoise wing wrapped around her shoulders, and Rainbow sighed as she stopped shivering. Neither said anything more as they sat together, side by side, watching the day mature around them.
They didn’t move for a long time.