Rainbow and Twilight didn’t speak much over the next two weeks. Twilight watched as her master did sonic rainboom after sonic rainboom next to Canterlot Palace, but she didn’t cheer, like Cloudchaser had cheered. She kept time, but didn’t relay the results unless asked. She made sure Rainbow was fed and taken care of, and ran errands when she was asked to do so, but often that was all.
One day, Rainbow returned from a long flight, her coat slick with sweat. Twilight was waiting, a bottle of water and a towel left for Rainbow on the table next to her. “Hey!” Rainbow called, coming to a soft landing on the roof. “I had an idea!”
“Very good,” Twilight said, handing the bottle and the towel over one at a time. “Would you like to tell me what it is?”
“I should join the Wonderbolts!” Rainbow said, speaking quickly. She wolfed down a few gulps of water, and gasped for air when she was done. “They’re an elite flying unit, right? I bet there are way less steps between them and Celestia than the general population.”
“That is technically true.” Twilight nodded her head.
“So, I’ll join the Wonderbolts, ace the exam, and we’ll get our audience! All done.” Rainbow dumped the rest of the water over her head, and shook herself out. “How soon can I apply?”
“I can submit the forms now,” Twilight said. “I would expect a reply within two months. Based on your flying performance to date, I estimate a 99.92% chance of rejection.”
Rainbow went still where she stood. She stared at Twilight, frozen to the spot. Eventually she snapped out of it and resumed toweling herself off, but her eyes stayed fixed on the robot in front of her. “That’s nuts,” she said. “I’m in the 99.9999th percentile for flight performance. Six nines. Do you know how good that is?”
“Yes.” Twilight shrugged. “It means that, statistically, one in a million pegasi is as good a flyer as you.”
“...right.” Rainbow hesitated. “So…”
“So, this city alone has a population of over 200 million pegasi, meaning that statistically there are 100 ponies here who are better fliers than you. Worldwide, that number jumps to 5,000. The Wonderbolts accept five applicants a year. In context, a 0.08% chance of success is actually quite favorable.”
“That can’t be right.” Rainbow shook her head. “Cloudchaser told me to apply to the Wonderbolts all the time.”
Twilight bowed her head low. “I observe this fact.”
“So why would she tell me to do something that I could never do!?” Rainbow growled, her wings parting from her side.
“As I said, I do not have access to her thoughts. I do not know why she did what she did.”
Rainbow sneered at Twilight, letting out a sharp grunt and shaking her head. “Whatever. A 0.08% chance of seeing Celestia is worth it. Apply.”
“I obey,” Twilight said, ever calm. “However, you should be aware that a 0.08% chance of admission does not equate to getting to meet Celestia. Many ponies have tried to manipulate the bureaucracy in this manner, and there—”
“Shut it!” Rainbow spat out the words, and Twilight instantly fell silent. Rainbow sneered, and glowered for several long seconds—but Twilight showed no reaction. Eventually, Rainbow spoke again with a tremble in her voice: “Why are you such a jerk?”
“I apologize. I am not trying to be unpleasant.”
“I didn’t order you to say you were sorry. I asked you a question.” Rainbow pointed an accusative hoof at Twilight, the scar along the bottom now just a silver line. “You’re my familiar. You’re supposed to live to serve. So why are you always such an ass to me? Cloudchaser loved me.”
“I love you.” Twilight said, her mouth set into a line. Her voice was tight, and her words became clipped. “Loving somepony doesn’t mean being a sycophantic lackey who cheers their every move. It means you care about them. It means that seeing them happy means the world to you. And for me, it means that I want you to enjoy flying because you enjoy flying, not because a flight is an excuse for me to tell you how great you are.”
In a flash, Rainbow was muzzle to muzzle with Twilight, her wings flapping to keep her eye level with the machine before her. “Go ahead. Insult Cloudchaser one more time. I dare you. I dare you. I swear I will find a way to hurt you and I will make you suffer!”
Twilight said nothing for some time. Her jaw pulled back into a frown, and her wings tightened against her side. When she did speak again, her voice was softer than usual, and with a gentler cadence than she normally employed. “Cloudchaser… was made for you. She was made to be perfect for you. What you needed. She was given life to serve you. She adored you every second of her life. I know that, because the same is true for me.”
“You’ve got a funny way of showing it.”
“That’s because Cloudchaser was made for you when you were sixteen. She was what Celestia thought you needed then. I am what she thought you need now. And you aren’t the same pony you were back then, and so I’m not Cloudchaser.” Twilight’s voice cracked. “And I’m sorry I’m not.”
“You’re not sorry enough.”
Twilight looked Rainbow in the eye. Her ears folded back. “I know,” she said, and there was shame in her voice.
Rainbow looked away. She stared off at the gleaming city around them. “You can go.” She said. “I feel like going out tonight. Call me right away if there’s any change in the appeals process. You understand?”
“I obey.” Twilight bowed her head low, and left.