As the sun shone down on the land, and across at the shaped clouds that made up Las Pegasus, two figures flew on a spiraling flight path away from the city. Rook Sapphire watched the white-coated, light-blue maned form as she flew ahead of him. Naturally, he was looking for the telltale signs of a course change -- the sudden change in angle of a feather or the subtle turn of the mare's head. But Rook was also watching his partner because he admired her and her physicality.
Rook knew a thing or two about physicality, being one of the strongest Pegasi in the Azure Wing, the ancient Pegasus House responsible for the security and defense of Western Equestria. Despite his bulked-up form, his wings were of fairly average size, and he had about the same agility that lighter Pegasi had, thanks mostly to his continuous training with one of his generation's best flyers -- no, the best flyer!
Prism Azure was the young mare flying Lead. She had always been Flight Lead, displaying the most skill out of the three of them, and she continued to display the greatest speed, agility, and tactical and strategic thinking on an individual basis, out of their whole generation. But Prism Flight was among the best because it had three great flyers contributing to its success. And of course Prism, with her reflective grey eyes, was the best of them.
Next was Rook, who liked to think of himself as the stabilizer of the group. Usually calm and collected, he provided the voice of reason against the group's more daring tendencies -- except on those occasions when there was obviously no reason to hold back. Rook's strength and endurance meant that individually he could fly or run for longer than anypony else, except for the Azure's Wing Commander himself, Prism's father, Windwalker. His bulk and iron-hard muscles also meant that he could take more and harder hits than anyone else, which was a useful trait when you had to gain control of a rogue tornado. Rook's blue eyes were sharp, and he could easily scan for incoming objects from a fair distance. He wore his mane slicked back because it was the easiest to deal with after flying at high speeds. It was light-blue on the inside, and almost purple on the outside, and at the ends of his tail. Nopony dared tease the stable Rook about his mane colour, though, because he has enough skill to fly with the best.
The final member of the Flight, who was not present today, was Contrail Blue. Contrail's build was more on the average side, and his coat was more pale than Rook's, but his eyes were a darker blue. In contrast with Rook, Contrail's mane was slightly spiky while also slicked back, and it was a paler blue on the outside and ends. He also had a slight tear at the top of his left ear, where he'd gotten injured doing an aerial stunt. Contrail was the daredevil of the group, always pushing the others to do things they would not normally consider. Sometimes these turned out to be excellent maneuvers that they adopted for later use, and sometimes it landed at least one of them in the hospital. But when the three of them did something, they did it together.
That was exactly the way they'd grown up, too: following the Azure's tradition Contrail, Prism, and Rook were part of a large group of foals that had been divided according to the friendships they formed as they played together. While the three of them formed their own Flight, some were groups of four. They played, ate, and even slept and bathed together until just before they started to mature physically. Then they trained and flew together, to the point where when they were doing exercises or on patrol, they could tell what one of them was about to do even as that pony thought of doing it. That was the basic objective of such a traditional practice as group rearing, and Rook could not argue against it working.
The only issue that arose from group rearing was also its greatest strength and draw: when Flight members also included at least one set who were of complimentary genders, they often became romantically involved, and later married. Although this had happened with both Rook's and Contrail's parents, that was not the story behind how the Commander and Auntie Aerial got together. She had, after all, not been a member of the Azure at all, but she had been a native of Las Pegasus.
But returning to the issue with group rearing and romance, when there were only three members to a Flight, one of them inevitably got left out. Most of the time, the two competitors would work it out between them so the more deserving was able to prove him- or herself to the third member. This would give the leftover member enough time to become romantically-involved with the third member of another Flight, before becoming too attached to the idea of marrying the pony for whom they were competing. But Contrail was stubborn, so he was at a complete loss when Prism first chose Rook over him. Rook had been very worried about his best friend, because he appeared to be in a deep depression unless they were flying, and then he was fantastically mission-focused -- so unlike Contrail the prankster and daredevil. Fortunately, Contrail seemed to have found another mare on whom to focus his attentions and efforts. That left Prism and Rook to go on dates, like today's event, without having to worry about their friend.
Rook brought his attention back to the present when he saw a feather twitch, and he banked to follow Prism down and to the right. She went into a spin, and so did he. She pulled out and into a power-climb, and he followed gamely. A spiral and a dive, and he was right there on her wing.
Prism brought them down for a hard landing on a hillock overlooking Hoofington.
"Have you had enough already?" Rook asked quietly.
"Careful, you never know when I'll catch my second wind," Prism teased, not sounding the least bit out of breath. Not surprising, given her dream to train with the Wonderbolts and then serve with the Azure's own Bolts From the Blue -- better known as the Skybolts. Contrail and Rook would be right there with her. It was their promise to her as members of Prism Flight. "But now I have yet more proof I can always count on you." Prism sidled right up next to Rook, and the stallion's actually felt his heart skip a beat at the contact, even though they had been close ever since they were foals, even before they were yearlings. But this was different, because now they were older, if not much wiser.
"You know you might catch flies if you keep your mouth open?" Prism asked, staring right up at his face. Then she laughed as he widened his eyes in surprise, and then clapped a hoof to his own jaw to close his mouth, since he hadn't even realized he had opened it. "Aww, nopony's perfect," she teased.
"And here I thought you wanted perfection," Rook said, recovering.
"Close to it, anyway, but how am I supposed to look good if you and Con are both perfect?"
"You say that like you're anything but,"
"Now who's teasing?"
"Who's teasing? Not only are you in perfect shape, but you have perfect flying form. You're the most agile and fastest flyer in the Wing,"
"Apart from Father and Mother," Prism sighed, and smiled: Until recently she had been unable to say such a simple thing, what with Aunt Aerial's right wing being mangled from trying to stop a tornado from running rampant through Cloudsdale practically on her own. Of all the miracles that could have happened, it was their curious Earth Pony childhood friend who came up with a way to heal that wing, only recently -- and just as soon as Gearhead was done, Aerial had taken to the skies to test her strength and ability.
At that moment, Rook had been more afraid than he had ever been in his life, thinking that Prism would fall even more deeply in love with Gearhead than she had already been, because he had given her mother back her wings and taken away her pain. Prism surprised everypony, though, and thanked Gearhead in a mature manner. Contrail and Rook had grown up with Prism, and neither had any insight about what she must have been thinking when she seemed to have decided to look to her own wingmates for a romantic partner. Both were relieved, however, because they had had feelings for her for a long time, and despite their good intentions, Contrail and Rook had both been envious of the attention Prism had paid to Gearhead. Make no mistake, she still followed his successes, but she no longer behaved like a lovestruck filly around him.
If only she could mature enough to ease up on teasing Rook, but then that flirty playful aspect was part of why he was attracted to her. At least, Rook thought that was the case as they continued to watch the sun finish rising into the sky.
As though sensing his thoughts, Prism turned around to face Rook, and rearing up next to him, planted a kiss on his cheek. "C'mon, slowpoke," she said, launching into the air, "lets see what'cha got!"
Rook shook off his shock, and leaped after her. "You're on," he called.
This time when they flew, Prism didn't plan on leading in a team flight exercise, and expressed her intent by drifting to the left or right whenever Rook got too close to being in wing formation. This time as she climbed for altitude, he had to know that they were competing freestyle.
Yes, he knows, Prism thought as she gazed admiringly at Rook as he flexed his muscles to climb even, and even pass her. Prism might have an edge in speed and agility, but Rook had pure power. Power for any climb, any dash, and any dive. The two Pegasi approached their altitude limit, the air becoming thinner and colder around them, and then they let their forward momentum go. Prism banked to the left, and Rook went right. When they were both oriented to the ground again, they dove with their wings pulled tight against their bodies, and gained massive amounts of speed.
Prism pulled out of the dive first, pulling up and into a tight spiral that ended with her flying inverted. Rook reacted quickly enough that he was only half a dozen meters below, looking downward right at her. Then he pulled a drop-turn, and she was following him into a series of flips, rolls, and corkscrews. But he could not keep up the lead as long as he wasn't actively using his strength, pumping his wings: In a glide, even with his Pegasus magic to help him, Rook's aerodynamic profile simply was not as good as Prism's. It's a good thing I like him so strong, Prism thought as she rolled opposite him, looking into his eyes, as she moved to retake the lead.
Prism and Rook continued to fly exactly like this for hours, each pushing the other to surpass her or his previous limits in endurance, strength, agility, and innovation -- but also working together in an aerial dance. Prism could only imagine if they had an audience below, pointing up as the sun glinted off of her own white wings or Rook's mane. And throughout it all, they were never more than ten meters away from each other, no matter how unpredictable a move might have seemed to anypony watching.
Prism and Rook flew over Verdant Fields and looped back to Hoofington, where they landed for a brush-down and a late lunch. "So," Rook said suddenly as they sat across from each other at a table outside a restaurant, "did I pass the test?"
"With flying colours," Prism did not miss a beat. "But then, you knew that. And I already knew I can count on you with my life."
"Now that's a silly thing to say," Rook said, and Prism put a look of consternation on his face. "You might say 'I trust you with my life,' but I don't think it could possibly come so cheaply as to turn it over to another. To me it's the same sort of thing as saying 'I would die for you.'"
"And you wouldn't?"
"Of course not! I can't imagine how you'd feel if I died and left you alone. Well, not alone because you'd have Contrail and the rest of the Wing, but you'd still have to mourn me because I was foolish enough to even think about dying."
"So far I agree with you,"
"So instead of dying for you, I'd rather live for you."
This time Prism was the one whose jaw dropped.
"We of the Azure live in service of the ponies around us, so they can live their lives more normally and not have to worry about thinks like security or peace. These are things that they simply have, in part because of our efforts. But what use is that if we can't enjoy the same in our dotage?"
"Rook! I'm seriously too young to be thinking about getting old,"
"Don't worry, I won't hold it against you, Prism. I just think that in the end, my's own life is the best legacy I can leave for those around me, and those after me. And I want my life to be as full and long as possible. With you."
"That's so cheesy!" Prism giggled, but then she thought of her mother, living for more than a decade with that pain and a bad wing, unable to fly. How must she have felt, waiting and watching, not knowing whether she would ever be able to feel the sky again. If that tornado had killed her, or if she had despaired and given up, she certainly would never have flown again. And she would have left her family without a core member, not to mention all those students at Wonderbolts Academy for whom she was an instructor, mentor, and role model. "But I won't hold it against you," she added after only a couple seconds of thought.
Then she leaned over the table and kissed Rook more directly. This time he kissed a little back. When Prism pulled back, she could feel her energy returning in full. "Lets go," she said breathlessly.
"You're always in the sky, Prism," Rook said as he paid the bill.
"And you're right there with me!"
"That's because I love the mare who is loved by the sky,"
"I know," Prism pumped her wings and was high above the city in seconds, Rook right behind her, and rapidly coming up alongside.
"Where to?" Rook asked, a grin on his face: he knew she didn't want to go home just yet.
"Lets follow the sun, and see where the wind carries us!"
"Roger that," Rook said, and they turned toward the coast and the ocean beyond it.