Now if I just move this cloud this way... And done! That was the last one.
Rainbow Dash smiled, if not a little proud of the hoofwork she just completed all by herself. Due to a scheduled, yet unwanted draught, Applejack had asked the weather pegasus to provide her orchard with a downpour, to provide it with some much-needed agglomeration.
At first, Rainbow was reluctant, since Applejack managed to catch her in the middle of a napping session. Furthermore, she, and all of the weather team had the week off because of this draught, so the notion of caring about weather conditions was nowhere on her mind. Applejack eventually managed to convince her otherwise stating she would owe her a favor or two, which she could call in at any given time. On top of that, the earth pony promised she'd be the first to grab a fresh mug of cider or two - which ultimately became five - come next Cider Season, which ultimately sealed the deal.
Sweet Apple Acres was big, so it took Rainbow Dash a good few hours to find, gather and position enough rainclouds over the entire orchard. But it was imperative every single tree got its share of liquid nutrition, since Applejack's farm was Ponyville's only source of apples. So in order to provide the town with them, not to mention keep a stock of their own for Cider Season, they needed an ample supply of the fruit to give the trees enough time to grow new ones.
Rainbow headed back to the Apple family farmhouse, and knocked on the door.
"Hey, AJ, I'm done! Wanna come out and take a look?" she yelled.
Big was her surprise when the door flung open wildly and Applejack jumped out, tackling the pegasus to the ground. Together, they skidded a good few feet across the dusty earth before coming to a halt. Before Rainbow could ask what in the hay she was doing, Applejack covered her mouth with a hoof.
"Sshhh," she whispered, "Granny's takin' a nap. Quit yer hollerin'!"
"Hmpf hmmf prff!" Rainbow tried to speak.
"Whut? You need to speak up, RD." Rainbow looked at her incredulously, lowered her gaze at the orange hoof blocking her ability of speech, and looked up again.
"Oh," Applejack said, realizing what she was doing, after which she removed her hoof so Rainbow could speak.
"I said, 'Are you crazy?' There's no need to jump me like that!"
The earth pony gave a sheepish chuckle as she pushed herself off of her victim, and extended a hoof to help Dash up.
"Heh, sorry. You know how cranky Granny Smith can be when somepony wakes her up."
Rainbow grumbled as she accepted the extended hoof, and rose to her own set.
"Anyway," she said while batting the dust from her mane, "I'm done with the clouds. Whatcha' think?"
"Yee-haw!" Applejack pitched up, when she saw the sky above the tree orchard covered with clouds. "Heavens to Betsy, nicely done, RD!"
Getting a second look, her cheerful face turned into a frown when she noticed something was off, which didn't go unnoticed.
"What? What's the matter?" Rainbow asked.
"Uh... they ain't raining."
"Oh yeah, that. These clouds weren't scheduled to rain anytime soon, so a pegasus needs to jump on them. I was thinking of getting Fluttershy's help to do that, since gathering all these clouds already took some effort."
"Alrighty then, works for me! Know what? You go do that, and I'll be bakin' up some Apple-trademarked fritters fer all yer troubles. How's that sound?"
Rainbow levitated herself off the ground, her mouth already watering up with the prospect of gulping down some Apple Acres-quality pastry goodness.
"Sounds awesome! I'll be back before you even know it!" after which she took off into the sky, and headed towards Ponyville.
As Rainbow Dash glided through the air, she cast her gaze downward at the bustling town beneath her. From her vantage point, nothing escaped her sight: unicorns, earth ponies and pegasi alike walked, trotted or gently flew through the streets and alleys of Ponyville, either talking to one another, conducting business or dealing with their own matters at hoof.
There were times she felt bad for the unicorns and earth ponies, being creatures who'd never get to enjoy the thrill of flying. It was unquestionably the most awesome thing ever, especially for somepony like Rainbow Dash. Sure, some unicorns could make use of a particular spell, enabling those ponies to temporarily grant the indescribable sensation of flight. But very few unicorns, Twilight Sparkle among them, were capable of accomplishing such a feat. In fact, the lavender librarian was as good as the only unicorn in town skilled enough to perform such a daunting task, if not only once per day.
As such, it was best to leave the blessed, benevolent gift of flight only to creatures with natural grown wings. Most of them anyway, considering chickens, penguins, ostriches and the like. It didn't take away the notion of her pet tortoise being granted the ability to fly, albeit mechanically.
That reminds me, I need to pick up some food for Tank. Might as well ask Fluttershy if she has some left once I get there.
The rest of Rainbow's flight uneventful, she landed on the doorstep of Fluttershy's cottage, nestled at the outskirts of Ponyville on one side, and at the edge of the Everfree Forest on the other. The forest was a terrifying and dangerous place, especially for a timid pegasus like Fluttershy. Heck, it even gave Rainbow Dash the creeps merely by looking through the foliage, despite her bravado. But by living close to them, it meant Fluttershy's animal friends could reach her faster in their time of need, and that's the price she was more than willing to pay.
Dash knocked on the front door. "Fluttershy! Are you home? It's me, Rainbow Dash!"
Expecting the yellow, pink-haired pegasus to open the door to merely a crack and cautiously peek outside, she came peeking from around the corner of her house instead.
"Oh, hi there, Rainbow Dash. I was, um, out back, feeding the chickens," Fluttershy said in her usual quiet voice. "What can I do for you?"
"Hiya, Fluttershy!" Rainbow cheerily greeted her. "Two things, actually. I need some food for Tank, still got some?"
"Sure! Come on in," she replied, and held open the front door of her cottage, allowing Rainbow to enter. As Rainbow politely waited in her living room, Fluttershy disappeared into an adjoining room where she stashed her animal food provisions. While rummaging around looking for nutrition suited for reptilians, Rainbow heard her asking, "And what's the other thing?"
"I'm helping Applejack watering her orchard, and I was wondering if you could assist me."
Fluttershy retreated from the storage room, walking out with a bag of tortoise food on her back, her wings wrapped around it to keep it there. Bearing a grim expression setting the bag down, she said, "Oh, my. Sounds like a lot of work, and I promised Angel to go out later today. I don't know if I have the time."
Rainbow waved a dismissive hoof. "No need to worry about that. I already moved the clouds in position. All that's left to do is jump on them, and with you helping, we'll be done in half the time!"
In reality, Rainbow mused, she'd do three quarters of the work while Fluttershy would do just a quarter. Not insinuating that Fluttershy was lazy, she was just not as energetic as Rainbow Dash. In fact, she wouldn't be surprised if Fluttershy would say "Sorry!" every time she bounced on a cloud, forcing it to expel its contents, despite it being void of any kind of emotion or feelings. She didn't word that concern out loud though, for Dash didn't want to upset her friend – which was something easily accomplished.
Hearing this, Fluttershy's face lit up like a foal just having earned its cutie mark. "That sounds much better! Sure, I'll help! In fact, why don't I feed Tank for you, and then I'll meet you at Sweet Apple Acres!" She shrunk down in an all-too familiar position. "You know, um, if that's okay with you..."
Rainbow rolled her eyes, slightly vexed by her submissive deportment. "Of course it is, Fluttershy. I'll see you there, then. And thanks!"
"Oh, you're most..." Before Fluttershy managed to finish her sentence, Rainbow had already zoomed out of her house, causing her to emit a meek yelp. Angel, who was coming up at the front door after a small, relaxing afternoon walk, was sent spinning out of control by the passing cyan pegasus, and ended up face-first on the ground. Lifted his head, he shook his fist at the ignorant Element of Loyalty as menacing as he could get... for a bunny.
Heading back to Sweet Apple Acres, Rainbow caught a glimpse of the Golden Oak Library, nestled at the edge of town.
Hmm, I wonder if Twilight's got the latest book in the Daring Do series yet. Once Applejack's orchard's been watered, I'll go find out. What was it called again? Daring Do and the Empire of the-
"Hey, watch out!"
Before Rainbow Dash could check her surroundings, she slammed right into another pegasus flying in her path. She fumbled around for a second or two before rediscovering which way is up, and soon steadied her flight. Her eyes tumbled around in her head for another moment before they shifted back into focus.
"Mint! Are you okay?" A female voice called out.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Good thing I have a hard head," the first voice replied, before directing its attention to Rainbow Dash. "And you! Can't you see where you're going? So much free space up in the air, and yet you still manage to run into somepony!"
Rainbow managed to get a good look at the pegasus yelling at her. It was a stallion, his coat a very pale shade of green, light blue hooves at the end of his legs. Contrasting dark blue hair with a streak of soft yellow running through them cascaded from his head, slightly entangled from the collision.
"Right back at you, buddy," Rainbow responded, connecting her rosy eyes with his orange ones. "You saw me first, so why didn't you move out the way yourself?"
"Because I was talking to my friend here, and didn't see you until just before we flew into each other," the stallion said, gesturing to his friend hovering next to him.
Rainbow shifted her sight to the other pegasus, and her jaw dropped as far as her anatomy would allow. For hovering next to the pale green pegasus was a yellow one, with a mane and tail the color of fire, and a lightning bolt adorning her flank. Dash was almost at a loss for words when she laid her eyes upon Spitfire, captain of the Wonderbolts.
"Spit - you - I - Omigosh!" Dash stammered.
"Hey, I remember you. You're... uh... Rainbow Flash, right?"
Rainbow scratched the back of her head with her hoof, blushing deeply at the notion of the Wonderbolt captain remembering her name. Most of it, anyway. "Almost, heh. It's Dash."
"Right, Rainbow Dash." Spitfire turned to her friend, a puzzled look donning his face about these two mares apparently being acquainted. "Peppermint, meet Rainbow Dash. Winner of the Best Young Flyer competition, and the only pegasus ever to have pulled off a Sonic Rainboom."
"I did it twice," Rainbow corrected Spitfire. It was still unreal to her she was talking to her life-long idol, yet here she was. Albeit briefly, they talked at the Grand Galloping Gala as well, but at least this time there were no high society ponies around to steal the Wonderbolt captain away from her.
"A Sonic Rainboom... twice?" Peppermint asked in astonishment. "That's incredible! How come she isn't a Wonderbolt yet?" he jokingly questioned Spitfire.
Like a punch in the face, this question hit Rainbow hard. Why WASN'T she a part of her dream team by now? After all, she did something no other pony ever managed to pull off – two times, even! Not to mention the spectacular moves she's been working on for years, which surely had the ability to sway even the most unconceivable of ponies. The Wonderbolts were well aware of her skills, and she figured it was just a matter of time before she would receive an invitation in her mail one day. Or at least she thought, for although the notion never left the back of her head, the letter never came.
"Peppermint, you know why," Spitfire answered in a fake condescending tone.
"Yeah, I know, I'm just pulling your tail," he chuckled. "Oh! We better keep moving, or you're gonna be late for practice!"
"Yeah, we should. Sorry, Rainbow, but we gotta, well, dash. Maybe we'll catch you later!"
"Bye, Rainbow," Peppermint said as the two pegasi broke away from a stunned Rainbow Dash. "And hey, no hard feelings for running into me!" he called after her.
Rainbow's head was spinning from the several questions swimming around in it. Spitfire had said "you know why." Does that mean they had considered inviting her after all? But why didn't they? Did they have a reason not to? What held them back?
Normally, with any other pony, Rainbow would turn back and directly confront her target with these inquiries.
But this was no ordinary pony, not in the least. The urge to follow and fly alongside Spitfire, even in her path if need be, to ask her why she never got an invitation was strong. But the least she wanted to do was upsetting her idol, and consequently, possibly nullify her chances of joining the Wonderbolts.
She turned around, only to see Spitfire and Peppermint had already made quite some distance between them. She could've easily flown after them and catch up in no time, but let her better judgment prevail, if not reluctantly. With a heavy mind, she continued on her trip back to Sweet Apple Acres to finish her chore there.
Celestia's enthralling sunlight beamed down on Rainbow's face through the bedroom window of her home in Cloudsdale. A week had passed since the encounter with the Wonderbolt captain and her friend, whose name eluded her once again as she woke up.
She thought back of that moment quite often, but tried not to let it weigh her down too much, taking Twilight's advice to heart. She had consulted with the lavender unicorn on the matter during her latest visit to the library, right after wrapping up watering Applejack's orchard. Twilight, being rational as always, had suggested not to dwell too much on the 'what if's' or 'what could have been's', for the sake of her ability of thinking straight.
Getting out of her cloudy bed, she casually strolled through her residence towards the front door, and grabbed the mail jutting out the slot in her mouth. Bringing the envelopes into the kitchen and placing them on the kitchen table, she went to the counter and prepared herself a nice, steaming cup of coffee. Placing the mug next to the stack of mail, she turned to the fridge and opened it.
Inside was, among other things, a leftover fritter, courtesy of Applejack. She gave Rainbow and Fluttershy enough fritters each to last a week, ever-so-thankful for the aerial assistance. Picking up the fritter and setting herself at the table, she started going over the mail while taking a nibble.
Bills, bills, bills... coupons. Great.
Scooting over the uninteresting parchments, her eyes then fell on the last envelope of the stack, which was different than the others in every aspect. It was larger, and the type of paper was slightly rugged and thicker than that of a normal envelope. The kind a refined pony like Rarity would use to invite somepony for a fancy banquet or an important fashion show.
Ugh, if this is what I think it is, I'm in for a lame evening. Kudos to Rarity doing her stuff, but this is going to be as boring as watching paint dry...
Rainbow took a sip from her coffee as she flipped the envelope around. Her eyes went wide as she did a spit-take, covering the table and everything on it in hundreds of brown droplets. Mouth agape, she stared at the seal that held the envelope shut.
It bore the image of a lightning bolt, accompanied by a pair of wings.
Letting the notion of its sender sink in, Rainbow slowly opened the letter with a trembling hoof. Formulating a pretty good idea of what it would say, she still handled the letter in slow-motion, as if it was extremely fragile to the touch and would crumble to pieces if handled precariously.
Finally folding open the sheet of refined paper, her eyes darted across the elegantly written words, pupils dilating and the smile on her face reaching a new high with every word she passed.
At the end of the letter, she felt like a champagne bottle that had just been shaken vigorously. With every passing second, the excitement kept building up, causing her body to start trembling and her eyes tearing, until it could take no more.
"YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYES! YEAH! OH MY GOSH! WHOOOOOOOOO!!" she erupted, letting all her happiness explode in a degree that only Pinkie Pie would be able to rival. In her euphoria, she clenched the letter in her teeth, and rocketed through the cloudy wall of her home to the outside world, blissfully ignorant of the new, unorthodox point of entry into her residence.
To the esteemed Rainbow Dash
Your skills haven't gone unnoticed. On several occasions, you have demonstrated your superb knowledge of complicated aerodynamics and aerial grace. Not in the very least, your participation and victory in the Best Young Flyer Competition have also continued to impress us, mostly due to your ability to trigger a Sonic Rainboom, a feat achieved multiple times only by yourself. A feat nopony has managed to accomplish in generations, which is something be rightfully proud of. It goes without saying you are undoubtedly one, if not the best flyer of this time to grace the skies of Equestria.
Therefore, we would like to present you with the opportunity to tryout for the prestigious spot as a member of the Wonderbolts. You will have to undergo several tests, but with skills of your level, there is no doubt you will pass these trials with flying colors – if you'll pardon the pun.
Should you choose to accept our offer, please present yourself upcoming Monday at the Manechester Sports Arena in Cloudsdale.
Captain of the Wonderbolts
Twilight Sparkle felt much elation for Rainbow as she let the letter magically slip away from before her eyes, the latter pony flying around the library in circles, barely able to contain her excitement. The gust she created by doing so blew away several books, and even some ornaments. Spike, as fast as his little legs would allow him, did his best running from left to right to grab whatever he could.
Dash felt the need to tell somepony – anypony – the good news, and the studious unicorn was the first one that appeared in her head. Twilight was casually reading one of her favorite spellbooks on the library's main floor as Rainbow, as usual, came crashing in through an open window. Before Twilight could even see what was going on, Rainbow had literally shoved the letter in her face.
"Rainbow Dash, this is wonderful! I'm so happy for you!"
"Wonderful? Try awesometasticly super... extremely... Ugh, I can't come up with the words to describe this! It's... like... like... the pinnacle of coolness, awesomeness and radicalness combined, and then some!" Dash shouted as she hovered in front of Twilight.
When Rainbow paused her indoor flight to talk to the librarian, Spike allowed himself a moment to catch his breath and set aside the trinkets he managed to save from the pegasus' aerial onslaught. Yet, as soon as she spoke her words, she resumed flying erratically, causing Spike to yelp as the same - and more - gewgaws and books began to scatter about.
"Ugh! Twilight, a little help here, please?"
Using her magic, Twilight grabbed a hold of Rainbow's tail, leaving her dangling about in mid-air.
"Okay Rainbow, I know you're happy, but try to settle down for a while. You're creating a tornado in here!"
"Heh, sorry 'bout that."
Twilight released her. Spike recollected the scattered trinkets, released a sigh of relief, and went to work returning them to their original positions.
"That's alright," Twilight Sparkle continued. "After all, you've got a very good reason to be happy, to say the least. You want me to gather the girls, and have me use that 'walking-on-clouds' spell again so we can cheer you on?"
Being released from magical intervention, Rainbow set herself down on the library floor, which she started pawing precariously.
"Uh... If it's all the same to you, Twilight, I'd rather you didn't. I just know I'm gonna be a nervous wreck, and I can't afford any distractions and maybe fudge things up – no offense."
Spike released a content sigh, having just finished returning all of Twilight's memorabilia to their respective places, and smiled at his handiwork. Next thing he knew, he was being knocked into the wall by a sudden mass of pink, the impact sending the collectibles towards the floor once again. He snorted a small puff of smoke in frustration, as the pink mass bounced across the room, coming to a stop before Twilight and Dash.
"Did somepony say fudge? I love fudge! There's hundreds kinds of fudge like chocolate fudge, coconut fudge, and peanut butter fudge and oh – I even found a recipe for fudge cookies once in Granny Cake's secret recipe book which I just HAVE to try someday! I just hope I can make enough to share with the whole town, because I have so many friends living here. Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, FUDGE! I love fudge! There's also butterscotch fudge and mint fudge with walnuts and - oh! Did anypony ever tried making fudge muffins or fudge cupcakes? I'll bet that'd be the tastiest things ever! Then again, maybe not. Still, it's fudge, so what could go wrong? I wonder if there's such a thing as ice cream fudge. OH! Iced fudge! Hmmm, sounds yummy already..."
Rainbow Dash groaned as Pinkie Pie droned on about the different potential types of baked goods, some of which guaranteed to fail if she actually tried to make it.
"Do you guys mind bringing her up to speed? I gotta be in tip-top shape if I want to up my chances of finally joining the Wonderbolts!" The last words came out squealing as she spoke them.
"Sure thing, Dash. Good luck!" At that, Rainbow zoomed out the library, leaving in her wake a rainbow-colored trail, a lavender unicorn and a purple baby dragon to deal with an ever-excited pink earth pony.
The day which heralded the start of a new week was loathed by most for that reason alone, simply because it meant the time of relaxation known as the weekend had come and gone. Many would return to the everyday routine of work, similar to many a foal returning to school, some more enthusiastic than others.
One particular pegasus however, couldn't wait until this particular Monday came around. For the past few days, she had been practicing almost every waking hour in one way or another, in preparation and sheer anticipation for this very moment to arrive.
I still can't believe this is happening! Spitfire, Soarin', Blaze, Silver Lining, Misty, Fire Streak... all my fillyhood heroes, and I'm about to meet them! All of them! Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh!
Banking around a stubborn set of clouds, the stadium where her dream was about to be made a reality - or shattered into a million pieces, but really, like that's gonna happen - appeared into her peripheral view. It was the same arena where the Best Young Flyer Competition was held, and Rainbow, being a native of Cloudsdale, effortlessly recalled its location.
Coming to the front of the stadium, she noticed a distinct lack of activity in the vicinity. There were other pegasi nearby, but none of them seemed to have any business with this particular structure. Lifting a hoof trembling with anticipation, she nudged the front gate, which turned out to be firmly secured.
That's odd. Did they forget it's Monday? It is Monday, right? It wouldn't be the first time I mix the days up... Wait, no, today's Monday. I'm sure of it.
Looking up in the sky, she remembered the arena had an open roof – and floor – and began to wonder what purpose a gate would serve anyway. Nevertheless, she lifted herself up and flew over the wall, onto the proverbial stadium grounds proper.
At first, due to the sheer size of the stadium, it almost looked to be devoid of life here as well, save for Rainbow Dash. But among the dozens of different agility courses, right in the middle of the arena, she spotted a single pegasus, waving at her and beckoning her over. Closing the distance, she discerned more and more features, and quickly came to realize he wasn't any of the Wonderbolts. Instead, she recognized that one pale green pony she bumped into earlier.
"Hi there, Rainbow Dash!" He greeted her.
"Uh... Hi..." she responded, slightly bewildered due to the absence of her personal heroes. "I'm sorry, I forgot your name."
"That's okay. It's Peppermint."
"Oh, right. What are you doing here? Where's Spitfire and the rest?"
Peppermint gave a slight chuckle. "Not to worry, they'll be here. It might take them a while though, they're dealing with some formalities elsewhere. Big shot stuntponies and all. In the meantime though, Spitfire asked me if I could go ahead and begin your trials, take down your results. You know, see how you perform."
Dash's eyes widened a little. "You? Uh, no offense, but why would she ask that of you?"
The brows of the pale green pegasus lowered a little. "If you must know, "he huffed, "I've been friends with Spitfire since before she was a Wonderbolt, and I know exactly what she expects from a potential new member. Besides, don't you have any friends that ask for a favor sometimes?"
"... Yeah, I do," Rainbow sighed, recalling the favor Applejack asked of her for some time ago. "I guess I'm just a little disappointed the Wonderbolts aren't here. Sorry."
"Ah, don't worry. Like I said, they'll be here soon enough," Peppermint perked up. "Let's say we get started with a few laps?"
Grabbing a clipboard that was previously tucked underneath his wing in his teeth, the colt flew over to an oval race course, which Rainbow knew was Blaze's forte. Following suit, Peppermint landed next to the finish line, while Rainbow parked herself at the line itself. Peppermint gazed upon the clipboard, determining the top and worst times recorded on this particular track.
"Let's see... The worst time recorded for three laps was one minute twenty-one seconds. If you can top that, you'll have passed this test."
"Hah, that's all? No problem. Ready when you are," Rainbow said, priming herself to take off.
Holding a timer in his wing, he gave the sign for Rainbow to take off. "Ready? Get set..." Rainbow revved up her wings, and blasted forward as Peppermint pressed the button on top of the timer as soon as he shouted "Go!"
Shooting off, Rainbow left Peppermint behind in a blur.
Despite the course taking up a decent size of the arena, it almost seemed too small to her as she had to slow down in order not to fly from the bend. Conquering the first curve and repeating it a second time on the other side of the track, she shot over the starting line.
Because of her speed, she failed to see the look on Peppermint's face as he stared at his timer in disbelief. Repeating the course two more times, Dash skidded to a halt and confidently trotted across the clouds back to the pseudo-judge, a small spring of contentedness in her step. Peppermint shook his head, making sure he was reading the timer right, and raised the clipboard to hide his face from the cyan pegasus' eyes as she was coming up to him. Clenching a pencil in his teeth, he wrote down Dash's results, and lowered the clipboard again to reveal a neutral expression donning his face.
"So, how'd I do? Broke the record, no doubt?" Dash said proudly, certain of her undoubtedly awesome performance.
"Sorry, Dash. Can't tell you. Spitfire's request." he answered dryly. He almost seemed unimpressed with her result... Disappointed, even.
Confidence turning to bafflement, Rainbow's eyes and mouth dropped open upon hearing this. Before she could protest however, Peppermint spoke up first.
"Let's move on. Next up, the obstacle course. Right this way," he said as he made his way over to said course. Rainbow grunted, and followed haphazardly, frustratingly kicking a small cloud to smithereens in the process.
For every test that followed, each and all completed successfully, Dash was met with the same outcome time after time: Peppermint looking up from his clipboard after noting down the cyan pegasus' result, a look of malcontent crossing his face, and Dash herself groaning with his irrefutable unwillingness to share the information of her performance.
The final test was one of agility: a hollowed out, rectangular-shaped course, the length of half the arena, with the inside systematically and partially blocked off with walls of clouds in all directions which she had to weave in between, making sure not to collide or even touch any of them.
Giving it her all, she made her way through the course flawlessly, elegantly swooshing left and right, up and down, weaving through the openings in the tunnel in one smooth flow. She was sure to nail it when the end came into sight, and grinned. That grin quickly turned into a scowl when she felt her right hind hoof colliding with one of the obstacles, mere meters away from the end of the course. And as luck would have it, it didn't go unnoticed to the all-seeing gaze of the pale green pegasus, who was flying alongside her next to the track to be able to judge her performance.
"I'm gonna have to add two seconds of penalty for touching that one wall there. Other than that, you did fine," he said, after Rainbow rejoined him.
"Penalty? Are you serious?! You're gonna add two seconds for that? I barely even grazed it! You better not be horsing me around, or Celestia help me I'll give you the what for!" She yelled in his face.
Peppermint was unmoved by the outburst. "I can add some more time to that, if you'd like," he retorted unemotionally, and held up the pencil to the clipboard, further affixing his threat.
Rainbow groaned in annoyance again, biting her tongue as not to mess up her possibly only chance to join the Wonderbolts. In fact, from the disappointed way this Peppermint character was talking to her, it almost seemed like she already had.
"Tsk tsk tsk... Spitfire is not going to like this."
"What? Why? I didn't do bad, right? Right?" Dash blurted in a slightly quivering voice, panic building up slowly.
What if I did bad? I don't think I did, but this guy's acting like a teacher after a foal gave him a Goddess-awful drawing of him. I mean, come on! Throw me a bone here!
"I'm sorry, but again, can't tell you. All I can say is what I just said: Spitfire isn't going to be happy," was all that came out, Rainbow's expectations drying up like ice cream in an Appleloosian sun.
"But... But I..."
"Hey, don't sweat it, kid. Spitfire's easy to forgive and forget, and in the end, it's her call. Tell you what. Why don't you take a shower to freshen up? I'll be waiting outside, and maybe Spitfire'll be here when you're done. Then we'll see what she says. Sound good?"
"I guess..." Dash said in a defeated tone. From the way Peppermint was talking to her, she was all but certain she had blown her chance. She did her best, pushed herself to her limits, but it wasn't enough. So what if she managed to pull off a Sonic Rainboom twice. The first one was pure luck, while the other happened while saving a friend – and some of the Wonderbolts themselves, no less.
Some gratitude, she thought as Peppermint guided her to the locker room. Passing by the lockers, Rainbow noticed that each Bolt had his or her own locker assigned to them. With each name she laid her eyes upon as she walked by them, so did her aversion to them increase, fueled by the imminent rejection she was sure to experience. Turning the faucet, she scowled, disgusted with her own train of thought.
NO! It's wrong to think of them that way. It's not their fault, it's mine! she thought as she stepped under a nice, hot stream of water. The Wonderbolts take only the best, and if I didn't make the cut, that means I have to train harder! Less napping, more flying, take double shifts for the weather team, eat right!
Yet, despite her self-induced pep talk, a single tear managed to escape from her eye duct, immediately swallowed by the revitalizing torrent cascading over her athletic form. Biting her lip and clenching her eyes shut, she fought back any other tears that might have the same idea. Unless the wind was assaulting her face with all its might as she sliced through the sky, Rainbow Dash would never be caught crying over anything.
She started to wonder what the gang would say. In fact, she wasn't even sure she could face them for the rest of the week. Everypony was certain she'd make it for sure, but things seemed far too bleak now for that to be true. Twilight had relayed the news about Dash' invitation to the others, and every one of them - one in particular just a tad more than the others - was thrilled to hear about it. They all agreed to await her at Sugarcube Corner, where Pinkie Pie was certain to have baked up a mountain of congratulatory pastries... which would serve as consolation pastries instead.
No... No, I could never to that. I have to tell them. They deserve at least that.
Turning off the faucet after an invigorating cleaning session, she dried herself off with a provided towel, sitting on a nearby bench. As lovely as the shower was, it did little to improve her mood. Due to lack of a comb, she straightened her mane and tail as far as it would allow, hoping the humidity wouldn't pull a number on her. She hated it when her hair curled up.
Feeling presentable enough, she made her way back outside...
And nearly fainted.
They were all there, standing just outside the door leading to the interior of the stadium. Spitfire, Misty and Silver Lining on one side, Soarin', Fire Streak and Blaze on the other. They were all smiling, and stomping their front hooves on the cloudy "ground" in applause. For her.
Straight in front, a few feet past the double row, stood Peppermint, with behind him an object over which a tarp was draped, obscuring the object underneath completely from view. He stepped forward to talking distance.
"But... I... Spit... Soar... Wonder... You... WHA?" Rainbow stammered. She couldn't make heads or tails of what was going on. Peppermint just chuckled.
"I think I'll let somepony else elaborate," he said, as he moved over to make way for Spitfire.
"As you know, Rainbow Dash," she began, "we only take the best, and everypony knows you are right up there. So we decided to have a little fun with you, pull your tail a little, if you will. All of us here had no doubt you'd nail these tests-" she turned to look at Peppermint, who held out the clipboard with Rainbow's test results before the Wonderbolt captain "-and looking at the results, I'd say we were right."
Rainbow recovered from her initial shock, but still felt her head swerving a little as Spitfire's statement started to sink in.
"But..." She pointed at Peppermint. "He said you weren't going to be happy with my results..."
Spitfire smiled. "To be honest, we were here all the time, hiding around and keeping an eye on you from afar while you were doing your stuff. We also kept a mental note of each course's record time. Peppermint was right, I'm not very thrilled about your performance. You managed to break every single one of our records, which means we'll have to train harder just to keep up with you." She smirked innocently. "Think of this prank as your initiation rite."
Baffled from the tsunami of praise her lifelong idol was showering her with, Spitfire's last words almost didn't register in Rainbow's mind.
Next thing she knew, Spitfire turned and moved over to the tarp-covered object standing behind her, slightly raised above her own height. She clamped the tarp between her teeth, and gave it a strong yank, exposing the secret it kept hidden underneath. Rainbow's eyes fell upon a pony-shaped mannequin, the same kind one could find in Rarity's boutique. Only this one wasn't donned in some fancy Canterlot getup.
This one bore a Wonderbolt costume.
Her Wonderbolt costume.
"Rainbow Dash," Spitfire continued, gesturing at the mannequin, "Welcome to the Wonderbolts."
The first thing Rainbow Dash did was head back to Ponyville, already flaunting her newly acquired jumpsuit. Instead of landing right at the doorstep of Sugarcube Corner where her friends were eagerly awaiting her return, she decided to show off some moves before joining them.
It didn't take the waiting ponies long to spot a particularly frantic pegasus. As Rainbow criss-crossed the sky, doing mind-numbing loops, corkscrews, barrel rolls and other stunts in rapid succession, it was clear to them she brought them positive news. After bouncing back and forth like a ball in a pinball machine against a bunch of scattered clouds, she kicked the cloud contacted last into oblivion, and made a beeline towards the bakery. She came to a complete halt a few feet in front of her waiting friends, and took on a heroic pose, showcasing her uniform in all its splendor for all of Ponyville, all of Equestria - neigh, all the world - to behold.
She was instantly assaulted with praise and congratulations from every direction as her friends trotted up to her, escorting the newest Wonderbolt member into the bakery in order to celebrate.
And this was just the beginning.
A few days later, Dash returned to Cloudsdale for her very first training session. To her great joy, Soarin' was appointed to be her personal mentor, which instigated another inner squeal failing to burst forth from her mouth.
For as long as she could remember, Rainbow Dash always had held Soarin' in a different regard. To her, "Wonderbolts" was equal to "Soarin'." Upon hearing the name of the aerial flight team, the image of Soarin' would appear before her eyes first, the other pegasi that made up the bulk of the team after.
She regularly found herself pondering as to what this could possibly mean. More often than not, she shrugged it off as him being nothing more than her favorite member, or just blatantly occupied her mind with something else. The coming days with him tutoring her, however, it was going to be hard to think of something else as he was bound to be by her side pretty much all the time.
Before anything else, Soarin' laid down the rules and regulations about being a Wonderbolt. She tried her best to listen to what he had to say, instead of losing herself contemplating just what this other feelings towards him might be.
"Being a Wonderbolt is actually a pretty sweet deal," he started. "We train ever Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, while we give a monthly performance across Equestria, one town at a time, on the second Sunday of the month. Obviously, there's no training then, just warm-ups.For really long distances, we travel for extended periods of time, but we don't stay away from Cloudsdale for longer than a week and a half, two weeks tops. As downtime goes: as long as you keep yourself in shape, you're free to spend it however you see fit. Any questions?"
Are you single?
"Nope, everything's crystal."
Where did that come from?
"Good. Let's start with some basic moves, huh? We've got a few routines that reoccur a lot, so you gotta nail those before anything else. Here, I'll show you first, then you try to copy me..."
In order to further acquaint herself with the rest of the team, she came up with an idea.
During downtime between training sessions, she planned to spend a day with each Wonderbolt separately in order to get to know them better on a personal basis. The next performance wasn't until another three weeks, so there was ample of time to get to know her fillyhood heroes better than the average fan.
As it turned out, Blaze had a soft spot for poetry. She had invited Dash over to an open-mic poetry club in the cultural center of Cloudsdale - a place Rainbow never paid much attention to, and rightly so. She had the hardest time not falling asleep on the spot as the amateur poets read their finest works aloud, Blaze included.
Misty turned out to be a real dud, as she challenged - and easily defeated - Rainbow Dash in a game of chess.
Silver Lining was like a male version of Rarity. In addition to having a keen eye for fashion and keeping up with the latest trends, he had also designed the current Wonderbolt costume, and his favorite pastime was trotting through the streets of Canterlot passing by the numerous boutiques and shops.
Rainbow couldn't believe how boring her team members were thus far, when they weren't garmented in the outfits that made them the reason why she wanted to join them so badly. She did make a mental note to introduce Silver Lining to Rarity later. Who knows...
To her relief, fate took a turn for the better. Fire Streak was the most exciting pony so far, since he had a knack for competition. Together with Rainbow, he enjoyed playing a few games of bowling. They both won and lost an equal amount of games, and were forced to resume their match another time when they both ran out of bits on hoof.
Several days of training and hanging out with ⅔ of the team later, along with pinching in some time with her friends and the weather team, Rainbow sat impatiently on the train heading towards Canterlot. She wondered what Spitfire had in store for her there, since Equestria's capital city had more snooty, head-in-the-clouds "nobles" than Cloudsdale held pegasi.
Arriving at the station and flying her way over to the building where Spitfire wanted her to meet, Rainbow kept an eye on her surroundings as she moved further and deeper into the city. With every beat of her powerful wings, the area seemed to grow fancier by the second, near the point of being afraid of getting arrested for flying through the streets instead of walking, and not sporting at least one article of clothing.
Dash arrived at the building where Spitfire asked to meet. The latter was already there, waving as she spotted Rainbow. Spitfire neglected to tell her just what purpose this building served, probably as part of a surprise. It sure looked fancy... boringly fancy. Still, seeing her captain lifted her spirits.
"Hi there, Dash. Ready for my guilty pleasure?"
"Sure! No offense to the others, but poetry, chess and fashion aren't really up my alley. Though Streak and I had fun, I bet your hobby is at least ten times cooler than that!"
"Oh... Then, you're in for a cold shower, I'm afraid," Spitfire chuckled as they both wandered into the building.
"Why? What could be..." Dash paused as she looked around, coming to realize what kind of place she just entered.
"... And this painting by Van Neigh is my absolute favorite. You can almost smell the blood, sweat and tears he poured into this masterpiece." Spitfire said as she halted before the particular canvas. The only smell that filled Dash' nostrils was the smell of "old."
Time crept by ever so slowly as the two mares walked through the halls of the museum. Every turn they made took them to a hall that was, in Dash' opinion, more boring than the last. She couldn't wait to be back in Ponyville later tonight, for Pinkie had organized – what else – a party, on behalf of the latest addition to the Wonderbolts.
Dash looked up uninterested at the piece of "art." To her, it looked like a mishmash of colors all thrown together, as if paint cans were just pitched against the canvas. Even that ugly collage painting by Piccoltso a few halls back looked better than this. She held her tongue, not wanting to upset Spitfire, since it was apparently very important to her.
"It's... nice, I guess." Spitfire turned her head towards the cyan pegasus, and smirked.
"You're a terrible liar, you know that? I can tell you're bored out of your mind. Still, I do appreciate you taking the time to be here. It was a very good call to get to know us better by taking a note of our interests. All of us should do the same with you and your hobby someday."
Glancing around nervously at nothing in particular, Dash tried to find a different topic to talk about. It was already hard enough to admit to her friends - and princess Celestia, no less - she loved to read, but admitting it to the Wonderbolts was an entirely different slice of cake.
"Uh, Spitfire, I've been meaning to ask you... What can you tell me about Soarin'?" She asked, hoping to change the subject.
Spitfire looked at her quizzically. "Soarin'?"
Thinking about the blue-maned pegasus sent her mind thinking back of the past few days, sprouting memories of Soarin' instructing her. She particularly remembered him adjusting her wings with his hooves, in order to show her just how to perfectly make a banking move when coming out of a loop.
Normally, with any other pony, she'd have no problem berating and if need be, stomp the intruder of her personal space into the ground. But as soon as Soarin' just so much as reached out to her, she didn't protest, not even wince when he softly put his hooves on her, showing her exactly just how to bend her muscles in order to make a flawless curve... His breath gently caressing her mane as he stood over her...
Rainbow broke out of her self-inflicted stupor after hearing Spitfire calling her name.
"Huh? Oh, um - yeah. Soarin'. What does he like to do after hours?"
"Hmm...Well, he loves reading. I know he likes that "Daring Do" adventure series." Spitfire replied.
Reading? Soarin' loves reading? Better yet, he loves reading Daring Do?! Rainbow bellowed to herself in delight. "Huh. Really? Reading?" She said casually. Faking her true emotions seemed to work better this time.
"Yup. He wasn't very fond of the latest one, though. Something about surviving a rainnuke in a freezer box? That ruffled his feathers quite a bit - literally."
Geez, thanks for the spoilers.
"But anyway, why are you asking me this?"
"Oh, after you, I've hung out with everypony so far, except Soarin'. He's the last one on my list, and then I've had a bit of personal time with every Wonderbolt."
Spitfire's face turned very grim all of a sudden. "Oh snap... Nopony told you yet?"
Dash looked puzzled. "Told me what?"
"Rainbow... Soarin' isn't a Wonderbolt anymore."
Rainbow's yell echoed throughout the spacious hall they found themselves in, resulting in every pony around them – even some in the connecting halls – to turn their heads in the direction of the source; some of them startled, others irritated by the sudden shattering of tranquility.
Covering her mouth with a hoof while shooting a quick embarrassed look around the hall, Rainbow returned the volume of her voice back to normal, albeit still frantic.
"What do you mean, he's not a Wonderbolt anymore?! Since when? He was there when I joined the team, and he tutored me all he had to teach. What gives?"
Spitfire just turned away from the canvas they were standing in front of, and beckoned for her to follow. "Let's go outside. We can talk more openly there."
Rainbow's world seemingly crumbled to pieces as she followed Spitfire to the second floor's balcony. Joining the Wonderbolts was already a once-in-a-lifetime dream come true, and that would've been enough for her. But the interaction between them sparked something. For one reason or another, Soarin' was always her favorite Wonderbolt, but she couldn't quite put her hoof on the reason why.
The past few days were some of the most awesome and yet weirdest she had ever experienced. Joining the Wonderbolts was one thing, but seeing, talking, feeling her favorite stunt flyer on a permanent basis was the best thing ever. Frankly, working closely together with Soarin' was what she looked forward to the most.
But he's... gone. What... How? I... Rainbow mused as she and Spitfire stepped outside in the cool afternoon air.
The balcony was filled with tables and seats for ponies in need of a breather. Ignoring those, the two Wonderbolts came to a halt at the balustrade, and Spitfire began to speak.
"Remember a few weeks back, when you bumped into Peppermint?" Rainbow nodded.
"And remember he asked me why you weren't part of the team yet?" She nodded again.
"And remember when I said-"
"Just say it already!" Rainbow cut off this time, her vat of patience already depleted.
Spitfire swallowed hard before continuing. "Well, the general guideline is that there can only be room for six Wonderbolts. This makes choreographing our performance all that much easier to coordinate." She sighed, and proceeded to explain.
"Right after you won the Best Young Flyer competition, we just knew you'd become the next Wonderbolt. When we saw you again at the Grand Galloping Gala, you saved Soarin's pie before any of us could react - and we were standing right next to it. At that point, we wanted to talk to you to get to know you better, but as you noticed all those high society ponies clambered pretty much all our attention. Then lastly, when you bumped into Peppermint, I was in a hurry, so I couldn't spare the time. But after that last encounter, I got to thinking, and talked things over with the other guys when we were all together.
"Everypony agreed you had to tryout first, but none of us had any doubt you'd pass. Which meant that one of us had to give up his or her spot. And ultimately, Soarin' was the only one, or at least the first, to volunteer."
"So you mean... Soarin' gave up his spot... just so I could... live my dream?" Dash asked, making absolutely sure she heard everything right. Unnoticeable to anypony but her, her vision blurred ever so slightly.
"That's right," Spitfire confirmed. "Truthfully, none of us wanted anypony to go, but at the same time, we all agreed you just HAD to be a part of the team. You had waited long enough, and you'd be a tremendous addition."
"But... what of Soarin'? What will he do now?"
"I know it sounds awful, but he assured us it was fine. He once said he always wanted to try his hoof at writing, plus he was thinking of retiring soon anyway. But I know him well enough, though. He'd want to stay until he reached the top of his game, but on the other hoof, he couldn't stand seeing any of us leave. So... not to sound insensitive or anything, but I'd thank him next time you see him."
Despite her preemptive apology, Dash got highly annoyed at the notion of being ungrateful for what Soarin' did for her.
"Of course I'm going to thank him! What do you think?" she snapped, but then remembered who she was talking to, and shrunk. "Uh, sorry. Is he invited to tonight's party as well?"
"Uh... yeah, he is. We all are, actually. Makes me wonder how an earth pony managed to get an invitation to my house... In fact, how did she even find out where I live?"
Rainbow chuckled. "Yeah... One thing you gotta know about Pinkie Pie: you don't question Pinkie Pie. Believe me, you'll spend forever trying to figure it out. Anyway, thanks for telling me. I'll talk to Soarin' tonight."
"Good," Spitfire said as she started making her way back inside the museum. "Well, let's continue, shall we? There's this one sculpture by Salem Trotlum that you just HAVE to see..."
Rainbow silently groaned at the prospect of returning inside, and followed her captain.
"And there's the mare of the hour! Everypony, Rainbow Dash is here!"
Sugarcube Corner was packed to the brim with ponies of all sorts, as was usually the case when Pinkie threw one of her trademarked parties. As soon as Rainbow appeared, words of praise and congratulations from all directions assaulted her as she made her way deeper into the store. Taking in the praise with a wide grin, her mind occupied itself primarily with glancing around, hoping to catch a glimpse of Soarin' anywhere. Sadly for her, there were simply too many ponies around her to get a decent look. Figuring the night was young, she would simply socialize for now.
The biggest commotions had died down somewhat after a few hours. While some ponies already made their leave, others were dancing to music in one part of the store or playing games in another, while some other ponies simply talked or consumed some of the wonderful treats and drinks the mass of pink pony had provided.
In the meantime, Rainbow had introduced the Wonderbolts to her friends. Being one sixth of the Elements of Harmony, the other bearers were never short of interesting tales to relay on the aerial flight team. Defeating Nightmare Moon and all the trials and tribulations she threw their way, banishing Discord, settling a feud with the natives and settlers of Appleloosa, her being put in her place by the mysterious Mare-Do-Well... Even after detailing the history behind the feat of accomplishing a Sonic Rainboom twice, they hardly ran out of stories to tell.
As time flew by, Dash remembered something important she had to do.
Throwing a knowing glance at Spitfire, she asked the currently present Wonderbolts, "Hey, has anypony seen Soarin'? I really need to talk to him."
The team members looked at each other, shrugging and shaking their heads as they did.
"Maybe he's around here somewhere. It's unlike him not to show up, even if he's not with us anymore," Misty said.
"Yeah, maybe... I'll have a look around, see if I can find him," Rainbow said, and broke herself off from the group.
Going around the bakery, Rainbow failed to spot any sign of the blue-haired pegasus. Inquiring the attendees between more pockets of praise and congratulations also proved fruitless. She also stepped outside to check the immediate area surrounding Sugarcube Corner, but Soarin' was nowhere in sight.
Growing worried, she made her way back inside, and rejoined the nine ponies she left earlier, chatting happily amongst each other. Their jovial demeanor waned when they spotted Rainbow's physiognomy.
"You guys, I can't find him, and nopony's seen him. Does any of you know where he lives? I gotta make sure he's okay."
"Yeah, I know where he lives. I'll take you there," Fire Streak said.
"I'll tag along," Blaze added. "This isn't normal for Soarin'."
"Thanks, guys. Sorry, everypony else, but Soarin' is the main reason I'm a Wonderbolt now. I'll never forgive myself if something's happened to him. I'll be back as soon as I can, I promise!"
"Ooh! Ooh! Is that a Pinkie Promise?" the hostess of the party quirked up.
"Pinkie, I don't have time for your shena-" Rainbow cut herself off, and sighed, remembering there was hardly any point in reasoning with this pink fluff of energy. "... I promise."
Pinkie tilted her head, keeping her eyes fixed on the pegasus and smiled an impossibly wide smile, coated in anticipation. "Say iiiiit..."
"Ugh... Cross my heart and never cry, something something apple pie, gotta run!"
"Heeeeeey, that's not how it goes!" Pinkie exclaimed, but Dash was already far out of earshot, zooming after Blaze and Fire Streak.
Pah! Who needs some earth pony's stupid party? I'm having a blast on my own right here!
Soarin' stumbled around in his home and slumped down on his couch, discarding the umpteenth empty bottle he was holding in his hoof. Reaching over to a crate, he seized a full one from it, and used his teeth to remove the cap on top, thus removing the only barrier between him and the intoxicating liquid sealed away inside.
Well hey there, good-lookin'. You'll look even better when I can see right through you...
Proceeding to bring the tip of the bottle to his muzzle after this thought, he raised it, allowing the inebriating liquid to generously cascade down his throat.
Soarin' never wanted to leave the Wonderbolts, not in the least. Yet all of them unanimously agreed Rainbow Dash would be the most valuable asset to the team in a long time. For that to happen, somepony had to give up his or her spot, and he couldn't stand to see anypony else leaving.
The pegasus always thought of himself as the least skilled Wonderbolt, despite counterarguments from the rest of the team. Time and time again, he had proven he had everything it took to be part of the aerial flight crew. But no matter how much plaudit and compliments he received, from both his team and his thousands of fans, he was always feverishly thinking of new ways to improve his routine, pitching them to his captain when he felt satisfied enough with them. Yet, it was never truly enough for him, and for the past few months, his inspiration started to wane. Deducing his moment of glory had passed, he was ultimately the first - if not the only - one who volunteered to sacrifice his spot in favor of Rainbow Dash.
But with all the spare time he now suddenly had on his hooves, other than tutoring his replacement, he didn't know what to do with it. There were only so many books he would be interested in reading, writing one of his own turned out to be too tedious, and doing what he did best – thinking of new moves for the Wonderbolts – now proved redundant.
Not to mention Rainbow's reaction towards him while tutoring her. Sometimes, she would just gasp silently for no good reason when he manually adjusted her wings or body, and she frequently looked at him zoned out, as if he was a complete stranger. Which lead him to believe she couldn't stand him in the first place.
And to think I even liked that girl... She's beautiful in every way, and pretty much everything a stallion could ask for in a mare... Of course she'd be repulsed by a has-been like me. Forget her, you dope! She doesn't want you. Nopony wants you!
At that point, thinking it was best to separate himself from everypony and without having anything better to do anyway, he had his first sample of liquor, stowed away in a deep recess of a cabinet back home... and it felt good. It relaxed him, soothed him, comforted him. Right then, it felt like he had found a brand new best friend.
As time went on with each passing day, Soarin' found that he required more of his new friend with every container he emptied to reestablish the same feeling he experienced the first time. He hardly ate or slept. The liquid meant for social gathering and mild consumption had turned the once proud stallion into a ghost of his former stature. But as long as he had the bits to afford his friend, he could care less about anything.
Today was no different. Soarin's living room floor was littered with empty bottles, which made navigating his residence a perilous task, even if sober. He barely registered hearing a rap at his door, after tossing the bottle he just emptied to the floor, it joining the rest of the debris scattered around.
"Soarin'? Are you in there? It's Blaze. Please, open up!" it sounded from the other side. Absentmindedly, he picked up another filled bottle from the crate sitting on the couch next to him, and popped it as he got up, letting loose a stifled groan.
"Blaze, my fwiend, hahah! Hold your horses, I'm -hic- comin'..."
He'd never make it to the front door the way he intended.
His eyesight jumbled by the dominating self-instated fog, he didn't noticed one too many stray bottles laying in his path. Unconsciously stepping on the bottle with his left hoof while the right was holding a filled one, he immediately lost his hoofing, and stumbled forward as the empty bottle rolled out from underneath him.
Tumbling forward, his head smashed into the front door forcefully enough to send him staggering, and eventually collapsed on the floor. Several bottles were knocked away, emitting clinking chimes as they contacted each other.
Rapidly losing consciousness from the severe impact, Soarin' could barely even hear the worried shouting from outside his house as his world faded to black...
An incessant noise continuously assaulting his ears, Soarin' slowly stirred from his slumber.
Feeling like they had been glued shut, he creaked his eyes open, putting ever so much effort into such a menial task. He sluggishly blinked several times trying to make out his surroundings.
It was dark, which made it hard to make out any features of this unfamiliar room. The darkness leading him to believe it was night, he turned his head towards the window he could spot from the corner of his eye. He winced as soon as he tried to move his head, his neck feeling like being stabbed by a hundred knives upon the slightest movement.
Looking outside for as far as he was able to see, he confirmed for himself it was night. Luna's mercurial orb peeked out from behind a darkened cloud before hiding itself behind another, shining its weak light into the room before it did. Soarin' managed to get a quick look as his current environment when the moon dared to emerge again from behind its vaporous blanket.
It seemed that he was in a hospital room.
As more of his sense revived themselves, so did he start to feel a throb coming from his forehead, running in sync with his steady heartbeat. Which, in turns, ran in sync with the incessant beeping, coming from a machine to his right.
Attempting to touch his forehead, he lifted up his left hoof, only to feel some small resistance pulling on his skin, an IV being the cause. Lifting his other, unrestrained hoof, he guided it to his forehead, where a big, throbbing lump could be felt. He felt like his skull would shatter right there and then if he applied any more pressure to his temple, and quickly redrew his hoof.
Before he could question how long he was in this room, a loud snort resonated from his side.
Slightly started by the noise, Soarin' jerked his head to the source, momentarily forgetting about and instantly reminded of his sore neck. Wincing and clenching his teeth, he could barely make out the form of a pegasus slumped in a chair next to him, rainbow-colored strands of hair half-covering her face.
"Rainbow... Dash...?" his voice croaked.
Though utterly exhausted, hearing a noise in the room that wasn't made by herself caused her to shoot her eyes open.
"Soarin'! You're awake!" She jumped from the chair and plummeted onto the male pegasus to wrap him in a tight, compassionate hug. As soon as she made contact and pressed most of her weight upon him, a massive jolt of pain released by his sore nervous system made sure he was very much more awake than a second before.
"AUGH! Careful! Everything hurts!" he groaned, trying hard not to scream out loud.
"Sorry! I'm sorry..." Rainbow said as she briskly clambered off of him. Immediately after, she knelt besides his bed, drowned her face into the sheets, and burst into tears. "... I'M SO SORRY!"
Soarin' had no idea what she was talking about. Slightly confused, he gently tapped, then stroked his hoof across her mane in an effort to comfort her, her head bopping with sobs as he did.
"Hey, hey now... Shh... It's okay. You've got nothing to be-"
"YES I DO!" Dash yelled as she jerked her head up. Right now, she could care less she was in a hospital where other ponies were trying to recuperate.
"I nearly got you killed, Soarin'. Killed! All because of my stupid dream to join the Wonderbolts. And it nearly got you KILLED!"
"Killed? ... How? I..." Soarin' tried to recollect the events of the past few days. Pretty much everything was a blur, not long after he started to have his first few drinks. Thinking of the intoxicating liquid now suddenly seemed repulsive rather than appealing.
"... How long have I been here?"
"Two days..." Rainbow answered, her voice breaking and tears running freely. "My friend Pinkie Pie had organized a party for me. She invited everypony I know, including you. But when you didn't show up, Fire Streak, Blaze and I came to your house to check you. We heard a loud thump when you came to open it, and forced our way inside when you didn't respond anymore after that. You were passed out on the floor... and there were whiskey bottles all over the place."
Rainbow wiped away her tears, only to make room for new ones. "Soarin'... you... you nearly drank yourself to death... because of me!"
Soarin' reached for the sore spot on his forehead again, vaguely remembering the events Dash had just recapitulated.
"I... think I remember... But, I don't see how that's your fault..."
"It is!" she said, raising her voice to get the message across. "If I wasn't so hellbent on joining the Wonderbolts, you wouldn't be forced to give up your spot so I could join! I want to live my dream, but I don't want it to come at the expense of anypony's life!" She laid her hoof on top of his. "... Your life."
Conceiving she had just placed her hoof on his own, she blushed interiorly. Before she could retract it however, Soarin' placed his other hoof in top of hers, sandwiching it.
Right there and then by her actions, and, unconsciously by his own, he realized Rainbow was the exact opposite of repulsed by him when eh was tutoring her. He felt his heart skip a beat before he managed to speak further.
"But, Rainbow... I wasn't forced. I-I left willingly."
She scowled. "Yeah, right. And look where that got you."
He sighed. "Okay, I'll bite. I didn't want to leave. I just kept striving to be better, and when my inspiration ran dry, I figured my hay-day was over. But with all the extra time on my hooves, I didn't know what to do with it. I don't know what came over me... I just... began drinking." He twisted his hooves around so he was cradling her own, and looked her dead in the eyes. "I just wanted to make you happy."
Rainbow's lip quivered as new tears started to form in her eyes. "I'm not happy if you're not happy," she said, her voice shaking. She swallowed, trying to drown out the bitterness of it all. "I don't want to be a Wonderbolt anymore. Not if this is what it takes. That's why I talked to Spitfire. She agreed to let you back in."
Soarin's eyes grew wide in bafflement. "What? B-but... what about you? What about your dream?"
"It can wait. My dream is not worth it if it has to shatter somepony's life, least of all yours. I wouldn't be able to live with myself." She brought up her other hoof, and gently rubbed it against Soarin's cheek. "Please?"
Straining and biting through the pain wracking throughout his body, Soarin' leaned forward towards Rainbow. Seeing him closing the distance and the pain he was enduring as he did, she helped by bringing herself closer to him. He planted a small kiss on her cheek and silently whispered a few heart-felt words, which caused fresh tears to stream down her face.
"Thank you for saving me..."
He slumped back into his hospital bed, allowing his body to recover from the effort he just pulled. Rainbow on her part, inched closer so she could rest her head on his bed and carefully wrapping her front leg over him. Soarin' returned the gesture by wrapping his front leg around her, wordlessly confirming their bond.
They sat there in silence, simply relishing in each others company. After a few minutes, Rainbow quietly fractured that silence.
"... I owe you a new window."
A week later, the entirety of Ponyville was relaxing in the park, sitting on picnic cloths and enjoying their meals among friends and families, while the Wonderbolts above put on a special "Welcome back, Soarin'!" performance. One particular pony in a particular group stood out.
Rainbow Dash was gathered with all of her friends, Spike included, pointing her hoof up in the sky as she was aiming for Misty.
"Look! I suggested she'd do a barrel roll when coming out of that turn, so she could keep up her speed. And it works!" She squealed, the sight of the blazing pegasus taking her advice to heart.
Twilight turned to the giddy pegasus beside her. "I'm still so amazed that you gave up your dream out of selflessness, Rainbow Dash. I'm really proud of you. You truly are the embodiment of loyalty."
"Thanks, Twi'," she replied, slightly blushing, "though I hope it's only for a while. I'll be a Wonderbolt again someday. But until then, I've got the next best thing," she said while scanning the sky, looking for a particular pony.
"Didn't Soarin' say he was planning something special for you, darling?" Rarity asked.
"Yeah, though I don't see... Oh, there he is!" she pointed.
Out of nowhere, Soarin' shot out from behind a cloud, leaving a smoke trail behind him.
He climbed into a loop, and when he got halfway, he made another tiny loop, and continued on his way from the original maneuver. The result was the shape of a giant heart filling the sky. He then skimmed straight over the heads of the crowd below, making sure he passed by Rainbow's group, who waved at him in response, her face genuinely forced in the biggest smile she could manage.
Later that evening...
"Oh, hi there, Rainbow Dash! Come on in, but be quiet. Twilight fell asleep while reading a book again."
"Thanks, Spike. Hope I'm not interrupting anything?"
"Well, you're not Rarity, but I've always got time for my friends," Spike threw her a playful grin as he led Rainbow into the library. "What can I do for you?"
"I'd like to send a letter to the princess, if you don't mind."
"Not at all," Spike replied. He ran to Twilight's desk - quietly, not wanting to wake the snoozing unicorn - and returned back to Rainbow, quill and parchment at the ready. "Hit me."
Rainbow cleared her throat.
Dear Princess Celestia
Over the past few weeks, I've learned that chasing your dreams is something you should never give up on. But no dream is worth the expense of the dream of another pony, let alone another pony's life. That was something I had to find out the hard way. I got so blinded by the wish to fulfill my dream, I was unaware of the repercussions that goal might bring.
Sometimes, we have to put off our dreams for what really matters, but never, ever let them go. If a pony doesn't have a dream to live for, that pony might as well be dead. Life is already far too short as it is, so there should always be something to live for, even if it means putting off your dreams forever.
But whatever you do, you should never stop chasing dreams.
Former and hopefully future Wonderbolt
"Hang on... Re... per... cus-sions. Got it! Uh, could you repeat what came after that?"
Rainbow groaned as she facehoofed.
Faking sleep, Twilight listened intently as Rainbow dictated her letter to Spike. Creaking an eye open to a slit after the pegasus had wrapped up, she watched as Rainbow walked outside, a male pegasus awaiting her return... and smiled.