• Published 22nd Mar 2014
  • 11,410 Views, 872 Comments

Seasons Turning - moguera

The coming of autumn brings with it new trials for Dawn, his family, and his friends...as well as new feelings.

  • ...

Head in the Clouds

Chapter 2: Head in the Clouds

The next few days passed in a quiet, but welcome monotony. Everypony went about their routines briskly and cheerfully. In fact, the town was seeming to get more and more active as time went on. The days were gradually getting shorter and ponies were starting to feel a slight chill in the air during the evenings. Around town, the first signs of color that signaled the onset of autumn were beginning to emerge. Overall, life in Ponyville was returning to normal.

It was during this peaceful period that the date of Soarin's return to Cloudsdale and his duties as a Wonderbolt had almost arrived. So it was that he and Rainbow Dash reported dutifully to the Carousel Boutique so that Rarity could make the final adjustments on Rainbow's dress. Determined not to let the stallion get a sneak preview, Rarity banished Soarin' the lobby of her shop while she dragged a reluctant Rainbow back into the workroom.

In spite of the loneliness of being by himself in the lobby (Opalescence most certainly did not count as polite company and Soarin' did his best to stay as far away from the cat and her claws as equinely possible), the stallion had to fight to suppress the giddy giggles that made his body quake as he thought about tomorrow's date. The thought of what Rainbow's dress would look like made his wings flutter excitedly, occasionally to the point of lifting him off the floor.

Finally, after about two hours of constant fitting, Rarity released Rainbow from the back room, the cerulean mare doing her best to make good a hasty escape.

"How'd it go?" asked Soarin'.

Rainbow blushed furiously. "It went...okay...I guess."

The stallion blinked, thrown off by her reluctance to answer his question. "Everything alright?"

"Y-yeah," stammered Rainbow, "I'm just not used to all this frou-frou dress-up nonsense."

Her comment drew a chuckle from Soarin'. "You might have to," he said, "We Wonderbolts usually wear our flight suits to various functions, but we do occasionally have to get all...frou-frou, as you put it."

Rainbow sighed. "Wonderful," she muttered petulantly.

Soarin' extended a wing to rest it over her back. "It'll be fine. I'm really looking forward to tomorrow. I think you'll really like what I have planned."

Rainbow glanced sidelong at him and raised a skeptical eyebrow, drawing another chuckle from the stallion. "Come on, let's go to the Sugarcube Corner and grab a couple cupcakes."

"I-I don't know about this Rarity," protested Rainbow as the fashionista made some last-minute adjustments to her dress the next day.

"Oh don't be that way darling," tutted Rarity, an amused smile on her face at the sight of the normally loud and boisterous pegasus being so shy and retiring, "As our dear friend Applejack would say, this isn't exactly my first rodeo...nor is it yours for that matter. You made no such objections when I was getting you dressed for the Grand Galloping Gala."

"Y-yeah but..." Rainbow blushed furiously. "It's just..."

Rarity paused in her work and lifted a hoof to her mouth. "Oh...I see. Is it because this is the first time you've ever been dressed for the sake of a stallion?"

"Well...yeah." As Rainbow's blush grew in intensity, she averted her eyes, afraid of the teasing she was absolutely certain would follow. "I mean, Soarin' and I have been hanging out together for the past couple weeks. We've had a lot of fun. I don't understand whole date thing after all that."

Rarity shook her head in disappointment. "Rainbow, darling, do you have any idea how lucky you are? You've found a special somepony with whom you've made a genuine connection, whom you can spend a great deal of time around without one or the other of you tiring of each other's company. It's wonderful that you're so happy to just be with your stallion. But..." Rarity reached out with a hoof and lifted Rainbow's head so that they were eye-to-eye. "Sometimes, you want to do something special, something to really show how much you appreciate that special somepony in your life. That's what Soarin' is doing for you now." As she spoke, her magic scooped up a pair of brushes that went to work on Rainbow's mane and tail, reminding Rarity of the fact that, not so long ago, she had been doing, more or less, the exact same thing with Fluttershy.

"Now then," said Rarity, setting down her implements, "Your carriage should be arriving shortly. It's time for your debut."

Rainbow gulped nervously and nodded, turning to the door that led to the room where her coltfriend was waiting.

Soarin', who had nearly nodded off as he waited for Rainbow's emergence, was looking none-too-shabby himself. His dress shirt had been cleaned and ironed. His mane had been combed back into a smooth wave, cresting over his neck, while his tail had been brushed and straightened. He'd spent some extra time preening, making sure that his feathers were meticulously clean and properly arranged. Had Spitfire been there to comment on it, she would have noted that Soarin' seemed to put more work into looking good for Rainbow Dash than he did for even the most important functions the Wonderbolts seemed to end up attending.

Soarin' would have agreed with her.

As it was, his near descent into window-rattling snoring was mercifully interrupted by the soft creak of hinges as the door to Rarity's workroom opened smoothly. Having little time to rouse himself from his stupor, Soarin' did his best to brace himself for what he was about to see. Unfortunately, it wasn't nearly enough.

Rainbow was decked out in a tight-fitting gown colored the same shade of cerise as her eyes, trimmed in the same light-blue of her coat, the edges feathering slightly, giving a mild impression that Rainbow was wearing a second set of wings. The entire thing settled over her body and clung tightly to her sleek form, showing off Rainbow's admirable figure in a way that made Soarin' have to fight hoof and tooth to keep from drooling. Rarity had taken her mane and meticulously separated out each stripe of color and joined them together in a braid, an impressive feat, considering that Rainbow's mane was nowhere near as long and flowing as Applejack's. Her tail had been practically untouched, save for being brushed into an almost immaculate straightness that betrayed none of the usual ruffled, windswept look that was normal for her.

In short, she was gorgeous.

Seeing Soarin' staring at her so intently suddenly made Rainbow understand what it must have felt like for Fluttershy to be so timid and self-conscious. She nervously averted her gaze, her cheeks flushing, which only seemed to heighten the attractiveness of her appearance.

"Well well," said Rarity, her tone almost taunting as she stepped in behind her friend, "It would seem that your coltfriend is quite speechless Rainbow. Do you have any doubts now?"

Regaining some sense of composure, Soarin' nodded frantically. "You look fantastic."

"Thanks Soarin'," said Rainbow, finally regaining enough of her courage to look him in the eye, "You don't look so bad yourself."

"I never look bad," said Soarin', preening himself, "Looking your best at all times is what being a Wonderbolt is all about."

"I wouldn't be so sure," said Rainbow, Soarin's cocky demeanor drawing her own back out, "I've seen you when you've just woken up. You usually look like you've been run over by a cart."

Smiling smugly and quite glad to see that Rainbow was regaining her confidence, Soarin' shot back, "And I've seen you after you've woken up. You're lucky I find that bedmane of yours to be unbelievably cute."

Soarin's taunt found it's mark, reigniting Rainbow's cheeks as Rarity muffled her titters behind a hoof. The interplay between the two was interrupted by the sound off hooves, accompanied by the thump of a heavy object and the squeal of wheels outside the boutique.

"Sounds like our ride is here," commented Soarin'. He turned and formally offered his hoof to Rainbow. "Rainbow Dash, would you be so kind as to join me for dinner."

Giggling at his overly formal manner, Rainbow reached out and rested her hoof over his. They turned and marched in step towards the door, but only managed a short distance before the difficulty of walking with only three legs made them give up on it, the pair nearly collapsing with a bad case of the giggles before they finally managed to make it out the door.

Rarity chuckled as she watched them go, a merry twinkle in their eye. "Really, they are such children." She found herself giggling again. "I suppose that's why they're perfect for each other."

Turning around, she made her way back into her workroom, preparing to clean up for the night. As she did so, Rarity idly mused which of her other friends would be next to approach her about a dress and date preparations. From the look of things, Twilight and Arkenstone were much closer than they had been before, which Rarity took as a sign that Twilight would likely be next. She also briefly wondered if she would go through this same pattern with all of her friends.

"So where are we heading?" asked Rainbow as the pegasi pulling their carriage lifted it off the ground.

"We're going to one of the best restaurants in Cloudsdale," said Soarin', nearly grinning from ear to ear, "It's also one of my favorites. It might be on the fancy side, but the food is absolutely to-die-for."

"Really?" asked Rainbow, her eyebrows going up, "But why the carriage. We could've just flown there."

"We could," agreed Soarin', "But I doubt your dress would have looked all that good after a flight all the way to Cloudsdale, or your mane. I know your friend put a lot of work into those." He leaned gently against her and lifted a wing, brushing his feathers across her cheek. "I figured it would be a good place for us to have our first big date."

Rainbow nodded, her mind suddenly acutely aware of the fact that this wasn't just their first big date, but their last one as well...at least for a while. This was the last day of leave Soarin' had before he needed to return to the Wonderbolts. Once that was over, it would be who knew how long before Rainbow might even be able to see him again, much less get to go on another date with him.

At least until she joined the Wonderbolts, at which point they could hang out together whenever they weren't actively working.

After two weeks of getting used to his presence, Rainbow Dash was suddenly feeling quite reluctant to let the stallion out of her life. But she realized that she didn't exactly have much choice in the matter either. I’ll just have to make the best of it while I still can, she thought. When she thought about it, she finally understood why Soarin’ was making such a big deal out of tonight’s date.

It would be their last night together.

He wanted it to be special.

Prompted by this realization, Rainbow leaned over and gently kissed Soarin’s cheek. The stallion broke into an extra goofy grin before turning to regard Rainbow. “Any special reason?” he asked.

“Just for being you,” said Rainbow, lightly slugging Soarin’ in the shoulder.

The stallion grinned before he leaned in and captured Rainbow’s lips with a kiss of his own. When he drew away, they were panting slightly. However, Soarin’ held back. If their interactions got too much more physical, their clothing would probably be left quite askew.

Besides, it was only proper to save desert for after dinner.

The ride was a fairly long and quiet one, with two pegasi hauling a carriage and two whole other ponies through the air not being the most efficient means of travel. Still, Rainbow and Soarin’ managed to wile the time away, swapping stories of their respective experiences. Soarin’ often had Rainbow in tears (and feeling very grateful that Rarity hadn’t bothered with makeup) over some of the stories he had to share regarding the antics of his Captain and teammates. It seemed that, in spite of all the stiffness of Spitfire’s behavior in the Academy, with the actual Wonderbolts, she was just as quirky and antic as any of Rainbow’s regular friends.

In turn, Rainbow Dash regaled Soarin’ with stories of her adventures as one of the bearers of the Elements of Harmony. While Soarin’ had a fair bit of knowledge about the track record of Rainbow and her friends, he was happy to learn the more intricate details of what really happened with Nightmare Moon, Discord, and King Sombra. Rainbow also shared some of her stranger and embarrassing stories, such as her stay in the hospital and the…interesting way in which she had been drawn into reading, or the time where she had decided she had wanted a pet.

Rainbow also shared a rather amusing anecdote she had regarding an amateur story she’d found, one that had been written about her and her friends (something Twilight termed fanfiction). Apparently, Twilight and the others had managed to find it first and had been mortified by what they’d found, particularly by how they themselves had been portrayed and had been terrified of what might happen to Rainbow’s ego should she read it. However, Rainbow had found the entire piece ludicrously funny and actually enjoyed it immensely.

“I hope I get to meet this Merry Weather pony,” said Rainbow, laughing at the memory, “She’s a real hoot.”

“I gotta admit, I’m impressed,” said Soarin’, “It’s really easy for ponies to take themselves too seriously. It’s nice that you can laugh at yourself once and a while.”

“Yeah,” agreed Rainbow, “I mean, I’ve had some weird moments. I mean, I got so wrapped up in this idea that reading is for eggheads that I almost never even thought to read an adventure novel until I pretty much got trapped in a room with one. And Daring Do isn’t even actual egghead material, it’s just a book written for fun. I’d never really considered the fact that books could be fun before.”

“Why not?”

“Flight School maybe,” said Rainbow with a sigh, “I may have been tops when it came to actual flying, but in the classroom, I wasn’t so great.”

Soarin’ nodded. He’d actually seen a transcript of Rainbow’s grades in Flight School when she’d applied to the Wonderbolts Academy. It was standard procedure for all prospective recruits. For most, it was merely a formality. However, a pony’s school records could sometimes be used to tell a great deal about their strengths and weaknesses. But Rainbow’s transcript painted a different picture entirely.

In all honesty, it hadn’t painted a flattering picture of her, particularly when the pony who’d prepared said transcript had taken every opportunity possible to point out that Rainbow had been expelled, to a ridiculous degree at times. Even her practicum grades, which were at the top of her class all the way up until her expulsion, were annotated with comments where the writer did everything she could to downplay Rainbow’s success, barely bothering to grudgingly admit that she’d broken several of the school’s records during her time there (though such records were whitewashed almost completely out of existence after her expulsion to spare the faculty from ever having to mention anything positive about a student they so scorned). Both he and Spitfire had thrown it out without a second glance after realizing that it had all the marks of a deliberate smear campaign and that the information the transcript provided was more than a little suspect.

In bare bones sense, Rainbow’s academic scores were on the low end of average, indicating that her difficulties stemmed from a lack of enthusiasm rather than a lack of ability.

“So you don’t like textbooks,” said Soarin’, “Why would that sour you against regular fiction?”

“After the whole thing with Fluttershy, everypony at the school came down really hard on me,” said Rainbow, “Flight practice was easy because, no matter how much they taunted me, I could still fly circles around the next-best student there. But, in the classroom, a lot of the putdowns the teachers and other students used seemed to make more sense. They’d always be telling me that I was slow, or that I was just some dumb jock, too stupid to really understand what I was doing in the air, whatever excuse they could come up with. Because I’d always had trouble with book-learning…I guess, some of that just stuck.”

She sighed and slumped slightly. “So I just decided that I was too awesome for the classroom, too awesome for all that academic stuff, and too awesome for books, that they were for eggheads like Twilight. Because somepony like me was too cool for that stuff.”

Soarin’ lifted Rainbow’s chin and kissed her again. “You’re not stupid. You know that right?” he said as he pulled away.

With a small, but genuine smile, Rainbow nodded.

Soarin’ held in a chuckle. If anything, Rainbow could be almost diabolically clever when she wanted to be. He’d accompanied her and Pinkie Pie on a couple of their pranking sessions and had found himself terrified of how genuinely cunning the two of them could be, particularly when they put their heads together. What stood out for Soarin’ was how considerate the two of them were, often planning out their pranks so that the objects of their mirth were often left laughing themselves. The two of them would then go on to prank each other just as easily and be just as willing to take their lumps as they were to dish them out.

The two of them sank into a quiet comfort and relaxed until the sound of the carriage’s wheels hitting compacted clouds told them that they had arrived in Cloudsdale. Soarin' waited for one of the pegasi pulling their carriage to unhitch himself and open the door before he and Rainbow dismounted, pausing to give the tired stallion a generous tip.

As soon as she was out of the vehicle, Rainbow Dash gazed up at the restaurant where their dinner was to be held. She had expected some sort of towering, lavishly decorated building with a line of rich ponies stretched out the door and around the block, waiting to get in. To her surprise, the place was actually quite small, only a single story. The front was decorated by classical cloud columns that were a fixture of pegasus architecture. There were no lines to get in, nor were there any other carriages parked nearby, waiting to pick up rich patrons to carry them away. In fact, the only thing that told Rainbow it was a restaurant at all was the name up above the front entrance, Soaring Opus.

Soarin' smiled at Rainbow's bewilderment before he offered her a hoof to lead her in. As they went through the front entrance, Soarin' checked their reservations and they were led to a table near the back of the spacious, yet sparsely furnished dining room. Rainbow could only see a small hoofful of other customers at the tables. As it turned out, they were all at least as well-dressed as she and Soarin' were, so Rainbow's worries about being overdressed were apparently nothing to be too concerned about. The decorations were mostly light blues and cloudy grays, decorating swirling cirrus tapestries and larger stratus wall-hangings, subdued, relaxed colors that mostly utilized the natural colors of clouds. It was a far cry from the extravagance of the office that her old enemy, Meadowlark, had commandeered in the weather factory during her faction's hostile takeover of Cloudsdale.

"Let me take care of the food," Soarin' told her with a rather excited look as Rainbow perused the menu. She nodded and set it down. A few minutes later, the waiter came over and Soarin' ordered a mild cider for both of them and a special treat he had apparently set up with the chef beforehoof.

"Now you're just showing off," teased Rainbow.

"I just wanted to make this special," replied the stallion.

Soarin' delivered on his promise when the waiter arrived carrying a pair of covered trays. After setting them on the table, he hooked the leading primaries of his wings through the handle on top of each tray and lifted the lids up to reveal their dinner. Rainbow's mouth began to water. On her plate was a round salmon steak, the skin peeled off before it was plated. The outside had been dusted with a mix of spices and then seared until it was a pale pink color, with the white fat just beginning to run out between the layers of the meat, while the center was a light, translucent orange. The smell rising up from the steak made Rainbow's stomach growl loudly. It had been a long time since she'd last had salmon, or any other kind of fish for that matter.

Fish were a rare luxury, seeing as pegasi were the only tribe of ponies who truly enjoyed their taste. Some unicorns apparently found seafood to be an acquired taste, but earth ponies almost unanimously detested both the smell and taste of fish. Twilight had once suggested to Rainbow that it might have been some kind of genetic disposition for the other breeds of pony that determined whether or not they liked fish. All that Rainbow knew was that, as an earth pony town, and a landlocked one at that, fish were almost impossible to come by in Ponyville. Once in a while, she'd been able to get some freshwater fish from Fluttershy, though most of the yellow mare's stock were generally reserved for her more predatory pets. Salmon was absurdly difficult and expensive to acquire, even here in Cloudsdale. She suddenly found herself very glad that Soarin' was paying for this meal.

"Like it?" asked Soarin' as Rainbow dug into her meal with a gusto.

"Oh yeah!" exclaimed the cerulean mare, coming up to take a sip of cider and a bite from the accompanying mint salad before returning to the main course, "I haven't had salmon in ages."

"I thought so," said the stallion with an amused chuckle, "We sometimes come here after we've had a big show or a hard assignment. The dress code may be a little more formal than you'd like, but it has a nice atmosphere and the food is out of this world. I was lucky when I set this up with the chef. This is the last fresh salmon of the season."

The two of them continued to eat. Thanks to her enthusiasm, Rainbow finished before Soarin' and leaned back with a satisfied sigh as she waited for the pale-blue stallion to finish his dinner.

Once Soarin' finished, he signaled the waiter, who brought their check. Rainbow managed to catch a glimpse of the number before Soarin' whipped it out her sight and paled. It was more bits than she would make in a month of work. Luckily, Soarin' managed to have the matter well in hoof.

"Geez, how much do you make?" asked Rainbow.

"Not as much as you think," said Soarin', "But most of our expenses are covered by the crown, so we don't have a lot of things that need spending on. We live on the move quite a bit, so our own homes are generally something we don't have the time to sink a lot of money into. It just kinda piles up over time."

Rainbow nodded, being a rather low-maintenance mare herself. She'd been able to live rather comfortably off her savings during the drought, while using her office salary to provide a pension for her team, whom hadn't had any work to do with almost no clouds to work with. Of course, she still had living expenses that the Wonderbolts didn't, so it made sense that she probably wasn't loaded compared to somepony like Soarin'.

"Ready to go?" asked the stallion.

Rainbow nodded. "Are we heading back?"

"Not just yet," said Soarin', smiling coyly at her, "I'd thought about a couple of things you might like to do in Cloudsdale before we head back to Ponyville."


"For starters," said Soarin', "How about an exclusive tour of the Wonderbolts headquarters, including all the stuff you don't get to see during the tourist excursions."

Rainbow found herself nodding fervently. If he'd been a stallion she hadn't gotten to know as well, Rainbow would have been sure that Soarin' was trying to bait her into sleeping with him. However, after two weeks of him sharing her house with her and acting like a total gentlecolt (albeit a more than a little goofy one), she could say that he'd more than earned her trust.

So the two of them left the restaurant. Surprisingly, Soarin' opted to walk, rather than lead her through the air. As they walked, Soarin' wrapped a wing over Rainbow's back and pulled her close. Initially, Rainbow was thoroughly embarrassed by the act, her cheeks exploding with color as she saw all the eyes they were drawing. Soarin', with his dress uniform, was practically a celebrity. Rainbow was frankly stunned when they weren't swarmed by the paparazzi within minutes of leaving the restaurant. She knew that many of the mares around them were certainly appreciating the sight of Soarin' outside of his flight suit. Rainbow noticed that quite a few of the mares were eying her with poorly concealed jealousy. More interestingly, she noticed that more than a few stallions were looking at her in a way that almost made her squirm uncomfortably. Only the warmth of Soarin's wing kept her calm enough to bolt away from the intense scrutiny.

"I can't wait to see what the tabloids have to say about us," she grumbled.

"Don't worry about it," said Soarin', smirking at Rainbow, "Scandal rags like those will find anything they can latch onto and say whatever they think will sell. If they can't find anything, they'll flat out make it up. The Equestrian Inquirer used to write articles accusing me of being some kind of vampony, complete with doctored pictures of me sucking blood."

"And ponies believed that?" asked Rainbow incredulously.

Soarin' shrugged. "Enough to make me worry about the future of Equestria at times; though some of the fan letters I got during that period were...interesting."

"Let me guess," muttered Rainbow, "Some mare asked you to suck her blood."

"At least twelve mares asked me that," said Soarin' with a chuckle, "Even the lesser gossip magazines and papers will dig up whatever dirt they can on us and post it because that's what their readers want. They want the ponies who are so often held up as paragons to be dragged down through the mud. I guess it makes them feel better about their own lives if they find them less than satisfactory.

"And yeah, if somepony is taking pictures of us now, I bet at least one or more of those papers will probably run an article about how you're trying to sleep your way onto the Wonderbolts." He leaned his head over and rubbed his cheek against hers. "The thing to remember is that those papers have no control over us, not the papers, not their readers. The Wonderbolts don't bow to popular opinion. If you get in, it'll be because that's where you belong, because you put in the work that most ponies wouldn't even dream of trying. You set us as your goal a long time ago."

"Yeah, back when I was a filly," agreed Rainbow, "Dad took me to see one of your shows and I decided that's where I wanted to be."

Soarin' actually tripped for a moment, stumbling to the point where he had to lean on Rainbow a little to keep his balance. "I didn't know you started that early," he said in surprise.

Rainbow nodded. The stallion began to chuckle again. "Believe it or not, that wasn't us."


"Well...it was the Wonderbolts, but they were a different group back then," explained Soarin', "They used to just be a Guard organization. They were a group of the best flyers in the Guard. Back then, flight shows was all they used to do."

"Really?" asked Rainbow. Granted, the flight shows had been what had drawn her attention in the first place, but she'd always thought the Wonderbolts were more than that. Granted, she hadn't exactly given much thought to what they actually did until much later.

Soarin' nodded. "Yeah. You see, back then, they existed largely for ceremonial purposes. It wasn't until Spitfire took over a few years back that they actually became what they are today. She was the one who molded them into an actual elite unit and detached them from the Guard hierarchy as an autonomous force."

"That's cool," said Rainbow. If that was the case, the Wonderbolts she was working to join hadn't actually existed until her final years in Flight School, when Spitfire had taken the helm.

A few minutes later, they had arrived at the Wonderbolt Headquarters. Rainbow once agains stared up at the building in awe, much like she had while leaving it a couple weeks ago. She'd gone on more than a few tours, but had never gotten to see any of the areas not open to the public. Even her time with Soarin' had been limited to the mess. Now, the stallion led her down the hallowed halls of the building. Rainbow found herself longing for the day when she would be able to do it without an escort, traveling through the building because it was her right to be there.

Soarin' slid open a door and led Rainbow inside. She found herself in a changing room, clearly where the Wonderbolts hung their clothes when they weren't wearing them. She could see dress uniforms, like Soarin's, on hangers in small, open cubicles on the wall. However, all the flight suits were gone.

"Hmm," mused Soarin', "The Captain must have everypony out on maneuvers. That's kinda rare. She usually rotates them through. I hope she didn't get a call and had to drum everyone up."

"Wouldn't she have called you up if that was the case?" asked Rainbow.

"That's not necessarily the case," said Soarin' as they wandered down the changing room's length, "She hates interrupting anypony's vacation. So she'll only cancel leaves and call us back if it's a really serious situation. So if they did get called up for something, she probably didn't think it was serious enough to tell me about it..." Soarin' sighed. "But that doesn't keep me from worrying, especially if I don't know what's going on."

Rainbow nodded. Then, looking up, she noticed that not all of the flight suits were gone. Two of the cubicles were occupied by the iconic blue and gold flight suits that she admired so much. "One of these is yours right?" she asked.

Soarin' nodded and strode up to the storage cubicle with his name on it. The other cubicle was unlabeled, with signs that the label with the pony's name on it had been removed recently. Rainbow suddenly felt a little sick. Was this Fleetfoot's? she wondered. The rustle of cloth drew her attention and her eyes widened in surprise when she saw Soarin' slipping out of his dress uniform and hanging it up.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

The stallion gave her a wicked grin, a look that Rainbow was sure signaled nothing but trouble. "Hey Dashie, want to go for a flight?" he asked as he pulled his flight suit of its hanger and began to slip into it.

"In my dress?" she asked, looking down at it. While Rarity had left her wings free, she obviously hadn't made it for any serious flying.

Soarin's grin widened and he jerked his head to indicate the vacant suit. "Why not take it for a spin," he suggested.

Rainbow froze at his words. Wear a Wonderbolts suit, she thought in shock as she stared up at the blue and gold garment. It had been her dream since fillyhood. She'd never imagine that her coltfriend would casually offer her the chance to wear one before she even joined the group.

"Yeah," said Soarin', "Spitfire and the rest are obviously going to be out for a while. Nopony'll notice."

Rainbow hesitantly reached towards the suit, but hesitated short of touching it. It seemed...wrong, somehow, for her to be doing this without earning her place on the team first. However, she felt Soarin's hoof rest on her shoulder.

"It's okay," he said softly, he gentle words encouraging her, "I promise."

Rainbow gulped and took one last nervous look at the suit on its hanger. "Okay."

She reached out and pulled it off. As the garment collapsed over her outstretched foreleg, she was surprised at how light it felt. Hefting it, she realized that there was something else off about it. She'd touched Soarin' while he'd been wearing his own flight suit at times, but had never noticed it before. Something about it didn't feel like normal fabric.

"Take a closer look," encouraged Soarin'.

Rainbow did as she was bid and leaned to down to closely examined the suit in her hooves. As she looked closer, she realized that she wasn't looking at fabric at all, but something akin to chain mail, tiny links of metal interlocked together. They were so small that to the casual observer, they were indistinguishable from cloth. And yet Rainbow was sure that the whole thing weighed less than Rarity's dress.

"What is this?" she asked.

"Mithril," said Soarin', "Mithril mail made by one of the finest smiths in all of Equestria. It's better than the armor used by the Royal Guard, light as a feather and hard as dragonscale."

"Whoa," breathed Rainbow. Her astonishment was understandable. Mithril was rare and expensive. The suit draped over her hooves alone was probably worth more than Ponyville and everything in it; and that went without factoring the craftsmareship behind the intricate metal links, so finely made that the whole thing was as supple as silk.

It also explained a few things. Rainbow was suddenly struck by a memory of the battle in the Cloudeseum, when Soarin’ had confronted Perlin. The metal-winged colt had struck Soarin’ with bladed feathers capable of slicing through solid stone. However, though he had been knocked for a loop by the impact, Soarin’ had been otherwise unharmed. Even Perlin had been confused. But now that she realized that Soarin’ had been wearing chain mail made from the very same material as Perlin’s wings, it made sense why he hadn’t been injured.

Her trepidation was replaced by excitement as she carefully removed her dress, undid her braid, and began to slip the suit on. It was a bit awkward at first, pulling on a full-body suit. Her Shadowbolts costume from Nightmare Night had been similarly difficult to put on. She half-expected the suit to pinch or scrape her skin as she pulled it on. But the work was so fine that it almost felt like fabric against her coat too. Soarin' helped her through the most difficult parts of it.

When it was on, Rainbow began to stretch a little to get a feel for the garment. It fit surprisingly well, perfectly hugging her body’s contours.

"Go ahead," said Soarin', gesturing to a nearby mirror, "Take a look."

Rainbow did so and was amazed by what she saw. She instantly recognized the mare who stared back at her. She was the herself that Rainbow had seen in her dreams a thousand times over, standing proudly in the blues and golds of the Wonderbolts, with her teammates arrayed beside her. This was the herself that Rainbow had always aspired to be.

That was when the metaphorical knife sank into her gut. This wasn’t her…not yet. Rainbow Dash wasn’t actually a Wonderbolt yet. This wasn’t her suit. Right now, she was a pretender in borrowed attire. The whole thing was make-believe, playacting, artifice. She hadn’t earned this. Suddenly, Rainbow wanted nothing more than to tear the whole thing off and rush out of the changing room and back to her comfortable home in Ponyville.

It all just felt so…fake. Rainbow Dash didn’t do fake.

Soarin’ seemed oblivious to Rainbow’s difficulties as he turned while he continued talking. “Alright then, let’s go and-…Eep!”

Hearing the stallion’s voice suddenly cut off with a loud, high-pitched squeak, Rainbow spun about to see what was happening. Soarin’ stood transfixed, his eyes wide, ears laid back, teeth bared in an expression of terror. And it didn’t take Rainbow long to see why.

Spitfire stood in the doorway, her body thrown into shadow by the light from without. However, Rainbow could make out enough details to see Spitfire’s expression.

The Captain of the Wonderbolts wasn’t happy. Not. One. Bit. Oh sure, she wasn’t yelling and screaming yet, but the blazing look in Spitfire’s brilliant-orange eyes, which were narrowed in a glare leveled at Soarin’, but seemed to catch Rainbow just as much, told Rainbow that the fiery mare was on the verge of exploding.

The sky-blue mare swallowed, but found her throat dry. We are so dead.

“I see that we need to have some words,” said Spitfire, the volume of her voice not raised beyond a normal speaking tone, and yet, somehow conveying more fury than the roar of an angry manticore. Her tone sent stinging barbs into Rainbow’s skin, running in waves across the cerulean mare’s body.

Spitfire turned sharply about. “Follow me you two.”

Reaching up with her hoof, Rainbow was about to try and quickly doff the suit before she followed, however, Spitfire glanced over her shoulder and stopped Rainbow cold. “Did I tell you to take that off?” snapped Spitfire.

Her Academy training snapping to the fore, Rainbow immediately dropped her hoof and stood sharply at attention. “No ma’am!”

“I told you to follow me,” said Spitfire sharply, “That means follow me now! I want you to see exactly just what you’ve gotten yourself into.”

Once again swallowing, Rainbow did as she was told and followed in Spitfire’s wake as she stormed down the hall. Soarin’ fell into step beside her, gently brushing the feathers of his wing against hers. “It’ll be okay,” he assured her, “This is my fault. I’ll take responsibility.”

Rainbow wasn’t absolutely certain that Soarin’s optimism was warranted. She found herself wondering, hoping, praying that she hadn’t just shot her chances at joining the Wonderbolts to Tartarus with this little stunt.

Spitfire led them at a brisk pace down the hallways of the Wonderbolt Headquarters. Rainbow assumed she was leading them to her office. However, she couldn’t be sure, her unfamiliarity with the building’s layout beyond a few sections leaving her with no idea of where they were actually heading.

Finally, they reached the end of a hallway, were a single door sat closed. Spitfire opened it a crack before turning to address the two defaulters behind her. “Soarin’, I want to talk to you first.” She turned her burning gaze on Rainbow. “You wait right there until I tell you to come in. Got that…cadet?”

“Yes ma’am!” said Rainbow, reflexively saluting this time around.

Soarin’ barely had time to give Rainbow another apologetic look before he was yanked through the door by Spitfire, who slammed it shut behind them. Rainbow was left standing alone in the hallway to stew in the oppressive silence that followed. Part of her desperately hoped that Soarin’ could follow through in his promises. But, at the same time, Rainbow didn’t want the stallion she’d come to love to suffer on her account. Spitfire must have been furious beyond all belief. She’d gone out of her way to give the two of them a chance and they’d blown it for the cheap thrill of being able to borrow a Wonderbolt’s uniform.

If Spitfire didn’t call for an end to their relationship right then and there, odds were good she’d at least ensure that it was on hold for a few years.

The absence of a clock made it completely impossible to tell how much time had passed. It might have been minutes. But to Rainbow Dash, it seemed like hours. She wished she could hear something from the other door, some cue, something that would tell her how long she’d spent standing there. But she didn’t dare budge to try and press her ear against it.

Eventually, Rainbow’s patience was rewarded. The door swung open and Spitfire’s voice beckoned from the other side.

“Rainbow Dash, enter.”

Automatically, Rainbow’s hooves carried her through the door and to her fate.

Author's Note:

So, featured once again. That's nice...Of course, I had to release my new story on the same day that Chengar released his, so I got bumped off the top in pretty short order. Still, baby steps...baby steps. In any case, I have also now reached 500 watchers, which is totally awesome, one more thing I can check off that Fimfic bucket list I don't actually have. Now if only there was a TV Tropes page for this series.

Once again, I find myself borrowing elements from Xenophillia. One of the things I loved about that story was it introducing the idea that Pegasi eat (and enjoy) fish. I love fish, especially salmon. So I threw that in. The part about different tribes liking or not liking certain food is based on the real-life fact that some people are genetically predisposed to like or dislike certain foods, like cilantro. Some people love it. Some people (like myself) think it tastes awful.

We also now find out why Soarin' wasn't cut to shreds by Perlin back in Story 3. To date, I'm surprised that nobody ever actually called me on that when I posted it...not even a single expression of curiosity. I guess you all assumed he had plot armor...which he technically does have, I suppose. But he has the real kind too.

Next chapter: Arkenstone pays a visit to an old friend.