• Published 5th Jun 2014
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Wear Flowers in Your Mane - jkbrony



On a day she spends with her surrogate little sister, Scootaloo, Rainbow Dash receives news that will change her life forever. Everypony must deal with loss at some point or another....

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Chapter 12 -- Today They Weep

A moist and saturated atmosphere surrounded Rainbow Dash as she hovered in place, staring down at the green grass, bushes, and trees just below her. The green hue dominating the surface of the ground appeared to extend far beyond what she could possibly see, though some mountains in the distance confirmed to her that it did eventually come to an end. The grass seemed as vast and encompassing as any ocean, and Rainbow Dash was loathe to be anywhere near it. It was only her second trip to the ground in her young life, but the boring and empty plains did not seem any more appealing to her than they had the first time she saw them.

Just overhead was an entirely gray sky, which like the grass, appeared to stretch on beyond what her eyes could see. The coolness in the air and the thunder already beginning a gentle rumble in the clouds had informed everypony within its radius that rain was inevitable. Rainbow Dash stared upwards, wishing that she could pass back through those clouds and head home where it was always sunny, no matter what the weather was on the earth below. Yet that desire was even more distant than the mountains, as her father insisted that they take another trip to the ground on this particular day, much to her aggravation.

"Come on now, Dashie!" her father called from just beneath her, his voice expressing irritation.

"Don't call me that!" Rainbow Dash protested. "I hate that name!"

He sighed to himself, shaking his head as she did so. "Will you just come on down already? What are you so afraid of?"

"I'm not afraid!" retorted Dash, insulted by the notion. "I just hate it down there. What do you want to show me anyway?"

"You'll know soon enough," her father replied, impatient. "You just need to get your flank down here. Now."

Rainbow Dash loudly heaved a frustrated groan and gradually decreased her altitude, slowly dropping down lower and lower until her hooves made contact with the grassy earth.

"Now that wasn't very hard, was it?" her father asked patronizingly.

Rainbow Dash refused to reply. The grass was uncomfortable to the touch—not only it was cold, it prickled her skin so irritatingly that she responded by fluttering her wings to lift herself above it.

"I hate being on the ground," she repeated, glaring at the grass, intent to let her father know just how much she did not want to entertain whatever it was he had in mind.

"I know you do," said Rainbow Blaze, rolling his eyes. "But your mother loved it down here. And since today would have been her birthday, I think we need to do something she would want."

"Which is what?" asked Dash, annoyed. Her father had refused to answer this.

"Come with me. I'll show you," he replied.

Rainbow Blaze set off in a northward direction, leaving Rainbow Dash with little other choice than to reluctantly follow behind. A sudden rumble of thunder complimented the ominous feeling she had about being in such unfamiliar territory, heading for an unknowable destination somewhere in an endless green ocean...

****

Rainbow Dash's unexpected departure from the arena had been received like a massive freeze spell being cast upon everypony present. Spitfire, Raindrops, and Meadow Flower were left perplexed as they hovered in silence, waiting to see whether or not she would return. In the stands, Rainbow's friends shared similar looks of confusion, each wondering to themselves whether or not her departure was simply part of a new routine. But after a minute had passed, it became clear that whatever had happened was certainly not planned or intended.

"Aw, is the show over already?" Pinkie Pie asked, softening the tension between them. "Well, that was short..."

"I'm not too sure, Pinkie," replied Applejack, squinting her eyes at the sky for any trace of a rainbow trail zipping in their direction. "She is comin' back, right, y'all?"

"I don't know...." replied Twilight, staring at Spitfire pacing herself from afar, seemingly just as perplexed as they were. "I...don't think they know what's going on."

Fluttershy bit her lip, knowing that she was the only one present who may have possessed the answer as to what had just happened. Scootaloo had expressed no interest in joining them to watch Rainbow's Wonderbolt debut, and she had been worried of how Rainbow would react when she found out. It seemed as though that she manage to notice Scootaloo's absence as she flew near them, and had thus possibly returned to Ponyville in a last-ditch effort to convince her to attend.

Without offering any word of explanation to her speculative friends, Fluttershy rose from her seat and flew out into the arena towards Spitfire and the other two confused Reserves, each of whom was now in the process of debating what to do next.

"Should we just continue?" asked Raindrops. "I somehow doubt she's coming back anytime soon."

Spitfire did not answer right away. She was still in indescribable shock that the pony who had fought harder to get into the Wonderbolts than any pony she had ever known would abandon her own debut for any reason whatsoever.

"Well, if she's not back within five minutes, we'll—" Spitfire stopped speaking as she noticed Fluttershy's approach.

"What happened?" Fluttershy asked the moment her soft voice was within earshot.

"We don't know," Spitfire replied. "She said that she had to go and she just took off. If she's not back within five minutes, I might have to revoke her Reserves membership. Never in my thirteen years of—"

"No!" Fluttershy squealed at once. "Please, you can't do that! Rainbow Dash has been going through a lot lately, and kicking her out of the Reserves would just crush her!"

"Well, then can you explain her actions?" replied Spitfire, raising an eyebrow. "Could you give me any reason as to why she would do this?"

"She mentioned that she was dreading something that apparently happens tomorrow," noted Meadow Flower. "I would place my bits on that having something to do with it."

Fluttershy's ears wilted, realizing that she was going to have to unveil Rainbow's private life yet again if she wanted to save her status as a Reserve.

"Her dad died a week ago," she said reluctantly. "Since she got the news, she's kinda been spiraling all over the place. She even fell into a brief coma which she just woke up from the other day."

"A coma?!" replied Raindrops, bewildered.

"Oh my, that's awful!" added Meadow Flower.

Spitfire looked at Fluttershy with an affectionate disbelief, but said nothing.

"As for why she left, I think I have the answer," Fluttershy continued. "There's somepony who Rainbow Dash wanted to come and watch her debut along with us, but she didn't show up. I think she just went to try and convince her."

The four of them fell silent for nearly three quarters of a minute as Fluttershy stared at Spitfire with pleading eyes, hoping that what she disclosed would be enough to convince her to reconsider.

"We're moving forward," Spitfire said suddenly, turning away from Fluttershy's gaze. "Where were we? The Butterfly to Bumblebee pattern, correct? Meadow Flower, you're leading in Rainbow Dash's place."

"Y-yes, ma'am!" Meadow replied, appearing more than a little unprepared.

Fluttershy opened her mouth to say something in protest, but Spitfire quickly turned back towards her and spoke again.

"I highly suggest you get her to come back."

Before Fluttershy could say anything else, Spitfire returned the arena's stands while the two remaining Reserves prepared themselves to begin their new routine, and a victorious grin was momentarily visible on Raindrops' face.

****

Scootaloo was frozen almost entirely stiff at the sight of the Wonderbolt standing on her doorstep. Only the rainbow-colored mane gave any indication of who was truly standing before her, and she only barely resisted the urge to slam the door shut.

"Do you....uh....have a minute?" Rainbow asked, lifting up her goggles.

Scootaloo sighed hesitantly. She had expected that Rainbow might pay her a visit after she failed to show up at her debut, but she certainly had not expected that it would be this soon.

"I'm....a bit busy right now," Scootaloo replied, her mind scrambling to come up with some validation for the lie.

"It's important," Rainbow said, deciding not to ask. "I'll be as quick as I can."

Scootaloo's lips grew tighter, quickly debating with herself whether or not she should simply shut the door and pretend that Rainbow had never stopped by. Surely, she was only there to smother her in a blanket of guilt for her lack of attendance, or even to subtly chastise her for it. Nevertheless, against what she was sure was her better judgement, she soon found herself stepping aside to allow Rainbow Dash to enter her home, leading her into the living room where a single sofa and two armchairs sat in the view of an unlit fireplace.

Rainbow Dash instantly recalled that the last time she was inside Scootaloo's home, she was attempting to convince her to perform alongside her fellow Crusaders in a routine for the spot of Ponyville flag-carriers for the Equestria Games, and that her lack of ability to fly was not relevant to how awesome she was. It was the kind of sisterly moment that Rainbow Dash cherished—the kind that instantly reminded her of why saving their relationship was worth possibly losing her entry into the Wonderbolts.

"So what do you want?" Scootaloo asked with less-than-subtle hostility as she took a seat on one of the armchairs. "If you're wondering why I didn't come to your Wonderbolt thing, I just didn't feel like it, okay?"

Rainbow Dash shook her head slowly as she took a seat on the opposite armchair. "I need to tell you something."

Scootaloo stared at Rainbow with eyes that appeared to suggest that she was willing to listen, though still maintaining a sense of displeasure that she was sitting inside her house. Rainbow exhaled a steady, yet nervous breath, hoping that the idea she had spent the last ten minutes focusing her thoughts upon would work. It had to work...

"My dad died a week ago," she said, pausing for a moment to read Scootaloo's reaction, which appeared to quickly shift from annoyed to indifferent.

"I know I should have told you sooner, but...I was going through a really rough time. And I mean really rough. You probably wouldn't believe me if I told you. I've made some pretty big mistakes over the past week. I've alienated my friends and even worse, I've managed to hurt somepony who truly means the world to me. Maybe I've damaged our relationship forever, I don't know. But if there was anything I could do to make that up to her, I would do it. I would do whatever it took."

Rainbow Dash paused again and looked at Scootaloo as though she expected an answer or anything else that would have implied that she had an interest in rebuilding their relationship. But Scootaloo said nothing, shifting her eyes warily around the room as a gesture to reject Rainbow's offer to reply.

"Anyway, I wanted to let you know that his funeral is tomorrow," Rainbow Dash continued. "And it would really mean a lot to me if you were there."

Scootaloo focused her eyes on a random picture sitting on the mantelpiece, still choosing to delay her response. Rainbow Dash did not notice any change in her expression. Scootaloo still appeared indifferent, seemingly debating an answer inside her mind. Rainbow soaked up the silence, willing to wait hours for a response if that was what it took, just so long as she managed to accomplish what she had came for. But only after two minutes, Scootaloo again found the will to look her in the eye again.

"Thanks for telling me all this," she said. "But I'm sorry. I'm not going to go."

The words emerged like an iron horseshoe being thrust violently into Rainbow's forehead. She nearly gave in to the urge to jump from her seat and throw herself at Scootaloo's hooves in desperation.

"W—Why not?" she asked, almost too afraid to hear the answer.

Scootaloo unexpectedly cut her eyes into a glare as though appalled that Rainbow would even dare asking for a reason.

"Do you have any idea how I felt when I heard you were in a coma?!" she shouted. "Do you have any idea what you put me through?!"

Another horseshoe launched itself into Rainbow's skull, and she sunk into her chair with the feeling that it was now attempting to swallow her whole.

"I wasn't—I didn't think you really cared," Rainbow said, her voice numb. "I mean, you didn't come to visit me, right?"

"Of course I came to visit you!" Scootaloo cried. "I just didn't want you to know about it, so I told your friends not to tell you that I was ever there. I didn't think that you deserved my sympathy or my pity after the things you said to me."

Rainbow Dash leaned forward in her chair, which had suddenly stopped trying to swallow her up and instead seemed to want to eject her at top speed so that she crashed through a sturdy brick wall.

"But....you really cared that I was in a coma?" she asked, failing to suppress a tender smile overtaking her lips. The frustration in Scootaloo's face only heightened when she saw it, as she immediately realized that Rainbow Dash was now expressing the very satisfaction that she had been intent to disallow her.

"I thought I was the reason you were there!" Scootaloo shouted, eyes filling with unprompted tears. "Do you understand that?! I thought you had actually tried to take your life because of the way I had left you! Do you have any idea how terrible that made me feel?! You could have died, and you would have made me feel responsible for it for the rest of my life!"

The smile on Rainbow's face vanished at once. Once more, she found herself sinking into her chair, almost expecting to be gulped up...and perhaps even hoping for it.

"I'm so, so sorry, Scoot. I'm telling you, if I could redo this entire week, I would."

"But you can't," Scootaloo replied harshly, wiping her eyes.

"No, I can't," replied Rainbow, nodding solemnly. "I can't take back how I treated you, And I definitely can't take back how I probably ruined the best day of my life by abandoning my Wonderbolt debut to come and talk to you. Maybe I'll get kicked out of the Reserves—I don't know. But saving my relationship with you matters a lot more to me now. I can't let myself do to you what my dad did to me."

Scootaloo froze up for a brief moment. Even despite Rainbow's quick arrival, she had not assumed that she had abandoned her debut to come. Though it did not take her long to realize that Rainbow had probably only brought it up in a particularly unsubtle attempt to inspire sympathy from her, Scootaloo still felt uneasy about the notion that Rainbow Dash may have thrown away her chance to become a Wonderbolt entirely on her own behalf.

"So what happened to you, anyway?" asked Scootaloo after the shock had left her. "How did you end up in a coma?"

"I just....I didn't realize sooner how right you were," said Rainbow, struggling with hesitation. "And...how wrong I was."

Scootaloo raised an eyebrow, indicating that she was dissatisfied with the answer. Rainbow sighed and tried again.

"I haven't been sleeping well lately," she said. "I guess I was just trying to fly away from my problems while I was tired, but I crashed somehow, and of course, they only got worse after that. It wasn't your fault, Scoot. It was only mine."

Scootaloo chuckled humorlessly to herself.

"I wanted to hear you say that ever since I left you. But once I heard about your coma, I wanted nothing more than to take everything I said to you back. And now that you've finally said it, I don't feel anything. Especially not satisfaction."

"Yeah, I know that feeling," Rainbow said with a sigh. "When I was putting on this uniform, I didn't feel any satisfaction that I was right all along. Maybe that's just how it's supposed to be. Life is just too short for that."

"Well, I once thought of you as the most awesome pony I had ever known, and I wanted so much to hear you admit you were wrong," replied Scootaloo. "But you won again. Because even though I didn't want your friends to tell you that I visited you in the hospital, I knew you would find out soon enough anyway. I knew that when we eventually had this very talk, I would tell you if you hadn't figured it out before then."

"I haven't won anything," said Rainbow, shaking her head.

Scootaloo simply sighed in response, appearing to disagree.

"The point is that when it comes to you and me, you'll always win," she said after a moment. "Because whether you realize it or not, you own me."

Rainbow Dash returned her a look heavy with confusion. "What...what are you talking about?"

Scootaloo shook her head and sighed.

"I don't know if you came here expecting that we would just pick up where we left off and become sisters again, but....I don't think I'm ready for that yet," said Scootaloo. "I'm not ready to forgive you. And I don't know if I'll ever be."

Rainbow Dash fell numb in her chair, certain that she would have much rather crashed headfirst through a brick wall than hear the words that had just come from Scootaloo's mouth. How could this be it? How could her idea not have worked? Had she truly put her Wonderbolt dream on the line just to accomplish nothing? She struggled to hold back tears, her mouth too numb to speak.

"You should probably head back now," said Scootaloo, feeling slightly awkward at Rainbow's silence. "I wouldn't want the Wonderbolts to kick you out of the Reserves over this."

Her every leg numb, Rainbow Dash remained seated for several seconds before raising from her seat via her wings and exiting Scootaloo's house without a single word more. There was nothing else she could glean from what had just transpired in the last twenty-five minutes other than that on this day, the would-be greatest day of her life, she had lost two of the biggest things she ever cared about...

****

Rainbow Dash continued to glare at the grassy earth as she remained hovering just inches above it, intent to never set so much as a single hoof upon it ever again. Yet her father continued to walk upon it as though it were just as comfortable as any cloud, his every step leaving behind a slight depression. He moved at pace so aggravatingly slow that Rainbow would have thought that his hooves were weighed down with iron shackles. Wherever they were going, he seemed to be deliberately taking his time to get there.

"Are we almost there?" Rainbow Dash complained, tired of moving so slowly.

"We will be soon," Rainbow Blaze replied.

"You mean we'll be there soon, or we'll be almost there soon?" Dash inquired.

Blaze chuckled to himself while Dash glared with annoyance.

"Just enjoy the stroll," said Blaze. "You know, the ponies who live on the ground tend to enjoy taking nature walks like this."

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes while simultaneously expelling a groan. She could never imagine how dull the lives of ground ponies must be if walking upon this prickly sea of green was something that they did for enjoyment. Another rumble of thunder above rang through her ears like a beckoning call, as though the sky was ordering her back home at once. She could not shake the ominous feeling that if she did not return soon, she would surely regret it...

As though conjured from thin air, Rainbow Dash felt a wet drip splatter upon her head, which was quickly followed with another on her body. For the briefest moment, she believed that the grass was now spewing water at her out of spite, yet she quickly realized that these droplets were emerging from the gray clouds above. Within a matter of seconds, they descended quicker and quicker until she could see almost nothing but falling water everywhere she looked and her wet mane hung down in between her eyes.

"What is this?!" Dash demanded as she stared up at the leaking clouds, only to be met with a swift raindrop landing squarely in her left eye.

"It's raining, Dashie," answered Blaze, appearing to be somewhat satisfied by this fact.

"Oh," replied Dash, rolling her eyes at the loathsome nickname again. She had never seen or even felt rain before, but she knew that it was one of the primary reasons why the Weather Factory churned out clouds.

"Your mother enjoyed coming down here whenever it was raining," said Blaze. "In fact, that was when she wanted to come down here the most."

"But why?" asked Dash, her irritation growing with each and every raindrop that made contact with her body. "What's the point of rain, anyway?"

"Without rain, earth ponies would be unable to grow their crops. No crops means no food, and that would affect us in Cloudsdale, too. And also, without rain, water would be much more scarce, and Cloudsdale obviously cannot function without water."

Rainbow Dash shook her head in disbelief. Truly, there was no greater place of misery to live in all of the universe...

"Why would mom like....this?" she asked with genuine curiosity. "Any of this?"

"I'll tell you soon," said Blaze, then pointed just ahead of them. "You see that tree over there? That's where we're going."

Rainbow Dash squinted her eyes to see a single, solitary tree standing several meters away, roughly half as tall as their home in Cloudsdale. It appeared to be the only tree in view for quite some distance, but beyond that, there was nothing particularly interesting or noteworthy about it. It seemed like nothing more than a protruding brown-and-green mass raising up from the earth below, just as boring and uninteresting as the rest of this foreign land.

Rolling her eyes, Rainbow Dash continued following her father, whose pace finally began to hasten as he tread towards their destination.

****

Rainbow Dash slowly made her way back to the Wonderbolt Headquarters with only a single idea in mind of what would be waiting for her when she returned. Even in spite of the relationship they had built since the Best Young Flyer Competition, there was little reason to expect that Spitfire would show her any mercy. At the very least, she would surely be reprimanded for running off while still wearing the uniform, and for subsequently wearing it in public. Spitfire had said there would be consequences for that particular offense, though she wasn't specific as to what those consequences would be. Whatever they were, Rainbow Dash was certain that either her Reserves membership would be revoked, or she would have to go back for another round in the Academy. Either way, be it temporarily or permanently, she knew that her Wonderbolt dream would be yanked from her hooves, and she would only have herself to blame.

When she returned to the training arena, it did not particularly surprise her to see that no one was there. It would have definitely been a shock to see Spitfire, Raindrops, and Meadow Flower still waiting for her as though she had just taken a quick restroom break. By squinting her eyes, Rainbow was able to see that Applejack, Rarity, Spike, and Pinkie were still seated in the stands, the last of whom shouted "She's back!" when she caught sight of Rainbow. But Twilight and Fluttershy were nowhere in sight, nor were the friends and families of Raindrops or Meadow Flower—nor even Raindrops or Meadow Flower themselves. She almost felt as though she was showing up late to a Wonderbolt show which had concluded quite some time ago.

Pinkie's outburst seemed to alert Spitfire, who emerged from the stands like a hawk rushing towards its prey. The aggressive nature of her approach let Rainbow know that she was not in any forgiving mood, and certainly not prepared to accept any excuse she would attempt give her. Before Rainbow Dash had any idea of what she was going to say to explain her actions, Spitfire came to a sudden halt in front of her.

"In my office. Now," she said with a frighteningly hostile tone.

Rainbow did not have a chance to speak; Spitfire hurried away just as quickly as she had rushed over. Rainbow remained in place as she watched her cross through the double doors into the headquarters again. With an apologetic frown, she looked over at her four friends whose expressions were too distant to see. Surely, they must have desired an explanation, and she could only assume that Fluttershy and Twilight were not present because they had left to search for her.

Sighing with the acceptance of her imminent fate, Rainbow Dash looked away from her friends and followed Spitfire back into the headquarters, making her way to her office, the location of which she knew well. She had visited the captain's office several times back when she was a filly, trying to plead her case with the former captain as to how much the Wonderbolts were missing out on by not including her within their ranks. Even though those days seemed so long behind her, it now appeared as though she would be trying to plead her case within that very same office again...

As Rainbow Dash stepped timidly into the office, she noticed that it was now much less cluttered than when she had first entered it as a filly. Like the hallways outside, Wonderbolt memorabilia sat within glass cases or were hung upon the walls, but all of the former captain's stockpiles of personal awards and accomplishment plaques was gone. Spitfire was seated at her desk, appearing to be cycling through a record book until she landed on a page. Rainbow Dash immediately assumed that the page detailed her status as a Reserve, and an image of Spitfire tearing it out, crumpling it up and throwing it in a nearby wastebasket flashed instantly through her thoughts. A few tension-heavy seconds passed, and Spitfire looked up at Rainbow Dash slowly, her eyes slanting into an impatient glare.

"I hope you weren't expecting us to wait for you," she said coldly.

"I wasn't, ma'am," replied Rainbow Dash, taking a seat in front of her. "I'm really sorry for—"

"The other two completed their exercises and have gone home," Spitfire interrupted. "I had Meadow Flower lead in your place."

Rainbow cast her eyes down and nodded. Even with her own fate in question, she was at least glad that her action had not hindered Raindrops and Meadow Flower in any way.

"I trust you understand that I cannot give you any special treatment," Spitfire said. "But if I'm honest, what you've done is unprecedented. I've never even seen so much as a cadet abandon exercises the way you have. And that, of course, means that as captain of the Wonderbolts, it falls upon me to determine the consequence for such an action."

Rainbow could no longer find the nerve within her to speak, as though simply sitting before Spitfire had left her with a bridle thrust around her mouth which clamped it shut.

"As Wonderbolts, we have strict commitments to the citizens of Equestria," Spitfire continued. "We have always been at the forefront of danger, saving citizens however we can, even if it means laying down our lives. In the heat of a moment, we cannot afford to abandon anypony in need of saving. Now my question to you, Rainbow Dash, is how am I to know you won't forsake those commitments after what you have displayed to me today?"

Rainbow Dash stared back into Spitfire's unforgiving eyes, wishing that she was not being forced to answer her.

"I'm sorry, ma'am," she replied after some seconds passed. "I don't have any excuse. All I can say is that there was something that was just....more important to me at the moment. I had to go back home."

Spitfire stared at her silence, impatiently tapping her hoof against the desk. Rainbow stared back at her, still completely certain that it was only a matter of time before she stripped her of her Reserves membership or ordered her to return to the Academy. After more than half a minute had passed the delay began to chip away at her sense of sanity. Why did Spitfire insist on dragging this out?

"You know, I lost my father at a very young age," Spitfire said with a voice which was unexpectedly tender, offering a stark contrast from the berating voice which had scorned through Rainbow's ears just moments ago. "I was only about four, and it was long before I had even been given the chance to know him well. That sort of pain....I know how much it tends to linger with you, always coming back after a while no matter how much you don't want it to. Even as you grow up, you'll never stop wondering how differently you would have turned out if you had been fortunate enough to have both parents."

Rainbow Dash blinked with bewilderment in response to this turn in the conversation. Spitfire paused to allow her a chance to reply, but Rainbow simply dropped her head again. It was obvious that Spitfire had been told of her father's death, but pity wrapped around Rainbow Dash as painfully as a blanket of needles. Though she unquestionably desired to remain in the Wonderbolt Reserves, it was somehow distasteful to think that Spitfire would keep her in only because she simply felt sorry for her.

"All I have left is my mom," said Spitfire after realizing that she would receive no response. "She's been there for me every step of the way: The day I made it into the Wonderbolts, the day I first performed in a show, and nearly every single time I've performed since. She was there each time I increased in rank, all the way up until I became captain. I don't know what I'd do without her. If I were to ever get the message that something had happened to her, I would rush to her aid, even if it meant forsaking a commitment I made to perform. After all, simply performing in a show does not quite hold the same weight as rushing into the middle of a crisis where lives are at stake. When it comes to the former, our commitments can be a bit...looser."

Rainbow continued to remain silent, though Spitfire's words left her stunned as they entered through her ears.

"I'm very sorry about your dad," Spitfire continued. "I'm very sorry that he wasn't here for you today. I'm sorry for everything you've gone through this past week. But that you still found the will to show up here today when you had a purely legitimate reason to postpone it is quite admirable and quite expectant of a Wonderbolt. As such, I cannot in any good conscience strip you of your Reserves membership."

Every word beyond "Wonderbolt" reached Rainbow's ears in slow motion, and her appreciative reaction was delayed by several seconds. A faint smile was visible on her face as she looked back up.

"Thank you, ma'am," she said in a low voice.

"I don't need to know why you left. It's your business," said Spitfire. "We'll schedule a new date for you later, whenever you think you're ready."

Rainbow Dash's smile was lost following these words, and she could not help but exhale a sigh. After so adamantly insisting that she would be going through with her exercises today, she could hardly believe that she still ended up having them postponed after all.

"Thank you, ma'am," she repeated, grateful nevertheless at the gesture.

"I'd like to ask if you will allow me to attend the funeral," said Spitfire. "It's tomorrow, right?"

Rainbow Dash now looked at her as though she expected that she was joking, even though her tone did not imply as much.

"Uh...sure. But why?"

"Just think of it as an expression of my sorrow that he wasn't here today," Spitfire answered as she closed the record book on her desk. "And besides, I think it's the least I could do."

"I...I appreciate it, ma'am," Rainbow Dash replied, somehow managing a larger smile.

"In the future, Rainbow Dash, I would prefer more of an explanation before you just take off," Spitfire said, now looking at her with more seriousness. "As I said, Wonderbolts are not expected to simply cut and run, and certainly not with no reason given. Even though I am sympathetic to your circumstance, this is the only time that I'm going to let this slide, understand?"

"Right," Rainbow Dash replied, nodding. "I understand, ma'am."

"Well, then that'll be all," said Spitfire. "I'll see you tomorrow."

Rainbow Dash nodded silently, then rose from her seat and made a move back towards the office door.

"Oh, and Rainbow Dash?"

Rainbow turned her head. "Yes?"

"Your uniform..."

"Oh, right."

Rainbow had almost forgotten that the unbelievably comfortable fabric still engulfed her body, and another wave of disappointment instantly washed over her. She had hoped that when she was finally taking the uniform off again, she would have been feeling an enormous satisfaction at having successfully impressed Spitfire by her performance. Instead, it seemed that she would only feel the satisfaction of not getting herself expelled from the Reserves.

"Go on back to the dressing room. Your box is still there," Spitfire ordered.

"What should I do with it?" Rainbow asked.

"Take it home with you, but remember that you are not to wear it in public unless I say otherwise," answered Spitfire sternly. "Understood?"

Rainbow frowned. "Yes, ma'am."

****

The tree did not appear any more interesting or unique to Rainbow Dash and she her father neared it. It still seemed just as boring and pointless as any other. The rain continuing to soak Dash's mane filled her with a growing, silent aggravation, yet her father continued to stroll along just as merrily as he had been the entire time, showing no indication that the rain bothered him at all—or that he even noticed it.

"Here we are," he said as they finally arrived and he ducked down underneath the tree's leaves.

Rainbow Dash ducked herself beneath the leaves as well, hoping that they would offer some refuge from the unrelenting raindrops. But the falling water still manged to pass through the leaves and branches, and the protection the tree offered was only marginal at best. She imitated her father as she watched him sit himself against the tree trunk, which like the grass was uncomfortable to the touch.

"Okay, we're here," Dash said impatiently, irritated by the uncomfortably rough surface of the bark. "So can we go now?"

She stared up at her father and instantly noticed a tear making its way out of his eye, blending with the raindrops as it slipped from his face. The tree undeniably meant something to him—and also likely meant something to her mother as well. She sighed to herself and remained silent, waiting for her father to inevitably tell the story that she was clearly unaware of.

"Your mother and I....we used to have picnics under this tree almost each week," he said, wiping at his face. "And almost every time a rain was scheduled, she wanted to come down here to sit underneath this tree just to watch the raindrops falling."

Rainbow Dash groaned within her head. It annoyed her that as much as she desired to hate being on the ground, she could not help but feel that she was required to pay it more respect since her mother had irritatingly found it so fascinating.

"She had the idea that the rain was simply the clouds' way of showing pain, and that ponies were meant to feel its pain by being soaked by raindrops like we are now, or by being forced to remain indoors," said Rainbow Blaze. "Yet it bothered her that since it never rains in Cloudsdale, its residents never had to feel the sky's pain. And it especially bothered her for the fact that Cloudsdale was often responsible for affecting the weather. So, she simply took it upon herself come down here whenever it rained, as though she wanted to make up for it."

Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow at her father. Though she had just recently reached six years old, she knew that any such whimsical concepts of clouds being sentient beings or capable of having feelings was nothing more than make-believe.

"It sounds crazy, I know," said Blaze, responding to Dash's skeptical stare, "but that's just what your mother was like. She believed that there was meaning in even the simplest of things. That's also why she loved being on the ground. She just wanted to try and decipher everything."

"Oh," Rainbow said, still not intent to see the ground as anything more than a massive waste of sky space.

"There was a song your mother would sing as she watched the raindrops," said Blaze. "It was a song that she just began singing on the spot one day."

Rainbow Dash looked up at him, her curious eyes expressing an interest to hear the song. Rainbow Blaze cleared his throat, preparing his voice to do something it had not done in quite some time, while he focused his mind on the song's every lyric, none of which had been forgotten in the years since he had last heard it...

"So many clouds scattered across the sky
The softest of pillows lying way up high
Twisted and formed to the whims of a dream
Like fortresses of the heavens or castles of ice cream
Whiter than snow, and lighter than air
Casting shadows everywhere

But today they cry
Today they weep
Today their agony darkens the sky
The sun is gone, the air is cold
Because today they cry

I feel their tears upon my skin
Raining down and down again
The thunder roars a scream of pain
Trembling the wet air through the rain
How I wish to see the sun once more
And the soft, white clouds that I adore

But today they cry
Today they weep
Today their agony darkens the sky
The sun is gone, the air is cold
Because today they cry

If only I knew why
They cry so high
Up, up in the sky
To them I would fly
Just to say 'hi'
And that I would try
'Till the day I die...

...To feel those soft pillows beneath my head
That I will not feel them cry instead
To hope that tomorrow the sun will shine
And those lovely clouds will again be mine

But today they cry
Today they weep
Today their agony darkens the sky
This dark day brings so much pain
And I'll be shivering in the rain
Because today they cry"

He concluded the song with a pair of tears rushing down his face just before he could close his eyes.

"She had such a beautiful singing voice," he said silently. "What I wouldn't give to hear her sing one more time..."

The raindrops striking Rainbow Dash's head no longer bothered her. Her father's pain latched onto her and went straight for her heart, entangling it in an emotional web. Before long, she found her own tears forming and subsequently emerging from her round, crimson eyes.

"I wish I could hear her sing, too..."

Rainbow Blaze wrapped a hoof around his daughter. All at once, the raindrops seemed to slow down around her, and Rainbow Dash descended into the darkness beneath her eyelids as she shivered slightly in the cold.

****

Rainbow Dash stared at her Wonderbolt uniform folded neatly in its box before she slowly placed the lid over it. The bitterness of seeing it in the box was like several teaspoons of salt being poured on the wound of the failure of her debut. The day she had waited her entire life for had quickly become a day she longed to forget, and the disappointment she felt was so maddening that she could have cried about it for hours. Never again would she feel the sensation of putting the uniform on for the very first time. Never again would she feel the thrill of flying as a Wonderbolt for the very first time. Those experiences were forever tainted in disappointment and regret.

Yet as painful as it was to see the uniform in the box again, at least she knew that she had not worn it for the final time. At least she knew that her bold decision had not cost her Reserves membership after all.

Once the box was closed, Rainbow Dash picked it up and exited the dressing room to meet her friends in the main lobby, including Fluttershy and Twilight who had since returned from their attempt to find her. Before going to the dressing room to change, Rainbow had explained everything to them—how seeing Scootaloo absent among them had inspired her to leave and attempt to restore their relationship.

"Well, I guess that's that," she said to them, without bothering to hide the disappointment in her face.

"I still can't believe you did that," Fluttershy said. Though her tone did not give it away, Rainbow was sure that Fluttershy was more than a bit irritated about having spent the last twenty minutes going to Scootaloo's home in the hopes of finding her there, only to be told that she had already left and was returning to Cloudsdale.

"Me neither," Rainbow said, hanging her head. "But I had to do it."

"I'm sure Scootaloo will change her mind," encouraged Applejack. "She may just need some time to realize what you were willin' to sacrifice for her."

Rainbow Dash did not respond, allowing a silence to persist among them. With her status as a Reserve no longer in question, her mind had since shifted focus to Scootaloo's words which stuck out to her the most:

"Because whether you realize it or not, you own me..."

What did that mean? At what point did their surrogate sisterhood become anything remotely resembling ownership? And what would it take to break that perception?

"Have you....set up another date yet?" asked Rarity's voice, penetrating through the numb silence and Rainbow's thoughts.

"No, I haven't," Rainbow said flatly. "I'm really sorry about this, guys."

"Whatever are you apologizing to us for?" questioned Rarity incredulously. "We're sorry that this day didn't turn out the way you had hoped."

"We're just happy that you're still a Reserve," said Twilight.

"You were all expecting me to hold myself together for this. And I couldn't," Rainbow said with a regretful sigh. "I should have just postponed it in the first place."

"We don't blame you for it," said Fluttershy. "We understand that—"

But Rainbow Dash suddenly brushed past them, moving quickly towards the lobby doors.

"Sorry, guys, but I kinda want to be alone right now," she said without looking at them. "I need to....get myself ready for tomorrow."

No further words were exchanged between them as Rainbow Dash continued moving towards the doors. No one knew how to respond to her disappointment, nor her silent distress. But leaving her on her own still left them with a general unease, as though they were under the impression that the next time they saw her, she would be in a coma again....or even worse. Soon, Rainbow Dash had crossed through the front doors and quickly disappeared from the sight of her friends, each of whom glanced at each other to confirm that they were all thinking the same thing.

Rainbow's mind during her flight home was as silent as the wind brushing past her. Her quick descent nearly made the box slip from her hooves, but the day's events had left her numb to the fact that she was holding it at all. It was still almost impossible to believe that she had risked everything, and yet Scootaloo still remained lost to her—her idea to win her back had failed. Where once Scootaloo had been the only additional attendee of her father's funeral, it now seemed that she would be the only one of her closest friends not attending. But as reckless and brash as her decision to leave the arena had been, Rainbow Dash was certain that were she to go back to the moment where she discovered that Scootaloo was not present, she'd have made the same decision. With her father gone, Scootaloo was the closest thing she had to a family—a genuine sister in every way except blood. She simply meant more to her than becoming a Wonderbolt, a fact that Rainbow would not have known before today.

No matter how much she tried, Rainbow Dash could not see past tomorrow. She could not even begin to imagine how she would feel once her father was floated up in the atmosphere to eventually join her mother and she was all alone, only able to see her parents again from beneath picture frames or in her dreams. How could she even know that the next day would even come? Perhaps all the world, at least in her own perspective, would vanish in the blink of an eye, leaving her in limbo from which there was no escape? Perhaps she truly would need therapy after all...

Rainbow did not bother going through her front door when she arrived home—she simply passed through the cloud wall leading directly into her bedroom. She carefully placed the box inside her closet and then quickly rushed back through the wall again. Home was the last place she wished to be at the moment, especially since she was without any doubt that she was in for another sleepless night which would have been spent staring blankly at its cloud ceiling.

Knowing exactly where she wanted to go, her wings carried her south, far outside of Ponyville, yet not so far that she reached the arid desert. With the town quite some distance behind her, she eventually found herself flying over an empty field of grass, with only a single, solitary tree in sight for an unknowable distance in any direction, still relatively untouched by time and just as boring and uninteresting as she had once perceived it. As she made her descent, her mind was instantly flooded with memories.

There was little doubt that this was the very tree she had taken refuge beneath in her coma dream, desperately trying to escape the rain. As she neared it, she could not help but find it surprising at how her mind had managed to recreate it so vividly. Every branch, every ridge in its trunk had been as accurate in her dream as it was in real life. But the checkered picnic blanket she had relied on for warmth was nowhere in sight. It had passed long ago, along with her mother, who so loved to watch the rain from underneath it.

Along with her father, who had first taken her to this very tree so many years ago...

With a deep breath, she closed her eyes, allowing her mind to succumb to the influence of her memories.

****

Shivering in the cold, Rainbow Dash continued to sit beneath her father's embrace, and it was not long before she was unexpectedly met with the sensation of her mother's presence as closely as though she were sitting on the opposite side of him, holding her just as warmly as he was. It was a feeling so genuine and real that Dash immediately opened her eyes, half expecting to see her mother sitting with them as though death had generously returned her to the family she had left behind.

Yet they remained alone underneath the tree, and if her mother was with them, it was certainly not in body. Dash looked up at her father, who was staring at the falling raindrops ahead of them with a melancholic expression. Perhaps he was able to feel her presence as well, but knew well enough that it was nothing more than a feeling—a feeling that would eventually pass and leave him with such a bitter emptiness that he would have ultimately wished he had never felt it at all.

In the blissful comfort of the moment, they had not realized that they had been sitting beneath the tree for more than twenty minutes and were just beginning to feel the onset of a cold battling its way through to their respiratory tract.

"Come on, let's go home," her father said, suddenly releasing Dash and standing back up.

"Dad?"

Dash's voice was low and brimming with obvious concern—or perhaps even fear.

"Hm?"

Rainbow Dash waited a moment before speaking again, not entirely sure if she wanted to know the answer to the question she intended to ask.

"Why....why do ponies die?"

Rainbow Blaze appeared reluctant to answer—she had asked a kind of question ponies never wanted to hear from their children, chief among them being "where do foals come from?"

"Because that's just a part of life, Dashie. All life must come to an end at some point or another."

"So....you're going to die one day, too?" asked Dash, her voice trembling.

Her father looked even more reluctant to answer than before.

"Someday, yes," he replied with a slow nod.

Dash did not respond, and instead looked down solemnly at the wet grass beneath her.

"I wish I could tell you that I won't die until you're all grown up and will no longer need me," Blaze said. "But if that were the case, if life were actually as fair as that, you're mother would still be with us now. The truth is....death can come for us at any time, and it doesn't care whether we're ready for it not."

Dash went silent for a moment, yet her reaction did not indicate that she was learning this information for the first time. It seemed more like she was simply trying to verify what she already knew.

"What---what will happen to me....if you die before I'm grown up?"

This question made Rainbow Blaze even more hesitant than the previous two. He wished to ignore it, but feared that doing so would only increase his daughter's concerns.

"That's not something I want you to worry about," he said as tenderly as he could. "It's a possibility, but that doesn't mean that it's likely to happen."

"I don't want you to die, dad," Rainbow Dash said, wiping at her wet cheeks. "I need you."

Rainbow Blaze managed to conjure a gentle smile from his mouth.

"I need you, too, Dashie."

****

"I still need you, dad..." Rainbow Dash whispered, her words trembling as they emerged from her mouth.

Just as before, she again felt her mother's presence surrounding her. Yet her father unexpectedly appeared within her mind's eye, standing before her just as he had when they shared their mentally-based conversation. He simply stared at her in silence, rejecting any opportunity to share any additional final thoughts. Instead, he only offered her the same frown she had been given when she told him that she had not yet read his letter...

Suddenly, Rainbow Dash opened her eyes and launched herself into the sky, speedily setting a course for home, her mind dead set on what she was going to do. As before, when she arrived home, she flew straight through the cloud walls of her bedroom, feeling the thrill of both excitement and terror. She rushed to the beside table and picked up her father's letter, ignoring every thought within her which told her that now was not the time.

Because it was the time. She was sure of it.

Before her fear could assume dominance over her body and stop her, she tore open the remaining half of the envelope and removed the piece of folded paper inside...

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