• Published 5th Feb 2018
  • 1,116 Views, 23 Comments

After Action - BlazzingInferno



Soarin has known thrilling victories and crushing defeats, some of them in front of thousands of spectators, and others in the company of only his closest friend. Sometimes it's the quiet moments that make all the difference.

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Integrity

The barracks was almost never this quiet. Granted, Soarin rarely stayed inside during prime flying hours like these. The late afternoon sun was beating down on the grassy fields and black pavement surrounding the Wonderbolts headquarters, and the team members he’d expected to see for the first time in months were likely tearing up the skies somewhere far above. Maybe that was for the best; he could slip in unannounced, unpack his stuff, and surprise everypony when they came back in for dinner. That sounded safer anyway; he’d see Spitfire in a big group first and get an early warning on if she planned on hugging or socking him. He wouldn’t put either past her at this point, not after his spending so long away without so much as a postcard.

He walked through room after room of once-familiar scenery, like a half-forgotten childhood home. Spitfire had hurried him through here on his first day, pointing out everything from trophies to bathrooms on their way to pick up his first flight suit. Wasting time admiring the team memorabilia wasn’t an option, not then or now.

Spitfire’s office didn’t look that special from the outside. The only thing distinguishing its door from all the others was the brass nameplate next to it. “Spitfire. Team Captain.”

A loud thump and a crash answered him.

Startled, he took a look around the deserted hallway before tapping on the door. “Spitfire? Are you in there?”

“I’m busy right n—Soarin?”

That sounded like enough of an invitation to him. He gave the door a push and almost stepped in ink as he crossed the threshold. The floor was littered with Wonderbolts posters, all autographed with Spitfire’s hoofprint, and all soaking up the contents of an upended ink bottle gurgling its contents onto the hardwood floor.

Spitfire sat behind her desk, surrounded by stacks of posters. She stared at him through wet eyes, her mouth open and her mane in ink-stained tangles. “Soarin?”

All he could think to do was nod. “Hey.”

She nodded back, smiling an obviously strained smile that made her upper lip quiver. “H-hey. It’s… It’s been a while.”

Soarin flew over the ink spill and landed beside her. She looked so small, hunched over a desk instead of commanding the skies and the ponies within it. All the pleas, pleasantries, and insults he’d dreamed of throwing at her suddenly felt frivolous. “Are you okay?”

“Do I look okay?”

He scratched behind his ear and looked at the ink on the floor. Had it fallen from the desk, or been shoved off? He’d seen her angry plenty of times, but never sad enough to cry. “Uh…”

“Just say it.” Her hard tone made it a command, not a request.

He stood up straight and looked at the pony who was his team captain. “You look like you haven’t slept in a week.”

She placed her head on the desk and folded her wings over her face, mane dangerously close to another ink puddle. “I’m a wreck, okay? Maybe you should come back tomorrow instead… I’ll make sure there’s a big welcome back party or something. Y-you’re coming back, right?”

He had no idea. “Um… Want to get out of here for a while?”

“Why? What’s it matter?”

“Uh… Just… pretend this is summer flight camp, and we’ve got two free hours before we have to go home. Where do you want to go?”

“We’re not foals anymore, Soarin… I barely even remember flight camp.”

Soarin stepped forward and took a deep breath. “Okay… but you’ve still got to get out of this office, before you dye your mane black.”

Spitfire sat up in an instant, splattering droplets of ink across the walls. “I hate autographing stuff.”

“Come on, let’s grab an early dinner and you can tell me what’s up.”

“Why?”

“Because a change of scenery helps a lot. I would know, right?”

She met his grin with a scowl. “I’m the captain of the Wonderbolts. I can’t disappear for five months just because I feel like moping.”

He swallowed hard, but managed to keep his smile intact; he didn’t want his five months to turn into six. “How about just for an hour, maybe while one of the cadets cleans up all the spilled ink?”

That got her to smile briefly. “I might know a couple troublemakers who’ve earned a lousy assignment or two, but… I can’t risk it. I can’t leave right now.”

“Risk what? You can take a break once in a—”

Her hooves crashed against the desk, toppling another stack of posters. “No I can’t! While you’ve been out on vacation, I’ve been… I’ve…”

Part of him was ready to leave. Where was the Spitfire who’d been so friendly and nice, the one who’d introduced him to the team, shown him the barracks, and made sure he never had to train alone? Had this hotheaded mare replaced her for good? “What happened?”

She started to sniffle. “A lot.”

“Like?”

“The Canterlot brass says we need to shut the academy down.”

His gasp nearly sucked all the air out of the room. “What?”

“It’s just for a month, for a safety inspection. But if they don’t like what they find…”

“But why? What happened?”

“A cadet went totally nuts and wrecked a hot air balloon; the ponies inside almost got flattened.”

He could guess the perpetrator’s name. “That’s on the cadet, not you.”

“You don’t get it, Soarin. I’m the captain. I’m in charge, so when a cadet under my command creates a tornado and endangers lives, that’s on me. When the Wonderbolts shows start having more accidents than stunts, that’s on me. When… When somepony higher up says the team isn’t performing as well as it was a year ago, that’s on me. We’ve had so many screwups since I got promoted… Remember when we judged Best Young Flier and some enchanted unicorn almost ate topsoil because we messed up saving her? Then there was the whole thing with trying to stop the dragon terrorizing Ponyville… There’s been more stuff, too. So much more.”

Soarin shivered. The room suddenly felt way too big and cold. The far wall might as well have been the other side of Equestria. “But…”

Her hooves hid her eyes, but not the tears rolling down her coat. “It’s all on me. I’m… I'm running out of second chances.”

“Would they really kick you off the team?”

“Maybe they’d just make somepony else captain, but what’s the difference? It’s not like anypony’s going to care about some has-been like me anyway.”

He pounded a hoof on the desk. “Snap out of it! We can fix this. We’re still both Wonderbolts, so let’s act like it.”

Spitfire stood and wiped her nose, her eyebrows furrowed. “What’s that mean? I go back to busting my tail and you disappear again instead of squaring stuff with me?”

He groaned and turned away, wings spread in frustration. “Ugh, I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry I got out of shape, and whined about it, and couldn’t get over the Gala. Is that what you want to hear?”

The room was silent, save for his angry breathing. She wasn’t crying anymore, which unfortunately still mattered to him. This would be so much easier if he didn’t care what she thought, if at some level he didn’t want her as a friend, or at least on his side.

“That’s part of it,” she said.

“Well… what’s the rest of it?”

She spoke in a whisper. “Can you at least turn around and face me?”

He didn’t want to. This was the fight after the derby all over again.

“Please?”

That word was a new tactic for her. Slowly he turned, frowning and braced for another round of yelling. “What?”

She was frowning too, ears drooping, wings limp at her sides. “What you said last time, after the derby… you really hurt my feelings. I get that you were mad, and I was too. I know I’m not a great captain, but I’m trying, and… and what you think is important to me, okay? I know I keep saying the Gala was a mistake, and it was, but… I kind of wonder what would’ve happened if…”

Her gaze dropped to the ink-stained floor.

He stepped closer and patted her shoulder with a wing. “If we’d gone on a couple dates first, like normal ponies?”

She shot him a glare, at least until she saw his grin. “We’re not normal ponies. We’re Wonderbolts… right?”

“Yeah… Yeah we are.” Of course he was staying. How could he even consider leaving again? The Wonderbolts needed him. Spitfire needed him. He wouldn't let the team he'd idolized since foalhood crash and burn without a fight. “And I’m sorry. I’m really sorry I hurt you.”

“So what do we do about it? The Wonderbolts, I mean.”

“We fix it. We do whatever it takes to make our team awesome, on the ground and off.”

At last she smiled with some of her former glory and cocked an eyebrow for good measure. “Oh yeah? Got any bright ideas? None of mine worked.”

“I’ve got three of them.”

“Hah, is the first one teamwork?”

He offered her a hoof up, and she joined him in the air. “Let’s start there and see how far we get.”