It had been a while since I had gone on a romantic rendez-vous. There were reasons for this, naturally. I kept myself impossibly busy maintaining the Boutique and trying to expand the brand across Equestria, which is a task not for the faint of heart! Indeed, at times it seemed only my passion for fashion and art is what kept the dream alive.
On top of my unyielding responsibilities to my business is the matter that, quite frankly, I’ve not had the best of experiences with romance. I was once a naive creature, more enamoured with the allure of a heady, fairy-tale story than a real connection with another pony, and each time I had tried to dive into such a connection, at the Gala, and later with Trenderhoof, the whole thing would collapse into an embarrassing mess. I had even at one point thought towards making advances towards Fancy Pants, but this was also a doomed endeavour. How was I supposed to know he was gay?
For a long time it seemed that it’d be best to just shelve the whole thing, but as one thing led to another, Rainbow Dash gave me an offer I, in a moment of impulse (where wine may not have been entirely uninvolved) accepted. She had said that I might need a pony whose ambition matched my own; a pony who could 'keep up with me' as she put it. As I prepared myself for the task of putting her down gently (Rainbow is a dear friend, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered it, but alas she is also too high-maintenance for me in my opinion, and also has no respect for my things), she explained her proposition. She had a friend who was also single and highly ambitious, driven, and in Rainbow's own words, ‘cool’.
I had also apparently met the pony in question before, Applejack told me. Oh, yes, Applejack was there too. It was a sort of gathering, a private party for the wine-drinkers among our group... but I digress.
For clarification, this encounter took place mid-way between winter and spring, as Ponyville and the nearby towns were preparing to clear away the snow, gathering seeds, recalling the birds and wildlife, and begin heating up the environs. A pleasant, if chilly time of year, providing gentle encouragement to go outdoors but just enough bite to keep one from being fully comfortable. A time when scarves, hats, and even fluffy little mittens (of which I had designed a series which was in vogue in Canterlot, not that I wish to boast) were commonplace.
The place of our meeting was a restaurant, a high-society place allegedly suggested by my would-be partner. The Griffon’s Delight it was called. A charming rural location with fresh ingredients sourced from the nearby Whitetail Woods, Ponyville, and the local Cloudsdale outpost, Cloud Nine. It had a truly delightful wooden and carved stone aesthetic, combining urban chic practicality in the hard edges of the carved stone with fanciful traditional wood and wickerwork. I was taken in immediately!
All I wanted from the date was, if I must be entirely frank, for it to not go terribly. I must remind you that my current bar was set at not having a cake land on me and above all, not having the object of my affections be stolen by Applejack. I stress that last point especially. I didn’t really mind who I was going to be sharing a meal with. High-class stallion or quirky mare, I just wanted to get out of the ordeal without being overly shamed and publicly embarrassed. I had no high expectations, and had even prepared several large tubs of ice-cream for when everything inevitably turned sour.
Though I had intended to get there fashionably early, I was ‘beaten to it’, as it were. It was when I saw the mare in question that I had deduced exactly why Rainbow had thought me such an appropriate mare to push into this blind date.
The table was larger than a table for two perhaps warranted, owing to the large, slab-like furniture and desire for comfortable space. Sitting comfortably on the far side of the table, a single candle obscuring them only slightly, was a pegasus mare I recognised.
All at once memories of embarrassing myself at the Junior Flyers Competition came hurtling back to me. I had let my own ego get to my head and tried to outshine Rainbow Dash and, well, all the flyers with a pair of magical wings I had been gifted by Twilight… and at high noon, when the sun was at its highest and my performance at its most spectacular, they had burst into flames and dissolved into ash. The agonising sting of embarrassment was only slightly overshadowed by the overwhelming terror caused by hurtling down to my likely death. The prospect of being smeared on the ground like jam on a pastry has that effect on a lady's priorities.
The one to rescue me had been Rainbow Dash, but the first to try had been the mare sitting at the table opposite me. She was the current captain of the Wonderbolts, flight instructor and general leader of Rainbow’s famous flying team. She was Spitfire, subject of dozens of magazine articles and a good few interviews, something of an icon. Her lithe, svelte body was coveted by many in the fashion industry, myself included. What I would give to have her model for me in a dress of my own creation!
Her coat was instantly recognisable, the colour of a setting sun or hearth-fire on a cold, dark evening. Her eyes were as golden as she was, and her mane, typically slicked back, was drooping gently forwards like a flame in a breeze. She looked up at me, putting down what appeared to be a report of some kind. In hindsight, I might have felt slightly insulted, to have her bring her work to our date, blind though it was, but I was still working through various stages of emotional distress at having to relive the shame and terror of nearly dying as well as covertly avoid letting on to Spitfire that I was imagining putting her in a variety of dresses that I had designed for an athletic pegasus like herself.
Oh, and there was another time when Spike turned giant and trapped her as she tried to rescue me again... I try not to think about that day, though. It was… strange, and when those memories had returned to me I felt even more troubled. I stood in front of the table, stunned into silence by the explosion of inner thoughts and memories.
“Hey there,” Spitfire said. “I recognise you. You wouldn’t happen to have been sent here by Rainbow Dash, would you?”
On top of everything else, horror stories that Rainbow had told me about her boss flooded back to me. Tales of gruesome training and drill-sergeant attitude inflicted upon Rainbow by this mare. I was no longer certain if this was a blind date or a sort of prank. Had Rainbow held a grudge against me for making her wear that outrageous wig that one time? I couldn’t blame her. I don’t know what I was thinking, making it that tall… Regardless, I knew from Rainbow’s stories that Spitfire was… harsh. I think that is the most delicate way of putting it.
Still, I was a gracious pony, and still am, and decided to go through with this honestly and in good faith, even if I was already imagining the taste of my consolation ice-cream once I got home. It was a forest berry mix. My favourite.
“Yes, I was,” I said, and sat down, smiling as sweetly as I could manage. “I’m Rarity, but we’ve technically met before, miss Spitfire.”
Spitfire flashed me a smile… more genuine than I had expected. Most instances I had seen her, she always had a serious look on her face, or otherwise seemed to be putting on an act… she was a Wonderbolt after all, and she had an appearance to maintain.
“I remember. Sorry I wasn’t at my best on… well, I think any of the occasions that we met.” She swallowed, betraying a hint of nervousness. “You know, I probably wasn’t going to do this, but Rainbow and Soarin pressured me into it, so…”
“Oh, I’ve had quite the same experience with Rainbow and Applejack, believe me,” I confessed. “Rainbow is very pushy when she wants something.”
Spitfire snorted, but not in a mean-spirited way. Perhaps I had been wrong about her, I thought. “You can say that again. It’s what makes her a half-decent ‘Bolt.” Spitfire tilted her head. “That and she keeps winning races, which is a nice bonus.” The waiter, a small, mousy pegasus mare, approached out table, bowing gently with flawless adherence to local etiquette. This truly was a well-to-do restaurant.
“Would you ladies like to see our drinks menu before orderin’?”
Oh, and the waiter even had a cute Trottingham accent. How quaint.
“No need; the Château Solaire will be perfect,” Spitfire said, and then glanced towards me. “If that’s all right with you?”
I was taken aback. Not just by the forthright manner in which she dismissed the menu, but also in her choice of wine. Château Solaire was an excellent decision; it was full-bodied with a mild hint of cinnamon in the back of the throat, a fine option for a colder time of year. It was a choice that could only have been made by a pony accustomed to drinking finer wines and that was familiar with the drinks menu of the restaurant itself. I was impressed. I hadn’t expected a sporty type like Spitfire to have that level of sophistication.
However, I now felt I had something to prove.
“You don’t think that a Marelot is a little pedestrian for a romantic rendez-vous?” I asked, letting a dash of my competitive side take over. “I am not familiar with the drinks here, but perhaps a wine from the McLauren Vale would be a good choice. It is especially fine this time of year.”
Spitfire flashed a small smirk. “Nice, I like it.” She turned to the waitress. “Can you handle both?”
Both? I had to admit, that was one way to resolve the conflict. Spitfire then turned back to me as the waitress trotted away, nodding and smiling at the instruction.
“So. I heard you do fashion.”
What I had wanted was for the evening to not go terribly, and that low bar had been met. I had never thought of Spitifre, or indeed any of the ponies that Rainbow surrounded herself with as being, well, ‘my type’. Why would they be? Surely they’d be like Rainbow herself; sporty, sweaty, a bit crude… But instead, Spitfire appeared sophisticated, intelligent, and composed at all times. Too composed, even.
Time dripped by, second by second. Food came and went, but I found myself increasingly mesmerised by the pony opposite me. Not that I want to sound like I had become overwhelmed like a young school-filly; much of my interest was out of curiosity.
“I got into the Wonderbolts really early,” Spitfire explained. “I’m actually the youngest Captain ever, but I managed it by being an independent instructor and flyer first before being scouted during a kinda’ difficult time for the ‘Bolts.” She took a long sip of wine. “I had helped train Fleetfoot and Misty Fly, who were already joining the ‘Bolts, so when they became members they recommended me, and then I kept on acting as an instructor, then flyer, then captain.” She smirked. “So I guess I kinda’ skipped the usual procedure.”
Rainbow had been right; if there was a pony who could easily keep up with my own rise through the world of fashion, it was Spitfire. The way she described her becoming a Captain… a role that one would typically pick up close to a decade later than when Spitfire did… she made it seem like it was natural. Just a product of a few smart decisions.
“That’s quite… well, impressive,” I admitted. “I got to watch Rainbow slowly tackle every single obstacle in her way to become a Wonderbolt, but you were already one when she was still in the Junior Flyer’s Contest if I recall…”
Spitfire nodded. “I was. I had just joined at that point and they wanted to show me off.”
“How much older are you compared to Rainbow?” I asked, seeking to satisfy my curiosity further. She must be only five years older, I suspected, given her youthful looks.
“We actually flew in the same classes. I was only, oh, about two years older? I got held back a year.”
I nearly choked on my wine. It was then that I realised what I was sitting opposite; some kind of prodigy. What she was describing was the equivalent of me managing to already have an empire of boutiques across the continent, or being an established authority delivering commands and setting trends instead of always hunting for a niche to exploit. She was in control, and I wanted that.
Spitfire held an expression that didn’t seem to realise how extraordinary that was. All the stories Rainbow had told me about her illustrious captain were put into a new context for me. How was I meant to compete honestly with that?
“You’re doing pretty well for yourself as well, right?” Spitfire asked. “Rainbow said you owned shops or something.”
“Well, one,” I admit, though compared to Spitfire’s rise up her career’s ladder, it seems weak to say. “Though I am very close to opening more in Manehattan and Canterlot!” I add, a little too enthusiastically.
“That’s pretty awesome,” Spitfire went on, appearing to miss my awkwardness-come-jealousy. “You know, I was actually hoping to get your opinion on the ‘Bolt uniforms. Can you do aerodynamic stuff?”
“More-so than what you already wear?” I asked. “I would imagine a lot of it comes down to material selection, since as it is I’m not confident in saying that your current suits can be streamlined further. As it is, it’s as if you’re not wearing anything besides changing the friction of air and… flying things I’m convinced I don’t understand properly, no matter how many times Rainbow absent-mindedly explains them me.”
Spitfire nodded with interest. Genuine interest. That was a new one. Trenderhoof had been distracted and barely noticed me, and Blueblood hadn’t really cared about me one way or another.
“Yeah, the suits are already pretty smooth. The material is actually pretty expensive. Any thoughts on the pattern?”
“I suppose I could brainstorm something for you… perhaps something to draw attention to the front half…”
Spitfire reclined gracefully, disappearing into the wide, spacious chair whilst taking a sip of wine. “See, I knew I should have a chat with you. Rainbow always said it’d be a waste of time because you’d do lots of big awkward additions.”
“Oh, she did, did she?” I asked, pursing my lips.
“Yeah. I guess that shows what she knows. Me, I like having a basic awareness of a lot of things. The details kinda get away from me, but at least knowing they exist is already a big step up from having no clue, you know?”
I am, I must admit, weak to being given attention. I struggle with my friends sometimes, since it’s hard to talk fashion with them too much on account of them not being as connected as I am in the correct circles. I do get some decent conversations out of Fluttershy sometimes, but in reality, that might just be because I don’t get interrupted as much.
Even if she doesn’t know much about it, Spitfire is interested. In me. I liked that.
There’s a flash of anxiety I detected in Spitfire’s expression. She turned away slightly, looking for something else to attract her attention away from me. I barely had time to wonder why before the second bottle of wine arrived.
“Your other selection, madam.”
Spitfire gratefully accepted the wine. I didn’t mind that she was taking charge of the date. There’s an appeal in being taken care of, and whilst there are plenty of instances where I will insist on being in control, at that time I thought that I liked watching the confident captain deliver instructions on my behalf.
“It must be quite fun, being as confident as you are,” I told her.
Again, a moment of hesitation flashed across Spitfire’s as she raised the glass to her lips. It quickly vanished. “Yeah, well, you have to learn that to be a captain. Confidence is like a superpower. Once you have it, stuff just… starts working out more.” She glanced my way out the corner of her eye. “I bet that’s something you know about.”
“Oh, I’m hardly as confident as I appear, darling.”
Spitfire burst out in a chuckle. “Darling? Where’d that come from?”
A little embarrassed, I wave my hoof nonchalantly. “Oh, just… a force of habit. What would you prefer to be called?”
“Pet names so soon?” Spitfire clicked her tongue, looking up as she thought. “Y’know, I think my friends mostly just call me ‘Captain’.”
“Captain Darling it is, then.”
Spitfire shook her head, an amused smile playing her lips. “Not sure that’ll stick.”
“Not with that attitude it won’t,” I counter.
In response, Spitfire just takes a long sip of wine, shaking her head slowly, her smirk plastered on her face as she appraised me once again. “I see now why Rainbow likes you.”
I smiled back at Spitfire, and she returned it. I think that was when my curiosity was replaced by genuine attraction.
A part of me expected this to be the time when everything fell apart somehow. Maybe a jealous lover would erupt into the restaurant and whisk Spitfire away. In a worst case scenario it’d be Applejack. I didn’t want things to fall apart, though. I had entered into this situation blindly and with trepidation, hoping for only the most marginal of successes, but now, I felt rather… dazzled. She wasn’t just like me… she didn’t just want to climb to the top of her career and forge a path for herself. She was what I wanted to be. The dream version of what I could have been if things just worked out, if I had more drive, more smarts, more cunning and more charm. She was overwhelming. I was overwhelmed.
There was something else, though… something I couldn’t quite put my hoof on. An anxiety I had only barely detected through the wine and pleasant surprise. Something curious that drove me to press on more.
“I see why Rainbow likes you, too,” I told Spitfire. Of course, that was code for ‘I like you’.
I knew Spitfire took that hint given her smile and noticeably flirtatious lean forwards, towards me. “I’ll have to thank her for this later.”
It was not, admittedly, a short distance from the Griffon’s Delight to my home, and I had expected to spend a nice long walk back whilst lamenting a difficult evening. As it turned out, however, the journey was made much faster given that I was able to ride Spitfire (please, don’t snicker) on the way back.
Maybe the view from the sky would have been more appealing were it not night-time, cloaking the Whitetail woods below in darkness, but it was pleasant nonetheless. The cold air was held at bay by close proximity to Spitfire, and I let myself sink into the depths of those small feathers and thick, smooth mane.
“It must be a fine change being able to carry me,” I began in a joking tone, “Without me kicking you in the mouth this time.”
There was a brief pause before Spitfire replied.
“Yeah, last time was a bit less fun. Maybe it was the near-death experience. Who knows.”
Spitfire then went quiet. Perhaps it was not a very sensitive joke, I mused. Perhaps the intoxicating proximity to her had tricked me into being too comfortable for my own good.
We drifted down, invisible, towards the Carousel Boutique, where Spitfire landed gently, almost imperceptibly. Whenever I had gone along with Rainbow to see the shows, the Wonderbolts often landed heavily, decelerating faster than I could follow with my eyes, but now, she was slow and smooth for me.
I dismounted, stumbling a second to get my bearings, and then adjusted. Spitfire turned to me.
“So, uh, want to schedule another one?”
I was delighted at the prospect. Why wouldn’t I be? For the first time in a long time things started to feel like they were going right. Only now that I was so close to another pony romantically had I realised how lonely I had been.
“I’m perhaps not a terribly good pony to date,” I admitted, fighting against my own inner desires. “I’m frequently very invested in my career, but if you want to put up with that… I’d be very glad if you did.”
Spitfire chuckled. “Lady, look who you’re talking to. I’ll probably be too busy to add holding you back from your career tomy schedule.” She softened slightly. “I don’t think either of us want… pressure. Just somepony to be with. Right?”
Yes. That was exactly what I wanted. I didn't long for the feeling of being whisked away any more… I had worked so long for control over my own destiny, and I wanted to keep it. I just didn’t want to keep it on my own.
I shivered in the cold, and moved towards the door to my house. “It’s freezing out here. Do you want to keep talking about this indoors?”
“I’m a pegasus pretty accustomed to high altitudes,” Spitfire said. “I’m not bothered by the cold, if me getting home is what you’re worried about…”
“Not in the slightest, but we do seem to be striking up a conversation again and I, for one, do not have your… resilience.” I stepped into my house. “If you’d rather leave, though, I’m convinced that we can arrange another meeting through Rainbow…”
Spitfire considered a moment. “No, it’s fine. I can talk.” She looked up at the sky. “I could do with a rest after carrying you back anyway.”
We didn’t end up talking much. In the end, I had cracked open one of my remaining bottles of cider that I have imported from Fillydelphia (don’t judge me. Applejack doesn’t have hers preserved, so I have to get it from elsewhere).
A little giddy, I had convinced Spitfire to sit still long enough to start playing with various fabrics on her.
“You said something about air friction?” I asked, throwing a pile of silks and stiffer, speciality fabrics onto Spitfire, who was sitting on the couch whilst giggling. Sweetie was with our parents, so I had the boutique all to myself, thankfully. “I have all of these.”
Spitfire pulled a sheet of a refined giant spidersilk fabric (that I had acquired at great personal cost, and keep well away from Sweetie Belle) off of her face, which tickled her nose and caused her to sneeze. “Ugh! Not that one. What even is that?”
“Giant… um. Are you afraid of spiders?”
Spitfire shrugged as I bounced onto the couch next to her. “A bit, why?”
I delicately removed the spidersilk from her. “Oh, no reason. Let’s shelve that topic for now.”
Spitfire rolled onto her side, folding her wings against her as she took a sip of cider. “You going to make me play dress-up?”
"Please don't tempt me. You must have an idea of how many fashion designers would kill to be able to play with that body of yours." I paused a moment. "I mean that purely professionally, of course," I added, attempting to salvage the statement.
"Pity," Spitfire quipped.
Feeling somewhat hotter than before, I thrust a piece of bright yellow fabric onto Spitfire’s chest. “What about a big lightning bolt symbol right there? Where everypony can see it?” I glanced at Spitfire’s physique, who was eyeing me with faint curiosity. “No, yellow is out. Blue is in! Oh, yes. What about switching the colour scheme around? Blue lightning, pale golden… perhaps dandelion… yellow base?”
Spitfire tilted her head to the side. “Sounds a bit ostentatious?”
“Well,” I spluttered, “A little ostentatiousness never hurt anypony. Least of all me.”
“I can tell.” Spitfire rummaged through the various fabrics. “What’s this? It feels tough. And... expensive.”
“Sea serpent scale,” I said, holding the shimmering garment up. “You have a very good eye! This is immensely rare. Flexible and outrageously durable, and look how it shimmers in the light!”
“Are you trying to show off to me?” Spitfire asked, folding her forehooves playfully.
I reeled, and quickly tried to reassert myself, projecting as much confidence as I could. “Is it working?”
“A bit. Where’d you even get these?”
“I negotiate for them here and there. The giant spider silk I got as an apology from Fancy Pants for… reasons best left undisclosed.”
“Hmm? No, nothing like that,” I lied, and took another gulp of cider. “Moving on, Captain Darling.”
“What’s this sea serpent scale do?”
“Well, they shed naturally, but it takes many years to make a complete sheet like this. It’s immensely resilient, like I mentioned, but also shock-absorbant, and waterproof!”
“So… not very breathable, then?”
“Not so much, no.”
“Too bad,” Spitfire said, running her hoof over the material. I grinned gleefully. It was nice to have my work be appreciated. I realised that I hadn’t shown many ponies my collection of fabrics and materials… not the special ones, anyway, but Spitfire had said she was interested in an alternative Wonderbolt uniform…
“Anything good for shock absorption? That is breathable?”
I scratched my chin. “Is this for a stunt?”
“More like crash or rescue considerations.” Spitfire shrugged. "A pet project, let's say."
I raised my eyebrow at the term ‘rescue’. It wasn’t one I associated with the Wonderbolts much. They were, after all, largely stunt-ponies. Yes, I knew they had a military background, but I also knew that it was largely defunct, and even when they would take part, it would be as a long-range, reconnaissance, or communication role, not direct combat.
What? I read books and know things outside of fashion.
“Perhaps these…” I began, getting up off the couch, my tail brushing tantalisingly against Spitfire’s wing, sending a small shiver up my spine. I pushed it aside for now, and trotted to a box where I kept some more rigid components. “Chitin. Very beautiful; look how they reflect the light!”
I held up a pair of small, cup or bowl-shaped pieces of liquorice black material, letting the dim light of my Boutique shimmer across their surface.
“Nice,” Spitfire said. “Not sure I like how far away you are, though.”
I began to feel very hot and sweaty again, things that no lady should be caught being in public. I then reminded myself that I was not in public, so perhaps a little heat was all right, and approached Spitfire again.
“What do you think?” I asked, tossing the pieces to Spitfire. “Unfortunately, they’re all I have.”
“They’re heavier than I expected.”
“Well, they’re not made of card.”
Spitfire twirled the pieces of chitin in her hooves. “I didn’t figure you for having such… weird stuff.”
“Inspiration comes from many places, but whenever I’m in doubt, I like to return to nature.”
Spitfire sank backwards, draping herself across my canapé in front of me. “Not a bad strat’. Old Wonderbolt once said that they came up with tricks and stunts sometimes based on weird flight movements birds did.”
“Oh really?” I asked, shifting and inserting myself next to her, collapsing into her. I could smell the faint whiff of perfume on her mane, a brand I didn't recognise. “Who was that?”
“My predecessor, actually. She was nice, but kind of easygoing. Too easygoing.”
“Not like you, I assume?”
“I meant," I laughed, "You’re not very easygoing. You look like you always endeavour to improve.”
“Yeah, I guess I am a bit of a try-hard,” Spitfire muttered, glancing at me with an awkward look, very unlike her stoic, confident facade. I was increasingly convinced that it was just a mask for something deeper inside, though. I wondered what her confidence was hiding?
I could hardly help myself any more, and moving closer still, I pushed the remaining pieces of fabric aside that formed a final barrier between my and her. I let my lips brush hers.
“I hope Rainbow doesn’t get too full of herself after this…” I muttered.
“I doubt there’s any way of stopping that now,” Spitfire replied, breathing out heavily onto me. “Come closer.”
It must have been closer to morning than evening when I turned, the sheets sliding over me, towards Spitfire. I felt movement from her side of the bed, which whilst large, wasn’t so spacious that I could ignore the tossing and turning of a pony with a wingspan as considerable as hers.
I slid towards Spitfire, noting a contorted expression on her face, and beads of sweat on her brow, long after they should have disappeared. I put my hooves on her, careful not to overly startle her.
“Spitfire?” I asked, trying to shake her awake from whatever nightmare she was trapped in. “Spitfire!”
Without a sound, Spitfire stopped moving. I saw her eyelids drift open, her pupils focusing and her breath steadying. She glanced towards me then closed her eyes again. She looked momentarily peaceful. The smell of perfume I had detected earlier was gone, or perhaps I was simply inured to it as it had rubbed off onto me.
“Sorry. Bad dream.”
I tried to lighten her mood. “I wasn’t that bad, was I?”
Spitfire snorts. “Ha.” She breathed out. “It’s my bad. I should have told you I’m not really a gentle sleeper.”
I decided to try to ease the conversation towards something else to calm her. I could feel her muscles stiffen, and they became more stiff the closer I came to her. “I have a minor question,” I began, my breath noticeably haggard despite my attempts to be-still it.
Spitfire opened one eye as she adjusted herself, propping her head up with one hoof. “Shoot.”
My pulse had since slowed, and whilst I was still tired and in the space between needing to sleep and being so out of it that I couldn’t help but be awake, my curiosity had returned. Perhaps now was a time to ask the questions that I hadn’t pressed thoroughly earlier. “You mentioned that you became a captain very early because you were an instructor.”
Spitfire nodded, and I felt her hoof slide up my side enticingly as she evidently became more relaxed, the movement causing me to sink deeper into my pillow. “That’s right.”
“I find that a bit strange. It’s still something of a dramatic jump to go from a third party instructor… I presume you were initially brought in on a sort of trial period, perhaps?… and then become a captain. Certainly in such a small window of time.” I smirked. “I can’t imagine everypony was as immediately impressed with you as I am; you must have done something special to climb the ranks so fast.”
Spitfire chuckled. “Yeah, it’s not… usual.” Spitfire frowned slightly, and swallowed. “It’s a bit… embarrassing.”
“Yeah. I kind of became a captain based on a failure, which is still weird to talk about.”
“What failure was that?” I asked.
Spitfire pulled away slightly, withdrawing as she talked. The easing of contact between me and her was unpleasant and cold.
“You mean, when you heroically flew down to rescue me?” I asked, running my hoof along the base of her wings.
“Heroically? I guess. It was still a failure, though.” Spitfire’s eyes became hard, businesslike. Perhaps this was the Spitfire that Rainbow and the other Wonderbolt saw every day? Serious and sombre. “I realised that we were... unprepared for work outside of stunts. I pushed, hard, to increase training and preparedness. I insisted on performing safety drills, rescue operations, the works.”
I could tell by Spitfire’s eyes that this was something she took seriously. I hadn’t realised. I had certainly imagined to an extent that she took everything seriously, but perhaps this was something she felt more sincerely than most.
“It didn’t make a difference in the end, though. No matter how much I pushed, we still weren’t prepared for the incident with the giant dragon. We responded quickly, immediately, but it didn't change anything, so I pushed harder still. The more I pushed ponies to excel, the worse it got, and the more addicted to pushing boundaries we got. Looked great on paper, but not so much in practice." Spitfire breathed in. "Later, we had an incident at the academy. A recruit used a tornado to achieve extraordinary results, but endangered civilians.”
Realisation dawned upon me. “These are all instances I believe I was there for." I took note of Spitfire's pained expression. "I didn't realise I had such a... noticeable effect on you.”
Spitfire swallowed, and nodded. “Yeah. I don’t know what you think of me, but it’s not exactly… fun to repeatedly fail to save the same pony over and over, and then mess things up so bad you end up creating a situation where you’ve made things worse.”
She hesitated for a second, then turned away, the feathers of her wings brushing against my stomach as she put distance between me and her.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to get gloomy. Anyway, I was made a captain because I was pushing for more safety, better training, and higher standards. The former captain couldn't keep up, so I was promoted. That's just how it was. It’s too bad I wasn’t a great choice.”
I took the distance away again. Perhaps I was being pushy, but I was getting the feeling that even before our date that evening, there had been a connection between us. On two occasions, she had tried to save my life and failed both times, and on another, it was a Wonderbolt cadet that had almost taken my life with a rogue tornado… a cadet that she had trained, and even encouraged. Strange though it might seem, these were not events I took terribly seriously. I had lived each time and gone on as usual; what else was a lady to do? Then again, I never had to feel as much responsibility for it... unlike the one who took it upon themselves to bear the burden of failure.
Yes, I could tell at that point that I meant a lot more to her than just some blind date. I was not being egotistical or self-centred; I had seen the anxiety reveal itself during dinner, and again when I had joked about knocking her out at the Junior Flyer’s Competition. I was not so enamoured that I could miss such signs when I had been so close to her as to spend the night together on our first date.
“What was your nightmare about?” I asked, though I could already guess at the answer. “It’s good to talk about these things.”
“I think you already know.” She became limp in my hooves as she talked. “The last thing I remembered at the Junior Flyers Contest before losing consciousness was the feeling of falling, out of control, and… your face. I see it again, every few nights.” Spitfire swallowed. “All I want is to be in control, because right then... I wasn't.”
“I’m confident you want a little more than just that.”
Spitfire’s head curled inwards. “...Yeah. I guess I want a lot of things.” She twisted back to face me. “I’ll sort it out one day. I just don’t know when.”
“Hurtling ahead as fast as you do doesn’t always mean that things work out perfectly the first time,” I said. “For me, I seem to get setback after setback, and I’m not as… well, fast as you.”
Spitfire’s eyes locked with mine. “You don’t seem to be doing that bad.”
“Not right now.”
I dove in close to kiss Spitfire, properly. It occurs to me that I’ve kissed very few ponies in my life so far. A coltfriend here and there, none of whom lasted long. Obviously I had kissed Spitfire a few times that evening as well, but this time felt more real.
I was exhausted when I woke up the next morning. Of course I would be. I had experienced a… late night, and on top of that had been woken up in the early hours of morning before dawn.
Spitfire was already fully awake and functional, adjusting her mane in the bathroom next door when I emerged, wearing my dressing gown. She looked beautiful, and I’m sure by comparison I must have seemed a monstrous creation considering my messy morning-mane and ghastly grey bags hanging beneath my eyes. I would need a coffee or two as well as a healthy amount of time spent preparing my face before I could hope to compete with anypony else, no matter how naturally stunning I was.
I wondered if perhaps this routine of being woken up in the middle of the night was common for Spitfire, hence why she seemed so on top of things. I crept up behind her and snuck my hoof around her.
“Good morning, Captain Darling.”
“Please let that not stick,” Spitfire returned with a flash of emotion halfway between irritation and endearment. “Sorry for being all mopey last night. Kinda spoiled the mood.”
“It’s all fine,” I reassured her. “You just needed an opportunity to loosen up. Besides, perhaps I rather like taking care of the secretly vulnerable sort.”
Spitfire burst into a small cackle. “Well, I felt pretty loose,” she said. “In more ways than one, too." She glanced at the light outside. "I’ve got to fly. I didn’t want to run off without saying good-morning first, but it’s a long way to Wonderbolts HQ.” She turned to me and planted a small kiss on my lips. “Can we pick this up, say, at the week-end?”
“Schedule willing, of course. You can talk to my agent.”
The Wonderbolt looked momentarily confused. “Agent?”
“Rainbow Dash, dear.” I offered her a wry smile and playful, yet gentle, nudge on the shoulder. Perhaps unladylike conduct, but I had spent most of the evening partaking in unladylike conduct and felt I had very little to lose with Spitfire.
“Oh, right.” Spitfire nodded. “How could I forget." She groaned." Rainbow is going to make such a big deal of having set this all up.”
“I’m sure you’ll be able to handle it,” I said. “Do try to remember that you don’t need to change the world all in one go. You can take your time too, if you like.”
Spitfire swallowed, and nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh, please let that not stick. Rarity is fine. Miss Rarity if you insist on being facetious.” I pull away, letting Spitfire leave, but not before brushing against her flanks as she does so with my tail. “I’m sure you’ll be able to save me one day.”
“Hopefully not soon,” Spitfire replied. “I mean in the sense that, you hopefully won’t be in danger soon, not that I wouldn’t be able to—”
“I quite understand.” I shooed her out of the bathroom. “Now go! You have important Wonderbolty, captain-y things to do, I’m certain.”
Spitfire trotted out. “Good luck with your projects. I’ll see you around.”
I was left alone in the bathroom to do my makeup and make myself presentable. I felt a sort of inner warmth at having had a romantic experience that wasn’t wholly emotionally devastating. I wasn’t even sure what I was going to do with all the ice-cream I had stockpiled. Donate it to Sweetie Belle, perhaps? If I was going to be dating an athlete, I needed to watch my figure to avoid any unflattering comparisons...
I heard the front door open and close, and saw Spitfire fly off into the clouds from the window. I decided to sigh wistfully, a conscious choice that I felt was appropriate for the situation. It felt very satisfying.
I then heard my front door open, and the sound of hooves clattering up the stairs to the second floor of my house. I narrowed my eyes, turned gradually towards the door, glaring furiously at the intruder.
Rainbow was bouncing gently in place, a sly smile playing her lips.
“So… how’d it go?” she asked, not even a hint, a smidge, a droplet or particle of subtlety gracing her tone.
“She’s already on her way to work,” I said, “So you should hurry or she’ll know you’re late.”
The deflection was enough for Rainbow. “Okay. Sounds like it went very well.” She sniffed the air. "Hey, did you guys drink cider? Why don't you ever bring that to our wine parties?"
I sighed dramatically. I should have known I was being spied on. I narrowed my eyes further as I watched Rainbow from the corner of my eye, still adjusting my unruly mane.
"No ulterior motives in setting me up with your Captain, then?"
"Nah, none." Rainbow picked up one of my speciality creams, gave it a sniff, and made a big show of retching before she put it down (this is why I only very briefly entertained the notion of a tryst with her; no respect for my things at all). "Well, other than that she has an absolute fixation with you. And like AJ always says; if you can't fight it, fu—"
"She does not always say that," I snap, interrupting Rainbow's crude tirade, "And when she does, it's when she is drunk, and not in that context. Anyway, regarding Spitfire's 'fixation'... I did get that impression." I applied my eyeliner with magic with an expert touch. "How did you find out?"
"I hear things."
"Of course you do. Whilst suspiciously 'napping' on a convenient overhang, typically."
"They're the most comfortable spots. Look, Spits has been getting progressively angrier ever since I met her at the Junior Flyers contest... and that was right after she almost died, so, y'know, that's a pretty high bar to clear. I heard her talk about all these rescue exercises and not 'letting another one down' and stuff, which was weird, because usually she doesn't let anypony down... except you." Rainbow tilted her head. "Which I think was unfair, because you basically knocked her out, but Spits takes stuff like that real personally..."
I glanced at Rainbow incredulously. "Are you telling me you just... put two and two together? Just like that."
"Something like that. I mean, I did have a talk with Soarin and Fleetfoot about it to make sure. And for the record, I thought you'd like her too; Spitfire's got that whole 'ambition' thing going on." She shrugged. "What? I'm not dumb."
I shake my head in mild disbelief. "It appears not." I sniff. "Well, underhanded though your strategies are, I cannot say I mind this time."
"Yeah, I bet you don't. Downstairs was a mess." Rainbow turned to leave. "Please treat her nicely. When she gets angry she takes it out on me, and I don't wanna' have to do more laps."
"As she well should, given how much trouble you cause me!" I retort playfully. Rainbow ignored me as she flies down the stairs and out the door, disappearing into the sky with a flash of vibrant colour.
I must confess that everything had gone somewhat more... enjoyably than expected, and that fact had put me in an ecstatic mood. I hum a tune as I trot downstairs to work, and reel somewhat when I see the mess I had made with all the exotic fabrics and materials I had thrown about the place.
When I was a young filly, I had always dreamt of a prince charming, as it were, to rescue me and sweep me off my hooves. Instead I got a pony who had tried twice and failed both times. I smiled as I levitated the mess back into its proper place. It was a romantic notion, but I found grace in Spitfire's failures. I was quite happy with how things had turned out.
I am Captain Spitfire. Wonderbolt. Look, I’m a serious mare. I do serious things and I work hard.
Right about now it’s been close to four months since I’ve been dating Rarity. It’s been good fun, and I like her a lot. All that you really want from a relationship, right? We both keep ourselves pretty busy. Me, up in the air, and her, well, she does fashion. I keep tabs on how her career is going… not that it’s difficult, she’s in every magazine from here to the Crystal Empire. I also hear she’s popular among yaks. Not sure what’s up with that.
It’s six in the evening. Sun’s starting to go down. Carousel Boutique looks real pretty in this light. It’s, uh, a bit too pink for me usually, but now everything is getting drowned in orange, it’s taken on this nice purple tone that, frankly, I find pretty appealing. If Wonderbolt uniforms weren’t a part of the culture, I’d be wanting our sleek outfits to be purple. It’s a powerful colour.
I glanced down at the little, neatly wrapped box in my hoof. It’s not big at all. About the size of two mugs strapped together… which is an odd comparison to make, because the contents isn’t mugs. Anyway. That’s just where my mind went, I guess.
I knocked on the door. It was out of hours. I know it’s a store and I could still just go inside, but… this felt more professional. You know?
“Come in!” came Rarity’s shrill voice. I’m not the sappy sort, but yeah, my heart skipped a beat. Like, half of one. Today was a special day. Today was Rarity’s birthday, and I don’t get invited to casual birthdays. I just go to the parties hosted by Cloudsdale socialites and work colleagues. Soarin makes a mean punch, even if you’d better bring your own food. He doesn’t share well.
I get the feeling this was going to be more casual. I wanted it to go well. I had prepared as best I could. Apparently, ponies down on the surface liked getting flowers from their romantic partner. That and jewelry. After four months I felt a bit… uncomfortable with jewelry, especially considering that Rarity would know way more about it than me, so I went with the flower thing.
I pushed the door open with my free hoof and trotted inside. I was immediately hit with a wave of noise, warmth, and various sickly-sweet smells. Close to a dozen ponies were all lounging in the main room, holding plastic cups of juice. Right. Rarity had other friends.
I was going to have to do the small talk thing.
Rarity swayed across the room towards me, wearing the cutest little paper hat you’ve ever seen. She was as pristine as ever… minus mornings… and was damn near glowing with contentment. Behind her I could see two of her friends, Rainbow Dash and, uh… the orange one… unpacking what I’m pretty sure was cider. Hard.
“Why hello there Captain Darling,” Rarity murmured coyly. “Had a nice day at the office I hope?”
Normally I’d be the sort to do something coy right back at her… escalate. Not today, though. “Happy birthday… ma’am.” I held the package out towards her.
Rarity levitated it out of my hooves and began unwrapping it. Beside her, Rainbow Dash emerged like a flash. “Hey hey, Captain!”
I groaned. “I’m not on duty right now. Just…” I grit my teeth. “Just Spitfire will be fine for today.”
Rainbow whistled. “Wow, I get to call you Spits. I thought only Soarin and Fleetfoot could do that?”
“I said Spitfire.”
Rarity giggled, and opened her present. Her eyes widened. “Goodness! A… cactus!”
I blushed. “Yeah, I don’t know surface flowers very well, but I saw this one and thought of you.”
Rarity glanced up at me. “Did you now?”
I looked down at the little prickly plant. “Do you… not like it?”
Rarity dove in towards my cheek and planted a large kiss on it. I was already pretty orange by nature, but I just got redder. “I love it. It’ll go wonderfully on the mantelpiece.”
I grinned. Glad that worked out.
“Hey, Spitfire, want to help us get some real glasses for the cider? It’s good stuff from AJ’s farm.”
The door behind me swung open, bumping me on the flank. Rarity leaned around me and lit up like a spotlight. “Twilight!”
Yeah, it was a good time to go and help out Rainbow Dash. “Sure thing, I’ll help out.”
Once the party got more into the swing of things, I relaxed a lot more. It was less fancy than I had expected from a party involving my elegant, fashionable marefriend. More… homely. Apparently it had been largely planned by this pink bundle of sugar that kept refilling my punch glass whenever it was even close to half-empty.
“That’s Pinkie,” Rainbow explained, leaning against the orange pony I had noted before, who apparently went by Applejack, or ‘AJ’. I logged this in my mind for future reference. I had seen the mare before, obviously, but now I had a name to put to the face.
“Pinkie, huh?” I asked. I pointed towards one of the others. “What about that one? Pretty sure I’ve seen her hang around you as well. Also a friend?”
“That’s Fluttershy,” Applejack said. “She’s a lil’ quiet but she’s a real nice pony.”
“She often goes on spa trips with Rarity. They’re good friends,” Rainbow said.
I bristled a little. Rarity didn’t go on spa trips with me. Then again, we did both keep busy schedules. I pushed the mild jealousy to one side, making an internal note to take Rarity on a trip myself. It’d be fun.
“Spike. He lives with Twilight.” Rainbow leaned in towards my ear. “He has kind of a crush on Rarity.”
I let out a small laugh, then stifled it. “Sorry. That was mean.”
“He’s a very nice sort. You ever visited the Crystal Empire?” Applejack asked me. Obviously I nodded. “They worship him as a hero there.”
“Do they now? Now you mention it, I do remember hearing something along those lines…”
Applejack shook her head, smiling. “How’d you not hear about that? It was all over the papers.”
“Spits here only cares about flying,” Rainbow said, nudging me in the ribs. I glowered at her in response. “Well, flying and Rarity I guess.”
I sighed. “I don’t just care about flying,” I retorted, but it was a pretty hollow comeback. Truth be told, Rainbow was kind of right. My life revolved around flying. It always had, ever since I was a young filly. I had been the first in my class to get my mark, so I had always been marked for greatness in the field. I had been so focussed on flying and competing that I had even grown up faster to accommodate it.
It was just who I was, I guess.
“Is she doing okay? I heard she set up a shop in Manehattan.”
“Manehattan moves real fast. I ain’t sure I could keep up if I were her!” Applejack added. “It’s like it’s second nature to her.”
I smiled to myself. That was good. When your work life was going well, it was hard to not have that satisfaction carry over to your personal life. At least, in my experience. If Rarity was doing well, then I was damn happy for her.
I felt a heavy weight hit me on my left flank, as Rarity mock-collapsed into me from the side. “Where have you been, then?” she asked, levitating a half-empty glass of wine. “I have had to drink all this by myself with no assistance from you.” She rolled her eyes. “Do you know how hard that’s been?”
I let out an unprofessional giggle. “Well we can’t have that.”
Rarity pointed at Rainbow. “And… you... said you wouldn’t let Pinkie get near anything stronger than orange juice, and look what she’s doing now!”
Rainbow groaned, and pulled away from Applejack. With a flap of her wings she soared over me to the other side of the room, and disappeared into the crowd. I wasn’t sure what Pinkie was doing now, and I didn’t want to know. Knowing meant I’d be complicit in ignoring the problem.
“Enjoying the party?” I asked Rarity.
“It’s divine, darling,” Rarity said, swirling her glass of wine. “Especially this. It’s from the Crystal Empire, apparently! Gift from Twilight’s family.”
I made a mental note. Wine: good gift.
“Uh huh.” I reached a hoof towards the glass. “May I?”
Rarity nodded. “By all means!”
I took a sip. It was always good to stay on top of the stuff the Cloudsdale socialites would find impressive. Wine was one of them. I swirled the wine around in my mouth for a second, savouring the flavour. Nice. Kind of cherry-ish.
“Pretty good.” I swallowed. “Ooh, has a nice aftertaste, doesn’t it?”
“Doesn’t it indeed!” Rarity leaned into me heavily. “Where has this been all my life?”
I smiled, and leaned back into her. She was soft and warm; the Carousel felt pretty sweaty now that there were so many ponies inside, dancing and moving and drinking.
Rarity closed her eyes briefly. “Goodness, I’m so tired.”
“That’ll be because this is your fourth glass,” I quipped, gently putting the glass down before her levitation spell failed. “No wonder you’re starting to feel a bit sleepy.”
Rarity looked up at me through squinted eyes. “I have barely had any! How rude of you, accusing a lady of… of… disorderly behaviour.”
I laughed heartily. “I take it all back then. My bad.” I glanced towards the sofa. “That said, fancy a sit down? I’ve been on my hooves all day and I’m pretty sure I can’t feel them any more.”
The party had, largely, died down by this point. It was black outside and the only ponies left in the Boutique were myself, Rarity (of course), Applejack, Rainbow, and Twilight. Me and Rarity were on the couch. I was sat up (mostly) straight, and Rarity lounged on top of me like a heavy, horned blanket.
“It’s nice to get together like this,” Twilight said. “It’s felt like ages since you’ve been able to have a party like this with all of us, Rarity.”
Rarity made a small noise indicating agreement.
I still, honestly, wasn’t sure how to behave around Twilight Sparkle. She was a princess, and therefore technically my superior, even if I also didn’t report to her due to some pretty complicated internal shenanigans set up in Cloudsdale bureaucracy. Was I supposed to be casual? Or sort of casual, but my best casual?
I considered imitating Rarity, but right now that would mean also falling mostly asleep on wine. I decided that would be a bad strategy, although I was starting to get sleepy myself.
“I think she’s out of it,” Applejack said. “Well, ‘least she looks comfortable.”
Rainbow Dash was curled up between Applejack and Twilight, not unlike a cat. She also looked asleep. I finally allowed myself to relax. At last, I could talk without worrying about Rainbow Dash gossiping to the other ‘Bolts.
“You know, it’s pretty nice to meet you all properly.” I gestured towards Applejack. “‘Specially you. Rainbow talks about you a lot.”
Applejack raised an eyebrow. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah. It’s always ‘Applejack this’ and ‘Applejack that’ whenever we’re training." I leaned in a bit. "I hear you do contests and stuff too.”
“Only now’n then.” Applejack glanced towards Rainbow Dash. “Uh, what else does she say?”
Spitfire shrugged. “Uh, normal stuff, I suppose? I’ll be honest, I only listen to her about one-third of the time.”
Twilight yawned. “Well, that’s about enough for me. I’m going home to get some sleep.” She got to her hooves. “Very nice meeting you, Spitfire. I see the Wonderbolts are in good hooves!”
I chuckled. “Yeah, well… we’ll see about that, I guess.”
“Don’t jinx it,” Applejack joked. She got to her hooves.
“You heading as well?”
“Me? I was going to get a refill of cider. Want some?”
I felt Rarity stir on top of me. Just as well. I needed to go to the bathroom.
“Where is everypony?” Rarity asked, glancing at me.
I gestured around the boutique. “Well, Twilight went home. I think you were awake for Fluttershy escorting Pinkie away. And it looks like Applejack has fallen asleep on Rainbow Dash, so that’s where they are.” I looked at Rarity’s blinking, oblivious expression. “Hey gorgeous.”
Rarity lifted herself off of me, stretching her back. “I hope I didn’t miss much.” She smiled at me. “It’s your fault for being too comfortable. You sent me straight to sleep.”
“Sorry about that. It’s the extra floof.” I rubbed my chest, ruffling the thick, double-layered hair that made up my orange coat. “Just the way I’m built.”
Rarity got to her hooves. “Well I should get a blanket for Applejack and Rainbow or they’ll catch their death of cold.” She glanced over at me. “You are, I hope, staying for the evening?”
I nodded. “That was the plan.”
“It’s a good plan. I thoroughly approve.” Rarity levitated a large, thick blanket over the two sleeping ponies on the carpet. “There. All done.” She looked back at me. “Now then.” She tilted her stance alluringly. “I expect you to treat me especially well this evening. It is my birthday after all.”
“That was the plan.”
“A good plan.”
I trotted to Rarity and extended my wing around her. “After you, ma’am.”
We both walked, leaning heavily against one another away from the main room of the boutique and up the stairs. Rarity rubbed the side of her head against my neck. It was nice.
“You looked pretty tired back there. You sure you don’t just want to go to sleep?”
“It’s my birthday and I’ll make bad decisions if I want to,” Rarity insisted with a pout. “Besides, I’ve been working especially hard all month and I want to blow off steam.”
“Oh yeah?” I escorted Rarity into her room. “You look to be on top of things, though.”
Rarity snorted. “And I expect to remain on top of things, as well.” She smirked, before her face fell slightly. “In reality I think I’ve been barely keeping things together.”
I wrapped my hoof around hers. “Well I think you’ve been doing excellently. If you were a Wonderbolt I’d be giving you a… uh…”
“A what?” Rarity asked me.
“...At least an eight.”
“At least!” She recoiled with mock dramatic effect. “You’re so harsh, captain. Was opening a store in Manehattan and Canterlot not enough for you?”
“...maybe a nine.”
Rarity giggled. “Well that’s already a bit better, isn’t it?” She sighed. “I’m not sure how you do it. It seems so hard to get ahead in this profession. Any tips for a hardworking fashionista?”
“Fashion tips?” I asked. “From me?”
“No, about… you know. You’re the world’s top flyer right now. How do you keep it going?” Rarity tilted her head forwards. “I’m curious.”
“Well… mostly I just don’t think about much else.” I swallowed. “Sorry if that sounds kind of anticlimactic.”
“Yes but, what if you also had a large number of friends you wanted to keep happy, and a younger sister to take care of, and hobbies and travel and… I don’t know, everything else?”
I hesitated. A different pony might be a bit insulted that she had implied I didn’t have friends, but… well, it was true. I had colleagues. Contacts. Only really the one friend.
“I don’t know, Rarity,” I admitted. “I’m… not sure I’d be able to balance it out.”
Rarity sighed, and rested the tip of her nose on my neck. “Well… that’s disappointing. I was hoping you’d know.” She paused for a moment. “I suppose I’ll just keep on being tired, then.”
What was this? Did Rarity honestly think I was special? I’m not a wizard. I have to balance my time and attention like everypony else. I don’t have a shortcut.
“Sorry to disappoint.”
Rarity chuckled. “Oh, you never disappoint.” She smirked. “Except perhaps in the area of botanical knowledge.”
“Is this about the cactus? You said you liked it.”
“I do. It’s very sweet. And it is technically a flower.”
“What do you mean technically?” I asked. There was a rule I knew that if you had to use the word technically when saying something, it didn’t actually count. “Do ponies not like cactuses?”
“It’s cacti. And they’re not… customary.” Rarity smirked. “I think that makes yours a little more special, though.”
I relaxed a bit. “Well, okay then.” I tilted my head. “Anyway, don’t… feel the need to rush through your career if it hurts everything else, yeah? You’ve got plenty of time to climb that ladder.”
“If I don’t hurry, how else would I compete with you?”
I winced. “I’d rather you didn’t. I’m very competitive.”
“Ho ho, think you can maintain your lead forever, do you?” Rarity joked. “Well, when I own a dozen stores across Equestria, then you’ll be sorry!”
“Oh will I?” I asked.
“Yes. Now, speaking of being on top of things…”
Rarity gave me a forceful shove backwards onto the bed with a greedy smirk. I landed heavily, exhaling rapidly. She then jumped onto the bed with me, resting on top of my chest and barrel. I felt my blood rush through me, and I could feel the heat take over the unicorn on top of me as well.
“Any requests?” Rarity asked.
“Why ask me? It’s your birthday.”
“I’ll have you know I’m the element of Generosity.” She flicked her mane back. “You’re welcome.”
I bit my lip. “Well, since you ask…”
Rarity raised her eyebrow. “It had better not be something too pedestrian.”
“Well, I can’t help but notice that you do have a unicorn horn…” I began.
Rarity’s eyebrow raised further, practically beginning to enter the stratosphere. “I do know several interesting spells, if that’s what you’re getting at. I have a spellbook in my bedside cabinet if you’re curious…”
I blushed heavily. “I, uh, was thinking of something a bit more penetrative.”
Rarity went quiet for a moment.
“Well, I’ll try anything once.”
Sunlight illuminated the Carousel Boutique’s interior, falling across Rainbow Dash’s scrunched up face. She blinked furiously, and groaned, throwing the blanket off of her.
“Ugh!” She rolled onto her side. “I feel like I’ve been sleeping on the floor.” She looked around her, and at the carpet she was sitting on. “Oh.”
I held out a cup of coffee to the sleepy pegasus. “Morning, Dash.”
Rainbow glanced up at me with bleary eyes. She rolled her neck and extended her hoof, taking the mug and sipping at it slowly. “Morning, Spits.”
“Spitfire to you.”
I leaned back into the couch. Rainbow looked to the side.
“She woke up before you and headed back to the farm. Said she had ‘chores’.”
“You looked pretty comfy on her last night though,” I said, a modest degree of teasing inserted into my tone. Rainbow went purple in response.
“Y-yeah, whatever.” She breathed out. “How was your night, Spits?”
Memories of flashing pain flooded back to me. I crossed my legs instinctively and shuddered at the recollection of the intense discomfort. “Uh… mistakes were made, but otherwise… fine.”
“Nothing that concerns you, Dash.”
Rainbow held her hooves up in defeat. “Whatever, then.” She took another sip of coffee. “Rarity still asleep?”
“Yeah. I figured I’d let her rest.”
“Yeah. She’s been pretty overworked recently.”
“I had… kinda noticed.” I scratched the back of my head. “I hadn’t thought it was a big deal, honestly. I guess I’m just used to working you guys real hard so I didn’t notice the stress getting to her.”
“Yeah, well, dresses and sewing and stuff is apparently, like, stressful.” Rainbow sipped her drink. “At least with flying you can work out and just… be good. You don’t need to think about it all the time.”
I narrowed my eyes. “The fact you don’t think about it all the time is what holds you back, Dash.”
Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Ugh, I know, I know.”
I picked up a cup of coffee of my own and took a long sip. It worried me, frankly. Rarity tried to do so much more than I did and I was too much of a workaholic to notice it get to her. “Do me a favour, Dash…”
“Take care of Rarity, yeah? She looks like she needs good friends watching her back.”
Rainbow raised her eyebrow. “She’s your marefriend. Do it yourself.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. But seriously, you should do it yourself. She really likes you.” Rainbow got to her hooves. “The more ponies watching her back, the better, right?”
I had to admit that Rainbow had a point. “You’re not wrong.”
“Then again, Rarity can take care of herself. You know she kicked a manticore in the face once?”
“She did what?” I asked, feeling an immense sense of concern overwhelm me.
“Yeah, she’s like… got this unicorn kick-fu thing going on.” Rainbow tilted her head. “You’re telling me you’ve never seen it?”
“Well it… would explain how she’s so flexible.”
“Eugh. I didn’t need to hear that, Spits.”
“Whatever.” Rainbow turned to leave. “I’ve got to go and make sure Tank has salad. I’ll be seeing you around.”
I leaned back, running my hoof through my mane. “Yeah. See you around.”
I put the mug down and rested my head against the cushions. Truth be told, I felt pretty tired myself. I hadn’t gotten much sleep.
“I should take Rarity out more often,” I muttered to myself. “That’d be good.”
Hello darling. It’s me again. I hope you haven’t missed me too much; I know that the Captain can be a little dry at times. Oh, she can use vocabulary, paint a picture with words if she wants to, but given complete freedom to say what she wants, she’d rather leave it to a short quip, a brief instruction, or sly comeback.
Today, I was standing amongst the glorious pillars and arches of Cloudsdale, bathing in the majesty of the skies. Beneath me the world opened up like an ocean, waiting for me to fall inside… which was a feeling I have already been unpleasantly acquainted with. I had told my Captain that whilst I was more than happy to stay with her during my sojourn to the grand halls of the ancient Dashington Estate, I would insist most firmly on her having a sturdy set of railings for my own peace of mind.
Even standing on firm, polished cloudstone with ample floor space around me in every direction, I felt nervous. Anxiety was ever gnawing at the very edges of my mind. If I was going to fall, I would at least prefer to do it with Rainbow Dash around… not to criticise my Captain, but Rainbow had a stronger track record of saving me. Were I still single I also wouldn’t overly mind another rescue in Thunderlane’s hooves, as a distant third choice.
The Wonderbolt Branch in Cloudsdale was not far from where I was standing… supposedly. I had never been before, and even if I had, the complex streets of the pegasus city were not designed for the ground-bound tribes below. They twisted and turned and rose and fell in all dimensions at once, with bridges connecting the distant blocks. Some were impossible to reach aside from one specific direction, and some were entirely inaccessible. Cloudsdale had only recently renovated to allow for other tribes to visit easily, and not every block had moved with the times.
I struggled to use my magic to drag my luggage with me. Spitfire had told me she only had a small amount of space in her apartment, and to only bring the essentials, and I had done so. I only had a selection of two dozen dresses and hats for the three most crucial occasions (those being an emergency wedding, an emergency coronation, and if El Fabuloso the Grand had been sighted within twenty miles), my bare-bones cosmetics kit, a set of horseshoes, a replacement set of horseshoes, and an alternative replacement set of horseshoes in case the winds of fashion changed abruptly, and only the mist minimalistic of entertainment options, that being six books I was in the process of reading. Oh, and a bottle of wine for the Captain. Magnum bottle, obviously, since Rainbow Dash was somewhere on this hemisphere and you can never be too careful.
The temperature this high up was somewhat frigid. I felt able to acknowledge this without feeling its effects, since I was exerting myself carrying my things. I hoped Spitfire had plenty of blankets.
“Excuse me!” I exclaimed, trying to attract the attention of a passer-by. “I’m looking for the Wonderbolts Headquarters in Cloudsdale?”
A tall, somewhat stubbly pegasus gestured roughly north. “Follow this path and then go through the casino… that’s through the casino, not around… and then there’s a bridge that’ll lead you to Wonder Square. Take the stairs down…”
Down? Ah yes. Three dimensions. Of course, how could I forget.
I did my best to commit the directions to memory, and carried on. The novelty of the grandiose city was beginning to get lost on me. I had already been suitably amazed for half an hour since I arrived by balloon… why they couldn’t take me directly to the Headquarters was beyond me.
I winced as my suitcase got caught on a small crack in the cloudstone slabs.
“Oh, by Celestia’s shiny…”
The voice triggered some memories inside my head. It was soft and somewhat plain. I turned and looked up. “Mister Soarin?”
The Wonderbolt swooped down and landed next to me. I had been saved. The universe had, in my time of greatest need, sent me a strong stallion to carry my bags, just as I knew it would if. The universe was, I always said, a gentlecolt, but only if you treated it right.
“I’m glad you’re here!” I told him. “I’m trying to get to Wonderbolts Headquarters.”
Soarin glanced at me, and then at my bags. “Um, yeah. I actually work there.”
“Really?” I said, trying my best to be nice and polite, but accidentally slipping down into the rabbit-hole of sarcasm. “I would appreciate some directions.”
“Do you… need a helping hoof?” Soarin asked.
“Oh, what a gentlecolt!” I said, and levitated the handle of my luggage to Soarin. “Such a darling. Lead on!”
It was probably for the best that I had bumped into Soarin; the way to Spitfire’s office was long and winding, with stairs to follow. It took ten minutes at a brisk trot before we saw the elaborate statues of ancient Wonderbolts displaying the large, monolithic structure ahead as being the centre of all Wonderbolt activity in Cloudsdale and beyond.
“You know, you’re kind of not what I expected,” Soarin said as we approached the grand double-doors. “When the Captain said she had found a partner.”
“Oh?” I asked, curious.
“Yeah. You seem, uh…” Soarin stopped, pondering his choice of words. “I want to say, ‘classy’, but that sounds mean to the Captain…”
“Well, you’re not wrong,” I replied. “Perhaps you thought she might be more interested in somepony more down-to-earth?”
I instantly regretted my choice of words. Just mentioning the term ‘down-to-earth’ brought to mind mental scenarios of Applejack somehow coming between me and yet another romantic interest. I reminded myself that Applejack would never do something like that to me... but the old embarrassment never truly left me. I dispelled the old insecurities. Besides, I was fairly sure Applejack was straight.
“Down-to-earth isn’t really what I’d describe either…” Soarin went on.
“Well, there must be a suitable adjective somewhere in the thesaurus,” I commented. “When you find out what it is, be sure to let me know.”
Soarin chuckled to himself. “Yeah, will do, ma’am.”
I rolled my eyes. “Not you too,” I groaned. “Please, a lady should only suffer to be called ma’am if she is either in a uniform, or over the age of forty five, and I am neither.” I snorted. “I’m convinced Spitfire does it just to get on my nerves.”
“She would do that, too,” Soarin said. He put my luggage down by the door. “We can leave this here. The Captain should be, uh, introducing the new recruits to their roles.”
“Is Rainbow Dash here?”
“Flying a routine. She’s working late because Spitfire caught her napping.”
“Oh, well, I shan’t disturb her then.”
As much as I would have liked to butt in and say hello to my friend, Spitfire would moan about it for hours if I did.
I trotted through the corridors, several of the Wonderbolt staff nodding to me as I went. I felt a little like a celebrity of sorts… everypony seemed to know who I was instinctively. I confess I enjoyed the attention. I see gossip was alive and well amongst the Wonderbolts.
“...And if I see any of your sorry flanks slacking, I’ll introduce you to Rainbow Dash! You can help her practice her routine until nightfall!”
Spitfire’s lungs were as healthy as ever, I heard. Despite having been in a relationship with her for close to a year now, I hadn’t ever really heard her at work. I resolved to creep closer so I could watch her without distracting her.
Spitfire was outside, where there was a large open space. A single landing strip separated the wide space, upon which a dozen pegasi, all wearing sleek uniforms were standing. One of them was wearing a pair of delightful shades… perpetually out of season, but always appropriate for the outdoors. The uniform, I admit, does not do as much for me as perhaps the elegant, sleek, tight-fitting flying uniforms that a Wonderbolt wears during exercises, but there is an air of authority inherent to the folds and dark navy blue of a commander’s uniform. Of course I refer to Captain Spitfire herself, who was standing separate from the other pegasi, pacing back and forth in front of them.
“Get in the air!” she shouted.
At once, the other pegasi all lurched upwards. I detected a certain lack of elegance in their movements, something just a little in need of refining. Perhaps I had spent too long alongside Rainbow Dash and Spitfire to not expect the same level of fluid, seamless motion.
“Joyride! You’re stiff!” Spitfire bellowed. I found myself tensing up without thinking. I had never been around Spitfire when she was this commanding, and I was surprised.
I waited a while for Spitfire to finish her exercise. After ten or so minutes which I spent leaning against the low wall over the runway, Spitfire’s eye was cast in my direction. Even from this distance I detected a flash of brighter red across her cheeks. She was embarrassed.
“G-get down here!” she ordered, a delightful, cute stammer butchering her otherwise authoritative statement. I giggled knowing that I was the cause, although I really oughtn’t have. I trotted towards my partner, sensing she was just wrapping up.
“Joyride, you need to limber up more before you fly. You were falling through the clouds like a plank of wood,” Spitfire grumbled. “And Gale…”
I stopped just on the runway, a small distance away. Spitfire harrumphed, flustered.
“...just hit the showers.”
The trainee Wonderbolts trotted… or, in the case of one unfortunate pegasus, staggered… past me. One of the girls looked at Spitfire, and then myself, and let out a low whistle. I put on a show of ignoring it.
“Hey there, Rarity,” Spitfire said, walking up towards me. “You’re early.”
“A lady is always punctual,” I countered, and pecked Spitfire on the cheek before leaning in conspiratorially. “You never told me you could shout like that.”
Spitfire tensed, going redder by the second. “I… yeah, well, you know, shouting and blowing my whistle is sort of, uh, the job…”
“Have you been hiding this talent from me?” I asked coyly. “Rainbow always said you were strict but I had assumed she was exaggerating.”
“I’m not strict. I’m just… firm.”
“I’ll say. You must show me later.”
Spitfire spluttered. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea…”
I leaned in towards her ear. “I insist,” I whispered with a smile. I do so enjoy it when Captain Spitfire gets flustered. Before Spitfire could transition from a healthy orange to a bright tomato red, I leaned away and clapped my hooves together. “So then! This is Cloudsdale!”
“Yes,” Spitfire said, and coughed, resuming her usual composure. “I hope you’ve enjoyed it so far?”
“It’s been appalling! Non-pegasus access is ridiculous, darling, and the streets are in dire need of improved signage. It is, however, an absolute work of art, if I say so myself.”
“Cloudsdale has been trying to be more open,” Spitfire said. She sighed, and looked out towards the horizon. “Today’s been a day. I’m in pretty dire need of getting rescued, honestly. Shall we get going?”
I wrapped my hoof around Spitfire’s. “About time, I’d say. You know, I have invitations to Lady Dashington’s Extravagant Extraordinaire, and I’m sure the guests would be enthralled to see the Captain of the most famous flying team in Equestria attend.”
Spitfire smirked. “Making connections as usual, then?”
“I intend to do some modest mingling,” I replied. “I hear that we’re leaving Rainbow Dash behind?”
“Yup. Lazy piece of work has got to get her routine finished before dawn.”
“Shall we at least let her know where we’re headed in case she gets it memorized early?”
Spitfire groaned. “I’m not really sure…”
“Oh, please. I brought a magnum bottle expecting her to be there. I can’t possibly drink it all myself.”
Spitfire groaned louder. “I told you to only bring the essentials!”
“I did. You’ll see, you’ll be proud of how utterly unequipped I am,” I promised.
We reached the exit to the building, and I gestured towards my luggage. It was tiny, I swear, only twice the size of Spitfire herself. I’ve no idea why she was complaining.
“Rarity…” she began.
A pegasus approached Spitfire from behind. He was tall, muscular, and had a very charismatic moustache. I'd say somewhere around his forties? “Captain… Fire Streak has left some of his things behind. Do you have his address in Fillydelphia so we can send them to him?” The stallion then glanced my way. “Oh, apologies. Didn’t realise you were with the lady.”
Spitfire grumbled. “Y-yes, this is Rarity. She’s my… um, lady, as you say.”
“A pleasure,” I began, offering my hoof to the stallion. “I insist you take good care of my Captain, darling.”
“Will do, miss. I’m Tight Ship.” He shook my hoof.
Spitfire sighed. I don’t know why I derived such perverse pleasure from putting her on the spot. Spitfire typically oozed confidence in an… intoxicating manner. It made the moments when she seemed unsure all the sweeter.
“Right, right, yes.” Spitfire scratched her head. “I know his address, sure. Just… I’ll give it to you tomorrow, okay? It’s written in my office and I need to take care of Rarity.”
“Oh don’t feel the need to hurry on my account,” I said, basking in the attention the other pegasi were offering me. “You do what you need to do.”
Spitfire hung her head for a moment before stiffening, resigned to taking charge. “Right. Wait here, Rarity. Tight Ship, I’ll be back shortly.” Spitfire flashed me a sinister glare as she walked away. “Don’t… don’t do anything I wouldn’t.”
I waved at Spitfire as she left, smiling broadly. Tight Ship glanced my way.
“Does the Captain not trust you or something?”
I chuckled. “Oh, certainly not.” I turned towards Tight Ship. “You must tell me everything about Spitfire, quickly. Before she gets back!” I danced a little on the spot. “I must hear all the gossip.”
Tight Ship gave me a cautious look. “Um… there’s not much to say?”
“Ha! I don’t believe that for a second.”
“Ma’am, if I gossip about the captain behind her back, she’ll tan my hide.” Tight Ship stood up straight. “I can’t…”
“I can!” Soarin trotted down the corridor. “I know lots of stuff about Spitfire! And she’ll never get rid of me. I'm a crucial element of the team.”
“Only because you’re like a fungus, Soarin!” Tight countered. “You grow on people! And stick!”
“Yup.” Soarin smiled. “Truth be told, though, the Captain usually keeps a tight lid on rumours. Ever since the magazine Fashion Foals posted an article about you and her, she’s been kinda lying low.”
“Does she not like the attention?”
“No, she’s fine with attention. I just don’t think she likes other ponies knowing she has, you know. Interests. In ponies.”
Tight Ship grumbled. “It don’t help that there are some elements in Cloudsdale that don’t all approve of that sort of thing.”
Soarin glanced at Tight Ship, his expression darkening for a second. Tight Ship sighed.
“I weren’t supposed to say that, was I?”
“No. We don’t talk about that,” Soarin muttered. He gloomily clicked his tongue, resigned to having to explain it to me anyway.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Traditionalists. Some of them think that a flyer like Spitfire should be, uh… with a pegasus. You know, strengthen the old bloodline and stuff like that. Old-fashioned silly stuff.” Soarin shrugged apologetically. “Sorry. Cloudsdale is pretty isolated from a lot of progress that happens down on the ground, and the old guard like to keep it that way. But Spitfire has it handled.”
“I had no idea that I was… controversial,” I said. “I’d feel a little excited if I wasn’t, well, a little concerned for Spitfire. Will she be all right?”
“Like I said, the Captain has it handled. It’s not her I’m worried about…”
“Who’s worrying?” Spitfire asked.
All three of us jumped. Spitfire looked between us, and exhaled. “You’re all trying my patience. Especially you, ma’am.”
“No-o-o, don’t call me that!” I whined as Spitfire dragged me away like a misbehaving toddler. “You know I hate it! It makes me sound old!” I let my partner pull me away from the other pegasi. "A whole year I've put up with this barbarism!"
Spitfire grabbed my luggage in one hoof, threw a note to Tight Ship with the other, and wrapped her wing around me, pulling me away. “You are old. An old, devious trickster!” She turned back to Soarin and Tight Ship. “Don’t listen to her honeyed words! She’ll convince you of anything!”
“Convinced you all right, Captain,” Soarin quipped.
“I’ll have you do laps tomorrow, Soarin, mark my words…”
Some of the onlookers giggled. Spitfire rolled her eyes and escorted me out of the building.
“They didn’t say anything… too compromising, I hope.”
“Only some gossip about you and myself,” I replied. We stepped out into the outside, the sun beginning to hang low in the horizon. “They said you had it under control, though.”
“Right. Yeah, I do. Nothing else?”
“Nothing to do with a skipping rope, my admittance to the Wonderbolts party, and a bucket of cider?”
“Definitely not, but I wish I heard that story.”
“If I have my way, you never will.”
I groaned. “You’re so boring sometimes, darling.”
“You wouldn’t say that if you knew the story!” Spitfire quipped. She tugged at the heavy luggage. “I’m not sure I have enough space in my flat for this.”
“Well, it only has to last long enough for me to finish my business here and then return off to Ponyville. You’d like that? Then you can come visit again like you used to.” I pouted. “It’s been lonely over there recently. You’ve been busy.”
“Sorry about that. Fire Streak quit.”
“Is that a big deal?”
“Kinda. He was my teacher. And… well, it was kind of my fault he’s gone, so it’s my mess to clean up.”
“Oh.” I sensed I had trodden on a rare nerve that I didn’t want to prod. “Are you all right?”
“You’re always fine,” I retorted. “I want to know if you’re all right.”
Spitfire looked around at the crowd of pegasi milling about, minding their own business. A few looked her way… taking in the athletic, beautiful pegasus athlete in full Wonderbolt uniform. She shook her head.
“I’ll tell you later. I just want to get home with you right now.” Spitfire smiled at me and leaned closer.
“Am I even allowed to kiss you in public?” I asked, toying with her. “I hear I’m something of a controversial partner for the leader of the Wonderbolts.”
“I have it under control. Nopony owns me but you.”
“Oh, that was a cheesy one,” I said, and let Spitfire kiss me on the nose.
“I practiced that line in front of the mirror all week. Hope you liked it.”
“I do. Come on, I want to see what a Wonderbolt Captain’s apartment looks like.”
Spitfire stood in her modest studio apartment, looking around herself. There was a small space for cooking… only room for a measly two pans. A sink that could barely contain a single mug at a time, and a cupboard that, if I wasn’t mistaken, only contained two plates, two bowls, and one clear glass cup.
The desk was the only thing in the room that held anything resembling decoration, but unfortunately said decoration was a blanket of papers, diagrams, and flying routines. I had seen some of them before when Spitfire brought them over to the Boutique. A year later and she still had the nerve to work before, after, and on one occasion I was not happy about, during our romantic meetings.
“What’s wrong with my place?”
“Well, I knew you were a very practical mare, it’s just… well, there aren’t even any pictures!” I strode throughout the room, which was difficult considering the lack of space. “This won’t do. I’ll have decorations sent within the month.”
Spitfire rubbed her forehead. “It’s fine, I’m used to it being pretty empty…”
“Only because you never have anypony over!” I pointed at the bed. “What is this?”
“It’s my bed.”
“It is a single bed. For single ponies. Where am I supposed to go?”
“I thought we could cuddle?”
“We’ll practically be inside one another if we sleep together in that. Which… well we certainly wouldn’t be able to keep that up all night.”
“We could try.”
“All week? I’m as enthusiastic as you are, but let’s be realistic.”
“... I told you there wasn’t a lot of space. I can’t get a double bed because then I wouldn’t have room to do my stretches and morning workout…”
“Why insist on living in a tiny flat, then?”
“It’s close to work. And also to my favourite bar.” Spitfire took me by the hoof. “And also this.”
She drew back the curtains and pulled me to the window. My breath escaped me.
There were two sides to Cloudsdale; skyside and earthside. One would often assume that skyside was the more coveted of the two, but this was a wrong assumption. There wasn’t much in the sky. Just a lot of blue. No clouds, either; those were all beneath you.
Earthside was the true treasure. Mountains and fields and cities, all lying in the multicoloured shadow of rainbows and clouds and snowflakes. A kaleidoscope of rays danced through the air, showering the ever-changing landscape below in a myriad of hues.
“I always wanted an earthside view,” Spitfire said. “It’s one of the only precious things about this district.”
“Yes, it is. It never really gets old.” Spitfire smiled, peering through the window and down at Equestria. “I grew up skyside.”
“So did Rainbow Dash, I think.”
“Only early on. Her family live in an earthside place now. It’s even got a little farm.” Spitfire breathed out. “Skysiders often never leave the factories. Even the middle districts have job mobility.”
“What about your family?”
“Mother left Cloudsdale for a place with more opportunity. I send her money now and then.” The pegasus captain adjusted herself to be more comfortable, leaning her weight against the handle of the window. “It’s another barrier to me getting a better place, but it’s fine. I’ve got all I need.”
I tore my eyes away from the opulent view and towards my partner. She seemed pensive. Of course, she always seemed a little pensive… like there was always something she was focussing on behind her eyes.
“You mentioned trouble with Fire Streak?”
“Not trouble-trouble,” Spitfire explained, going to sit on her bed. “He’s getting old and decided to go teach aerobatics in Fillydelphia. He might have made captain if I hadn’t tore my way through the ranks, so that already makes me feel a bit guilty. Still, he’d have stayed if I had made different calls.”
“Which calls?” I asked, sitting down next to Spitfire.
“I’ve been trying to retrain the Bolts to be more… rescue oriented. You know this; I think I told you way back when, when we first started going out.”
“It’s not been easy. The Wonderbolts have already transitioned from being elite scouts and messengers for the EUP to being a mostly sports and competition team. Now I want to change it again. Fire Streak said he was too old to learn new tricks, and said he was leaving.” Spitfire, in a rare moment of vulnerability, rested her head against my shoulder. “I didn’t expect that I’d drive my Bolts away.”
“You’ve not talked to the other Wonderbolts about this?”
“No.” Spitfire breathed out onto my side. “I just want to make the right calls. What if more of them quit? Or can’t transition? Just because I wanted to make a difference.”
I nuzzled my partner’s mane. “You should talk to Rainbow Dash.”
“Dash? You sure she’s ready for this kind of stuff?”
“She’s got a way with ponies. She’ll help you inspire them when you can’t, I’m sure of it.”
“I’ll… bring it up, I guess. She has been doing good work… when she puts the effort in. She’s reckless, though. And sometimes doesn’t think.”
“I think that you think too much, darling.” I flashed Spitfire a smile. “You’ll be an unstoppable team, I promise.”
For a moment Spitfire rested her head on me, and I adjusted myself to support her better. Spitfire looked… tired. I had seen her tired before, late at night or after a long trip, but at that moment she seemed exhausted. Her eyes were slightly open, and as she relaxed I could see lines begin to appear around her eyes. I sucked in air through my teeth, unhappy. She had been pushing herself too hard. I had seen similar symptoms in Applejack whenever she tried doing something she was unable to do.
“Do you want a rest before we head to the Extravagant Extraordinaire? A nap, perhaps?”
Spitfire nodded. “Sounds good.”
“Shall I make some food?” It wasn’t a question. I moved to go and examine what passed for a kitchen in this small apartment.
“Aw, but I wanted to sleep next to you,” Spitfire whined. I detected that she was being coy.
“We need to have something to eat before we leave. And for once, I’m here to take care of you.” I opened her cupboard. “Well, at least you’re well stocked.”
“Got to eat well to be a ‘Bolt.”
“Tell that to Rainbow,” I muttered. I glanced down at the cooking… apparatus. It was different from what I was used to. It looked more like a series of wires than a fire cooker. “How does this work?”
“Electricity. We use a power plant.” Spitfire rolled to her hooves. “Here, let me show you…”
“No, no, you’re having a rest. You look like a zombie.” I gave Spitfire a small shove back towards the bed. “If you go to the Extraordinaire like that you’ll give poor lady Dashington a heart attack.”
Spitfire tilted her head and examined me with an exasperated air. “Flick the switch, and hold that knob down. Once you see lightning, stop, and put the pan on the top.”
I followed her instructions. It worked! “Excellent. Oh, and for the Extraordinaire… would you prefer to wear blue, azure, sapphire, or sky?”
“To Dashington’s Extraordinaire? Sapphire.”
“Good choice.” I waved my hoof around. “I have a selection of dresses for you to try on.”
“...I told you, only the essentials.”
“This is essential! It’s the Extraordinaire, darling!”
“Just put them on me whilst I sleep…”
“Perfect. I do like a compliant mannequin.” I cracked an egg over the counter. “An omelette will do, I hope?”
I didn’t hear a response. I turned back to look at Spitfire, who was lying in much the same position I had last seen her, except noticeably quieter, and with softer breathing. Thoroughly asleep.
I poured the contents of the egg I had cracked into a bowl, and moved over to Spitfire. I ran a hoof through her mane gently so as not to disturb her. She was usually hard and stiff when awake, but now felt soft and limp.
“My big silly Wonderbolt,” I muttered, and went back to cooking. I had around three hours before the Extraordinaire started. Plenty of time for Spitfire to get her rest, for me to get some well-earned dinner, and for both of us to get ready for our latest date.
Mingling is an art that, like all things ponies get wrong, needs to be practiced. The point of these sorts of events are connections, and as a mare who now owns a few boutiques throughout Equestria, connections are important. I want to know where the opportunities are, what the interest is, and where the pitfalls lie.
It can be hard to mingle amongst the upper crust of Equestria with my usual gaggle of friends. Even Twilight, who one would hope would have gotten a bit better at it after her ascension to Princessdom, is still prone to bouts of awkwardness and faux-pas. Not so when I’m with my Captain.
Spitfire is, if anything, better at it than me. I am the sort that gets what I want through selective flattery, cajoling and diplomacy. Spitfire seems to achieve the same thing through confidence, magnetism, and a cavalier attitude.
I had spent twenty minutes fixing her up to be appropriately gorgeous for the soiree. It hadn’t been hard. She is svelte and athletic, and most things look good on her. I knew already that she’d need a blue to complement her fiery colours, something rich and eye-catching. The sapphire dress, adorned with tasteful jewels around the shoulder area was perfect. I flattened her mane a bit as well, and it draped across her right eye like a curtain peeling away from a stage.
“You look pretty good,” she said to me, her wing gingerly carrying me forwards through the crowd so as not to upset my own dress. “You know, attracting attention at these things has never been easier now you’re around.”
“That’s what happens when you get an artist to handle your appearance, darling,” I said. “If ponies are interested in my expertise in fashion, then you can be my finest advertisement.”
“An advertisement, am I?” Spitfire commented with a humorous tone of voice. “I suppose I am pretty attractive.”
Myself and Spitfire gazed out into the main hall. Dozens of exquisitely dressed pegasi and a small handful of foreign races milled about on the ornate, jeweled floor of the Dashington Estate.
“See anyone important, darling?” I asked.
Spitfire nodded. “That's Gerald. Griffon flyer, manages a pretty impressive long-distance team. I’ve been trying to arrange a meeting with him for months.” She then gestured to the left, towards the buffet. “Bullet Point. Paparazzi. I don’t like him, but he writes good articles. Wins awards, even. It’d be a big deal if I managed to get him to write about the Wonderbolts reforming.”
“Very interesting. I have a few as well.” I gestured towards a gaggle of mares by a massive pillar. “See the mare with the, ah, adventurous mane accessories?”
“That’s a mane?”
“It was at one point. That’s Madame Magnifique. She owns a series of declining emporiums in Cloudsdale and Las Pegasus. Not surprising, considering her backwards taste…”
“Ouch. I’m glad she didn’t hear that one.”
“Well, what do you want me to say? Her mane looks like a stuffed goose. It’s practically griffonian cuisine.” I shook my head. “Anyway. Lady Dashington, of course, is also very important, and I could use her favour to ease my way into the Cloudsdale sphere, but I hear she's somewhat stern, and I'd consider it a long shot.”
“I see.” Spitfire looked around the room. “Want to switch things up?”
“You take Madame Magnifique, I deal with Bullet Point?” I asked. We had performed this manoeuvre before, in Canterlot.
“Works for me. Scout out the buffet for me.”
“Very well. Just make sure you butter the Madame up properly before the dance. This is still a date, darling.”
Spitfire gave me a kiss on the cheek and trotted away towards Madame Magnifique, flashing me a cocky smile on her way. “It’s a promise.”
I took a moment to watch her leave. The view was always nice, but having worked on it myself this evening, it was especially exquisite this time around. I know, gazing luridly at another pony is very unladylike, but please. If one’s romantic partner can’t be the object of a lurid gaze now and then, what even is the point of them?
I trotted over to Bullet Point, who was observing the ball as if it were the scene in a play, and he were the critic. I stepped towards him with an affable air.
“I’m sorry, but you are the journalist Bullet Point, correct?” I asked.
The stallion turned to me and nodded. “That’s right. You’re Miss Rarity of Ponyville. A pleasure. Your reputation precedes you.”
“I hope not too much!” I levitated a miniature soufflé from the table. “Are you here on business or pleasure?”
“Mostly business, but the canapes are pleasure,” Bullet said. “Yourself?”
“Pleasure, but talking to my peers in the fashion industry is always business,” I quipped. “I’m actually here with my partner, Spitfire, but I seem to have been separated.” I made a show of peering through the crowd. “Oh, there she is. I see she’s found Madame Magnifique.”
“Business partner?” Bullet asked.
“No, not like that,” I corrected. I was sure that Bullet already knew that me and Spitfire were an item, but that he didn’t want to seem indiscreet. I would allow him this illusion. “I need to get her out of the flying arena now and then or she’ll go mad. She takes it all very seriously.” I put my hoof on my chest. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t go showing my marefriend off to everyone I meet.”
“No, please go on. It’s interesting to get a perspective on the mysterious Captain of the Wonderbolts that isn’t from athletes and paying sponsors.”
Good, so he was listening.
The manoeuvre was a good one. Obviously one doesn’t want to seem blunt when inserting oneself into a discussion, so instead it’s an easy strategy to deploy the marefriend or coltfriend in advance, draw the target’s attention that way, and then show them off a bit. Nothing too serious, just enough to get a good conversation flowing naturally.
“She’s been trying… very hard, I might add… to reform the Wonderbolts from being a purely competitive team into something that benefits all of Equestria. It’s quite admirable, but I wish she spent more time taking care of herself sometimes.”
Bullet took a sip of wine. “I heard. I don’t want to seem rude, but I doubt she’ll succeed.” He gestured around him. “There are a lot of old families in Cloudsdale. The Dashingtons are one of them, in fact. It’s important to them for Cloudsale to seem independent and powerful, and they won’t want to give up their greatest symbol of power just so she can play rescuer.” He glanced at me, peering at me with a somewhat playful look in his eyes. “They wouldn’t like you.”
I sensed in Bullet a kindred spirit, one addicted to the thrill of gossip and conjecture. “Ooh, really?” I leaned against the table. “Sounds like gossip I’m interested in.”
“You sure? It might not be pleasant.”
“Please. I’m a little tougher than my well-kept appearance might suggest.”
Bullet Point smiled. “Suit yourself.” He breathed in. “Don’t get me wrong, they won’t disapprove of you personally. You’re distinguished, ambitious, and refined. They don’t even disapprove of your interest in mares, or that you’re a unicorn.” He sighed. “They just don’t want to lose Captain Spitfire, or the bloodline that made her. They can be very protective of bloodlines, these old families. It probably stings that somepony as intensely successful as Spitfire is, in their mind, throwing all that talk of bloodlines to be with a unicorn and a mare. No little Spitfire junior to wow the future generations, and even if there was one, chances are they wouldn’t be in Cloudsdale.” He smiled. “I’m afraid you’re the worst possible pony for Spitfire to fall for.”
“You seem rather relaxed about it all, though,” I noted.
“Sure. I think it’s a good story, you and Spitfire. Romantic. Two ambitious mares finding each other, and so on. I love a good story. And I’ve never liked the old guard, repeating the same old stories from generations ago.”
“Know anything about the Dashingtons? Any, ah, how would Applejack say this… ‘dirt’?”
Bullet shrugged. “A little. They’re somewhat secretive. Had a scandal a while ago when I was still an intern. Her third son eloped with a skysider.” Bullet took a sip of wine. “Tame stuff by today’s standards, but I remember it causing a fuss amongst the old guard back in the day. I hated reporting back then. All tabloid scandals about the big old names in Cloudsdale.”
“Well, you seem to have risen above it quite well, if the rumours are to be believed.”
“No thanks to the Dashingtons.” Bullet rolled his eyes. “Sorry, sorry. I shouldn’t be whining about our host. It’s just frustrating seeing the old families hold Cloudsdale back.”
“It’s a shame, isn’t it?” I said, switching tactics. “Especially as Equestria is opening its borders more and more.”
Bullet Point acquiesced. “That’s true enough, madam. Times are changing. Ponies are already talking about the newest Princess, and what she’s been doing for Equestria. Old Cloudsdale isolationism might well be a thing of the past.”
“Well, I don’t know about all that,” I lied. “You’d have to talk to Spitfire about it. She’s so much more knowledgeable than me about this sort of thing…” I waved my hoof over at Spitfire. “Darling? Could I borrow you for a second?”
Spitfire held her hoof up and made a gesture with her wing. I turned back to Bullet. “Looks like I need to take over talking to the Madame. I’ll swap with Spitfire; you’ll have a lot to talk about, I’m sure.”
Both myself and Spitfire switched places. On our way past one another, Spitfire winked.
“She’s pretty keen to get a modern view on fashion,” Spitfire said.
“I should hope so. Thank you for your hard work, darling.”
I approached the gaggle of mares, smiling broadly. “I hope my partner hasn’t been telling stories about me?” I joked.
As ponies began to converge on the centre of the room, I reunited with Spitfire. I leaned in to whisper in her ear as mares and stallions partnered up.
“Some. Maybe I was wrong about Bullet. He seems pretty okay when he’s not criticising Wonderbolt policy.” Spitfire turned to me. “Yourself?”
“Not as fortunate as I wanted. Madame Magnifique wanted me to join her own emporium as a consultant. At least I know I can probably oust at least one of her little shops, though.”
“Brutal as always, I see.”
“Well, honestly. Somepony needs to fix that disaster.”
Spitfire chuckled as ponies all gathered in a circle. She glanced around. We were the only mare and mare duo in the room currently. We were also the only pegasus and non-pegasus pairing. I glanced towards the mare overseeing the event from an indoor balcony. Lady Dashington. She seemed ancient, but just as authoritative, if not more so, as Spitfire herself. She eyed me with mild distaste.
“Something wrong?” Spitfire asked me.
We began to circle one another, hooves on each other’s backs. I let Spitfire lead. I’m all for switching up gender stereotypes, but personally I prefer to be treated as a lady.
“Perhaps all this talk of ‘old Cloudsdale’ and things has me a little on edge,” I admitted. “Are you sure I’m not… a problem? We are the only two mares dancing.”
Spitfire twirled me around, and I felt the folds of my dress billow around me. “We’re hardly the only non-standard ponies here. Pretty sure Lady Cumulus is gay. I have a feeling about Bullet, as well.”
I recalled my blunder with Fancy Pants, before I had started going out with Spitfire. “I wish I could tell as easily,” I said.
Spitfire giggled. “That’s why it’s called a gaydar, not a bidar, Rarity.” She pushed into me, and I leaned back in response, all in time to the elegant music in the background. “I’m fine. Trust me, I’ve got everything under control. Dashington doesn’t scare me.”
“She scares me a little. Look at that scowl.”
Spitfire’s wings caught me as I let myself fall off-balance. “Let’s not talk about the Dashingtons.”
I sighed, recalling how tired Spitfire had been earlier. “I’m only trying to be practical for you, darling. I know how much your work means to you…”
“Practical is for Wonderbolts business. You’re not a part of that.” Spitfire smiled. “If the Dashingtons, or the Cumulos, or the Hurricanes want to take on the Wonderbolts, they’re free to give it a shot, but they can’t stop me from loving you.”
I nearly tripped, my footing out of time. My heart, certainly, had skipped more than a few beats, and my dancing tempo had become similarly haphazard.
“You what?” I gasped, off-balance. “Oh!”
I would have toppled, had Spitfire not reached out a wing to stop me from falling.
“Finally caught you.” She grinned, and I felt her hot breath caress my cheek as she pulled me closer. “Took me years, but I’ve finally done it.”
I spluttered, still reeling from Spitfire’s admission. I noted her sly smirk and gleaming eyes, and narrowed my own.
“You did that on purpose,” I accused.
“Maybe, but it’s also true.” Spitfire brushed against my nose as the dance ended. “Is that a problem?”
“Of course not! But honestly! Taking me by surprise like that. I nearly fell!” I gave her a playful shove. “You could have embarrassed me in front of everypony.”
“Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.” Spitfire rested her lips against my forehead gingerly. “You’re very cute when you’re flustered.”
We held each other for a moment or two. I began to splutter.
“Oh, sorry!” I exclaimed. “I forgot to say I love you too.” I pulled away quickly. “I mean, I meant to have flowers or wine or… something for this, but you put me on the spot and—”
“I know I did.”
“I could have had a violin quartet or something prepared. Or octet! I had plans and… things.” I felt myself soften. “They were very good plans too, which is why I was waiting to say I love you. So much, in fact.” I rubbed my forehead, feeling a little light-headed. "I've made a mess of things."
“It’ll all be fine.” She gestured subtly towards a small crowd that was watching us. “Looks like we’ve drawn a crowd.”
I glanced at the admiring expressions of our fellow dancers, and the pursed lips of Lady Dashington. “It looks like we have.” I sighed. “I suppose I won’t be getting Dashington’s support this evening.”
“Probably not, no. Sorry about that.”
“No need to apologise. This is the happiest I’ve been in years!” I pulled Spitfire away from the dance floor. “I don’t think my legs will carry me much longer. They feel all wobbly.”
“Hah, looks like it.”
We stepped away from the crowd, falling away from the centre of attention. I tried to gather my bearings, and regain some lost authority. Spitfire had completely destabilised me, thrown me off, and flustered my every sense.
“I… we should still work on you getting a chat with that griffon. Gerald, you said he was called.” I levitated a glass of wine from a tray and downed it. I refused to act like an embarrassing schoolfilly swooning in proximity of her crush. I was more dignified than that. “We have work to do.”
“Possibly,” Spitfire said. “Shall we get to it?”
The long walk home was made bearable by having a strong wing wrap around my middle. Spitfire caught me shivering due to the icy temperatures of high altitude and tutted.
“All those ‘essentials’ and you didn’t bring a scarf.”
“It’s not scarf season.”
We rounded a corner in the darkness, the streets lit up by electric lights glowing a pale green. From the shadows emerged a familiar small figure, wings flared.
“I finished your dumb routine,” Rainbow Dash grumbled, and glanced towards me. “Had fun at the, uh… was this a gala, a soiree, or a party?”
“An Extraordinare at the Dashington estate, actually.”
“Hmm? Pfft, just as well I couldn’t go then.” Rainbow flicked her mane as she joined us in walking towards Spitfire’s flat. “They wouldn’t like me.”
Spitfire grinned. “They barely like me.” She nudged me in the side. “They were quite taken with this one, though.”
“Oh, stop. I’m in dire need of wine and all this talk is slowing us down.” I sighed. “And I have meetings tomorrow, the day after, and the day after that. It’ll be nightmarish.”
“You should go easy on the wine then,” Rainbow said. “You know, I could take it off your hooves…”
“I bet you could,” Spitfire retorted. “I have a feeling that won’t happen, though.”
“Shame.” Rainbow trotted ahead, wings flaring. “Come on, slowpokes. I expected at least Spitfire to be faster than this. If it were just me and AJ we’d be home already.”
The corners of Spitfire’s mouth raised a little as Rainbow danced ahead of them. “She talks about Applejack a lot, doesn’t she?”
“Hmm? Well, they are rather close,” I said.
“Closer than you think, I reckon.”
I glanced at Rainbow, and then back at Spitfire. “Don’t be silly. Applejack isn’t interested.”
Spitfire spluttered like an engine failing to start, then laughed. Her voice was rich and pleasant, vastly different from how tired she had seemed earlier that day, or when talking about Fire Streak. She sounded like gold. “Wow, you really are bad at telling, aren’t you?”
“I am… what? I’m not bad at anything!” I stuck my nose in the air. “You’re being silly. I’ve known Applejack for years.”
“Sure you have. I bet you’ve seen her with tons of stallions.”
“Well, no, but I don’t want to pry.” I eyes Spitfire out the corner of my eye, and pouted. “Oh, you and your silly ‘gaydar’. I don’t believe it; you’ve just made it up to tease me.”
Spitfire nuzzled me in the neck as she pushed me forwards. “Come on. If we take that much longer Rainbow will finish the entire bottle without us.”