By Melon Hunter
Spitfire drew herself up to her full height, surveying the ten pegasi stood in front of her. Some of them looked excited, some looked scared or apprehensive, but all of them were puffed up with pride, golden lightning bolt medallions hung around their necks and a small parcel consisting of a brand new Wonderbolt uniform and pair of goggles in front of each pegasus.
“Well, allow me to congratulate you. Out of all the hundreds of pegasi who tried out for us this year, only the ten of you here have been chosen to join us.” She allowed an arrogant grin to spread onto her face. “The Wonderbolts.”
“I won’t lie to you, this will not be easy. Don’t think that just getting into the ‘Bolts is gonna cut it. You’ll need to train hard, and practice stunts over and over if you want to make it anywhere near the Alpha Squad. Keep it up, and who knows? One of you might be making this speech to the new recruits one day. Slack off, and you end up like Soarin’ over there.”
“You’re a fine one to talk, Spitfire!” Soarin’ retorted.
The recruits laughed at her jibe. “Anyway, enough of serious talk for now. You’ll be hearing a lot more of that in the coming weeks. You’re all invited to our next ‘training’ session - the Eclipse nightclub, nine o’clock tonight. After all, you need to know how to celebrate like a Wonderbolt, and I think you all deserve it. Don’t let me down!”
The ten pegasi nodded excitedly, grabbed their uniforms and flew away to get ready for the long night ahead of them. Left alone in the stadium, Spitfire turned to face her colleague.
“So, how did I do?” she asked.
“Ha! I live for those speeches! The Great and Motivational Spitfire!” Soarin’ laughed. “You get better every year. Although I could do without the slacker comments.”
Spitfire merely smiled at that statement. A silence fell over the two Wonderbolts, and she turned to face the door where the pegasus hopefuls had entered the stadium earlier. Her ears pricked up. “You hear that?”
“Hear what? I can’t...” Soarin’ frowned, and then his eyes opened wide in surprise. He shook his head. “Oh no, Spitfire. Not again. You know you shouldn’t do this.”
“Look, just give me ten minutes, OK? That’s all.”
Soarin’ sighed. “Fine. Ten minutes. No more, though. This isn’t your problem to sort out. As I tell you every year.”
“Y’know what? This time, I think it is,” she replied, pushing open the door and stepping through.
As she entered the antechamber, Spitfire heard properly the noise that had caught her attention, confirming her worst fears. It was the sound of a pony whose dreams she had been forced to crush earlier, sobbing uncontrollably, oblivious to the consolation being given by her friend.
“It...it’s not the end of the world, is it? I mean, um, you said yourself they do this every year...” a voice said.
“What does it matter? They hated me! If I come back, they’ll just laugh me out of Cloudsdale!” another voice said between sobs.
“But, but, you made it this far! Getting to the final stage the first time you try out is good, right?” The first voice had taken on a reassuring tone.
“N-no, Fluttershy. I pulled off all those stunts just as the Alpha Squad do, and that wasn’t good enough for them. I performed a sonic rainboom saving their lives, and even that wasn’t good enough for them. I failed. I blew it. I’m just good for nothing!” The second voice cracked at that last word, and was racked by a fresh wave of sobs.
“Please don’t say that! Everypony in Ponyville loves your stunts. You know that! I mean, even if the Wonderbolts didn’t like you, I still think you’re the best flier in all of Equestria.” The first voice... Fluttershy ...said.
“You still think I’m the best flier in Equestria?”
“Well, yes, um, uh, if...if that’s OK with you...”
“OK? OK?!” The voice, previously distorted by crying, now took on a bitter note. “Sure it’s OK, Fluttershy! In fact, why don’t you get out there now and tell Spitfire that?! I’m sure she’d love to hear it! She might even let me in to the ‘Bolts with that amazing endorsement!”
“R-R-Rainbow Dash...I didn’t mean th-” Fluttershy now sounded close to tears herself.
“Y’know what? Just go. I don’t need you here. I don’t need anypony!”
“Oh, no, I wasn’t trying to make a joke!” Horror crept into Fluttershy’s voice.
Fluttershy burst into tears, and there was the sound of fluttering wings as she took flight and left, as her friend had requested.
Spitfire sighed. Soarin’ was right, she shouldn’t have come here, and now she’d overheard a conversation that neither of its participants would wish to revisit.
“W-wait! Fluttershy, come back! Please! Please... I didn’t mean it... I’m sorry...”
She rounded the corner onto the balcony that looked out onto the open sky. At the end, a cyan pegasus sat with her wings slumped behind her, her rainbow-striped tail splayed out on the floor and her head hung down. Her shoulders shook as she wept dejectedly. Spitfire took a step forward, right onto a section of cloud comprised of ice crystals, which crunched as her hoof landed on it. The other pegasus’s head whipped around at the noise.
“Leave me alone! You shouldn’t even be here! You...you...” she stopped as she realised who she was shouting at. “Oh...um, sorry.” she murmered.
“I don’t think I’m the pony who requires an apology from you.” Spitfire said coldly.
“How long have you been listening?”
“Long enough.” Rainbow Dash had the decency to look ashamed, turning her head away to avoid meeting Spitfire’s gaze. “Why have you stayed here? I can’t imagine it helped you to hear me sign off the successful candidates.”
“I don’t know... why do you even care? I’m just a failure to you, aren’t I? I pulled off a sonic rainboom saving your life, and that didn’t mean anything to you, did it?”
Spitfire flinched at how quick Rainbow Dash was to lash out at her in her grief. “I remembered you at the Gala, Dash, and I am grateful to you for saving me. Don’t start yelling at me about how I ignored you.”
She regarded the cyan pegasus, who had already regressed from her angered state back to the heartbroken pony she had first encountered in the room. “Let me ask you, Rainbow Dash. Do you really want to be a Wonderbolt?”
“I... what does it matter? I can’t do it anyway. Nopony’s gonna care what I want.” Rainbow Dash replied tearfully.
“Just answer the question.”
“No. I don’t want to join your stupid Wonderbolts any more. Happy now?” Dash said, scowling at the other pegasus. A small spark of defiance burned in her eyes.
“Good! Because from where I’m standing, you’ve displayed some of the worst qualities a ‘Bolt could ever hope to display.” Spitfire said with mock cheerfulness. She began to pace back and forth, keeping her gaze trained on Rainbow Dash.
“A Wonderbolt wouldn’t blub in the corner becasue she didn’t make the Alpha Squad that year. When a Wonderbolt screws up a stunt or even a whole show, she doesn’t label herself a failure, she gets out there and tries it again. A Wonderbolt wouldn’t give up after the first try, she would practice until she got it right.”
Rainbow Dash simply stared at her, tears forming around the edges of her eyes.
She continued. “Once, I messed up at a show in Fillydelphia and wiped out one of my wingmares. She didn’t fly for a month after that show, her injuries were that bad. After the show, Soarin’ came by to try and cheer me up, tell me it wasn’t the end of the world, that sort of thing. And you know what I didn’t do?”
Her voice became dangerously quiet, and her pacing ceased. She craned her neck towards Dash to fix her with a narrow-eyed glare.
“I didn’t yell at him. I didn’t tell him I didn’t need him, and that he should just leave. Even if I didn’t believe what he was saying at the time, he was my friend, and I knew he was worried about me, so I didn’t protest. Apparently, you have none of those redeeming qualities.”
Rainbow Dash suddenly burst into tears. “Just stop it! Stop it! I don’t want to hear it... I... I just...”
“What? You’re embarrassed by that little list?”
“No! Y’know what? You’re wrong! I’m gonna prove you wrong!”
“Really? A couple of moments ago you were calling yourself a failure. Can’t you make your mind up?”
“SHUT UP!” Rainbow Dash screamed. She was enraged now; her wings flared out by her sides, rose-coloured eyes glaring at Spitfire. Her rainbow striped tail swished back and forth, like it shared its owner’s fury.
“That’s better!” Dash looked at Spitfire, utterly perplexed. “C’mon then, fight back! Prove me wrong!”
“Huh? Is this some cruel joke?” Apprehension showed on Dash’s face. She shied away slightly from the Wonderbolt, afraid that she was simply being drawn in to have her heart broken again.
Spitfire sighed, and her expression softened. “No, Rainbow Dash. I take no pleasure in rubbing salt into the wounds of anypony. But what’s worse is watching a talented pegasus convince herself that she’s failed when she’s done no such thing.”
“But I did fail! I didn’t make it in!”
“You do realise that nopony has ever made it in on their first tryout?”
“That doesn’t matter!” Rainbow Dash retorted. “I told everypony back in Ponyville I could do it! I could be the best flier Equestria’s ever seen! They’ll all be expecting me to come back with the Wonderbolts uniform, and I’ll have to tell them I didn’t make it, and, and, and...” She began to sob again. “They’ll never respect me again! I’ll just be a stupid weathermare for the rest of my life! I bet even Scootaloo’s gonna laugh at me.”
“If that’s how you regard yourself, and your standing with your friends, Dash, then this day was always coming. If you really find it that difficult to accept your mistakes, then you were eventually going to be broken by them.” She paused.
“Y’know, I’m disappointed. After I met you at the Young Fliers Competition, I remember you telling me all about how you practiced the Sonic Rainboom for months, and you only got it right that very day. But you didn’t care how many times it took you to get it right back then. What happened to that pony? I had her pegged as having a real chance at the Wonderbolt tryouts.”
“Disappointed? Disappointed?! What right do you have to say that? You... you...” Rainbow Dash’s shoulders slumped. “You’re right. I’ll never be a Wonderbolt.”
“I thought you were done wallowing in self pity. Come on, Dash, none of us are perfect. Hay, I didn’t even get in till my third tryouts, and then I spent another eighteen months in the Reserves and Lower Squads before I made it to Alpha level. If we threw out everypony after their first tryout, we wouldn’t even have a squad!”
“Really. You haven’t failed, you’re just young. You spend your whole time with everypony you know telling you how great you are, and so you think you’re the best. Then you come up against a whole bunch of ponies who’ve had the same treatment. You can’t all be the best; so you have to realise that winging it on pure talent isn’t gonna cut it anymore. It happened to me. In fact, I probably took it even harder than you when I first got rejected.”
A small smile began to creep onto Rainbow Dash’s face. “I guess I knew less about you guys than I thought.” She frowned. “But what do you mean by ‘winging it’? I mean, I’ve tried so many stunts, and I’ve practised them every day. It’s not like I just think I can do it; I can fly just as well as any Wonderbolt!” Spitfire arched her eyebrow. “OK, maybe I talk myself up just a teensy bit. But I don’t think I could’ve done those stunts at the tryouts any better!”
“Oh, sure. Just like at Young Fliers! You were ‘perfect’ and you ‘owned’ the competition!” Spitfire laughed. “You’ve got pure speed, but no finesse. Before your unicorn friend smacked me upside the head while I was trying to rescue her, I distinctly remember you flying into the side of the stadium and spinning a cloud into Celestia’s face!”
“Oooooh, yeah... lucky I didn’t get banished to the moon, huh?” said Rainbow Dash sheepishly, blushing slightly as she remembered the disastrous first half of her performance.
“So, work on it! It’s what I had to do! Practice! Enter some more competitions! Hone those skills! And don’t you dare think we’re gonna laugh at you if you come back next year! We’ve all been through this process; we know how hard it is. You go home with your head held high, and tell ‘em how far you got. And if anypony laughs at you for getting to the final selection round out of all those pegasi who entered, they probably weren’t worth your time anyway.” Spitfire said. “You’ve got plenty of potential, Dash. Don’t let it go to waste.”
“O-OK! I will! I’ll start tomorrow - no, no right now! I’ve got this really cool idea -”
Spitfire held up a hoof to slow down the overexcited pegasus and nodded towards a small yellow-and-pink speck that was perched on a distant cloud.
“One other thing, Rainbow Dash. You’d better make sure you apologise to her. And make it up to her. She came all the way here to support you, and you yelling at her like that... I know you were disappointed, but that is no excuse to behave like that to anypony, least of all your friend. Promise me you’ll work on that attitude a bit, as well?”
“I promise. I-I hope she forgives me...”
“If she’s as good a friend as I think she is, I’m sure she’ll understand.” Spitfire turned to go.
“Wait-” She stopped, and looked at Rainbow Dash. “Thank you, Spitfire. Without that, I dunno what I would’ve done...”
“Don’t mention it. I’m just doing my duty, Dash. Don’t let me down.”
“I won’t! I’ll see you here next year!” Rainbow Dash called as she took off from the balcony.
“Five hundred ninety-eight, five hundred ninety-niiiiiiine....” Soarin’ muttered under his breath.
“Did you seriously just count off ten minutes?” Spitfire asked incredulously as she stepped out from the chamber.
“Spitfire! Uh... hi! Um, no, I was just... uh,” Soarin’ blustered. Spitfire raised an eyebrow. “OK, fine. You got me. How did it go, then?”
“Better than I’d hoped. She was in a hell of a state when I went in. I mean, you wouldn’t believe it if you’d just met her at Young Fliers and the Gala. She talks herself up, seems like she’s brimming with confidence, but she’s very... fragile.” She tried and failed to wipe a surreptitious tear from the corner of her eye.
“Hay, hay! What’s the matter?” Soarin’ said, concerned by this behaviour. “Y’know, every year I’ve been here with you, you’ve gone into that room and come out like this. What’s up?”
“It’s... it’s just that I’ve never seen myself reflected so much in another pony. She reminds me of what I did... when I was in the same position.”
A young pegasus sat at the edge of the cloud, snivelling, her yellow wings half-folded behind her and her orange mane hanging limply around her face. Beneath her forehoof, a small note proclaimed ‘Good Luck!’ and bore the signatures of over two dozen ponies; friends, neighbours, parents.
“Stupid. Stupid. Can’t get anything right... never gonna be worth anything.” she muttered to herself. She glared at the note, its cheerful message mocking her failure. She shredded it with her hooves and cast the remnants into the wind, watching as they spiralled away.
“They’ll never let me in. I’m just worthless.” She teetered at the very edge of the cloud, gazing at the ground far below through a veil of tears. She extended a hoof over the side...
“Y’know, that is a pretty stupid thing to do.”
She turned, startled by the voice that had suddenly spoken from behind her. “What?” An old pegasus stallion stood behind her. He had a cream-coloured coat, and his mane had turned silvery with age. A barely visible white tornado cutie mark was on his flank. The colouring, or lack of it, made him almost look like a ghost. The only parts of his body that possessed any hue were his vivid violet irises, which stared at her.
“As in stepping out into thin air with your wings positioned like that. You’re asking for one very final trip to the ground.” He narrowed his eyes at her. “Or were you trying to get some early practice in for next year? You were at the Wonderbolt tryouts, right?”
“Yeah... but I screwed up! They’ll never accept me. I even messed up the Cirrocumulus Twist, and that’s pretty much the easiest cloud control trick out there! And... and all my friends and family thought I could get in first time. I was top of my class every year in Flight School! My parents are gonna be so disappointed. I just thought that - that would be easier.” She sniffed, and pointed down to the ground. “Easier than facing them.”
“I was watching the tryouts. You made it to the final round, didn’t you?” The mare nodded once. “Very talented, I must say, to get that far first time ‘round. But you thought you’d give up here?” The stallion frowned. “I won’t stop you, then, if your mind’s made up. Off you go.”
The younger pegasus stared at him. “What?! But you just said I had talent!”
“Yes, and a dreadful waste it’ll be. A nice long drop to think about it though. About all your friends who aren’t going to see you ever again, and about your parents, who instead of consoling their daughter are going to have to deal with her thinking it was easier throwing herself off of Cloudsdale rather than coming back to face them. How will that reflect on them, hmm?”
“I-I didn’t mean it like that... I-I just...” The horrible realisation of what she was about to do hit her, and she burst into tears.
“Hey, hey, no need to cry.” He held out a hoof to her. She hesitated for a second, then ran forwards and threw her forelegs around him.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t know how to deal with this! I thought I could get in first time... everypony did.”
“There’s no shame in failure, young’un, not if you pick yourself up and try again.” He looked down at her. “What’s your name?”
“Well then, Spitfire. I want you to know something. I thought you were damn good out there today, and so did the rest of the ‘Bolts. They’re loathe to let in an untried pegasus though. I’ll tell you a secret if you promise not to tell.” She looked up, and nodded. “Nopony ever gets in on their first tryout. Ever.” Spitfire looked askance at him, utterly bewildered by this revelation.
“Y’see, one of the most important parts of being a Wonderbolt is perseverance. And the thing about stunt fliers is that they are without fail the most pumped up, arrogant pegasi out there. That’s no bad thing in itself, but what they really want to know isn’t how fast you can fly, or what stunts you can pull off. It’s whether you can cope with being told you’ve failed. You’re not good enough. Come back when you’ve improved.”
“But that’s horrible!”
“It’s the only way. That could come up at any point in your career as a ‘Bolt, and if your only reaction is to just shut down, or cry in the corner, then you cannot make the team. That is the real way they sort the fliers from the foals.” He looked down and grinned. “‘Course, that doesn’t stop some silly fillies still thinking they can be the first to get in on their first tryout, despite all the evidence.”
She pushed him away playfully. “Hay, be nice.” A smile gradually formed on her face. “You really think I can make it?”
“Take it from an old stallion. I can tell when a pegasus has got in in them to be a top level flier. You go home and tell ‘em Vortex said you’re gonna make it into the ‘Bolts someday.”
Spitfire gasped. “You’re Vortex?! I watched you at shows when I was just a filly! I didn’t even recognise you in the stadium!”
“Well, the years have been about as kind to this knackered old pegasus as a winter gale. Never lost my edge, though. Now then. As I said, there’s no shame in failing and trying again. You get out there and perfect that Cirrocumulus Twist, and all your other stunts. Practice, practice and don’t you dare let that talent go to waste. The only sure fire way to not get in to the ‘Bolts is to not bother coming to the tryouts. Understood?”
“Yeah! I’ll make it! I promise!”
“And if you don’t make it next year?”
She sagged a little, cowed by this. “I...uh... go around and do it again?”
“Exactly! If you’ve got the dream of being a Wonderbolt, Spitfire, I don’t doubt in the slightest that you’ll make it in when the time is right. But don’t ever let self-doubt get a hold of you again like it did today. That is the only thing that can truly end your aspirations.”
“I won’t. Um... thank you, Vortex. Really. I think I really would have jumped if you hadn’t...” She left the sentence hanging.
“It’s no problem, Spitfire. Better that you now know what to expect from the ‘Bolts.” He paused, looking thoughtful.
“I want you to promise me one more thing. I haven’t got many more years left on me, but that won’t stop these tryouts being tough on the first-timers. Very tough. I want you to have a look around if you ever find yourself judging, and if you ever find a pegasus acting like you did today, you treat them the same way I treated you. Don’t just offer words of kindness straight away; they won’t accept it. Echo them. Tell ‘em how they screwed up. Break them. They’ll realise how silly their self-pity sounds. And if they have that spark in them, they’ll get riled up, and fight you back. Or like you, apologise for it. Either way, break ‘em out of that cycle and then tell them they did alright. It’s always the best ones that think they did the worst,” he said with a wink. “It’d be a crying shame to lose the cream of the crop to a moment of madness.”
Spitfire nodded, buoyed up by Vortex’s assurances. “I promise, Vortex. Whatever it takes.”
“I got pulled back from the brink, Soarin’, and I’ll never let that happen to another pegasus. Every time I do it, it just brings back that memory of how close I came to... giving up, and how painful it was.”
Soarin’ looked at her, trying to digest that revelation. “So... does it ever work?”
Spitfire suddenly grinned. “Remember last year, I spent nearly an hour in there? I was talking down a colt who was convinced his family would disown him for not getting in. This year?” She pointed to where the successful recruits had stood. “He was second, no, third, from the right.”
Soarin’ raised his eyebrows. “Huh. You get results, then.” They both looked up at the sky. A cyan speck looped the loop a couple of times, before flying over to a yellow shape on a nearby cloud. The cyan one gesticulated wildly, before the two suddenly embraced. Spitfire could tell, even from there, that all had been forgiven between the two friends. That was a relief; if anypony had spoken to her like Rainbow Dash had done, she doubted they would ever be on speaking terms again.
“And what about her? I thought you said she was in a hell of a state. I wasn’t that bad after my first go at this, when I got rejected. In fact, none of the ‘Bolts have ever said anything about giving up after their first go.” He suddenly looked embarrassed. “Except you, of course. No offence.”
Spitfire turned to him. “None taken. She’ll be back. And I’d bet anything on her becoming a Wonderbolt eventually. She’s got the right mentality.” She smiled at the two friends, now reconciled on the cloud. “ It’s just sometimes, before you can really believe in yourself, you need a bit of tough love.”
Authors’ Note: This fic was inspired by this excellent piece of artwork by GlancoJusticar (link), as featured on Equestria Daily’s Drawfriend #146. There’s also a short comic that follows on from that picture (linked on the DA page), so this is an alternative take on that scenario.
Any feedback, questions and/or critique is greatly appreciated, either on the EqD comments page or in an email to [email protected]. This was my first proper MLP fic, so tell me what you thought, as I’d love to be able to improve my writing skills. Thanks for reading!
P.S. For those of you wondering what the ‘KBO’ tag means, look it up under Winston Churchill.