I'm particularly proud of this fanfic, as it won me the Everfree NW Iron Author Challenge. Yay, recognition!
When she was a young pony, Rainbow Dash flew everywhere. From her house in the clouds to Ponyville. Across town to met friends. Inside of houses and shops. She was never at ease when her hooves touched earth. Leave that to Pinkie and Applejack, or even to Rarity and Twilight. Or, well, Fluttershy, too. But she was a pegasus, all the way down to her soul, and the only time her heart felt full was when her wings were wide-spread, muscles fighting gravity, bones and tendons defying her actual build.
She'd done great things. Given Ponyville the best weather in all of Equestria. Starred in the Wonderbolts, bringing awe to crowds and protecting the land. She'd even coached other up-and-coming fliers. Her proudest moment had been when Thunderheart, Fluttershy's second daughter, had told her family and her mentor that she'd accepted Celestia's invitation to join Canterlot's weather team. Rainbow Dash had given Fluttershy a nuzzle and the most comforting words she could muster, unsure if the tears were pride over what her own blood had attained, or sorrow at losing her baby girl.
It had been an amazing career. And she wasn't surprised that it ended as it had.
She'd watched Spitfire and Soarin' push the Wonderbolts to new and amazing levels, and then, quietly, retire, content to wait and watch and advise new recruits. They occasionally took to the air to give examples of the most complicated tricks, only to go back to ground after a minute or two, joking that they'd regret it in the morning. When Spitfire told Rainbow her reasons for quitting and the inevitable fate of all pegasi, Rainbow—matured much since her days in Ponyville—had listened and known that this was a Wonderbolts legacy, not an individual curse.
So she'd flown hard, far, fast, tight, and each wing-beat didn't send her closer to the sun, but further down to earth.
She'd barely passed her breeding age—unfulfilled, but by her own choice—when her doctor sat her down after an examination and informed Rainbow Dash that he'd seen irregularities in the responses from her wings. He took x-rays, though they weren't really necessary. She knew, he knew, every pegasus knew.
Each wing-beat had shifted bone around bone, the thick cartilage between protecting the hard calcium from wear and tear, while sacrificing itself. Until, years later, it could do so no more, worn away to little more than paper-thin tissue.
He gave her a few more years to bow out gracefully, and then it was no longer her decision. The doctor told the Wonderbolt's captain, and Rainbow Dash was told, gently, that she would be welcome back as a part-time coach, but that he could never put her in a show again. She was the best flier he'd ever seen…when she was a young mare, but now she was grounded.
So, after Spitfire and Soarin's retirements, Rainbow Dash wasn't surprised, but she had barely been able to keep from turning and bucking the stallion in the face for his presumption.
She left the team and went to downtown Canterlot and asked Thunderheart out to lunch. The red mare was thrilled, and they'd gone to the cafe just below her apartment. They talked for so long that, when they heard the great wing-beats of Princess Luna launching herself from Canterlot Castle, they had looked at each other, startled, and, laughing, waved their waiter over so they could order dinner.
Rainbow Dash had never been tentative in speech, but it did take her those several hours to get to the point where she could be brash as she told Thunderheart that she was going to apply for the Canterlot weather team.
Thunderheart froze. "That's…I-I mean…Rainbow Dash, you're an amazing flier, but the weather team…it's really hard work, and—"
"I kept Ponyville in order for ten years on my own," Rainbow Dash broke in. "I'm certain I could help you lot order the clouds around."
"I'm sure you could," Thunderheart said, using far too much emphasis. She placed a hoof on the table, reaching over to rub it against her mentor's. "I'd love you on my team. I would. But…there are…age restrictions."
Rainbow looked at her stonily. "Are you telling me, young lady, that you think I am too old to work?"
"No!" Thunderheart's wings fluttered, bringing to mind her dam, while her wide-eyed confusion spoke more of her sire. "I don't, Rainbow Dash. It's just that I don't get to make the rules. Otherwise, I'd give you a contact right this second!"
"And what," Rainbow said, coldly, "do you expect me to do instead?"
"Well…Twilight is the top professor at the School for Gifted Unicorns. And Rarity has revolutionizedfashion with her Academy. I know the Wonderbolts are always eager for coaches."
"They are eager for coaches because none of use can stand it," Dash said, pushing back from the table and going to her hooves. "Watching you all mangling our routines, ignoring our advice because we're on the ground and you're the ones in the suits!"
"Rainbow Dash, I'm sure it's not like that—"
"I'll pay for dinner," the cyan mare interrupted, walking into the shop, struggling to grip her wingtips on the flap of her saddlebag. "It's the least Ican do for you."
Thunderheart almost took to her wings to catch up. She caught herself at half-extension and slowly tucked them back to her sides, watching while Rainbow paid and walked out of the cafe's other door without so much as another word.
She couldn't stand to be in Canterlot any longer. Not with children running up to her with plushie Wonderbolts, asking the great Rainbow Dash for signatures. Asking when they could see her next show.
She'd considered flying back to Ponyville for her visit, but she had always loved the train, and just one look at the star of the Wonderbolts and the ticket attendant had bumped her to first class. Dash walked off the train a little wobbly from dandelion wine, but in much higher spirits.
You couldn't spend ten minutes in Ponyville without one certain mare knowing you'd arrived, so Rainbow decided to hasten the chaos and made her own way into Sugarcube Corner.
Pinkie Pie screamed so loud she actually broke a light-bulb, the sparks sizzling down onto her hair and lighting the earth pony with little stars (though, thankfully, not with actual fire). Rainbow Dash was dragged behind the counter and babbled at for a full hour while Pinkie continued working.
Carrot Cake was in and out for just seconds, taking fresh pastries for delivery, but Pound Cake remained in the bakery. He fetched the bubbly pony huge sacks of flour and wood for the fireplace, his horn glowing brightly. Half the time, though, he didn't bother with magical strength, putting broad shoulders to work. Rainbow Dash watched him carefully—she wasn't a young mare anymore, but she could appreciate his messy brown hair and the sheen of sweat on his flanks—but he watched Pinkie Pie far more carefully. His lips moved and he looked a bit up and to the right every time she selected an ingredient for her latest mixture.
In the middle of a plain vanilla cake, Rainbow Dash saw him jump a few inches in the air as Pinkie's hoof strayed towards a bowl of shaved nutmeg. His horn glowed and the bowl was silently shifted out of the way, sugar taking its place.
Pinkie poured it with no comment to Pound Cake, still too focused on her old, old friend.
Pound sighed in relief. When he noticed Rainbow watching him, he smiled, rolled his eyes, and went off for more wood.
Rainbow Dash had excused herself, then. Pinkie only allowed it after a promise to make the world's biggest parfait for them to share later that evening at Sweet Apple Acres. Rainbow simply nodded and headed off to the farm.
Sweet Apple Acres was just as big, but it all seemed so much…tighter. Green Thumb's doing, no doubt. Big Mac and Fluttershy's eldest boy had done amazing things with the land. The fruit trees nearly bowed down from the weight of nearly-ripened fruit, and the main crop was joined by a vibrant variety of vegetables, many of which Rainbow had never seen before.
An hour later, she'd gone from never seeing them to having tasted them all, smiling indulgently as Green Thumb rattled off names of ancient and new varieties, their merits, and their trials.
It was a raw meal, the cook being temporarily out of commission. Rainbow Dash had been directed to Applejack's room to look in, finding the mare asleep atop her covers. Her flanks were going white, though—as with all ponies—there was no impact on her cutie mark. She snored. A lot. And it made Rainbow Dash laugh. She stopped it quickly, afraid to wake her friend, but there wasn't so much as a "what in tarnation!" in response.
The sun was far down when Dash heard wing-beats and turned from Greeny towards the front door, expecting to see Gaslight, Fluttershy's eldest daughter and Ponyville's resident electrician, but instead watched as the girl's mother touched down gently on the front steps, the huge cage she carried touching earth slightly before the mare.
"Oh, Mom…did you have to?" Green Thumb left Rainbow and walked to Fluttershy, looking into the cage and jumping back as the raccoon inside hissed.
"He's in a delicate state," Fluttershy said, pressing her cheek to the bars and getting a lick instead of a mauling. "I'll need to watch him overnight."
"Dad's not going to like that…."
"Well," Fluttershy said, a mischievous glint in her eyes, "he'll just have to say something about it, won't he?"
Greeny snorted and looked back to Rainbow Dash, hoping one of his mother's old friends might be able to talk some reason into Fluttershy.
Fluttershy. Fluttershy could hardly fly. So, as a filly, she almost never did. And now her legs were strong and her wings flexed out to their full extent before nestling against her back, their owner giving Rainbow a gentle smile.
"It's so good to see you, Rainbow Dash," Fluttershy said, trotting up and nuzzling her old friend.
"Yeah…." Rainbow whispered, resting her muzzle between Flutterhy's ears.
The next morning, before Celestia did her duty, Rainbow awoke only second in the house. Applejack seemed to have finally left her slumber, and was making the largest breakfast that Rainbow had ever seen.
"Farmers have big stomachs," AJ said, ladling out yet another flapjack. "If I don't get this lot full before work, they're just gonna waste away by noontime. Foals these days, don't got no stayin' power."
Rainbow had laughed and accepted the gift of a slice of last night's pie to take along for a morning walk. It was cold, but sweet, and she was grateful for the energy it gave.
The skies were clear, now. Dash had watched a green pegasus with buzzed blue hair sweep the clouds away. It was the first time in weeks that she had woken up early enough to watch the morning weather change, and Rainbow Dash had been satisfied, if not impressed. He'd missed several cumulus on his first pass, and her wings had creaked open, feathers shifting in a gentle breeze, but then he was back, finishing the fine details, saluting the mare when he noticed her observation.
Rainbow Dash closed her wings and nodded at him, then continued on her way to downtown Ponyville, taking small steps, aching.
The clock tower was always open. After all, it was a small town. Everyone trusted one another. So Rainbow Dash climbed creakily to the bell, and then up thin stairs and through a small door in the roof to the tallest point in Ponyville.
She stood at the apex, two hooves to either side, a little unsteady on the slope.
The wind was picking up. Looking to the horizon, she saw a few tiny clouds coming back. That green pegasus was not doing his job quite so well as she thought. He was going to get a reprimand from the weather team for that.
Rainbow considered the horizon. The wind. The way her feathers shifted in the breeze.
Her joints screamed when she opened her wings.
The wind wanted to lift her. It just wasn't quite strong enough.
So Rainbow Dash let her wings beat once, hard, and felt that old swell in her heart as her hooves stopped touching anything but air.
She laughed. Beat her wings again. Rose higher into the air. It hurt so much. Tears were forming in the corners of her eyes. She beat her wings again. A fourth time. And now she was high above the clock tower, the wind growing stronger with altitude, lifting her further and further.
Rainbow Dash looked back to the horizon and the tufts of clouds and tilted her head.
He was just a young pegasus, that green one. It would be a real pity to see him in trouble for such a small thing.
Ponyville awoke to a Sonic Rainboom at dawn.
Fluttershy trampled downstairs and found Applejack looking out the window, a flapjack burning on the stove. The orange pony looked back at her sister-in-law and Fluttershy nodded in understanding. She was out the door and into the air a moment later, wings pumping hard, following the fading trail of light.
She found Dash in a little field on the other side of Ponyville. It had been easy to find her, despite the sky being clear of color once more. There was a deep brown line among the grass and flowers, and at the end was a shock of blue and little scraps of the rainbow.
Fluttershy didn't bother checking on her friend when she landed at her side. Instead, she folded her legs under her, sinking to the earth and laying her neck across the old daredevil's own, stretching out her yellow wings to cover those of broken, magnificent cyan.