Spitfire grinned broadly as she surveyed the Manehatten practice field. She'd never admit it to anypony, but she kind of preferred it to the Cloudsdale Coliseum that served as the traditional Wonderbolts practice field. The Coliseum allowed for grand maneuvers, death defying dives, and spectacular scale in their routines. The open air both above and below the venue gave her team the space they required to set up complicated exchanges where she could hide four team members under the bottom lip of the stadium and have them swap out with active members at any time to create the illusion of a Wonderbolt's unparalleled stamina and ability for impossible turns. Part of the reason they still wore the full body uniforms was to conceal the switches from the throngs of adoring ponies.
The Manehatten Stadium on the other hoof was a terrestrial venue. The grassy field underhoof provided a much more exciting show in spitfire's opinion. Aside from the basic fact that the hard ground with the wood and stone stadium made for an exponentially more dangerous crash experience, the skies in and around the Coliseum were always cool with a generally predictable wind speeds and patterns. The grass and dirt under the Stadium acted like a heat sponge providing semi-stable thermal updrafts and shifting wind patterns. Furthermore she couldn't hide team members anywhere for mid-show swaps that meant that the shows had to be paced differently; either short high-octane shows or methodical endurance shows. Spitfire much preferred the former. The speed, the difficulty, the danger; it was better than almost anything to the yellow pegasus. She lived for the euphoric thrill of getting as close as she could to the metaphorical fire without getting burned.
So it was with a broad grin she trotted onto the soft grassy field of Manehatten Stadium, the stands currently devoid of spectators. Behind her trotted Soarin her second-in-command and closest friend. Ahead of her were ten other Wonderbolts, each a superb stunt flier in their own right and none in uniform. They were relaxing, chatting, and laughing in the afternoon sun.
"All right kiddies, line it up!" She hollered in her best command voice. They reacted immediately, forming a shoulder-to-shoulder line facing both herself and Soarin at perfect attention. Spitfire allowed herself a smirk. "Alright, we've got a show in this bucket in three days. This isn't Cloudsdale or Las Pegasus, we've got no clouds to crash into if you lose control during maneuvers. I want everypony partnered up and practicing their maneuvers till quitting time.
The show pattern will be our standard routine for Earth Pony venues. The opener will be the aileron flyby into pattern four. After that we have the standard five-lap race followed by freestyle flying. I don't want any of you knuckleheads doing anything crazy. Last I checked none of us had figured out a Rainboom." She gave a pointed glare to Fleetfoot who grinned sheepishly. "The finale will be divided into two groups. Group One will be led by Soarin. Fleetfoot, Blaze, Misty, Lightning Streak you're with him. Rapidfire, Wavechill, Surprise, and Highwinds, you're with me. Group one will perform the Celestial Starburst, group two will perform the Lunar Moonburst. I expect nothing but the best from all of you. Questions?" Spitfire gave each of them time to consider the plan. Rapidfire raised a hoof first.
"Any VIP's in attendance?" He asked.
"The mayor and a few local politicians. We are, as always, expected to hob knob with them for at least a little while, so tell your marefriend you'll be home late." Spitfire grinned. Rapidfire rolled his eyes.
"At least I have one." He retorted earning a loud 'oooooo' from the other Wonderbolts and a death-glare from Spitfire.
"You can be replaced you know." She growled.
"Yeah, yeah. You've been saying that since we were kids, maybe one day I'll take it seriously." He winked at his fraternal twin. Spitfire groaned and facehoofed.
"Of all the idiot brothers in all the world I get shafted with you." She groused.
"Captain?" Blaze spoke up, her hoof raised slightly.
"Yeah, Blaze?" She asked.
"Has Princess Celestia gotten back to you about our training request?" Blaze asked hopefully. Spitfire felt her heart sink.
"Same answer I got last year. Sorry guys, the Rainboom is still out of our reach." She forced her expression to remain neutral even as every other pony bemoaned the decision to varying degrees. Fleetfoot looking particularly put out by the news.
"Did she at least give us a reason this time?" Fleetfoot grumbled.
"She doesn't want to risk an element on, and I'm quoting here: 'a pursuit of pride'. Sorry guys, but we've just gotta be patient for another couple of years. At least until she's old enough to apply." Spitfire answered. Fleetfoot grumbled in irritation.
"No sense pouting over what we can't have, now get your heads in the game. I want everypony in the skies and practicing, you all know the drills. Now!" Spitfire waved them off. Each Wonderbolt delivered a crisp salute before taking to the skies and breaking into pairs. Spitfire watched from the ground allowing herself a moment of pride as her Wonderbolts expertly went through their maneuvers, each team of two partnering with a second group just long enough to practice a larger trick before breaking off again in an elaborate aerial ballet. Soarin stepped up beside her his wings fluttering excitedly.
"Not your best speech today boss," he noted with a smirk. Spitfire elbowed him in the ribs lightly "Like you could do better."
Soarin shrugged lightly and snickered.
"Never said I could." He smirked at her.
"Come on, Soarin it's sunny skies all day long! Now let's get some flying done!" Spitfire grinned brightly as she took to the air with a mighty flap of her golden wings. She savored the feel of the wind in her mane and the rush of air past her ears. In the skies she felt alive.
Soarin wasn't far behind her. The sky blue stallion had the largest wingspan of all the Wonderbolts. It had proven to be his greatest asset and liability. He could gain and maintain speed quickly in a straight line, but he wasn't as maneuverable as smaller Pegasi like Spitfire. In only a few flaps of his wings Soarin was side by side with Spitfire, grinning like a foal.
"Five laps around the stadium for a warm-up sound good?" he called to her over the wind.
"Race ya!" She called back before darting ahead.
"Hey! No fair!" he shouted as he gave chase.
Spitfire knew her advantage would only be short lived. Soarin's powerful wings were quickly shrinking the distance between them. She drifted to the inside of their aerial track; if she could cut take the corners at a much steeper angle, then Soarin would have a much more difficult time catching her. The corner tactic was how Fleetfoot regularly beat Soarin when they raced.
If Spitfire was to be honest with herself, she would have admitted that she had allowed was getting just a little soft around the edges since becoming team captain. She flew less and less than she used to, her time occupied with coordinating show schedules with their manager, doling out the payroll, and putting out fires between the disparate personalities that made up the Wonderbolts. Needless to say, it wasn't quite the job her predecessor had sold her on.
Her excitement to be away from the sedentary duties of team captain bypassed her old safety habits. Flapping her wings as hard as she could, she found herself pulling further away from Soarin. As she banked hard for the first turn she felt a pop in her right wing's bicep.
'That's not good.' She realized just before her wing locked up, the bicep itself tensing until the fibers of the muscle felt like a scalding-hot rock under her skin. Through the excruciating pain she had just enough wherewithal to realize the grass was getting awfully close.
'This is gonna suck.'
Faint sounds, so distant in the endless dark.
Where they talking to her?
She saw without seeing, her eyes open to the clear blue sky, yet unaware of its presence. Shapes crowded her vision, things prodded at her and made noises, but she couldn't understand a word of it. Her ears rang, though no sound seemed to reach her. There was … something in her wing. Was it pain?
A face, so familiar, filled her vision again. The lips flapped and the sound filled her ears, though none reached her brain. She thought she felt moisture dripping down onto her face before she blacked out again. When she next awoke she was in a simple room, surrounded by light tan walls. After a moment to look around she surmised she was in a hospital room. Her brother, Rapidfire was lightly sleeping in a chair beside her bed. Her attempt to sit upright ended about an inch after it started, with a heavy groan she flopped back onto her pillow. Rapidfire's eyes fluttered open at the sound, glancing around the room momentarily before he remembered where he was.
"Spitfire!" He exclaimed happily, the volume earning a wince from his sister, any attempt to say something was thoroughly quashed when he wrapped her in a bone-crushing hug.
"You idiot!" He admonished her "You scared me half to death."
"Urk! Rapid … Air!" She choked out; Rapidfire blushed slightly, his grip loosening as he let her breathe. "Thanks." She wheezed.
"Sure," he replied, "You're still an idiot though."
Spitfire allowed herself another groan "What happened?"
"According to Soarin, you pushed yourself too hard before your wings were properly warmed up. He thought you were diving at first to gain speed, by the time he realized you were falling it was too late for him to make the catch." Rapid fire admitted sadly. "The doctors said you tore the bicep in your wing. After that, you decided to get into a head-butting contest with the ground. Three guesses how that turned out." He grinned playfully, Spitfire grumbled. "I'll go get the doc, they'll want to know you're finally awake." He said as he rose to his hooves.
"Finally?" She questioned, "How long was I out?"
Rapidfire paused, a hoof rubbing at his chin thoughtfully "Almost two days now."
Spitfire's brain ground to a halt, the information felt like a slap in her face. She was the Captain of the Wonderbolts; to be on the injured roster was bad enough, but to also be comatose for two days! The media would have a field day when they found out, the possible fallout left her staring in a cold-sweated horror at the ceiling. She didn't notice that her brother had left until he had returned with a doctor in tow.
"Ah, Ms. Spitfire," The brown-furred unicorn smiled down at her "good to see you finally awake, you had us all a bit worried. I'm Dr. Bay, how are you feeling?" he asked, his magic retrieving a pen sized flashlight from the pocket of his jacket.
"I've got a headache, and my wing aches pretty bad too." She answered, hissing slightly as he flashed the light first into her right eye, then into her left.
"Well you had a pretty good crash, I'd be surprised if you were feeling great." He mused. Spritfire groaned, more in annoyance than pain.
"Just gimme the damage report, Doc." She pleaded.
Rapidfire's glance shifted nervously from his sister to the doctor. Dr. Bay studied her for a moment with his emerald eyes.
"Do you want your brother to stay for this, or shall I see him out first?" he asked. Spitfire's amber eyes shifted to her brother, who offered a sheepish smile in return.
"He's fine." She answered. Dr. Bay nodded once before beginning.
"Well, the good news is you managed to avoid breaking any bones in the fall, and your concussion seems to be healing well." He paused for a breath, "However your wing wasn't so lucky."
Spitfire winced from the implications.
"So, what?" she asked "Keep off it for a week or two?" a subtle frown formed on Bay's lips.
"Spitfire," He started, the tone of his voice making her heart skip a beat "You have a second-degree strain in your wing. You nearly tore the muscle in half, length-wise! I honestly can't decide if I should be concerned or impressed!" the physician declared. Spitfire stared up at him, the worry starting to show on her face.
"W—what are you saying?" she asked, afraid of the answer she suspected was coming.
"I'm sorry Spitfire, but you're not flying anywhere for at least three to four weeks. Until your muscle has had time to mend you are grounded. After we've determined that the damage is sufficiently healed a physical therapist will take over your care."
"I'm Captain of the Wonderbolts!" She snapped, wincing at the pain in her skull, "I can't be grounded for that long! I have a team to run!"
"Let me be crystal clear about this, Captain." Bay started, the humor evaporating from his voice instantly. "If you over-stress your wing before it heals properly, you are at serious risk for a third degree tear. If that happens, then it would be a Celestia-blessed miracle if you ever flew again."
"T—then just call a surgeon and stitch the thing back together!" Spitfire pleaded, adrenaline starting to flow into her aching body as the fear took hold. Rapidfire moved closer to the bed, just incase he needed to restrain his sibling.
"Surgery is what will happen if you tear the muscle any further, and it would only slow down potential recovery. I'm sorry Spitfire, but you'll just have to tough this one out for a month or two." He said sympathetically, "We'll keep you here one more night just to make sure there are no lingering issues from the crash. If everything checks out you can leave first-thing tomorrow morning."
Rapidfire noticed the hollow look setting in Spitfire's amber eyes. It was a look he'd seen only a few times before, and it still chilled him to the bone.
"T—thanks Doc," he sputtered quickly "We really appreciate everything, uh, do you mind if I just talk to her alone for a bit?"
Bay quirked an eyebrow curiously at the sudden shift in demeanors, but nodded and excused himself quickly enough. Rapidfire waited for the door to click shut before facing his twin. Spitfire was staring at the ceiling, her eyes simply vacant.
"Spits?" He started, lightly resting a hoof on her shoulder "Come on sis, talk to me."
"My career is over." She lamented after a lengthy silence.
"Oh come on, you're just being melodramatic." He replied, even if he wasn't entirely convinced she was wrong "You'll be all better in no time and this will just be another story that gets passed around the bar after an awesome show!"
Spitfire glared at Rapidfire, though the look lacked much of the passion it usually did.
"I bucked up a basic warm-up!" she hissed angrily, "I ignored every common-sense rule of show flying for a dumb thrill. If I had done something that stupid during a show somepony could've been hurt or killed! The press is gonna have a field day with this! I'll be lucky if Arcus only suspends me indefinitely!" She swiped a hoof through the air before bringing it to rest over her eyes.
"Coulda been worse," Rapidfire offered with a smirk "Mom and Dad could've been watching." Spitfire's eyes went wide at the though, a shudder running through her body before she banished that particular horror from her mind.
"I'm so royally bucked I might as well be the third princess." She lamented again. "I might as well have just binged on salt and hard cider before a show."
Rapidfire's face contorted as he tried not to giggle. As good as his sister was at running the Wonderbolts and controlling their admittedly colossal egos, she always did have a habit for expecting the worst. Even still, he couldn't entirely fault her for some of her feelings. Mr. Arcus was an exceedingly pragmatic team manager. 95% of the time, that quality served them very well. However it had made things difficult when the media occasionally picked up on some of the inner workings of the team.
"But you were clean," He said finally "and it was just an accident. Soarin can vouch for that, poor guy feels terrible for not being able to catch you."
Spitfire sighed, her foreleg covering her eyes wearily.
"I'm Team Captain," she responded quietly "The Captain doesn't get to screw up like this."
"Everypony messes up now and then." He retorted, the concern apparent in his tone.
"Rapid," Spitfire started, making a point to look her brother in the eye "If the media doesn't eat me alive for this, Arcus will.
Rapidfire sighed and shook his head.
"Tell you what Spits," he started as he stretched his wings "Why don't I let you get some rest and I'll go let the team know how you're doing. I'll do what I can to smooth Arcus's feathers while I'm at it. Okay?" he offered. Spitfire acknowledged the plan with a dismissive grunt. He gave her another light hug before he started towards the door.
"I'm glad you're alright." With that final sentiment, Rapidfire disappeared out the door, leaving Spitfire alone with her thoughts.