The corny old saying is true—there's no place like home.

Don't get me wrong, the cadet barracks at West Hoof are fine. Well, they're fine as long as you can put up with having a strict lights-out time and the constant bunk and uniform inspections—hopefully now that I was done with my sophmare year there the constant grilling on the basics would calm down a bit, though I knew that wasn't likely. At least I had a bit of an edge up on all the little stuff like that. Growing up Kicker meant that keeping my bunk neat was just about second nature to me by the time I actually started getting a formal military education.

Let's just say the sergeant instructors at West Hoof have a lot more restrictions on what they're allowed to do than some of the uncles and cousins who handled my bunk inspections back home.

Still, now that the semester was over with I was looking forward to seeing the family again. The whole clan of them. I've kinda got a big extended family—maybe it's a side effect of being a Guard brat. The family that slays together stays together, and all that.

I felt that wonderfully familiar tingle of home-ness when I walked through the front gates of the Kicker Compound. The name's a bit of a misnomer, since it's not like we have our own private little fortress in the middle of Canterlot or something. Admittedly the compound started out as an empty fort Celestia signed over to the clan so we'd have a place to stay after leaving Cloudsdale, but nine hundred years of ponies living here had done a lot to demilitarize it. Barracks were converted into private homes, the mess hall became a restaurant, stuff like that. Thirty or so generations worth of repairs, remodeling, and a few efforts to make the place look a little homier had done a lot to change things. Sure, there was still an excess of plain red granite walls and unadorned slate roofs, but we're not exactly living in a stone recreation of an old Pegasopolan clanhold anymore.

That's not to say we'd gone completely native—the Kickers still cling to some of the old pegasi traditions, and the place wasn't completely demilitarized. The armory was still well-stocked, even if most of the weapons there were family heirlooms instead of working blades. I have to admit, until my wings came in, having a wall around the whole place was kinda inconvenient. The only reason the old fortifications hadn't been torn down was because doing that would be a huge pain in the flank. It's not like we still needed walls to keep ourselves separate from those freaky unicorns who had all kinds of weird stuff us pegasi barely even understood: strange, alien things like magic, money, and silk bedsheets.

Yeah, there used to be some big differences between the pony tribes.

On the way back to my home proper I waved and tossed out greetings to all the old familiar faces. I wasn't sure how much time I was gonna be spending hanging around the Compound as opposed to going out and doing all the normal end-of-semester celebrating. Most of my preferred forms of partying aren't exactly the kind of thing you can do with clan-mates. Okay, technically there were probably Kickers that were distantly related enough for it to not really be a problem, but ... yeah, banging clanmates just isn't on the table.

I was a little surprised that Dad was actually waiting for me when I got home. Sure, normally having your parents waiting at the front door when you just got back from several months at school is a pretty normal thing, but Dad's never been the sentimental type. Mom either, really. It's not that they don't care, it's just that neither one of them is the huggy-lovey type.

Dad's ... well even when he's not in uniform or anything, you can tell he's a Guardpony. Since his coat's naturally white the uniform enchantments don't do anything, plus he's got that kind of stiff professionalism thing going for him that a lot of military ponies get. Hay, I act that way whenever I'm in class and training. Thing is, that's how I act—I'm my normal, lovable self when I'm off-duty. With my parents and a lot of other career Guards it's like they get so used to being on duty that they're never really off it.

The Kickers are really bad about that, probably as a side-effect of having so many career Guards in the family. That, and the fact that Shadow Kicker was kinda famous for being so stoic, so stoicism has kinda become a family value. Personally, I think we overplay it a bit—I've read a couple passages from her memoirs, and I'm pretty sure she had a sense of humor and felt normal equine emotions.

Well, I didn't think I was gonna convince anypony else that Shadow was a lot more easygoing than they gave her credit for. I trotted over and gave Dad a quick nuzzle, which he dutifully returned. "I'm home, Dad."

"Welcome home, Cloud." He took a step back, and started carefully looking me over. Before long I was unconsciously checking my cadet uniform over, just to make sure everything was in order. "It looks like school's been treating you well." I let out a relieved breath—getting things right was pretty much second nature to me after two years of uniform inspections, but when it's Dad doing the checking it matters a lot more than some random sergeant instructor. I relaxed a bit too soon though, because a second later he remarked, "Your mane's perilously close to being out of uniform."

My eyes drifted to Dad's mane, which looked pretty much exactly like mine except a darker shade of yellow and half an inch shorter. "I checked my mane this morning, and it's still within regs," I reassured him. I've always liked my mane a little bit on the long side, but the Guard has its standards. At least I'd be able to grow it out a bit longer once I stopped being a cadet—West Hoof is a lot more anal about that kind of thing than the actual Guard.

Dad took one last look at my mane, and gave a sharp nod. "You should still get it trimmed sometime tomorrow, just to be safe."

I felt a tiny little smile tug at the corners of my lips. "The semester's over."

Dad thought that one over for a moment, and then gave me another nod. "So it is. Be a while before classes start back up." That's Dad-speak for, 'You can grow your mane out, as long as you trim it before you go back to West Hoof.' Sometimes with my parents, you've gotta read between the lines.

"Thanks, Dad." As long as he seemed to be in a nice and reasonable mood... "Hey, some friends are getting together for an end-of-semester party tonight." I pulled upon my saddlebag as I said that, retrieving my latest set of grades and evaluations. Dad's been pretty reasonable about my personal life, certainly better than most fathers would be about their daughter banging around. Not that I was giving him a play-by-play or anything, but I'm not the only one who knows how to read between the lines. We kinda had an unspoken deal—as long as I work hard, I get to play hard too. It's not like there was anything unusual about a soldier blowing off a little steam when she's not on active duty.

Dad took the reports and spent a minute looking them over. "Good work, Cloud."

I couldn't help smiling like a foal at that. "Thanks, Dad." Most parents probably would've said something a bit more than 'good work' when their daughter brings home straight A's. Dad's not one for casual praise, though. When he tells a pony that they've done a good job, it really means something. I cleared my throat and tried to rein in my grin. "So, will I have my normal assignments over the break? Helping to train the little ones and such?"

"Among others, yes." Dad gave me an approving little smile. "They'll be happy to have you back, you know." I might be on break from West Hoof, but it's not like I could spend all that time lounging around and doing nothing. Even if the clan didn't need me helping out with stuff, spending all that time being lazy or partying would let my skills start getting rusty.

I'll admit, I was kinda looking forward to running the little rugrats through some basic training. Nothing crazy, they were way too young for anything serious, but those young and fertile minds could handle a lot the foundation work we'd build on once they got old enough to do proper training. A lot of the skills a pony needs to be a good soldier are pretty simple ones, like how to keep a cool head under pressure and creative problem solving, plus the very basic combat skills like how to throw a punch or dodge one. "Good, I'm kinda looking forward to seeing them again. How're they coming along?"

"Two more born and another taken in since you left." Whoa, looks like the clan did some growing while I was gone. I was kinda surprised Mom and Dad never got around to having any more kids after me. Then again, I could be a pretty big hoof-full all by myself. Besides, Mom was getting a little old for it, but she could still have another one if she wanted.

Dad passed a training schedule over to me. Hmm, enough to keep me busy, but not so much that I wouldn't be able to enjoy my time off from West Hoof. "Storm tries her best, but a drill sergeant lacks a certain delicate touch the little ones need sometimes. That's always been something you're better at."

Two Dad-compliments in one day had me not only grinning, but blushing a tiny little bit too. I'll admit that while I love both my parents, I'm a bit of a Daddy's Girl. "Thank you, sir. I guess I do have a bit of a knack with the colts and fillies." A quick double check confirmed that my schedule didn't have anything for me to work on until tomorrow. "So, unless there's anything else, it looks like I'm clear to head out on the town tonight."

"Later." Dad shot a look in the general direction of the palace. "Your mother's shift ends in about an hour, and you have some checking in to do with the rest of the clan before you have your leave."

Ah, yes, one of the downsides of a having a large extended family, especially since Dad's the clan leader. Even if I limited myself to bare-minimum courtesy calls, there were a lot of ponies to visit. Not to mention I'd probably spend a while talking to Aunt Wind. She's one of those ponies you can talk to for five minutes, and end up spending two hours with. Must be a side effect of the psychologist training. "So, anything else I'll need to do aside from waiting for Mom and letting everypony know I'm back?"

"Just one other thing." Dad trotted off into the study, and came back a few moments later with a packet of letters. "Mail call."

"Oh, right." While all the really important stuff gets forwarded to me up at West Hoof, there's always some mail waiting for me when I get home. I did a quick sort-through of everything to work out what was and wasn't important. "Friend, friend, school stuff, boring, party stuff, family, and..." I trailed off as I spotted the last letter, with its Cloudsdale postmark and an all-too-familiar return address.

Ugh. I can't believe sheis still sending me letters.

"Trash," I concluded, casually chucking the letter into the garbage can. I tucked the rest of my mail under a wing. "I'll be in my bunk. Dress uniforms are nice for coming home in, but not so great for taking care of chores and lounging around." Not to mention what I was planning to get up to later tonight. "I'll start making the rounds and letting everypony know I'm back in about half an hour, okay?" As soon as Dad gave me the okay, I trotted off to my room.

It wasn't a very long walk—the Kickers aren't exactly poor by any stretch of the word, in fact most ponies would say we're pretty well off. The family money wasn't going into prettifying our houses, though. I mean, we had some windows and nice wall hangings to prevent things from just being red stone everywhere, but we pretty much just had the basic rooms. Living room, dining room, kitchen, my bedroom, my parents' room, and a spare room that my parents were using as a study. A pretty nice home by most standards, but not exactly luxurious.

My room followed the same pattern, with that extra dose of just-too-neatness that shows up when nopony's lived in the place for a while. I mean, my parents put me in the habit of keeping my room clean pretty early on, but unless you're a complete neat-freak your bedroom's gonna acquire a certain aura of ... lived-in-ness.

Getting dress uniforms off is a bit of a pain. The process itself is fairly straightforward, but with a dress uniform it's really important to have everything just so, which means you've gotta be real careful not to knock anything out of place when you undress. If your ribbons are less than absolutely, perfectly level or one of the creases is a hairsbreadth out of place, the sergeant instructors will notice. Us officers-in-training don't get bawled out the way the fresh recruits do, but they somehow manage to be twice as brutal while remaining unfailingly polite the entire time.

I was just about done stowing my uniform when somepony who I was reasonably sure was Dad knocked on my door. The Kickers might have a big extended family, but we still liked having our own private little homes, and right now Dad was the only pony here.. "Enter."

Dad trotted right in and shut the door behind him. That got me just a little bit worried—it was just the two of us here, so shutting the door like that meant whatever he wanted to talk about was private and serious. "You got one mixed up." Dad held out the letter from Cloudsdale. "This one wasn't meant for kindling just yet."

I took a close look at it, and my eyes widened in shock when I saw that the seal had been broken. I'd thrown it away unopened, which could only mean... "What the hay, Dad? You read my mail?!"

"You threw it out," Dad countered dryly. "Clearly you weren't that attached to it."

I sputtered indignantly for a bit as I tried to come up with a good counter-argument. Stupid parental logic, it just wasn't fair. "Daaad! You can't read my mail! I might have thrown it out, but it's still my mail!"

Dad didn't seem all that convinced by my reasoning, if the flat look on his face was anything to go by. "You want a document secure, destroy it yourself." He passed the letter back to me. "She's been sending letters for almost two years now. Have you read anyof them, or did they all end up in the garbage unopened like that one?"

"I..." I really didn't wanna discuss this. I didn't want to talk about anything even remotely related to her. So I latched onto the only other topic that was on the table. "No! You read my mail! That's not okay, Dad!"

"Can, and have," he shot right back. He hit me with one of those looks he normally reserves for particularly troublesome soldiers. I like to think of it as the 'I've had enough of your horseapples' look. Having it aimed at me is ... not fun. "Now answer the question."

"Yeah, I threw them all out." The answer came out almost by reflex. Between the parental authority and the whole military leader air of authority he's got, Dad's pretty good at making a pony do what he wants just through sheer force of will. "It's my mail, I'm allowed to do whatever the hay I want to with it."

"The letter's not what I'm worried about, Cloud." Dad sighed and motioned for me to take a seat on the bed, then dropped down next to me. "You've been letting this wound fester for far too long. That kind of hatred and resentment is toxic—you know more than enough history to understand that, and I won't have it."

I gave a slight flinch at that, and felt my ears droop. "Yes sir. Sorry sir."

Dad sighed and shot the letter in my hooves a concerned look. When he finally spoke his voice was firm as iron. This was not a polite request, this was Dad laying down the law. "You will not do anything else until you have memorized this letter. I'll bring meals up to your room, if I have to." He settled into a more comfortable resting position, and began expectantly watching me. "You have your assignment. If you want to get to that party you mentioned is happening tonight, I'd suggest you get to work on that letter."

I felt teenagerly resentment flare up in my chest. Just because he's my father doesn't mean he can just boss me around like this! I limited myself to just shooting him a very unhappy glare—I might not be very happy, but I wasn't stupid enough to outright defy him. A bit of that anger slipped out in my tone when I gave him my answer. "Yes sir."

I read the letter over a couple times, doing my best to treat it as if it were just another document I needed to memorize. I've done it before with oporders and intel for field exercises, so as long as I thought of it as something like that...

Once I had the contents of the letter committed to memory, I passed it back to Dad. "First trial run, soldier. What did it say?"

"The bit—" I cut the insult off when I saw my father start scowling, and quickly corrected, "Rainbow Dash is trying to apologize. Okay? Happy now?"

Judging by the frown he was directing my way, he was anything but happy. "Ten push-ups. Now."

I couldn't help rolling my eyes, but I followed orders.

"...and ten." Once I was sitting back down and had made myself comfortable again, he pointed at the letter. "Now what does it say?"

I felt my frayed temper snap just a bit. "That's she's sorry for beating the feathers off of me to the point where I nearly feathering died! 'Cause, 'oops, my bad' is totally enough to make up for that. Oh, and don't forget screwing things up for me and Eepy on top of that."

A hint of harshness entered his voice and his ears flicked. "The two of you were too young for that, and you know it."

"Yeah, but—"

He cut me off with an upraised hoof. "No buts. Things between the two of you went way too far, and that's why the entire situation spiralled out of control in the first place." My father went contemplatively silent for a bit, and when he started talking again his voice wasn't quite so harsh. "The past is in the past, and she's trying to put it behind her and move on. You are holding onto a long-rotted wing, hoping that one day you might be able to sew it back on one day and fly. You need to recognize when to let go."

I gave an annoyed little growl and turned my head away, not wanting to look him in the eye right now. "Easy for you to say. You're not the one she put in the hospital."

My father's eyes were hard, but I knew him well enough to see the emotion welling up behind them. "No. That was my daughter, a pony I've known since she was pulled from her mother. Seeing you like that was … difficult."

That's when ... well, I had a bit of a teenager moment. In my defense, teenagers are known for having those. "Well, it looks like you got over it pretty quick."

Dad twitched, and a second later there was steel in his voice. "Thirty push-ups. Now."

I planted my hooves and met his authority with the sort of bull-headed defiance that came naturally at that age. "What if I say no?"

"Then I will be very disappointed in you," he snapped right back. "I gave you an order, and good soldiers follow orders."

I didn't quite shout at him, but my voice was definitely approaching volumes in that general neighborhood. "I'm not one of your feathering soldiers, Dad! I'm your daughter! Did you forget that?"

"You're right," he growled at me. "Even a little filly straight out of basic know how to follow orders." His wings snapped out, and he hit me with a deadly serious glare. "Forty push ups. Move."

It probably would've been smart to just back off and do the damn push-ups, but I wasn't in the mood to do the smart thing. "You want push-ups so much, do them yourself."

From the way he twitched at that, I suspect he was halfway tempted to make me start doing them. I didn't doubt that he could—pretty much everything I knew about hoof-to-hoof combat I'd learned from him. It was his special talent, after all.

Since, as has been established, teenagers don't exactly have the best thought-processes when they're in the middle of disagreements with their parents, I decided to goad him a bit. "Oh, this is just feathering priceless! You gonna beat me up now 'cause I'm not gonna forgive The Bitch for putting me in the hospital. Great parenting, Dad."

Dad's body stiffened and he scowled at me. "I forgave her because she made a mistake. A horrible mistake, but an honest one driven by good intentions, however misguided. Rainbow Dash was willing to grow up and accept what happened. Thus far she's a better Kicker than you in that regard."

What? Dad really thought...

Okay, no point in lying, that hurt. A lot.

Dad was still looking down at me, stone-faced. "It's time to grow up, Cloud. Forty push-ups is a start. Now start."

That's when the worst possible thing happened, and I felt my eyes start stinging. Dammit, I was not gonna start crying like a scared little filly now. I quickly shifted around on the bed so that my eyes were out Dad's line of sight, and tried to muffle the very quiet little sniffle I let out.

I don't think my efforts to cover things up were working, because Dad was conspicuously silent for several seconds, until I felt an almost hesitant hoof on my shoulder. "Seeing you like that, thinking my daughter wasn't going to come home ... that was the worst moment of my entire life." Dad awkwardly tightened his grip on my shoulder a bit, as if he was trying to make sure that I was still there. "We're tough with our children in our clan because we care for them. You understand that?"

I was still trying to hide the signs that I was crying, even though by now there was clearly no point to it. "Y-yeah. Got it. But..."

"But what?" It was strange, hearing him trying to balance out the tough and unflinching Kicker stoicism with ... well, acting like a father who was trying to comfort his daughter.

I tried to find some way to put in into words, but there wasn't really anything I could say that explained it. The situation wasn't complicated or messy, not really. It was actually very simple, in its own way. I gave up on trying to hide how much I was crying, and started operating on pure instinct. I turned around and wrapped my hooves around my father, sobbing into his shoulder.

"She hurt me, daddy. She hurtme."

Dad reacted the only way a loving father could. He wrapped his hooves around me and gently nuzzled me, being the rock of fatherly strength I needed. "I'm here now, Cloud. Daddy's here."


Once I'd calmed down a bit, Dad gave me my first task for the break—writing back to Rainbow Dash. I didn't have to forgive her right away or make nice, but he made it clear that I had to give her some kind of answer. I guess that was fair after all the letters she'd written.

That left me with the question of just what the hay I should say to her. Dad's only advice on the matter was to be honest, so that's what I went with. I sat down, took a pen between my teeth, and just let her know exactly how I was feeling.

Rainbow Dash:

So you're sorry? You really think some half-flanked apology is good enough to make up for what you did? This isn't like one of Derpy's little goof-ups, where all you have to do is say 'Oops, my bad,' and we all have a little laugh and everything's fine. Did you forget about the part where you tried to MURDER me? Because I sure feathering haven't.

I mean, I could understand it. You thought I'd been taking advantage of Fluttershy sexually, up to the point of outright forcing her to do stuff she didn't want to. If I'd ever caught somepony doing that to her, I know I would've ripped them to pieces, and thrown the pieces into a thundercloud. Hay, we roughed some bullies just for teasing her, and the stuff you thought I'd done was a hay of a lot worse than that. So I guess I could understand why you came after me. There's just one thing I don't understand.

How the FEATHER did you get it into your head that I could possibly do something like that to her?

Did it never even occur to you that maybe you should stop to ask for clarification when Fluttershy first talked to you? 'Cause if one of my friends told me that another of my friends was a rapist, I think I would make absolutely sure I wasn't just misinterpreting what she said. Since, you know, that's kind of a big deal. Getting things wrong because I drew some stupid conclusions just might get an innocent pony in serious trouble.

On top of that, it never even occurred to you to think that hurting Fluttershy like that is something I would never, ever do! What have I ever done that could possibly have made you think I might be capable of doing something like that? You never once thought 'Gee, rape totally doesn't sound like something Cloud Kicker would do. Maybe I should get her side of the story first, just to make sure this isn't some kind of horrible misunderstanding.' Nope, you just hop straight onto the murder train.

Was it too much to ask for a little bit of trust from you? That's something most friends do. Trust each other. Well, friends who aren't you, I guess.

Not that I'd know a whole lot about friendship anymore, thanks to your monumental idiocy. Fluttershy and I were doing just fine until you came along and feathered it all up. Sure, we were going a little fast for our age, but that's the sort of thing that gets sorted out by two ponies sitting down and talking to each other. At worst, we would've figured it out when our parents gave us a talk after we got back from Flight Camp. You know, solutions that don't involve murder.

Instead, your whole stupid thing pushes Fluttershy into breaking up with me while we're on our way to the freaking hospital, and I haven't heard from her since. So congratulations, you've successfully ruined things between me and the first pony I ever loved. I hope you're proud of yourself.

Oh, and let's not forget Derpy either. You know, our other friend who just got caught in the middle of things? You'd think that since we both live in Canterlot we'd still get to hang out from time to time, but I guess you did a pretty good of scaring her off, because she's really good at avoiding me and the one time I tried visiting her place her parents just slammed the door shut in my face. So congratulations, not only are you a terrible friend, but you've also managed to take away all the other real friends I had. Sure, there are ponies I can hang out and bang around with at West Hoof, but it's not the same.

I suppose I should at least thank you for not doing any permanent damage when you tried to kill me. Sure, you busted some ribs, some of the bones in my muzzle, broke one of my forelegs, and collapsed a lung, but all that stuff healed up eventually. You can barely even see the scars anymore, and that's only if you know to look for them in the first place. So I guess that's one part of my life you didn't completely screw up. Of course, you don't really deserve any credit for being a failure at murder.

But I guess all that's okay now, because at least you're sorry.

I don't know why you've bothered writing all those letters for the last two years. I just threw every single one of them in the trash without even opening them. It's almost like I don't like you or something. Funny, how attempted murder can do that. The only reason I even read one of your letters and gave you an answer is because my father made me.

As long as you're gonna waste time writing to me, you might as well answer one thing that's been on my mind for a while. We used to be friends, right? So why the FEATHER didn't you trust me?

Cloud Kicker


"Cloud Kicker! Mail call!"

I couldn't help twitching a bit when I saw the letter waiting for me, accompanied by Aunt Wind giving me that look of hers. It's kinda hard to put why that look bugs me so much into words, but I guess the simplest explanation is that it's her Counselor Look. The one that just exudes patient understanding and a sincere desire to help. That's not a bad thing in and of itself, but when that look's being aimed at you it's usually a bad sign. Considering the letter waiting for me on the dining room table, it wasn't hard to guess why she was aiming it at me.

I like Aunt Wind, I really do, and I've got all kinds of respect for what she does. The Kickers might be a Guard family, but the Guard's a pretty diverse organization. Guardponies get hurt, and when that happens you need somepony to fix them up, whether it's a busted wing or something that's a bit less obvious from the outside. The only problem is that sometimes, like right now, I get Captain Wind, Guard Counselor, when I'd prefer to just have Aunt Wind.

I'm pretty sure Dad must have said something to her, because she'd been hanging around lately. Not that she was being pushy or anything, just making sure I knew she was available if I needed somepony to talk to.

I guess I must've twitched or pulled a face or done something else to give away what I was thinking, or maybe Aunt Wind was just good enough at what she did to know what I was thinking. In any case, she put a supportive hoof on my shoulder and very gently offered, "I'll be around if you want to talk." She gave me a quick nuzzle before heading out the door, giving me some privacy to read my letter in peace.

I guess I didn't really have much choice when it came to reading it. After all, Aunt Wind was probably gonna let Dad know that I'd gotten a letter from Rainbow Dash, and it's a pretty safe bet that he would be very unhappy if I just junked this one. Besides, I was maybe a little curious to see what Rainbow Dash had to say after I'd said just about every nasty thing I could think of in my last letter. I'll admit, it did feel kinda good to finally get some of that outta my system.

Cloud Kicker:

Yeah, I guess there's not much I can really say. Like you said, 'sorry' sounds pretty lame when you look at everything that happened. I don't really know what else I can say though, so ... I'm sorry, okay?

You're right. I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions. I should've asked Fluttershy if I was getting everything right, or gotten your side of things first instead of just blowing up at you. I should've done just about everything I did that day diffrent differently. It's not like I can go back in time and change the past though, all I can do is keep telling you that I'm sorry.

So, I have kinda kept in touch with Fluttershy and Derpy some. Been sending them letters too and stuff. From what they've told me, they're doing pretty good. I could try to write to them about getting in touch with you or something.

Sorry if all the letters have been bugging you and stuff. It was something my shrink suggested, getting in touch with all the old gang for closing closure (whatever that is). The guy's a bit of an egghead who likes to use lots of big confusing words, but I guess eggheads like him know what they're talking about sometimes. Even if he doesn't I gotta keep going to sessions for another couple years anyway. Part of the deal they worked out for me after the whole Flight Camp thing was mandatory therapy.

I guess I oughta thank you for that. I mean, I know if you and your folks had wanted to, you probably could've gotten them to throw the book at me. I wouldn't really blame you guys for being that pissed off at me after everything that happened. I guess I owe you for that, on top of everything else.

So, thanks for finally reading one of my letters and writing back. And I'm really, really, really sorry, okay? I am.

Rainbow Dash


Rainbow Dash:

I can kinda relate to being a bit annoyed with the head doctors right now. At least you only have to go to one once a week or whatever for your scheduled appointments.

Meanwhile, my Aunt is pretty much the top-ranked head-doctor in the Guard. Normally she's pretty cool about just being my aunt, but if she starts thinking there's something bothering me it doesn't take much for her to go into doctor mode and start trying to fix me.

I get that she just wants to help, but sometimes the way it feels like she's constantly trying to analyze and diagnose and treat me instead of just being my aunt bugs me. Why can't I just go talk to my aunt about some stuff that's been bugging me, without it turning into some big thing where she wants me to lie back on the couch and spend the next couple hours talking about feelings and emotions and how I feel about my emotions?

Enough whining about my aunt.

You said you were swapping letters with Derpy and Fluttershy? How are they doing? I know you said that they were doing alright, but I wouldn't mind hearing a little bit more about how they are. Especially Fluttershy. I hate to ask you this, but could you please just get in touch with her and let me know what's going on? I haven't seen her or heard from her since Flight Camp, and I just want to know how she's doing and if she's okay. She's still talking to you for some reason, so please get in touch with her and find out more. I'm really worried about her—all that stuff at Flight Camp would've hit her really hard, and with her being the way she is she probably doesn't have friends to take care of her. I'm worried about her, but you can guess how quick Mom and Dad said no to me trying to get in touch with her.

Anyway, get in touch with her if you can. Derpy too. It would be really good if I could start getting letters from them as well. I haven't heard from either one of them in so long, and I miss my friends. If you could help me out with this ... well I won't say we'd be cool, but it would mean a lot.

Cloud Kicker


Sometimes being a cadet at West Hoof can be a real pain in the flank.

The problem with any sort of military training is that doing just about anything in the Guard is ultimately an exercise in teamwork. In other words, sometimes it didn't matter that you had done your job perfectly, because some idiot on your team went and screwed things up on a massive scale just because he was lazy. Or too stupid to follow orders. Or, as was the case this time, convinced that he knew what to do better than the person who was giving the orders.

Now that I was into my third year I was starting to get some quality field work in. All the basic training and theory was over with, and we were getting down into the really interesting stuff, like running simulated missions. On the one hoof, that's about the closest I could get to having actual field experience, and a chance to really show what I could do. The downside was that, like I mentioned before, any sort of command test meant I had to deal with teammates.

In particular, it meant dealing with Blueblood. A lot of the old-fashioned unicorn nobles still liked to put one of their kids into the Guard to uphold tradition and all that. Now, most of the nobles that go through West Hoof are just fine—in most polite circles it's considered bad form to really wave your title around and club ponies over the head with it. Usually unless you paid attention to family names or how extravagant the care packages they got from home were, you'd never be able to sort out the nobles and the commoners.

Blueblood wasn't one of the better types of noble. To be honest, I'm pretty sure the only reason he hadn't been chucked out of West Hoof yet was the fact his family had some vague bloodline ties to the old unicornian royal house, so he could technically claim that he was a prince as well as Celestia's nephew. That bought him a little more tolerance from the instructors than he really deserved, which he promptly backed up with so much judicious flank-kissing around the Commandant that I'm a little surprised his cutie mark wasn't a brown muzzle.

Needless to say, having him under my command for an exercise had been an exercise in frustration and resisting the urge to arrange for an unfortunate training accident. Combine the fact that he was a year ahead of me and the fact that he had a fancy title, and he seemed pretty convinced that regardless of what the operations orders said, he should be the one running the show. He spent my entire planning session being just insubordinate enough that I couldn't outright call him on it, and as soon as the actual mission started he ignored my plan that put his squad guarding our flanks to join in on the main assault.

The end result was that he disrupted my main thrust and left our flank vulnerable on top of that. The only thing that had gone right about the entire exercise was that after his squad got itself thankfully eliminated I managed to turn things around and pull off a win anyway. I had to fight hoof and tooth for it when, if everything had gone according to plan, I would've had a nice, easy, and much more decisive victory. Still, a win's a win.

In hindsight, I probably could've avoided the problem by just feeding his ego a bit. Sure, it's not what I wanted to do, but sometimes winning battles involves swallowing a bit of pride to get the job done. Like that one sergeant instructor pointed out, odds were pretty good that I would end up with a useless twit or two under my command at some point during my actual Guard career, so dealing with Blueblood was good practice.

Oh well, hopefully I'd never have to deal with having him under my command again. I guess that was the one consolation when it came to Blueblood—knowing him, odds were he'd spend the bare minimum time required in some rear-area command doing absolutely nothing of importance, then he'd drop out of the Guard, get his parents to arrange for him to become an honorary captain or something, and then he'd never use his rank or very brief military service for anything more than impressing extremely gullible ponies at fancy parties while letting the rest of us do the real soldier's work.

Still, after something like that I was in a bad mood that not even seeing Blueblood get smacked down by a couple sergeant instructors could fix. I needed some good news or a good bang to lift my spirits, or else I might do something like find Blueblood and tweak his pride until he took a swing at me. Being able to thoroughly and publicly kick his flank while claiming legitimate self-defense would certainly be satisfying, but it would probably make my life more complicated than it needed to be.

Thankfully, there was good news waiting for me when I got back to my bunk. I was a little surprised about getting a letter from some small town like Ponyville, but once I opened it up I recognized Rainbow Dash's all-too-familiar semi-legible scrawling. I felt a tiny little smile twitching up the corners of my face—it had been a while since I'd heard from Rainbow. Hopefully she'd have word from Fluttershy and Derpy.

Hey Cloud Kicker:

So your family gets on your nerves some too? Trust me, I know all about that.

Don't get me wrong, my parents are some of the best around. There's a reason I call them Cool-Mom and Awesomom. Oh yeah, I've got two moms, guess I never mentioned that. Yup, I'm a Magic of Love foal. Personally I think that sounds a little sappy, but hay, it seems to work for a lot of ponies, and I guess it is kinda alright. Besides, likes the nicknames say, my moms are awesome and cool.

Anyway, complaining about my moms, even if they are pretty radical most of the time. Well, we can start with the way Cool-Mom keeps trying to encourage me to be a bit more ladylike. I mean, it's not like I've got a big problem with any of that stuff, and it's not like I mind looking good or anything, it's just that it's all so much effort. Sure, my mane looks all shiny and nice and stuff when I let Cool-Mom do her thing, but that takes forever to do! I'm not gonna spend an hour every day messing around with all those different shampoos and conditioners and volumizers and all that other stuff. Especially not when it's all gonna get messed up the instant I go out and do some serious flying anyway.

That's not to mention any of the other stuff she suggests. Let's just say that makeup and flying through clouds is just a bad combination, and leave it at that.

Then there's Awesomom. She doesn't try to get me do stuff that I don't wanna do, but she can get a little (okay, a lot) clingy sometimes. I can't so much as fly out the door without getting pounced on and hugged half to death.

I guess it's all because of the whole Flight Camp thing. Awesomom really didn't want me being away from home for an entire summer and wanted to take care of training me herself, but I really wanted to go and Cool-Mom backed me up. After all, it's pretty much unheard of for a pegasus to not go to Flight Camp. We both promised her I would be completely fine going off on my own, and then you nealy Well, you were there, you know what happened.

Having me come home all busted up like that when she never wanted me to leave in the first place kinda bumped her up from being a bit clingy to smothering me. She insisted on walking me to school every single day and was always waiting to pick me up at the end of class, and she always stuck a note about how I was her special little girl in with my lunch. Plus every time we went on a school trip she 'just happened' to be doing business wherever we were visiting that day. And Celestia forbid I even consider doing something remotely dangerous, or she'd just pop out of nowhere, get a chunk of my mane in her teeth and drag me straight home.

Speaking of that, I guess you should probably know about how busted up I was. I'm not blaming you or trying to make you feel bad or anything, but I think you oughta know. It was pretty bad.

The wing healed up fine, that wasn't a big deal. Took it easy on the wing for a couple weeks, and I was good as new. But the other stuff was nasty. You busted my thing. Broke some other stuff too. The docs said I probably won't ever have foals, unless I hook up as the sire with another mare. I mean, I can try if I really want to, but they warned me that it could get really bad. You know, like complications and stuff. It's not a big deal though, it's not like I was planning on getting pregnant or anything anyway.

I had to set the letter down for a bit after that. I could just imagine Rainbow Dash writing this letter, trying as hard as she could to put a brave face on things. Trying to pretend that pretty much losing one of the big things that makes a mare a mare didn't bother her.

I hadn't meant to do that kind of damage to her when we fought. I was just trying to make her stop hitting me, and the only way I could think of to do that was to hurt her back worse. I was a kid. We both were, really. It didn't seem fair that some stupid mistake she made when she was that young could mess her up for the rest of her life.

Once I had a few minutes to calm down, I got back to reading the letter.

Like I said, not a big deal. Considering the fact that my moms are, well, my moms instead of a mom and dad, odds are I'll go for a mare eventually. See, no problem?

So, look, I got in touch with Fluttershy and Derpy about swapping letters with you. You're probably not gonna like the answer, though. After I sent the letter to Derpy her next one was a couple days late, and didn't say a single thing about you. I know I'm not so great at the whole sutle subtle thing, but even I know how to take a hint. I dunno, maybe she just needs a bit more time to chill out or something.

Fluttershy also clammed up real tight when I talked to her about you, but that kinda leads me into the big piece of good news. I didn't send her a letter, I actually talked to her.

Turns out she's been studying all kinds of stuff about how to take care of animals. Big surprise, she wants to take care of animals for a living, I never would've guessed that. Anyway, she moved to some place called Ponyville on the edge of the Everfree Forest, so she'd have lots and lots of animals to feed and pet and whatever else she does with them.

So, here's the big thing. Turns out Ponyville's looking for new weatherponies. There's a lotta farms and stuff out there since it's mostly an earth pony town, so they need a pretty big weather crew. Anyway, I was kinda looking to get away from home and stretch my wings for a bit, so I decided to grab one of those weather jobs.

Sure, I don't have a whole lot of weather engineering training beyond the basics, but I can figure it out as I go. I always picked up stuff pretty fast when it's actually interesting instead of all that boring stuff they tried to teach us back in school, especially when I'm getting my hooves dirty instead of having to learn it all out of a book. Besides, all that weather flying will be good practice for when I join the Wonderbolts. Hay, with as awesome as I am, they'll probably put me in charge of running the weather team in a couple years.

So, I'm around now, hanging out with Fluttershy and stuff. So, you know, you don't have to worry about her being all alone and lonely and stuff anymore, because she's got at least one friend hanging around.

Still kinda setting up a cloud house right now. Nothing fancy, but it beats sleeping on the ground. There's a return address on the envelope, but it's a small enough town that you could probably just write my name on the front of the envelope and they'd find me.

Anyway, Ponyville's pretty cool. I guess I kinda miss some of the big city stuff in Cloudsdale, and none of the pegasi here can even come close to flying in my league. The whole small town thing is pretty cool though. Well, except for this one earth pony called Pinkie Pie who keeps bugging me. At first I thought she was alright because she wanted to throw a big welcome party for me and stuff, but ever since then she just will not leave me alone for five minutes. Okay, she's not quite that bad, but it's still really annoying.

Write back soon, okay?
Rainbow Dash


Rainbow Dash:

I'm sorry.

I never knew I'd done that damage when we fought back at Flight Camp. Knowing I hurt you that bad makes me feel really guilty. Sure, I was defending myself, but I wish I could've done that without hurting you so much in the process. For what it's worth, I asked Dad to teach me some new hoof-to-hoof combat tricks. Ways to subdue somepony without hurting them too bad in the process. You know, just in case something like this ever comes up again, because I never wanna find out I hurt somepony like that when I didn't mean to.

I know what you'll say, that it's not a big deal and I don't need to apologize or anything because the whole fight was your fault to begin with. But I'm sorry anyway.

As long as I'm apologizing for stuff, there's something else I need to say. I know I mentioned it before, but the first two years worth of letters you sent to me just wound up in the garbage without even getting opened. That really wasn't fair of me. Yeah, I was angry at you, hated you, really. I'll even admit that hating you and not wanting anything to do you with you wasn't exactly the craziest reaction to everything that happened. That doesn't mean it was right.

You poured your heart out to me in those letters, and it probably wasn't easy for you to do something like that. For you to go to all the effort of writing out something like that, and then I just toss the whole thing into the garbage without so much as opening it just wasn't cool on my part. I'm sorry for that. I wish I could take it back, because I think I really would've liked to read all those letters. I should've given you a chance a lot sooner, because even if you feathered things up royally back at Flight Camp, you're still a good pony. Thanks for not giving up on me.

Thanks for moving to Ponyville to keep an eye on Fluttershy. Yeah, you said it was just a matter of convenience since you wanted to grab the weather job there anyway, but we both know that's not true. I wish I could be there for her, but after everything's that's happened between us that's just not gonna work. If I can't be there for her, then I'm glad that at least you can. Thank you so much. Just ... thank you. Keep an eye on her for me, will you?

I still care about her. I don't mean just caring about as a friend, I mean I've still got it for her. Bad. How pathetic is that? She broke up with me years ago, and I still haven't gotten over her. Not really. Sure, I've been banging around some since then, and I've had a lot of fun doing it. It's not that I regret it or anything, but no matter how nice whatever pony I hook up with is, they always have this one problem I just can't get over.

None of them are Eepysqueak.

Look, my breakup with Fluttershy wasn't your fault, not completely. She didn't love me, at least, not the way I wanted her to. Yeah, everything that happened with you and me didn't help things, but her not loving me was gonna be a deal-breaker no matter what.

Just let her know I wish her all the best, okay? And please, please don't tell her how I feel. I know Fluttershy, it would destroy her to find out I still had feelings for her. I don't want to hurt her, I never wanted that. I just wish things had worked out differently.

I had to take a break from writing after I finished that part. I didn't want tear-stains messing up the ink on my letter.

Anyway, in case the mailing address didn't make it obvious, I'm going to West Hoof now. It probably wouldn't measure up to your standards of cool, but I think it's a pretty nice place. There are a couple of the usual jerks and annoyances, but you're gonna find those wherever you go. The professors and the sergeant instructors all know their stuff though, and I'm doing pretty good at the whole military cadet thing. I guess what Dad always said is true—soldiering really is in our blood. I think I'm gonna make an awesome Royal Guard once all this is done.

I sure hope I turn out great, because Mom and Dad are really looking forward to me joining them in the Guard. Yeah, I bring home solid grades and good performance evaluations, but the whole family legacy thing is a lot to live up to. After all, I'm a direct descendant of Shadow Kicker, so if I wanna actually uphold the honor of our family name I've got a lot to live up to. The current Captain of the Guard is getting old enough that he'll be retiring in the next couple years, and a lot of ponies think my dad's gonna get the job next. I know he'd really like to be able to hand it off to me once he hits retirement age, so I'm gonna have to bust my flank to prove to everypony that I deserve it. I don't wanna let my family down.

Good luck with the whole weather pony thing. I took a couple advanced courses on weather engineering to help out with my special talent and everything. A lot of the stuff I learned covered military applications, but some of it'll still be useful for you. You'll find my old notes from the class enclosed, just ignore the parts about hitting enemy formations with tornados and lightning strikes—I certainly hope you don't ever find much use for that kind of thing out in Ponyville.

Thanks again for everything, Rainbow Dash. It's weird, but I really feel like maybe we could be friends again, even after everything that happened. If you'd be okay with that.

(Hopefully) your friend,
Cloud Kicker


Cloud Kicker:

Of course we can be friends again. Why do you think I wrote you all those letters?

Thanks for the notes from your weather classes, and don't worry about all that other stuff. You'll be fine, because you're awesome. Not quite as awesome as me, but still pretty awesome.

Your pal,
Rainbow Dash


"Cloud," Mom's voice drifted through the open door of my bedroom. "Mail call."

"Just a minute, Mom." I decided to forestall any objections on her part by adding. "I've only got half my uniform off." Sure, another year at West Hoof might be done (only one more to go!) but some things never changed. Like needing to keep my cadet uniform in picture-perfect condition, unless I wanted one of the sergeant instructors pulling me aside to spend half an hour very politely explaining every single little thing I'd done wrong, and explaining how to fix it all in excruciating detail. I swear, sometimes I almost envy the normal enlistees—getting yelled at and browbeaten would be a lot easier to handle than polite helpfulness you get from the sergeant instructors at West Hoof.

Mom's voice drifted out from the hallway again."You've got another letter from Rainbow Dash."

I left the rest of my uniform on the bed in a disorganized mound of fabric. I could always straighten it up later.

Ten seconds later I was in the living room, snatching my letter off the end table. I contained my excitement for long enough to open it up nice and neat, so I wouldn't accidently damage anything. Or fall victim to another one of Rainbow's little pranks. I'll admit she got me good that one time when she slipped sneezing powder in with my letter. I'm pretty sure my response had worked on her though—in the next letter she sent after my counter-attack hit, she repeatedly mentioned that my prank did not scare or startle her, not even a little. To anypony who's fluent in Rainbow Dash-ese, that made it very clear that I'd gotten her good.

Naturally, that meant I needed to be on the lookout for Rainbow's next prank. Rainbow Dash might accept a small temporary defeat with reasonably good grace, but only for as long as it took her to figure out a way to reclaim the lead.

Much to my relief, there didn't seem to any prank waiting for me when I finally opened up the letter. There was, however, a pretty big surprise. A big enough one to leave me sitting on the living room couch with my mouth hanging half-open as I tried a figure out how I should respond to something like that.

"Cloud?" Mom's voice knocked me out of brief bout of my navel-gazing. I was a little surprised that she was decked out in padding and a pair of wing-blades, until I remembered that a big part of our usual welcome-home ritual was a friendly spar so she could see what I'd learned at West Hoof.

Of course, one of the big things all those spars taught me was that I would probably never be a match for Mom until she hit the point where age started slowing her down. She did have around twenty five years worth of experience over me, not to mention that bladework was her special talent. Sure, every once in a while I could pull off a win if she got sloppy or I found a way to mix in some Krav Pega or another dirty trick to put things on more even ground, but the bottom line was that I was having a wing-blade spar with a pony who was one of (or maybe even the) best wing-blade user in Equestria.

Granted, wing-blades aren't very common weapons outside of the Kickers. They're a bit hard to learn, and while you can use them just fine on the ground they're really designed for aerial combat. They've kind of been the traditional Kicker weapons ever since the Rebellion though, because ... well the unfortunate truth is that if you're trying to kill another pegasus, wing blades are one of the best weapons for the job. When you're the only major clan that didn't buy into the whole 'free Luna' thing, you need to make a few adjustment to account for the fact that you're likely to be killing your own kind for a while.

And ... my brain was going off on a tangent because I didn't want to think about what was in the letter from Rainbow Dash. Not that I had much choice in the matter—Rainbow was going to expect an answer to her offer, and Mom was smart enough to take a look at the letter sitting on the table in front me and connect it to shell-shocked state.

Sure enough, Mom shot a look towards the letter, then back to me, and lips pursed oh-so-slightly in disapproval. I guess she hadn't completely gotten over the fact that Rainbow Dash put me in the hospital yet. "Cloud, what's wrong? Did she say something to upset you?"

"Nah, it's not that," I quickly informed her with a wave of my hoof that hopefully conveyed casual reassurance. "Just caught me by surprise, is all. She, uh..." I stopped to nervously lick my lips. "Well, I told her that the end-of-the-semester break was starting up soon. She wanted to know if maybe sometime during the break I would mind if she dropped by Canterlot. And, well, visited."

"Oh." Mom took a moment to undo her wing blades, then settled down on the couch next to me, supportively draping a wing my shoulders. Normally I would've wondered why she was being so nice, and maybe even tried to shrug her off. But ... with something like this, I guess I understood, and didn't mind. Sure, Mom might not be so great with the touchy-feely stuff, and we do butt heads as much as any daughter my age will with her mother, but some things about motherhood are pretty much instinctive, and sometimes in the toughest, most independent-minded pony could really use a mom-hug.

At length, I finally gave her an answer. "Mom? I think I wanna do it. I wanna see her again."

I felt Mom's wing tighten around me just a little when I said that. "Okay then." Mom might be every bit as stoic as a pony who was born to be a Kicker instead of marrying into the clan, but I didn't miss the slight tremble of emotion in her words. "If that's what you want, then that's what we'll do."


My parents insisted on going to the train station with me to meet her. Naturally I protested that I was a grown mare who could go to pick up a friend by herself just fine, but if I'm being completely honest with myself I didn't mind having them there.

The train showed up exactly on time. I'm not sure if that was a good thing, or I would've been happier if the train were a couple more hours late so I'd have more time to prepare for Rainbow's arrival. It probably wouldn't have made a difference. There are some things that you really just can't prepare yourself for, no matter how much time you've got. Eventually, it's time to stop planning and preparing, and start doing.

The train pulled into the station, and my breath caught in my throat when I saw that distinctive mane through one of the windows. Rainbow Dash does kind of stand out in a crowd. As soon as the train came to a complete stop and the doors opened, Rainbow Dash shot right out. It was just like her to want to be the first out the door, though I would've been alright with her milling through the crowd instead. Sure, I knew objectively that there was no way I could prepare myself for the big reunion, but that didn't stop a chunk of my brain from insisting that I needed a couple more minutes to get ready.

It didn't take Rainbow very long to spot me, since I was in uniform. Not sure why I'd dressed up. You could say I wanted to look good for her, except that Rainbow's never been one to care much for stuff like appearance in the first place. Maybe I thought it would impress her? Hay, maybe I was still a little scared of her, and wanted some proof that I'd picked up a lot of flank-kicking skill since the last time we'd met. Who knows? About the only thing I was reasonably sure about was that it wasn't part of some plan to get her into bed.

Sure, she might be nice looking and all, but there was no way I could ever think of her like that. Not with our history.

Sure enough, Rainbow spotted me pretty quickly, and flapped her way over. I'd only seen her flying for a couple seconds, but it was hard not to notice that she'd gotten even better at it. Faster, and more importantly, a lot smoother than she used to be. Her mane was also a lot nicer looking than normal. Not elaborately done up or anything, but I could tell she'd made an effort with it instead of her old Flight Camp policy of not doing anything with it beyond bathing occasionally.

So at least I wasn't the only one who'd felt that strange compulsion to look my best for this. I guess that was kind of reassuring.

Rainbow landed in front of me with a grin that quickly faded into awkward uncertainty, until I was half expecting her to pull off a mask and reveal that she was really Fluttershy in disguise. Not that I was doing any better. After several agonizingly silent seconds, she finally seemed to come up with something to say. "Hey."

It seemed like as good a thing to say as anything I could come up with, so I went with it too. "Hey."

"So..."

"Yeah."

Well, this was off to a great start. Rainbow Dash nervously rubbed a hoof against the back of her head, messing up her neater-than-usual mane as she tried to come up with some way to move the conversation past monosyllables. "How are you?"

Alright, a question. I knew how to handle those. "Doing alright." After a moment's consideration, I decided she deserved a question back "You alright?"

"Awesome as ever," she seemed to get a tiny bit of her usual confidence back with that answer, standing up a little straighter and tilting her head up just a bit. It wasn't quite the same brash, fearless filly I'd known back in Flight Camp before things went bad, but it was a lot closer than she'd been a few moments before.

I spotted two ponies I vaguely recognized over Rainbow's shoulder. I'd never actually met them, but I'd heard quite a bit about Rainbow's mothers. "Thought you'd moved out?"

Rainbow rolled her eyes and gave a very weak little laugh. "You try escaping my moms." A second after she said that she shot a look over her shoulder and gave them a tiny, fleeting little smile. Something told me that she'd had a conversation with her parents that went a lot like the one I had with mine. No matter how much we both said we could handle this on our own, deep down in our hearts we wanted our parents to be there for us.

"Yeah, I know what you mean." I shot a look over at my own parents. They seemed to be gravitating in the general direction of Rainbow's—I'm not sure if they wanted to have some big talk between parents about the two of us, or if they were just finding something to do while giving the two of us some privacy.

In either case, I needed to say something to Rainbow to keep the conversation alive before we slipped back into the land of uncertain single-word sentences. "So ... I got your letters."

I can be charming and articulate sometimes. This just wasn't one of them, apparently.

My statement of the obvious still seemed to get the job done though. Rainbow offered me a tentative little smile. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," I confirmed.

"Cool."

I'm not sure which one of us moved first. Obviously we'd both realized that talking just wasn't the way to handle this. What could we say that hadn't already been said a dozen times and more in the letters we swapped? Besides, at the end of the day we were both mares of action. So instead of bumbling our way through an awkward conversation we did what came naturally. We acted.

Whichever one of us moved first, the end result was that we were hugging.

A couple seconds into the hug Rainbow let out a sniffle, and I felt something damp on my shoulder. "It's raining," Rainbow mumbled under her breath.

I could've pointed out that there was no rain scheduled for today, or even a single cloud in the sky. Then again, I was making Rainbow's shoulder every bit as wet as she was making mine. "Yeah, must be." By unspoken mutual agreement, we raised a wing to shield each other's faces.

"I missed you," Rainbow choked out around the sobs she was trying so very hard to restrain.

I tried just as hard to keep myself in check, because I knew that if I started openly crying it would set her off as well. "I missed you too."

Rainbow let out a pained little whimper, and whispered. "I'm sorry, okay? For everything."

I tightened my hug around her in response. "It's alright, Rainbow. I forgive you."

To my dying day, I will maintain that she was the one who broke and started really crying first. Not just a little leaking from the eyes, full-blown sobbing like a filly. Naturally, that's not the way Rainbow tells the story.

I guess it's doesn't really matter one way or the other though. What mattered was that we were friends again.