Spitfire laid awake in the comfortable hotel bed, her half-lidded eyes staring vacantly into the sleep tousled mane of her marefriend. The younger pegasus was still sound asleep, taking soft, easy breaths through her open mouth. Spitfire closed her eyes and let the sound soothe her mind, like the gentle crash of waves on the beach.
Leaning forward, Spitfire pressed her lips to the sky-blue mare's forehead. There, she lingered for a few moments, feeling the warmth of the smaller pony. She sighed to herself, her forelegs gently wrapping around Rainbow's waist.
The action caused Rainbow to stir awake, a little groan emanating from her throat followed by a soft yawn. She slowly opened her eyes and blinked the sleep free of them. For a moment she glanced around, her mind still caught between sleep and wakefulness.
"Morning," Spitfire whispered, a little smile pulling at the corners of her mouth.
"Mornin'," Rainbow mumbled before yawning again.
Spitfire nuzzled her snout into the soft hairs of Rainbow's mane. Rainbow's unique smell, like static and spring rain, filled her nose and broadened the smile on her lips. She nuzzled between Rainbow's ears, earning a soft giggle from the mare.
"Sleep good?" asked Spitfire, her left hoof rubbing Rainbow's back.
Rainbow nodded a little, rubbing her eyes with a fetlock. "Mmhmm. You?"
Spitfire's stomach churned as she got a good look at Rainbow. Her coat was singed all over her body, some spots the sky-blue hairs were burned away entirely; blood trickled from her mouth, and her left wing was bent at an unnatural angle. Spitfire didn't need a doctor to tell her the wing was badly broken.
"Not good, not good," Flash muttered.
"How... how..." Spitfire whispered, her trembling hooves hovering millimeters over Rainbow's still body, afraid to touch her for fear of what they may not feel.
"Pretty good," she lied, nuzzling between Rainbow's ears.
Rainbow didn't question the answer. She mumbled a sleepy reply into Spitfire's chest, nuzzling the former-Wonderbolt's warm coat. Spitfire kissed the top of Rainbow's head before giving her a gentle nudge with a hoof.
"We should get up," Spitfire said, resting her head on top of Rainbow's mane.
"Don't wanna," Rainbow mumbled.
Spitfire gave an amused snort and another little nudge. "Well it's not my dad who's coming over to take us out to lunch."
Rainbow went still for a moment, the comment doing wonders for her wakefulness. She slowly looked up, her magenta eyes locking with Spitfire's. "That's today?"
Nodding, Spitfire glanced at the clock on the nightstand. "Well, it's quarter past nine now. He'll be here at ten-thirty, right?"
"Dad's always early," Rainbow groaned, pushing away from Spitfire and rolling onto her back. "I'll be surprised if he's not hiding in the hall right now."
The golden mare gave a quiet laugh. "Well, at least he's not sleeping on the couch. That'd be creepy."
"He wanted to, actually," Rainbow admitted, feeling a little burn in her cheeks.
"Oh..." Spitfire gave a sheepish laugh. "He doesn't trust us?"
"More like he doesn't trust you to "keep her hooves to herself"," Rainbow mimicked her father's voice while making air quotes with her front hooves.
Spitfire gave Rainbow a playful look and kissed her cheek. "As I recall, your hooves were getting pretty grabby too, missy."
Rainbow smacked Spitfire's shoulder, the blood rushing to her cheeks even as she laughed. "Shut up!"
"That's not what you said last night," Spitfire sang.
Rainbow groaned, putting her hooves over her eyes. "You're evil, Spitfire."
"Morally flexible," Spitfire corrected. She reached up with a hoof, gently cupping Rainbow's cheek and turning her head so they were facing each other. "And I love you."
Rainbow smiled, leaning forward until lips met in a quick kiss. "Love you too."
Spitfire gave a content sigh, her hoof sliding up Rainbow's cheek and through her mane. She stole another nuzzle before sighing and forcing herself into an upright position. She tugged at the blanket that covered Rainbow up to her forelegs.
"Come on, let me see how your scar is." Spitfire lifted the blanket and pulled it away.
"Didn't you get a pretty good look last night?" Rainbow asked with a grumble.
"Well I was a little focused on other stuff." Spitfire winked and flashed a toothy grin at Rainbow.
Rainbow's blush only deepened, her ears folding back.
Spitfire tousled her mane. "You're so cute when you blush."
"Uhg." Rainbow flopped her head back against the pillow. "Of all the mares…"
Pulling the sheets down to Rainbow's hips, Spitfire felt a shiver run down her spine. The scar, nearly six inches long, had gotten the stitches removed only a week earlier. The mending flesh had an angry red coloration and a few areas where the scabbing hadn't fallen away yet.
"Does it hurt?" Spitfire asked, pulling the sheet back up as she took Rainbow's hoof in her own.
The smaller mare shook her head. "Nothing I can't handle."
"Dash." Spitfire gave her marefriend a serious look.
Rainbow sighed. "It only hurts if I move too fast, and then all I gotta do is rest for a minute and I'm good."
"And what about your wing?" Spitfire asked, motioning to the wrapped limb.
The question made Rainbow frown, her eyes drifting to the crippled limb. A pervasive sense of sadness seemed to radiate from her. Taking a deep breath, Rainbow sighed and bit her lip uncomfortably.
Weights pulled down at the corners of Spitfire's mouth. She reacted immediately, wrapping her forelegs around Rainbow and pulling her into a tight hug. Her lips pressed against Rainbow's cheek before giving her an affectionate nuzzle.
"You're gonna fly again, Dash," Spitfire declared in no uncertain terms.
Rainbow gave a sad laugh; closing her eyes and holding onto Spitfire like a liferaft. "Sorry, I... I didn't wanna—"
Spitfire gently pressed a hoof to Rainbow's lips to silence her. "Hey, none of that." She smiled tenderly. "You'll be back to doing rainbooms before you know it."
Rainbow gave Spitfire an appreciative hug. "How's your wing?"
"The drugs help," Spitfire answered, her bandaged wing having been part of the reason she had been awake so early. "Have you been taking your pills?"
"Only the one last night before bed," Rainbow said, looking disappointed in herself.
Spitfire nodded, kissing Rainbow's forehead. "Why don't you hop in the shower, I'll make us some coffee."
"You're not planning on sneaking in, are you?" Rainbow asked with a cheeky grin.
Spitfire laughed once and shook her head. "So I can slip on the soap and crack my head open? No thanks."
"I thought Wonderbolts had world-class balance," Rainbow chided, wincing as she hefted herself upright.
Spitfire slid a hoof under Rainbow's back, gently helping her up. "We're weak to hot soapy showers."
Rainbow snorted, stretching her back out which yielded a series of satisfying pops. "I'll have to remember that one."
"Have mercy, oh beneficent one," Spitfire implored even as she helped Rainbow out of bed.
"Bene... what?" the weather mare asked, her face scrunching in confusion. She made an uncomfortable groan as she got to the floor, steadying herself against the bed with a wing.
Spitfire hopped down beside her, wincing from the movement it caused her wing. "Nevermind, Dash." She gently nudged the younger mare with her nose. "You go shower, I'll get the coffee going."
After one last hug, Rainbow nodded and slowly made her way towards the bathroom. Spitfire's eyes followed her until the bathroom door clicked shut. Taking a deep breath, Spitfire made her way to the kitchenette.
Having filled the pot with water and fresh grounds the evening before, Spitfire simply flipped the 'on' switch to begin the caffeinated brew. The pot gurgled to life, heating water from the chamber and beginning the slow drip of the aromatic brew. Spitfire closed her eyes and smiled; she loved the smell of coffee in the morning.
Or pretty much anytime, really.
She heard the rush of water through the wall as Rainbow started the shower. Spitfire stared at the wall between her and the bathroom for a moment, a shiver running through her. She took a quavering breath, biting her lip and hugging herself with a foreleg.
"Calm down," she whispered, closing her eyes and bowing her head. "She's fine. Calm down."
The panicked feeling didn't subside. Spitfire took a deep breath and reached for an empty glass. Filling it with water from the sink, she then trotted back to the bedroom and grasped a small, orange tinted bottle from her nightstand. Unscrewing the cap, she tilted the bottle down until a single white pill fell into her waiting hoof.
Replacing the bottlecap, she returned it back on her nightstand and stared at the innocuous pill. Her eyes drifted to the bathroom door, trying to picture the mare hidden on the other side. Another heavy breath escaped her.
"Come on, Dash, wake up," Spitfire pleaded, tears welling up in her eyes as her voice cracked, "please wake up..."
The memory stung her like a slap to the face. Sitting back on her haunches, Spitfire rubbed her face with her free hoof and sighed.
"Get a grip," she chastised herself in a hushed tone. "Get a grip."
After a vigorous shake of her head, Spitfire popped the pill into her mouth. She held it on her tongue until she got to her water glass in the kitchen. There she swallowed the pill with a mouthful of water and a look of disgust.
By the time Rainbow Dash emerged from the shower, still towelling off her damp mane, the pill had begun to work its magic. Spitfire was relaxing on the couch, a cup of coffee in her hoof and her eyes closed. The radio was playing a song that was at once melancholic and celebratory. Guitars, horns, strings, drums, and vocals all built in an intricate dance which Spitfire swayed her head in time with.
A tender smile tugged at the corner of Rainbow's mouth. She limped over to Spitfire, climbing up onto the couch and leaning against the older mare. Spitfire eagerly obliged, wrapping her left foreleg around Rainbow's shoulders.
"Hey there, stranger," Spitfire greeted, placing a gentle kiss on Rainbow's cheek.
"Hey yourself." Rainbow nuzzled under Spitfire's chin, her eyes closing and a content sigh escaping her.
"Still feeling okay?" Spitfire asked, her hoof gently rubbing Rainbows shoulder.
Rainbow nodded. "This feels pretty nice too. I'll give you about an hour to stop."
Spitfire scoffed. "I quiver with fear."
Smiling, Rainbow snuggled against Spitfire's soft coat. Her body still ached terribly, worse than she'd ever felt with a normal crash or fall. Her father, Spitfire, and the doctors had all told her many times how lucky she was to not have broken more than a wing in the fall. Rainbow wasn't so sure, but she didn't remember much of that day.
Spitfire leaned forward for a moment, taking her cup in a fetlock and sipping at the hot coffee inside. Rainbow followed the motion with her eyes, waiting until Spitfire had finished before speaking up.
"Can I have some of that?"
The Wonderbolt pretended to think the request over for a minute. "I don't know... were you a good filly this morning?"
"Oh, shut up," Rainbow giggled.
Spitfire snickered, offering the cup to her marefriend. Rainbow put her hoof over Spitfire's, tilting the cup to take a sip as well. Spitfire liked her coffee a little stronger than Rainbow did, but Rainbow didn't mind the taste as much when she could drink it like this.
"Thanks," she said, wiping her lips on her foreleg.
Both mares relaxed, content to hold, and be held in each other's hooves. They remained in that position for a while, listening to music on the radio. Rainbow even fell back asleep in Spitfire's embrace, at least until a quick succession of knocks at the door roused her.
"Bet that's your dad," Spitfire commented, stretching out her forelegs and yawning.
"Or your brother," Rainbow grumbled, rubbing her eyes before she slid off the couch to answer the door.
On the other side was indeed Rainbow's father. The aging stallion offered his daughter a happy smile as the door opened. "Heya, baby-girl."
"Dad!" Rainbow cringed, her cheeks flushing. "Don't call me that in front of other ponies!"
Bifrost shrugged. "Suit yourself, Squirt."
"Uhg!" Rainbow slapped herself in the forehead.
Chuckling, Bifrost pulled her into a tight hug. "How are you feeling?"
Rainbow returned the hug for a moment before pulling away. "I'm good Dad, really."
"Hi, Mr. Bifrost," Spitfire greeted him as she trotted up beside Rainbow.
"Spitfire," he smiled warmly to her, "keeping your filthy hooves to yourself I trust?"
"A sweet, innocent filly like me?" Spitfire put a hoof to her chest and faked a mortified look. "I would never be so uncouth!"
Rainbow's intense blush told Bifrost all he needed to know.
"Celestia kill me now," she whimpered.
"You two all packed up?" Bifrost asked, dropping the topic for the moment. He'd have plenty of opportunities to torment them later.
Rainbow nodded. "I barely had anything in the first place."
"I gave Rapid most of my stuff, he's got the spare key to my place in Cloudsdale, so he'll just drop it off there for me." Spitfire shrugged.
"Speaking of," Bifrost motioned them to the hall. "Soarin and your brother should be waiting at The Eighth Note." He scratched the back of his head for a moment, his golden eyes looking upward as he thought. "What time does your train leave for Ponyville?"
"Tomorrow at nine," Rainbow answered, sticking her tongue out in disgust. "Which means we gotta be there at eight-thirty."
"First class cabin, though." Spitfire smiled, her good wing nudging Rainbow. "It shouldn't be so bad like that."
"I guess," Rainbow acknowledged.
"Well come on, chop chop!" Bifrost lightly stomped a hoof on the floor. "Daylight's burnin'!"
"Why did you have to be born a morning pony?" Rainbow asked, levelling a glare at her father.
"Just to drive you crazy," he answered with a far too happy smile.
Rainbow hung her head, defeated.
The Eighth Note was considered one of the finest coffee and breakfast shops in Manehatten. Built into an otherwise unremarkable block of locally owned shops, it seemed almost like it was intentionally hidden. Still, it never failed to have a large crowd of ponies waiting to get in whenever it was open.
Bifrost also had another motivation for selecting it as the place where they could all have breakfast. Rainbow wasn't admitting it to anypony, but he could tell she was having trouble walking, far more than she let on, even to the doctors. The ponies at the hospital had assured him that it was merely bone bruising, and that she would recover in a month.
He would have worried less had she been somewhat less stubborn in refusing to use the pain medicine they had prescribed to her.
The three pegasi easily found Soarin and Rapidfire upon arriving at the cafe. The two Wonderbolts had managed to secure an outdoor table with enough space for all five of them. Between them was a small notebook with various notes scribbled into it that they were quietly chatting about when Bifrost, Rainbow, and Spitfire arrived.
"I don't know how I'm gonna do it," Soarin sighed, rubbing a hoof through his mane.
Rapidfire frowned, his eyes drifting down to the notebook. "We'll figure it out, somehow."
"Ich brauche einen Drink," Soarin grumbled.
"Writing love letters?" Spitfire asked, plopping into the seat next to her brother.
"I'd say shove it, but you'd enjoy that too much," Rapid shot back, his tongue sticking out at her.
"Hey, Boss, Rainbow, Bifrost," Soarin greeted them all, pointedly ignoring Spitfire's quip.
"Hey guys!" Rainbow grinned from ear to ear, sitting next to Spitfire. "What's new?"
"New Yoke, New Hoofshire, New Hasey," Rapidfire flubbed, desperately wracking his mind for more puns. "Uhh."
Soarin shook his head and sighed. "Dude, stop. You're gonna hurt yourself."
"Only if I don't smack him first," Spitfire promised, shaking her head and rubbing her face with a hoof.
"Meanies," Rapidfire pouted, his forelegs folding across his chest.
"So, who wants drinks?" Bifrost asked, smiling in amusement. "My treat for you all."
"Can I have a hot cocoa?" Rainbow asked, grinning with foalish excitement.
Bifrost snorted, his hoof tousling her mane. "Oh, I suppose."
"Coffee for me, please," Spitfire said.
"Same," Soarin said, motioning to Spitfire with a hoof.
"Surprise me," Rapid shrugged.
Rainbow stared at Rapidfire in horror.
"What?" he asked, noticing her look.
Rainbow shook her head slowly. "You poor dumb bastard."
"... what?" Rapid almost mewled, an actual look of fear on his face.
Bifrost was nowhere to be seen, having already vanished into the Eighth Note.
"So... erm... anyway," Soarin began, trying to push what he'd just witnessed out of his mind. "We'll be leaving for Cloudsdale this afternoon. Just gotta wrap up a couple last meetings."
Spitfire nodded, resting her elbows on the table. "Arcus and everyone else already head out?"
"Mmhmm," Soarin nodded. "We've got a meeting next Monday to start planning routines."
Nodding, Spitfire felt a pang of regret in her heart. She sighed and forced herself to push those thoughts aside for now. That part of her life was over. "Any word on Fleetfoot?"
Rapidfire answered her this time, shaking his head left to right. "According to Blaze, she packed up a bag and flew out of town last week. She said she'd come back when she was ready."
Nodding, Spitfire opened her mouth, only to close it promptly as Bifrost returned, setting a coffee in front of her.
"How are you balancing all that on your wings?" Soarin asked, genuinely impressed by the older stallion.
"You learn a thing or two when you're a single parent," he answered simply. His hoof carefully took another cup from his right wing and set it in front of Soarin.
"Thanks Dad!" Rainbow grinned brightly as he set her cocoa on the table.
"Anytime, Rainbow," he said before coming to Rapidfire.
The 'drink' he put down in front of the golden stallion positively reeked of sugar. It came in a decorative glass malt cup and had a light caramel color. Topping the concoction was a small mountain of whipped cream covered in sprinkles and little sea salt-caramel squares. A pink crazy straw that had five loops in it topped off the monstrosity.
"Oh no. No way am I drinking that." Rapidfire folded his hooves across his chest, turning his nose up at the sugary concoction.
"Oh, come on, you drank that whole thing Arcus bought a couple weeks ago," Soarin teased, his lips pulled into a toothy grin. His hoof gave a light prod to Rapidfire's ribs, only to be swatted away by the smaller stallion.
"That's 'cause you bastards made me." Rapid shuddered at the memory, his forelegs hugging himself like a traumatised pony. "I think it gave me turbo diabetes."
"There's no such thing as turbo diabetes." Soarin rolled his eyes, hoof smacking Rapidfire's shoulder.
"Yes there is, I could feel it man!"
"That was probably just gas," Soarin deadpanned.
Bifrost sat down and propped his elbow up on the table, resting his cheek in his hoof. He watched the two stallions argue for a few minutes, a ghost of a smile pulling at his lips. Rainbow Dash groaned, putting her head in her hooves. She knew that look all too well.
That said, she wasn't about to give Rapid or Soarin any warning. That would ruin the fun.
With his free hoof, Bifrost took the string of his teabag and began lightly dunking it into his cup. All the while he kept his gaze fixed on the bickering Wonderbolts with that phantom smirk plastered on his face. Rainbow's eyebrows knitted together and she tilted her head in confusion. Spitfire, on the other hoof, snorted in amusement, biting her tongue to keep quiet.
Rainbow looked to her marefriend, the confusion plain on her face. "What? What's so funny?" she asked in a hushed voice.
Wrapping a golden hoof around Rainbow's shoulders, Spitfire pulled her close and whispered into her ear.
The younger mare listened carefully, her confusion shifting to a faintly nauseous look. She pulled away from Spitfire, shaking her head in disbelief. "They do that?"
Spitfire nodded. "Mmhmm."
Rainbow stared at Soarin and Rapidfire. Suddenly being a fillyfooler seemed like winning the genetic lottery.
Soarin seemed to notice it after a few minutes as well, shooting the elder stallion a puzzled expression. "Can I help you?"
"Oh, no, no. Don't mind me," Bifrost answered, his lips pulling up into a little smile. He waved his free hoof at them in a shooing motion. "Carry on, carry on."
The two stallions exchanged an uncomfortable look.
Dip. Dip. Dip.
"Stop that," Soarin finally said.
Bifrost gave a lazy shrug of his shoulders. "Stop what?"
"That!" Rapid pointed a hoof at the offending teabag.
"What, this?" Bifrost looked at the teabag in his fetlock. "Something wrong with an old pony like me brewing some tea?"
"Oh, no." Soarin pointed an accusatory hoof at Bifrost. "No, no, no. You're way too evil for anything that mundane."
Bifrost tsked and shook his head. "Evil such a loaded word, I prefer-"
"Morally flexible?" Spitfire offered, grinning like a foal.
"I was gonna say mischievous, but you know what, I like that one more!" Bifrost excitedly cheered.
"Teufelsweib," Soarin grumbled under his breath.
Rainbow giggled, her tail brushing against Spitfire's. The Wonderbolt cast her a sidelong glance, a little smile on her lips. Spitfire returned the gesture, flicking her tail against Rainbows and nudging Rainbow's side with her good wing.
Bifrost sipped at his drink, making a satisfied sigh as he set the cup down. "Rainbow, did you send grandpa your thank-you letter yet?"
"Huh?" Rainbow thought for a moment before she nodded. "Yeah, I sent it yesterday. I thanked him a ton for paying the hospital bills."
"That's my girl." Bifrost smiled. "Next time you're in Cloudsdale, make sure you visit him for a while too. He misses you."
"I will, Dad."
"Oh, Luna's balls." Bifrost sat upright and dug in his saddlebag for a moment. He pulled out a pristine white envelope with the weather factory seal emblemized on the front. "I almost forgot about this." He proffered the envelope to Rainbow, looking unsure about what it contained. "I got it yesterday, but it's addressed to you."
Her eyebrows pinched together and her lips pulled into a frown. Taking the letter in her hooves, Rainbow clasped the end in her teeth and tore it open. Pulling the folded paper free, she opened the letter and began to read.
Silence settled over the table, the four other ponies waiting to hear what the contents of the letter were. Rainbow shook her head slowly, as though she couldn't believe the words she was reading. Her mouth opened and closed, but no sound came forth.
Spitfire reached out with a hoof, gently resting it on Rainbow's shoulder. "Dash?"
"What's it say?" Bifrost asked, his own concerns mounting.
"I…" Rainbow swallowed hard, dropping the letter onto the table. "... I've been fired…"