Beneath the Big Blue Sky

by Pale Horse

Chapter 1: Beneath the Big Blue Sky

He squinted in the morning sun, lifting a claw to shield his eyes from the glare. He spent so much time cooped up in the library that he wasn't used to the bright light.

“You don't have to do this, you know,” he said. “I'm sure you have important Wonderbolt business to attend to, or something.”

“Are you kidding?” she said. He almost would have described her tone as 'giddy,' but he knew that she probably wouldn't appreciate that. “I wouldn't miss this for the world. Besides, we don't have any maneuvers until next week, and there's nothing that I'd rather be doing than helping my newest flying buddy earn his wings.” She paused. “I mean, you've already got your wings, but... well, you know what I mean.”

“Yeah.” He flapped the recent additions experimentally. He was still getting used to them; it was no surprise that everypony else was, too. “But really, it's okay. I can always ask Twilight for help.”

She made a dismissive wave of her hoof. “Twilight's still a rookie,” she said. “She might get you into the air, but she'll never teach you how to fly.” She was grinning at him. She could manage to look very smug, when she put her mind to it. “Besides, why take lessons from the student, when you can learn from the master?

He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah,” he said. “Everypony knows your flying is great.”

“My flying is awesome,” she corrected him, that self-satisfied smirk still on her face. “Stick with me, young one, and you too may someday be as cool as I am.”

“Just what I always wanted,” he replied, dryly. “Can we get on with it, please?”

“Be patient,” she said, unhurriedly. “Preparation is very important, and can't be rushed. We've gotta run through the preflight checklist. And first things first, so...” She pointed a hoof toward him. “Spread 'em. I wanna see what I've got to work with.”

He found that particular bit of advice to be supremely ironic, considering that it came from so hotheaded a pony as her; patience had never struck him as being one of her virtues. But he said nothing. Instead, he obliged her, the folds of his wings flaring out upon his back. Her eyes widened. He always thought her eyes were the most curious color. Not purple, like Twilight's coat, or his own scales, but not red, either. Something in-between... rose, maybe.

“Whoa,” she whispered. It was a rare pleasure when he was able to surprise her. Her hooves made a whisper of a sound upon the grass as she drew closer to him. “I've never seen 'em up close before,” she said. “Last time I was this close to a dragon, it was trying to eat me.”

He flashed a grin of his own at her, making a point to show off a few of his gleaming teeth. “Might still happen, if you aren't nice to me,” he teased.

She gave a snort of breath. “I'll take my chances,” she replied. She lifted a hoof toward one of his outstretched wings, and stopped. “Can I...?”

He nodded.

She ran her foreleg along the edge of his wing, trailing her hoof across its bony ridges and soft membranes. She thought she saw him shiver where he stood, but she couldn't be sure. “They're so... different,” she murmured in fascination. “Nothing like pegasus wings. I'm surprised you can fly at all.”

It was his turn to snort. “You don't hear me making fun of your feathers, do you?”

“My feathers are—”

“Awesome, I know,” he sighed. He was quiet, for a moment, his wings reflexively twitching as she continued her delicate examination. “Do they really matter?” he asked. “The wings, I mean.”

“Not really,” she answered, half-distracted. She was still exploring him with those feather-light touches, gently rubbing and stroking his wing, testing its texture beneath her hoof, apparently marveling at how alien he looked, and felt. He wasn't sure how to feel about that. “Flying isn't that hard. If the birds and the bees can do it, then so can ponies.” Her wandering hoof left his wing, rising to poke against the tip of his snout. Boop. “That goes for dragons, too,” she said. She had that sly little smile on her face again.

“Hmph,” he scoffed, wrinkling his nose. “Twilight always talked about it like it was so complicated. She said it was all about aerodynamics, wind speed, air pressure, lift and thrust. Stuff like that.”

“Well, of course she'd say that,” she groaned. “You know Twilight. She's a smart pony, but she tries too hard. With her, everything is charts and graphs, experiments and explanations, and books, books, books.

He let out an amused rumble of a sound. “Yeah,” he agreed. “That sounds like her, all right.”

Her own wings gave a beat upon her back as she shrugged. “Like I said, she's a smart pony. I know you love her. So do I. But she's always thinking too much, always looking at things from that egghead perspective. Trying to dissect and analyze everything in life takes all the magic out of it, not to mention the fun.

He tilted his head. “Are you saying that magic makes you fly?”

“Well, yeah, that's part of it. I mean, look at me.”

He looked, as he had caught himself doing more and more often lately. She struck a pose, spreading her wings and tossing her head back, sending her mane of multicolored hair spilling down her neck and over her shoulders. She wore it longer than she used to, and a little straighter; she didn't look quite so unkempt as she once did, with her hair all frizzy, as if she had just gotten out of bed. He never asked her why she had started growing it out. Maybe he should have.

Time had been kind to her. While she was a little taller now, she otherwise looked much the same as she always had. Her build was still lithe, limber, athletic. The years hadn't slowed her a single step; if anything, she had only gotten faster, thanks to her passion, drive, and relentless training. He would have expected nothing less from a member of the Wonderbolts. She'd lost none of her fire, none of her spirit. Her coat was still the same vibrant shade of blue, as blue as the sky above, and the only wrinkles on her face were around the corners of her mouth... and she only had those, he knew, because she laughed and smiled so much.

She was pretty. He wasn't sure if she would appreciate hearing that, either.

“Look at my wings,” she continued. “See how small they are compared to the rest of me? They should be twice that size just to lift me into the air. Most ponies are the same way. And what about those royal guards in Canterlot? With all that heavy armor on, they shouldn't even be able to get off the ground. But they do, and they can fly as easily as I can. That's what pegasus magic does. It's what lets us fly, and walk on clouds, and control the weather.”

He nodded. “Okay,” he said, “so what about me?”

“What about you?” she said, lifting a hoof to thoughtfully rub it beneath her chin. “That's a good question.” She walked around him where he stood, slowly, her eyes drifting across him, studying him, trying to figure out a secret that he didn't even know he held. “I didn't know that dragons had any magic. But Princess Celestia says that there's magic in everything, so I guess it works for you the same way that it does for us.”

He turned his head to watch her, his own verdant eyes following her until she left his field of vision. “Aren't you supposed to be the expert?” he said.

“Hey, even I don't know everything,” she replied. “That's Twilight's job.” She was behind him now, inspecting him carefully, like Rarity scrutinizing every stitch of her own tailoring. “Your wings aren't any larger than mine, and you're almost the same size as me. Keep growing like you are, and you're going to be taller than I am, soon enough. Heh, I dunno if I like that.”

He peered over his shoulder at her. “Why not?” he asked, mildly annoyed.

“I've always been looking down on you, ya little runt.” Her tone was playful. “Heck, I've only just now gotten used to looking you in the eyes. What am I gonna do when you're actually bigger than me, huh?”

He smiled at her. Most ponies were frightened when he did that—he had a lot of teeth, after all—but not her. She and fear had never met. “Well,” he mused, “maybe I could give you a ride, for once. That'd be a welcome change.”

She smiled back at him. A warm, genuine smile, not like her earlier, prideful smirking. “I'd like that,” she said. She reached for his wings again, gingerly touching, stroking, with all the care that she might show to a foal, her head canted faintly to one side. “Not so little anymore, are you?” she said, more to herself than to him.

Again, he said nothing, but merely bowed his head forward, his wings trembling beneath her touch.

She was silent, for a time. “Did it hurt?” she asked at length. “When they... you know.”

“A little,” he said. A half-truth, at best, but there were some things that she was better off not knowing. “I remember there being a lot of blood, so it probably looked worse than it actually was. Twilight was really worried, though. She... she wouldn't stop crying.”

He felt her pressing against his back, between his wings. She weighed almost nothing. Her forelegs draped around his neck. “We were all worried about you, dummy,” she whispered. “Don't ever scare us like that again.” She chuckled where she lay against him. “You... you should have seen us. Half a dozen mares in the hospital waiting room, all yelling and crying and worrying themselves sick. We drove your nurses crazy.”

“I'll bet you did.” He reached up with a claw, resting it atop the spot where her legs crossed his chest. “I'm sorry.”

“S'okay,” she murmured. “S'part of growing up, I guess. For a dragon, anyway.” She rubbed the tip of her muzzle against the back of his neck. “They look good on you, you know. Handsome, even. Pretty soon, mares will be knocking down the door of the library to get to you.”

His head bowed further between his shoulders. He could feel his cheeks burning. “Aw, cut it out,” he said.

She clicked her tongue. “It's true,” she insisted. “I'm sure Twilight will be glad to finally have some other ponies to nerd around with, but whatever will Rarity think?”

The heat in his cheeks intensified. “Dash...” he grumbled.

He couldn't see her face, but he knew she was grinning from ear to ear as she rubbed her hoof against the top of his head in a fond noogie. His soft green spines bent and yielded beneath her touch. “I'm just messin' with ya,” she said. “Gotta get my licks in while I still can, after all, before you get too big for me to handle.”

“I thought there was nothing you couldn't handle,” he retorted.

“That's true,” she admitted, “but there's a first time for everything.”

Another long silence. The feel of her soft warmth against the cool firmness of his scales. It was a sensation that made his heart beat faster, and caused his breathing to subtly quicken.

“Can I ask you something?” he said.


“What's it like?”

Her chin came to rest upon his shoulder. “Flying, you mean?”

He nodded.

She didn't answer right away, but drew in a deep breath, and let it back out. She was actually thinking about what to say, which was unusual, given how quick she usually was to shoot her mouth off.

“It's hard to describe... especially to somepony who's never done it,” she began. “You know that feeling you get when Applejack greets you with a mug of fresh cider? Or when Fluttershy gives you a hug, because you're feeling down? Or when Pinkie Pie shows up at your door with a cake, because it's Tuesday, which she says is 'Cake Day'?”

He chuckled, a sound that left his lips in a raspy hiss. He was quite familiar with the time-honored traditions of Cake Day. “Yeah.”

“If you could take that feeling, and wrap yourself up in it like a snuggly blanket, using it to stay warm at night, then you'd begin to have some idea of what it's like to fly. It's happiness. It's joy. It's...”

She shifted position, stretching herself out against his back.

“... it's freedom, Spike. That's the best word for it.”

“Freedom from what?” he asked.

“Anything. Everything. There's no up or down, no left or right. There's no doubt to hold you back, no gravity to chain you down. No rules, no limits. Nothing but you and the big blue sky. It's the greatest, most liberating feeling that I've ever known.”

He nodded again, slowly. “I think I understand,” he said. “Thank you for sharing that feeling with me.”

“Hey, I wouldn't be much of a friend if I didn't,” she replied. She lifted a hoof from where it lay against his chest, gesturing toward the sky. “See, earth ponies get their magic from the ground, so they never really think about what it would be like to fly. They might get curious, every once in a while, but that's as far as it goes. And unicorns get their magic from their horns, so they'd never know the difference either way. But pegasi get their magic from the air, from the sun and wind and clouds, so that's the only place that they ever really feel at home.”

He couldn't help himself. “You sound just like Twilight,” he said.

He felt her body give a jolt against his. “Hey,” she huffed, “you take that back.”

He allowed himself a fanged smile, ignoring the wound he had inflicted to her pride, and ran the tips of his clawed fingers along the leg that remained within his grasp. “But I'm not a pegasus,” he pointed out.

“Maybe not,” she conceded, “but you've still got magic, and still got wings. That should be enough.” She slumped back to rest atop him, returning her free leg to its place around his neck. “I've been in the air since I was old enough to trot, Spike. Flying is my whole life. If I couldn't do it, you might as well just cut my wings off.”

He winced, his own wings instinctively bending inward at the unpleasant mental image.

“Sorry,” she murmured in apology. “It's just... I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't fly. I think I'd probably lose my mind.”

He lifted his other claw, sinking his fingers into the silk-soft strands of her rainbow mane. “Don't go doing that,” he said. “I already live with one crazy mare. I don't think I could handle another.”

She actually giggled—proving that she could still surprise him, too—and tenderly nuzzled him, rubbing the edge of her muzzle against his own. She hadn't always been so affectionate, but that was one thing about her that time had changed. He certainly couldn't complain.

“No promises,” she whispered. Her lips, just as soft as her feathers, brushed against his earfin, and her breath was warm upon his face.

He cupped his scaled palm against her cheek, turning his head just enough to rub the tip of his snout into the softness of her mane, and inhaled deeply, filling his lungs with her scent. She smelled of rain, and thunder, and light, and mare, and—

His wings snapped to attention upon his back, startling him so badly that he nearly toppled over. “Ah!” he cried.

“What, what?” she said, jerking her head away from his. The concern was evident in her voice. “What'd I do?”

“Nothing, it's not you, it's... nnngh.” He bit down upon his lower lip to silence the growl that threatened to well up within him. Why now, of all times? “My wings are bothering me again, that's all.”

“Does it hurt?” she asked. “Should I go get Twilight?”

He shook his head. “No, no, it's fine. It'll pass, it always does. Just... give me a minute, okay?”

“Okay.” She paused. “Wait... has this been happening to you a lot?”

“Yeah, ever since they grew in. It doesn't hurt, exactly... they just get really stiff, for no reason, and start to ache. It comes and goes. I thought maybe I was sleeping on them wrong. Twilight did the same thing, when she first got hers.”

He could have sworn that he felt a rush of heat radiating from her face, so near to his own.

“Just growing pains, I guess,” she said, after a moment. There was a tinge of jest in her voice. “You know what that means, don't you?”

He quirked a brow. “What?”

“It means that you need to break 'em in,” she said, “and I think I know just the way.” She slid off his back, lowering herself down onto her hooves, and walked back around in front of him, where he could see her. “Are you ready to go?”

He nodded. “As ready as I'll ever be, I suppose.”

“Have you had any illnesses lately?” she asked. She was poking and prodding his chest with a hoof, as if she were checking the wheels on a wagon. “Eaten anything in the last hour?”

“No.” He squinted at her. “Do you go through this every time you fly?”

“No,” she said, “but I'm the expert, remember?” She was grinning at him again.

And again, he rolled his eyes. “How could I forget?”

“Hey now, this is serious,” she said, her expression suddenly growing stern. “I'm not talking about flying a few laps around the library, low to the ground, like a filly. Twilight's not gonna be there to hold your hoof—er, claw.” She stepped closer to him. “When it's time for birds to leave the nest, their mothers push them out into the open air, and they either fly, or they fall. That's nature's way.”

He looked down upon her in silence. Then he whispered, “And if I fall?”

She lifted a foreleg, cupping her hoof against his cheek. Those rosy eyes looked back into his. “If you fall,” she whispered in reply, “then I'll catch you. I promise.”

He couldn't help but smile. “Pinkie Promise?” he said.

She laughed. The sound alone was its own reward. “Pinkie Promise,” she agreed. She leaned in closer to him, resting her forehead against his own. Her eyes were closed. “Just you, and me, and the big blue sky... okay?”

He nodded, his own eyes shut. “Okay.”

She drew away from him, slowly, putting some distance between the two of them. A beat of her wings took her into the air. She hovered there for a moment, pointing toward the horizon. “Last one to Sweet Apple Acres buys the cider!” she said, flashing him a smile that lit up the sky every bit as brightly as Celestia's sun.

“C'mon, big guy... catch me if you can!”

She took off like a shot, leaving a trail of prismatic light in her wake that streaked across the cloudless sky like a painter's brush upon the endless azure canvas. The rainbow stretched out before him, long and full and bright, inviting him to find out what was waiting at the other end.

He hesitated, briefly, and then he finally began to chase her, breaking into a run, leaping into the air, spreading his wings, and taking flight.

Author's Notes:

Many thanks to the luminous Luminary for invaluable pre-reading and editorial input!

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