She should have never left. I should have never let her leave, but I did. Lots of ponies asked her to stay, but so many more were urging her to go, cheering her on. She knew it was dangerous beyond Equastrian borders. The mystery of the unknown, the physical challenge, the prestige coupled with immortal fame upon her return yeah, I can understand why she left. She was so focused, so determined. There was no way she was going to back out after talking as big as she did.
But, that's just like Rainbow. She's as fast as light itself, but she's as stubborn as a mule. If she sets her mind on something, ain't nopony is gonna change it for her. Y'all can quote me on that.
I don't like to think about it much, but I do remember how this whole mess started. It was just a few days after the little 'Iron Pony" competition we had. Well, I say "little," but we all know how out of hoof that got. All of those games, and we couldn't even determine a winner. She did cheat, after all. I could have sworn I told her no wings.
I wish I would have just thrown the competition, though, or let her have her false victory. That's exactly what I would have done if I knew what I actually did would cause her to disappear forever. My best friend, gone, all because I needed to prove how great I was. I should have never lost my head.
But, that doesn't matter. Thinking about what I should or could have done isn't going to bring her back. Nothing is going to do that as far as I can tell.
She just, I, we got it in our heads we were each the best athlete in Ponyville, but of course, there can only be one "best". We had to settle it, because that's what those of us born with the competitive spirit are driven to do. It seems so frivolous now, compared to what's happened.
But, anyway, on with the story. Since we couldn't pick a winner, we decided to compete again, with a clearer set of rules this time around, in the annual Running of the Leaves Race. Needless to say two ponies as thick-headed as us didn't have a difficult time making total foals out of ourselves. We both placed last.
I suppose, since we didn't know who was best, even after the race, it kept eating at her.
"What if Applejack is really a better athlete than me?" She must have thought. "What if I'm just not good enough?"
I can see how a feeling like that would slowly dissolve and then consume her. I just wish I could have done more to stop it.
No, I'm wrong. There was more I could have done. Fact is I just didn't do it. I can't help but to blame myself for her absence.
I'm sure she must have had a hard time sleeping the night after the race, because when she showed up the next morning at Sweet Apple Acres, the frustration along with a fair amount of insomnia reflected quite well in her eyes. She touched down right in front of me while I was buckin' apples, the way I always do, and just stared at me with those big, dry eyes. They were as full of emotion as they were redness. Negative emotion.
I took a step back, feeling a little uncomfortable. As she glared further and further through me I could feel myself trembling. It felt as if she hated me, and showed up that day just to let me know it. I suppose she was threatened by me, which would explain what she did next.
She took two forceful steps toward me, despite already only being inches away. I guess trying to intimidate me was her way of accommodating the shame she must have been feeling.
"This isn't over," she piped. "That race didn't prove anything."
Now, I'm all for fun and games, and even indulging in a little friendly competition every now and again, but by that point I was dog-tired from the stuff we had been doing over the past couple days. I was already up early working hard, so I wasn't in the mood for any more challenges, and I certainly wasn't in the mood for Rainbow's attitude.
"Rainbow, Sugar Cube, I get that you're mad and all, but y'all need to simmer down. I got a lot of work ahead of me this mornin', so I ain't about to compete with you again today. Besides, there ain't no sense in fussin' over who's best. I thought we decided it didn't matter."
"It does matter!" Angst rang through her as she spoke. "You and everypony else knows I'm the best athlete Equestria has ever known. At least, you will when I finally prove it once and for all."
"Prove it once and for all?" I thought.
But, I didn't think too much on it. We were friends, but by that point she was really getting on my nerves. I decided the best thing to do was to let her be, and keep working.
"Rainbow, y'all do what you gotta go, but this here pony's got some apples to buck."
It had worked. She took a step back, but that look in her eyes never did change.
"You'll see." She muttered, "I've come up with the ultimate test. Nopony has ever flown around the entire world before; I'm going to be the first. And, when I get back, you and everpony else is going to know just how great I really am."
She continued to glare at me as she spoke, but by that point I was hardly paying attention at all.
"What in the hay is she spoutin' off about now?" I thought to myself, trying to regain focus on my work while still wondering what she was planning.
She launched herself back up into the clouds without another word before I had a chance to ask her anything.
As it turns out, Rainbow's ultimate test wasn't just a bunch of talk. Her plan, the only way she knew to prove herself, redeem herself, was to fly around the entire world. Not only that, though. She was going to fly the entire marathon without landing. Rainbow was certainly a brilliant athlete, but she had never attempted anything this arduous. To her, it was something she had to do in order to make up for not wiping the floor with me in our competition they way she had expected. This journey was going to be something she, and only she, was going to be able to complete which would once and for all prove she was the best.
Now, I found all of this out from Twilight Sparkle, whom Rainbow had spoken to shortly after confronting me on my farm. I suppose Rainbow needed a little help with geography, or physics, or something, and everypony knows if you need to know anything about anything, it's best to go to Twilight Sparkle.
Twilight filled me in on all of the details of Rainbow's trip, and just how difficult she expected it to be. She said it would take Rainbow at least twelve full days, even at the speed she could fly. She seemed just as worried as I was about the inevitable muscle fatigue Rainbow would encounter, but Rainbow herself was far less worried. She touted she could get the whole thing over within ten days.
"Ten days. Flat." She had said.
I was such an ambitious claim, such a dangerous thing to try. Thousands of miles of travel with no earthly idea where she'd be headed? Not to mention she wasn't going to land, not even to sleep. It had to be difficult; she insisted. She told me the trip would just be leisurely sightseeing if she didn't make it difficult on herself.
I remember the day she left all too well; it was the last time I ever saw her. I wish I could have been in a better state of mind for it, not being so worked up about the possibility of her never making it home, but it is what it is. It was early morning. The sun had only just risen. She, I, and our other close friends, Fluttershy, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, and Twilight had all gathered in Ponyville Square. They had all come to see her off, but not me, no. I showed up to beg her to stay.
It had been a while since the entire group had spent any real time together. We spent an hour or so catching up with one another, but I could only half pay attention to any one pony as they spoke. I was far too focused on Rainbow, and what I needed to say to her. After a little while, Pinkie Pie started to ramble on and on about candy, or parties, or something. As I said, I wasn't really paying much attention. But, anyway, I took the opportunity to pull Dash away from the group to have a few private words with her.
I stepped in next to her, and whispered into her ear, "Uh, Rainbow, can I talk to you for a minute?"
She followed me without hesitation as I led us far enough away from the rest of the group that they would not be able to hear me say what I was about to say.
I took a deep breath. This was my last chance to keep her here, and I couldn't mess it up. I tried to look her in the eye, but I knew I wouldn't be able to without tearing up. I opted to study the pebbles under my hooves instead as I spoke.
"Rainbow I don't want you to go. I admit it: you really are the best athlete in Ponyville, not me. So, you don't have anything to prove to me or anypony else. Please, stay."
I quickly went from begging to trying to scare her into not leaving. "Nopony knows for sure what's beyond Equestrian borders, Sugar Cube. There could be dragons, and I ain't talkin' about the little ones like Spike. I mean the big, nasty dragons like the one we butted heads with a couple months ago. What would you do if you got to close to one, or worse, if one got to close to you? Those creatures are believed to eat ponies, you know. It just ain't safe. And, how are you going to do this all without landing? Even if it only takes ten days, that's still a lot of flyin'. I know you're a strong pony, but your wings will only be able to put up with so much abuse. Besides, how are you going to sleep if you're flyin' the whole time? Fatigue could set in really soon, and you could get lost. How are you going to know where you're headed?"
I could have, and would have said much more, but Rainbow stopped me, putting one hoof on my shoulder. I looked in her eyes then, tears starting to well up in mine.
"Applejack, I need to do this."
She wasn't going to listen to me. She was far too determined, far too stubborn. But, the way she said what she did she put so much emphasis on the word, "need." That's when I understood. She wasn't doing this for me, or for anypony else. She was doing it to know she could.
She took her hoof away from my shoulder, and without any delay I charged in towards her for a hug. The tears I had been fighting so hard to hold in finally won. They streamed down my face as I choked out some of the last few words I ever said to her.
"Please Rainbow, promise you'll be safe. Promise me you'll come home."
For a split second, I could see a glimmer of doubt in her eyes. She quickly brushed it off with a smirk. She stood up away from me, posing to accentuate her greatness.
"Ha! This is gonna be a cinch! I think you're forgetting who we're dealing with. Rainbow Dash? The greatest flyer in all of Equestria? Yeah, that's me. I'll be back before you even realize I've left!"
That silly, smug look on her face somehow made me feel better. I wiped away my tears, and flashed her a smile.
The six of us ponies carried on in random conversation for a little while longer after that, until it was time to say goodbye, that is. Twilight, being the most resourceful and organized of the bunch promptly gave Rainbow a map to help her on her way. The map wasn't anywhere near perfect, but it was the best she could find in the library. Rarity, being the most glamorous, opted to give Rainbow a scarf, a very nice one at that.
She smiled, "Designed it myself. You shall need to keep warm at those high altitudes."
Pinkie Pie, being the most, well, random of the group pounced up to Rainbow Dash with her gift, a balloon.
"When I heard you were going to be flying around the whole world without landing, I thought to myself, 'What could itty bitty Dashie use most while she's away, and it hit me, a balloon! You see, if you get too tired, you can just hang on to it, and you'll stay in the air!"
Fluttershy was next. She hadn't brought anything to give to Dash before she left, and was being very quiet, even quieter than usual. Come to think of it, she hadn't said much at all that morning. I suppose she was as lost in thought as I was. But, anyway, I won't forget what she did next. With her head hung down, she slowly walked towards Rainbow. She stood face to face with her for a few moments, before quickly pulling Dash towards her into a hug. I could hear Fluttershy half grunt, and half squeak at their chests bumped against one another. She let go, Dash's front hooves landing back on the ground in front of her. I could tell that if anypony wanted Rainbow Dash to stay more than me, it was her.
Rainbow looked over to me next. "Well, aren't you going to give me something, too?" She joked.
I had brought something with me to give, yes, but it didn't feel like the right time to let her know what it was. "I'll uh give it to you when you get back; promise."
She closed her eyes and smiled in my direction. "Okay then."
Things got, quiet after that. Everything everypony had to say was said by that point. Nopony wanted her to leave, but the five of us knew there was no stopping her. Rainbow broke the silence, finally. For some reason, I can't remember what exactly it was she had said, but I do remember letting out a little chuckle because of it. We all nodded, signaling we were ready for her to go. She turned away from us, and without a second more to bask in her presence, blasted into the horizon, leaving a faint trail of rainbow behind her.
The rest of us stood there in silence for a little while after that. Were we supposed to just go on about our lives as normal until she got back? I suppose so, because that's exactly what the rest of them seemed to do. One by one, they each left the square, each having something else they needed to tend to, but not me. The farm could wait while I waited for Rainbow. I knew I needed to go, but my legs wouldn't carry me. I had this overwhelming feeling that, perhaps maybe she would back out. Perhaps, maybe after getting a little ways away, Rainbow would realize how crazy this all was. I sat there in the middle of the square until the sun went down.
"Alright, Rainbow, that's one down. Nine days to go." I thought to myself.
For the next few days, I did the only thing I could do to get my mind off her. I threw myself into my work. I figured, the less I thought about her, the less it would hurt, and the sooner she would be home again. Sad thing is I'm still waiting.
Each of the nine days was a tortuous wait, but they did eventually end. I had found myself actually believing Dash's claim of being able to make the trip in only ten days, despite Twi telling me it would be scientifically and physically impossible for her to make it back in less than twelve. On the morning of the eleventh day, I went back to the last place I ever saw her, the square, and waited.
Her ten days were up, and it was time for me to finally see her again. It had only been about a week and a half, but it seemed like months to me without her. I sat there, patiently waiting for Rainbow to return, so I could give her the gift I had promised her.
Many hours later, and the sky had grown dark with disappointment and unrivaled fear. There was no sign of her anywhere. My heart sank deep into my chest as worry began to flood my mind.
"What if something happened to her? I thought.
It was dark then, but I could not leave. I just couldn't. I continued to wait for her. I sat there in the square for another two whole days without a wink of sleep, one morsel of food, or a drop of water, as my life continued to crumble around me. Other ponies passed me by with little to no concern.
I continued to stare up into the stars, only able to force out one word. " Rainbow?"
Now, I would have waited my whole life for her to come home, and then some, but Big Mac found me, and forced me to go home and rest. I'll never forget crying out her name in between sobs, fighting to get away from him and back to my spot in the square.
He insisted I do so, but I was physically unable to eat anything or sleep for another two whole days after that. I just continued to blame myself and my faults. If I had wings, I would have chased after her. If I had a horn, I would use my magic to change the laws of time and space, just to keep her here.
But, the more I thought about it, the more my limitations began to shine. I'm just an Earth pony, and there's nothing I can do, or could have done to save her. There isn't anything anypony can do.
It's been almost a year now since I last saw Rainbow Dash. I still go to the square every morning, and every night. I won't allow myself to let go of the hope which leads me to believe she'll be waiting for me when I arrive there in the square the next time I show up, so I can finally give her the kiss I so badly wanted to share with her the day she left.