As she approached the blue door, she hesitated. Ever since Rainbow's denouncing of Lightning Dust, which occurred in front of not only her friends, but her entire squad of recruits, this was something she knew she had to do. But that didn't mean she had to like it. She'd been practically trembling on the approach to Spitfire's office. What she planned to do here, and what consequences that might emerge from it, were things she did not care to think about. But she also knew that if she didn't do this, if she simply kept quiet and went along with what had been going on, she'd never forgive herself for it.
She lifted her hoof and pushed the door open. Once open, Rainbow saw within the office. Spitfire was there, continuing to do what she'd been doing the last time Rainbow had visited her, signing autographs. It was understandable of course. Being as famous a flier as she was, Spitfire probably had to spend half her day doing this. Though it was clear from the look on her face that she didn't enjoy this. Like Rainbow she'd much rather spend her time in the air.
As the opening door creaked however, the leader of the Wonderbolts looked up from her desk and straight at Rainbow. Ever since She'd arrived at the academy, Rainbow had learned very quickly that this mare could be very intimidating when she needed to be. But on this day, Rainbow couldn't let that stop her. Not now. Spitfire's expression was a dismissive one, much like it had been when Rainbow had last entered this office.
"This had better be important Rainbow Dash". She said sternly.
The blue pegasus took a deep breath and began to walk forward as Spitfire continued.
"You're supposed to be out there busting clouds with your partner."
The mention of lightning Dust hardened Rainbow's resolve, reminding her exactly why she'd come here and doing much to wipe away her doubts about what she was about to do. Once in front of Spitfire's desk, Rainbow gave the customary salute before giving her response.
"We're done with that ma'am." She replied.
Spitfire's expression became one of surprise. She knew Rainbow and Lightning were good fliers, but even she didn't think they could perform such a task like this that quickly.
"Already?" She said unbelievingly.
She took off her sunglasses and turned around to look at the clock on the wall behind her. Barely a few minutes had passed since she'd set the task for the squad. If Rainbow was speaking the truth, that was a most impressive feat of flying.
"That's an academy record". She continued.
She turned back to face Rainbow, frowning as she did so.
"Explain your methods." She demanded.
Rainbow's face bore a look of determination. Hopefully Spitfire's reaction would be what she'd hoped it would be.
"That's why I'm here ma'am. Lighting Dust decided to use a tornado".
Rainbow looked at the look on Spitfire's face. It was clear she was giving this knowledge a great deal of thought. And indeed she should. Use of extreme weather like tornados was a highly risky manoeuvre for any pegasus, much more so for a recruit. Rainbow hoped that she'd recognise how dangerous it was for her and Lightning to have done this and take appropriate action.
"A bit excessive for cloud-busting." The Wonderbolt said.
A "bit" excessive? Rainbow couldn't believe she'd just said that. At the very least she'd expected Spitfire to be angry over the fact that this was done without supervision. But things were made even worse for her with the commander's next words.
"But judging from your time it was obviously an effective tactic".
The smile on Spitfire's face said everything Rainbow needed to know. She was impressed. Spitfire was impressed with what Lightning had done. That little stunt which nearly killed the ponies closest to her, and she couldn't be happier. All doubt over what she planned to do now vanished from her as Rainbow gained a look of anger and stepped forward to tell Spitfire exactly what was on her mind.
"Yeah? Well that "effective tactic" nearly took out my friends!"
Spitfire moved back in surprise as the angry mare berated her.
"No disrespect ma'am. But there's a big difference between pushing yourself as hard as you can, and just being reckless."
Spitfire's eyes narrowed at this. No-pony had ever spoken to her like this before. Certainly not a young recruit desperate to get into the Wonderbolts. She remained silent during this outburst, not sure how to react as Rainbow's torrent of criticism continued.
"And if being reckless is what gets rewarded around here. If that's what it means to be a Wonderbolt.....then I don't want any part of it."
Now that Rainbow had finally stopped, Spitfire took this opportunity to reply to what had just been said.
"What are you saying newbie?" She asked.
Before saying anything, Rainbow lifted something up and placed it on the desk right in front of Spitfire. When she removed her hoof, the Wonderbolt saw, much to her shock, what it was. It was Rainbow's wing-pony badge. She looked up as Rainbow gave her answer.
Spitfire was speechless. She said nothing as Rainbow walked out of her office and closed the door behind her. Once on the other side, the enormity of what she had just done sank in, and Rainbow's face became one of both shock and disbelief. All her life she had tried to be counted among these pegasi, and in just a few days, that image of them had shattered in her mind. Now she'd just thrown away her chance to join.
She looked back at Spitfire's door, half out of a desire to go back in and try to fix the situation, and half out of some expectation that there would be some retaliation from her over this. But there was nothing. No call for her to come back in. Nothing. Seeing no other action to take at this point, and having had enough of this place, Rainbow hunger her head down and began walking back towards the barracks to collect her things.
Later on, after having collected all of her belongings from her quarters, Rainbow arranged to meet with her friends at the end of the academy runway. There, they would go on towards the group's balloon, which had been fixed since the tornado incident. After having met up with the group, she explained what had happened in Spitfire's office. As she spoke, the other ponies' mouths were practically on the floor with shock. As Rainbow busied herself with getting her back-pack on, Applejack summed up the general feeling of the group.
"You did WHAT?!"
Rainbow knew that this wouldn't have been easy for them to hear, or even to understand. A suspicion which was confirmed by Rarity speaking up.
"But being a Wonderbolt was your dream!"
It was true. For as long as she could remember, she'd wanted to be one of them. But after everything that had happened, she could no longer view the prospect of membership as something she wanted, a sentiment she needed to share.
"Not anymore." She said flatly.
Suddenly, she felt something in her right shoulder. Turning her head, she saw Twilight, who had placed her hoof there, her face covered in a look that said she was upset for her.
"I'm sorry Rainbow Dash. I know how much this meant to you." She said softly.
Rainbow said nothing to that, and neither did anyone else. Instead, the group came together, all leaning on her in sympathy. It was not something Rainbow enjoyed, being pitied like this. But she was grateful for the sentiment. The moment would have been pleasant enough, had it not been for a raised voice that now caught everypony's attention.
The group turned. There, approaching their place on the runway, and bearing a very angry expression, was Spitfire. She was flanked by two of the Wonderbolt guards and was marching rather intently towards them.
"How dare you storm out of my office without giving me a chance to respond!"
Rainbow stepped forward, her face equally as angry as Spitfire, ready to face whatever she had to throw at her. Spitfire reached just a few feet from where she and the group were, and stopped.
"The Wonderbolts are the best fliers in Equestria."
The Wonderbolt then took off her sunglasses, her expression softening somewhat.
"But you're right. Being the best should never come at the expense of your fellow pony."
Rainbow's eyes widened in surprise. Did Spitfire just say she was right? Instead of replying to this, she kept quiet as the Wonderbolt leader continued.
"It's not just about pushing ourselves. It's about pushing ourselves in the right direction."
She then smiled and pointed her hoof and the surprised pegasus.
"And you've shown that you're capable of just that."
Rainbow herself now smiled, glad that her words had actually managed to change Spitfire's mind on this. Her smile faded however when the latter's expression became one of disapproval. But instead of that look being directed towards her, Rainbow noticed that, approaching behind Spitfire, was her former squad-mate and partner, Lightning Dust. The two had not seen each other since their spat in the training grounds. The recruit looked rather troubled, and somewhat nervous over having been brought before Spitfire.
The leader of the Wonderbolts then walked right up to Lightning's face, making her very uncomfortable. Then, much to the shock of everypony there, she stripped off the golden leader badge from Lightning's uniform. After doing this, she pointed away from the group, silently ordering the recruit to leave. As Lighting walked away, she gave one final look back to the group. Her expression was hard to read. Disappointment in herself? Or perhaps upset that her actions had led to her being shamed like this? It was hard to say.
Spitfire then turned back to Rainbow Dash and smiled, holding up the golden badge.
"You're no wing-pony Dash. You're a leader."
Rainbow didn't know what to think at this. There was a part of her that wanted to leap for joy over what had just happened. The Wonderbolts want her back! But then, as she dwelt on that thought, another part of her began to speak up. A part which not only brought up memories of what had happened earlier today, but of other things. Her adventures with her friends. The admiration she'd gained from her community. The things she'd accomplished. And when that part of her spoke, the smile over Spitfire's presentation of the badge faded.
Spitfire moved forward, about to place the badge onto Rainbow's uniform when, to the surprise of all present, Rainbow held up her own hoof and stopped her.
"I'm sorry ma'am. But I can't accept this."
Spitfire raised an eyebrow.
"Why not? Is this still about what happened earlier with your friends?" She asked.
Rainbow shook her head.
"No. It's not that. It's just......this is not something I want anymore."
The silence which followed that statement was almost deafening. Rainbow's friends looked at each other, unsure of how to react to that. Should they say something? Do something? All they knew was that Spitfire was just as speechless over this as they were.
"Don't want this?" Spitfire said.
Rainbow shook her head again.
"But....every time we've met you've always said that this was your dream."
Rainbow exhaled deeply before replying to that.
"You're right. It was my dream. Since I was a filly, I've wanted to prvoe myself. I wanted to show the world that I was good at what I did. That I was worthy of being counted among the best fliers there were. Being part of the Wonderbolts was always something I thought would do that. If I joined you, all my friends, my family, they'd seem how good I was, the great things I could achieve."
She looked up, right into Spitfire's eyes. She then turned around and looked at her friends, smiling as she did so.
"But you know what? I realised that being a Wonderbolt is not as great an achievement as all the other things I've done. With the help of my friends, I've done thing that I would have thought impossible once. I've flown faster, saved lives, even saved whole countries. And I did it all without having to wear some blue and yellow uniform."
She turned back to Spitfire, whose face was bearing a look of surprise and confusion over this.
"When I was younger, I thought being one of you was how I could prove my worth. Now.....I realise I don't need to prove anything. Not to you, or anypony else. I am Rainbow Dash. And I don't need the Wonderbolts to be worth something."
Rainbow's thoughts drifted to a memory. One from not too long ago. Of a certain camping trip, where an eager young filly declared just how important Rainbow was to her. Of course, Rainbow had known for some time that Scootaloo had admired her, but not wanting to be the boastful mare she once was, she'd never gone out of her way to encourage it. But still, that girl looked up to her, admired her. And she did with without Rainbow ever having to be one of the Wonderbolts first. She admired her for who she was already, as did all of her friends. The fact that so many ponies felt that way about her, even without her achieving what she once held as her dream, was proof enough that she was doing the right thing.
Looking at Spitfire, who was still speechless, Rainbow spoke once more.
"I don't need you......."
With that, she turned and walked away from the leader of the Wonderbolts. She passed through her friends, who were still gaping in awe over what she had just done. Once she was far enough away, without even looking back, she spoke her final words to Spitfire.
She once more started walking. Her friends looked at each other, trying to think of something to say. They looked over to Spitfire, whose face now turned into one that almost looked like shame. But before they could get a proper look, she turned and walked off. Seeing this, the group turned back to Rainbow and ran after her. They caught up with her quickly and nopony said a word until they got to the balloon.
Packing up their belongings, Pinkie Pie decided to break the silence.
"Um, Rainbow?" She asked in an uncharacteristically quiet tone.
Rainbow looked at her. Pinkie hesitated to ask what she needed to, but did so all the same.
"How do you feel?"
The blue pegasus considered this, then slowly smiled. She looked back at the academy one more time. Once, it was a place she'd dreamed of being a part of. Now, it was merely the place which taught her just how much she didn't need it.
"Pinkie. Today.......I feel great."