For the longest time, as far back as Rainbow Dash could remember, she'd had fans. Fans who would look on in awe as she sped across the sky overhead, performing tricks that other pegasi could only dream of pulling off so flawlessly. Fans that would greet her in public and stroke her balloon-sized ego for her, any time of day. Sure she didn't have as many as say, her own idols, the Wonderbolts, but she was pleased with the attention nonetheless.
But never had Rainbow Dash dreamed that one fan in particular would become something of a surrogate sister to her.
Scootaloo was a pegasus filly that went to the same school as the sisters of two of Dash's best friends, Applejack and Rarity. She always had the same attitude as Dash, and always had the same love for danger, adrenaline and speed. But her tiny wings kept her from the open air, and thus the admirer was forced to the stands more often than not, only being able to interact with Dash when the pegasus was on the ground.
But even so, more than any other fan the azure weather pony had ever encountered, Scootaloo was diligent. As Dash tore across the sky, the eager young peagsus would be in hot pursuit, trailing along in her wing-propelled scooter. When Dash came down into town to grab a bite to eat, Scootaloo would be by her side. Rain or shine, snow or sleet, night or day, Rainbow Dash had an adorable little shadow, whether she wanted it there or not.
Eventually, the blue mare gave in to the young fillies' persistence to hang out with her, and invited her to sleep over with her one night. She may or may not have received some encouragement from her friends, who all knew of Rainbow's shadowing fan all too well, but nonetheless, the sleepover was had.
It was on that sleepover that Dash learned the truth about her fan. Scootaloo was homeless.
It was unknown to even Scootaloo about what had happened to them, but her parents had vanished years before. Scootaloo never told a soul, and that was why she had never made her way into foster care, something she would have hated to go into. This fact had hit the girl's idol like a truckload of apples, and though it was against her will, Rainbow informed her closest friends of her predicament as well.
Once more, the athletic pony's friends gave her encouragement. This time, encouragement to harbor the filly, if only for a little while, and to give her a home that was friendlier than the dark and empty Cutie Mark Crusaders' clubhouse. Dash was reluctant at first; she was doubtful in her own abilities to care for a younger pony, but in the end, she agreed it was the right thing to do.
And so from that point on, though she had never thought of herself as the type who could act as a guardian, Rainbow Dash invited the young filly into her home, and gave her a place to stay. A place where she could call home, and feel happy for it.
Needless to say, Scootaloo was happier than she had ever been in her life. The moment when Dash smiled at her, offered her a home, and a chance to have both an idol and a sister, caused the filly to cry.
However, though a title of 'big sister' she may have had, Rainbow Dash still had an important lesson to learn about sisterhood.
"Right now? Come on, you let me stay up way later last night!"
Voices reverberated off the puffy clouded walls of a certain pegasus's sky home like sonic boomerangs. A young voice was desperately trying to persuade another, slightly older voice, but the attempts fell on stubborn ears.
An older mare teen with a mane resembling the light spectrum stood firm and authoritative, giving a scuff of her azure hoof against the ground in passive frustration.
"Uhhhh, duh. Last night was a planned party that Pinkie Pie told me about a few days in advance, squirt. It was fine then cause' it was a special thing, and even though it was gonna be a late party, I took you along cause AJ and Rarity brought their sisters. But tonight is just like any other night, so you're going to bed now."
She wasn't going to deal with this argument yet again. A quarter to midnight. That was the deal. That had always been the deal since the first night the mare had invited the young filly into her home. Why did she have to be so…
"'Any other night'? But I don't have school tomorrow, what's the big deal in letting me stay up-"
"Kid, seriously, this is not a new concept." Dash interrupted flatly. "It's late, and you're still just a filly. By the time you even brush your teeth and do all that other stuff, it's gonna be midnight. Now go on, already. I'll seeya in the morning."
Pressing the lid down on the conversation while the filly's hooves were still clutching it, Dash turned and trotted over to the living room, leaving the pony to stand there by the staircase that lead to the upper floor, and with it, their separate bedrooms. But Scootaloo didn't budge. Furrowed eyebrows over a pair of violet eyes followed after the elder pegasus while she made herself busy reorganizing a couch that had been a victim of playtime. Earlier that same day, the tension in the atmosphere had been preceded by a touching moment of tickle torture on that couch.
But Scootaloo's attitude had polarized completely since then. Bonding with Dash was the last thing on her mind right now.
"You know, I never used to have a bed time…" Scootaloo began, walking a bit closer to the living room, and noticing Dash's ear twitch and her body turn. "…living by myself meant I stayed up as late as I wanted. I just don't see why I can't-"
"You aren't living by yourself anymore, kid; you're up here with me." Dash said matter-of-factly, blue wings outstretching and flapping forcefully. With a few subtle upward jerks, the pony became airborne. She floated over the now semi-organized couch and landed with a soft touchdown, only a foot or two away from the orange filly. It was clear that her patience was starting to dangle from a thread. To her, this banter was a running joke between them that was getting obscenely old.
"And like I told you clearly your first night sleeping here, I expect you to go to bed when I ask. Not when you feel like it, not whenever you get done doing what you're doing, but when I ask you to."
A soft but intimidating breeze blew through Scootaloo's mane as the pegasi landed so close to her, and for the fraction of a moment, she picked up her left hoof, and thought of giving in. But after a second of silence, she turned her gaze to the couch just behind Dash, and worked up her courage back to its tipping point.
"I'm...it's not like I'm asking to stay up until dawn, Dash, I just don't see why half an hour, maybe another hour is such a big deal!"
She hadn't meant to be that loud. Scootaloo cringed at her own voice's volume immediately after, and dreaded the impact it'd have on Dash's mounting irritation. The orange filly watched as Dash's expression soured. Her blue wings retracted back to her body, but Scootaloo wished they hadn't.
"It's a big deal because that's what…" Dash began, her own volume increasing as well. She stopped mid-sentence for a moment, grasping for words, and then shot back into it with a snap. "Because that's what parents and older siblings do! They take care of their fillies. Making sure they go to bed on time, and getting enough sleep, is one of those things."
"But I'm not some helpless filly who doesn't know any better, Dash! I…told you, I can take care of myself, too. I was by myself for a really long time, and I know what does and doesn't work with my sleep schedule! I know you're just trying to help, but I'm capable of-"
"I don't care what you could or couldn't do for yourself out there!" The rainbow weather pony snapped, without the slightest clue that she may regret it later. Her hooves dragged against the floor, her teeth showing slightly. All there was room for was her desire to be done with this repetitive argument. "You're under my roof, so my rules are what goes! Now please go to bed and stop arguing with me!"
The walls are said to sometimes have ears, for they are the most patient listeners of all. When the loud voices came to an end, only the silence of Dash's home could be heard. But that silence was interrupted by sniffs and garbled hiccups, marked with a trail of trickling tears down a pair of cheeks. Unfortunately, just as it had been too late for Scootaloo to take away the yell in her voice, was it too late for Dash to take back her angry words.
Scootaloo shook her head, turned and sprinted from the room. The sound of a rapid ascent up the stairs was followed by the abrupt slam of a bedroom door, making Dash's ears twitch, and then, once more, everything was still and quiet. Dash was left alone with her surrounding walls, and their silence bugged her to no end.
"...great, terrific job, Dash." The weather pony mumbled to herself sarcastically, head drooping slightly. She slowly walked a few steps, and then violently bucked the air behind her in frustration. She knew this would happen. She had called it; she knew this would bucking happen. She'd blow her top too easily and yell at the filly. Again. And now she was left to be the bad guy. Again.
"I told Twilight and the others, I told them I was no good at this. But no, 'oh you'll be fine Rainbow, you two will get along great!' Tch, yeah right. Some sister I am. This is like the fourth time this has happened."
The azure pony walked solemnly over to her couch, and let herself flop upon it, belly-first. Violet eyes wide open, brows furrowed in self-reproach, she gave the armrest of her couch a death glare, her mind scattered and exasperated. Her wings shuffled uncomfortably all the while she thought, and the longer it went on, the more and more restless she became. Altogether, after forty seconds of shallow grunts of irritation, and the occasional shuffle of position, she leaped up from the couch and flared open her wings. With a gust of soft wind, the mare darted out of the open window with a snap of her tail.
She needed time to think, to cool off…maybe talk to somepony she knew if she felt like it. The filly probably wanted to be left alone, and would probably fall asleep soon anyway. And even if she didn't, trying to approach her right now wasn't going to work, for either of them.
"…I bet she'll forget all about brushing her teeth and stuff liked I asked her, too." Dash whispered aloud to herself, sighing afterwards. She couldn't enjoy the wind in her mane, or the adrenaline coursing through her, like usual.
"Not that I blame her."
With these things in mind, the blue pony soared down through the vast, open, cloudless night sky, down towards the pleasant town of Ponyville.
If one were to have looked in the Canterlot Archives and read back about the envy Princess Luna felt when the ponies of Equestria slept through her glorious night, only to await for her sister's sunny day, one would be surprised, looking at pony society in the modern times. Not only were there still quite a few ponies up this late in their homes, but several, like Dash, were up and about outside in the streets as well.
As Rainbow Dash came to a modest landing on the cobblestone bridge that linked one part of the town to another, she looked around intently, gazing at the rooftops of all the surrounding buildings, and trying to locate a specific few in mind. She spotted them, one by one, thinking over which choice would yield the best results.
Twilight was really good with advice, and, being an egghead, would probably know what to do. But…she could be really wordy and confusing. Dash observed the still lit-up tree home library in the distance, standing alone. Twilight stayed up the latest of any of the six of them sometimes, what with her crazy studying.
The pegasi's attention shifted to the southwest, to observe Rarity's fancy boutique, even farther stand-alone from the majority of the town. Huh, Rarity. Rarity had a sister, that was a plus since she could identify with Rainbow's issue, but if anything, she'd look for an excuse to get the athletic pegasus in a frilly new outfit. Plus, by the looks, she may already be asleep. Probably wanted to get her 'beauty rest' or something along those lines. Dash chuckled to herself.
That left Sugarcube Corner. Ugh, Pinkie. Pinkie could make anypony smile, but she certainly wasn't someone Dash was about to approach with an on-going, serious problem. Jumping around, calling her 'Dashie', insisting she feed the pegasus some cupcakes to feel better…no, that's not what she needed right now.
Dash turned around and began to walk towards the edge of town, knowing the final two of her friends in mind lived outside of Ponyville. They were probably the best options of all.
Fluttershy and Applejack.
The former was her shy best friend, whom she had known longer than the other four. She had known Fluttershy since they were both fillies in flight camp. She was the kindest pony you could have for a friend, who would give her heart and soul to you if you truly needed it. But Rainbow knew she had no siblings. She also knew that this kind of problem needed a firm hand to give solid advice, not just a shoulder to cry on, or an ear to listen to you. Dash took a deep breath. That left her friendly rival, Applejack. She fit the bill perfectly. She had a sister, she was firm, and if anyone could show her how to not blow up on Scootaloo, it was her.
"AJ it is, then. Hope she's still up. Cuz' if not, heh, she's about to be."
A mischievous smirk spread across Rainbow's face as she crouched low to the ground, and made a vertical take-off. She made an arching curve into a horizontal flight direction, off towards Sweet Apple Acres.
A quarter past midnight, and all four members of the Apple Family were fast asleep. Apple Bloom having been in dreamland the longest of them all. Unlike Dash, who gave her surrogate sister until almost midnight, Applejack was a fair bit stricter with her own younger sibling. In bed by ten every non-school night, and in bed by nine-thirty on school nights. Even Applejack herself went to bed before eleven on most nights.
This particular cool night was no exception.
While a sea of crickets chirped outside in the massive fields of apple trees, and then the smaller corn fields off in the distance, Applejack clung to her thick, hoof-stitched blankets in her sleep, and smiled with a content sigh. Her trademark hat hung on the bedpost just next to her at an angle. Out the window, a view of the tranquil countryside stretched far and wide, even into the mountains that bordered part of the area. Out of that peaceful view, came a bullet of azure color.
Tap, tap, tap.
The orange pony was clearly visible through the layer of glass, which was surprisingly well-kept and clean of any dust or grime. Dash fluttered there in the air outside the window like a vampony in one of those old mare tales, that weren't allowed in your home unless you invited them in. Squinting to look around the darkened room, Dash pressed her snout to the glass to get a better look, but instantly retracted it.
"Man that's cold!" She hissed to herself, rubbing her nose, and losing her patience. She knocked a bit harder.
Knock, knock, knock.
"Come on AJ, wake up." She whispered, not wanting to wake the rest of the apple family. But it was becoming clear that she would have to swallow her caution and make a little noise.
Bang, bang, bang!
Finally, Applejack stirred in her sleep. She twisted around, and now Rainbow could see her face. It was scrunched in that midway point between sleep and consciousness. Dash banged again, and that finally did it.
"What in the…" The cowgirl began, picking her head up and blinking her tired eyes at the unknown disturbance. Her emerald gaze fell upon Dash's form, and she instantly frowned and cocked an eyebrow. "Rainbow? What in tarnation…" She muttered sleepily, yawning and bucking her blanket off of herself, before getting out of bed. Going over to the window, she unlocked it and pushed the hinged-glass outwards.
"Hey AJ! Having a nice sleep? Dreaming of apple bucking?" The pegasus teased, smirking and giggling at the bags underneath the earth ponies' less than amused eyes.
"Rainbow Dash," Applejack began. "You got ten seconds to explain what ya'll are doin' wakin' me up at this time of night, before I apple buck you."
"Okay okay, geez, can't I come and visit my best pony friend?" Dash defended, crossing her arms, and looking up at the sky for a moment, seeking out her cloud home in the distance. No lights were on. Well, at least she did go to bed…
"It's about Scootaloo." the pony said, turning her attention back to the window. "AJ, I need your help. We keep getting in these stupid arguments, and I always end up snapping at her. It's not like I mean to, it just happens! See? I told you guys. I'm no good at this sister thing like you and Rarity are! And then she always gets sad and those darn tears, and I don't know what to do-"
"Okay, okay, whoa." Applejack interrupted, stuffing the end of her orange hoof in her friends' mouth. "Get on in here pony girl, before ya start rantin'."
Dash nodded a few times and floated on inside the square-shaped window frame, and landed on her hooves just next to her friend's bed. Applejack's blanket lay awry and draped over the end of the bed from the pony's earlier buck. The earth pony yawned again and closed the window, walking over to her bed and sitting on all four hooves. She gave her full attention to Rainbow and smiled softly.
"So, sister issues, huh, sugarcube?"
"What is it ya'll are arguin' over?"
"Well most of the time it's her bedtime, or one of the other things I expected from her from day one. I told her I want her to go to bed at like, a quarter to midnight, which, hey, is pretty darn lenient if you ask me. But she always pushes for it to be later, and she always uses the excuse that she used to live by herself, where she stayed up as late as she wants. I tell her it's my house, my rules, and that I'm just trying to do my best as being her guardian pony, but it doesn't work out."
While her athletic and competitive pegasus friend explained her issue, Applejack's smile grew. It wasn't until the end when the earth pony let loose a casual chuckle, that Rainbow had taken notice.
"W-what's so funny?" Rainbow asked, flustered.
"Oho, it's nothin' Rainbow. It's just kinda cute, is all." Applejack began, causing Dash to sprout a confused blush. "Ya know, Rarity n' Sweetie Belle had a big gap in their relationship as well, a while back. Ah came in and gave Rarity some advice, because little Sweetie Belle had initially decided she was disownin' Rarity as a sister, and adoptin' me as one instead. It was quite amusin', heh."
Dash's violet eyes widened, and her mouth gaped a bit. She sat back on her haunches and laid her front hooves on the floor in front of her. Rarity…and Sweetie Belle?
"Wait, when in the hay was this?" Dash inquired, cocking one eyebrow. "I don't ever remember hearing about that from anypony before. I was always under the impression she was a naturally great sister, like you are."
"Was back at the last Sisterhooves Social." Applejack answered, sporting a matching blush at the compliment, and using a hoof to fix her bed-head mane. "Sweetie Belle initially wanted to enter it with Rarity, but Rarity was bein', well, ya know, Rarity, and said no. I convinced her otherwise with my advice, and we pulled off a little trick to get her to do it with Sweetie Belle, disguised as me. But anyway, that's not the point." Applejack cut off, taking notice of Rainbow's advancing confused expression.
"Look sugarcube, just from an initial glance, these issues have some pretty simple answers, and if you had more of a grasp on it, you could probably figure it all out on your own." The blonde pony said.
"Oh yeah? Well enlighten me! Cause they sure don't seem simple to me." Dash retorted, crossing her hooves in what Applejack could only describe as a pout, while she sat there on the floorboards. AJ chuckled, and got off the bed.
"Now don't get your mane in a tangle. I didn' mean that as an insult. I'm just sayin' that ya gotta get yer head in the right place for bein' a sister, before you try to take on the responsibilities of bein' a sister."
Rainbow cocked her head like how a filly in school might to an advanced math problem. Applejack chuckled again, and trotted over to her friend. Sitting down across from her, she put a hoof on her shoulder, and made direct eye contact, emerald to violet.
"Let me frame it this way. What do you believe encompasses bein' a sister? In other words, what do you think bein' a sister is all about?"
Dash hadn't been expecting a question like that. She looked at the Element of Honesty hard in the face, and then down at the very floorboards she sat upon.
"Umm…looking out for your sister, making sure they're okay, being there for them…steering them in the right direction, um, being a role-model, I guess…" Dash labeled each thing off with a seemingly modest deal of difficulty. She had never truly taken deep thought to the issue before. But…maybe that was part of the problem. She thought she knew what it meant…she did, didn't she?
"Uh huh, you're right, those are all very important things for a sister to have." Applejack agreed, smiling, winking and ruffling her friend's rainbow mane. "But ah'm afraid you're missin' a very key element."
"Which is?" Dash pressed, her feathers ruffling in anticipation.
"Compassion. Affection. Understanding. Compromise. In short, the ability to be gentle and soft with your sibling, and being willing to sometimes meet them half-way in issues."
There was a silence for a minute or so, in which Applejack kept up her smile and blinked a few times, waiting for her friend to respond. The athlete pony's eyes closed half-way, and her lip flattened into a fine line.
"…So, basically, being sappy, is what you're telling me."
"Oh don't you give me that, you hug me n' our friends all the time. Heck, you practically cuddled up to me like a filly that one time during that snow storm-"
"I was super cold and had to keep my body heat, okay!?" Dash said a bit loudly, flustering again, her blush turning to a deep cherry. "We were stuck in your barn from the snow avalanche that came off the roof…it's not like I had a choice…"
She defiantly looked away from her orange pony friend, but AJ gave the blue pony a sly expression.
"Suuure it was Rainbow, that's why you in turn put your wing over me like a blanket, hmm?" Applejack deadpanned.
"C-Can we please get back on topic!?" Dash barked with a voice crack.
"Well Rainbow, hate to rustle your feathers a bit further, but this really is on-topic." AJ responded firmly, her expression becoming a bit sterner. "The way it looks to me, is that you're approachin' your relationship with Scootaloo from a dominantly off-hands nature. You're makin' sure she goes to bed on time, ya make sure she does her homework, you do all the responsibilities an older sister should do, but ya ain't doin' the heart to heart moments, which matter just as much."
"You know I'm not good at being mushy, plus, Scootaloo isn't really into that sort of stuff, either." Rainbow said, broaching her case for her anti-snuggle campaign with confidence.
"And ya'll know this from…?"
"Well…she never asks me, plus, you remember that one time at Sugarcube Corners, right? When you all hugged me because it turns out my awesome Sonic Rainboom brought all of you guys your cutie marks? She said 'ewwww!' That speaks for itself, if you ask me."
Applejack outright laughed. Rainbow gave an annoyed expression once again. That was starting to really bug her…
"Sugarcube, that was not only in front of you before you broached the idea to be like an older sister to her, and let her live up with you in your cloud home, but that was also around her two friends, and all of us. If you ask me, she said that more out of a way to not draw attention to herself, and seem 'cool' in front of you. Bein' the official tomboy of Ponyville, she probably assumed you weren't into mushy stuff from the start, and wanted to mimic you."
Crap. The anti-snuggle campaign was developing more cracks in its walls with each passing minute, and Dash struggled to find a counter-argument. Grasping nothing but empty air, she let her ears fall down into a flat position, and she glanced away. AJ took the opportunity to push her point further.
"Look, I ain't sayin' you gotta suddenly become the most affectionate pony in Ponyville. I ain't even sayin' ya gotta do it in front of others, if you absolutely want your image to remain undeterred…though there's nothin' wrong with showin' your sister affection in public."
At this point, all Dash could do was sit there and look down at her hooves, listening to the explanation she knew was probably true, if at least, only to some extent.
"In the end, all I'm sayin' is you should learn to compromise and not expect her to always abide by your rules, and go along with them without question. And also that once in a while, demonstrating some personal time, some affection, would help your relationship with Scoots quite a bit."
"But…but I am affectionate, sometimes." Dash abruptly spoke out, remembering earlier that day. Scootaloo had come home from school early, having, unknown to Dash, gotten a ride home from Fluttershy. She had snuck up on Dash while she napped on her couch, and pounced on her. The blue pegasus had responded with a merciless, yet playful tickle attack. She looked at Applejack and gave an almost pleading look.
"Like, earlier today I tickled her for pouncing on me. I'm not all bad, AJ."
Applejack's expression softened, and she moved a bit closer to her friend, once again placing a hoof on her shoulder. Dash's campaign had clearly failed, softened and crumbled away entirely.
"Heh, well that's great! Playfulness is great, Rainbow. And ah'm mighty glad to hear that." The farm pony positively reinforced. "But there's a difference between spontaneous gestures that are often retaliation, and sentimental affection. I have a feelin' the latter is somethin' you have yet to try."
Dash sighed, once again, not fully understanding the concept being introduced to her. She gently shrugged off AJ's hoof and rubbed her spectrum mane with her own hoof. AJ was starting to sound like Twilight…except, she was the egghead of sister relationships, not books.
"Isn't it all the same thing?" was all Dash could get out, before to both ponies' surprise, Applejack's bedroom door opened with a soft creak. Out from the side of the swinging door was a reddish mane, followed by two large, upset eyes. While Rainbow blinked in confusion, Applejack immediately got up from her spot, observing Apple Bloom, who was now looking as equally confused as Rainbow.
"Sugarcube, what's up? How come you're not asleep?" Applejack asked softly.
"R-Rainbow Dash?" Apple Bloom said, looking at the rainbow pony. "How come you're here?"
"Just needed to talk to your sister. It's, uh, a bit urgent." Dash responded, shrugging and standing up as well, feeling awkward being the only one not.
"RD's just havin' some trouble gettin' along with Scootaloo, but it's nothing different from what Rarity and Sweetie Belle went through, sis. They'll resolve it real soon." Applejack explained, clearly more interested in why the girl looked as if she had been crying. "Now come on, talk to me, why are you up this late and lookin' so upset?"
Apple Bloom looked out of place all of the sudden. She looked away from AJ, clearly not having expected doing this with another pair of eyes watching her that weren't her sisters'.
"Ah, ummm…" She mumbled under her breath, circling her small hoof around the floor.
"Hun, come on, you're startin' to worry me a little." Was all Applejack had to say, for the filly to look up at her and sniff.
"Ah…ah had a nightmare." She muttered. "…A really awful one."
Applejack smiled. Rainbow remained silent, but couldn't help but smile a little too.
"Aww, is that it? Well come on over here for a minute, and let's hear all about this big nasty dream." The eldest Apple said, walking around to the back of the small pony, leaning down and using her head to nudge the filly towards her own bed. She used a back hoof to close the bedroom door quietly. As Apple Bloom hopped onto her sister's bed, Applejack turned to Rainbow and winked, saying "Just a few minutes, RD, ah gotta be the 'big sister to the rescue' for a little bit."
"Sure thing." Rainbow responded, laying down on the floorboards and getting herself comfortable. She did her best to absently look around the room, not wanting to interrupt or disturb the moment the two were about to have by staring.
"So, what happened in this here nightmare?" Applejack asked, laying down on the bed next to the filly, and wrapping her golden tail around her casually. Apple Bloom wiped what was left of her teary eyes away with her hoof, and looked down at the bed.
"Well, it started out okay." She began. "Me, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo were Crusaderin' for our Cutie Marks, trying to see if bein' daredevils was what we were good at. We all took turns goin' into the Everfree Forest, playin' chicken on how far we could all individually go without gettin' too scared, and comin' back out. We used sticks to mark the ground on where we all got to. Sweetie Belle went first, then me, then Scootaloo."
Applejack and Rainbow remained silent as the girl voiced her recollection.
"But, after a few times…Sweetie Belle went in and didn't come back out for a long time. M-Me and Scootaloo got scared, and she went in after her, sayin' she'd find her and bring her back. B-But then ah heard a really awful scream, and…and…"
Dash had ceased her absent staring. She watched with a fraction of concern on her face, watching the filly as her calm composure melted the farther she got in the story.
"And then..a-ah ran in to try and see where they were, and…I saw a whole bunch of Timberwolves grouped together around somethin'…l-like they were eating it! Ah just knew what it was! Ah just knew! Then ah was frozen and couldn't move, and then they turned and came after me! I was almost at the exit but then ah tripped on a root, and…and…"
The filly couldn't retell anymore. Her voice was getting muffled through her tears and hiccupping. Dash looked away and concentrated her gaze at Applejack's dresser, closing her eyes, falling into deep thought and reflection. It was almost the same expression and voice as Scootaloo, earlier that night.
"Sugarcube, that's awful. Ah'm so sorry you had to see somethin' like that." Applejack whispered softly, her voice melodic, full of care and concern. She laid her head down to the fillies', rubbing her nose against Apple Bloom's and nuzzling her. "But don't you worry none, those grotesque wolves don't dare come anywhere near the edge of the forest, in which there's a large population of ponies anymore. They did back in Granny Smith's day, but they've learned their lesson. Enough bucks to the face, magic spells cast on em, and assaults from pegasi have driven their kind deep into the woods."
Apple Bloom gradually regained control over her unsteady voice, and took a deep breath. She smiled up at the older pony and dug her head into her sister's side, returning the affection.
"Really? But don't they come out n' howl for when the Zap Apples are gonna be bloomin'?"
"That's right, they do, but that's a behavior of theirs that we ponies have allowed. But when they dare try and prowl about anywhere near the first half a mile of forest or so, lookin' for food, they get their hides walloped. The Princess deemed their existence a danger to ponies that needed to be dealt with long ago, after Granny Smith first notified her of their existence in those parts of the Everfree Forest. Ever since, her trained guards regularly patrol the key points in the woods several times a month, makin' sure they don't prowl those areas."
Dash stared at Applejack with fixated fascination. That was news to her. She knew about the wolves, but she had never known of that decree. Why did she never see guards hanging in the woods? Did she just always miss them?
"Thanks, Applejack." Apple Bloom said sweetly, curling up against her sister comfortably, losing all nervousness of Rainbow being there. "Do ya think you can come hang out with me n' the Crusaders tomorrow?"
"Sure thing Sugarcube, I spose I can supervise ya'll for a while. Just give me n' your brother enough time to finish our morning chores, and I'll meet up with ya at your CMC Clubhouse." The orange pony explained, nodding her head towards the door and smiling at the filly, who looked about ready to fall asleep against her sister, now known as Applepillow.
"Now, heh, you seem mighty comfortable bein' a little snuggle filly, but ah gotta finish mah discussion with Rainbow. So why don't you go on back to your room for now and try to go back to sleep. Ah'll come in and check on ya soon as Rainbow's left, alright?"
"Alright, Applejack!" Apple Bloom answered, getting up from her spot and hopping off the bed, trotting over to the door with a brand new atmosphere than earlier, and turning to Rainbow Dash with a smile.
"G'night Rainbow Dash, say hi to Scootaloo for me!" She said excitedly, before opening the door, hopping out, and closing it behind her.
Applejack got off the bed and stretched her hooves. Meanwhile, Rainbow stared at the door, and listened to the distant sound of another door in the hallway beyond closing softly.
"Well, well, well. Don't I feel lame after seeing you show me up at being an epic sister, AJ." The blue pony droned sarcastically, resting her head on her hoof and smiling at her friend playfully.
"To answer your question," The farm pony began, ignoring the taunting and laying down right next to the blue pegasus. Once there, she nuzzled her nose into Dash's cheek, grinning as she got another blush out of her. "You ticklin' Scootaloo was playful affection. All that ya saw right there with Apple Bloom n' me, that's sentimental affection. Takin' the time to bond with your sibling, and demonstrate affection, past a simple gesture."
"Okay, okay, I get it already..." Rainbow grumbled in defeat, trying to lean away from the orange pony, and her insistent attempts to make her blush. "I need to suck up my pride and cuddle once in a while, for her sake at least...aaand also be a bit more open to ideas, and all that stuff. But, you really think that's gonna solve everything? I can't help but think Scoots is just gonna give me a weird look and think I'm a Rainbow Dash changeling that's just trying to feast on her love."
"Pfft, well, you don't just walk up and say 'wanna cuddle?', Rainbow." Applejack chuckled. "It's subtle. Ya do it when it's called for, or if it's clear she's upset and really needs you, like just then with me n' Apple Bloom. She came in here seeking some comfort, so it was perfectly called for."
Rainbow pulled away from the embrace and stood up. She shook her mane to get it back in place, and noticing AJ do the same out of the corner of her eye, she took a deep breath and sighed. She turned to the orange pony and rubbed the back of her head with her hoof.
"Well, uh…thanks for the help, AJ." Dash said finally, her voice sincere and appreciative. Two things Applejack didn't hear from her friend all that often. "I knew you'd be helpful for this sort of thing. You're like the egghead of relationships! I guess I'll seeya tomorrow." The weather pony opened the window, gave a wink, and soared out into the open sky. Applejack cocked an eyebrow and trotted back across the room in order to close it after her, eying the vanishing streak of blue and rainbow mane as it disappeared in the dark.
"Heh, I'll take that as a compliment, pony girl."
"I wonder just how much longer I'll need you, anyway."
Scootaloo was firmly sitting back on her haunches, her tiny wings folded to her body, her eyes full of both boredom and uncertainty. She stroked a small white cloth rag along her prized scooter's surface, rubbing every nook and cranny she could reach from handles to wheels; all of this she accomplished by way of a green lantern full of fireflies. She found it in one of Dash's storage closets, and it was proving to be exceedingly helpful in the 'defying your big sister's bed time rule' rebellion, by allowing her to shut the lights off while still maintaining vision.
Despite the fact Scootaloo now had her own room, complete with her own furniture, and her own semi-full shelves and drawers full of miscellanea that Dash had been buying for her whenever she bugged the blue pony enough to do so, she still clung her to her favorite scooter. It was her prized possession. It was part of who she was, even.
For a grounded pegasus, it was to Scootaloo what Dash's wings were to her.
Sitting in the center of her comfy bed, the orange, purple-manned pony continued through the motions of caring for her scooter, whilst her helmet lay absent and empty on the almost bare nightstand next to her. Her thoughts kept trailing back to Dash, no matter how many new scooter moves she tried to think of in her head. The blue pony would probably kill her if she knew she was still up.
"I wish she wasn't so fixated on her rules…" The pony said aloud, peering at her reflection in the glass of the glowing lantern. "I mean, can't she just be more laid back with them, like she is with everything else? That's one of the things I always liked about her…"
The pony sighed even harder, and put down the rag. Who was she kidding; the thing had been relatively clean to begin with.
"Wow Scootaloo, you're talking to yourself. Maybe it really is time to go to bed."
Just as the pony gripped the handles of her scooter to maneuver it off the bed, the sound of someone flying into the living room downstairs came to her ears, and she froze. She didn't even need to ask herself if it was truly Dash. Only Rainbow Dash would enter this house by completely disregarding the door and using the window instead.
I wonder if she's still angry. The filly thought to herself, dragging herself to the edge of the bed and moving a single hoof down to the floor, practically moving in slow motion to avoid making a sound. She could hear the pony walking around downstairs and interacting with objects. As long as she took her time, making sure not to make any loud noises, she'd be good.
But then the sound of hooves casually trotting up the steps of the stairway made the young pony's heart skip a beat. She was coming to check on her!
Sacrificing her ninja-like stealth for rapid speed, while still trying to not make anything bump or crash, the filly got off the bed, grabbed her scooter, and practically tugged it from its place. It took a great deal of strength, but she managed to place it on the floor without any loud thumps. She then dove back across the bed and grabbed the green lantern, adrenaline coursing through her as the steps on the staircase came to an end. Opening up the lantern and shooing the bugs out the open window, the filly placed the hot item under the bed, and made one final dive for the folds of her blanket. She quickly wormed her way underneath it, and set her head on her pillow, just as the door knob turned.
The door opened with sounds of tumblers turning, and Scootaloo could see the light from the hallway dimly casting a spotlight on her entire bed. She held her breath and kept completely still, not daring to even breathe.
She heard absolutely nothing.
Dash was just…standing there? Scootaloo was facing away from the doorway; only the vague shadowy blob that was Rainbow Dash standing in the doorway and blocking some of the light told her that fact.
After a few more moments, the inevitable came.
"You know you're not fooling me, right, squirt?"
Scootaloo mentally slapped herself for probably having made a noise louder than she thought. But…maybe she was bluffing, or wasn't sure that what she heard was actually Scootaloo. The filly remained still, not giving into defeat just yet. If Dash wanted proof, she'd have to come and get it herself. No way was a Cutie Mark Crusader going to give in to her big sister so easily!
Unfortunately for Scootaloo, that was just what Rainbow had been waiting for.
"Huh, maybe I was wrong. Maybe she is really asleep." The azure pegasus staged aloud, giving a wide smirk that was out of Scootaloo's vision. She walked around the bed, got herself to the very edge, and put her front hooves up onto it. Scootaloo's heart was racing. Even a faulty eye-movement would alert the pony, now…and worse yet, she couldn't tell what the blue pegasus was doing, with her eyes closed.
Rainbow stuck her tongue out between her lips and raised her hooves, aiming them at her target. This was going to be cake.
In a single lightning-fast motion, the blue pony tossed the blanket off of the filly, and dug both her hooves into the exposed pegasus tummy. Getting the immediate reaction she desired, she chuckled to herself as Scootaloo jumped, then began giggling in hysterics while a soft hoof rubbed along her belly. She tried to defend herself, but the assaulting hooves where far too swift; they attacked whichever torso spot that wasn't guarded.
"Or maybe, Rainbow Dash, Best Flyer in Equestria, has seen and done the green firefly lantern trick before, and knows when a certain somepony is trying to pull a fast one!" Dash said playfully, losing part of her grip on the filly as she rolled out of reach, and compensating by tackling her on the bed. Once there, Scootaloo found herself being pinned to her pillow with one hoof, while the other continued to squirm its way around her tummy, making her squeal with laughter.
"Aaahahahahahaaaa! O-Okay I'm sorry fo-or waaahahahahaaha! T-Tricking y-you! QUIT IT I'm t-ticklish!"
"Pfft, yeah, sure squirt, that'll work. That's what you pleaded this afternoon, and did I stop then?" The elder pegasus said, sitting back and playing the fillies' tummy like an instrument, causing higher pitches of laughter to come out with each stroke. "You try and fool me, you're gonna be in for it! I don't play fair game like Applejack or Rarity with their sisters, kid. You wanted me to be your big sister, which means you get everything that comes with that!"
Scootaloo's orange cheeks were soon overtaken by a redness caused by her overbearing laughs. After the filly visibly couldn't take much more, the rainbow pegasus withdrew her hoof, at last giving the crusader a chance to take full breaths again. When she recovered, she found Dash lying with her hooves behind her head.
"I thought you would still be…mad from earlier." The filly explained, panting between her words, watching Dash with a mix of surprise and joy. "And…hey! How did you know about the lantern? I totally hid that before you even opened the door!"
"Nah, I went and cooled off, talked with Applejack for a bit. Oh, that reminds me, Apple Bloom says hi." The blue pony said, turning to look the younger pony in the eye. "And that's a trade secret, kiddo. Just know that you're in for some serious trouble whenever you try and use that trick on me, cause it's not gonna work."
"Hehe, by trouble you mean more tickling, right?" Scootaloo pressed, fixing her mane from the spasmodic fit of movement caused by said assault.
"Nopony knows. Maybe tickling, maybe next time it'll be something even worse!" Dash said cryptically, grin spread. "Point is, you better get in bed whenever you go to bed, otherwise, you'll have to face the wrath of Dash the Destroyer!"
"Hahaha, well why didn't you say so! If it was the wrath of Dash the Destroyer I was dealing with, I'd have neeever protested my bedtime in the first place!" The filly piled on, giggling along with her sister. When those giggles finally subsided, and the excitement of the moment came to an end, Dash took a deep breath of relaxation for herself, and stretched her hooves into the air.
"Alright kid, Dash the Destroyer needs to hit the hay; if she doesn't, she won't be able to obliterate the cloudy weather tomorrow, or any of the competition it brings." She said, a confident smile coming to her at the mere thought of tearing apart storm clouds at the speed of sound. She leaned up on the bed and turned to the filly, who was laid down in her pillow, at last looking genuinely exhausted, herself.
"Okay, Dash. That sounds good…goodnight and all, then." Scootaloo said with a yawn, finding the cool temperature of her pillow and blankets all the more encompassing and soothing than she had before. Dash couldn't help but look on with a happy smile as the small pony cuddled up with her comforts.
"Well, kid, before you pass out on me…" The blue pony began, looking a little embarrassed already, before even having said anything. "I kinda wanted to…sleep in here, uh, with you tonight. I mean, with that stupid fight and all, I kinda want to spend some time with you. Heh, though I guess most of that time would be in our dreams, huh? That work with you?"
Scootaloo's focus on her comforting blanket vanished with those words. The filly turned around in her self-built cocoon of fabric, and her eyes seemed to shine in the dim light of the hallway beyond. A small smile came to her, and she nodded in agreement with the idea.
"…T-That'd be awesome, Rainbow Dash!" She said happily, coming back out from underneath the covers. Dash nodded and fluttered up from the bed. She went out into the hallway and turned off the remaining lights, before closing the bedroom door, and leaving them in a much thicker darkness than before. With the only light source being the moon and stars outside the window, the only part of Dash Scootaloo could make out now was her outline, and the light in her eyes reflecting from the moon.
"Alright, kiddo, move over so I don't accidentally sit on you." She joked, using the fillies' giggling as an indicator on how close she was. After a few joke nudges against the filly that Dash couldn't resist, she made her way back amidst the pillows and blankets. Once there, the blue pony knew exactly what she wanted to do.
"Come here for a sec."
Scootaloo gently used a hoof to help herself along in the dark. Thankfully, the moon's limited light illuminated Dash's outline there on the bed as well. As soon as she was close enough, the filly gasped when she felt a hoof wrap itself around her midsection, and lightly pull her even closer. Fairly soon, she found Dash's side behind her head. For a moment it seemed to morph out of shape, but the young filly realized it was her wing. The long blue feathers puffed themselves out, becoming softer than Scootaloo's normal pillow.
Rainbow's brilliantly colored tail, even visible in such a lack of light, wrapped itself around the filly's tummy, and secured itself. Dash then curled her body best she could, and laid her head down against the bed with a tired yawn. There was a soft moment of quiet.
"Y-Yeah…thanks, Dash." Scootaloo responded weakly, bearing a blush and beaming with content. She nestled herself into her own personal pillow. The coolest pillow there ever was.
"Alright. G'night, kid."
"Goodnight, big sister."
Rainbow Dash kept a single eye open, glancing at the young filly curling up against her; a purple and orange ball, clutching her rainbow tail like a blanket and sighing happily into it. In that moment, the elder pegasus thought back to her friend, to Applejack. She was right all along, wasn't she? All the blue pony had needed to do was invest a little more personal time.
And, best of all, she had a really good feeling that she was going to enjoy doing so from now on.
Hour upon hour passed, and the crescent moon in the sky descended at Princess Luna's command. The stars, woven as they were into the sky's tapestry, disappeared from view along with it. In their place, the heavenly sunlight from Celestia's day sprang forth, bringing both warmth and energy to the world below. Ponies awoke early to go about their daily chores, to go shopping, or to go and visit friends and relatives. Even the animals emerged from their dens to search for food or to play in the fields. Equestria was waking up.
"Nnnnggh…" Came the shallow grunt of Rainbow Dash, shaking her head like a dog to dislodge her bed mane, and giving a long-winded morning yawn. It took her only a few moments to realize there was a filly cuddled to her stomach, still clutching her tail closely as she had last night. But as cute as Scootaloo may have been…
"Alright sleepy feathers, time to wake up. I gotta get goin'." Dash said, using a hoof to gently jostle the fillies' head, trying to stir her. She succeeded, but as Scootaloo began to awake to the bright sun stinging her unadjusted eyes, she gave a less than enthusiastic groan, burying her head deeper into her pegapillow.
"There's quite a few lazy pegasi on the weather patrol team. If the leader of the team doesn't show up to rally them up, trust me, at least one fifth of the team will take it upon themselves to ditch out on duty for the day."
"Why so soon...just twenty more minutes, Dash?" The orange pony asked, squinting one eye at the blue pony looking down at her.
"Twenty? Squirt, seriously, if they ditch out, that means more work for me to do." Dash explained, her violet eyes glancing out the window, observing the scattered puffy white clouds, filling up the sky like giant floating marshmallows. "And I got better things to do today than pick up the slack for-"
"Please, Rainbow Dash?" Scootaloo asked again, a pleading in her voice that Dash was having trouble resisting. She sighed, and watched the filly cling to her comfortable nest made up of pegasus wing, pegasus tummy and pegasus rainbow tail. She did still look rather sleepy.
A sudden spark took off in Dash's brain, and her eyes widened. Applejack's angry face as she was woken up last night came to her mind. Then, the advice session she had received from the earth pony. It all washed over her in a humbling wave.
Compassion. Affection. Understanding. Compromise. The ability to be gentle and soft with your sibling, and being willing to sometimes meet them half-way.
Heh, her mind was paraphrasing a bit, but AJ's advice shone through again, and Dash smiled to herself meekly. Her reflective face and silence must have been as plain as day, for Scootaloo was staring up at her, blinking in confusion.
"…Fine, fine, you got me. Maybe I can shave off a little more time." Dash surrendered, laying her head back down against the soft comforter and closing her eyes. "But only twelve more minutes, okay kid? I can't sleep the whole day away being your pillow."
Scootaloo's bright, pearly whites showed as she grinned and nodded, accepting her sister's terms, and getting back into her sleeping position.
Whaddya know. She did remember to brush her teeth last night, after all.
To be a good sister, one must give as well as take.
Compromise, to make your sibling happy while maintaining some of your own interests.
Affection, to demonstrate both spontaneous gestures, as well as taking the time to bond with them on a personal level.
And flexibility, to be willing to bend your own rules in certain situations, to accommodate your sibling's interests.
For a long time, confidence in being a big sister that could compare to that of Rarity or even Applejack was not something Rainbow Dash had. Though she had never had a sister before, she took a homeless filly into her home with encouragement from her friends, and did her best to steer in the right direction. But sometimes, you need to be steered in the right direction, yourself.
Now, Rainbow's grasp on what sisterhood entailed had been enlightened. And although she may be a bit rougher and free-form in her style as opposed to Rarity or Applejack, you can ask any of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, and each one will tell you that they have the greatest older sister that a filly could ever have.