Preferred if you play
He was already sitting at the dining room table, the laminated wood never felt so cold as the sunlight filtered in through the closed curtains. His mind was empty, a hollow feeling had settled in his chest. The birds let out the occasional chirp as nothing stirred. Tufts of electric blue and white hairs fell on his open hooves as he stared. His hooves felt numb and heavy, they quivered uncontrollably as he continued to stare. His heart, however grey it felt, hammered in his chest. He could feel it welling and bursting inconsolably in his chest as he forced it, wished it to quiet.
He hated mornings.
He stood in front of his mirror. Above him, a mobile of the stars circled slowly, not so much pushed by motor as they were caressed by inertia. A soft grey coat, followed by a wind-licked mane greeted him in the choked morning light. Big, glazed magenta eyes stared right back at him. A short visage for one who felt so old. The house felt deafeningly quiet, only adding to his morning's melancholy. The only sound accompanying him was the beat of his own heart as he saw his chest steadily rise and fall in the reflection. Without a word passed, he took a deep breath and forced his hooves forward. Opening his bedroom door, and trotting down the small hallway, every step greeted with a rickety old creak that did nothing to sooth his somber state of mind. Each step grew heavy on his conscious as he eventually swung by the railing aligning the stairs. He felt his heart begin it's old routine. And the heartache began.
He heard the old staircase creaking as the little foal made his way downstairs. Sighing, Thunderlane got out of his chair and made his way over to the sink, hiding his quivering bones from his brother who, without proper greetings, plonked down in a chair and put his head on the table.
"Hey, want anything to eat?" Asked Thunder, unsure of what to say as his little brother now that the two shared a room. Hovering over the kitchen sink, looked down, skewing his nose at all the unwashed dishes and rotting foods.
"Rumble. I thought I told you to wash the dishes last night." He said, too tired to put any effort behind the disciplinary call.
"I got back at six last night. Sorry." He mumbled back, his five year old accent twisting his words. Thunderlane stopped washing the dirty dishes for a minute to stare at his brother with a mixture of apprehension and concern.
"What were you doing till six?" he asked, the morning exertions having cleared a bit of the fog from his mind and speech.
"I was at Pipsqueak's house." He replied, his words still sulky and somber. Sighing loudly, Thunder let his shoulders sag.
"What did I tell you about staying at friend's houses?"
"Always call you first to let you know I'm going. And only if they invite me." Rumble echoed.
"That's exactly right. And I didn't get a call from you last night, did you know how worried I was?" Thunder asked again.
"Yes." Rumble sighed, exasperated by his older brother.
"Yes what? Rumble, you know how I hate to impose on others, do you want me to call Blossomforth to babysit you again?" Mocked Thunder, his words gaining strength as he steadily but surely woke up.
"No-" Rumble's reply was cut off as Thunder's left hoof twitched, instantly he let go of the cup he was washing and it fell, clanking along the way. Swearing under his breath, Thunderlane tried to pick it up, only for his spasmodic hooves to fail him as he dropped it again. Bending down again, his backlegs gave way and he fell. This time, audibly cursing. Rumble felt his heart shrink painfully, though he kept his face impassive. "You were working late again." He said simply as Thunder finally succeeded in wrangling his twitching legs.
Thunder closed his eyes and took a deep breath, turning slowly to face his expressionless brother whose eyes were open in observation. "I had to. Rumble, you remember how I got sick during Reservoir day! I gotta work multiple shifts now." He swore under his breath once more. "And I would've had the money to take you somewhere nice too..." he added silently.
"Didn't you promise me you wouldn't do those again?" Asked Rumble, his voice very slightly quivering. His eyes shining as he visibly fought back tears.
"Rumble how else am I going to pay for the house? For your school?" Pleaded Thunder, his sore hooves and battered mind hammering away at his insides. Rumble merely sighed.
"I'm going out." He stated simply. Getting out of his chair, he made his way to the door when Thunder suddenly snapped to.
"Wait! I just remembered! Today's Saturday! I thought maybe we could-" the slamming of the door cut him off as Rumble left.
"...do something fun." He finished half-heartedly before going back to doing the dishes.
"Umm..are you a mister...Thunderlane?" Asked a voice to his left.
"Yes! That's me." He shot up, he'd been dozing ever since he'd arrived at the school a couple hours prior. Standing up, he winced as he felt his backlegs cramp from misuse.
"Are you okay?" Asked the voice again, wincing, Thunder averted his gaze from his miserable legs to the source of the voice. There, standing in front of him, with a velvetine coat and equally magenta eyes complimented by a soft pink mane and a cutie mark depicting three smiling sunflowers, was Rumble's teacher; Ms. Cheerilee.
"Yeah. I'm good. Sorry for this" he gestured to his backlegs. Waving in a dismissive manner, Cheerliee rolls her eyes.
"Nonsense, here, I'll guide you to the infirmary, we should still have a couple of icy-hot patches." She says while escorting the incapacitated black stallion. Along the way, the two struck up a conversation.
"So, how long've you been teaching here?" Asked Thunder after a prolonged silence punctuated by the occasional pained wince.
"Oh, for about ten years. And I've loved every single one of them." She giggles softly to herself.
"It seems like you enjoy your job." Replies Thunder, something in his voice slipped as it lost it's smooth and gentle edge. Noticing, Cheerliee turned her head to fix the stallion with a questioning gaze.
"You could say that. Speaking of jobs, what is it you do exactly?" She asks, noticing the darkening expression on Thunder's face.
".....I'm a Lightning Tamperer." He replies, voice devoid of all emotion. Cheerliee's only response is a small gasp accompanied by widened eyes.
"Oh my gosh, I had no idea!" Her voice is shrill with distress, Thunder waves her off.
"It's not so bad. All we have to do is stick a rod of lightening in the clouds every time the pass by the conveyer belt. It gets better after a little while." He replies wistfully, the half-heartedness of his response sent off a dozen or so warning flares in Cheerliee's mind.
"My gosh, and you're only what, sixteen? Seventeen? What are you doing working such a dangerous job?! Don't you know Lightning Tamping has long term side-effects? And even then, you're at constant dangerous from a stray voltage? Have you read the papers recently? Death rates are on the rise! Not only that, you all suffer a serious risk of brain or heart damage!" Her voice was somewhere between alarmed, afraid, and angry. By now, the two had reached the nurse's office, and Cheerliee had eased the stallion onto the examining table, fetching the promised patches after she was sure he was comfortable.
"I hate it too, but it's the only thing paying the bills" he muttered under his breath, unaware that the teacher had caught it.
"Pay the bills? What about the parents?" She asked cautiously.
"Uh! Umm uh.....mom's laid up. She's still recovering from back surgery. Dad's still going through therapy for his leg! Yeah!" He replied hastily, his voice gaining strength as he bought into his own lie.
For a long moment, Cheerliee stared into his eyes, her gaze long and impassive. It began to unnerve him as stared back. What if she hadn't bought into it? What if she was thinking about calling the cops? Or worse yet, what if she was judging him. After an eternity, she spoke.
"Thunder, that was the same excuse you used when you showed up with Rumble on orientation day." She spoke softly, this time averting her eyes. Thunder felt all the air go out of him as the realization hit him. His shoulders sagged as he let all the air out.
"Thunder, tell me the truth. What really happened? I know it has something to do with Rumble. He's a good kid, really. But sometimes he seems so distant and sad. Every time I try to talk to him about it though, he shrugs me off. Did your father abuse you? What happened?" She asked, each word stinging his very being as he sat in silence, head downcast in solemnity and thought. For a while, the only noise was the lone drone of the cooling unit as the two sat in unnatural silence.
".........Dad died before Rumble was born. He was racing in the Canterlot Derby when his wing cramped and he fell, got trampled to death by seventy five other contestants. They only found his body after the races had closed for the night." His eyes had glazed over, the look of inattention that often came from those remembering an event of pure shock. Cheerliee listened with rapt attention, every inch of her being straining to hear the soft-spoken words of the young stallion before her.
"Mom got overwhelmed, turned to drinking. Even though she was carrying Rumble. Grew really violent every time she got into the liquor cabinet. Started beating me after I had locks put on those cabinets. Eventually she went through the birthing after a long night binge drinking. Passed out on the sofa like usual. The only reason I noticed was because her dress became red down there" he continued. "I had to deliver the baby by myself. I was only twelve ma'am." His eyes began glistening, she could see him fighting the demons of his past as well as his tears as he fought on. "He was two pounds underweight and still as the surface of a lake." Now his voice began shaking, he swallowed and exhaled a breath, shutting his eyes in the process. "For three hours...I had to push on his chest and give him CPR, praying. Just..praying he would make it." This time, he couldn't fight back the sobs. Thunderlane's voice grew uneven as the long buried sobs wracked his body. Cries he forced down to care and feed and look after his brother.
"He was so small..in my hooves. Almost like an almond, all curled up like that." He smiled as he reminisced, holding his quivering hooves and placing one in the other to signify his size. "Mom passed away that night. Chocked on her own vomit after I'd forgotten to turn her on her side." His voice grew cold and distant as his tears evaporated, leaving behind the same vacant stare he'd first started his story with.
Astonished, Cheerliee could do nothing but gawk for a few minutes before gathering her wits. "If I remember correctly, Rumble is seven, so that means-"
"Five years of my life ma'am. Five years I've looked after him. Fed him, kept a roof over his head, held him close when he was crying. Taught him how to read, write, how to poddy. Five years we were running. From boy's home to boy's home. When I was old enough, I got a small tenement in South Trottingham. It was pretty bad down there and I had to constantly watch out for him day and night, but I saved my bits, I worked hard, and I got the first two tickets I could for the northbound express to Ponyville. Got us a nice little bungalow and I've been working hard ever since." He cut her off, a proud smile on his face.
"Well what about relatives? Friends of the family? Uncles, aunts, you've got to've had somepony looking for you!" She exclaimed.
"Nope. Dad was a pretty solitary stallion from what I can remember. And my mom's family pretty much cast her out after she married dad. All we had was each other." His reply came solemnly. "Look miss, I can take care of my brother. He's hard-headed at times but I'll be fine. I've looked after him those long years with nobody else to help me. I set aside my dreams to care for him. And I'll be damned if he's kicked out of school because I'm underaged. I know he's stubborn at times, I know, but it's nothing we can't handle. I'll talk to him okay? Just...please...don't tell anyone else." He finished, eyes wide and begging.
"But...but..but what about when he gets older? What about college? What if he gets into an accident?" She questioned further.
"I've got at least seventy five hundred bits set aside for his books and stuff. With any luck, he'll get a scholarship. That'll ease most of the burden, and I can pay off the rest. And if he gets really injured, I'll just take out a loan for a couple thousand bits to cover the medical expenses." He finished, nervous words streaming out of his mouth like the babbling of a brook. Cheerilee stood and walked over to a nearby chair, easing into it with a sigh. Rubbing her temples softly, she contemplated the decision before her. While putting them in an orphanage would guarantee them a bed and decent meal everyday, she knew that Thunder would be leaving the home in a year. And without the credentials to become his brother's legal guardian, it might be years before the two saw each other. And she'd seen the look on Thunder's face. He loved his brother, more than life itself. She feared the worst in his case. And from what she'd seen of Rumble, while he was stubborn and distant at times, she realized he felt the same way. The two of them were inseparable, and no matter what she did, she doubted they would see the thought behind her actions.
"You said you ran from boy's homes to boy's homes." She said, the statement coming out as more of a question.
"Yeah. Everytime I told somepony else about our problems, they'd try to stick Rumble in an orphanage. Several times they tried, and seven times they failed." He replied proudly. Cheerliee grunted. Of course. Even if it was in their best intentions, he would still defy her. And she didn't want them running from the town. Ponyville was Thunder's best bet. It was relatively safe and the school system had been rated one of the best in the country for it's friendly teachers and students. If he ran now, he would probably take Rumble to the closest town or city. And the closest to Ponyville was Manehattan. She shuddered unconsciously. She'd taught there as an assistant once. And if South Trottingham was bad, then Manehattan was the dumps.
After a lengthy silence, she spoke. "Alright. I won't tell anyone. I pinkie promise." She added, smiling to herself.
"By Celestia's sacred touch thank you." He said in a breathless rush, all the tension left as he slouched on the table.
"But in exchange, you gotta let me cover some of those bills of yours. And Rumble's been getting behind in his classes, so I'll come over every wednesday for tutoring. Free of charge." She added, noticing the alarm on his face.
"I...I..I can't accept-" he began.
"No no no. I'm not offering, these are my terms. You either follow them, or I tell the board." She added sternly, making her way to the door.
But right as she was turning to head down the corridor, she heard a very soft, a very heartfelt, and a very solemn "thank you." Coming from the room behind her. Smiling, she chuckled a bit as she turned left to head into her office.
"No problem kiddo. I know the feeling."