It was invariably the most popular day among the younger residents of Ponyville and Cheerilee didn’t have to wonder why.
It wasn’t unusual, come Friday at three-fifteen, for a miniature stampede to erupt in the schoolhouse as her students pushed and shoved one another in a bid to reach the door –and the freedom of a weekend- first.
Cheerilee didn’t mind the thundering of tiny hooves or the hurried goodbyes she received as the bell signaled dismissal. She knew their exuberance at leaving didn’t reflect poorly on her abilities as a teacher. It was simply that school was school and no matter how fun she made it, the vast majority of colts and fillies would rather have a life that was all play and no work.
And as the crush of students made their way out the door and into the sunshine, Cheerilee would take the time to tidy up her classroom, picking up stray papers, sweeping the floor, reshelving books -- All those mundane things that needed to be done come the end of the week. The exodus of students and the cleaning were simply routine things that had happened every Friday since Cheerilee took her post as school teacher.
What was unusual was turning to find Rumble still standing beside his desk, pawing nervously at the floor.
Rumble was one of her best students. Not because he was particularly academically inclined, but because he was a hard worker who asked thoughtful questions and turned in all his assignments on time. Though usually quiet, he did get rambunctious from time to time –like the time he’d flown in so wound after an exciting kickball game during recess that he’d crashed into the wall opposite the door- but mostly, he was a dear who never gave her any trouble.
He had also never stayed after class for any reason.
Cheerilee smiled warmly, setting the book in her mouth on her desk. “Is there something I can help you with, Rumble?” She asked, taking a step towards the seemingly nervous colt. He had glanced up at her, but only briefly; his eyes were darting around the room and he continued to shuffle awkwardly.
“I was wondering…” He murmured, one hoof rising to scratch at the back of his neck, his little wings twitching a bit, “Um, it’s my turn for Family Appreciation Day next week…Can I bring somepony who’s not really family but kind of like family?”
“Like who?” Cheerilee wasn’t sure what she’d been expecting, but whatever it was, it wasn’t that. Thunderlane had been a shoo-in for Family Appreciation Day the previous school year and with the way Rumble went on and on about his big brother, she’d been expecting a repeat appearance by the weather pony.
Rumble was quiet for a moment, still fidgeting. “Um…Derpy.” He finally answered, looking up at Cheerilee, wide-eyed and hopeful.
“Derpy?” The mare blinked, taken a bit aback. Why in Equestria would he…?
“Yeah…She, um, she’s kinda like family.” The words tumbled out in a rush, Rumble attempting to explain why he wanted to bring the goofy, clumsy pegasus to speak to the class. “She’s lived at our house for over three years and she’s been Thunderlane’s special somepony since last winter…And she’s just…really cool, Miss Cheerilee, only nopony knows it ‘cause nopony ever pays much attention to her except to make fun of her or get annoyed when she screws up.” He dropped his gaze back to the wooden slats of the floor, shoulders hunching a bit, ears flattened, “And it’s, I dunno, not really fair. Especially since she doesn’t have her own family here and never gets to do things like this…”
At the sound of his name, the colt glanced back up, not sure what to expect. Catching sight of the warm, wide smile gracing his teacher’s face, Rumble relaxed, sitting back on his haunches and offering a questioning smile of his own.
“I think it’s a fine idea.” Cheerilee continued. And really, she did. The fact that Rumble so selflessly thought of another pony said a lot for his character, not to mention the fact that, well, he was right. Nopony bothered much with the incredibly awkward Derpy and she didn’t often get invited anywhere due to fear that she would inadvertently wreck something. “And I suppose I can allow honorary family members to attend, especially since Thunderlane came last year.”
“And my mom and dad are kinda boring.” Rumble reminded her, nodding sagely. The previous year, there had been no question of who to invite. The colt idolized his big brother, whom he saw as one of the coolest, fastest, most amazing pegasi in the world. His mom and dad, on the other hoof…Well, they were just his mom and dad.
Though she tried not to, Cheerilee couldn’t help smiling at that. What was it they said? Out of the mouths of foals…
“But Derpy’s not!” Rumble plowed on, gaining enthusiasm with every word, his grin widening, “She’s been so many places and done lots of neat stuff. And she’s really good at telling stories and her stories always got other stories inside ‘em. And I really just…” Here he paused, expression folding down into something more thoughtful, one ear flicked back, “I want other ponies to get to know her like me and Thunderlane and Mom and Dad do. I think they’ll like her if they’d just give her a chance.”
“So ask her, then.” Cheerilee’s expression softened, her heart warming at the thought. Rumble really was a sweet little colt and his determination to help his friend was admirable. “The worst she could do is say no.”
When Rumble arrived at home later that afternoon, he found Derpy plopped on the porch.
She was sitting on her rump, forelegs planted solidly on the wooden floorboards. One of her hind legs was splayed out at an odd angle, though she didn’t seem too uncomfortable in such an awkward position. In fact, she didn’t seem aware of much at all; her gaze was fixed off in some odd direction, her head canted to the side.
Rumble, used to her peculiarities by then, simply followed her gaze, noticing for the first time the dark clouds gathering in the distance.
Then he shrugged, trotting up the two steps separating him from the porch. “Hey Derpy,” Sometimes, Rumble had a hard time approaching her; sometimes she had a strange, magical quality about her that he hated to disturb. It was much easier to talk to her when Thunderlane was around and she was more focused, but he was nowhere to be seen. “Where’s Thunderlane?”
She half-looked at him, her other eye still fixed on the dark swirl of storm clouds amassed on the horizon. “Working.” Her voice was low, sing-song, and she raised a hoof in a vague gesture, “There’s a storm tonight. Storm team’s on overtime and Thunderlane is busy prepping the clouds.” She smiled, a small, secret smile, still not turning to look fully at Rumble. “Gonna be a doozy of a storm.”
“…Oh.” Rumble wasn’t quite sure what to do. He knew she loved storms; she always parked herself somewhere with an unobstructed view, especially when there was lightning involved. The colt wasn’t quite sure why she enjoyed a raging squall so much – Personally, he found lightning a bit frightening, though he would never admit it. But Derpy was fascinated by the process of creating a storm – a job she was rarely pulled for because nopony wanted her too close to a fully-charged storm cloud.
Talking to her would be hard with the distraction of the weather.
Rumble crossed the porch, sat by her -quiet for a moment- and just watched her. All of her attention was once again riveted on the distant clouds, her posture suddenly ramrod straight as a tongue of lightning licked at the treetops.
And then came the rain, creating a dark curtain in the distance. It would be a while before the storm team got all of the clouds situated over town, but storm clouds were touchy and often let loose before they were fully in place.
Rumble glanced over at the dark mass of clouds, trying to understand what Derpy saw in the gloomy weather.
When he unconsciously jumped at another flash of lightning and a boom of thunder, she leaned over, placing a hoof around his shoulders and drawing the little colt close to her side.
“It’s okay.” She said simply, taking a moment to look away from the storm on the horizon and down at him.
He returned her gaze, blinking grey-violet eyes up at her. Then he looked away, ashamed, a blush rising in his cheeks. It was his family’s business, making storms, and he hated the fact that the end results scared him. He’d never told anypony about his fear of thunder and lightning – Somehow, Derpy just knew.
She smiled at the back of his head, snuggling him even closer. “I’m not gonna tell anypony, you know.” And really, she wouldn’t. Everypony had their weaknesses and Derpy was not one to exploit somepony else’s shortcomings. “It can be our secret.”
Rumble remained quiet for a moment, leaning into her side. She was warm –she was always warm- and smelled fresh, like bubble bath. And she was the best snuggler he had ever met, hooves down. Even better than his mom, who had always cuddled with him when he was little.
Sometimes, when she was doing strange things, he wondered why Thunderlane liked her so much.
At times like these, however, Rumble knew why his brother had taken so well to the clumsy, kind-hearted mare.
“Derpy?” Feeling comfortable nestled at her side –as well as certain he had her attention for the moment- he broke the silence that had fallen over them, thinking it was the right time to ask her about Family Appreciation Day. “Will you come to school with me next week?”
She cocked her head, a confused look crossing her face, one brow quirking upwards. “Why?”
“For Family Appreciation Day…” He mumbled, shyly looking away. He was close enough to her to hide his face in her wing, pressing his muzzle into her downy feathers. “I want you to come and talk to my class.”
There was a long silence and if he had looked, Rumble would have been able to see to near-comical width of her eyes, her mouth hanging open in surprise. Nopony ever invited Derpy to do anything remotely important, like speak to a class of foals with bright futures. The majority of the townsponies seemed to be in some unspoken agreement about her ability to handle things well – namely that she was incapable of such a thing. Because of that, she was rarely asked to participate in town events that were invite-only.
“…Really?” Her voice was a whisper, her eyes still wide. It didn’t matter that she’d been spending more and more time with the family proper since she and Thunderlane had started dating – Derpy had never imagined anypony might consider her a part of their family. “You want…me? Why?”
He pulled away at that, backing up to look at her fully, eyes sparkling. “Why wouldn’t I?” He wriggled a little, excited, “You’re awesome! And if you talk to my class, they’ll all know so too! If you come and tell everypony one of your really neat stories, they’re all gonna see that you’re really, really cool.”
“…” There was another very long pause as Derpy continued blinking, just staring down at the eager colt, mouth still hanging open. How could he think…? There was no way! She knew what some of the other ponies said about her. She even knew that some of them had been giving Thunderlane a hard time about her, because what would a dependable, hard-working stallion want with clumsy, accident-prone her? Not that she necessarily thought they were right, but…Nopony would mistake her for awesome. “…I’m not cool.” She finally managed to squeak out.
“I think you are!” Rumble stated firmly, brows drawing together, a frown tugging the corners of his mouth downwards, “You’re really special, Derpy. And I just want all those other ponies to know it too.”
He sounded so sure of himself; so confident. But how could he know a thing like that for sure when she herself was so uncertain?
All of her life, other ponies had been poking fun at her. Her parents, her schoolmates, her neighbors, even most of her so-called friends…Her absolute, one-hundred-percent certainty that everypony merely tolerated her was the reason she’d left Cloudsdale in the first place; no matter how friendly other pegasi had appeared, she’d always harbored suspicions that they were laughing at her behind her back.
Her parents –both prominent members of the Weather Control Bureau- had been the worst, always picking, picking, picking at her. They had never come right out and said she was a disappointment, but Derpy was smarter than everypony assumed. She could easily see the looks they exchanged when she brought home less than satisfactory marks on school papers. She understood the hidden meaning behind their words; things like “you can do better next time” really meant “you didn’t do well enough this time.” And when she had just barely qualified for a position in the weather factory’s packing and distribution department…Derpy swore she’d heard the sound of her mother’s heart shattering.
For all of their money and influence in Cloudsdale, Diamond Dust and Cloud Burst had not been able to give their only child the things she really needed. While Derpy had never been lacking in possessions, her parents had failed to provide her with support and attention and even a decent name. And with each time she had disappointed them, her self-confidence had waned, leaving her an uncertain mare who often tripped herself up.
Derpy had tried –she really had!- to live up to their expectations and make them proud. And though she had discovered many things she was good at, they could never measure up to her mother’s graceful flight capabilities or her father’s confident leadership. She was too awkward, too slow, too fluff-brained.
Life in Cloudsdale had been almost unbearable for the clumsy pegasus and she’d taken it upon herself to leave.
And that was how –three and nearly-a-half years later- she found herself here, in Ponyville, sitting on a wooden porch, an expectant colt looking up at her hopefully.
“Please?” Rumble was giving her the big, shiny puppy-dog eyes that only the most adorable of foals could ever pull off.
She sighed, glancing once again off into the direction of the wall of clouds approaching the town. Watching the storm unfold suddenly held no appeal, because somewhere beyond that grey curtain was Cloudsdale, and somewhere beyond that…
She shook her head a little, attempting to banish her own stormy thoughts and forcing both her eyes to look the same way, down at Rumble. “…I’ll think about it.”
With the storm situated and in full swing, it was time to call it a day. Exhausted, coat rain-slicked, Thunderlane flew home, thoughts of warm blankets, feather pillows and sleep flickering through his mind.
It was pouring; the storm wasn’t scheduled to end until early the next morning. The prep team had worked hard –it was a big storm- and he was incredibly tired, his hoofsteps leaden as he trudged up the stairs.
He nudged open the door to his room wearily, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness. A searching glance around revealed a fluffy towel tossed over the arm of his shabby recliner. It just sort of hung there, almost as if left by accident, though Thunderlane knew the towel’s presence was nothing short of deliberate.
He smiled, trotting over to snatch the towel and dry himself. It was things like this that made him even more certain that no matter what his friends said, Derpy was one of the most thoughtful, sweetest mares he’d ever met. Even before they had started dating, she had been leaving him towels after he had storm prep assignments – She just did things like that, sometimes; things that in the past had made him stop and think about how others didn’t really know her.
Things that now made his heart flutter.
A quiet rustle of sheets caught his attention, and it was then that he realized she’d left not only the towel but herself in his room as well.
Still in the process of drying his mane, he turned, noticing for the first time the lump curled in the middle of his bed. She was asleep, scrunched up in a little ball, his down blanket pulled up under her chin.
It wasn’t unusual for her to sleep in his room; they did spend nights together sometimes. Not every night, but often enough that his parents had stopped looking uncomfortable on mornings the young couple trotted downstairs together – They didn’t cause a commotion and Rumble hadn’t seen anything he shouldn’t yet. Derpy still maintained quarters in the attic, though his parents had stopped charging her rent a few months back, and they sometimes slept in his room, sometimes in hers, sometimes separately.
But it was unusual for her to be squirreled away in his room, sleeping, when a major storm was raging outside.
Something was up.
Finished with his mane, he almost dropped the towel on the floor, then remembered, no, her towels were important to her, and took an extra few precious seconds to hang it carefully back over the arm of the chair. It wasn’t the best place for the towel to dry, but he would hang it in the bathroom later. In any case, it was better than leaving it on the floor and he knew she would appreciate the gesture.
She stirred slightly when he flopped down on the bed, mumbling something incoherent, and he smiled again, reaching over to push a lock of straw-blonde hair from her face.
For a moment, Thunderlane just watched her sleep. He had never found her to be breathtakingly beautiful, nor was she smoking hot like some of the other mares around town. But she had a sort of prettiness that was impossible to put into words – When his friends questioned it, he always just told them she was cute. He had no idea how to even begin explaining what exactly it was about her... But it was something about the sweep of pale lashes across her cheeks or the sweet way she smiled when feeling shy or the way her messy mane always fell in her eyes...
Or maybe it was just that she was so different from everypony else.
But whatever it was, he very rarely looked at her these days and saw the clumsy, awkward mare that the rest of Ponyville saw.
“Wake up, sleeping beauty.” His voice was a teasing whisper as he nudged her gently with his muzzle, trying to coax her back from whatever dreamland she’d entered.
At first, she curled up a little tighter, burying her muzzle in a foreleg, not quite ready to surrender to the conscious world. In her dreams, she was everything she would never be awake – Graceful, majestic, capable. Nopony laughed at her and everypony was her friend.
But her dreams weren’t something warm she could reach out and touch and there was nopony there that nuzzled her as sweetly as Thunderlane, or told her silly lies about how she was pretty and that she could do anything she set her mind to. And that was why she reluctantly cracked an eye, peering at him from beneath a curtain of her own hair.
“I am not.” She mumbled in regards to his fairytale reference, rubbing one hoof against her eye and yawning. The half-hearted protest wasn’t unusual; this exchange occurred between them often. It was typically followed up with a sleepy kiss or a nuzzle or even just a warm smile, however, not this sort of quiet withdrawal.
Thunderlane nudged her again, attempting to draw her out of her blanket cocoon and figure out what was wrong.
They’d known each other long enough for him to know that while she was usually upbeat and cheerful no matter what, she sometimes had these moments where everything seemed bleak and dreary. Nopony could remain happy all the time, and though Derpy tried her best to always stay positive, certain things brought her down.
And one of those things must have happened that day, because she looked as gloomy as he’d ever seen her.
She rolled over –still tangled in the comforter- and promptly fell off the bed, landing on the floor with an audible “oof” and a muffled sniffle.
Thunderlane edged his way along the mattress, peering over the side at the sorry lump of blanket and grey mare on the floor. “Hey…” His voice was gentle, eyes lit with concern, “what’s going on?”
She looked up, one eye focused on him, the other lowered to the floor, and as she caught his gaze, so caring, her lower lip began to quiver and her golden eyes brimmed with tears. She opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out save for a teeny whimper.
Any thoughts of sleep still lingering in his mind fled at the look on her face and he slid off the edge of the bed to sit beside her, helping her from the tangle of fabric and pulling her close. She fell heavily against him, knocking him off balance and into the side of the bed, her forelegs creeping around him in a clingy hug, muzzle pressed into his neck.
“Rumble invited me to school.” She finally whispered, squeezing her eyes shut against the tears still threatening to overflow, “For Family Appreciation Day.”
Thunderlane drew back slightly at that in order to look down at the disheveled mare in his lap. “That’s…good.” He replied uncertainly, blinking amber eyes in confusion, “…Isn’t it?”
There was a long silence, broken only by a rumble of thunder from somewhere outside. Derpy took a shuddering breath and relaxed her grip on the stallion, shoulders sagging. “It’s good, except I’m not part of your…f-family.” Her voice caught on the last word, trembling, and she sank further to the floor, burying her face in her forelegs.
And that was it; it suddenly all made sense. Derpy didn’t speak often of her family, but he knew they were a very sore spot for the disheartened mare. Something had happened -something between her and her parents- that had driven her from her former home and into the streets of Ponyville with only a handful of bits in her saddlebag, looking for a job, a home, a meal, a fresh start.
Thunderlane still wasn’t quite sure what had happened, just that it was bad. She didn’t often even hint at the fact that she so much as had any existing family. Most ponies in town assumed she was an orphan and she let them believe it, though Thunderlane had learned from both Raindrops and Derpy’s own vague comments that her parents were alive and kicking somewhere in the ritzy section of Cloudsdale. Whatever had transpired leading up to her flight to Ponyville must’ve been horrible for her to pretend her parents were dead.
He had never pressed her to talk about it before and, though he was curious, he wasn’t about to start now, not with her looking like she wanted to crawl under the bed and hide.
“Derpy…” He knew he needed to say something, but, well…Words had never really been Thunderlane’s strong suit. Taking a quick moment to think on what would be the right thing, he hunched down next to her, resting his cheek on his own forelegs as he peered at her. “I’m glad you’re not part a my family.”
Her muffled sob was a very clear indication that that was decidedly not what she wanted to hear and he rushed to explain.
“I mean…If you were foaled into my family, I wouldn’t, you know, like you the way I do. You’d just be a sister or a cousin or an aunt or something, ya know?” He stammered, hoping what he said made sense, “And I like it way better with you as that special somepony who listens to me and waits for me to fly home together after work and leaves me towels when I have rain duty.”
He paused, letting her just digest those words and hoping they helped. She peeped up at him, still sniffling, the fur around her muzzle damp with tears, though her eyes had brightened a little. Encouraged, he edged a little closer, nuzzling one of her ears, and she offered him a shaky smile.
She was looking at him fully now, her eyes still shimmering with tears. He leaned in, resting his forehead against hers and rubbing their muzzles together in her favorite form of ‘kiss’. “You’re the family that I picked for myself, not the family I’m stuck with. Believe it or not, I want you by my side, not some other mare.”
“Yeah?” She whispered, returning the gentle nuzzle, her heart skipping a beat. She closed her eyes, just listening to Thunderlane’s rumbly voice, and soaking up the nice things he was saying. Not many other ponies were aware, but she knew his big secret -- he was a big softy.
And what she didn’t know? It was her that made him soft and mushy.
“Yeah.” He grinned, giving her a quick kiss before nudging her in the direction of the window, “Now can you take a look at the wicked storm I made and at least pretend to be scared so I can act all macho and protect you?”
She giggled, dragging herself up off the floor and trotting behind him to the window, where she brushed aside the pale blue curtain and gazed out at the darkened sky. Though the steady beat of the rain against the windowpane obscured her view of Ponyville, she was still able to catch a glimpse of a brilliant flash of lightning. A delighted shiver ran down her spine and she sank back down on her haunches and snuggled against the solid warmth of his chest.
“Thunderlane?” Nestled in his warm embrace, she knew she was safe. Not from the storm, no, the weather never frightened her, but rather from her own insecurities. He would protect her always, from herself and the sometimes dark thoughts that chased away more pleasant dreams of soap bubbles, plush towels, and freshly baked muffins.
“Yeah?” He mumbled, distracted by the faint scent of clover that clung to her mane. She always smelled springtime fresh and despite her usually tousled appearance, her mane and tail were silk-soft.
I love you. The words flashed through her head as bright as the lightning outside, scaring her more than the storm ever possibly could. She didn’t voice them, however; neither of them had ever spoken those three small-yet-powerful words out loud. She had turned them over in her mind many times in the past couple months and had come to the conclusion that there was nopony else she could ever imagine saying them to.
Now would have been the perfect time; now, after he had basically implied that he wanted to marry her someday. But still, she couldn’t quite manage to get them out, settling instead on a safe, far-less-personal “thanks.”
Two days later, Derpy was careening through a pale blue sky, searching for a certain rainbow-maned leader of the weather crew, when she flew straight into an updraft and spun out of control.
As the ground rushed up to meet her, she tried to right herself, beating her wings as hard as possible. But with one of her eyes fixed on the approaching ground and the other darting about, trying to find something –anything- to help her gain a point of reference for which way was up and which way was bound to result in blinding pain, she completely missed the scraggly cloud hanging low over the park.
The impact of her body colliding with the wisps of water vapor should have stopped her descent, but she was Derpy Hooves and instead of a bouncy landing, she plunged straight through the cloud.
As the cloud broke apart, little tufts of white swirling away into the sky, Derpy had the incongruous thought that her own body was about to break apart in much the same way and she wondered – Did it hurt the cloud as much as it was about to hurt her?
She didn’t have the chance to find out; her impact was lessened as she hit the pond, shattering the serene stillness of its glassy surface.
Then she sank.
Drifting towards the mucky bottom, she floundered helplessly, flailing both her legs and her wings in an attempt to right herself and break through the surface of the water. Somewhere above her, the sky beckoned brightly blue, contorting itself in odd ways – No, that was only the effect of the rippling water that was slowly suffocating her, because she could seem to neither gain purchase on the bottom of the pond nor propel herself to the top.
For a moment, she was certain she was going to drown.
Already experiencing the strange weightless sensation of being suspended in water, she felt even more disoriented when something suddenly lifted her, dragging her out of the pond and through the reeds to the muddy shore, where she was deposited, coughing and gasping for air.
“Geez, you’re heavy.” A brash voice sounded from somewhere up above her and Derpy forced her eyes open and up, taking in the sight of Rainbow Dash hovering above her, trying to mask worry with a grumpy scowl. “Lay off the muffins, wouldja?”
“Rainbow…” All Derpy could do was lay there, flopped on her back, chest heaving as she greedily sucked in air, “…Dash?” There must have been some bitter irony in the fact that the pony who saved her from certain doom was the very pony she had been rushing to locate, thusly indirectly causing her crash.
The scowl melted away into something akin to an awkward, relieved smile as Derpy spoke, dispelling Rainbow’s fears that she was seriously injured. “That was one heck of a bellyflop, Derpy.” She blurted out, trying to further ease the heavy atmosphere that had fallen over the park during the grey pegasus’ plummet to earth.
There was a burst of giggles somewhere to her left and Derpy attempted to turn her head towards the sound, only to whimper in pain, sinking back limply into the mud. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t see the culprits; she knew it was Flitter and Cloudchaser, simply by the cadence of their laughter. Not only was she sometimes assigned to work with them, they were Thunderlane’s friends and the four of them sometimes socialized, though Derpy suspected they didn’t like her much.
She pointedly ignored them, pushing herself up with a grunt of pain. “Rainbow Dash…” Her head hurt, her mane was full of mud, and she suddenly found herself shivering uncontrollably, “I…I need a day off this week.”
“I think you need more than one day off.” Rainbow Dash frowned in the direction of the still-laughing twins, then looked back down at the soggy heap of Derpy, “Seriously, that was a nasty crash.”
“I…” Sitting up fully, Derpy wrapped her forelegs around herself, trying unsuccessfully to stop the uncontrollable tremors that shook her body. Instead, she coughed again, hunching forwards miserably. “I’ll be okay. I cr-crash…all the time.”
“We know!” Cloudchaser trilled, tossing back her wild mane and pounding her front hooves against the ground a few times.
“We see it all the time!” Flitter interjected, the words tripping out on another burst of laughter.
“That one was just-”
“Will you two get the hay outta here!” Rainbow Dash snapped, stomping a hoof on the ground and flaring her wings angrily. Though there was little love lost between Derpy and Rainbow herself, and though she was sometimes an insensitive jerk, Rainbow couldn’t believe the twins would be so malicious as to tease the unfortunate mare after she nearly drowned. “If you’re not going to do anything helpful, you might as well get lost.”
“But!” Flitter’s mouth hung open as she gaped at Rainbow Dash. Beside her, Cloudchaser was prancing anxiously in place, eyes wide. “What about-”
“Now!” Rainbow Dash slammed her hoof to the ground again for emphasis, shooting a dark look in their direction. She hadn’t been super-excited about hanging out with those two gossips anyway –though it was her own fault, for agreeing to it- not when she had better things to do, like practice and napping. Flitter and Cloudchaser were good enough at their jobs and had some decent flying skills, but their constant giggling and chatter and teasing of everypony really wore her already limited patience thin.
And to see them laughing at Derpy when she crashed…
It didn’t matter that she’d promised to teach them some sweet moves. Making fun of somepony who was hurt was a total deal breaker.
She watched as the two took off, heads together, probably already grumbling to one another about Rainbow breaking her promise and Derpy wrecking things, when really, all Derpy had managed to wreck was herself.
Rainbow Dash looked over her shoulder at the other pegasus crumpled on the ground. Derpy had folded in on herself, forelegs wrapped around her middle, doubled over at the waist. Her head was bowed, face hidden behind a curtain of mud-soaked mane, her shoulders shaking. Her wings sagged behind her, so laden with pond water she couldn’t fold them properly.
“You won’t tell Thunderlane, will you?” Her voice came from somewhere beneath her hair, small and forlorn.
“That you crashed?” Rainbow blinked down at her, face screwed up in confusion. Why wouldn’t Derpy want to tell him? It wasn’t like Thunderlane had never seen her crash before or that he would think any less of her for it. In fact, he’d probably fuss over her until she felt better. “No, I won’t. But, uh, I don’t think you’ll be able to hide it from him.”
“No…” It wasn’t that. It wasn’t that at all. Derpy would have liked nothing more at that moment than a hot bubble bath and a good snuggle, but those were still a ways away – Getting home was going to be a chore. “I mean about Flitter and Cloudchaser. He’ll be so mad at them…”
“He should be mad at them!” Was Rainbow really hearing what she thought she heard? Was Derpy really worrying about the twins after they’d been laughing right in her face?
At her tone, Derpy visibly flinched, her wings twitching. “But they’re his friends…” She whispered.
“And you’re his special somepony, aren’t you?” Rainbow demanded, leaning over and pushing Derpy’s sopping mane out of her face to look her in the eye. She was a little startled to find both the grey mare’s eyes focused on her, wide and frightened, and then realized…Derpy had been through enough already without her making things worse. “…Sorry,” She muttered, turning away from that bright golden gaze, “It’s just…If Thunderlane cares about you, he shouldn’t be letting his friends make fun of you, you know?”
Derpy said nothing.
“He should be telling them to shove it,” Rainbow continued, still all fired up, “because if his friends aren’t gonna accept that he cares about you and junk, they aren’t really his friends.” She wasn’t sure why it bothered her so much; she and Derpy weren’t on the best terms themselves. More often than not, the grey mare accidentally caused disasters that created more work for Rainbow, leaving her flustered and annoyed. But it was just…Derpy looked so discouraged and she was usually so bouncy and cheerful.
And a part of her was really, really mad at Thunderlane for letting his friends treat her like that to begin with.
“He doesn’t.” Derpy finally said, her voice still soft and sad, “They don’t do it when he’s around…” And it was true; nopony teased her when Thunderlane was present. They saved it for when she was alone, or at work, because they all knew he would never stand for it. Because they knew she would never say anything about it. “He doesn’t really know how mean some of them are and…and I dunno.”
“Then you need to stand up for yourself, girl!”
“Rainbow Dash…” Derpy shook her head slowly. She felt nothing more than tired at the moment, a kind of tired that had absolutely nothing to do with the crash and everything to do with the weight of the world. “I just…can’t. I already cause enough trouble. I don’t wanna make any more problems for anypony.”
“Your feelings aren’t a problem, Derpy.” Rainbow replied quietly, sitting herself down next to the forlorn mare and leaning in to make eye contact a second time, “And nopony should be making you feel bad on purpose. It’s just…so not cool.”
“Everypony seems to think it’s okay.” Derpy didn’t even sound angry or bitter about this; if anything, she simply seemed resigned to her fate as the village’s laughingstock. “Even when things aren’t my fault or when I do things right…Somepony still says something and then I get laughed at.” She sighed, lowering her head again, “And I don’t understand why.”
It flashed across Rainbow Dash’s mind unbidden, the thought that there was a lot Derpy didn’t understand. But she chased the thought away as quick as it came, because that simply wasn’t fair. As crazy as Derpy made her, Rainbow was well aware that the other pegasus wasn’t as stupid as everypony thought.
“They’re just jealous.” Rainbow scoffed, waving a hoof dismissively, “That’s totally the kind of thing lame-os do when they want to make somepony else feel bad so they can feel better.”
Derpy gave her a look, a look which clearly read ‘are you out of your mind?’
“What the hay have they got to be jealous about?” She really had no idea why Rainbow would think such a thing and really, really hoped the other mare wasn’t just saying it. But honestly, she could think of nothing about her that would inspire envy in other ponies.
Rainbow Dash looked her up and down, taking in every last detail about the other mare. Under the mud and pond yuck, there was a very interesting mare indeed, one who had been many places and tried many things. And if Rainbow were being completely honest, when she wasn’t busy being weird, Derpy was kind of cute, in an innocent, Fluttershy-ish way, with her wide amber eyes, feathery mane, and –usually- squeaky clean coat. “You’re…not like other ponies.” She said slowly, a thoughtful frown playing across her face, “You don’t really do things because everypony else is. You just do things that make you happy and you know what? A lot of other ponies are really scared to just be themselves. You’re not and…that’s pretty cool.”
There was a long, awkward silence as Derpy stared at Rainbow Dash, trying to figure out if she was being serious or not. She looked serious, and though Rainbow wasn’t known to be particularly noble or selfless, she was in the habit of sometimes blurting out the first thing that came to mind, no matter how devastating her words might be.
“You think I’m cool.” She finally said, voice flat, “You. Rainbow Dash. Rainbow Dash thinks I’m cool.” She couldn’t believe it. Didn’t really want to believe it, because if she did, it would throw off her entire view of the world.
“Well…Kinda.” Rainbow’s frown intensified, her eyes clouding over too, “Is it really that hard to believe?”
“Yes!” It was disconcerting, two ponies telling Derpy she was cool within as many days. How could anypony possibly believe such a thing? It was impossible, and yet…Rumble and Rainbow Dash were the least likely ponies to be poking fun at her about this, because the both of them were bluntly honest.
Rainbow Dash stood, offering Derpy a hoof. “Look…It’s not something I really can explain.” She tossed her mane back over her shoulder, hauling the other mare to her feet, “Coolness is just one of those things; you’ve either got it or you don’t. And you, surprisingly, have got it. Because you’re you.” She paused, eyeing Derpy for a moment as if uncertain the grey pegasus was able to stand under her own volition. “…Or something.”
“Thanks,” It still made little to no sense, but Derpy had long ago learned that sometimes the best way to live life was to just roll with it, “I think.”
“…And you better get your act together, Thunderlane, or you’re going to be in a lot of trouble.”
The aforementioned stallion’s gaze darted back and forth, nervously following Rainbow Dash as she paced in circles around his living room.
Rainbow seemed unable to contain her annoyance and it was manifesting as nervous energy. She’d been trotting the same path for a good twenty minutes while she lectured him, stretching and folding her wings, pausing momentarily to stomp a hoof, flicking her tail and generally acting like a bundle of energy.
Thunderlane himself was slumped on the couch, ears flicked back, the very picture of dejection. Not because Rainbow Dash was being bossy about his love life, no, but because he had failed to notice on his own that things were very, very wrong.
When Rainbow Dash had come along earlier, half-lugging, half-supporting Derpy, Thunderlane had been dismayed but unsurprised at his partner’s bedraggled appearance. It wasn’t unusual for Derpy to have an accident bad enough to leave her bruised or bleeding or filthy and though it made Thunderlane’s heart lurch every time she returned home in such a state, it was nothing he hadn’t seen before.
Derpy had mumbled something about a bath, brushing off offers of further assistance and dragging herself up the stairs in the direction of the bathroom.
Thunderlane had gazed sadly after her for a moment, then turned to thank Rainbow Dash for helping her home.
Any words he’d be about to utter got stuck in his throat at the hard expression in Rainbow’s brilliant magenta eyes.
Now, twenty some minutes later, Rainbow Dash was winding down, though her angry trotting hadn’t abated. Instead, she seemed even more fired up, though he suspected that had more to do with her irritation with Flitter and Cloudchaser than anything he may have done or failed to do.
“I had no idea it was that bad.” He felt lame as soon as he said it; as if he was making excuses and his friends making fun of Derpy behind his back was somehow his fault. “I mean…The guys sometimes ask me why I like her or tease me about how I get all clumsy when I’m trying to impress her when she’s so clumsy herself. And Flitter and Cloudchaser and Blossomforth don’t really talk to her much when we’re all together, but…I never knew they were treating her badly. She never said anything…” He trailed off miserably, wishing the couch would just swallow him whole. He was supposed to be taking care of Derpy and making her feel special and safe.
So much for that.
“She didn’t want to say anything.” Rainbow finally ceased her pacing, though she still rustled her wings restlessly from time to time, and swiveled to look him in the eye, “She didn’t want me to say anything. She was just going to let those two get away with laughing at her and acting all nice when you’re around. She was worried you’d be mad at them.” The blue mare scowled at nothing in particular, “I hope she’s right about that!”
“Being mad at them won’t help.” Thunderlane sighed, slumping further in his seat. He had known the twins since all of them were tiny little foals; their parents were friends and knew each other from the old days. They’d grown up together and Thunderlane knew just how stubborn and insensitive the two could be – They wouldn’t listen to anything they didn’t want to hear. “You know how those two are. Being mad won’t change a thing. They’ll just come back, worse than before, and make Derpy even more miserable.”
“So you’ll just let them get away with treating the pony you supposedly care about like garbage, then?”
“No!” Rainbow’s biting anger seemed to light a fire beneath Thunderlane’s short tail and he jumped up from the couch, his own body a sudden flurry of movement as he began pacing where she left off, hooves clomping dully on the carpeted floor, wings held high and stiff with anger. “I would never do that!”
“Well, you better do something, because but your friends are being major jerks.” Confident now that he was going to do something about this mess, Rainbow Dash flopped down on the couch and tucked her hooves behind her head, “And as crazy as Derpy makes me, she totally doesn’t deserve that.”
“No,” Thunderlane agreed quietly, all of the fight going out of him, “She doesn’t deserve to be treated like that at all.” His entire body seemed to sag downwards towards the carpet; even his mane looked a little flatter than usual. “She’s so special, Rainbow Dash…And hardly anypony knows it because they all look at her and just see her weirdness and all of the accidents. I don’t think she even sees all of the special things inside of her anymore…”
Rainbow Dash watched him for a moment, as he folded in on himself helplessly. Thunderlane was physically strong, as well as a fast flyer. But something she had learned about him early on was that he was shy outside of a work setting, as well as uncertain about how to express himself. He didn’t know how to talk to other ponies very well, especially if they were self-assured, like Flitter, Cloudchaser, and Rainbow Dash herself. This character flaw made him a good match for Derpy, because it set him up nicely to just listen to her, but it also left him at a disadvantage when it came to shielding her from the cold reality of life.
“Dude, it’s kinda your job to make her feel special, Thunderlane.” Rainbow resisted the urge to roll her eyes; she shouldn’t have had to tell him that – He should have known it. But then…maybe he didn’t know; his other short-lived relationships had all been with much more confident mares than Derpy Hooves. “Don’t you tell her how awesome she is, like, every day?”
“I try, but it’s kinda hard…” He sank fully down to the floor then, limbs pulled in tight, chin rested on his front hooves, “I’m not so good at that kind of stuff and every time I try to seriously tell her that she’s beautiful or amazing or that I, ya know, love her…I can’t talk or I say something stupid or I just get so scared that I say something else. I want her to know how I feel about her, but it’s just…scary…” He trailed off, looking anywhere but at Rainbow Dash and feeling incredibly dumb.
Rainbow tipped her head, about to reply, though movement and a flash of blonde in the doorway caught her attention.
Derpy had reappeared, damp and surprisingly silent.
She stopped on the threshold, opening her mouth to speak –probably to inquire as to why Thunderlane was hunched up on the floor- but Rainbow silenced her with a quick shake of the head. Derpy frowned, taking a step back and noiselessly bumping into the doorframe.
She clearly couldn’t even begin to fathom what might be going on, but Rainbow Dash pointedly ignored her, turning back to Thunderlane. “Maybe you just need some practice talking about that kinda stuff.” She placed a hoof under her chin, brow quirked thoughtfully, “I got better at it after AJ made me talk about it, even though I still don’t like being mushy. But it’s like flying, you know? You get better at it, the more you do it. Practice makes perfect and all that junk.” She grinned then, eyes dancing, “So lay it on me. I don’t mind hearing mush if it’s not mush about me.”
Thunderlane glanced up at her, uncertain. “You want me to tell you why I like her?”
“Sure, why not?”
Why not indeed? There was no good reason not to talk about it. If he were braver, he would have been shouting for all the world to hear that he loved Derpy more than anything. But he wasn’t, and the thought of anypony knowing the full extent of his feelings terrified him.
But still…He needed to do this. For her; she deserved to hear it, someday, and if he didn’t ever say the words aloud, how could he expect to ever be able to say them to her?
“Well…” Thunderlane pushed himself up from the floor, forcing himself to look Rainbow in the eye. She in turn smiled lazily, her eyes still twinkling – Which he took as a sign she was making fun of him and he wasn’t about to let her get away with that. “It’s a lot of things about her, I guess. I like how she doesn’t give up, even when things seem really impossible. I remember when she came here and she had nothing…And she was still smiling, still hopeful, and I thought that was amazing, ‘cause I’ve never been that brave in my life.”
He paused for a moment, eyes sliding shut, lost in the memory of their first meeting. It could have been any random day, though he remembered it distinctly – The second Tuesday of the spring. She had been thinner then, and incredibly shy when his mother had answered the door to find her there, quietly inquiring about the hoof-printed “room for rent” sign that had been affixed to the porch rail. And Thunderlane, only working part time, had been entertaining a much smaller Rumble with a set of blocks in the living room when their mother led the grey mare in. Derpy had tripped on the carpet and gone crashing to the ground, sprawled in a heap of awkward embarrassment. He would never forget the way she had looked in that moment, when she pushed herself up off the carpet, determination lighting her eyes, and forced a smile across her face as their eyes met.
It hadn’t been love at first sight. It hadn’t even been like at first sight. But it had been something; that moment had sparked something between the two of them.
Derpy, still standing silently in the doorway, clearly remembered that day as well, though it was the farthest thing from her mind at the moment. She was staring wide-eyed at Thunderlane’s back, trembling uncontrollably, though this time not from cold, but rather because she didn’t know what to say or think or do and was Thunderlane really going to say what she hoped he might…?
It suddenly made sense, why Rainbow Dash had wanted her to remain quiet.
“I don’t even know how to explain what makes her beautiful,” He continued, shifting a little and canting his head thoughtfully to the side, “She’s not, you know, gorgeous like Rarity or Fluttershy. And she’s not really, um, sexy either. But it’s her eyes and her smile and the way she smells like soap all the time…It’s just her; she’s just herself and she makes my heart pound just by being near me. I think…” He paused, stretching his wings, then settling back on his rump, “I think sometimes that she’s beautiful because she’s not like other mares, ‘cause no matter how hot they are, they just all seem kinda the same, because they’re not her. Because…”
He trailed off, hesitating, ducking his head and pawing at the carpet anxiously. For a moment, he was stuck just working his jaw, trying to force out words that didn’t seem to want to come.
On the couch, Rainbow Dash leaned forward expectantly, an eager grin stretching across her face.
And Derpy remained where she was frozen in the doorway, her heart attempting to pound its way through her chest.
“Because…” When he finally managed to speak, Thunderlane’s voice was quite, but steady, as if he were absolutely certain of his feelings, “I love her.”
Derpy let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding, as well as an odd little noise something akin to a surprised squeak. As soon as the sound escaped her, she clapped a hoof over her mouth, well aware that she hadn’t been meant to hear the quiet confession right then and she’d probably ruined the moment. Her own sudden movement caused her to stumble, and when Thunderlane turned, eyes wide, he found her sprawled across the floor, just inside the room.
Behind him, Rainbow Dash sat on the couch, grinning her head off.
Thunderlane rose, turning fully and trotting a few steps to close the distance between himself and Derpy. She wanted to turn away, again ashamed of her own inelegance, but found that once their gazes met and locked, she couldn’t bring herself to look away.
He was quiet for a long time, time enough for Rainbow Dash to slide off of the couch and depart from the room, stepping carefully around Derpy. “Take as much time off as you need this week,” She was still grinning, that same cocky grin that crossed her face when she was showing off, “Both of you. I think I know a couple a mares who haven’t had enough work to do lately.” And with that, she was gone in a swish of rainbow tail and a flutter of wings.
The silence continued until well after she was gone, the two golden-eyed ponies still staring at one another, almost as if frozen in the moment.
The spell that had fallen over them was broken by Thunderlane leaning in to nuzzle gently against her cheek, whispering softly in her ear, “You know what? I love you…”
And she felt a familiar prickle behind her eyes and a tightening of her throat that meant she was about to cry. She leaned into him, searching for the warmth that enveloped her those nights they shared a bed, the familiar, steady beat of Thunderlane’s heart – His heart that was full of love for her. For her, whom nopony had ever loved before. “You do…?” She managed to choke the words out, looking up at him through eyes blurred with tears.
He smiled, reaching to pull her close, “I do.” It was much easier to say, now that he’d said it once and she’d heard it, now, with her snuggled against him, nuzzling her damp muzzle against his neck. His heart was still beating wildly, but he was no longer afraid – She knew already, after all. “I love you, Derpy Hooves, more than anything.”
And then she was smiling too, a great, beaming smile, as she threw her forelegs around him in an exuberant hug.
Notes: In honor of my completing over 20,000 words of this fanfic today, I decided to give all of you wonderful ponies another chapter tonight :)
With the unexpected free time on her hooves, Derpy told Rumble she would meet him after school the next day so they could do something fun.
‘Something fun’ could have been anything from getting a snack to visiting the library for a book to winging off on an adventure, which was their code for a flight or walk to someplace interesting. Rumble was never quite sure what the ‘something fun’ would be – and neither was Derpy; half the time she picked something out on the fly.
She was thinking ice cream that day, the special ice cream that Banana Split only made at certain times of year, the kind with the little flecks of spearmint leaves mixed right in. It wasn’t a particularly hot day, but it was the kind of warm, sunny weather that made a pony crave ice cream and that special mint flavor had always been a favorite of theirs.
And besides…When did anypony ever need a reason for ice cream?
It was hard to wait patiently outside the schoolhouse. Derpy wasn’t generally one to be still, especially when there was fun to be had. She had forced herself to settle under a tree to wait, trying to pass the time by finding pictures in the few puffy clouds dotting the sky. It was hard, though, to stay focused with the prospect of fun looming ahead and the fifteen or so minutes she had to wait for the bell seemed like eternity.
But at last three o’clock came and with it a flurry of activity from the schoolhouse. Derpy stumbled to her feet, nearly falling back over in the process. Her wings fluttered excitedly, seemingly propelling her forwards of their own accord, and she forced her eyes to focus, searching the crowd of foals for Rumble.
“Derpy!” He spotted her first as he galloped out of the building, a few other small pegasi hot on his tail. He was beaming happily, eyes huge and shining as he hurried along.
Derpy felt her heart swell with happiness; it was so amazing to know that there were ponies who cared about her and were happy to see her. She waved a hoof, careening over the yard, oblivious to the schoolponies beneath her who squawked and hurried away, lest they be hurt if she crashed. “Hey Rumble!” She grinned, prancing a little in the air, “Ready to go have some fun?”
“Actually…” His smile wavered for a second and he glanced behind him at his friends, “Chip said he heard from Scootaloo that Rainbow Dash is gonna be practicing some new tricks over the meadow and everypony knows she’s the greatest flyer in Ponyville so we” -He indicated his friends with a wave of a hoof- “wanna go watch. Is it okay if I go with them? I’ll still be home by dinnertime and we can do something fun tomorrow…”
She felt her heart sink and her own smile flickered away for a moment, though she forced it firmly back in place. It wasn’t often that Rumble asked for anything and though he looked excited, his eyes were lit with worry, too -- Though she wasn’t sure of what sort. Was he worried she would say no? That she would be hurt that he wanted to do something else? That he would miss Rainbow’s fabulous stunts? She couldn’t tell.
But she also couldn’t deny him the chance to have fun with his friends; that would be selfish and she just didn’t have it in her to be self-centered. “Sure, go ahead,” She tried to keep up her normal cheery tone, but after the last few days and how fragile she’d been feeling, it was hard, “I’ll see if I can find Raindrops or something and see you at home later.”
“Thanks Derpy!” Rumble plowed forwards, tackling her in an exuberant hug that sent the almost-always-unsteady mare sprawling belly-up on the ground. Then he was gone, flying off with his friends, before she even managed to pick herself up and dust herself off and so much as call out a goodbye.
She remained there for a long moment, slightly dazed, one eye focused on the ground behind her, the other wandering up to gaze at the sky vaguely in the direction Rumble had flown.
It was mirthless giggling that brought Derpy back from her stupor and she rolled over, shaking blades of grass from her wings and looking about for the source of the laughter. Two snooty-looking fillies –the type her parents’ friends would have been likely to bring into the world- were trotting by, noses in the air, tails swishing. They weren’t even trying to disguise their snickers and she frowned after them, giving her head a little shake before dropping her gaze back to the ground beneath her hooves.
A soft voice behind her caused Derpy’s head to lift once more and she turned to find Cheerilee standing a few feet away, pale blue eyes lit with concern. “Are you all right, Derpy?” She questioned, head tilted to one side as she peered at the other mare.
Derpy nodded. “I didn’t crash.” She muttered, “Rumble tackled me…” She had met Cheerilee only a few other times, when things were going on at the school, and didn’t think the teacher was likely to tease her, but, well, sometimes…She just couldn’t help being defensive.
“I know.” Cheerilee smiled kindly, taking a step closer. “And I also know he’s quite strong for such a small colt, which is why I wanted to know if you’re okay.”
“Yeah…” The grey pegasus sighed, gently folding her wings back at her sides, “I’m kinda used to much worse…” She gave her head another little shake, trying to tame her messy mane, or at least get it out of her eyes. “And he’s hugged me like that before.”
The other mare eyed her thoughtfully for a moment, taking the time to really look at Derpy. Though they’d spent time in each other’s presence before, they’d never really spoken beyond exchanging pleasantries and, really, all Cheerilee knew of Derpy was what she heard from Rumble and through gossip.
Despite the random blades of grass stuck in her hair and the ruffled look of her feathers, she didn’t really appear to be the walking disaster other ponies made her out to be. She had a pleasant face, with foalish features and guileless eyes and even though she was looking in two different directions at once, she seemed perfectly normal.
And besides that, what Rumble had said was true: Derpy wasn’t really invited many places around town and hardly anypony really knew her beyond stereotypes and blather. If Rumble was to be believed, there was much more to the weather mare than met the eye and Cheerilee –who as a teacher had an innate thirst for knowledge- suddenly found herself wanting to know Derpy better, if only to see for herself what there was to learn about the other pony.
“Say…” Though a small part of her whispered that she might regret this, Cheerilee found herself speaking again, intent on asking Derpy to spend some time with her, “I was about to head off for an afternoon cup of tea. Would you like to join me?”
Derpy blinked, swiveling her gaze to rest solely on the teacher. So unused to being asked places with anypony other than Thunderlane or Raindrops, it took her a moment to register what Cheerilee had said. Then she smiled, eyes sparkling. “Yeah…I got nothing to do now that Rumble’s off with his friends.”
At the question, the aforementioned colt dragged his gaze away from the sky where Rainbow Dash was in the midst of a double barrel roll through a ring of clouds and turned to look at Tornado Bolt, who was peering at him with a curious look on her face, pale green eyes lit with curiosity.
He tipped his head, peering right back at her, a little annoyed at being distracted from the performance. “What?”
“You weren’t really gonna hang out with Derpy Hooves, were you?”
Rumble blinked at her, not quite understanding. “Well…Yeah. I was. But you guys asked me to come with you,” He glanced over his shoulder at Chip Mint and Rainy Feather, who were cheering enthusiastically over some stunt Rainbow had pulled, “and Derpy knows I’ll do stuff with her later.”
Tornado wrinkled her nose, snorting a little in disgust. “Why would you want to?” She made a face, sticking out her tongue and rolling her eyes in an attempt at imitating Derpy’s wall-eyed stare, “She’s so stupid!”
Rumble’s eyes went wide and he felt a strange clenching feeling in his heart. He knew –from things he’d seen and wasn’t supposed to overhear- that other ponies made fun of Derpy all the time, but he’d never heard firsthoof as anypony insulted her. He didn’t even really understand why they made fun of her. Sure she was weird sometimes, but no weirder than any other pony. “She is not!” He blurted out, feeling his face heat with anger, “She’s the specialest pony ever!”
“I know she is.” Tornado snickered, rearing back a little and flexing her wings, “I saw her crash in the park the other day. You gotta be pretty special to fall through a cloud! And what’s wrong with her eyes? Why can’t she fly right? My mom says something’s really, really wrong with her.”
“No!” The little colt backed up a step, eyes still impossibly wide, heart pounding, “There’s nothing wrong with Derpy! She’s just like everypony else!” He felt a familiar prickle in the back of his eyes and blinked back tears, trying to be as brave as possible and defend his friend, “She works really hard and does her best, just like every other pony in Ponyville and it’s not fair that everypony is so mean to her.”
“All she does is mess stuff up.” The purple-maned filly scoffed, swishing her tail as a mean-looking smile crossed her face, “My mom said she got kicked outta Cloudsdale and no other pegasus has ever been kicked outta Cloudsdale before.”
“Shut up, Tornado!” Rainy Feather spoke up, suddenly appearing at Rumble’s side and putting a foreleg around his trembling shoulders, “You don’t know what you’re talking about, like always.”
They continued arguing, but their heated words were lost to Rumble as he pulled away from Rainy and took a few steps back, vision blurred by tears. Whoever said words could never hurt was dead wrong; the things Tornado Bolt had said weren’t even directed at him, yet he still felt like he’d been trampled by a stampede of angry buffalo. Was this how Derpy felt every day? She always seemed so happy, but if this was how other ponies treated her…
Her heart must have hurt as much as his did right then.
“You’ll see!” He turned back to the quarrelling fillies, interrupting their argument with his blurted out words, “When Derpy comes to school for Family Appreciation Day, you’re gonna see how wrong you are about her and how special she really is.” He sniffled, swiping angrily at his eyes, “The good kinda special.” That said, the grey colt galloped off, intent on finding Derpy and giving her the biggest hug in the world.
“Rumble told me you agreed to come for Family Appreciation Day.” Cheerilee said after a lull in the humdrum small talk that had been thus far dominating her tea with Derpy. She was relaxed on her favorite hay pile outside the Ponyville Café, a seat she frequently occupied after a busy day at school. On the table before her was a steaming mug of chamomile tea and a plate holding a half-eaten apple tart. “I think that’s wonderful.” She smiled, the sincerity of her words lending warmth to her tone, hoping that maybe inquiring about something more personal would garner more of a response.
Talking with the weather pony was proving to be difficult; Derpy didn’t seem to have very good conversation skills. Most of her answers were short and to the point, leaving Cheerilee to guess what might be going on in her mind. It was a shame, too, because the teacher was genuinely curious about some aspects of the other mare’s life; she didn’t know much about the finer points of creating weather, nor did she know a lot about the city of Cloudsdale. And those were things she was interested in knowing about; things that she could be teaching the young ponies under her care.
It didn’t seem like she’d be getting much new information from the other mare, however.
Across the table, Derpy was systematically breaking a cookie into pieces, her own gaze flickering around almost nervously. She wasn’t the best in social situations and usually felt tongue-tied around ponies she didn’t know well. Cheerilee was nice, of course, but her kindness wasn’t really doing much to alleviate Derpy’s social awkwardness. “Uh-huh.” She bobbed her head a couple times in agreement, before glancing skyward and off in the distant direction of Cloudsdale, “I dunno what I’m going to say, though. My family isn’t really something to appreciate. My parents aren’t exactly, um, supportive. They were actually kinda mean and I haven’t even seen them or talked to them or anything since I…I left.”
Cheerilee was quiet for a moment, trying and failing to imagine those circumstances being normal to her own life. Her parents were wonderful ponies who had always encouraged her and, though she knew there were indeed stallions and mares who didn’t care too much about their foals, it seemed impossible to fathom. Parents were supposed to encourage and help their children so that they could grow and the idea that there could be ponies who did nothing of the sort was hard to swallow. It was the sort of thing one read about in the papers; the sort of thing that happened in the city, not here in Ponyville, where everypony knew and cared about each other.
But Derpy had been living at Rumble’s house since she first came to Ponyville nearly four years before and the colt thought of her fondly, like she was his sister. He talked about her often enough, and sometimes squabbled with her – Cheerilee had overheard Rumble venting to his friends about some frustrating part of his life, such as Thunderlane and Derpy refusing to take him to Cloudsdale because he was too young or Derpy being too busy to play with him during the rainy season. He was quick to forgive her, though; such was the nature of the young. And they did things together often; she doted on him like they were truly family.
And Thunderlane had certainly taken a shine to her and their parents…As far as Cheerilee knew, they liked her as well. No matter what shortcomings Derpy’s own parents had and what kind of care –or lack thereof- they had put in to raising her, she had turned out well and found herself ponies who loved her.
“Well…” Cheerilee finally said, slowly and thoughtfully, leaning forwards a little in an attempt to catch the other mare’s eye, “You have a new family now, don’t you?”
Derpy’s gaze fell back to the table and Cheerilee, eyes darkening with some unidentifiable emotion. “Um…Kinda?” She replied weakly, placing her forelegs on the table and resting her chin on them, “I’m not really part of their family. Not, um, yet. It’s not like me and Thunderlane are married or anything…”
“Derpy,” Cheerilee reached across the small table to pat the other mare’s shoulder lightly, a smile once again lighting her face, “there are a lot of different kinds of family. You don’t have to be related to somepony to be part of their family. Rumble wanted to invite you because he considers you family, because you’re his friend and you’re special to him.” Her voice had taken on the kind, nurturing tone of her profession, her words gentle and certain, “Haven’t you ever heard the saying ‘friends are the family you choose for yourself?”
It was Derpy’s turn to be silent as she turned the question over in her mind, something about that statement sparking a memory of laughing purple eyes and similar words. She had been so caught up in thoughts of her parents and how miserable she’d been that she had completely forgotten all about the other types of family that existed in the world.
Then she brightened, some of the cheerful golden glow returning to her own eyes. “I get it.” She lifted her head, happy once again, a small, secret smile spreading across her face. Suddenly, she was certain she knew what new story to tell Rumble and his classmates. “And I know what to talk about, now.”
Rumble was waiting for her on the porch when she returned home later, sitting slumped and forlorn, and even without the telltale evidence he’d been crying, Derpy would have easily been able to tell something was terribly wrong. He was usually a bundle of energy – He rarely stopped moving, as most colts his age were wont to do. Rumble was lively and active and his being so still and sad was so out of place that seeing him in that state made Derpy’s heart plunge into the pit of her stomach.
She trotted silently up the few steps and over to the colt, leaning in to gently nuzzle at his damp cheek, offering a quiet show of both support and affection. “What’s wrong, Rumble?” Whatever it was, she feared for the worst. Rumble was not one to sit around moping and for this complete turnabout in his behavior, something terrible must have happened to him.
He sniffled, looking up at her through still watering eyes. For a moment, he didn’t speak, but simply leaned into her chest, seeking the kind of comfort only adults were capable of providing. She shifted, wrapping a pale grey wing around him protectively, enfolding him in her warmth, and he choked back a sob. “Why do other ponies gotta be so mean?” His voice was quiet, frail like a whisper soon to be lost in the wind.
“Oh Rumble…” She pulled him closer, snuggling his little body against hers, “Was somepony teasing you?” Who could possibly make fun of sweet little Rumble? He was a good foal, friendly and well-behaved. There had never been an occurrence of anypony bullying him or even teasing him; for the most part, he was well liked by his peers and had a lot of friends. And he was smart and as capable a flyer as any pony his age, so what was there even to tease him about?
She felt him tense in her embrace, then he burrowed closer, clinging tightly to her, fresh tears spilling from his eyes. “No!” The word came out louder than he intended, “Tornado Bolt was teasing me about you!” He whimpered, hiding his face in her coat, trying desperately to hold on to that warmth she always radiated. He didn’t want to repeat what the filly had said, but before he could help it, the words had slipped out. “She said you’re stupid…”
“I’m not stupid.” Derpy frowned, her heart squeezing painfully at the sound of words she had heard far too many times over the course of her life. But she didn’t let up at all on the snuggly embrace, instead pulling Rumble tight against her, as if attempting to shield him from the world. “And I dunno why so many ponies think I am. I might not be the smartest pony there is, but I know that ‘stupid’ and ‘different’ don’t mean the same thing. And I know that the ponies who matter are the ones who like me.”
She didn’t feel as confident as she sounded; other ponies often implied that she was dumb. It was an old insult, one that had always proven to be devastating in its weight. Derpy was a bit slow in her thought process; it took her longer to understand things than it did most other ponies. And after hearing it so many times, she’d begun to wonder if she was indeed as stupid as they all suggested. But she knew at that moment that she couldn’t second guess herself; that she had to pony up and stand tall, or Rumble wouldn’t believe her. And it was her job to reassure him, so he could remain the innocent foal he was. There would be time enough later for the harsh truths of life.
“And I want you to promise me something, Rumble.” She stroked his feathery mane, feeling something loosen in her chest a bit at the thought of the words she intended to speak. Her heart had been so heavy the past few years that she had forgotten many of the wise words she’d heard in her foalhood during good times – And there had been good times, even if it was easier to remember the bad. “Don’t listen to the ponies who say things that aren’t true. I know you wish things were different, but it’s not worth getting upset over words that aren’t true and in the end, the only ones who look stupid and foalish are the ponies spreading gossip. But you’ll look wise if you know when to ignore and when to answer back.”
“But I can’t just let them say mean stuff!” At that, Rumble pulled back, looking up at Derpy, mouth twisted into a frown. How could she expect him to do that when she was the greatest, most funnest mare he knew? Tornado Bolt’s words had hurt because they weren’t true and he didn’t want her going around saying things like that to anypony else. Thinking about her repeating them made him want to yell more. Or buck her into next week. Or both.
“It’s okay.” She countered the frown with a small smile, ready to share with him some little truth that she had long ago learned, “Because the mean stuff is the untrue stuff and arguing with them’ll just make them feel dumb and then they’ll be even more mean. You can tell them they’re wrong, or you can just not listen. Either way, they’re still gonna think what they want. But me and you and Thunderlane…and my friends, too. We know the truth and that’s what’s important.”
“Is that how come you smile so much?” Rumble sniffled again, leaning back into her for another cuddle. She was so calm, so steady. He was already beginning to feel better, simply because she didn’t seem to be overly bothered by the teasing on her behalf. “Even when other ponies are being mean, you still know that they’re wrong, right?” He had always known she was smart, even if her wisdom was sometimes roundabout and confusing for his juvenile mind.
“Right.” She nodded, eyes crinkling shut as her smile widened, “And because I know that no matter what anypony says, there are special things inside of me that nopony can take away.”
“You mean this.” Rumble leaned, stretching to run a small hoof over the trail of bubbles adorning her flank. He had never figured out what her cutie mark meant; it had nothing to do with the weather or her ability to spin twisty, turny tales. She never talked about it, even when it was brought up, and Rumble –who still had yet to discover his own special talent- was incredibly curious about the spray of delicate bubbles.
“That, and other things, too. And sometimes, it takes really special ponies –like you and your brother- to remind a pony of those things.” She gave him another nuzzle, this one happy and tickly, reaching up to brush away the last remnants of his tears.
He giggled, shying away from the tickles and giving himself a little shake. He hated crying; it made him feel weird and tired and edgy all at the same time. “Okay, I’ll try not to listen when anypony says stuff I know isn’t true.” He smiled then, the youthful sparkle returning to his violet eyes, “I promise.”
“Good.” Derpy rose, stretching, flexing her wings and grinning down at him. There was still a little whisper of hurt in the back of her mind, telling her that somepony must have told the filly calling her names that she was defective and broken, but she brushed that thought aside. Rumble was happy and that was what really mattered. “And there’s still a little bit of time for that ‘something fun’ before dinner, but we’ll have to hurry!”
Eyes lit with excitement, Rumble galloped off the porch, prancing anxiously in place as he waited for her. She followed at an only slightly more subdued pace, then cantered past him and towards the center of town and the Splits’ ice cream parlour. “C’mon, slowpoke!” She teased, and Rumble barreled forwards, trying to match his shorter stride to her slightly wobbly trot, laughing all the while.
“Watch out for the kelpie! It’s coming to get you.”
“It can’t get me. I’m the bestest swimmer!”
“That doesn’t matter and you know it.”
“I don’t care! I’m not scared of kelpies and it isn’t gonna catch me. I’m too smart.”
“Oh, but that kelpie is tricksy, it is…It’s gonna come up, looking all nice and friendly like anypony and offer you a ride…It’ll look so fun and be so tempting and the water is too deep for you to get across yourself…And besides, everypony knows little foals have a hard time resisting a kelpie ride…and then…”
Thunderlane watched from the doorway of the bathroom as Rumble burst from a mass of soap bubbles, sending water everywhere, sopping mane hanging in his face. He was laughing outright and gasping for air, attempting to scrabble backwards, away from Derpy’s tickling hooves, and push his hair out of his eyes at the same time, which only resulted in his sinking back into the tub until only his fuzzy ears were visible amongst the bubbles.
“Now where did Rumble go?” Derpy plopped down on a towel folded on the floor, tapping a hoof against her chin. She glanced around, putting on her best confused face and pretending she had no idea where the colt had got to, “Guess the kelpie got him after all…”
A giggle came from somewhere in the bubbles.
“Oh well…Guess I can move out of the attic now and into that nice big bedroom down the hall.”
She said it with such solemnity that Thunderlane couldn’t help but laugh outright.
Unaware of his presence, Derpy jumped a little, twisting to look at him out of the corner of one eye. When his gaze met hers, she grinned, her expression making her look impish rather than cheeky, and all too utterly adorable.
It was at that moment –when Thunderlane had been about to cross the room to steal a kiss- that Rumble burst back out of the bath, sending a wave of cucumber-mint scented water splashing over the side of the tub and soaking Derpy. As the water hit her, she squeaked in surprise, fumbling back in an attempt to avoid getting drenched, only to trip over the waiting towel and go crashing to the floor. A few random bubbles went swirling through the air, their delicacy causing them to pop as soon as they touched down on the wall, the mirror, the tip of Derpy’s nose.
Rumble leaned over the edge of the tub, surveying the damage left in his tidal wave’s wake. There amidst the puddles and soap suds was Derpy, sprawled, limp mane covering her face. One of her hind legs was tangled in a now damp purple towel and her wet feathers looked kind of odd and clumpy, their down stuck together in weird ways.
A grin crept its way across Rumble’s face and he giggled, stretching to flick playfully at one of Derpy’s ears. “Guess the kelpie got you too!” He teased, his voice high and squeaky with laughter.
“Come out of there.” She tried to sound stern, and failed, her own voice dissolving into giggles as she rose, shaking herself off in a futile attempt at drying her coat. Rumble simply offered her his forelegs and Derpy hauled him from the tub, settling him on the already wet towel on the floor where he sat, shivering slightly as he waited to be dried and preened.
“Hey!” A towel suddenly landed on Derpy’s head, tossed there by Thunderlane. She tugged it off, giving him the same mock glare she had gifted Rumble with, then set about vigorously drying the colt, giving him a rubdown that left him tingling, his usually unruly mane standing more on end than it already did on its own.
Satisfied that he was dry, she started in on grooming him. Derpy was surprisingly fussy about her own appearance, though she always looked casually rumpled. On the occasion she helped Rumble with bath time, she was no less meticulous, and he knew what to expect from other such times – And he knew it was best not to protest; to remain still and let her do her thing.
She ran a comb through his mane and tail, gently yet efficiently removing the tangles and taming the unruly midnight blue tresses. Then she began in on his coat, slicking the fine hair down so it all went in the same direction, leaving Rumble looking sleek and shiny. She gave his hooves a quick check, deemed them acceptable and skipped picking them. His wings came last; she carefully rearranged and straightened his tiny feathers, pulling a stray one, smoothing the rest.
When she was finished, he smiled, fairly glowing in the light of the morning sun that shone through the bathroom window.
“There.” She sat back, admiring her work, a happy smile on her own face, “You look presentable. Try not to get too dirty on the way to school.”
“I will!” He chirped, scurrying out of the bathroom, the mess he made already forgotten.
Thunderlane shook his head as Rumble scampered past, wincing a little at the sound of tiny hooves thundering down the stairs. “You don’t have to do stuff like this, you know.” He said as he trotted into the room, tugging the damp towel out from under Derpy’s left hind leg and using it to mop up the puddles on the floor.
“I know.” She reached into the tub, pulling the plug and watching the bubbly water swirl down the drain, “But I like to.”
Thunderlane was silent for a moment, busy working on the wet floor. Then he glanced around the room, surveying the mess. There was a splatter of shampoo on the outside of the tub that needed to be wiped clean, a sure sign of his little brother attempting to assert his independence and wash himself. The inside of the sink was crusted with toothpaste; Rumble was a rather enthusiastic brusher, but he often forgot to rinse properly. And then there were the puddles everywhere…
“…Why?” Thunderlane couldn’t help asking the question; there was nothing enjoyable about helping Rumble with his morning grooming. And it was even worse in the evening, when he was filthy from a day of play and adventure.
Derpy efficiently wiped the surface of the tub clean, inside and out, then turned to look fully at Thunderlane. She looked serious for a moment, then smiled, tapping a hoof lightly against her cutie mark. “I’m good at it.” She answered plainly, not even bothering any further elaboration on that revelation, “And besides, every foal should know they have lots of adults who care about them. I guess…doing stuff like that is a good way to show Rumble that I do care.” She shrugged one shoulder, reaching for another towel to dry herself.
The stallion was quiet again, just watching as she finished with her own coat, then rinsed the sink and carefully hung all the used towels to dry. She was surprisingly graceful as she fussed around the bathroom, something he’d never took notice of before. Or perhaps she had just never been that confident in her movements in his presence; he wasn’t sure.
After knowing her for nearly four years, there were still so many things about her that were a mystery, and Thunderlane was finding that he loved uncovering new things that made her who she was. He had always known she was slow to warm up; she was so uncertain and shy about her personal life and her past in Cloudsdale. Every time she shared some new part of herself with him, whether intentionally or otherwise, he found himself enjoying her more and curious to see what he would learn next.
Derpy started when Thunderlane suddenly appeared beside her, nuzzling one of her still damp ears. “Come here…You deserve a reward for taking care of Hurricane Rumble.” When she glanced up at him, about to protest –he knew what she’d say: ‘It was no big deal; she liked helping.’- he silenced her with a perfectly wonderful kiss.
She closed her eyes, leaning into him, her heartbeat quickening, wings fluttering to match its pace. Every time he kissed her, she felt lightheaded, as if nothing else in the world could touch her at that moment. It didn’t matter that they were standing in the bathroom or that the musty smell of sleep still clung to him or that her feathers were awkwardly out of place from her toweling off.
He pulled back, resting their foreheads together. “I really came looking for you so we could go get some breakfast together.”
Her eyes fluttered open, lit with a soft, happy glow, and she smiled. “I’d like that.”
The heart of Ponyville was bustling with busy ponies at or on their way to work, which was a strange sight for the two pegasi, who were more used to seeing the view from above as they performed their daily duties.
They had elected to land and stroll through the village square rather than continue flying once they hit the marketplace, taking in the brilliant whirl of colors and sounds that made up their world. Merchant ponies were busy hocking their wares, some still putting the finishing touches on the day’s display. Shoppers browsed the stalls, inspecting produce for freshness and haggling with the salesponies over prices they found unreasonable. A few foals –too young for school- scampered by, giggling and playfully chasing after one another, an already weary looking mare cantering dutifully behind them.
It was nice, Derpy thought, to see the world on eye level. She was used to observing this kind of activity from above as she was shoving around clouds, only catching glimpses of what ordinary life was like down on earth. All of her life, the normalcy of these ponies had been too far away, too much out of her grasp. She had never really known how to connect with other ponies; they just didn’t seem to understand her simplistic and sometimes roundabout way of thinking.
But there, walking with Thunderlane and just enjoying the morning, she felt normal, like she actually fit in for once and nopony was staring or whispering or making fun of her. He treated her like she was no different from any other pony; like she wasn’t a walking disaster who wasn’t worth his time. And when he did treat her in a different way from everypony else…Well, Derpy know it wasn’t bad, because it was when he was too busy fussing over her to care what anypony else thought, because he loved her.
At that thought, she lifted her head to the warmth of the sun, reveling in the warmth it provided and the sudden warmth of her heart. Her step became bouncy and light; she felt like she was walking on air – And maybe she was; there was always that distinct possibility that she was a few inches off the ground without even noticing.
As they headed further into town, a few ponies greeted the couple – Or, more accurately, they greeted Thunderlane, just barely acknowledging Derpy enough to be considered polite. The first time it happened, she didn’t even know the stallion to begin with. The second time, when a pegasus she vaguely knew from the Weather Factory in Cloudsdale pretty much ignored her, she pressed close to Thunderlane’s side, her usual insecurities returning with a vengeance and bringing her down from the high she’d previously been on.
The third time, she wasn’t even sure the unicorn Thunderlane was currently chatting with had even noticed her. As she looked up at her special somepony –so happily discussing the practicality of trying to harness lightning as a source of energy with the brown unicorn who had approached them- she felt invisible, a feeling she wasn’t unused to by any stretch of the imagination.
It came as a shock, then, when a voice rang out through the morning, calling her name. She lifted her head, searching for the source of the voice, and forcing herself to look completely in one direction, only for her gaze to land on the familiar form of a very pale grey mare, her blunt-cut pink and green bangs bouncing on her forehead as she trotted over.
Blossomforth stopped a few scant inches away from her, clear blue eyes scanning up and down Derpy’s body as if searching for something. “I heard about your accident the other day! It sounded scary!” She stepped back a bit, her critical gaze making one last sweep before settling back on Derpy’s face, “Are you okay?”
For a moment, all Derpy could do was stare at her stupidly, so shocked at the seemingly legitimate expression of concern that both her eyes were focused squarely on Blossomforth’s face. Her mouth moved of its own accord, though no sound came out; when was the last time she had even spoken to Blossomforth? It wasn’t that the other mare wasn’t nice, it was just that she usually ignored Derpy, especially when Flitter and Cloudchaser were around. “I…” Suddenly Derpy found her voice, though she looked away, unable to stand that searching gaze any longer, “I’m fine. You don’t have to worry about me.”
“Are you sure?”
Her head jerked up when Blossomforth’s hoof lightly touched her shoulder and she wheeled about to once again look at the other pegasus, who wasn’t usually so forward. Derpy had spent plenty of time in Blossomforth’s presence over the years –she was one of Thunderlane’s oldest friends, after all- and never before had the other mare spoke so directly to her or seemed overly concerned with her well-being. “You don’t have to pretend to care, you know.”
Blossomforth took a step back, letting her hoof fall slowly back to the ground. Her blue eyes were impossibly wide, her mouth hanging open in shock. “But I…I’m not…” She stammered, fumbling a little before her expression fell, crumpling into something akin to embarrassed sadness, “I really do care…”
Her tone was enough to give Derpy pause and she frowned, cocking her head as she looked at the forlorn pegasus standing in front of her. “You got a funny way of showing it.” And it was true; Blossomforth had laughed at her right along with the twins, or ignored her when she tried to join a conversation. Derpy may not have been the best at interpersonal relationships, but she knew that was not the way to treat ponies you cared about.
“I’m sorry.” This time Blossomforth’s voice came out as a little squeak, her head sinking lower to the ground, “It’s just…it’s really hard being friends with Flitter and Cloudchaser. They expect a pony to act a certain way and…” When she looked up again, her eyes were dark with shame, “And I guess I cared more about being popular than being nice. And they said…” She shook her head, “No, I’m not going to say what they said. But I really was worried when I heard about your crash, I swear! And I can’t believe they laughed at you. What an awful thing to do!”
Derpy stared at her, worrying her lower lip uncertainly between her teeth. It wasn’t often that anypony offered her a heartfelt apology for anything. Blossomforth seemed sincere and, though it wasn’t in her nature to be overly trusting, Derpy smiled a little, willing to take a chance. “I don’t care what they think,” She replied solemnly, and she found that –for once- she actually meant the words. She had spoken them many times before, but it had been difficult to believe them for the way her heart was always hurting. But then, in that moment, she felt the same inexplicable lightness from the previous evening wash over her, as if something heavy had been lifted from her heart. “And you shouldn’t either.”
Blossomforth smiled in reply, as if somehow understanding the silent forgiveness and acceptance that Derpy only just then realized she’d been offering.
“There you are!” Whatever Blossomforth had been about to say was cut off by a harried-looking pale yellow pegasus stallion who had appeared seemingly out of nowhere. “I stopped to get some carrots for lunch and when I turned around, you were gone! Blossomforth, we are going to be late and you know how Rainbow Dash is!” He panted, already priming his wings for takeoff, “Let’s go.”
“Oh hay!” Blossomforth pranced in place for a moment, trying to get her bearings and acknowledge both of them at once. “I gotta go!” She grinned apologetically at Derpy, tightening her saddlebag’s strap and flexing her wings, “Duty calls. See you later!”
Derpy watched as they flew off, the stallion grumbling something about getting yelled at while simultaneously urging Blossomforth to fly faster. Then she turned, trotting the few steps that put her right back at Thunderlane’s side. He was still talking to the unicorn, but she found that she suddenly didn’t mind waiting the conversation out.
It gave her plenty of time to sort out what had just happened.
It didn’t take long for Thunderlane to notice the change that had come over Derpy. She had been cheerful and bouncy when they left the house, but by the time they arrived at Gingerbread’s tiny little bakeshop, she was walking slowly, her mismatched eyes both focused on different patches of ground.
Whatever was suddenly bothering her, though…he didn’t think she was ready to talk about it yet. There was a contemplative frown tugging the corners of her mouth downwards and he had seen that expression often enough to know that she was thinking about something – And thinking hard.
Instead of questioning her, he simply held open the door to the bakeshop, waiting for her to pass. She trotted into the room, surprisingly mindful of the step up required to pass the threshold, and waited for him to follow.
“Good morning!” A voice rang out from somewhere behind the display counter where Gingerbread’s muffins and quickbreads were on display for anypony looking for slightly more nutritious baked goods than what Sugarcube Corner had to offer. Whatever Gingerbread was doing, only her blue and pink tail was visible, rising above the counter and wiggling as she moved about. “Be with you in a sec!”
Thunderlane took the time to peruse the day’s offerings, watching out of the corner of his eye as Derpy trotted over to make what often turned out to be her most difficult decision of the day: Which muffin was she in the mood for?
But even in that task -which usually gave her no small amounts of glee; she loved muffins- she seemed subdued, her gaze wandering from flavor to flavor almost absently, as if she was seeing but not seeing the baked goods on display.
Thunderlane started towards her, but was interrupted by a sudden loud POP! followed by a silvery-blue glow of magic as a unicorn winked into existence between them. “Gingerbread!” The unicorn’s voice was snappy, her pale blue eyes lit with annoyance, her posture aggressive, “What the hay are you trying to pull! I told you I wanted a dozen of those frosted gingerbread cookies and you only gave me twelve! You of all ponies should know a dozen is thirteen and you better not be trying to rip me off!”
Gingerbread’s head popped up from behind the counter and she rolled her eyes, blowing her bangs out of her face and flipping her ponytail back over her shoulder. “And I’ve told you,” she retorted, “that only paying customers get a full baker’s dozen. When you start paying down your tab, maybe you’ll get extra goodies.”
The unicorn glared at her from beneath an unruly and unfortunately colored teal and maroon mane, and stamped one hoof impatiently against the wooden floorboards of the shop. “You know I’ll pay you,” she snorted, “Later. I always do. Now gimme my other cookie.”
Derpy’s head had risen as the two mares argued; she was curious to see how this would play out. Gingerbread, she knew, was an easygoing, cheerful pony, one who was known for being generous with her snacks. And this unicorn seemed to be a demanding, rude individual who would easily and without a thought take advantage of the baker’s kindness.
“Go home.” Gingerbread leveled the unicorn with an unwavering glare, “And stop being so greedy. I do have other customers, you know.” She gestured at the two pegasi, never once looking away from the bossy mare’s face. “Paying customers.”
The unicorn glanced over at them, suddenly realizing that she and Gingerbread weren’t alone in the little store. “…I’ll be back later!” She scowled, stamping her hoof again as she disappeared from the room in a puff of blue.
Gingerbread shook her head, then turned to the couple, now the only patrons of the small bakery. “How can I help you?” She asked pleasantly, as if there hadn’t just been a disgruntled unicorn up in her face.
Derpy’s mouth opened and closed and she blinked at the baker, trying to force some words out. If somepony had been so rude to her, she would have just folded under the pressure and given in. It was easier than taking chances and being hurt or laughed at, which is what usually happened when she stood up for herself.
“Do you get a lot of customers like that?” Thunderlane cocked his head, brow quirked. He and Derpy had only been to the bakery a hooful of times and there had never been any sign of other dissatisfied patrons.
At the question, Gingerbread laughed, her cobalt eyes twinkling. “Oh, no,” She replied, her tone laced with amusement, “Gusty’s just a special case. She thinks she gets favors because she’s special to me, but she’s lucky I put up with her like I do. I give her an inch and she takes a mile when I should be giving her exactly what she’s paying me, nothing. I know she said she’ll pay later; she always says that. And sometimes she does, sometimes she doesn’t . She knows that I’ll still give her stuff and we both know that we’ll still argue about it, but…” She shrugged, fussing with a display of miniature pumpkin breads, “I guess it’s okay, because I love her.”
A cheerful grin settled across the earth pony’s face as she slid the display case door shut and looked up at the two pegasi again. “Now then…What can I get for you?”
Thunderlane glanced at Derpy, who was once again staring quietly at the muffins, a far away, pensive look still etched across her features. “Derpy?” He nudged her gently, “Do you know what you want?”
She glanced at him out of the corner of one eye, the other still looking through the muffins. “…Banana nut.” She replied quietly.
The stallion looked at her for a moment, brows drawn together in concern, then turned back to the patiently waiting Gingerbread. “A banana nut muffin and a couple slices of cinnamon swirl bread, please.”
“Coming right up!” Gingerbread chirped, bustling about behind the counter to fetch the order. The bread was sliced carefully, both slices precisely the same size, then wrapped in wax paper. She set the bread on the counter and slid open the case, pulling out the banana nut muffin with the biggest top – Though they were only occasional visitors to the shop, she knew Derpy liked muffins with overflowing tops and Gingerbread always aimed to please. Their order ready, she began packing everything into a paper bag, adding individually wrapped pats of butter, plastic knives and some napkins.
Thunderlane paid her, took the bag in his mouth and ushered Derpy out the door, waving a wing in response to Gingerbread’s exuberant “come back anytime!”
They walked silently through town, Thunderlane keeping an eye out for a quiet, out of the way spot for them to eat their breakfast. Derpy trotted at his side, every now and then glancing at the sky, scanning the expanse of blue for something, gaze every now and then focusing on the far off form of a weather pony performing their task for the day. Once, she even looked back in the direction of the bakery, a thoughtful frown once again pulling at the corners of her mouth.
“What’s bothering you, Derpy?” He waited until they were seated under a linden tree in the park before asking the question that had been nagging him for a while. She had settled comfortably at his side, leaning against him a little as she unwrapped her muffin.
At the question, she looked up, eyes lit with uncertainty. “I…” Her brows knit, both of her eyes focusing on his face, “I’m just…really confused.” Her voice sounded small, as if it was coming from far away, and she was picking unconsciously at the muffin, breaking its stump into little pieces.
“…About what?” He continued buttering his bread, though he was watching her all the while. She certainly seemed bewildered and he hadn’t seen her like that in a long time, not since the beginning when she had just arrived and didn’t know a single pony in Ponyville.
She was quiet for a moment, her gaze lowering. “Everything…” She whispered, “When you were talking to that unicorn earlier…”
“Yeah?” He blinked; had something happened then? He hadn’t noticed anything unusual, but then…He’d been so caught up in his discussion with Mochaccino that he hadn’t really been aware of anything much aside from lightning and its practical applications as a power source. But come to think of it, it was after he and Mocha parted ways that Thunderlane had noticed Derpy suddenly seeming subdued and thoughtful.
“Blossomforth showed up and she was talking to me. She said she heard about my crash the other day –I think everypony heard about my crash- and that it was awful that Flitter and Cloudchaser laughed at me.” She paused, taking a bite of the muffin, still frowning as she chewed, “And then she was saying stuff about how it’s hard to be friends with them…And I don’t understand why she’d want to be friends with them, if they’re just gonna be rude and mean.”
Thunderlane opened his mouth, about to say something about how the twins weren’t all bad, but the look in Derpy’s eyes silenced him and he shut his mouth again with an almost audible click. Now was the time to listen, not attempt to defend his friends.
“And then Gingerbread…Her friend wasn’t much better! She was rude and mean and Gingerbread shouldn’t be giving her things, if that’s the way she’s gonna be.” By that time, she’d stopped eating and rose to her feet, pacing a few steps before turning to look back at Thunderlane, “I don’t…” Her shoulders slumped, her head lowering, “I thought…I always thought friends were supposed to be nice to each other. I don’t got a lot of them, but the ones I do have don’t treat me like that.”
She sighed, flopping back down in the grass and looking up at the sun. Off in the distance, there was a little blip of rainbow propelling a cloud through the sky. Slightly to the left of that were several other multicolor specs working at dispelling a monstrous cloudbank. “And then…I dunno. I started thinking that maybe not all friendship is like the best ones I got. Maybe not everypony is lucky as me.” She rested her chin on her folded front hooves, one eye still fixed on the distant weather ponies, “Maybe they don’t know how to be better friends ‘cause they never had better friends.”
Thunderlane smiled softly, abandoning his breakfast in favor of stretching out beside her, pillowing his own head on his foreleg. He stretched his wings, taking a moment to revel in the glorious feel of the morning sun warming them, then leaned in close to her. “I think you’re right.” He replied softly, burying his muzzle in her mane, “Because I wasn’t such an awesome friend before I met you.”
She smiled softly at that, turning to give him a gentle nuzzle, pressing their muzzles together. “Thanks…” She rested her head against his neck, tucked under his chin, “But Thunderlane…I didn’t learn how to be a good friend on my own.” The way she was snuggled against him, she could feel his heartbeat, strong and steady, and the warmth of his breath tickled her ear and she flicked it, the movement completely involuntary. There, in his familiar embrace, she felt safe; warm and loved. When she was with Thunderlane…she felt as if she could walk on clouds even without the aid of her pegasus magic.
They lapsed into silence for a moment and she closed her eyes, tipping her face to the warmth of the sun. He looked down at her, watching as she relaxed against him, as the sunshine glinted off the natural shine of her hair and caused it to glow golden, as opposed to its normal pale yellow. He pressed a kiss against her hair and her smile widened, a small, contented noise escaping her.
And there in the sunshine, in the warmth radiating from her special somepony, Derpy felt the last of the weight lift from her heart. It had been so long…Or had she ever truly felt so light and free? She couldn’t recall a time in the past that her heart had been so open and warm as it was right then.
“I had a friend,” she said softly, blinking her eyes open and looking up at him, her gaze locked with his, “in Cloudsdale. She was somepony really special and even though I don’t like to talk about back then, I…” She faltered for a moment, turning her head away and closing her eyes again, trying to will away the painful memories that always came with thoughts of Cloudsdale.
Thunderlane gave her a reassuring nuzzle, his heart going out to her. It didn’t matter that he had no clue what things had really been like for her back then; he knew enough to understand that it had been awful for her and that was why he didn’t question her about it. “You don’t have to do this.” He said quietly, though he was dying to know what was going on in her mind.
“No, I…” She leaned into his touch again, finding comfort in his closeness and steeling herself against the awful feeling of the bad memories that was bound to surface at any moment. “It’s okay. ‘Cause I’m going to talk about her at Rumble’s school and I want you to know about her first.”
“Are you sure?” He didn’t mean to sound doubtful, or to question her intentions. But in all the time he’d known her, she’d mentioned Cloudsdale only a scant few times and anytime any other pony brought the pegasus city into a conversation, she got incredibly quiet or excused herself from the conversation all together.
She nodded, taking a deep breath, and he tucked one of his wings around her, as if intending to shield her from her own memories.
“I’m sure. I usually hate talking about this stuff, ‘cause it hurts. But you know?” Their eyes met again and she kissed him softly, then rested her head against him once more. “I’m ready now. It’s time.”
On Wednesday morning, Derpy woke to darkness.
Not having any clue what time it was, she attempted to drag herself from Thunderlane’s bed and over to the window to see if it was morning yet. He liked to sleep, and if he knew he didn’t need to get up early the next morning, he was apt to hang a spare sheet over his curtains, creating a darkening effect and keeping out the pesky sun.
She was buried in a tangle of blankets, completely covered from her head to the tip of her tail. One of Thunderlane’s hind legs was tossed over her hip, his forelegs wound around her, muzzle pressed into her sleep-mussed mane. She took a moment to just enjoy the feel of him pressed up against her as she waited for the fog of sleep to lift. Then she wriggled her way carefully out of his embrace -- If he weren’t such a sound sleeper, she would have essentially been trapped until he woke.
She fought her way out from under the heavy comforter, batting it aside with her front hoofs, until her head came free, her mane poofed up on a static charge, thin strands clinging to the fuzzy underside of the blanket. She pushed it away, almost falling off the bed in the process, due to her hindquarters still being tangled in the sheets.
Once free of the warm confines of the bed, she stretched, long and lean, her backside rising in a pose reminiscent of a freshly woken cat. She unfurled her wings –stiff from the night’s sleep- and gave them a couple strong flaps, working out the kinks and ruffling her feathers, then folded them neatly back at her sides.
And still, then, she felt only slightly more awake. She and Thunderlane had stayed up, talking well into the night.
It had been as if a floodgate had been opened the previous morning and she hadn’t been able to stop talking, stories of her foalhood and growing up years pouring forth of their own accord. She had told him many things about her past, backtracking now and then to add new details or rehash a story as new memories surfaced. Sometimes, he asked questions, but mostly, he just listened, letting her talk at her own pace.
They had stayed in the park tucked away under the tree for some time, just nestled together as she told the end of the story first, talking about the happier times. It was later, after a silent, introspective flight, when they were settled on a cloud on the outskirts of town, that she talked most about her parents, about their hopes for her and how she was nothing more than a bitter disappointment; that her presence had only served to remind them of what they didn’t have.
She told him how her father was demanding, expecting better than her best. How his reputation as a stern boss preceded him no matter where he went and how there was a trace of his looks in hers; how everypony always knew she was his offspring. They shared a coat color and a similar jawline, though her muzzle was a little more delicate. She didn’t have the refined good looks of her mother, who was all soft curves and angles with elegant wings; it was all too easy to tell just who her sire had been – Especially since he was incredibly well-known among the supervisors at the factory.
Her mother was rather well-known in upper class social circles as well and expected her to be some graceful, delicate thing, which everypony knew she was not. Derpy wasn’t dainty, nor was she poised. Despite her breeding and upbringing, she had very little panache, a lot of which was probably her parents’ fault. They had taken her to a doctor, once, when they were concerned, her mother shuttling her off to see what was wrong with her and why her wandering eye hadn’t corrected itself; why she was still falling over her own hooves like a newborn. And when the doctor had proclaimed her to be in perfect health, just a little slow, it was as if her mother had just…given up.
They showered her with things that cost a lot and meant little –she was their only foal, after all- but there was no way that made up for the attention and affection they denied her.
She told him about flight school, about her lonely foalhood. At the best of times, she’d been ignored. At the worst, tormented for her shortcomings. As much as it hurt to be paid no mind, she preferred invisibility and anonymity to the laughter and teasing. She had stopped trying to make friends after realizing most of the other fillies and colts were just using her; she was smart enough to figure that out on her own.
She was smarter than they all thought.
And through all of this -through her tears and stumbling through words and momentary lapses in her ability to speak- Thunderlane stuck close to her side, listening patiently, quietly. He held her when she needed it, offering snuggles and reassurance, keeping her safely within reach.
It had been cathartic, like bleeding poison from a wound. And in a way, she had been bleeding out all of the hurt in her heart –in her soul- that had been festering there for years.
In the end, she had felt better; so light and free, as if the world had suddenly become the beautiful place she had always hoped it to be. As if she was somehow better –stronger- for all the misery she had endured.
But at the present moment, she felt nothing but tired.
She knew she was going to school with Rumble –if she hadn’t slept through it, though she doubted he would have let that happen- but had been too keyed up to sleep the night before. Even after Thunderlane had drifted off, she’d lain awake snuggled in his embrace, her mind still a jumble of thoughts and memories.
Stepping as carefully as possible through the darkened room, she made her way to the window and peeked out. The sun was shining brightly and if she squinted, she could see the distant face of the town clock tower.
And as much as she wanted to crawl back into bed and snuggle down into the warm blankets with her still-sleeping special somepony, it was time to get up and start the day.
Only an hour or so later, Derpy could be found fluttering dutifully behind Rumble as he made his way to school.
He had been quiet that morning and picked at his bowl of oatmeal, not eating much at all. Despite Derpy’s sudden, inexplicable burst of confidence, Rumble wasn’t completely convinced that the other schoolponies wouldn’t laugh at her or be mean and, as a result, he felt like a million butterflies were trapped in his tummy, all trying desperately to make their way out.
He was way too nervous to eat.
Derpy’s strange air of self-assurance did little to make him feel better; in fact, her confidence that the morning would be a success made him feel even more uncertain, though he didn’t at all doubt her ability to tell an awesome story. It was more that he just wanted every other pony to like her so badly and he was worried that the day was bound to leave him disappointed in that aspect.
When he landed in the schoolyard and looked over his shoulder at her, she gave no indication of her own nerves creeping up on her, but instead offered a bright smile. He tried to smile back and failed, remaining frozen in place where he had touched down. If they didn’t go in, she wouldn’t get made fun of. Maybe they could just go home…And then tomorrow he could say he was sick. Or she was sick. Or something.
He just didn’t want to hear anypony laugh at her again; he didn’t think he’d be able to bear it and he really didn’t want to cry in front of his classmates.
Derpy paused, looking around at the schoolponies as she touched down in the dewy grass. There were foals of all colors and sizes milling about, some in tight little clusters, discussing who knows what childish thing. A couple unicorns were on the far edge of the playground, one attempting to lift a rock with their magic, though the attempt seemed not to be going well. Three fillies were skipping rope, chanting a borderline naughty song as they turned the rope quickly, the one in the middle bouncing over it at lightning speed. And in the sky, not so far from the ground, a tiny pegasus was showing off, performing a clumsy forward roll.
The sound of laughter and childish voices filtered through the air, lending an air of liveliness to the schoolyard. Derpy smiled to herself, taking another moment to just gaze at the happy, innocent foals.
Then she trotted over to Rumble, who seemed rooted to the spot he’d landed, and nudged him towards the door. “Let’s go; I have a really long, fun story to tell.”
He watched out of the corner of his eye as Derpy ambled past him, folding her wings carefully at her sides, her tail swishing. She walked right up to the door, confident and calm, and for a moment, Rumble found himself wondering just how she was able to face everything scary and mean in the world without being afraid.
Then, shaking his head, he hurried after her, unwilling to let her brave the school alone, despite his trepidation.
“Good morning, Rumble, Derpy.” Cheerilee smiled warmly as she greeted the two grey pegasi, who, thanks to Rumble’s dillydallying at home, entered the building just as the bell rang, signaling the start of the school day. Rumble mumbled something in return, eyes cast downwards towards the floorboards, while Derpy returned both the smile and the greeting, pausing beside the desk to await instruction.
The teacher waited patiently as the rest of her students scurried in and settled at their desks before welcoming them to another day of school. They dutifully replied with a collective “Good morning, Miss Cheerilee!” and she smiled brightly, a merry twinkle in her eye.
“As you can see,” She addressed the class, “It’s Rumble’s turn for Family Appreciation Day and he’s brought along somepony special who will share a story about family with all of you. I hope you will be respectful and courteous-” She shot a warning look in the direction of Tornado Bolt, who was twisted around in her seat, whispering something to Diamond Tiara and Silverspoon. “-and listen well. You never know what you might learn from another pony’s story.” That said, she turned to Rumble, smiling encouragingly, “Go ahead, Rumble.”
The little colt took a shaky step forward, looking at his classmates. Rainy Feather grinned at him, waving to Derpy, and Rumble felt a little better. At least one of the other schoolponies seemed eager to listen. “Um…” he began, his voice coming out a little squeak, “This is…” A sudden warmth at his side caused him to look up, only to find Derpy moving closer, reaching to pat his back, and he smiled, turning his head to face the class again. “This is my…um, Derpy. She’s not part of my family that’s related to me,” His voice grew stronger with each word, “But she’s really special to me and maybe someday, if my brother is ever brave enough to marry her, she’ll be like my sister for real. I asked her to come with me today ‘cause she tells really cool stories and nopony else has ever really heard one of them…And she promised she has a super special story for today.”
“Thanks, Rumble.” She gave him a quick nuzzle before he could escape to his seat, then settled down on her rump, bright golden gaze sweeping across the small faces of the schoolponies. She knew very few of them by name, but had seen them around the village often enough to feel like she knew them, just by virtue of their presence in her life. “Hello, little ponies.” She smiled, brushing her mane out of her eyes, “I’m really happy to be here and I really hope you’ll like my story. It isn’t really a story about my family that I was foaled into, even though they are part of the story. I used to think, a long time ago, that there was only one kind of family and that made me really sad. But then I learned, from somepony really awesome, that there are different kinds of family. This story is about the family I found for myself.”
For the most part, the students were silent and listening, though the three troublemakers in the back were passing a note – Derpy noticed it when her lazy eye wandered off, but rather than tattle, she simply ignored them and plowed on.
“We gotta go back to the beginning of the story, though, ‘cause that’s where the story starts. When I was a filly not much smaller than all of you…”
The entryway was big, compared to that of the old house, and especially in the eyes of the tiny grey pegasus glancing around, wide-eyed. When her dad had said they were moving to a new house, she had never imagined something quite so big and stately, though it shouldn’t have surprised her, knowing her mother’s taste in, well, everything.
This house, the filly knew, was what her mother had always envisioned.
Her father, always ambitious, had just recently been promoted to head of the storm department at the Weather Control Bureau. Instead of the supervisory position he’d already been in, he was given control of the entire department, overseeing others who held his former position and making sure all storms were shipped and implemented in a timely fashion. He was responsible for tracking the storm quality of all villages, boroughs and cities Cloudsdale provided for. It was a very important job and with the promotion there had been a very substantial pay increase. Cloud Burst had taken the opportunity to move his small family to a very large house in the premier neighborhood of Cloudsdale.
Upon arrival at the new home, he’d waited just long enough for the movers to settle his roll top desk in his study, then disappeared into the room himself with a carton of files from the office.
His wife was busy conferring with both the movers and the interior decorator at the same time, bellowing directions at the former and twittering excitedly with the latter. Now that she was finally where she wanted to be, in her dream house, everything had to be perfect and just so. She was rushing everywhere, making sure boxes were delivered to the proper rooms; that furniture was arranged just so. And yet, despite the flurry of activity around her, Diamond Dust looked perfectly groomed and composed as always.
Their daughter was left alone, pretty much forgotten.
Surprisingly, she didn’t mind.
With her parents occupied, the little filly was left to explore the cavernous cloud house on her own, trotting slowly through the white halls and peeking in to rooms. Almost everywhere in the house there was activity; the movers hurrying around to take care of her mother’s things, her mother a whorl of dignified energy, inspecting the rooms, the interior decorator trailing behind her, pausing now and again to jot notes on a clipboard. Her mother was half-ignoring the decorator as well, sometimes stopping to snap at a mover who wasn’t working quite up to her standards. The decorator looked torn between excitement at such a big job and terror at the thought of possibly upsetting Diamond Dust.
The filly, knowing full well that she needed to stay out from underhoof, easily found the room that was to be hers; the room now home to childish things that only fleetingly held her interest, her picture books, her soft bed and favorite blanket, and more toys than a single foal could ever need. Everything was still packed in boxes and she knew her parents –busy with their own projects- wouldn’t think to come help her unpack, so she set to the task herself.
She stepped fully into the room, heading for the nearest box and nosing it open. Inside was her bedding, soft, warm sheets and a downy comforter. Those things, she knew, would be best left for the end, just in case she accidentally made a mess with anything else. Instead, she moved on, and began the task of sorting through her toys and deciding which she would still play with and which could be buried in the bottom of her toy chest. Her books were sorted with care, arranged almost neatly on the shelf – As neat as she could get them, in any case.
After making her bed to the best of her ability –the sheets were somewhat lopsided- she stopped to catch her breath, taking a moment to look out the rounded window at the sprawling neighborhood she now lived in. The rest of the houses were all just as big and one even had a fancy rainbow fountain in front.
It was a very different place from where they had lived before, but she knew…Nothing would change.
Sighing, the filly flopped on her haphazardly-made bed, burrowing under the blanket and waiting for sleep to claim her.
“Wait…Your family is rich?”
Derpy’s eyes slid open at the incredulous voice from somewhere in the back of the room. She glanced about, searching for the source of the question and finding it came from the very same purple-maned pegasus filly who’d been passing the note as she began her tale.
“My parents are.” She confirmed, both eyes fixed fully on the ash-colored face of the filly, “But that isn’t really important to the story, ‘cause I learned early on that money isn’t the answer to everything.”
The filly frowned, brows knitting. She looked like she was about to say something else, but Derpy quietly continued, effectively silencing her.
“My parents have a lot of money, yes. And they got me lots of stuff, too. They gave me everything they thought a little pony might want, ‘cept for the thing I needed most. They didn’t spend much time with me and they didn’t try to help me at all. They were ashamed of my weaknesses and instead of spending their bits to help me deal with my problems, they showered me with toys and left me mostly on my own.”
She rose, then, trotting down the row of desks, until she stood right before the little pegasus who’d questioned her. She was a tomboyish little thing, her dark mane cropped short, and she looked tough, like the type who would only need a push in the wrong direction to become a bully. And though Derpy knew that she shouldn’t judge others on appearance, she couldn’t help but think this filly looked the part of the schoolyard tormentor.
When their eyes met, the filly snorted a little. “I’d be happy with toys and stuff.” She scoffed, turning up her nose and folding her forelegs atop her desk.
“I’d have been happier with parents who had time for me.” Derpy just shook her head, thinking for a moment about how someday the little pony would realize there were things more important in life than just ‘stuff’. “But you know? In the end, it was okay, because I found something way better.”
The next morning dawned much like every other morning in Cloudsdale, different only for one reason: It was the filly’s first day at her new flight school.
It was a better school than her old one; nicer, private, and with higher expectations. The other students came from this affluent neighborhood; all of them had money and good breeding. They came from families of strong flyers, influential bloodlines and important positions in Cloudsdale. She knew her parents had high hopes, a fact that left her extremely nervous.
She wasn’t a strong flyer, nor was she an exceptional student. In fact, her flying was mostly cockeyed and loopy; she even sometimes had trouble staying aloft. And when she did manage to remain in the air, it took all of her focus to remain in the air; if her lazy eye wandered, she was bound to crash. And her academic skills were mediocre at best. It often took her longer than the average foal to figure out the mathematics and physics necessary for smooth flight. And she didn’t really understand the science behind the elements that fueled Equestria’s seasons, though she was decent enough at practice labs to create the weather.
She knew she was going to leave her parents just as disappointed at this fancy school as she had at her old one.
And with that thought weighing heavy on her mind, she stepped out the front door, pretty much unaware of her surroundings, setting her up perfectly for the events that were about to unfold.
Instead of the usual pale robin’s egg blue sky that greeted most residents of Cloudsdale, she was met with a blur of snowy white and blinding lemony-yellow, a blur comprised of flailing limbs, curly hair, and frantically flapping wings that greeted her with an exuberant “HIIIII!”
Startled, the grey filly fell with a gentle thud on her rump, sending up a puff of clouds. She stared wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the stranger, who had stopped moving long enough to be identified as another filly about her own age, one with big, violet eyes and a mass of curly mane and tail in a peculiar almost-green shade of yellow.
“Hi!” She squeaked happily, prancing in place before the bewildered grey filly, wings fluttering. She was a bundle of energy and excitement, her skinny limbs flailing nonstop. “You’re the new foal, right? My dad knows your dad from work and he said there’d be a foal my age moving in and I’ve been soooooo excited ‘cause nopony else from my class lives here and all my brothers and sisters are older and boring and I’m Surprise what’s your name?”
“Hold up a sec!” This time it was Scootaloo who spoke, breaking the flow of the story and causing all eyes to swivel in her direction as she practically leapt on top of her desk, “Are you talking about the Surprise? Like, the Wonderbolt?”
Derpy grinned, unfurling her wings and ruffling them a bit, not at all bothering to make even an attempt at hiding her pride. It wasn’t everyday a pony could claim to know a Wonderbolt and she was certain nopony had ever expected her to know one personally. “The one and only.” She paused, letting that fact sink in, glancing once again about the room and this time delighting in the disbelief lighting the faces of the schoolponies. “Of course, when I met Surprise, she was a long, long way from being a Wonderbolt.”
A ripple of excited chatter broke out through the room, the foals all squealing with delight and wonder. One voice, however, rose above the rest, that of a pink filly with a delicate crown sitting atop her mane. “I don’t believe that.” She said flatly, “Surprise is…she’s somepony. She’s rich and famous and amazingly talented. And you’re just a nopony. I don’t believe you really know her.”
Derpy was quiet for a moment, taking in those words and nodding slowly. She let the snooty foal finish, watching silently as the filly’s pink muzzle turned upwards. This was the same filly who had laughed with her friend the other day as Derpy lay dazed in the grass; the same breed of filly she had just told Rumble he should ignore. “Nopony is born great; we all start out the same, small and helpless,” She replied, tone mild, “It’s actions and words that make you somepony, not how or where you were born. Surprise is famous because she’s worked hard to get there. She didn’t get where she is by treating other ponies like they were garbage and she didn’t get her amazing talent because she was born into money.”
“And besides,” She went on, smiling, eyes slipping shut again as she thought about all of the fun and excitement the white pegasus had brought in to her life, “I went to the Grand Galloping Gala and hung out in the VIP area. I was in the Best Young Flyers Competition. I even got invited to the royal wedding in Canterlot. How do you think I did all those things? My mom and dad certainly didn’t invite me…It was Surprise.”
In the midst of trying to process the dizzying pace of the words flowing from Surprise’s mouth, the little filly suddenly realized her foreleg was being pumped up and down in an exuberant hoofshake and that she should probably say something, given that Surprise was beaming at her expectantly.
“Hi…” Her voice -one of the many things she was constantly teased about, because it was somewhat stuffy and coltish- was quiet and she lowered her head, mumbling down at the clouds beneath her hooves, “’M Derpy.”
She braced herself for laughter, the laughter that always came, because her voice was all wrong for a filly and other foals teased her accordingly. She didn’t talk often in front of others, choosing instead to simply fade into the background. Or once they learned it, other small ponies often made fun of the unfortunate name her parents had bestowed upon her. Or –worst of all- they snickered about her wandering gaze, her unsteady gait, her awkward flying. Anything and everything about her had been fair game at her old school; the other students had been merciless in their teasing.
No laughter came, however, and it caught her off guard when Surprise gave her a shove, propelling her up and off in the direction she assumed the flight school was in. Her head lifted, eyes flying open as she floundered in the air for a moment, her stronger eye focused on Surprise. The other filly was beaming, eyes sparkling like twin amethysts in the morning sun.
“C’mon,” She chirped, "you can fly to school with me!” And with that, Surprise looped around, dipping under Derpy and pushing her back upright, then grabbed her by the hoof, leaving the bewildered grey filly with no choice but to pump her wings in an effort to keep up with her as she flew.
“Surprise turned out to be the most amazing pony I ever met. She was always busy and on the move, always causing some kind of excitement and getting in trouble. And even though she was smart and the best flyer in our class, the instructors were always frowning, always yelling at her. I don’t think a single day went by without somepony being annoyed with her, but she never stopped smiling or pulling pranks or trying to make the other foals laugh. She didn’t care about what anypony thought of her; all she cared about was being happy.”
Derpy smiled fondly, her eyes taking on a glassy, faraway look as she thought about her friend, picturing her wide, amethyst eyes and dazzling smile, the way her mane did whatever it pleased, how the sun shone brightly off her snowy coat. Everything about Surprise was bright and cheerful; she was like a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day.
She paused for a moment, eyes shut, and let a cascade of faded images flicker through her mind. Surprise, proudly introducing her to the rest of their class on that first day, crowing that this was her awesome new friend. Herself floundering through the sky and Surprise suddenly beneath her, lifting her and encouraging her to keep trying. The teasing and taunting of the stronger flyers, followed by Surprise’s firm voice telling her to keep her head up and ignore them. Hours upon hours of playing and gossip and jaunty flights into the commercial part of Cloudsdale for snacks and open-air movies and shopping. Quiet moments where they explored their fears and secrets, as they bravely winged their way towards that mysterious thing called adulthood.
And when she opened her eyes again, they were lit with bright determination. It suddenly didn’t matter if not a single foal in the room save for Rumble believed her story or if anypony laughed at her over her shortcomings. This was more than just a story; it was her life, the story of her.
“My life before I met her was dull and kinda…I don’t know. I was picked on a lot and I had a lot of accidents. I didn’t really feel very comfortable around other ponies and none of the other foals at my old school had wanted to be my friend, so I played alone a lot. And my mom and dad didn’t really give me much attention, just a lot of things. They were always busy with work stuff and, besides, I wasn’t the perfect filly they had wanted. I was really shy and always kinda nervous and really sheltered and when Surprise found that out, she made it her business to make me do everything and take me everywhere…”
“Where’re we going, Surprise?”
“If I tell you, it won’t be a surprise, duh!” Surprise did a forward roll, bursting through a small cloud blocking her path. She gave her glorious wings a powerful flap, swooping upwards, her curly tail fluttering behind her, “And you know how I love surprises!”
Behind her, Derpy rolled her eyes, snorting a little. She had expected that response, but the question still slipped out anyway, even though there was no chance of a straight answer. Surprise was ridiculous and they both knew it. “Gee, I never woulda guessed that.”
They were older then, nearing their graduation from flight school. Surprise had aged beautifully, growing from an awkward filly to a slender, muscular young mare. She had been bred for speed and endurance in the sky; her father came from a long line of hurricane control pegasi, used to flying for long distances and in dreadful conditions. The past year or so, she’d become quite athletic, channeling her boundless energy into competitions and helping teach young foals the basics of flight.
Derpy, on the other hoof, had never outgrown the gawky adolescent stage. Her mane and tail were still thin and limp. Her lazy eye had never corrected itself. Her limbs still seemed too long for her body and her wing power was sometimes unreliable during extensive periods of flight. While most mares their age had blossomed into magnificent, graceful flyers, she had remained on the same juvenile level.
And it didn’t help that next to Surprise, she felt absolutely plain and dull – Not that she held it against her friend; neither of them could help how they looked. It was just one of those things that stayed in the back of her mind, never to be spoken aloud.
“Close your eyes!” Pausing only a moment to be certain Derpy had followed the command, Surprise surged forwards, grabbing her friend under her forelegs and speeding off in a direction other than the one they’d previously been flying.
Derpy squawked in surprise, at first flailing against the air currents suddenly whipping past her. The feeling of flying not under her own power was a very strange one, though not something she was completely unaccustomed to. Surprise did this often enough, when she was excited and Derpy was going too slow – Though ‘slow’ for Surprise was often Derpy’s top speed.
The grey pegasus kept her eyes squeezed shut, not necessarily out of obedience, but rather fear. Flying this way with Surprise was a sure way to get one’s heart racing and Derpy had learned the first time it happened that trying to look at the world whizzing by was a good way to wind up nauseous. And the white mare was utterly fearless, defying both gravity and physics with the way she careened through the air.
A moment later, they rocketed upwards, and Derpy experienced a peculiar feeling of weightlessness as she was spun upside down, as Surprise executed a huge loop through the ether. Then there was a cold, wet feeling as icy bits of water stung her coat when Surprise plowed through a cloud like it was nothing. And then…
Surprise had released her, dropping Derpy into a dangerous free fall. Eyes still shut tight, the grey mare plummeted through the air, wind whistling in her ears and tugging at her mane and tail. For a precious few minutes, she struggled to right herself, tumbling head over hoof before finding her bearings. Her wings opened at the very last second, unfurling and filling with air with a loud CRACK.
And then she crashed, the force of her body hitting more solid cloud sending her rolling a few times before she stopped, upside down, body folded awkwardly over itself, her tail tickling her nose.
“Surprise!” A high voice sounded right in front of her and she snapped her eyes open, vision blurred for a moment. She shook her head, and when she looked again, all she saw was white, but it wasn’t the blinding white of Surprise’s coat.
They were in the Cloudiseum.
When Derpy paused for dramatic effect, Cheerilee blinked, suddenly brought back to earth by the abrupt silence of the classroom.
The teacher hadn’t been sure what to expect the morning would bring. Though Rumble had proclaimed Derpy to be an excellent storyteller, Cheerilee had found herself doubting his assessment of her skills after actually spending time with the other mare. Their tea at the café earlier in the week had been painfully awkward and left Cheerliee uncertain if inviting Derpy to speak was wise; the pegasus had been so quiet and withdrawn that afternoon that it seemed impossible she’d be able to speak in front of anypony, let alone her occasionally rowdy class. It was sometimes difficult to gain and hold the little ponies’ attention and Cheerilee had found herself fearing that Derpy would only be humiliated.
But Cheerilee found herself pleasantly surprised -- Rumble hadn’t exaggerated about Derpy’s storytelling abilities. Most of the schoolponies were hanging on her every word, almost as if entranced by the tale. She was surprisingly eloquent, her tone lyrical. She didn’t have a pretty, feminine voice, but there was still some magical quality to her speech, something powerful in her words.
And she was animated and lively, moving about across the front of the room, acting out certain parts of the story, taking on multiple roles at once. She somehow managed to make herself seem larger than life when pretending to be Surprise, an impressive feat, considering how she generally faded into the background in a crowd.
Her portrayal of her own younger self was much less exuberant. Instead of the cheerful, seemingly clueless mare she’d grown into, she painted a poignant picture of her fledgling self as an uncertain, timid individual who struggled with almost everything that came easily to her peers.
And Cheerilee had found herself sucked into the story, incredibly curious to see what would happen next.
“We can’t be here!” Derpy glanced around in a panic, desperate to make sure nopony had seen them. She, like everypony else, knew that the Cloudiseum was off limits to the general public outside of events. And there certainly was not anything going on that afternoon; the stadium was eerily silent, save for the sound of her own voice. “We’re gonna get in so much trouble if anypony catches us.”
Surprise flopped back onto a nearby cloud-seat, not at all worried. “Nopony is going to find us.” She reassured her friend, tucking her front hooves casually behind her head, “I’ve been here before when it’s closed.” And she had, many times. She was the youngest of six and though their house was big, she had very little in the way of privacy at home. The first time she’d snuck into the stadium, her actions had been fueled by sheer curiosity – Could she do it? Was it possible to get into the great Cloudiseum without getting caught?
It was surprisingly easy.
And Surprise had been humbled by the massive size of the structure. She’d never before been there as something more than a mere face in the crowd and had thusly never realized exactly how big the place was.
She got over her awe quickly, however, and the Cloudiseum? Well, in its dark, solitary afterhours it had become her private place, where she went to fly or simply think.
“C’mon.” Tired of watching Derpy fidget nervously, Surprise rose, beckoning her friend to follow. There had been a reason she’d brought the other young mare to her special place; a reason she couldn’t fully put into words. It had just been the right time – And Surprise rarely did things before the time was right.
Derpy followed, still glancing around as if she expected somepony to jump out of nowhere and yell at them, her ears flicked back, wings lowered. Ninety-five percent of the time, she had no clue what Surprise was thinking or planning; the white pegasus was so impulsive that there was no possible way to predict her actions.
Surprise fluttered off, headed for Princess Celestia’s private skybox. It wasn’t the highest point in the Cloudiseum, which Derpy would have expected her to aim for, but it was the most lux, and Surprise did enjoy creature comforts almost as much as fun and mischief.
She landed, settling back on her haunches and looking down over the stadium below. Derpy plopped down beside her, a little less graceful, and tried to follow her gaze.
“Someday…I’m going to fly here,” Surprise said suddenly, breaking the silence that had fallen over them. She often said things out of the blue; there was nothing unusual about that. But that time…She sounded so serious, so solemn. So un-Surprise-like. “And I don’t mean in, like, a competition or something. I’m going to fly here because I’m famous…Someday, I’m going to fly here with the Wonderbolts,” She sat up a little straighter, squaring her shoulders, “because I’m one a the best. I’m fast and strong and everypony always says I make things exciting. And I don’t want to just be stuck here, working the weather like my family. I’m meant for waaaay better things than that! My mom and dad don’t get it. They’re happy working at the factory. So are my brothers and sisters. And they indulge me all the time, saying things like ‘oh, Surprise, of course you’ll fly with the Wonderbolts!’ but I know they don’t really believe it. They just think I’m being silly…but I’m not.” She paused, turning to look at Derpy, an unusually serious intensity lighting her eyes, “I’ve been coming here for a long time…to practice.”
Derpy stared back at her, wide-eyed and speechless. Even knowing Surprise as long as she had, that was the last thing she had expected to hear.
It was also the last thing she wanted to hear.
She didn’t doubt that Surprise had what it took to become a Wonderbolt. They were the cream of the crop, the best flyers in all of Equestria, and the white mare was an amazingly skilled aerial acrobat. Her speed and endurance were unmatched by anypony in their class; even their flight school instructor had difficulty keeping up with her more often than not. And if anypony deserved to join the best of the best, it was Surprise -- Who, in Derpy’s opinion, was the best.
But joining the Wonderbolts meant she would have to leave Cloudsdale. They were constantly on tour, and when they weren’t, they held quarters in Canterlot. If Surprise joined them, she would either be traveling or far away…And Derpy couldn’t bear that thought.
What would life be without Surprise? Derpy didn’t have to think about it; she already knew. Her life before Surprise’s friendship had been drab and empty. She had been alone for far too long, with her parents too busy and other ponies her age being merciless in their teasing. And while her parents still treated her the same –half the time, she suspected they forgot she even existed- and the other young mares and stallions laughed at her and made fun of her without even trying to be discreet, Surprise was that steady constant that made her life both fun and bearable.
Derpy had already spent enough time in a dark, gloomy world; she did not want to go back to that.
But what was she supposed to do? Surprise had always been there for her; always supported her when her mom and dad failed to do so. She’d had been there for Derpy when she bombed the physics of flight midterm earlier in the school year. When their peers were picking on her for her shortcomings. When her parents were critical or cruel. When she felt lost and alone and broken, Surprise was the one to build her back up and tell her she could do anything she dreamed.
After all of the support Surprise had offered her, how could Derpy possibly say anything against her friend’s dream?
“I don’t think it’s silly.” She offered after a moment, and though her smile didn’t quite make it to her eyes, her tone was sincere; she believed completely in Surprise’s abilities. Anything Surprise put her mind to, she could and would accomplish and Derpy was well aware of that. “I think you’d make an awesome Wonderbolt.”
“If they accept me, I’ll have to leave, though.” Surprise was easily able to discern her thoughts, as easily as if she’d were able to read minds. It was an uncanny ability she had; she had almost always been able to tell exactly –or pretty close to exactly- what Derpy was thinking. And the thought they both shared was one that had been weighing on her mind for some time. She knew her friend relied on her a lot and didn’t want Derpy to feel abandoned. “Maybe…Maybe you could come with me?”
“We both knew that wasn’t gonna happen, though.” Derpy shook her head sadly, glancing about at the faces of the young ponies listening to her story. At that point, all of the foals seemed to be listening intently; some were wide-eyed, while others looked sad or thoughtful. The three troublemakers in the back weren’t whispering or note passing any more, though they didn’t look quite as into the story as the rest.
Rumble was sitting ramrod straight, soaking up every word of the tale. He was always her most attentive audience, and loved being told stories. And though Derpy had no idea why, he seemed to favor her narratives over any other he ever heard, though he enjoyed the faerie stories and adventure novels they borrowed from the library too.
When their gaze met, Derpy grinned at Rumble, her eyes dancing. She was reveling in this opportunity to story tell for a larger audience; she’d never really had the chance to spin a yarn for more than a pony or two at a time. Usually, nopony cared to listen to her, but today, she had the entire class’ undivided attention.
“I wasn’t a strong enough flyer to even think about trying out for the Wonderbolts with Surprise.” A wistful look settled across her face, smoothing Derpy’s features and lighting her eyes with a soft, sad glow, “And there was nothing really for me to do in Canterlot; my special talent isn’t suited to city life. I knew it, and I think Surprise knew it too. But I also don’t think she could help asking; no matter how grown up we thought we were…She wasn’t quite ready to let go of foalish ideals and the idea that we could do anything and everything together. And the only other reason for us to stay together…Well, we weren’t really at a point in our life where we’d even be thinking about those kinds of feelings. It was time to move on and figure things out on our own.”
There was a moment of silence as Derpy paused, seemingly to collect her thoughts. It was broken by a small voice. “So…You and Surprise just weren’t friends anymore?”
When she opened her eyes to look for the source of the question, her gaze fell upon the little white unicorn seated next to Rumble. Derpy was humbled at the sight of the filly, who’s green eyes were brimming with tears, her lower lip quivering. The pegasus had never imagined that one of her stories would so move another pony that, at first, she wasn’t quite sure how to respond to it. But seeing the little filly so affected stirred something deep in her own heart, something so sad and bittersweet that she didn’t think she would be able to bear it.
There were some things in the world, Derpy knew, that were so impossibly fragile that they could shatter in an instant. It was not her intent to spoil any foal’s innocence; she didn’t doubt the little unicorn figured her friends would always be her friends.
And besides…That was not how the story ended.
Though he was a hard worker, Thunderlane also enjoyed having time to simply relax and do nothing. He wouldn’t call himself lazy like Rainbow Dash had, but who was he to turn down the chance to, well, laze about?
In some aspects, he wasn’t all that dissimilar from Rainbow Dash herself. Though he was nowhere near as much a show off as she was and he preferred to remain under the radar rather than in the spotlight, they were both strong flyers and excelled in their line of work. They both also enjoyed napping, whether on a cloud or in a bed or somewhere splayed in the sun. Rainbow Dash was awesome at what she did, but much like Thunderlane, she preferred loafing about -usually in an apple tree, in her case- over doing any kind of work. He knew this, and suspected that she did as well.
But the captain of the weather team had always been hard on him, right from the get-go. Thunderlane couldn’t figure out why, but he was the only pony Rainbow complained about being lazy –though she had tons of other complaints about the other pegasi under her command- and the only one who got flack for slacking off, despite the fact that he didn’t do so often when he was on the clock. Maybe he just reminded Rainbow of the parts of herself she secretly didn’t like? He didn’t know and he wasn’t about to ask her to find out.
In any case, though, he had been incredibly surprised that Rainbow Dash had given him the week off as well as Derpy. It wasn’t like he needed it or even deserved it. Sure, he’d worked hard on Friday’s storm, but so had a lot of other ponies and none of them were enjoying a week full of free time.
Some small part of him suspected that his week off had more to do with Derpy than himself; Rainbow Dash -not usually the living body of empathy- seemed to be attempting some semblance of friendship or perhaps even mentorship with the grey mare. It had begun with the maple candy way back in the winter, and since then, it seemed that Rainbow Dash was paying more attention and noticing things that Derpy was good at.
It had surprised Derpy –but not Thunderlane- when Rainbow started giving her better assignments, ones that played up her strengths rather than just kept her out of everypony’s hair. The stallion was well aware of their boss’ desire to mold them into the best Weather Team in all of Equestria, so it made sense that she would be shrewd in her decisions about work detail. Rainbow Dash was no idiot; she could easily see which tasks the other weather ponies excelled at and which they should not even attempt to perform.
He didn’t think Rainbow Dash had given them the time off as an overture of friendship towards Derpy though, but rather because she wanted them both on their A game and if Derpy was still hurt –mentally or physically- she would be more likely to cause a disaster and Thunderlane himself would be driven to distraction worrying about her. It was more than probable that they were granted the week off simply due to Rainbow’s selfish desire for her team to never screw up –and so she could punish the twins with extra work- rather than out of sympathy for either of them.
In any case, Thunderlane wasn’t about to question her generosity –opportunities like this were few and far between- and that was how he found himself trotting aimlessly through town at the very same time Derpy was speaking to the schoolponies.
He really had no plans, other than just hanging out. Maybe he could find Blue Skies or Blossomforth or somepony else who had nothing to do at the moment – The weather team was one of few professions in Ponyville that required a second shift and some of his friends had been pulled for it recently, leaving them free during the day. Thunderlane himself hadn’t been assigned second shift at all yet –he kind of half-suspected it was Rainbow Dash’s way of being nice to him so he could spend time with Derpy; her already less-than-stellar eyesight was sometimes worse in the evening hours and she caused even more disasters at night than during the day and was thusly never to be scheduled for second shift- and a couple of his buddies had been busy when he was free the past few weeks. Now that he had this unanticipated free time, it would be the perfect time to catch up with them.
…He hadn’t been expecting to run into Flitter and Cloudchaser.
He hadn’t seen them since sometime the previous week, since he hadn’t gone to the team meeting Sunday night. Derpy had been wiped out after her ordeal in the pond and Thunderlane had stayed home to cuddle with her, keeping her warm and cozy while she napped. She had continued to insist she was fine, but when he’d tucked her into bed and nestled at her side, she hadn’t protested too much. Instead, she’d leaned into him, tucking her head beneath his chin and nuzzling close. He had fussed over her until she fell asleep and though he could have slipped away while she slept to attended the meeting, she was just so cuddly and her bed so soft and comfortable…
Besides, it had been the kind of day that left Thunderlane wanting nothing more than to hold Derpy and make sure she was indeed safe and sound.
There’d been no point in going to the meeting anyway -- His schedule for the week would have been a big blank and therefore a waste of paper. He knew Rainbow Dash was nothing but serious about giving the twins extra work to do; she had been royally pissed off about their behavior. Flitter and Cloudchaser were bound to spend the week shoving around rainclouds and doing the kind of grunt work usually saved special for Thunderlane to keep him from laziness.
And now, considering the fact that he’d kind of being avoiding them for the past two days and they were bearing his brunt of the workload, he’d expected them to be annoyed with him.
They were smiling.
That…didn’t bode well.
“Where have you been?” Flitter winged her way over to him, tossing her mane back out of her face and landing abruptly in front of him. She looked him up and down, gaze critical, and tapped a hoof expectantly on the ground. “You didn’t show up at the meeting the other night and you haven’t been at work in, like, three days.”
Behind her, Cloudchaser came trotting over, a little more sedate and munching on an apple. “Rainbow Dash is giving us your crummy assignments and won’t tell us why you haven’t been working. And believe me, we’ve asked.”
“Are you sick?”
“You don’t look sick!”
Thunderlane took a step back, glancing back and forth between the two of them. It wasn’t lost on him that neither of them bothered to ask after Derpy; he’d expected as much, despite the fact that they must have known that he knew they were there when she crashed. Rainbow Dash –as much as he was loathe to admit it- was right. It didn’t really matter if they didn’t like her; he did and they should have at least pretended to care.
“I don’t believe the two of you.” He said slowly, golden gaze sliding from one to the other. He suddenly felt incredibly angry; angry about things beyond just the crash. For the past three years or so, the two of them had been rude to Derpy, teasing her as if adding ‘just kidding’ somehow made it okay, ignoring her, and whispering about her behind her back. She had taken it all in stride, likely putting up with their idiocy for him, since they were his friends.
She was too good for them.
She was too good for him.
And he was determined to make it up to her.
“You really don’t know where I might’ve been the past few days?” He snorted, giving the twins an incredulous look. Why was he friends with them? Suddenly, he just couldn’t be sure. With the way they were behaving, they were not exactly shining examples of the magic of friendship. “Really?”
Cloudchaser blinked, returning his stare with an odd look of her own, brow quirked upwards. “How are we supposed to know where you’ve been when Rainbow Dash won’t tell us?” She questioned, sending her apple core sailing neatly into a nearby trash bin with a toss of her head, “We’re not mind readers.”
“Un-bucking-believable.” Ears flattened back, Thunderlane turned, ready to just storm off. If they were really that thick, was it worth it wasting time on them?
“Thunderlane!” And there was Flitter, suddenly in front of him, her mouth turned downwards in a scowl, eyes narrowed, “What the hay is your problem? We’ve been doing all your work; the least you could do is tell us why!”
With Flitter suddenly up in his face, he reared back, flaring his wings as a warning that she was entirely too close to him. “You want to know what my problem is?” They had probably never heard him as angry as this before – When had he ever had reason to be so angry with them? Never. For most of his life, they had been his best friends and he had never before seen this darker side of them, not until they had laughed at Fluttershy’s slow flying during tornado training. And that, apparently, had only been a glimpse of their cruelness, as he was now learning. “My problem is that two of my supposedly best friends decided it would be cool to laugh when my special somepony crashed into the pond instead of helping her!”
Flitter backed up, eyes wide, her own ears flat against her skull. “It’s not like she was seriously hurt.” She muttered in a weak attempt at self-defense, though she had the grace to look at least minutely embarrassed, glancing away and pawing lightly at the ground.
“She could have been!” He snapped. He had barely heard what she said for the blood rushing in his ears -He could feel his face getting hot with anger- and at first thought he had misheard her. But no, there was Cloudchaser, nodding her agreement, which only served to increase his annoyance. How could they possibly be so apathetic towards another pony’s near demise? “She could have drowned!”
“Relax, Thunderlane,” Cloudchaser piped up, “everything turned out okay and you get a week off. There’s no need to bite our heads off over it.”
She said it so bluntly, so nonchalantly, that all he could do was stare at her, unable to speak. There were no words to say to that; nothing was making its way from his brain to his mouth. He had known for some time that the twins weren’t particularly fond of Derpy, but had never imagined it was this bad, bad enough that they would treat her accident like nothing more than a mere trip and fall.
“Everything is not ‘okay’.” The words finally came out on a whisper. Thunderlane suppressed his natural instinct to shrink away from conflict, forcing himself to do this to make things right for Derpy. It wasn’t fair to her in the slightest that other ponies treated her the miserable way they did. “Do you think it’s okay for Derpy, knowing that you would have left her there to flounder on her own? And she was still worried I would be mad at you if I knew! And guess what! I am mad. I’m mad that you two made her feel like she didn’t matter and I’m mad at myself for not putting a stop to it sooner. You’ve been rotten to her the whole time you’ve known her and it’s not okay at all.” His voice was rising with each word, fueled by anger, “And you know? I love her. She’s not going away, so you two either gotta get used to that or find a new friend.”
For once, they had nothing to say. The twins just stared at him, speechless for possibly the first time in their lives. Flitter’s mouth had dropped open and she stood there, woodenly. Cloudchaser was wide-eyed, her jaw working as if she were trying to say something, though not a sound emerged from her throat.
Thunderlane just looked back at them coolly, waiting.
In the next moment, they looked at one another, holding some deep conversation without saying a word, twin sets of purple eyes locked together. The shock and betrayal was clear on their faces; it was almost as if they couldn’t believe he would ditch them for Derpy.
But then, maybe they couldn’t believe it. They didn’t know her the way Thunderlane did; they didn’t even bother to try knowing her. They had been happy enough to live with their preconceived and incorrect notions about her, listening rather to gossip and lies than Derpy’s own words. So how could they possibly understand why she was worth so much more than what they gave her?
When they continued to stare at him without uttering a single word to change his mind, Thunderlane turned tail and simply walked away.
Their silence said enough.
“I won’t be leaving right away, not even for try-outs.”
The two young mares were still sitting in Princess Celestia’s skybox, huddled a little bit closer together than they had been before. At the realization that they would part ways if –when- Surprise accomplished her goal, they had fallen silent, each edging a bit nearer to the other until their sides were pressed together, one of Surprise’s snowy wings tucked securely around Derpy as if to shield her from the painful reality of the situation.
Neither of them had cried, though both of them were on the verge. Derpy was sniffling, golden eyes brimming with tears ready to spill over, tears she was valiantly trying to hold back. Surprise didn’t look much better; her own eyes were glassy and red-rimmed. “They don’t let you try out before you graduate,” She explained, “and try-outs are always held right before the school term ends. They do it that way so they don’t get a lot of inexperienced flyers rushing off half-cocked, only to wind up hurting themselves. So I’ve got a whole year to train before I can even qualify to try out.”
Derpy blinked, rolling that thought through her mind. She supposed it made sense, even though many others their age probably argued that it was stupid. “That’s good…right? You got time to get even better.”
“I’m not too worried about training; I’ve kinda been doing that all my life.” Surprise leaned in, resting her head against Derpy’s shoulder, “And I want to hang out with you as much as I can, so I’m going to get a job with you.” All of this and more she’d already been considering; her parents had been after her for some time regarding her future. With graduation fast approaching they wanted her settled in the Weather Factory, a thought which bored her to tears. But for just a little while, until she could send in her application for Wonderbolt try-outs…And if it was with Derpy…
“…” Derpy gaped at her, uncertain what to say. Surprise was talented and good at everything. Derpy’s own exit exam from school said she was destined for nothing greater than menial work at the weather factory. “…Why would you wanna work in shipping? You’re way better than that, Surprise! Even if the job is only for a little bit, you should be doing something more important.”
Surprise lifted her head, her soft violet gaze meeting and holding that of one of Derpy’s golden eyes. She smiled, canting her head to the side, and leaned in to give her friend a gentle nudge. “Because you’re my best friend, silly filly. If I gotta go somewhere else later, I want to have an awesome time with you now.”
Silence fell over them as they just looked at one another. Some unspoken words passed between them; after years of friendship, they didn’t always need to speak to have a conversation. Surprise understood Derpy’s excessive loneliness and feelings of inadequacy as if they were her own. And Derpy knew that Surprise –who was never alone- often felt isolated, simply because her family didn’t always understand or appreciate her exuberance. And they had explored everything together, all of their disappointments and joys growing up. They had figured out the world mostly on their own, with Surprise’s parents trying their best to aid the two young mares but ultimately too busy to do so, while Derpy’s just didn’t care.
“I wish you were my sister.” Derpy finally said, the tears she’d managed to hold back spilling over. She hated crying in front of most other ponies –she’d done it so much as a filly and been laughed at for it often- but it didn’t matter, when it came to Surprise. She knew her friend would neither judge her nor call her a crybaby. “’Cause you’re the best…And I…” She snuffled, unable to force herself to continue, “…I…”
“Nuh-uh,” Surprise tugged her close, giving her a hearty snuggle, “It’s way better this way. I’m not this close with my sisters.” Her voice sounded husky and un-Surprise-like, lacking in some of its usual liveliness and cheer, “And it’s more special like this…we picked each other. You came here, to that big empty house, to be my friend…And I waited outside your door because you needed me. We needed each other, and even if we’re away from each other and other ponies are annoyed with me because of my surprises or being mean to you ‘cause they just don’t get it…We still know what’s important. And no matter what happens, no matter where we are…We’re always gonna be together, in here.” She paused, pressing a gentle hoof against Derpy’s chest, “’Cause we’re heart sisters.”
It was then that the world blurred, as Derpy began crying in earnest. She had always known that the day they parted ways would come sometime; that they would wind up heading in different directions. It didn’t matter how much of a dreamer she was and how many fantasies she’d had about things staying the same…She knew things would have to change sometime when they grew up, though it seemed Surprise had held out some hope everything would forever remain the same.
Surprise had always been the more imaginative, flighty of the two. She was an incurable idealist who believed everything in life could and would be awesome.
And she was crying just as hard as Derpy.
As Celestia’s sun sank that day, it bathed the two young mares in a wash of golds and pinks. They were still in the Cloudiseum, still curled together and holding each other tight as they shared in each other’s fear and uncertainty about the future, attempting to comfort each other in the clumsy yet powerful way of the young.
“I forgot until just the other day all about heart families,” Derpy smiled fondly at the memory, settling back on her haunches and looking again at Rumble, who grinned back at her, sudden understanding lighting his eyes. When he pressed one of his own small hooves against his heart, she nodded, letting her eyes slide shut. “Because I was so busy thinking about real families. ‘Cause the word ‘family’ is a tricky one and it always makes me think of my mom and dad and I don’t like to think about them.”
At his desk, Rumble couldn’t stop smiling.
He knew the story wasn’t done yet, but it kind of didn’t matter, because he knew where it would end up. Whatever had happened between the day Derpy and Surprise snuck into the Cloudiseum and the present day…It was what had lead Derpy there, to Ponyville and Rumble’s family.
It was what lead her to her heart family.
“But my mom and dad are just that…my mom and dad,” she continued, opening her eyes and glancing out the window in the general direction of Cloudsdale, her gaze unfocused and dreamy, “And even though they didn’t do so good with me, they still helped make me who I am and I wouldn’t be here at all without them. If it weren’t for my mom and dad moving us to the fancy house and ignoring me most of the time, I wouldn’t have ever met Surprise. And if I never met Surprise, I wouldn’t have ever come to Ponyville and found my heart family.”
“Why did you come to Ponyville?” The little white unicorn next to Rumble piped up again, cheered at the thought that the two best friends hadn’t parted ways on bad terms, but still insatiably curious – Who left their home like that? What kind of pony just…ran away?
Derpy stood, trotting over to the filly and looking at her with mock solemnity. She was a cute little thing –Derpy had seen her around before, with another older unicorn who’s name had suddenly flown her mind- with big, guileless eyes and a curly mane that reminded the grey mare of cotton candy. “Don’t worry,” she gave the unicorn a little pat on the head, earning an especially adorable smile in return, “I’m getting to that.”
The year flew by quickly.
Packing and Distribution was the worst possible part of the Weather Factory to work in. The hours were long, boring and always the same. The pegasi working that division were responsible for making sure clouds were loaded properly, full of the correct form of precipitation, which was hardly a difficult task for even the most simpleminded individuals. There was a huge difference, after all, between snowflakes and raindrops and their respective clouds. Even fog was different from a regular cloud, though most ponies were under the assumption it was simply a cloud low to the ground.
Derpy understood the weather. Not on an academic, scientific level, but rather an instinctual one. All pegasi had some sort of connection to the weather, even if they found themselves diverging off onto another career path, and the grey mare was no different. She knew how to mix clouds just so to create an effective rain, how to craft beautifully unique snowflakes, how to blanket the countryside with fog…She just didn’t know how to explain any of those things to other ponies and therein lay part of the problem.
Being unable to explain had cost her a better job – It was part of the qualification exam the Weather Bureau required of all its factory workers. Derpy had failed that portion of the exam, much to her parents’ disappointment, and was therefore stuck in the distribution center.
Surprise, on the other hoof, had qualified for a much better position. She never said what, but had turned down the offer, insisting on taking one of the other open slots in Packing and Distribution. She didn’t plan on hanging around for very long, after all, so why keep the good jobs from somepony else?
Besides, she had to look out for Derpy. Accidents were bound to happen; trouble seemed to follow the grey mare wherever she went. Surprise knew most of the misfortune that befell her friend was hardly her fault. A lot of it was stuff that just happened, because of whatever or because Derpy was a little clumsy, but Surprise knew that other ponies wouldn’t see it quite like that and Derpy would be picked on and teased just as much at work as she had been at school.
And she wasn’t about to let that happen.
Everypony seemed to somehow know who Derpy was, though her parents didn’t often talk about her with their friends. She was not quite what they had expected of their only foal, and she knew they were ashamed of her. And yet, somehow, pretty much the entire Weather Factory knew she was the daughter of the formidable Cloud Burst, head of the storm department – And they thusly expected a lot from her. Her boss was hard on her, demanding her to be an example for the rest of the department, and criticizing her every shortcoming. She knew her coworkers twittered about her behind her back, giggling when she did klutzy things, like trip over things or accidentally drench herself with a raincloud.
And though she had not messed up a single order and her shipments always went out on time, her parents were still less than pleased and hypercritical of her performance, because they somehow always knew when she had any kind of small accident or slip-up. Some days, she dreaded going home, solely because she knew they would be there, waiting to pick at her about how the day had gone.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if there had maybe been some acknowledgement of her accomplishments, instead of just her failures.
The job, though mindless, was physically demanding and Derpy worked hard to make sure her orders were packed properly, the clouds were kept at the proper temperatures, each shipment was signed for and sent on its way with the proper delivery crew. She was no slouch and yet…She was still laughed at, still belittled.
She didn’t understand why. Why was it so impossible for other ponies to look beyond her personal accidents and see how effective she was at her job? Sure, she sometimes stumbled or misjudged distances. And yes, she was prone to crash landings. And sometimes, she didn’t understand jokes or her gaze wandered or she unintentionally broke something. But why did those have to be the things that defined her; the things that everypony noticed?
Everypony except Surprise.
As much as she hated to see Surprise stifle herself and settle for working well below her capabilities, Derpy was exceedingly glad to have her friend there with her. Because even in such humdrum, boring surroundings, Surprise made everything bright and fun.
“Surprise!” Surprise came bouncing into the distribution center one morning, flapping her wings and prancing through the air, exuberant and cheery, even in the face of the tedious, boring work ahead. She had a poofy purple bow tied at the base of her tail that day, and her mane looked curlier than usual. A pastel polka dotted bakery box was balanced precariously on her back, somehow defying gravity and staying firmly in place, despite her jaunty movements. “I brought donuts for everypony!”
With a smooth roll of her hindquarters, the box went sailing through the air, landing neatly on the small table used by Packing and Distribution for meal breaks. Derpy shook her head, smiling fondly. Only Surprise could manage to pull off a move like that without utterly destroying the treats within the box.
The other pegasi in their department flocked towards the table, stamping happily and cheering in glee. Surprise, not really needing the money the job provided, oftentimes did nice things like that to make the day better for her coworkers; it was just one of the things that made everypony love her.
“What’s the occasion?” It wasn’t often that Derpy managed to get the drop on Surprise, but when she appeared beside her friend –who was watching their coworkers paw excitedly at the donuts with a smile on her face- and spoke, the other mare jumped slightly, the jerky motion causing her curly tail to bounce wildly.
Everypony else thought Surprise just liked to, well, surprise the rest of the division when she brought them treats or pumped music through the room or came in armed with balloons or whatever other thing tickled her fancy. But after years of friendship, Derpy knew…there was always some rhyme or reason for the white mare’s seemingly erratic behavior.
Surprise whirled to face her, an almost manic glow lighting her violet eyes. “It’s next week!” She chirped, prancing a little in place, the riotous curls of her mane bobbing around her face with her every movement. “Next week…” A dreamy look crossed her face, “ And I’m so super-extra-excited that I had to do something nice for everypony today!”
“…Oh.” Derpy didn’t need to ask what was next week; she already knew that the only thing Surprise could be talking about were the annual Wonderbolt tryouts. How had the year flown by so quickly? Work was so boring that she often had a hard time telling when one day ended and another began and suddenly, here they were, on the verge of everything changing. “Wow. Already?”
“Yeah!” Surprise beamed, her eyes growing even more sparkly, “I know this week is just going to drag because I’m looking forward to next Wednesday, so I figured making it fun would help it go buy quicker.” She tossed back her mane, glancing again at the rest of their department happily munching the sprinkle-covered confections, “And…I’ll be gone soon. I wanted to do something nice for everypony.”
There was an undeniable sense of sadness that crept into her tone at that and some of the dazzle disappeared from her eyes. Derpy stepped closer, nudging gently at her friend’s side. “It’ll be okay…You know they’re all gonna be excited to say they knew you before you were famous.” She knew she had to be reassuring; after all of the support Surprise had offered her over the years, how could she not? But her heart was twisting painfully at the thought of her best friend leaving.
“Yeah…” Surprise shook her head, shuffling her wings restlessly, “I guess they will. And it’s not like I won’t be able to come back and visit.”
“Right!” Derpy grinned, pleased to see her friend rallying once again, “And you had better come back, or everypony will think you’ve turned into a Canterlot snob or something.” She teased, elbowing the other mare in the ribs, “Or maybe you will get too good for us lowly weather ponies.”
Surprise widened her eyes to almost comical proportions, gasping out loud. “I would never!” She squawked, feigning horror, her mane and tail seeming to curl even more at the very thought.
“All right, everypony!” Their laughter was interrupted by the foreman’s entrance, “Let’s get some work done! A lot of ponies are counting on us to ship their weather!”
For Surprise, the week may indeed have dragged, but to Derpy –who usually found her days stretching on to infinity due to boredom- it flew by in the blink of an eye.
The days were filled with the same tedious tasks as always, with almost no change in routine. When she clocked in, Derpy received her daily schedule, which listed her tasks for the day. They ranged from anything as simple as inspecting an order before it was shuttled off by a delivery pony to harder jobs like actually filling clouds with the requisite precipitation in the proper amount. Some days she was pulled for clean-up, when a particularly large order resulted in wet floors, or for quality control, which usually meant hunting down members of the production crew to inform them their snow was less than top-notch or their rain was salty or some other thing that would result in major complaints.
Evenings were spent with Surprise, who was amazingly not getting any more nervous as the day fast approached.
She wasn’t really practicing, either, which DID surprise Derpy. She’d heard through the grapevine that a few other Weather Control Bureau employees and factory workers had attended Wonderbolt tryouts in past years and that the screening was tough. Not many pegasi were called back for the second part of the audition and even fewer actually earned the coveted spots on the team. Those who had made it as far as the first cut had practiced their routines rigorously, some even going so far as to hire personal trainers to help them improve their form.
But Surprise…was having none of that. She simply did what she had always done, sometimes flying in the evening hours in the dark and silent Cloudiseum, never altering her routine in any way.
She seemed too composed, too sure of herself. Derpy often found herself distracted watching Surprise, wondering if she was setting herself up nicely to fail. It was her experience that the higher you flew, the further you had to fall, after all, and Surprise was setting her sights almost higher than the sun.
She still believed in her friend’s incredible skill. The white mare had been born with an unparalleled zeal for life and she channeled her boundless energy into her flying, making herself incredibly fast and powerful. She also had incredible stamina; she was able to push herself past the average pony’s breaking point and still soar through the sky as if she didn’t have a care.
Her spontaneity lent itself nicely to performance; she could improvise a routine without breaking a sweat. Once, when they were younger, Derpy had seen her showing off for a group of foals at her nephew’s birthday party, only to lose control of herself mid-backflip. Instead of spinning wildly out of control like Derpy herself would have, Surprise had pulled herself into a barrel roll, skimming over the clouds so low that her stomach brushed the fluffy white surface. Only Derpy had known she had erred; the spectating fillies and colts cheered wildly, certain the near-crash was simply a part of the routine, meant to build up suspense. Surprise was not a quitter and she could make a near disaster work to her favor, something which was bound to help her at her tryout and in her future career as a Wonderbolt.
It still struck the grey mare as odd, though, that Surprise wasn’t putting in any extra effort to train. She was so calm and collected; the only thing that seemed to be worrying her was leaving Cloudsdale. She didn’t seem overly concerned at the prospect of wowing the judges and current Wonderbolts. She didn’t seem worried about messing up.
But any time anypony mentioned her leaving…
She got really, really, quiet.
It was hard to imagine that Surprise was scared of anything. She had been so desperate to get out and leave what her family considered their life’s work behind that Derpy had never thought the prospect of leaving would frighten her so. And besides that, Surprise defied gravity, openly laughed in the face of physics, frequently courted both danger and disaster. She was fearless in her flying, reckless to the point of stupidity.
How could she possibly be scared of a little thing like moving away?
“Do you think she’s going to make it?”
“I don’t know. She’s awfully cocky…Thinks she’s better than the rest of us.”
“Have you ever seen her fly? She’s amazing! Just on the way home, she’s always doing all kinds of fancy tricks.”
“I heard her dad is a storm chaser. They’re superstrong and have a lot of endurance. She’s practically bred to be a Wonderbolt!”
“Oh, that’s a load of hay! Just because her dad is a strong flyer doesn’t mean she is. Surprise is so full of herself; I bet she’s already messed up. I bet she’ll come flying home with her tail between her legs.”
“Hey, Derpy Hooves is, like, her best friend in the world. Let’s see what she thinks!”
Suddenly, all eyes in the packing and distribution center were focused squarely on Derpy.
The grey mare had been trying to ignore all of the gossip and focus on her work; she’d already been nervous enough on her friend’s behalf without all of the not-so-quiet whispers and chatter about whether or not Surprise was going to make the cut. Given that tryouts were going on at that very moment, Surprise and her chances of success were the hot topic of discussion, much to Derpy’s distress.
She was worried sick; fretting over what would happen if Surprise didn’t make it – And what would happen if she did. She couldn’t bear the thought that her friend might have her dreams crushed; that Surprise might be stuck there in the factory after all, where she would be nothing but miserable. But she was equally worried about how much things would change, if Surprise were accepted on the team.
With everypony suddenly looking at her, Derpy took an uneasy step back, colliding with a storm cloud in the process. She didn’t bump it hard enough to cause a forced discharge of lightning, but the cloud did rumble ominously and she swallowed hard, ruffling her wings and pawing uncertainly at the floor.
Derpy was still prancing in place anxiously; she hated being put on the spot. And whatever answer she gave, some ponies were bound to be upset with her. Not all of them agreed about Surprise’s skill level and chances of becoming a Wonderbolt and whomever Derpy didn’t side with would likely be annoyed with her.
One of her eyes swiveled upwards, her gaze coming to rest of the self-proclaimed spokespony of the gossips. She was a sort of periwinkle-colored mare with a multi-toned pink mane and tail. Derpy didn’t really know her, beyond the fact that she was a little bit older than herself and Surprise and had been working at the factory for a couple years. She had a reputation of being bossy and rude, as well as a bit of a know-it-all.
Derpy tended to avoid her, but at that moment, Starsong was making such quite impossible. “Well what?” She countered, stalling for time as she waffled over what she wanted to say to the waiting throng. She, of course, was Surprise’s biggest cheerleader, though she didn’t think many of the other pegasi would actually care about what she had to say.
Starsong rolled her eyes dramatically, turning to give a couple of the other ponies a ‘can you believe this dope?’ sort of look. “What do you think,” when she spoke again, she was speaking slowly, the words enunciated and dragged out in a dramatic fashion, as if Derpy was incapable of understanding her, “about Surprise’s chance of getting accepted by the Wonderbolts?”
The grey mare took a moment to glance about, looking from face to face at the assembled weather ponies. They were all eagerly awaiting her answer, waiting to see if she would agree with the naysayers or defend her best friend. Everypony seemed to have forgotten they were at work and all Derpy really wanted to do was get back to inspecting the shipment of storm clouds she’d been prepping for delivery to Baltimare.
“I think…” She was quiet at first, uncertain how her coworkers would react to her. Derpy had never been good at speaking in public, especially not to a large crowd. It didn’t matter that she worked with these other mares and stallions every day. It didn’t matter that they were ponies who knew her; ponies who were used to her. They still teased her plenty about her imperfections and laughed at her unintentional mishaps around the department. “I think Surprise is gonna get in.”
“Oh, of course you think that!” Starsong scoffed, tossing back her mane and turning once more to meet the gaze of the other ponies, “You’re her best friend. Why wouldn’t you think she’d get accepted?” When she looked at Derpy again, a smirk was stretched across her face, her eyes glittering dangerously. “But you better watch yourself, featherbrain, ‘cause if she leaves, there’ll be nopony to clean up after your mistakes.”
Derpy did her best not to wilt under the other mare’s stare, though she couldn’t help shrinking back the tiniest bit. She hated being the center of attention, whether it was for good or bad reasons, and Starsong’s intimidation was causing a tendril of unease to curl in the pit of her stomach. She struggled with herself for a moment, squelching the nervousness before it could get the better of her. “She will so get in!” The grey pony stamped a hoof, eyes narrowing, one focused on Starsong, the other looking over the rest of her coworkers, “And I can take care of myself.”
Starsong snorted, “Sure you can,” and turned her back on the other mare. “C’mon, guys, it’s time for a lunch break.”
And without further preamble, they trotted off, leaving Derpy standing alone in the large distribution center.
There was a rustle of wings and a solid body landed beside the stallion, drawing him out of the sulk he’d put himself in after ditching Flitter and Cloudchaser.
He’d been so mad at them that he hadn’t paid much attention where he was going and that was how he’d found himself in the park, hunched up beneath the branches of the same linden tree he and Derpy had shared breakfast under only a couple days before.
The canopy of green was as good a place as any to sulk and Thunderlane had done just that, drawing his limbs close to his body and resting his chin on his forelegs. He was a champion pouter and had always been so, from the time he was small. It drove his mother nuts, seeing him moping about, lower lip stuck out, eyes big and watery – It was especially bad, since he was still doing it and he’d long since grown from an adorable colt to a strapping young stallion.
Blossomforth had seen The Sulk many, many times over the years. She and Thunderlane were old friends; their mothers had grown up together and the two had been playmates as foals. He’d tried using The Sulk on her to get his way when they were small –he’d been such a whiny colt!- and she’d built up an immunity to it over the years.
Besides, seeing that silly pout on the face of a fully grown stallion was kind of really hilarious.
“Hi, Blossomforth.” Thunderlane’s head rose and he turned to look at his friend, forcing a smile to replace the mopey frown that had been stretched across his face, “What’s up?”
The mare looked at him, head tipped to the side, pink and green bangs sliding across her forehead. “Why,” she blinked sparkling blue eyes, glancing up at the branches and leaves above them, “are you sitting under a tree, pouting?”
“Because Flitter and Cloudchaser are insensitive jerks.” He grumbled, letting his chin fall to once again rest on his front hooves, “They don’t even care that Derpy could’ve been hurt when she crashed in the pond. They still think it’s funny.”
Blossomforth was quiet for a moment, looking at her friend sadly. The dark grey stallion looked so down in the dumps, with his wings folded limply by his sides, ears pinned back against his skull. Even his usually perky mane looked limp and droopy.
She couldn’t really blame him, though. He’d been friends with the twins almost as long as he’d been friends with her, and though they were sometimes mean and catty, they weren’t entirely bad ponies. The four of them had always got along well, and had a good time together.
It must have hurt a lot, knowing two of his closest friends didn’t like his special somepony.
“That’s terrible!” She finally blurted out, a scowl crossing her own face, “There’s nothing funny about it.” And she meant it; even if she hadn’t liked the other mare, she never would have found amusement in a potentially dangerous situation like a freefall into the pond. For anypony to laugh about that was just plain mean.
But it didn’t surprise her in the least that the twins of all ponies were the ones to laugh about it.
They were kind of mean-spirited, the both of them, especially if they found a pony annoying. They constantly poked fun at Blossomforth’s work partner, Sunlight, and his weak flying, teasing him about being slow and saying he looked goofy when he flew. Flitter was paired up with Raindrops for work assignments from time to time and complained nonstop about how the yellow mare was agonizingly slow when placing clouds, despite the fact that Raindrops had an excellent work record and her patience resulted in a lot of precisely positioned clouds. Cloudchaser was often part of a sky clearing team with Meadow Song and loved to mock his singing behind his back, making herself sound squeaky in a poor imitation of the stallion’s lovely voice. And then there was Ditzy Doo, whom they relentlessly snickered about; the poor mare had absolutely no sense of direction and that usually spelled trouble for the entire weather team.
They said it was harmless; who was going to know, if none of the ponies they made fun of heard? But the other ponies did notice; they weren’t as stupid and oblivious as the twins seemed to think they were. Sunlight avoided them at all costs, Meadow Song got quiet when they were around, and more than once Blossomforth had found Ditzy in the bathroom at the Weather Crew Headquarters, crying over some thoughtless remark one of them had made about her.
Blossomforth wasn’t a bully, nor did she have any desire to become one. Of course it bothered her, the way the twins treated other ponies, but she wasn’t quite sure how to stand up to them without them turning on her as well, and she really didn’t want to be on the receiving end of their cruel teasing.
“Derpy told me you were worried about her.” Thunderlane commented, shifting so he could look over at the mare at his side, “Thanks…It means a lot to me, that at least one of my friends likes her.”
Blossomforth smiled, rolling over onto her back and tucking her forelegs behind her head. The late morning sunlight filtered through the tree branches, leaving a trail of dappled shadows across her freckled face. “She’s nice, Thunder. She works really hard, she likes to have fun, she’s awesome with Rumble, and it’s pretty obvious how much she loves you. I don’t know what problem the twins have with her, but…It’s kind of their loss, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess…” Thunderlane sighed, glancing back out at the panorama of the park that stretched before them. Happy foals were gamboling about in the grass, their laughter drifting on the breeze. Here and there were little knots of ponies walking or sitting on benches and happily enjoying the beautiful day. There was even a stallion with a picnic basket, waiting patiently as his special somepony spread a blanket for a picnic brunch. They all looked so kind and happy…and yet he couldn’t help wondering how many of them knew who Derpy was and laughed about her misadventures behind closed doors.
“I never knew,” he went on glumly, “that they hated her as much as they do. She’s never done anything to them –she’s never done anything to anypony!- and it’s not like she can really help being clumsy. I wish they could see her the way I do…I wish they would like her.”
“You can’t make them like her,” Blossomforth reminded him not-so-helpfully, “But, um, I’d like to get to know her better?”
“Thanks, B.” He offered her a lopsided smile, pillowing his cheek on a hoof once more, “She’ll be happy to hear that.” He shut his eyes, allowing for a moment’s fantasy of a happy Derpy, one who shone like the sun rather than seeming sad and downtrodden. He savored the mental image, how her eyes sparkled happily, how she smiled. She was so beautiful when she was happy and her joy was downright contagious.
Then he pushed himself up, shaking loose grass from his coat and tipping his head to look up at the sky. “Do you think she’s right, Blossomforth?”
“About Flitter and Cloudchaser…She doesn’t understand why you’d want to be friends with any pony who’s mean and I guess she thinks the same thing about me, too.” Thunderlane said quietly, “And when I think about her saying that, I think she’s right…Because why would I want to be friends with somepony who puts others down? But we’ve been friends with them a long time…And they’re not all that bad, right?”
Blossomforth rose, sitting on her haunches beside her friend and following his gaze. There was a little puff of white in the distance; something that may have been Cloudsdale or may just have been a cloudbank left untouched by the weather ponies. It was too far off to really tell, but it was in the general direction of the great pegasus city. “Yeah, sometimes they kinda are, Thunderlane.” When she spoke, her voice was just as quiet as his, “They make Ditzy Doo cry on all the time and Sunlight is scared of them. I guess they usually treat us okay because we’re friends.”
The stallion fell silent again, turning that information over in his mind. “I feel…” He paused, lowering his head and flicking his ears back again, “I don’t want to lose something I thought was a really good friendship, but I don’t think they’ll ever change their minds about her. I feel like I need to choose between them and her and I don’t want them to make me do that.”
His head rose again and he turned, amber eyes meeting Blossomforth’s brightly blue ones. “But if I have to…”
“Yeah?” She blinked, looking up at him curiously.
“I’ll always choose her.”
“You all know, of course, that Surprise made it into the Wonderbolts.”
In the schoolhouse, Derpy was nearing the end of her story.
She had talked nonstop for nearly an hour, weaving bits and pieces of her life into a beautifully poignant story of growing up and seeking understanding, one which would tug at the heart of any pony who knew what it was to feel different.
“But that day, we had no way of knowing what was going to happen. Sure, Surprise was a really strong flyer and she had an amazing arsenal of tricks and aerial maneuvers, but so did a lot of other ponies and we’d all heard that the screening process was really, really tough.”
Most of the fillies and colts were listening intently by that point, leaned forwards eagerly on their desktops. They were wide-eyed and all ears, something Cheerilee didn’t see often, no matter how interesting she tried to make the lessons.
“I knew she could do it, though.”
Still, she couldn’t blame them. It wasn’t every day that somepony spoke so candidly about the personal life of an honest-to-goodness Wonderbolt.
“She was my best friend, and I believed she could do anything she put her mind to.”
As for Cheerilee herself, though, she suspected that the story would have tugged at her heartstrings no matter what. Even if Derpy were speaking of somepony she’d never heard of, the teacher would have been moved by this simple yet powerful tale of the boundless love of friendship. She had always believed in the power of friendship; in the magic that came with sharing of yourself with another pony. She tried her best to teach all the foals in her life that to be truly rich was to have friends and that life was all about finding those who’s strengths would fill in the gaps created by your own weaknesses; that sometimes you had to take a chance on something different to make wonderful friends.
And it shamed her a little to realize that she had failed to extend that same courtesy to the awkward mare sitting in the front of her classroom, baring her soul for all the little ponies. Over the years since Derpy had come to Ponyville, Cheerilee had barely given her a second thought, thinking of her only as that weather pony who sometimes made it rain when she was supposed to be clearing clouds from the sky, thusly spoiling recess. And a rainy recess period often meant headaches for the poor teacher, who then had to entertain a classroom full of energetic foals who were sorely in need of some run-around time.
And just like the rest of the town, Cheerilee had blamed those particular headaches on the clumsy pegasus who sometimes brought the rain instead of the sun.
It was never too late, though, to change that.
The teacher leaned against her desk, setting aside thoughts of extending another invitation for Derpy to join her for afternoon tea for later consideration. She was finding herself quite intrigued by the clumsy weather pony, who had always seemed kind of…well, just there, getting under everypony’s hooves. But no, she was proving to be an interesting individual indeed, one who’s heart was brimming with strong emotions and that certain wisdom that came only from looking at the world in a certain way. There was much, much more to Derpy than the teacher had ever imagined and Cheerilee suspected she could actually learn a lot from the other mare.
There would be time for getting to know each other later, however, once both the story and the school day were finished.
But in the meantime…
Derpy still had a lot to say.
“Everypony else in the department had headed to the cafeteria for lunch and nopony had bothered to invite me, but I was okay with that. I was way too nervous for Surprise to even think about eating, so I figured I’d get back to work and try to get my mind off worrying.” Derpy continued, that same peculiar, faraway look still dimming her eyes, “And that’s why I was the only one in the distribution center when Surprise came back…”
The mare in question was putting the finishing touches on the shipment due for Baltimare when a manic flurry of white feathers and lemony yellow curls came careening into the room at a breakneck speed.
Surprise was moving at her top speed, barely visible as a blur of blinding white as she shot through the entryway, completely misjudging the amount of space and time she had to pull out of her blind flight and stop. The room which normally seemed so big was not big enough and though the white mare was good, she had neither the ability to defy gravity nor the laws of physics.
Which is why she plowed headfirst into the prepped and waiting storm clouds, her impact against the first causing a chain reaction which set off each and every last cloud in the batch.
“Derpy!” Undeterred –though slightly singed from a crackle of lightning- Surprise leapt to her hooves, completely oblivious to the havoc she’d just let loose in the distribution center. “I GOT IN!” She crowed, standing tall and proud amid the puddles rapidly forming on the floor. The rain pouring from the disturbed clouds was soaking her, causing her usually poofy, windswept mane to sag into her eyes, but even the sopping mess of curls couldn’t hide her brilliant grin.
“What do you mean? Of course you got in, you work-“ It took Derpy a minute to understand her friend’s meaning; she was scrabbling around, too busy trying to get the clouds back under control for the words to really register in her mind. “…Oh.”
But when it hit her, she stopped mid-panic, standing in the middle of the pooling water, her wet mane plastered to her forehead. She pushed aside her sodden bangs to look at the other mare, one eye still wandering to the side to take in the ruins of the morning’s work.
“They liked me!” Surprise bounced a little, splashing in the puddles underhoof and causing a shower of droplets to spray from her mane and tail, “They thought I was really, really awesome and they can’t wait to start incorporating some of my moves into the routine!” She was beaming, brighter than the sun, wings unfurled, her entire body vibrating with excitement. “I GOT INTO THE WONDERBOLTS!”
And then she tackled Derpy in an exuberant hug, sending them both splashing into one of the many puddles on the floor.
“That’s great, Surprise,” Derpy flailed around beneath her friend, further soaking the both of them, “But we gotta get this mess you just made cleaned up!” There would be time enough later to fret about Surprise leaving for Canterlot. But if they didn’t get the mess straightened out, the white mare wouldn’t be leaving for Canterlot; she’d be fired for completely destroying a huge order, which would cause a huge scandal and probably result in her being expelled from the Wonderbolts before she really even joined up.
“…Mess?” It was only then that Surprise realized she was soaking wet. She glanced around, eyes wide at the extent of the damage she’d caused with her less-than-stellar entrance. “Oh hay!”
“…What the buck happened in here!?”
Of course, Rush Delivery –their boss- chose that moment to reappear in the distribution center, jaw dropping at the sight of the gigantic mess before his eyes.
Derpy and Surprise looked at one another, twin expressions of guilt painted across their faces. Then the white mare took a step forward, opening her mouth to tell their boss what happened.
“Sir!” Derpy cut her off, splashing forwards and nearly tripping over her own hooves, “It was my fault; I accidentally knocked over a crate and it set off all the clouds.”
“But-!” Surprise tried to speak again, stunned at her friend’s willingness to take the blame. Rush wasn’t often overly impressed with Derpy’s performance to begin with and he was constantly threatening to fire the grey pony. She caused too many accidents and minor disasters that created more work for the rest of the crew and the foreman was beginning to lose patience with her.
Rush ignored Surprise in favor of glaring at Derpy, who remained tall and unwavering under his critical gaze. “All of the clouds?” He questioned, giving the room a quick glance before looking back at her.
“You set off all the clouds.” Though he sounded disbelieving, Rush was anything but. He’d known of Derpy’s reputation when she was placed under his command; everypony in the weather factory had heard tale of the great Cloud Burst’s useless, clumsy daughter. “All of them, Hooves! Now I’m going to have to contact the production line and get a new shipment fabricated ASAP AND I’ll have to get on the horn with the weather crew in Baltimare and tell them their order will be late. Do you have any idea how bad this will make us look?”
At that, Derpy did wilt, wings drooping, ears folded back. “Yes, sir…”
“And I’ve been pretty forgiving with you!” Rush was beginning to look a little red in the face, rather than his usual pale brown, “But I can’t let this one slide…You’ve wrecked an entire day’s worth of work and there are going to be a lot of angry ponies when they find out about this. I can’t take the chance of anything else like this happening in the future. One mistake from us and it sets back the entire factory. And unfortunately for you, you’ve used up all your chance. Hooves, you’re fired. Get your things and get the hay out of here.”
Derpy flinched at the tone of his voice, unable to look up. She had been expecting to get let go when she decided to accept the blame for Surprise’s disaster, but had hoped that maybe, just maybe, Rush Delivery would look the other way, as he sometimes did. She’d forgotten one thing, however.
Rush Delivery didn’t seem to like her very much.
“Y-yes, sir.” She stammered, eyes still on the wet floor.
“Why would you let yourself get fired for something you didn’t do?”
A small, familiar voice from the back of the classroom interrupted the story, causing Derpy to look up, one eye searching the little ponies for the source of the question.
Rainy Feather was stretched upwards, front hooves planted solidly on the top of her desk so she could see over the heads of the foals seated in front of her. “If Surprise got into the Wonderbolts, she was leaving anyway. Shouldn’t you’ve just let that Rush guy fire her instead?”
“Uh-uh.” The grey mare shook her head solemnly, sending her mane flying about her face, “It wouldn’t have worked. The Wonderbolts had just hired her. How would it have looked if they signed her on, then learned that Surprise had gotten fired from her last job for causing such a huge setback for everypony?”
“…Bad?” A small frown crossed Rainy Feather’s face, her brow furrowing beneath a fluff of teal bangs. She pressed a hoof thoughtfully to her chin, considering the implications of that course of action. “It woulda made Surprise look, um, sloppy?”
“Exactly!” Derpy nodded enthusiastically, pleased that the filly understood, “The Wonderbolts are constantly performing dangerous stunts that require nothing less than perfection. They don’t want ponies who cause accidents, especially not ones as bad as destroying an entire shipment of storm clouds. And with so many capable pegasi trying to get spots on the team, they would have told Surprise to take a hike right then and there.”
“But you still had no job!”
“It didn’t matter. I hated that job anyway…It was just all I thought I could do. It was better for me to lose that crummy job than for Surprise to lose out on her dreams. She had her whole future ahead of her, full of excitement and adventure and doing something she loved. I had nothing waiting for me at the Weather Factory, and I couldn’t let her lose her chance. She was my friend and even though I didn’t want her to leave Cloudsdale, I couldn’t let her miss out on something she’d worked so hard for; something she’d wanted forever.”
Derpy wasn’t sure if the little ponies understood her reasoning. They were young, their minds immature, their friendships basic. And even those who were forming the lasting bonds of forever friends had little idea of what they were doing; it wasn’t something anypony could understand until they were older. She herself hadn’t fully appreciated the power of her friendship with Surprise until much later in her life, when she realized that nopony had ever come close to being the amazing, supportive friend she’d found in the white mare.
But it all made perfect sense to her. Surprise had done so much for her over the course of their friendship and Derpy hadn’t been able to do anything of impact in return. She wasn’t especially special or talented, and Surprise hadn’t really needed as much support and encouragement as Derpy had growing up. The other pegasus had been confident and sure of her convictions since the time she was small and nopony could bring her down. She had always been there to keep Derpy’s spirits from flagging; to help her and build her up to the best she could be.
Getting fired in her place was certainly a way to pay her back for all of the support Surprise had shown her over the years.
“I wasn’t sure what to do after I left the factory. I’d never been fired before, so I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel or what I was supposed to do. Mostly, I was just relieved to be out of there. It was such an awful job and I had always felt like I was going no place fast, working there.” Derpy went on, settling in to get to the last part of the story, “I didn’t know where to go, so I just went home and hid in my room.”
It was late in the evening when her parents got home, but Derpy hadn’t moved from her hiding spot beneath the blankets of her bed once over the course of the afternoon.
As she had flown home, it had crossed her mind that Cloud Burst and Diamond Dust were not going to be very happy to hear she’d been fired. They were already annoyed enough that their only child had such a pitiful job; how would they cope with the fact that she had been fired from the most brainless work at the Weather Factory?
There was no way her father would return home without having heard about her termination. He was a high ranking official, she was his only child, and everypony knew who she was. Work in the factory –with the exception of snowflake and thunderhead production- didn’t often require much focus and the employees had a penchant to gossip in order to fill the time spent working.
Stories spread quickly from department to department, with nopony giving much regard for the truth behind them.
Derpy knew better than to hide from her father, though, and dragged herself from the tangle of blankets when she heard the usual sounds that heralded her parents’ arrival home.
“And I said ‘there’s no possible way that can be true; you must be quite mistaken’ even though I knew in my heart there was no possible way Front’s version of the events could be anything but the truth…”
Her father stopped talking when she appeared under the archway that separated the sitting room from the main hall, turning a cool grey gaze in her direction.
“Would you care to explain yourself, young lady?”
Cloud Burst was pacing, his steps tightly controlled and heavy, sending up little puffs of cloud with each hooffall. He rustled his wings restlessly and his short cropped tail swished with agitation as he moved. His expression was one of utmost displeasure, eyes narrowed, mouth a thin line slashed across his face.
Her mother was seated rigidly on her favorite cushion, wings folded, expression one of bored neutrality as she filed a hoof. The rays of the setting sun spilled through a window and bathed Diamond Dust in their glow, causing her pale mane to shine silver. There, in all of the sun’s beauty, she appeared cold, aloof.
Neither of them looked very much like they wanted to comfort their daughter who’d just lost her job.
“…I was fired.” Derpy said stupidly, unsure what else to say. She found herself suddenly hoping that a hole would appear in the cloud floor, sending her plummeting to earth. Even crashing would be better than the disapproving stare of her parents.
She didn’t want to look at them, but her always uncooperative gaze wouldn’t let her tear her eyes away.
“I was hoping you would tell me that wasn’t true; that it was just some silly rumor.” Cloud Burst had stopped pacing and was standing near the window, choosing to look out at the splendor of Cloudsdale in the evening rather than at his disheartened daughter. “I suspected that was wishful thinking, though.”
“How could you embarrass us like that?” Her mother cried, tossing her head back and causing the setting sun to glint off her silvery tresses. “It’s bad enough when other ponies ask me what my daughter does for a living and I have to tell them you work in the packing and distribution center. Now what am I supposed to say? ‘She doesn’t even have that job anymore; she got fired’?”
“I…” Derpy struggled to find her voice; to speak up and explain, “I didn’t do it to humiliate you, Mother…Or to disappoint you or anything. I did it for Surprise. She would have gotten fired and then the Wonderbolts-“
“No excuses!” Her father cut her off, stamping a hoof and sending a swirl of clouds through the air between them, “That Surprise has been a terrible influence on you all of these years. I can’t believe you would throw away your future for somepony you’ll forget about in a year or two anyway. We raised you better than that.”
Derpy took a step back, eyes wide, all words flying from her. What could she say to that? There were no possible words and her father was never one to listen to her anyway.
She wanted to yell; to defend herself and her friend, but she couldn’t seem to reclaim the ability to speak. Instead, she backed from the room, suddenly in a hurry to get away from the parents who had only cared about what she did when she messed up, and never saw all the wonderful things about her.
“I packed my saddlebag and left that same night.” Her tone faded into something soft and wistful as she wrapped up the story, “I never wanted to set hoof in that house again. My parents…They just didn’t understand and I couldn’t believe the way they acted. Instead of comforting me and supporting me, instead of recognizing the things I selflessly gave up for another pony, they acted as if I had done something to purposely shame them. How could I live with ponies like that, especially knowing they expected me to be like them?
“I didn’t know where I was going to go, just that it had to be away from Cloudsdale and all the pegasi who knew my parents. There was nothing for me there, nothing but pain and misery and a lonely, empty place in my heart where Surprise was supposed to be.”
“So what did you do?” The little white unicorn piped up, her huge eyes once again pooling with tears, her voice squeaky with emotion, “Where did you go? And what happened to Surprise?”
“I stopped at Surprise’s house first; I had to tell her I was leaving.”
“I’m really, really sorry.” Surprise said for the umpteenth time, “I didn’t mean to wreck everything for you.”
The two young mares were in the white pony’s room, Surprise seated on the edge of the bed, Derpy pacing anxiously in front of her.
Surprise looked a little miserable herself, her hair flatter than usual, ears flicked back. She was wringing her hooves anxiously, folding and refolding her wings compulsively.
“You woulda wrecked everything for yourself, Surprise.” Derpy couldn’t stop moving; her legs just wouldn’t stay still. Her mind was whirring, trying to figure out where she was going to go and what she was going to do. “And I couldn’t let you do that…I don’t regret taking the blame for you. I just don’t know what I’m gonna do now.”
“You can stay here until I leave…” Surprise offered, hopping up from the bed, easily matching the other mare’s pace and placing a foreleg around her shoulder, “And come with me to Canterlot?”
Derpy’s first instinct was to pull away from the embrace and resume her pacing. Instead, she leaned into Surprise, sitting down on her haunches and lowering her head. “I can’t…There’s nothing for me to do in Canterlot, and besides, my mom and dad know ponies there. I gotta go someplace where nopony will know me.”
Surprise was unusually quiet for a moment, just looking at her friend. Derpy was determined and would go through with this plan, no matter how ill thought out it was – Surprise would know; she was the one who taught her to be like that.
But maybe…Maybe getting away would be good for the other mare. For all her frivolity and silliness, Surprise was a wise pony and she knew she had carried Derpy as far and high as she could; maybe it was time for the other pony to spread her wings and fly on her own.
How would she find her place in the world, if she didn’t do it on her own?
“Always be sure to let me know where you are, okay?” There was a slight waver in Surprise’s voice when she finally spoke, but her violet eyes were lit with determination, “I won’t be able to visit, if I don’t know where to go.”
Derpy looked up, meeting the other pegasus’ gaze. Surprise’s eyes were shimmering with emotion, but a brave smile stretched across her face and Derpy found herself suddenly incredibly glad the other mare wasn’t crying. “I will,” she swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat, reaching to tug her friend into a tight hug, “I will, Surprise.”
“I hadn’t intended to come to Ponyville.” Derpy’s quiet yet powerful voice drifted through the classroom, soft, yet still commanding attention. A patch of sunlight filtering through the window glinted off her mane, causing it to glow golden like a halo round her head. There, in the late morning, she looked ethereal and unlike herself.
That same sunlight had caused the room to grow warm and slightly stuffy, but the small ponies –for the most part; two of the three note-passing fillies just looked bored and the pegasus was sulking on top of that- hadn’t seemed to lose focus. All of their attention was still front and center, their bright, eager faces lit with the pure, unspoiled hope and anticipation that only children were capable of feeling.
Hope for her; that her story would lead up to a happy ending.
Derpy looked out over their little faces, so full of promise, and found herself wondering if she had ever felt like that when she was small. Had there ever been a time when she had dreamed of things beyond her world; things that seemed impossible, yet still happened to somepony, somewhere?
There had been so little of that kind of unadulterated optimism in her foalhood; so little to be faithful in. Between her classmates constant teasing and her parents’ cold indifference, what had there been to be hopeful about? Even with Surprise to lift her, Derpy had never fully believed she would ever truly escape from the bleak, empty world she’d been born into. She had learned to be a realist early on; to stop expecting things she knew would never come. Things like friendship, acceptance, and her parents’ love.
Things everypony needed.
And yet, somehow, those things had found her. Or she had found them. And now, as an adult, she was able to feel what the little ponies did; able to look at the world as it was and still dream of the beautiful things to come. She was never quite sure how and when it had happened, but she knew it had started with Surprise and that it would never end, this new optimism that flooded her heart and made her hopeful for the future.
“I had planned to fly to Canterlot, just to catch the train there. I thought of going to Baltimare; I’d always heard it was a nice city and it’s close to the ocean. I kind of enjoy being near the water…In a lot of ways, it’s very soothing. And my parents didn’t really know anypony in Baltimare, so maybe I could escape my past, I had thought. But I’m myself-” Here, she smiled ruefully, poking fun at herself in a way she’d never really been able to before- “and things don’t often go quite how I want them to. I got lost not long after I left Cloudsdale; completely and hopelessly lost.”
It was okay to laugh at herself, now. Because in a way, it was funny; really funny. If she hadn’t been so clumsy and awkward…If she hadn’t been so distractible and if her sense of direction hadn’t been so dreadful…
She never would have discovered Ponyville; never would have found her home and her new, wonderful family.
And the thought that she could have missed that but hadn’t –the sudden burst of relief that she hadn’t made it to Baltimare or even to Canterlot- made her want to laugh with joy.
“And you crashed here!” Rainy Feather blurted out from her seat in the back, waving a hoof high in the air, but not waiting to be called on. She knew this part of the story; her big sister Raindrops was the one who’d rescued Derpy after her impressively bad landing.
Several of the foals near Rainy Feather jumped at her sudden outburst, while a few others snickered openly. The rude pegasus filly in the back made a show of dramatically rolling her eyes, speaking in a purposely loud whisper, “Gee, there’s a shock.”
Rainy Feather turned in her seat, glaring sharply at the other young pegasus, who simply gave her a bored look and another eye roll. The yellow filly’s gaze flickered forwards to see if either of the adults were looking at them, and –noting that they weren’t- reached over and punched Tornado Bolt hard on her right foreleg.
The other filly bit back a startled yelp, rubbing a hoof over the sore spot as Cheerilee’s watchful gaze drifted in their direction. A stern frown from the teacher caused Tornado to snap her mouth shut, and she folded her forelegs across her chest, a pout settling across her face again.
Beside her, Rainy Feather had put on her best angelic expression, leaving Cheerilee none the wiser.
“Yeah, I crashed.” Derpy hadn’t noticed the exchange at all; she’d drifted off again to the past, lost in some memory only she and Raindrops shared, “It was a really windy night and my flying is a little cock-eyed even in the best weather. I took a dive after getting slammed by a hay of a downdraft and wound up crash landing near the clock tower. Raindrops was on her way home from work and she found me there, upside down in a shrub.”
The mare smiled fondly; in the beginning, Raindrops had been her only friend. The other pegasus was a slow, meticulous worker and her unhurried work habits often frustrated her fellow weather ponies, leaving them annoyed with her. Raindrops was well aware of the fact that she drove them nuts, but she was who she was and Rainbow Dash kept her around because ninety-nine percent of the time, her tasks were performed perfectly.
Her diligence paid off, as far as the weather went, but it didn’t make her very popular with the other ponies.
It also left her in need of a friend.
“She helped me out and, even though I protested, she took me to the emergency room, just to make sure I was okay. The doctor’s saw my eyes and –of course- thought I had bumped my head. No amount of explaining that I was born that way could convince them to let me leave, so I spent a night at the hospital for observations.” Derpy shook her head, still smiling. At the time, it had been incredibly annoying, being told she wasn’t allowed to leave. But she wasn’t the kind of pony who argued with those in positions of authority; years of belittlement had seen to that. “And I was amazed when Raindrops came back for me, the next day. Strangers didn’t usually care about me.”
“But my sister is awesome!” Rainy Feather butted in, sitting up straighter in her desk again, “And she even brought Derpy home with her and helped her get her job and stuff!” She beamed, proud to contribute to the story, even though interrupting was likely not the most polite way to do so.
“She is.” Derpy nodded in agreement, “And she did do those things. Raindrops offered me a place to stay and mentioned that the weather team was short on capable, dependable pegasi. I wasn’t sure how capable I was –I’d never actually manipulated the weather, just packaged it up- but I am a hard worker and I thought ‘What the hay? If it doesn’t work out, there’s always Baltimare.’ So I met with Rainbow Dash.”
“And you’ve never done this kind of work before?”
“N-no…” Derpy looked to the side, rather than at the wind-tousled, cocky mare standing in front of her, “I worked in the factory in Cloudsdale, not on a placement team.”
Raindrops had called Rainbow Dash down from the sky, interrupting her work in what was probably a very big no-no. The Weather Crew leader had been cursing up a blue streak as she rocketed towards the ground, her mood incredibly foul as she berated the other mare for bothering her and didn’t Raindrops know they were behind schedule because there weren’t enough ponies to handle the work?
Rainbow was fierce. It didn’t take much for Derpy to realize that. The way she held herself, tall and proud, was a dead giveaway that the blue mare was no different from the self-important ponies of Cloudsdale.
And there had been rumors at the factory that the brash new leader of the Ponyville weather crew didn’t accept anything less than perfect quality. She had ambitions of being the best, Starsong had said, and any order sent to Ponyville had to be top-notch or it would be sent back. The leader was young, and new to the job, and out to impress her superiors – And she had no problems with complaining to those who would listen if things went wrong.
Derpy had been a bit intimidated by her before she even met the mysterious Pegasus who signed her very precise order forms with a loopy ‘R. Dash.’
“Raindrops.” Rainbow wheeled on the yellow pegasus, brows knit, ears back, “We’re behind enough already. How could you possibly think an inexperienced newbie could help us get back on track? How could she possibly be any help if she doesn’t even know what to do?”
The other pony wilted slightly under the cool gaze of Rainbow Dash. “Any help is better than no help?” She offered meekly.
“I work really hard, Miss Dash.” Derpy spoke up, voice hesitant as she glanced up at the bothered mare standing between her and Raindrops. She did her best to be brave, and even when Rainbow’s gaze met hers, and even when her focus started to drift, she didn’t back down. “And I don’t…I mean, I might not know what to do, but I can learn. I’m used to handling all kinds of weather.”
Rainbow Dash looked her over critically, taking in the eyes wandering in two different directions, the feathers all out of alignment, the slumpy way she stood, the mixture of fear and hope in her expression. This Derpy Hooves didn’t look like she’d amount to much –she didn’t even look like she could manage to stay airborn! Where the buck had Raindrops found her?- and she had absolutely no experience working on a weather team.
But something about her…Despite her somewhat goofy appearance, there was some spark in her –in the thin slash of her mouth across her face; in the determination hidden behind fear in her eyes- that reminded Rainbow a little of herself when she was smaller.
“Fine.” Rainbow snorted, “But only because they gave me this position without giving me the proper staffing and we really do need the help. You show me you can handle it, and the job is yours.”
Derpy nodded eagerly, wanting desperately to please the other pony. She’d had enough of embarrassing herself in the face of coworkers and she didn’t want her new boss to regret hiring her on the first day. “I’ll do my best, ma’am.”
Rainbow’s head inclined slightly in reply, then she turned once more to the other mare. “Raindrops!” She barked, “Take her and show her what you and Flitter have been working on all week. If you two can handle a little cloud placement, she should be able to, too.”
“C’mon.” Raindrops beckoned to her new work partner as Rainbow Dash rocketed off again, “We better get going…That storm’s not going to situate itself properly.”
“I was totally scared of Rainbow Dash, even more so when I found out she was from Cloudsdale, too. I was scared I would goof up like I always did, that I would mess something up…Or worse yet, that she would know who my father was and be embarrassed of me on his behalf like so many other Cloudsdale pegasi were. But she was none of those things…She actually gave me a chance and I got kind of good at handling the weather work.”
“And then you moved into our house!” This time, it was Rumble who interrupted, his voice cracking with excitement, “’Cause you decided to stay in Ponyville, instead of going to Baltimare.”
Derpy looked over at the eager colt -Rumble was wriggling in his seat, little wings fluttering, a beaming smile spread across his face- and felt another serge of love for him. He was such a charming little pony, full of the unbridled enthusiasm and hope of the young; so innocent and bright. And it warmed her heart to know she had a hoof in his upbringing; that there was even a slight chance she had helped make him who he was.
“I did.” She smiled, “I found out Rumble’s parents were renting their attic and I moved in as soon as I could. The rest, as they say, is history. Everypony in Ponyville knows where I live, what I do, and that I’m…kind of the butt of a lot of jokes. I know that, just like everypony else knows that. But very few ponies here in Ponyville actually took the time to get to know me…Or to know how and why I came here.”
Derpy paused for a moment, trying to think of how she wanted to sum up the story; how she could best explain. She hadn’t told the story to vilify her parents, or even garner sympathy for herself. And she certainly hadn’t told of her friendship with Surprise simply to boost her own popularity among the citizens of Ponyville.
But would the little ponies understand that?
“I found a new family when I came here; I found my heart family. I never belonged there, in the clouds; I was always meant to be here, with Rumble’s family, working on the Weather Team.” She said slowly, placing a thoughtful hoof against her chin, “Being friends with Surprise and sharing in her view of the world helped me to find the bravery needed to take her punishment and make such a sacrifice for her as I did. But really, it was my parents who made me the way I am.”
Her voice was quiet, full of consideration for the past. “And I don’t mean scared and uncertain of myself. My mom and dad were a certain way –mean, aloof, cold- and it taught me…They taught me, without even knowing it, not to be like them. They showed me the wrong way to act and I…I didn’t let myself become like them. I learned instead to look at the whole pony, not just judge somepony by their appearance. Money doesn’t make you happy. Beauty doesn’t make you kind. Fame doesn’t make you good. And, just like that, goofy eyes don’t make you ugly. Poor flying doesn’t make you useless. And thinking differently doesn’t make you stupid. I came here with nothing but a few bits and the lessons my parents –and Surprise- had taught me…But if I ever leave here, it will be with everything good and wonderful in the world.”
A hush had fallen over the room again, and all the little ponies watched as Derpy trotted across the room to Rumble’s desk, where she gave the colt a warm, loving hug. He smiled, not at all embarrassed by the open display of affection as most colts his age would be, and nuzzled against her.
“It was ultimately because of my parents that I came here,” she concluded, “And I’m glad for that.”
It was a good morning, Derpy thought to herself as she looked about the empty schoolroom.
She had answered questions for a solid fifteen minutes after wrapping up her story. And though there was the occasional question about her parents or the weather factory, the foals were predictably clamoring to hear more about Surprise. She answered their questions as best she could –though some of them were things she had no clue about, as she hadn’t spent as much time with Surprise after leaving Cloudsdale as she once had- which of course only lead to more questions, until finally Cheerilee dismissed them for recess, shooing them out the door.
“Thanks so much for coming,” Cheerilee smiled, already halfway out the door herself, hurrying to keep an eye on her rambunctious students, “You did great!”
And that left Derpy and Rumble alone in the room.
“You weren’t great…” Rumble was still wriggling with excitement, his little rump waggling, tail swishing behind him, “You were awesome! And look how everypony listened to you! I knew you could do it!”
And then he leapt at her in one of those over-exuberant hugs, knocking her off balance and into Cheerilee’s desk in the process. She grunted as she hit the desk’s wooden side, one foreleg shooting out to steady the both of them. “Thanks, Rumble.” Despite the awkwardness of being slumped against the cool wood with the eager colt practically climbing up her, she smiled, giving him an affectionate squeeze, “I don’t think I would have been brave enough to talk to everypony if it weren’t for you believing in me.”
A face splitting grin tugged at Rumble’s mouth and he hugged her again, then bounced towards the door, wings fluttering. “I gotta go talk to everypony, now! And tell Tornado Bolt ‘told you so’!”
And with that…He was gone.
Derpy stood up and dusted herself off, giving her wings a ruffle and folding them neatly at her sides. She shook her head a little, a small smile on her face. Rumble was Rumble; he would always be himself and hopefully always do everything with great enthusiasm. It was part of what made him so adorable.
She started out the door and into the sunshine, tilting her head towards its warmth as she trotted down the path from the school. She had done it; she had spoken about herself without sounding like an idiot…And in front of a crowd, no less. It didn’t matter that they were just children; she knew that in many ways, foals were even more judgmental that adults. And yet…they had liked her story.
They had liked her.
And perhaps they would go home and talk about her. Perhaps they would tell their parents and the other grown ponies would somehow understand. Perhaps things would get better for her, if more ponies understood her. She had a hard time speaking in front of others about important things, especially around other ponies her own age or older. Her parents and their friends had left her so broken in that regard that she was nearly incapable of discussing deep feelings with anypony she didn’t know well.
She didn’t think she would ever be able to speak so candidly in front of a group of her peers, but the day had been a step in the right direction.
A gentle tug on her tail drew Derpy from her thoughts and she turned, bewildered, to find a petite unicorn filly standing behind her, a bit of her tail held loosely in the foal’s mouth.
This filly must have been part of the class –they were still in the schoolyard- though Derpy hadn’t remembered noticing her in the classroom. She was small, though, and it was entirely possible that she had simply escaped the older pony’s unreliable vision due to her small stature.
She was a cute little thing, with wide, guileless eyes in almost the same shade of gold as Derpy’s. Her coat was a muted greyish-purple, fuzzy and fine. Her mane and tail were the same straw color as the pegasus’, though they were thick, her short-cropped mane bushy, her tail long and unruly.
When Derpy stopped and looked at her, she smiled shyly at the sky, releasing the mare’s tail from her grasp.
“Hi.” Derpy smiled kindly, sitting in the grass near the filly, “Did you want to ask a question or something?”
The small pony shook her head, lifting one shoulder in a shrug. Then, still smiling, she lit her tiny horn and produced a paper folded neatly into eights from somewhere in her mane. She floated the paper through the empty space between them, dangling it in front of Derpy’s good eye, clearly enticing the mare to take it.
For a moment, Derpy did nothing. Then she blinked, glancing over at the filly, who furrowed her brow, once again offering the paper, this time forcing it right against the tip of her muzzle. The whole time, the small unicorn had been gazing at some point above Derpy’s head, as if incapable of making eye contact, despite the fact she was being kind of pushy about the paper.
Seeing no other alternative than to actually take the paper, Derpy reached for it gingerly, removing it from the unicorn’s golden magic. She started to unfold it, but the filly shook her head, holding up a hoof as if telling her to wait.
Then, with her gaze still slanted to the side, she took a couple tightly controlled steps closer, until her small shoulder was brushing against Derpy’s left leg. She beckoned the older pony closer and Derpy obliged, inclining her head in the filly’s direction.
“Thank you…” A tiny voice came right by her ear, the filly’s warm breath tickling across her cheek, and then in a pop of magic, she was gone, transported to some other part of the schoolyard, and Derpy was left alone, holding the folded note.
She blinked in confusion a couple times; what had just happened? That was the strangest foal she’d ever encountered.
Glancing about her –the filly was nowhere to be seen- she looked down at the note in her hooves, turning it over a few times. It was folded neatly, the creases crisp, and one side had her name printed on it in softy, curvy letters.
Giving one last glance around the schoolyard, Derpy began unfolding the note, smoothing it carefully atop the grass.
The paper contained a letter, written in the same gentle, loopy pen as her name on the outer corner.
Dear Miss Hooves, it began…
I wanted to thank you sincerely for coming to speak to the other schoolponies and I. Your story was very interesting and enjoyable and I found you to be incredibly brave. Speaking in front of other ponies is a very frightening prospect for me and I can’t even begin to fathom how you found the nerve to do so.
I wanted also to tell you that I too am teased by my peers. It started on the first day of the school year, when somepony tripped over my tail. It was Tornado Bolt, the filly sitting in the back next to Rainy Feather; the filly who said she would rather have ‘stuff’ than loving parents. She felt that it was my fault that she was not looking where she was going –I think she tried to blame me to keep herself from looking stupid.
But whatever the reason, she began calling me names and saying that I must be related to you, to be so clumsy and stupid. And I am clumsy, sometimes, though that’s due to the fact that I have a lot of magic and very little control over it, since I have not yet attended magic school. In any case, I have no idea why she dislikes you so much, but I suspect it was due to our similar coat and mane colors that she decided to attack me by insinuating I must be just like you. Tornado Bolt likes causing trouble and the other bullies feed off her negative attitude. It wasn’t long before they were calling me all kinds of names and attempting to insult the both of us.
But after today, with how courageous you were, I wanted to tell you that I would not be ashamed, if we were really related. I would be honored to call a fine mare like yourself family and I hope that I someday also have the confidence to stand up to the world and show everypony who I really am.
Thank you again.
Derpy read and reread the letter several times, trying and failing to make sense of it.
She was assuming the filly who’d given it to her was the pony who’d written the letter; it made sense, given the letter’s writer had said they looked alike and the filly certainly bore a resemblance to her. But the letter itself was very eloquent and mature, with some words Derpy had stumbled over before pulling their meaning from the context in which they were used.
It was a very curious letter, and the grey mare had no clue what to make of it.
“Derpy…” Cheerilee had suddenly appeared by her side, startling her from her jumbled thoughts.
She looked up from the paper at the schoolteacher. Cheerilee was frowning slightly, her brows drawn. She looked troubled, though Derpy couldn’t really guess at why.
“Did Dinky Doo speak to you, Derpy?” Cheerilee asked, her darkly serious gaze never leaving the other mare’s face. Her green eyes were lit with concern, though they displayed a hint of curiosity as well.
“Um…” In light of the other pony’s clear unease, Derpy wasn’t sure what the right answer was. She was, of course, an honest pony, but she couldn’t help but wonder if she’d done something wrong by talking to that filly. “Yes?”
“She did?!” Cheerilee didn’t even bother attempting to hide her shock. Her eyes widened, her mouth falling open in complete and utter astonishment. “Derpy, that’s huge!”
“It…It is?” The pegasus blinked, wholly confused and having absolutely no idea what was going on. The letter had said that its writer had a difficult time speaking to other ponies, but could overcoming shyness really be a reason for the teacher to react in such a dramatic fashion? “…Why?”
Cheerilee glanced about, spotting Dinky off in some remote corner of the playground, where she was alone, lifting and sorting rocks with her magic, lining them in precise rows of ascending size. “Dinky is…She’s kind of special.” The teacher began slowly, “She’s very bright, almost frighteningly so. But in the entire time she’s attended this school, she’s never spoken a word to anypony. Not to me, not to another student, not to her father on the occasion he comes to pick her up…He insists she can speak and that she does so at home, but I’ve never heard her voice.”
Cheerilee sighed, shaking her head sadly, “It makes the other little ponies…wary of her, I suppose. She’s friendly in her own odd way, and always curious and lively, but she doesn’t seem to know how to interact with others well. She never looks right at anypony. She rarely laughs, though she smiles often, and I’ve never seen her cry, either. Her…uniqueness hasn’t left her very popular with the other schoolponies and she spends most of her time alone.”
Derpy’s eyes widened as what the other mare was saying sunk in and comprehension dawned.
That filly –Dinky Doo- never spoke. Not to anypony. And while she had only uttered two wavering words close to Derpy’s ear –had she really even spoken them, or was Derpy just imagining things?- it was two more words than she’d ever spoken to another pony.
Why had she chosen to open up to Derpy, of all ponies? It didn’t matter that it had been only those two little words and the strangely-written letter, it was enough to leave the mare wondering just what she had done, to make her worthy of words in the filly’s eyes. Because honestly, she had just talked and that was all. What she had spoken of was meaningful to her, but she didn’t see how it could have possibly been enough to make that little filly speak.
“What did she say to you?” Cheerilee prompted, nudging the other pony gently with her hoof. Derpy looked as if her mind was blown; as if she were paralyzed by surprise and she couldn’t regain control of her body.
In a way, the teacher could understand. Dinky had been part of her class for over two years and in that time, she had never made a single sound. She answered questions often enough, but did so by handing Cheerilee notes or scrawling her answers on the chalkboard. She spoke with her body, through gestures and facial expressions, though she rarely made direct eye contact. She was an intriguing little creature, full of knowledge and secrets, all locked in her silent mind, and Cheerilee had always hoped to find a way to coax her out to the land of everypony else.
If she had been able to do it, she would have been just as stunned as Derpy. Probably even more so, after having worked with the filly for over two years.
“Just…‘thank you’.” When Derpy finally managed to speak, she sounded nothing short of puzzled, “And she gave me this.” She indicated the note, offering it to Cheerilee, “And I guess, um, it makes more sense, now that you kinda explained about her…”
Cheerilee took the letter, green gaze scanning over Dinky’s careful script. It was written with the same careful consideration for vocabulary and spelling as all of Dinky’s assignments, each letter neat and precise.
It was also positively heartbreaking.
“I…” Cheerilee wasn’t sure what to say. She knew things were tough for Dinky; the little filly had such a difficult time with social interaction, as well as limited control over the astounding magic housed in her tiny body. The teacher had seen other foals pushing the unicorn around, openly laughing at her, and generally being cruel in that special way only children could. “I suppose I’ll have to have another conference with her father. I want to help her and I certainly want this to be a safe learning environment for her…”
Derpy watched Cheerilee’s face with her stronger eye, easily recognizing the distress in the teacher’s expression. “Maybe, um…” She knew what she wanted to say, but not really how to say it. And though she was forming some sort of tentative friendship with Cheerilee, would the other mare take her seriously? “Maybe I can, you know, try talking to her again, next time I see her. You know…to see if she’ll talk to me more. So I can…help?”
Their gazes met and the two mares looked at one another, Derpy’s eyes for once both focused on Cheerilee’s face. She wasn’t sure what the other pony was thinking, but she hoped that whatever response the other mare had, it would be a positive one. She didn’t want any other filly to feel as sad and alone as she had and even if she wasn’t a natural with children…She wanted to try.
There was a moment of silence between then, then Cheerilee smiled. “I think that’s a wonderful idea.”
"I'm really proud of you, you know."
It was much later in the day; the stars were already out and twinkling cheerfully in the velvety night sky. while the moon overhead bathed two grey pegasi in a silvery-soft glow.
Thunderlane and Derpy had retreated to a quiet hillside on the very edge of Ponyville. It was a place that was calm and peaceful, where the beauty of nature went largely undisturbed. Solitary and untouched, with lush grass, it was a place Derpy had discovered shortly after her arrival in the little village, when she had been feeling overwhelmed by the newness of her surroundings. Since then, it had become an escape; a place to which she retreated when she needed to be alone with her thoughts, much in the way that Surprise had used the Cloudiseum.
She had shared it with Thunderlane even before they started dating, thinking that perhaps he too might appreciate a spot where a pony could sit and think uninterrupted.
"Yeah?" She was nestled at his side, lazily watching the distant lights of Ponyville, "Why?"
He turned to nuzzle into her baby-soft mane, reveling in her familiar scent. She smelled of soap and clean linen, the fresh scent he'd come to associate wholly with her. "Because." The answer was a fairly straightforward one, though he still found it hard to put into words, "Because you, ya know, put yourself out there. I know it's kinda hard for you to talk about Cloudsdale and your family, and I think it's cool that you went and did it anyway. It's like...I dunno. I know you think you're not brave, but I think that was totally brave."
"I'm not brave." But she was smiling all the same, leaning further into his side and resting her head against his shoulder. She was silent for a moment, just enjoying the feel of his muscular frame close against her, safe and warm. Thunderlane was solid and dependable; he had seen her through some of her lowest moments since she'd met him, championing her all the while, and she loved him all the more for it. "I just...couldn't disappoint Rumble, you know? He wanted me to come so badly and I couldn't really tell any old story. It had to be that one." To her, it really was that simple. Rumble had asked her to come and she wasn't going to say no.
"I still think you're brave, no matter how you feel about it." A light breeze blew, ruffling through both their manes, and Thunderlane tucked his wing more securely around Derpy, shielding her from the chill, "But, um, I was wondering...Why haven't you ever mentioned Surprise before?"
Derpy remained quiet again, taking a moment to gaze out upon both Ponyville and the spattering of stars. What was the real answer to that question? Why had she kept Surprise a secret for so long?
It wasn't that she didn't want to share her best friend with the world; that had already happened. No, it was more that... "When I first started really meeting other ponies here, Surprise had just been announced as a new member of the Wonderbolts. She was on the brink of being famous and even though she was still brand new, everypony was buzzing about her. If other ponies found out that I'm her friend..." She trailed off, shaking her head a little as if she couldn't bear the thought that had crossed her mind, "I want to be liked 'cause of who I am, Thunderlane. Not 'cause of who I'm friends with."
She lapsed back into silence, a silence he didn't bother to break. What she had said made sense enough; she would have been extremely popular for all the wrong reasons if the townsponies heard she knew a Wonderbolt. It never really would have been true friendship, but rather something hollow and superficial, as everypony tried to use her to get to Surprise.
"I want you to meet her." Derpy said suddenly, pulling back to look up at him, "I know she'd love you. You've got awesome wing power."
"And that's the only reason?" He teased, grinning playfully at her through the darkness.
"You're cute, too," She returned the grin, cheeky, eyes sparkling in the moonlight, "but she already knows that."
"...What?" He jerked back in surprise, the blush suddenly heating his face hidden by both his dark coat and the darkness of the night.
"I told her allllll about you!" Derpy giggled at the flummoxed look on his face, taking a few seconds to savor the immense pleasure that came with teasing him. It was fun; a kind of fun she hadn't really been able to have with anypony since she left Surprise and Cloudsdale. He was kind of shy and easily flustered, which made teasing him even more entertaining. And usually, she couldn't tease anypony, because they were too busy teasing her. "You don't really think I'd go without telling my best friend about my special somepony, do you?"
Thunderlane considered that, silent for a moment and still trying to control his blush. There really was no good reason for her not to talk about him, except for the part where he wasn't super special so what was even the point in bragging? "Guess I shouldn't be surprised," he finally shot back, though the jibe was sort of half-hearted, "'Cause I know you mares like to gossip."
That earned him a Look and he grinned again, not at all daunted. There hadn't been a time when either of them was significantly annoyed with the other in the few years they'd known each other. She was too easy-going and let everything roll right off her, whether it was good-natured teasing or otherwise. And he enjoyed a mare with a playful spirit -- Who wanted a damsel in distress or a prim and proper lady when you could have a rump-kicking adventurer who rarely took herself too seriously?
She rolled her good eye, returning the smile and curling closer. The autumn night was growing increasingly cooler and Thunderlane -always snuggly- was a good source of warmth.
"I invited her here." Derpy abruptly said, again breaking the spell of silence that had fallen over them as she settled in at his side, "I dropped a letter for her at the post after I left the school this morning."
"You don't think it's a bad idea?" He glanced down at her, uncertainty lighting his amber eyes, "You're suddenly going to become Miss Popularity if Surprise shows up here."
"It'll be okay." She lowered her gaze, peering through the darkness at the twinkling streetlights of the sleepy village below, "It's time. I've been in Ponyville long enough to know who's my friend and who's not. And the only ponies who think I'm be dumb enough not to realize why they suddenly want to be my friend are the ones who'd never been my friends to begin with. I think I can handle it..." Her voice lowered a bit and she looked back up at him, a small frown playing across her face, "I hope I can handle it."
He gave her a reassuring nuzzle, pressing his nose against one of her velvety soft ears. "I think we can make sure it's okay. You got me and Raindrops and Blossomforth to look out for you, right?" Even as he said it, he was aware that it was a pitifully small amount of friends, especially since the state of her friendship with Blossomforth was still questionable. And it struck him then, how sad it was, that this warm, beautiful pony at his side had so few that she could turn to and depend on.
"And Cheerilee, too, I think." She said softly, a smile once again lighting her face, "I think we're kind of friends now. We were talking about maybe having lunch together on the weekend or something. And she said she would talk to Dinky's dad about me maybe spending time with her, since she seemed to like me." She still hadn't figured out why exactly the unicorn filly had taken such a shine to her, but had set aside those puzzling thoughts. They could and would keep for another day.
"That's great." Thunderlane rested their foreheads together, gazing into her honey-colored eyes, "You're really something, you know?" There really was an incredibly lot to be proud of, when it came to her. Derpy was by no means a confident mare; she had come to Ponyville broken and uncertain, her spirits low and her self-confidence almost nonexistent. And yet, that had never stopped her smile; she always put her best foot forward and tried her hardest to be who and what she needed to be.
And given the burdens she had shouldered predominantly on her own –and he knew, now, just how heavy that weight had been- without ever crumbling, she was probably the strongest pony he had ever met.
“That’s really sweet of you to say, Thunderlane.” Derpy lowered her lashes, though she didn’t break his gaze. She liked the warmth of his eyes; the way he looked at her, rather than through her, like most other ponies. “But I’m just me.”
“And you are amazing.” He replied solemnly, in a voice that would brook no argument. It didn’t surprise him in the slightest that she didn’t quite understand just how special she was; there hadn’t been many ponies who told her so, after all. And she wasn’t the kind of mare who played herself up or made herself out to be something bigger than she actually was, which was part of what he found so incredibly endearing about her.
After years of the twins and their bragging and boasting, she was like a breath of fresh air on a stifling day.
She had been so guarded in the beginning; so shy and uncertain, and her awkward-yet-quiet ways had been enough capture his interest from the very start. She was so different from the mares he already knew. The twins were loud, rambunctious and lively. And while Blossomforth was a little more reserved, she was by no means quiet.
But Derpy…When she had stumbled –literally!- in to his life, he hadn’t been sure what to make of her. He’d never really encountered a pony so withdrawn and world-weary as she had appeared; never spent time around anypony who’d had a hard life. He hadn’t really been sure what to make of her, in the beginning; she was simply the strange, solitary mare who lived in the attic and was slowly learning how to handle weather duty around the town. Hardly anypony came around the house looking for her –only Raindrops, and even her presence was scarce, because the grey mare kept mostly to herself, those first months- and though she was friendly in her quiet, unobtrusive way, Derpy spoke rarely of her life before Ponyville and the Weather Crew.
She had intrigued Thunderlane from the beginning, from the very first second in which their eyes had met across the living room, as she had pushed herself up from a trip over the carpet, never breaking his gaze, though he had wanted to look away, embarrassed on her behalf.
He hadn’t known it consciously but rather somewhere deep in his heart that she was something special; somepony well worth knowing.
And her actions over the past few days had done nothing to diminish that thought.
“You’re amazing,” he repeated, “and I love you so much.” He punctuated the affection by pressing a soft kiss against the very tip of her nose, eliciting a giggle as she shied away.
He sometimes said things like that so easily, and Derpy didn’t always know how to respond. She still wasn’t used to talking about the secret things in her heart, even after knowing Thunderlane for a decent amount of time. And worse still, some small part of her was afraid; she was constantly afraid on some level, even if she didn’t always realize it. There was always that chance that something could happen, something that would ruin the happiness she had worked so hard to build.
But she didn’t think anything bad would happen, not with the way warmth curled through her heart each time he uttered those magical words. She was safe with Thunderlane; he was somepony who cared for her and wanted only the best to happen in her life. He had always treated her kindly, even in the beginning when they barely knew one another, and his family had welcomed her with both open arms and open hearts, touching her heart in a way no other ponies ever had, not even Surprise.
Derpy tilted her gaze up towards the stars once more, stealing a glance at Thunderlane out of the corner of one eye. He had lapsed back into silence, though he was still watching her, and she felt her face heat under his gaze.
Feeling shy once more, she turned her full attention to the sky, trying to connect the stars and piece together the story they told. Luna’s night was beautiful, from the pale glow of the moon to the velvety star-sown sky, and the sight of it had often calmed her. The night was tranquil in its fathomless infinity and the idea that there were things much bigger than her problems had always been a comfort.
And there, watching the twinkling lights of the heavens, tucked securely at Thunderlane’s side and safe in the knowledge that she was loved, she felt the last vestiges of self-doubt and fear lifting from her, swirling away into the dark vastness of the night. Her life had been changing so much, so quickly, over the course of the past few days that it was utterly overwhelming, but she knew then that she would be okay, come whatever may, because she had the most wonderful special somepony in the world.
“…Thunderlane?” She leaned against him, using his larger frame as a shield against the gentle chill of the night.
“Hmm?” He shifted a little, tucking a powerful wing more fully around her, and leaning in to nuzzle affectionately against her ear. He loved moments like this, where they were alone and cozy, where nothing bad in the world could touch them. She was at her most beautiful in those peaceful times, when she was relaxed and open and so perfectly herself.
“Thunderlane, I…” Despite the sudden air of calm that had descended upon her, Derpy was still having a hard time with those words. She wanted to say them; wanted to tell him that he, too, was loved, that her heart was full. But the words stuck in her throat, unable to break free.
“Hey…” Sensing her distress, he turned, lifting a hoof to gently touch her cheek, “It’s okay.” He wasn’t sure what exactly was troubling her, though he had his suspicions. Some words were just hard to say and he, being a bit shy himself, understood that.
She leaned into the caress, eyes sliding shut, the beautiful tapestry of stars disappearing from view. She took a deep breath in an attempt to gather that last needed bit of courage, and when she opened them again, both eyes were fixed on his face, her honey gaze unwavering. “I love you, too.” When she spoke, the words came on a whisper, carried by the gentle wind through the night, to be lost on the world below them, but only after finding a home in his heart.
He smiled softly, leaning in to kiss her. “I know,” he whispered back. And he did know; he had for a long time, because some words never needed to be spoken.
“I’ve never been here before,” Cheerilee commented mildly as she and Derpy trotted through the late afternoon sunshine towards the small bakeshop situated at the edge of the Ponyville farmer’s market, “In fact, I don’t think I even knew another bakery existed in Ponyville!”
Derpy glanced over her shoulder at the other mare, one eye still trained on Gingerbread’s shop in the distance. “I don’t think a lot of ponies know it. Everypony just goes to Sugarcube Corner when they want something sweet.” She herself had discovered Gingerbread’s place only by accident when –scared off by the sheer number of customers swarming the Cakes’ bakery- she had gone in search of breakfast her first morning alone in town. “Gingerbread’s stuff is a little less, um, sugary. She makes lots of muffins with fruits and vegetables in them and breads and stuff. Not too much bread, though, because she’s friends with Pumpernickel and Marble Rye and doesn’t want to give them too much competition…And besides, her specialty is cookies.”
She was kind of rambling, and she knew it, but she didn’t really know how to stop.
Cheerilee simply smiled, however, eyes kind, and fell into step beside the grey mare. She knew Derpy was nervous; the teacher knew full well that uncharacteristic rambling was a good sign of nerves. Her students were prone to the same kind of behavior when faced with nerve-wracking assignment. “I don’t think I’ve ever met Gingerbread before,” she said, hoping to distract the other pony, “but you seem to know a lot about her. Is she a good friend of yours?”
Derpy shook her head. “Oh, no, um…I’m just, you know, a customer. But Gingerbread is kinda…Well, she’s nice and sometimes we talk when I’m alone.” She glanced around, eyes shifting restlessly for a moment. When she looked back at Cheerilee, she looked even more anxious than she previously had.
Apparently, she was too keyed up for weak attempts at distraction to work.
“It’s going to be fine,” Cheerilee said, tone one of firm reassurance, “Written Script is really receptive to ideas that may help Dinky. He worries about her a lot.”
The two mares were on their way to Gingerbread’s to meet with Dinky’s father. Cheerilee had sent a note home with Dinky the very same day she spoke to Derpy, explaining the unusual circumstances and extending Derpy’s offer to spend time with the filly. Written Script had responded promptly –he usually did- saying he didn’t think there’d be anything wrong with the weather mare’s presence in his daughter’s life, but that he’d like to meet her first.
It was a completely typical response of any parent; who wouldn’t want to know the ponies their foals were spending time with? But for Derpy, with her poor social skills and self-esteem issues, meeting with a stranger –especially a stallion- about something so important was incredibly unnerving and she was finding herself growing more and more nervous the closer they got to the bakery.
Though it should have, it didn’t really help that Cheerilee had thoughtfully suggested she chose the meeting place. Even in a setting in which she was comfortable, the pegasus didn’t think she’d be able to set aside her nerves and make a good impression.
“I guess I can see why…” She trailed off, wistful. And Derpy could understand; a special foal like Dinky Doo should be worried about and cared for. The grey pegasus knew all too well what could happen to a little one who wasn’t given the care they needed and, though Dinky’s problems seemed far worse than her own, she didn’t want to see the filly headed down the same path of misery her own childhood had taken. It wasn’t, after all, Dinky’s fault that she had been born the way she was, whatever was wrong with her, and she deserved all the love and support a parent could give.
“He couldn’t believe she spoke to you. I know he’s mentioned before that she’s never spoken directly to anypony but him, though she does speak in the presence of a few others.” Cheerilee continued, still smiling in an effort to keep both Derpy’s confidence and bravery up, “And Written is a really patient, kind stallion. I’m sure you’ll get along well.”
The grey mare nodded, staring down at the ground as she continued slowly along the path to the bakery.
The shop’s bell tinkled merrily as Derpy pushed the door open, and Gingerbread called a greeting without missing a beat in the assistance she was offering another customer.
Derpy just watched as the baker worked for a moment. Gingerbread was pointing out the subtle differences between her various loaves of quick bread, guiding the somewhat familiar slate-colored pegasus peering through the display counter glass in her selection.
Gingerbread always seemed so calm and in control; anytime Derpy had come into the shop, the earth pony was ready with a smile, eager to help her patrons find just the snack they were craving – Even if they hadn’t come in knowing what they were in the mood for. She was simply a nice pony, extremely good at what she did; confident and certain in her role in the community.
The grey pegasus wished she could be more like her. Maybe then she wouldn’t feel so nervous about this meeting. It seemed as if her insides were twisting themselves up in knots just at the thought of speaking to a stranger for the first time.
Glancing about, she caught sight of sturdy-looking unicorn stallion seated at one of the small cluster of tables to the left of the display counter. He had a barely-grey coat and deep purple, flyaway mane, and was wearing a wooly scarf that almost perfectly matched the bright emerald of his eyes. Something that looked like it may have once been a muffin but then resembled a heap of crumbs sat on a plate before him on the table, a steaming mug beside it.
Across from him, slouched casually in a chair, was the very same white unicorn that had been giving Gingerbread a hard time when Derpy had last visited the shop.
At the sight of the surly mare, Derpy felt her nerves doubling, tripling, quadrupling.
She had her back to the room and was leaned in on the table, speaking in a tone too low to overhear, though there was something intense about her posture, as if what she was saying was of the utmost importance. The stallion nodded, lifting his drink in a wash of green magic and taking a sip. He placed the mug back on the table before responding to whatever she had said, tilting his head towards her as he spoke.
“Oh, there’s Written.”
Cheerilee’s sudden words startled Derpy, who jumped slightly, turning to look at the mare by her side. “Over there, at the table?” The pegasus was well aware of how stupid she must have sounded; the only other ponies in the store were the two unicorns at the table, the pegasus at the counter –who’s name, Derpy suddenly remembered, was Dust Devil- and Gingerbread, and the grey unicorn was the only stallion present, so of course he was Dinky’s father. But she couldn’t help herself from asking anyway; it was all she could manage to get out.
Her throat had suddenly gone dry at the sight of that other unicorn.
It wasn’t that the white mare had done anything to her particularly during that last visit; she just couldn’t bring herself to reconcile with the fact that that mare had been so rude, yet Gingerbread wasn’t at all phased by it. In fact, the earth pony had made it sound as if the unicorn’s behavior was normal! And Derpy couldn’t get over that; didn’t want to be anywhere near a pony like that – It had potential to be bad for her, after all.
Those kinds of rude, demanding ponies were usually the ones who made her life miserable.
Cheerilee nodded, “I hope he wasn’t waiting long. I don’t think we’re late…” She glanced about, gaze falling on a wall clock above the sales counter, which showed that they had indeed arrived a few minutes ahead of the arranged meeting time. Satisfied at not being tardy, she started towards the table and the two unicorns.
Derpy lagged behind her, her reluctance growing more with each step she took.
Written Script glanced up at their approach, smiling when he caught sight of Cheerilee. The teacher had always done her best to make things good for Dinky, often meeting with him after school hours about her progress, sending home notes, and generally proving that she cared beyond the call of her profession about his precious little filly, and for that, the stallion was grateful. “Hi Cheerilee,” He said pleasantly.
The other unicorn glanced over her shoulder at them, recognition flickering across her face when she laid eyes on Derpy. For a moment, she looked embarrassed, then turned up her muzzle and slid from her seat. “Guess I should get lost…” She muttered, “Later, Script.” And without further preamble, she trotted off, nudging open the swinging door that lead behind the sales counter and disappearing somewhere into the back of the shop.
“Hello, Written.” Cheerilee returned the stallion’s greeting, a warm smile crossing her face. “Derpy,” she turned to the mare behind her, “this is Written Script, Dinky’s father. Written, this is my friend, Derpy Hooves.”
“It’s nice to meet you.” Written said, attempting to peer around the dusky pink mare at the other pony.
He knew, of course, who Derpy was; everypony in Ponyville knew of her reputation. But he’d never spent any time around her and if it weren’t for her reputation, he probably would never even been able to pick her out of a crowd.
She was a soft, almost-purple grey, her coat indeed very similar to Dinky’s. Her hair was thin, the color of daffodils, and hung limp and straight, framing her face neatly. Her head was canted to the side, bangs obscuring his view of her defining trait – Her funny eyes. A shy smile lit her face; she was the very picture of quiet nervousness.
He could easily see why other ponies had likened his Dinky to this awkward mare. Aside from simply their similar appearances, Derpy stood in a manner similar to the filly, legs slightly apart as if the keep her from falling over, gaze focused somewhere not quite where it should be.
“Nice to meet you, too.” She mumbled, lifting her head only slightly to half look at him, half at the table.
And he was struck, suddenly, with the notion that this might not be the best idea. What would it be like, putting this mare and Dinky together? The pegasus seemed, in a way, even more withdrawn than his quirky little daughter. How was she supposed to help Dinky?
Cheerilee, easily recognizing the tension between the two, took a moment to gather her thoughts, trying to figure out the best way to break the ice and get them talking. She knew Written Script was eager to do all that he could for Dinky and she also knew that Derpy wanted to help in any way she could, but with the two of them uncertain and awkward as they seemed, how would that even be possible?
“Derpy,” She finally said, “Why don’t you go get us some muffins or something? You know what’s good here, right?”
The grey mare nodded, thankful for both the distraction and the time to bolster her nerves. “Okay,” She said shortly, turning and practically stumbling over her hooves in her hurry to escape from the table.
Cheerilee watched her for a moment, then settled in the chair only recently vacated by the white unicorn. “She can help, Written. I’m sure of it. She’s just…Well, she’s kind of shy.” She kept her voice low, and though she was speaking to the stallion across from her, she was still watching Derpy as the grey mare perused the day’s selection of baked goods, “You know what everypony says about her…I think she’s just nervous you’ll have the wrong impression.”
He sighed, following the teacher’s gaze over to the pegasus at the counter, who was then pointing to various things she wanted, Gingerbread nodding and fetching the appropriate items from the glass case. “I trust you, Cheerilee. It’s just…”
“I know; I know.” The plum-colored mare said good-naturedly, her smile lighting her eyes, “It’s Dinky and you can’t help it.” And she did understand, in a way; she was as protective as she could be of the little filly herself. Cheerilee loved children, loved helping to nurture their minds and foster healthy growth and development. And when it came to the rare exceptional child –Ponyville was a small town; there weren’t too many foals with special needs- she found herself opening her heart even more, reveling in their successes and mourning bitterly their failures. “But I really think it’ll be okay.”
Derpy appeared back at the table then, a plate held carefully in her mouth. She set it on the table, glancing at both Cheerilee and Written Script at the same time. “Um…I hope you like lemon?” She said tentatively, giving her head a little shake in a failed attempt at getting her bangs out of her eyes.
Cheerilee smiled and nodded, while Written Script used his magic to drag a third chair over from another table, indicating that Derpy should sit.
“Thanks.” They both said at the same time, he for the muffins, her for the chair.
There was an awkward pause as they simply looked at one another, then a slow smile crept across Derpy’s face, while Written Script laughed outright, their nervousness over the meeting all but vanishing. Cheerilee grinned, pushing the plate more towards the middle of the table, while Derpy plopped down on her chair, ready now for all of the talking that was about to begin.
“…Will you tell me about Dinky?” Derpy asked shyly, once again glancing to the side rather than at the stallion seated across from her, “I don’t really, you know, know her, since she’s not really friends with Rumble…”
Written Script blinked, not having known that Derpy and Rumble had any connection. Dinky spoke sometimes about Rumble; he was apparently one of the few schoolponies who was generally nice to her. Most of them thought she was weird –and though it killed him to admit it, it was understandable- and either made fun of her or ignored her, but she said that Rumble usually didn’t join the teasing.
If he was friends with Derpy –who was harassed and belittled plenty herself- it made sense that Rumble would be more sensitive to teasing than the average foal.
“Dinky is…” He started, then paused, not entirely certain how to describe his daughter to a stranger. He knew Dinky well, better than anypony else, but putting in to words the things that made Dinky Dinky was always a challenge. “She wasn’t always the way she is. She hit all her milestones when she was supposed to…Maybe even earlier.” He paused to take a bite of one of the muffins, chewing thoughtfully, “She even spoke back then, to almost everypony. But then, one day…It was like she woke up and a switch had turned off or something. She stopped talking to strangers, then other ponies she knew, then…Then it was almost like she had no words at all. She started having tantrums then, too, and stopped looking directly at us. It was like…I don’t know. Like she was going backwards or something.”
Derpy was quiet, just listening and trying to keep her gaze focused squarely on the face of the unicorn. He was baring his soul to her; trying to help her understand what made the little unicorn who spoke only to two ponies –him and her- tick, so that she would better be able to help. It must have been painful, speaking so candidly about Dinky, and she wanted to give him the respect he deserved.
“She was unbearable for a while…” A wry smile crossed his face and he shook his head a little, “It’s hard to believe that the same miserable creature from those days is my sweet Dinky. She was always crying and fussing and hardly ate or slept. And because she wasn’t speaking, she couldn’t tell anypony what was wrong. It got so bad…” Written Script trailed off for a moment, lowering his gaze, “Her mother left us. She said she couldn’t do it and she went back to Canterlot.”
“…I’m so sorry to hear that.” And she was; there was nothing but sincerity in her words. Derpy believed with all her heart in true love, and the idea that not all ponies found the one meant for them saddened her. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to believe you were in love with somepony and build a life with them, only for it to crumble when you encountered a rough patch.
“Thanks.” The unicorn smiled a little, touched by her heartfelt words, “But it turned out okay. Not long after that, Doctor Stable told me that he thought Dinky’s crying and sleeplessness were due to an allergy to milk and I was able to straighten out one problem. She started acting more like her old cheerful self after her diet was adjusted accordingly, even though she still didn’t speak much. Things got better…And though Dinky has never been the same as she was when she was small, she’s improved a lot. She’s still unpredictable at times, and still sometimes has tantrums, but generally she’s a happy filly, who enjoys reading and categorizing things.”
“And she’s very bright.” Cheerilee added, “I was amazed at her test results when you first enrolled her in school. She’s reading well beyond where she should be for a filly her age, and her math skills are impressive.” She smiled, reaching for one of the muffins on the plate, “She’s one of my best students.”
Written glanced at Cheerilee then, a warm smile softening his expression. For all of the hardships Dinky faced, for all of her struggles…She was an exceptionally smart little pony and he was more proud of her than words could ever express. “She loves school,” He said, pausing thoughtfully, then correcting himself, “She loves learning. She’s not too keen on a lot of the other students because they don’t really understand each other. She wants to make friends, but her strange social skills don’t let her do so easily. She’s too…too different for them to connect with her.”
“I understand.” Derpy spoke up then, nodding a little to back up her statement, “It’s never easy to make friends with anypony when they look at you like you’re not normal.” Her knowledge of this came not only from her experiences as a child, but those she faced daily as an adult, as well.
She knew all too well the kinds of looks and whispered words Dinky must have endured; the kinds of hateful, ignorant things other ponies –both children and adults- were likely to say about her. She suspected that Dinky was thought of as stupid because she didn’t speak; weird because she didn’t look anypony in the eye. Those were things she’d heard often enough and they were standard insults that affected those of all walks of life. It wasn’t a stretch to think the little unicorn was subject to such –and worse!- because of her uniqueness.
But Derpy had seen, that afternoon in the schoolyard, a glimmer of brightness in Dinky’s golden eyes. She had only caught a glimpse -it was hard to see things in another pony when they don’t look right at you, after all- but it had been enough for her to figure out that the filly had a lot going on in her mind.
“I’d like for her to make friends.” Written Script continued softly, fiddling a little with his mug, “And it sounds awful, but…I’d like her to be at least a little more normal. Things are so hard for her, I can’t help it sometimes. I look at her and wish she was like any other filly…And then I feel terrible.”
He looked away at that admission, ears flattened back against his head. At the sight of the forlorn stallion, Derpy felt a wash of sympathy and sadness seep over her; how hard his life must have been! She had never considered what it might be like for the parents of unusual foals; her own parents hadn’t been very understanding and had only been affected by her struggles in superficial ways.
But here was a stallion who was suffering , struggling along with his daughter, celebrating her victories, experiencing her failures and doing everything in his power to make her life as good as it could be.
Dinky was lucky, probably moreso than she would ever know.
“I’d like to be her friend.” Derpy’s own words fell on her ears before she even realized she was saying them. And really, she meant it, with all her heart. She didn’t know what kind of help she could be to the filly, but she did know how terrible it felt to be without friends and support. And she knew, somehow, that the best way to ensure that Dinky would be successful in her life was for her to have ponies who cared, because wasn’t it the sheer love of Surprise who had gotten her through the worst times in her childhood? Wasn’t Thunderlane and Rumble’s support and encouragement the very reason she was sitting there, speaking to Written Script to begin with? “And I’m sure Rumble would be her friend, too, once he understands that she’s just a little different, not, um, weird.”
There, again, was mention of Rumble, and Written Script found himself insatiably curious. He didn’t know much about Derpy, only the basic things that everypony knew: She worked for the Weather Crew and often caused disasters. Cheerilee had said she was a warm, loving mare with a lot of interesting things to say, but beyond that, Written knew nothing of her circumstances and background. “I have to ask…” And really, he couldn’t help it! Written Script was curious by nature and was genuinely interested in getting to know the grey pegasus. “How do you know Rumble? Is he related to you?”
If Derpy was surprised at the question, it didn’t show. She just smiled a little, shaking her head, “No…Not really. But I’ve been renting a room at his parents’ house almost as long as I’ve been in Ponyville,” Her smile stretched to a grin, eyes dancing, “And I’ve been dating his brother for a while. Sometimes, I hang out with Rumble when he gets out of school, if I’m not working, and we do stuff together on the weekends.”
“…What kind of stuff?” Written, of course, knew the kinds of things normal foals did with their parents, friends and foal-sitters. But Derpy, everypony said, wasn’t exactly the typical pony herself and he found himself wondering what exactly she did with Rumble and if it would be something Dinky might enjoy.
The mare was quiet for a moment, munching on one of the muffins and glancing around the bakery as she chewed, though one eye never strayed far from the unicorn’s face. “Uh, all kinds of stuff. Sometimes we go flying; Rumble hasn’t attended any kind of flight camp yet, so he’s still got a lot to learn about banking and using currents to his advantage and coming in for a smooth landing, so he likes to practice. Sometimes we do other stuff, too, though. He likes fairytales, so we go to the library a lot. And sometimes we go to the park or the farmers’ market or whatever. And he loves games, so we play tons of games, too.”
A hint of a smile flickered across the stallion’s face as he listened to her, and he picked up his mug again, taking a healthy swallow of his almost-cold tea. “I believe Dinky would greatly enjoy spending time with both you and Rumble, if those are the kinds of things you do together. She’s very fond of reading; I suspect she likes books more than she likes most ponies.” There was a note of warmth in his voice, the kind that was born of a deep, all-encompassing love, “And she loves going pretty much anywhere. She’s actually very interested in the world around her, for how many problems she has socially.”
“She’s more than welcome to join me and Rumble on one of our adventures,” Derpy offered, “And, um, if you don’t feel comfortable leaving her with just me in charge, you can come too?” She wasn’t sure about how he would react to the invitation; with her reputation, it seemed more than likely that any parent would have a hard time leaving their child in her care. Rumble and Thunderlane’s mom and dad were so used to her that they didn’t think twice about it, and Raindrops knew her almost as well as a pony could, so she wasn’t shy about leaving her sister in the clumsy mare’s care, but other ponies…Well, they were prone to being a bit less understanding.
Written Script was quiet for a moment, torn between wanting to simply agree outright to let Dinky spread her proverbial wings and feeling incredibly overprotective. All of her life, he had tried his best to shelter his daughter from the unforgiving world, to keep her safe from the words and stares of those who didn’t even bother trying to understand her. “Maybe…” he began, pausing for a moment to think on how to frame his words so as not to insult her, “Maybe you’d like to come over sometime, so she could get used to you? Sometimes, she can be quite withdrawn around strangers, but if she sees you in a familiar setting, with other familiar ponies there, it will be easier for her to become accustomed to you.”
Derpy nodded in agreement, head bobbing cheerfully. “Okay. That sounds like a great idea!” She exclaimed enthusiastically. It hadn’t occurred to her that the filly might be scared or uncomfortable, just tossed into a new situation, but once the idea was planted in her mind, it made much more sense to take things slowly.
“Perhaps you’d like to come over some evening this week?” Written Script offered, “Dinky has a foal-sitter after school while Golden Harvest and I are finishing up at work, but we usually just spend the evenings after dinner at home, if you’d like to come by.”
“I would like that.” She nodded again, a feeling of happiness lighting her smile and settling comfortably in her heart. If anypony had asked Derpy two weeks ago if she imagined ever feeling this happy and in control of her own life, she would have quickly said no. But with the way everything had been changing and changing for the better over the past week or so, she couldn’t imagine anything ever happening again to make her seem bad.
Because for once, she was seemingly the master of her own fate. She had a job she was kind of good at -one which she enjoyed- with a boss who seemed interested in helping her discover her strengths. She had ponies who cared for her and even loved her, and seemed to be making even more friends as the days passed. Her life was good, now, thanks to the kindness and support of the other ponies who loved her, as well as their willingness to let her make her own way. She had no idea how she would have survived the years without Surprise if it hadn’t been for the ponies she’d met in Ponyville, and she was grateful for every last one of them.
And now, she thought as she took another bite of her muffin, she was being given an opportunity to do the same for somepony else and that thought warmed her to the very bottom of her heart.
Sunday night, Derpy was early to the Weather Crew team meeting
She had no real reason to, other than she wanted to be there to see Rainbow Dash before anypony else came and she knew the blue mare was prone to show up early. Twilight had drilled it into her head that, as the boss, she needed to be prepared for the meetings and apparently the lesson had stuck. Rainbow could often be found lounging around on a sofa in the meeting room come Sunday evenings, rereading the night’s agenda and munching on leftover snacks.
And sure enough, when Derpy poked her head through the door to the meeting room, Rainbow was sprawled on the couch, chewing on something crunchy-sounding and shuffling through a stack of papers.
But she wasn’t alone. The grey mare had forgotten to take into account the fact that it was close enough to meeting time for that Sunday’s snack provider to be there, setting up the snack table.
Dust Devil, the very same Pegasus who’d been perusing Gingerbread’s goods the day before, was puttering around with a bowl of multicolored corn chips and some kind of brownish dip, inspecting the chips and picking out a couple broken ones, giving the dip a stir, and generally fidgeting with the containers of food, almost as if she were nervous about something.
That was a feeling which Derpy could fully appreciate. Snack duty was nerve-racking, because everypony loved to eat and nopony wanted to eat a less-than-satisfactory snack.
Both of them looked up at the sound of Derpy’s hooffalls as she entered the room, glancing hesitantly back and forth between them.
“Hey, Derpy.” Across the room, Rainbow Dash spared her the briefest glance before turning her attention back to the sheaf of papers in her hooves.
Dust Devil, on the other hoof, stopped what she was doing, turning fully to face the other mare.
Derpy blinked, taking an uncertain step backwards as Dust Devil advanced towards her, an unreadable expression on her face. She didn’t really know the other mare at all; they’d never been assigned any work together and Derpy mostly kept to herself, both during work and her time off.
And the non-expression on Dust Devil’s face was making her uneasy.
“Derpy…” The slate-colored pegasus had a kind of low, throaty voice that suited her dull colors, and though her fuchsia eyes were hooded, they held a certain glimmer that suggested she was a mare who enjoyed excitement, “You got a minute?”
The grey mare’s head bobbed, blonde mane bouncing around her face. She wasn’t sure what could come of this, but found herself curious – Had Dust Devil heard about her friendship with Surprise? Did she have some ulterior motive, knowing Derpy was close with a Wonderbolt? Or was it something else?
Dust Devil sighed, sitting on her haunches, ears pasting themselves back against her skull. She exhaled, blowing a puff of her tangled, cottony mane out of her eyes. “Look…This isn’t easy to say,” she began, pausing and shaking her head a little, as if uncertain what exactly she wanted to say, “but, um, I heard my kid’s been talking smack about you and I wanted to say I’m sorry about that.” She lifted a hoof, scratching sheepishly at the back of her neck, her gaze focused somewhere to the side. “I…I’ll make sure she’s, um, not quite so misinformed in the future.”
Derpy blinked, peering uncertainly at the other mare. She’d had no idea Dust Devil even had a special somepony, let alone a foal, and she suddenly couldn’t help but wonder if the filly in question was one of the schoolponies she’d spoken to the previous week. “Uh…That’s okay?” She replied softly, not sure what the other pegasus expected her to say, “I mean…foals say stuff they don’t really mean or understand…right?”
“No, it’s…It’s really not okay.” Dust Devil’s shoulders sagged and she looked even further away, muttering, “Because she heard most of the…stuff from me.”
“I…” Derpy was at a loss for words, just staring at the other mare, her heart once again plummeting. Everything that had been good suddenly seemed to evaporate, shrinking down to nothing at Dust Devil’s quiet admission. How had nothing changed at all, when everything had been changing so much? “I don’t…understand…”
But really, she did. It was the same prejudice she’d faced nearly every day of her life, with somepony assuming things and spreading rumors, not bothering to find out the truth or care about the feelings of the pony being whispered about. Derpy shouldn’t have been surprised any more that it happened, but, somehow, she still was, every time.
“Why…Why would you do something like that?” The grey mare continued, staring hard enough to draw Dust Devil’s gaze back up. When their eyes locked, the other pony looked surprised to find both of Derpy’s fixed squarely on her. “Why would you talk about me, like I’ll never find out?”
“Well…” Dust Devil’s naturally quiet voice was even lower when she answered. She wanted to look away again, but found herself completely unable to; Derpy’s honey eyes were captivating, the intelligence behind her awkward gaze apparent, now that she was actually looking at the other pony. “Because I never thought you’d find out…” She replied lamely.
More ponies were beginning to arrive then, crowding noisily through the door, ready to cast about for favorite seats and claim spaces for the different work teams.
Derpy and Dust Devil were still close enough to the entryway that they were noticed almost immediately, and though the pre-meeting moments were usually lively and somewhat rowdy, an unusual hush fell over the crowd at the sight of the two greyish mares, one hunched and miserable looking, the other surprisingly confrontational.
Derpy paid them no mind. Or perhaps she hadn’t even really registered their presence; she was so focused on figuring out why everypony talked about her rather than to her. For so many years, she had stood quietly by while other ponies made fun of her and it was neither right nor fair – What had she ever done to deserve it? Nothing.
And she was done simply remaining idle while other ponies made her life difficult.
She frowned at Dust Devil, brows drawing together, a look of utmost annoyance on her face. “My eyes might be a little weird, but my ears work just fine, you know.”
At that, the room went utterly, completely silent.
Derpy lifted her head, turning then to look over the cluster of pegasi behind her. Some of them were familiar, being the ponies she worked with every day, some were strangers whom she knew only as other weather ponies, and all of them were looking at her, expressions ranging from shame to surprise on their faces.
“I know what everypony says about me,” Derpy’s voice cut through the heavy silence, and though she wanted nothing more than to slink away from the watchful eyes of the crowd, she hitched up her chin, forcing herself to stand tall and face them all, “that I’m clumsy and stupid and can’t do anything right. But that isn’t really true. I work really, really hard like all of you do. Maybe even harder than some of you, because I know I have to keep myself from making mistakes. I know I’m not perfect and that I have accidents sometimes. I know sometimes you all have to work harder when I goof up. But I don’t mean to do those things and everypony making fun of me and acting like I don’t realize when I mess up isn’t going to help. It’s…it’s not okay for you to talk about me like that, when you wouldn’t want anypony talking about you like that!”
The silence returned with a vengeance then, as Derpy let her words drop off to nothing. Everypony was staring at her still, most of their eyes wide with shock, which left her surprised. How had they not realized that -though she was uncoordinated, slow, unique- she was no different from the rest of them? That she still heard and understood their cruel words; still felt the same feelings they experienced every day? Were they truly that stupid, that they thought her disabilities left her unable to understand that they made fun of her?
How could they possibly think that she was stupid, when they were the ones who didn’t even understand that they were hurting her?
Nopony spoke, and though it began quietly, the applause sounded thunderous from the very start. Derpy couldn’t see who began it –it started somewhere in the back of the room- though she suspected it was Raindrops who was stamping her hooves against the floor enthusiastically.
But then, suddenly, something incredible happened, as other ponies –both friends and ponies she barely knew alike- joined in the applause, the sound of pounding hooves echoing through the room. Derpy glanced around, wide-eyed, taking in smiles and pride on the faces of her friends, approval lighting the eyes of other ponies, excitement sweeping through the room. Blossomforth was near the front of the crowd, beaming, her bangs bouncing across her forehead as she stomped her hooves against the floor, and there suddenly was Raindrops pushing her way through the throng to the front, a pleased smile on her face.
Derpy grinned back at them, eyes dancing, and bowed with a little flourish.
Behind her, somepony cleared their throat and she turned to find Rainbow Dash, who was slumped casually against the doorframe, a smug smile on her face. “Yeah, we’re all glad Derpy’s back and feeling better,” Rainbow had a way of making herself seem loud, even without really raising her voice, and as she spoke, the applause trailed off, “Much better, it seems.” She paused long enough to grin at the grey pony, ruffling her thin mane, then looked back at the rest of the weather pegasi, “But we really do need to get down to business.”
As the rest of the ponies scattered, once again taking up the quest of locating prime seating and preparing for the meeting, Derpy blushed a little, ducking her head and pawing at the floor.
Beside her, Rainbow Dash gave her a little nudge, that same smug-ish smile still on her face. “You did good, kid.”
“I can’t believe you said all that stuff.”
It was much later that same evening and a small cluster of the Weather Crew was gathered in Blossomforth’s livingroom, relaxing and munching on caramel corn and drinking hot cocoa. Derpy looked up from her mug at Sunlight’s words, blinking at the stallion, head tipped to the side.
She didn’t really know Sunlight at all, beyond the fact that he was Blossomforth’s constant work partner and the other mare sometimes talked about him. The two apparently worked really well together, because Rainbow Dash almost always assigned them duty together, usually assignments that involved checking wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, and temperature. Sunlight’s flying capabilities were poor -he was more directionally oriented than Derpy, but his wing power was weak- and he had a more scientific mind than a practical.
Usually, Blossomforth was sent out to gather readings from the weather equipment around town -barometers, thermometers, weathervanes- which was later all documented in the town records, a job which Sunlight greatly enjoyed doing.
Apparently, the history of Ponyville’s weather fascinated him.
From what Blossomforth had said in the past, he was a quiet pony who spent more time in the field than socializing. He enjoyed tracking and charting wind currents -which Blossomforth found “Boring with a capital B“- and cloud watching, both activities that required a lot of patience and stillness, things his partner didn’t really have much of. She had summed it up once that he was “a nice pony, if a little dull,” a fact which Derpy was finding herself willing to agree with.
It appeared he was also shy as well, if his reaction to her little outburst at the meeting was any indication.
“’Cause I would never be that, um, cocky.” Sunlight frowned, pressing a hoof against his mouth thoughtfully, “Just thinking about saying something like that in front of everypony is making me nervous.”
“You’re nervous, like, all the time.” Blossomforth interrupted, grinning at Sunlight from where she was sprawled on her stomach on a somewhat lumpy beanbag chair. She tossed a handful of caramel corn into the air, stretching up gracefully to catch the falling kernels in her mouth.
The yellow stallion made a face back at her, rolling his pale eyes dramatically. He was slouched on the couch, looking more at home than Derpy expected, given the fact that he was always jittery. But then…It seemed that he and Blossomforth were close, no matter how dull she claimed he was, which left Derpy suspecting that they spent a lot of time together outside of work, even though Blossomforth tended to prefer more athletic, active pursuits. “Really,” He went on, ignoring his partner, “How did you manage to say all that stuff?”
“I just…” Derpy began, the words trailing off as she frowned, glancing at Thunderlane, who was nestled beside her on a floor cushion. He ran a soothing hoof up her left foreleg, giving her a reassuring smile, and she leaned into his side, content to draw strength from him -- She had used up most of her reserve at the meeting. “I got tired of hearing it. I guess…I got really sick of hearing ponies talk about me like I don’t understand or hear the mean words, ‘cause I do…And I don’t want to feel the way they make me feel any more.”
“It’s about time!” Raindrops piped up from the other end of the couch, leaning forwards eagerly, her long, teal mane sliding over her shoulder, shaggy bangs half-covering her eyes. She had been paging through a gossip rag, looking at blurry pictures that may or may not have been of the Wonderbolts out of uniform, but the conversation had caught her attention, and she dramatically tossed the magazine aside. “You put up with all that bucking nonsense for way too long. I’m really glad you stood up for yourself.”
“…I am too.” The grey mare ducked her head, smiling shyly down at Blossomforth‘s pale pink shag carpet, “It was really hard, but…It was time.” She couldn’t really explain how or why the time had suddenly been right – How had it taken so long for it to be the perfect moment for her to confront her rude coworkers? She couldn’t explain, because she didn’t understand it herself. In the past, she had been far too afraid of criticism and humiliation to stand up for herself, but somehow…
Somehow, lately, she felt like somepony different…Somepony she barely even recognized at times.
“And I’m glad I have all of you guys to help me out and stuff.” Derpy glanced back up, her usually annoying vision working to her advantage so she could see all four of the other ponies in the room at once, “I never woulda been able to make it this far without friends…” She paused, a thoughtful look crossing her face, “And it woulda been even better if you guys had been in Cloudsdale with me and Surprise.”
“Speaking of Surprise…” Raindrops reached to scoop up the discarded magazine and began pawing through it earnestly, searching for something, “When are we going to meet her?” She was speeding through the pages so fast, she shot right by whatever it was she’d been looking for, which left her backtracking a couple pages. “And does she” -she flipped the magazine around, displaying a clearly posed shot of Surprise with a giant powdered sugar donut between her hooves and a list of ‘Surprise‘s Top Ten Guilty Pleasures’- “really like carrot juice popsicles dipped in chocolate?”
“I sent her a letter a couple days ago, inviting her for a visit.” The grey mare replied, a dazzling smile playing across her face. Even at the mere thought of Surprise coming to Ponyville, excitement was welling in her heart. She hadn’t seen the other pegasus in a very long time and she’d never been able to introduce her old friend to her new friends. “It’ll depend on her schedule and when she can get time off to come, but…I’m sure she will as soon as she can.” Surprise loved excitement and adventure, and traveling to Ponyville was sure to result in both. “And yeah, she really does like choco-carrot popsicles. They were her favorite thing to eat when we were fillies. I think she liked it mostly ‘cause it grossed her brother Rime out.”
Raindrops wrinkled her nose, a disgusted look crossing her face. “That grosses me out.” She punctuated the sentence with a gesture akin to gagging herself, complete with sound effects, then flopped over limply on the couch, tongue hanging out. “But…” She popped back up, a bright smile once again on her face, blue eyes shining keenly, “I am super excited about her coming to visit!”
“Me too!” Blossomforth squealed, rolling around gleefully on the beanbag chair. She flailed all her limbs wildly for a moment, the anticipation of meeting a Wonderbolt apparently too much to handle. “We’ll have to plan something special, when we find out when she’s coming.”
“And have a sleepover!”
Thunderlane rolled his eyes at their antics, giving Sunlight a look of mock-exasperation and mouthing the word ‘mares’ at the other stallion, who simply smiled faintly in return, though he was edging as far away from a then-bouncing Raindrops.
Derpy, with her cock-eyed gaze, caught her special somepony’s look and elbowed him in the side, giggling at her friends. “Surprise’d like that,” she confirmed, “a lot.”