Scootaloo spent the rest of the day by herself, quietly playing in her room. This gave Rarity an understanding of how her previous foster parents must have felt. It was exactly as Autumn described her behavior. Scootaloo wasn’t mean or disrespectful, she just retreated into a shell, refusing any of Rarity’s efforts to re-engage with her.
And despite offers of more poker lessons or a trip to the arts and crafts store, she continued to rebuff Rarity for the entire day, even through dinner, which she ate in her room. Rarity considered demanding Scootaloo at least eat downstairs, but somehow it seemed like a violation of her promise to try and force Scootaloo out of her funk. Rarity told herself that she would work on teaching Scootaloo why such behavior was uncalled for later, but for now she let it slide, hoping some space would demonstrate her good intentions.
The next morning Scootaloo offered more of the same, a mumbled hello to be precise, before trudging off to school.
Rarity spent her day running her business, as though she didn’t have a temperamental filly to care for. From her perspective there was little to be done anyway until Scootaloo proved willing to re-engage.
Scootaloo returned from school with the same mumbled greeting she offered in the morning. Even if Rarity wanted to allow Scootaloo time to wallow, they had an appointment to keep, and a lady was always punctual.
“Are you ready to leave?” Rarity asked as politely as she could manage, lest she agitate Scootaloo further, sabotaging her visit before it had even begun.
Scootaloo stared at the ground, avoiding eye contact. “Yeah, let me just put my stuff down,” she muttered.
Scootaloo stayed in her room for significantly longer than it should have taken to put her school supplies away, and Rarity was about to go upstairs and knock on the door. But before she got to the stairs, Scootaloo emerged from her room wearing a yellow sundress with a bright white daisy on the skirt. Her mane was also shiny, adorned with a small yellow barrette, and meticulously combed. All in all she looked heart-meltingly adorable; she also looked nothing like the filly Rarity was used to seeing.
“So, how do I look?” Scootaloo asked with a sigh after she finished descending the stairs.
Rarity tapped her hoof on the ground, ponderously humming, the way she often did when she was judging a new dress. Studying Scootaloo carefully, she walked over, closing the distance between them. Pausing to give the filly one last look Rarity licked her hoof, then promptly tussled Scootaloo’s mane until it resembled the familiar windswept look that she had become accustomed to seeing. Scootaloo jumped back and glared angrily at Rarity, her back arched. “Why would you do that? Now I have to go brush it again!”
But instead of matching Scootaloo's countenance, Rarity returned the glare with a wry grin. “Scootaloo, I’ve known you for a few years, and I have only seen you brush your hair and wear a dress twice. Once at Princess Cadence’s wedding, and again for Sweetie’s play.”
Scootaloo’s glare lessened, but traces of it still remained. “Don’t you want me to make a good impression? If they like me I’ll be out of your mane.”
Rarity sighed; apparently her efforts to make Scootaloo feel welcome were not going as well as she thought they were. “I want you to find a family who appreciates you for who you are. Didn’t Autumn say that this was about everypony getting to know each other?”
Scootaloo glanced away and pawed at the ground. “Yeah,” she mumbled.
“And they can’t really get to know you if you’re not being yourself, can they? The Scootaloo I know is a wonderful little filly, who likes her mane tousled and has no use for frilly dresses. That’s the filly they should meet.”
Scootaloo wiggled her shoulders and slipped out of the dress she had carefully picked out. She walked over to the mirror and stared at herself for a good long moment, her mouth twisting into a kind of sad smile. “This is who I am, I guess.”
“Indeed it is. And I’ll tell you a secret.” Rarity leaned close to Scootaloo as though she was about to share something illicit. “I like this Scootaloo a lot better than the one who came down the stairs,” Rarity whispered.
Scootaloo looked in the mirror again, her expression didn’t change but Rarity did notice a faint twinkle in her eyes that hadn’t been there previously.
At the Foal Services office they found Autumn waiting for them with a pair of earth ponies Rarity assumed to be Scootaloo’s prospective foster parents. One was a light tan colored mare, with an orangish mane, and the other was a sky blue stallion with a white mane.
“I’m Lilly,” the mare said with a wide, almost hopeful smile. She turned slightly so Scootaloo could see her cutie mark which matched her name. “And this is my husband, Treble.”
“I’m Scootaloo,” Scootaloo said, even though the pair of ponies in front of her already knew that. Having to introduce herself to ponies who already knew her name was just one of the many things Scootaloo hated about these visits. She knew that Autumn already had shown the prospective parents a file containing her name and picture. And they had obviously talked about her or else they wouldn’t have agreed to meet her. So having to confirm that she was the pony they already thought she was struck her as an indignity that she shouldn’t have to put up with.
But Lilly acted like it was the first time she had ever heard the name, nodding intently. “It’s very nice to meet you, Scootaloo. Maybe you could tell me a little bit about yourself?”
“I’m a pegasus, I like riding my scooter and dancing and I don’t like spaghetti,” Scootaloo replied as though her entire being could be summed up in those four details.
“Well, that’s very good to know. I don’t know much about scooters or dancing, but my husband is a musician,” Lilly offered. Scootaloo had no response so the two just stared at eachother for another moment. “I like to garden,” Lilly said again turning slightly to highlight her eponymous cutie mark. “Have you ever done any planting?”
Scootaloo glanced away, looking around the too familiar room. “I’ve helped Apple Bloom do her chores a few times at Sweet Apple Acres.”
“Ooh, I’ve never been there but I hear their apple orchards are very impressive. Maybe you can show me around one day?” Lilly said, trying to keep eye contact.
“Sure,” Scootaloo said quietly, turning her head back toward Lilly. “I don’t think Apple Bloom would mind.”
The tragedy of the situation, according to Rarity, was that Scootaloo really was making an effort; though it might not have been apparent to anypony who wasn’t familiar with the little pegasus’ penchant for walling herself off. She answered the questions posed to her with more than one syllable, she tried to force a few smiles and she played Chutes and Ladders with at least a modicum of interest. But none of that would matter if Lilly and Treble couldn’t understand that Scootaloo needed time to feel comfortable.
“Who are you watching? Them or her?” Rarity asked Autumn from behind the one way mirror where they had taken up shop to observe the meeting.
Autumn kept his gaze firmly on the three ponies, writing a few quick scribbles in a notebook. “Them. Scootaloo’s never going to open up to someone meeting them for the first time. I’m trying to see how they deal with that.”
“Maybe I should talk to them. I’ve gotten to know Scootaloo at least a little bit. Maybe I could help them understand that she just needs some time?”
Autumn shook his head, with enough conviction to let Rarity know that this was not up for debate. “No. They need to form their own opinions. New parents usually have very little interactions with previous guardians for that exact reason.”
Rarity pursed her lips, trying not to be offended. “I see,” she said, observing the possible family continue their game. Scootaloo continued to go through the motions, rolling the dice when it was her turn and moving the appropriate number of spaces, but there was nothing joyous in any of her actions. Lilly and Treble played with a tempered enthusiasm, clearly letting Scootaloo win, which caused Rarity to cringe inwardly. Though their intentions may have been pure, denying Scootaloo a legitimately earned victory was not the way into her good graces.
As she watched the game continue she felt a strange tightness in her chest. Nervousness? Fear? It wasn’t strong enough to be either of those. If she had to put a name to it, she’d describe it as defensive. She wanted to pound on the windows and scream through the glass. No! Scootaloo doesn’t want to win, she wants you to accept her whether she wins or loses! But Autumns words echoed in her head and she stayed quiet.
“You win!” Lilly exclaimed while Treble adopted a faux-disappointed expression. “You’ll have to give us a rematch soon.”
“Sure,” Scootaloo replied with a very nonchalant shrug, having exhausted all the enthusiasm she was prepared to offer.
Figuring that their visit had run its intended course Autumn reintroduced himself, coming out from behind the one way mirror. “Well, that’s about all the time we have. Scootaloo, thanks for coming. Lilly, Treble, if you would follow me back to my office.”
With no further interaction with Lilly and Treble necessary, Rarity and Scootaloo returned to the boutique. Scootaloo went upstairs to do her homework and Rarity again found herself making dinner. Cooking for two had become almost second nature surprisingly quickly. Despite Scootaloo’s distaste for spaghetti, she wasn’t a picky eater. As such, Rarity found that her usual meals didn’t need to be altered, only the portion size increased.
Scootaloo deigned to eat downstairs and Rarity chose to reward this behavior by not bringing up any potentially incendiary topics. Instead they made polite small talk, mainly focusing on school and crusading.
Rarity did the dishes and settled in prepared to digest another few chapters of Bring up Fillies. A fierce storm raged outside, the winds howling. Safely inside the walls of the boutique, Rarity was grateful neither she nor Scootaloo needed to venture out. A bright flash of lightning was quickly followed by the loud crack of thunder and Rarity found concentrating difficult. Another bright light and subsequent crack later Rarity set the book down.
She had never had much problems with storms, but she remembered that when Sweetie was younger she would cower at even faint rumbles of thunder. Thinking of Sweetie naturally made her curious about Scootaloo’s response to inclement weather.
Even if Scootaloo wasn’t bothered by the noise she might appreciate another lullabye and so Rarity went upstairs to offer one. Scootaloo didn’t protest the intrusion, inviting Rarity back into the room and perhaps seemingly into her incredibly small circle of trust.
“What did you think about Lilly and Treble?” Rarity asked, pulling the covers securely over the orange pegasus.
Scootaloo sighed. “They seemed nice and they live in Ponyville. That’s kinda the best I can hope for.”
“Why do you say that, dear?” Rarity asked with a slight tilt of her head.
“Because I know how this works. Autumn took them back to his office and then it was all ‘What did you think about Scootaloo?’ and ‘Is she always like that?’” Scootaloo said, her tone dripping with sarcasm. “If they liked me, Autumn will ask me how I feel about them. No, I’m not scared of them. Yes I’d like to stay in Ponyville,” Scootaloo replied to the hypothetical inquiry as though she was reading items off a grocery list.
A terrible thought planted itself in Rarity’s mind at the mention of the word “Scared.” What if Scootaloo had been abused by her subsequent foster parents after she had been abandoned? It might help explain further why she was so reluctant to lower her guard. The horrifying question needed an answer, unpleasant though it may be. “Scared? Has anyone ever hurt you?” Rarity asked, studying Scootaloo intently for any sign of deception.
Scootaloo shook her head. “No, but Autumn always asks if I think they might.” She paused, “I don’t think he’d let anypony he thought might hurt me even meet me,” Scootaloo said quietly looking down at her hooves.
Rarity breathed a small sigh of relief. It was nice to be reminded that there were other ponies looking out for Scootaloo’s welfare, and that, though Scootaloo had endured a horrific trauma, it hadn’t been compounded.
As far as Rarity could tell, the list of ponies Scootaloo trusted consisted of maybe six individuals. Her sister and Apple Bloom were almost certainly on it. Likewise she was sure Rainbow had to occupy a spot. Scootaloo had never complained about Cheerilee so Rarity assumed that maybe her teacher had been granted at least a measure of trust. She herself seemed to be on the list, however tenuously, and lastly it appeared that Autumn was also somepony whom Scootaloo placed her fragile faith in. The idea that Scootaloo thought that in all of Equestria there were only six ponies whose intentions toward her were benevolent was just another in a long line of heart-wrenching details and Rarity fought to maintain her composure.
The raging storm sent a particularly strong gust of wind through the windows of Scootaloo’s bedroom, and even though Rarity quickly resealed the windows and closed the latch with a quick spell, one of Scootaloo’s pictures was knocked off the wall.
Scootaloo hopped out of bed and hurried to retrieve it as though it were a priceless artifact. After inspecting the picture she carefully put it back in its designated spot at the center of her makeshift gallery. There were lots of hoofdrawn pictures of Rainbow Dash on the wall above Scootaloo’s desk, but this one was clearly special. It depicted Rainbow standing proudly on top of a mountain, a large, gloriously shining sun at her back and a rainbow over her head. Even just a cursory glance was enough for Rarity to judge that it was that picture Scootaloo had spent the most time on.
“You really admire her, don’t you?” The question may have well been rhetorical.
Scootaloo looked up as though Rarity had just said the most obvious thing ever, which in a way she had. “Of course I do. She’s the coolest pegasus ever! And the best flyer ever! You’re her friend you know that.”
“Rainbow is certainly a very talented flyer,” was as far as Rarity was willing to go in agreeing.
Scootaloo gazed longingly at the rest of the pictures she had colored. Her eyes lingered for a particularly long moment on the crude drawing of both her and Rainbow Dash soaring through the clouds. In that picture Scootaloo had an impossibly wide smile on her face, but her real world equivalent bore no such expression. “I wish I could fly.” Scootaloo sighed wistfully.
“I know you do, dear.”
Her picture secure, Scootaloo climbed back into bed. “If I could fly, I’d live with Rainbow Dash, and I wouldn’t have to go to anymore of these stupid meeting things where ponies ask me stupid questions and play stupid games and judge me all the time.”
“You really don’t like those meetings, do you?” Another rhetorical question.
Scootaloo shook her head, clearly trying to restrict her visible reactions to a faint trembling. In response, Rarity reached over with a foreleg to pull Scootaloo into a soft hug. It was a calculated risk, but to Rarity’s surprise and delight, Scootaloo made no effort to resist. In fact, she could swear that she could feel Scootaloo burrow into her shoulder ever so slightly. Rarity gave Scootaloo what she hoped was a reassuring squeeze.
Looking down at the filly next to her Rarity had a minor epiphany. It wasn’t that she was angry at Rainbow for being unwilling to adopt the filly next to her; it was that she was insulated from the consequences of that decision. Even though Rainbow remained resolute in her commitment not to adopt, Scootaloo still adored her. In large part because Scootaloo mistakenly believed that flying was the only obstacle preventing her and Rainbow from being a family. Rainbow got to spend time with Scootaloo, blissfully unaware about how much the filly was hurting, because Scootaloo worked hard at hiding it. And every time they practiced flying or saw a movie together, Scootaloo would look up at Rainbow with absolute, unquestioning, uncritical adoration, and Rainbow would drink it up like a parched traveler who stumbled on an oasis; all because of a misconception.
That wasn’t fair.
In fact, it was more than unfair; it bordered on cruel. That Rainbow was allowed to refill her boundless self-confidence from Scootaloo’s never-ending well of adoration, while Scootaloo’s self worth was always on the precipice of being completely depleted was a state of affairs that Rarity found increasingly intolerable.
But she knew that she couldn’t be the one to shatter Scootaloo’s carefully constructed fantasy. It was unlikely that the little filly would believe her, for starters. But beyond that Rarity wanted, perhaps somewhat selfishly, Rainbow Dash to have to look Scootaloo in the eye when Scootaloo learned that her idol was not all she imagined. Without question, a difficult thing, but a fitting penance. If Rainbow Dash really didn’t want to adopt Scootaloo then she needed to own up to that fact.
One more thought, stayed her tongue before she spoke. If Scootaloo did confront Rainbow Dash directly it was highly probable she would be hurt, badly. Looking down at the orange filly, snuggled warmly in bed made that prospect singularly unappealing as, at that moment, Rarity would have sworn to do whatever it took to spare Scootaloo from further heartache. But holding onto false hope was a different form of pain, and if Scootaloo ever did learn to fly and Rainbow refused to take her in, wouldn’t that hurt worse?
“Have you ever talked with Rainbow about adopting you?”
Scootaloo curled her tail around her body and began running her hooves through it. “Not really. I mean she said she’s my sister...” Scootaloo’s voice trailed off.
“I think you need to talk to Rainbow Dash about adopting you,” Rarity whispered, her voice breaking ever so slightly.
Scootaloo’s ears perked up and she smiled, Rarity’s words overshadowing the sadness in her voice. “You think she will?”
Rarity very cautiously considered how to respond, her ears pinned back against her head. It wasn’t her place to speak for Rainbow Dash, but she also refused to lie. “I think you need to hear her thoughts on the subject.”
However, the careful wording was not lost on the little filly. “You don’t think she’ll adopt me, do you?” Scootaloo backed away from the edge of the bed and scowled from under her blankets. “Well, you’re wrong! As soon as I can fly, Rainbow’s going to invite me to live with her and it’s going to be awesome!”
“I hope so, dear,” was the only reply Rarity felt comfortable giving. Unfortunately it also earned her another scowl.
But past that scowl, Rarity could almost hear the wheels in Scootaloo’s head turning. It was as if every time Rainbow was late to meet her, every time she left with only a brisk “See ya, squirt” and every canceled flying lesson, began to beat against Scootaloo’s psyche. And the effect of that pressure rendered Scootaloo mute as she tried desperately to push it down.
“Get out! I don’t want to talk to you anymore!”
Rarity started to protest, but ultimately decided not to, backing out of the room without a word or the lullaby she had came to offer. It appeared she had been once again relegated to the ranks of most ponies as far as Scootaloo was concerned. And whether she deserved that designation or not, she knew that one did not curry favor with Scootaloo by forcing anything. Tomorrow she would make an effort to work her way back into Scootaloo’s good graces.
The next morning the nugget of doubt that had been planted by Rarity’s suggestion was still present, gnawing away at Scootaloo's psyche. Rainbow is going to adopt me, Rarity is wrong, she repeated inwardly. But no matter how many times she repeated that mantra, the doubt wouldn’t go away. The only thing that could calm her mind would be Rainbow herself.
She couldn’t focus in school, everything from math, to history, to arts and crafts all reminded her of Rainbow Dash. And after school she didn’t feel like crusading. Instead Scootaloo sped through town on her scooter, desperate to alleviate what had become an almost overwhelming ache pushing against her chest.
Scootaloo frantically scoured Ponyville for any trace of the one pony who could help her. Finally, just off the main drag, she spotted Rainbow, lying on a shallow cloud, seemingly without a care in the world.
“Rainbow Dash!” Scootaloo practically shouted as she approached, her emotions overruling her decorum.
Rainbow jumped in the air, frantically looking for the source of the outburst. Even when she located it, her expression was no less surprised.“Hey Squirt, wassup?”
Normally Scootaloo might have tried to play it cool. Rainbow Dash never got flustered so she shouldn’t either. But she had been waiting all day to confirm what she fervently hoped was true. “Rarity thinks you aren’t going to adopt me, but that’s silly right?” Scootaloo blurted out. “I mean you are just waiting for me to learn how to fly, aren’t you?
Rainbow balked, visibly; stammering and flailing her hooves wildly before managing a coherent sentence. “What! Me adopt you?”
“Yeah, I had one of those stupid meetings with some ponies the other day and I told her that you were going to adopt me once I could fly so that you wouldn’t have to fly me up to your cloud house all the time.”
Scootaloo wasn’t making a lot sense but the overall theme of her visit was becoming distressingly clear. But this was no different than dealing with an oncoming storm, the best way not to get caught was to make a detour. “Okay, slow down squirt, How bout we just get some ice cream?”
Scootaloo looked up at Rainbow with wide, questioning eyes. Was Rainbow joking with her? Surely any second now she would burst out laughing with a “Just kidding squirt, of course you can come live with me once we get you flying. In fact, how bout we go practice right now?” And why was she offering ice cream? Scootaloo didn’t want dessert; she needed to know that Rainbow was going to adopt her. Scootaloo forced herself to remain calm. She had ambushed Rainbow, maybe her idol thought that Scootaloo was asking to be adopted today? That had to be it; this was just a small misunderstanding. Once Rainbow realized that she was just checking in on their unspoken arrangement she’d of course confirm her intentions. “Ummm, I still can’t fly but I’m working really hard at it,” Scootaloo said, hoping that her clarification made up for her sudden outburst.
As Rainbow sat on her lofty perch, looking down at the filly staring up at her she feveriously tried to remember what Rarity had told her, She’s profoundly unhappy, you can help her, and for the first time since she had met the kid, Rainbow was beginning to see how true that was. It was impossible not to feel for Scootaloo, but Rainbow also knew that letting your emotions make your choices was a good way to end up in an even worse situation.
Scootaloo clearly thought that Rainbow was going to adopt her at some point in the future, where she got that idea was a problem for another time. For now, Rainbow was just hoping to escape with both of their egos intact. She thought about lying, Yeah of course kid, once you can fly I’ll totally adopt you. It wasn’t true but it would make Scootaloo feel better. And maybe she’d never fly, or maybe she wouldn’t want Rainbow to adopt her later. She also thought about being brutally honest, I’m not adopting you, ever. It’s not your fault, I just don’t want kids. But she was too loyal to do the former and too cowardly to do the later.
It was nice having Scootaloo look up to her, telling her how awesome she was, really nice. If there was anyway to keep that dynamic, Rainbow wanted to try. She gently hopped down off her cloud and again attempted to sidestep the question. “I know you are, squirt. Don’t worry, you’ll get there.”
When Rainbow didn’t add anything to her last sentence she could feel the tension in the air grow oppressively thick. Scootaloo continued to look up at her, waiting for something, anything that would indicate that Rainbow was just waiting for the right time to swoop down and save her.
Rainbow scratched at her forelegs, a nervous tick she had developed. “I wanna be your sister, but sisters don’t take care of each other, not like moms do,” Rainbow tried, hoping the distinction between family members would work in her favor.
“Apple Bloom’s sister takes care of her. And Rarity takes care of Sweetie Belle sometimes,” Scootaloo responded, the ache in her chest growing sharper with each passing moment. She found it becoming more difficult to breathe, and she felt her throat close up forcing her to take several deep breaths to avoid turning blue.
“Well yeah, but only when her parents aren’t around,” Rainbow said, instantly wishing she could take it back, fully aware of the trap she just walked herself into.
Scootaloo’s heart started to race faster, her voice rising.“My parents are never around! I don’t even know who they are!”
Another moment passed, and a precipice was crossed. Scootaloo was clearly too dogged for Rainbow to continue to avoid the question. She could fly away, or make up some emergency, but that would just be a “no” in a different form.
“Scoots, you don’t really know what you’re asking here,” Rainbow said softly, a last gasp prayer at trying to spare Scootaloo’s feelings. It really wasn’t the squirt’s fault, Rainbow thought. If she ever did have a kid she’d want that kid to be just like Scootaloo. But no matter how awesome the squirt was, she was a child and children just weren’t in her future.
Scootaloo’s face contorted into several distressing positions, her emotions easy to read. The tension she had been holding in began to coalescing into a sickening ball of self-loathing.
Evidently, even Rainbow Dash couldn’t overlook the terrible flaw that everpony else obviously saw in her. “I thought you were different! Well, I don’t need them and I don’t need you!” Scootaloo screamed through the tears now flowing freely down her cheeks.
Before Rainbow could reply Scootaloo jumped on her scooter and furiously sped away, leaving Rainbow wondering if following her was really the best idea.