• Published 28th Feb 2016
  • 3,249 Views, 385 Comments

Someone Still Loves You - brokenimage321



After realizing her dream of earning her cutie mark—in the company of her best friends, no less—Scootaloo’s life should have been on an upward course. Instead, she sees herself on yet another crusade.

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13. Denial

“Help me…”

“Please, help me…”

Rumble ran through the pitch-black emptiness, guided only by a faint, distressed cry. Blood surged through his veins as each hoof pounded the ground with the weight of a manticore, his legs burning and throbbing as he refused to slow down, refused to stop.

“No... don’t… No!

The voice was pained now, the crack of the last syllable sent tore through his spine, with a sting that nearly killed him. And yet, he ran, eyes fixed forward. With each breath, a rush of cold air choked in. Each ragged gasp felt like a cloud of razors scraping down his throat and into his lungs.

And, with a blink, she was there. He skidded to a stop. Seeing the two of them, his stomach twisted, and he tasted bile in his throat.

She was lying there in front of him, her tail swishing softly, struggling to stand on all fours, like a newborn foal.

Rumble watched her, breathless and still, even as the pain and adrenaline refused to let up, his heart pounding against his ribs.

Something was wrong.

“Rumble…” the limp Scootaloo whimpered, “Please… help me…”

Rumble lurched forward, hoof outstretched, but she grew no closer. He strained, pushed, gnashed his teeth, and broke into a full gallop, but Scootaloo was still as distant and helpless as before.

“Rumble…”

Rumble screamed. He opened his mouth and screamed in fear and anger and frustration. But no sound came out. Only silence ruled this darkness.

And then… she appeared. Walking slowly, deliberately towards the limp Scootaloo, too weak to even lift herself anymore, too weak to do anything but lie there as she whimpered and sobbed. Scootaloo lifted her head to look at her—to look up at Rainbow Dash, standing over her.

“Please, Mama… I can… please don’t…”

“Get up,” Rainbow ordered.

Scootaloo swallowed, and summoned a great well of strength within her. Shakily, she climbed to her hooves, trembling and sweating as if she was scaling a mountain.

“Fly,” Rainbow commanded.

Rumble stared at Scootaloo’s face—her beautiful face, broken and marred. She was covered in bruises, her eyes were blackened, her mane frazzled and torn, a string of long-dried blood on her muzzle, her coat punctured with bite marks.

“Fly,” Rainbow roared, her voice shaking Rumble to the very marrow of his bones.

Scootaloo opened her wings, which shook just as much as the rest of her. She closed her eyes as tears spilled down her face and dropped upon the ground. Then, she began to beat her wings, faster, faster still, her wings buzzing through the air

Then, they fell. Feather by feather, her wings split apart and fell away, each feather with a tiny ruby drop of blood on its tip. Scootaloo turned and watched in horror as her wings shriveled and died. Then, one of her shaking legs gave out, and she fell, slamming into the ground with barely a whimper.

Rainbow looked at her daughter, her face a mask of disdain and hatred. “You can’t, can you,” she said, her voice dripping venom. “I knew you couldn’t.” She turned away. “You’re useless to me.”

Scootaloo looked up at her, tears now streaming down her face. “I…”

Rainbow shot her another disgusted look, then turned away—and, suddenly, Soarin’ was there.

Rainbow grinned, her eyes ice-cold and iron-sharp. “That dead weight has given me enough problems, anyway. Should’ve never had her in the first place.” She walked away, swishing her tail. “Make it quick, babe.”

With that, she faded into darkness. Scootaloo looked up, eyes wide, and, somehow, found the energy to crawl away, but, in one-two-three strides, Soarin’ was upon her. Rumble found he could move again and lunged forward to save her—but as he reached out to grab her—as she looked up at him, eyes wide and pleading—he passed through her as if she were mist and smoke.

He landed, hard, on the ground, and rolled twice before coming to a stop. He looked up to see Soarin’ grinning madly down at him.

“Them’s the shakes,” he said, coldly. “The herd only has room for the strong. As for the weak… well…”

Slowly, almost delicately, he bent down, took Scootaloo’s neck in his jaws, and lifted her, squirming and weeping, into the air. As she swung helplessly from his teeth, Scootaloo turned and gave Rumble a look—a look of fear, of sorrow, of pain. She opened her mouth to speak—

And Soarin’ bit down, hard, his eyes glittering in mingled fury and pleasure.

Her neck broke with a crack like lightning. Her eyes rolled back in her head, and she sagged. Soarin opened his mouth and Scootaloo dropped to the ground, lifeless. Soarin’ looked up at Rumble, and licked the blood from his lips.

And Rumble screamed, a high, wordless scream, screaming all the panic and fear and loss and rage in his body—

“Rumble!”

He felt someone shaking him.

“Rumble! Can you hear me?”

Rumble turned, and saw a face he did not recognize.

And then, it came to him: he was back in his bed. It was night. And the mare beside him was Cloudchaser, Thunderlane’s latest marefriend, and his longtime foalsitter.

Right on cue, Thunderlane stepped up beside her, concern in his eyes.

“You alright, buddy?” he asked.

Rumble shivered as he shook his head. That sound… that horrible sound...

Cloudchaser leaned down and drew him into a gentle embrace.

“Aw, Rummy…” Cloudchaser murmured, “it’s okay, it’s okay. We’re here.”

Rumble struggled to form words, “I couldn’t…” He began to tremble again. “She…”

Cloudchaser shushed him gently as she picked him up, and brought him fully into her arms, Thunderlane leaned in and nuzzled him on the cheek.

Finally, the ringing echoes of the crack faded. The trembling chill slowly trailed away, and the last of the nightmare fell from his eyes.

He snuggled a little deeper into Cloudchaser. She was slim—not as much comfort as Mom would’ve been—and, knowing Thunderlane, she’d be gone before the week was out… but he needed someone to hold him right now... And, well, any port in a storm....

“Man,” Thunderlane sighed, looking out Rumble’s open window. “Second night in a row.”

“I was hoping they had stopped for awhile,” Cloudchaser said, still rocking Rumble softly.

“I did too.” Thunderlane said, “I tried asking him what’s up, but he just says he doesn’t wanna talk about it.”

Rumble snarled to himself. He hated it when they talked about him as if he wasn’t there.

He hated it—but not enough to want to tell them about it. To confess his deepest fear. To tell his older brother how much of a coward he was.

Them’s the shakes. The herd only has room for the strong. As for the weak…

He whimpered, and began to tremble.

Cloudchaser tutted gently at him for another few moments, then sighed. “Sweetie,” Cloudchaser said as she set him down, “what’s the matter? You’re scared, and it’s okay to be scared... but you gotta tell somepony. Just bottling it up inside isn’t going to do you any good…”

Rumble simply shook his head again, a faint whimper escaping his clenched teeth.

Thunderlane sighed, then turned to look at Rumble, sudden irritation on his face. “Well dude,” he said, his voice sharp, “if you don’t wanna fix it, then you’re on your own.”

“Thundy—” Cloudchaser started.

“No, he’s not a baby,” Thunderlane said sternly. ”Either you tell us what’s up,” he said to Rumble, “or you tough it out.”

Rumble opened his mouth, then quickly shut it. He squirmed back under his covers, then pulled the blanket back over his head.

“Whatever.” Thunderlane said with a snort. He turned and walked from the room. “Come on, babe,” he said over his shoulder. Cloudchaser watched him go, gently rubbed Rumble’s back once or twice, then stood and followed Thunderlane, closing the door behind her.

Rumble cautiously pulled the covers off his head, then rolled on his back and lay still. He was exhausted—tired as he’d ever been—but, all the same, he didn’t want to close his eyes again. Didn’t want to see Rainbow, or Soarin’, or a broken, lifeless Scootaloo lying at their hooves.

He clutched his comforter tightly and stared at the ceiling.


Scootaloo didn’t like the intense sunlight that greeted her tired eyes. Nor did she enjoy the sound of hoofsteps, no doubt of the mare who was coming to wake her. And yet, here she was, sleeping in the bed she still thought of as Sweetie Belle’s, covers pulled up to her chin, her back to the door.

“Scootaloo?” came Rarity’s soft greeting, “It’s time to get up for school, dear.”

Scootaloo groaned into her pillow as she squeezed her eyes shut, and sunk under the covers defiantly, The last thing she wanted to do was get out of this nice warm bed, and face the day.

Rarity simply sighed, then turned and left the room.

Scootaloo tried valiantly to try to fall asleep again, but it was too late. It wouldn’t come. She lay there for a while before she picked up her head and began to sniff at the air. Breakfast—pancakes, by the smell of it. She stretched, yawned, then sat up and rubbed the sleepies out of her eyes.

As if by instinct, she looked around, sighing to herself as she was reminded it was just her in this bed. No Apple Bloom sawing logs to her right, a small puddle of drool on her pillow; no sound of the shower going, or Sweetie Belle’s usual vocal performance therein. She was alone in Rarity’s guest room, all purple and lilac and violet, illuminated by the morning sun..

After a lick of her lips, another good stretch, and a yawn for punctuation, she clambered out of the bed. She arched her back and felt a satisfying pop from her knees,then trotted out into the hall, where the lovely smell of pancakes only intensified.

Sitting idly in the hallway for a few minutes, she noticed the faint sizzling of something good, the crackling of grease and oil against a skillet; and just above this scene, the ambient tick-tocking of a commanding grandfather clock which sat at the end of the staircase before her. Once more she turned her head towards the bathroom door, opened her mouth to say something to a Sweetie Belle that wasn’t there.

She had never quite noticed how high the ceilings were before.

Eyes still heavy, Scootaloo descended the stairs. Her ears perked up at the sounds of cooking, followed close behind by a quiet humming from Rarity. Rarity must have heard her plodding down the stairs, as she turned to face Scootaloo just as she took the last steps.

“It’ll be a few minutes on the potatoes, I’m afraid,” Rarity said as she levitated a steaming plate of croissants to her dining table, “Why don’t you wash up before we eat? Might as well get it out of the way.”

Scootaloo nodded as she turned around, and plodded back up the stairs and towards the bathroom. She barely had to think about it given how many times she’d been here. She fetched a towel from the closet across the way—not the embroidered ones, those were Rarity’s— turned the cold knob on the bath first, then, after a few seconds, the hot, then started brushing her teeth as the water adjusted to just the right temperature. She spat in the sink, rinsed her mouth, then hopped in the tub and pulled the curtain shut again. Scootaloo let the warm water wash over her, felt it run down her body, onto her legs, then down the drain. As she did, she let her mind drift...

Her thoughts alighted on the memories of the night before, and she shuddered a little.

Rainbow, she… she’s my mother… she, who ignored me, lied to me, abandoned me, she—she’s my mother

Almost unconsciously, her flank sunk to the floor. Scootaloo sat there in the stream of warm water, the porcelain cool against her skin, letting the water drop her mane over her eyes.

These last few days, Scootaloo hadn’t much say in anything. Even as others tore her life up by the roots and decided her fate for her, the only reaction she had been allowed was fear. She very much wanted to see Sweetie Belle or Rumble. She wanted a hug. She wanted this nightmare to be done and over, and to wake to the old, familiar sounds of tiny foals running and screaming in the halls, and of Mrs. Harbour downstairs, cooking something motherly.

Without warning, someone knocked at the bathroom door. Scootaloo jerked her head up, then realized the shower had gone ice cold.

“Scootaloo?” Rarity called from behind the door, “Are you okay dear? Your food is getting cold!”

“I’m c-c-ccoming!” Scootaloo cried, her teeth chattering from the cold. She shut off the water, then still sat there for just a moment, feeling the water swirl around her for a little longer. Then, she climbed out of the tub, toweled herself off, and wandered back towards the stairs, stopping just short of the top flight.

She swallowed. She knew that once she made her way down and set foot in the kitchen, another series of unfortunate events was going to befall her, its course and consequences decided by some depraved omnipresent force that seemed hellbent on making her as miserable as possible. With a heavy sigh, she began her descent.

Waiting at the bottom of the stairs , a look of faint concern on her face, was Rarity. “There you are, darling,” she said, concern in her voice. “I was getting worried… none of the other girls spend a half-hour in there…” Her speech stalled when she saw Scootaloo’s face.

Scootaloo glanced up at her, then back down. “I don’t want to do this.” she said simply, trying her best not to choke up. “I… don’t care if Rainbow Dash is my… is my mother, she’ll never…” Scootaloo shook her head, “I don’t wanna do this, Rarity.”

“Scootaloo…” Rarity leaned in and gently embraced her.

“I know it’s hard, sweetie,” Rarity murmured, after a moment of silence. “I don’t blame you for feeling so rotten. I know I sure as hell would.”

Scootaloo laughed—Rarity was so prim and proper, she’d never thought she’d hear her cuss…

Rarity held Scootaloo at arm’s length, then smiled at her. “You know what?” she said brightly. “I think a nice, hot, home cooked meal will do you good right now.”

Scootaloo looked up at Rarity, who smiled back down at her expectantly, and nodded. Rarity turned and headed back into the kitchen, and Scootaloo followed. She stepped into the sunlit room and almost gasped—there, on two china plates, sat a flawless stack of perfect pancakes, and, piled high next to it, a mound of roasted potatoes, golden brown and steaming gently.

Scootaloo hurried to her chair and sat. She hadn’t realized how hungry she was until that very moment.

As Rarity lowered herself into the seat across from her, Scootaloo eagerly slathered butter on her pancakes, attacked them with the syrup, then dug in, carving a giant chunk out of her pancakes and shoving it into her mouth. She chewed for a moment before the flavor hit—buttermilk, light and fluffy, cooked to absolute perfection, sweet sticky syrup and warm butter, and… and…

Scootaloo set her fork down. Rarity was a good cook—too good.

Her pancakes tasted just like Mrs. Harbour’s.

And then, all the bittersweet memories flooded back—of a childhood she had lived, a mother she had loved—and now, both of them lost to her forever…

She set down her fork, and began to cry.

Rarity saw her, then swallowed her own bite. For a moment, she was quiet—then set down her fork and sighed.

“Listen, Scootaloo,” she said, “I know it’s hard, but it’s going to be okay.”

Scootaloo looked up at her, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“I mean,” Rarity said, looking away and resting her head in her hoof, “regardless of what Rainbow said, it’s not a guaranteed thing you’re going to have to move in with her.”

Scootaloo felt her gut twist. Rarity, heedless, continued to talk.

“I mean, adopting a foal is, well, big. Lots of paperwork. It’s not like adopting a puppy or something…”

A sudden red-hot anger welled up over Scootaloo’s sorrow. “What,” she snapped, standing up on her chair, “is that all I am? A puppy?”

Rarity looked up, alarmed. “No,” she said, urgently. “No, not at all! It’s just—” she sighed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t say that right.” She watched Scootaloo for a moment, then held out her arms. “Come here,” she said.

Scootaloo sniffled, wiped at her nose, and, almost against her own will, hopped down from the chair, trotted over to Rarity, then clambered up into her arms. Rarity hugged her tightly, then buried her head in her mane. “I’ll take care of you,” she said. “I’ll make sure that Rainbow doesn’t get you—at least, not until she’s proved she’s good and ready. Proved it to me, and to you, and the governm—”

At that instant, the front door slammed open.

“Ra-a-arity!” Sweetie Belle called. “Scoo-o-otaloo! It’s time for school!”

Rarity looked up sharply “Dammit,” she swore, under her breath.

And, despite herself, Scootaloo chuckled again.


Fluttershy was sitting patiently on Rainbow’s couch--or, at least she was trying. It was hard to sit, waiting patiently for over an hour.

Rainbow had assured her that she’d need her help soon, but “soon” had turned into an hour of staring at the stack of boxes containing toys, furniture, and knick-knacks, most of them with their tags still attached, slowly disappear into the back of the house, Rainbow complaining about this and that the entire time. Now, she had come around to Scootaloo again--a topic she’d returned to repeatedly throughout the afternoon.

“I can’t believe they want to keep her at Rarity’s,” she was saying. “She doesn’t even like Rarity! I said I was sorry—I’m her mom, she’s mine!”

Well, there’s part of the problem, Fluttershy thought, and sighed. “Like I said,” she murmured carefully, “you can’t expect her to be okay with ‘sorry.’ You hurt her feelings… you lost her trust, and now, she’s probably not too happy you gave her up to begin with.” Fluttershy hesitated, ans noticed Rainbow was watching her attentively. “Sure,” she admitted, “making a room for her, with all this nice stuff, is a start--but it’s just that, a start…”

“And then they’ll find something else,” Rainbow growled. “This isn’t fair, Fluttershy!”

Fluttershy’s patience was starting to wear thin.

“Look,” she said plainly, “just take things one step at a time, nice and easy. She’ll be here soon, you just have to do the paperwork and be sincere. Being a good mom takes practice, it takes patience, and most importantly... “

Rainbow threw up her hooves. “I am patient!” she roared.

Fluttershy, wisely, declined to respond.

Rainbow flopped on the couch next to Fluttershy. “Why did I even give her up in the first place?” she asked, in a half-groan. “Why was I so stupid?”

Fluttershy stared. She hadn’t known who her foal was for twenty-four hours yet, and she was still acting like a fussy mother hen.

After a long moment, Fluttershy reached out and took Rainbow by the hoof. “It was for the best,” she finally said. “There’s no way you could’ve raised her on your own at that age.”

“Argh!” Rainbow growled and pulled away from her. She got up from the couch, grabbed the last box, and trotted back towards Scootaloo’s room.

Rainbow set down the box and glanced around. It was mostly done: there was a bed, with a new, officially-licensed Wonderbolts comforter, and a brand-new dresser, desk, and mirror. And there, in the corner, was a trophy case, waiting to be filled up with all the awards for after she had taught her how to fly properly. The walls were still mostly bare, but that was okay: they were ready to be filled up with posters of Spitfire, or Surprise, or Soarin’--whoever her daughter preferred.

Her daugher.

It still made Rainbow shiver every time she thought about it, and, with every chill up her spine, she very much wanted a warm little filly to hold… her filly. She dreamed of it for just a moment, then sighed. That dream was a little ways off.

“Just like Flutters says,” Rainbow said to herself as she unpacked the final box: a lamp, a trash bin, and a couple Wonderbolt throw pillows. “Slow and steady wins the race.”

She put the lamp on the end table, and turned it off experimentally and on a couple times. She placed the pillows neatly on the bed, then placed the trash can beside the desk,moved it behind the door, then back again, before finally rolling her eyes and pushing it out of sight behind the laundry hamper. She folded up the box and tossed it into the hall, onto the growing pile of cardboard, then turned back to look over the bedroom.

To look over all her work.

All for her.

In her mind’s eye, she was in that bed, her orange little bundle of love and light, ready for her usual bedtime story.

“Alright kiddo,” Rainbow imagined herself saying with a smile, “What’ll it be tonight? Daring Do and the Lost Caverns of Griffonstone, or The Littlest Wonderbolt?”

Little Scootaloo squirmed, her brow furrowed as her little mind spun like a pinwheel, “I dunno,” she grinned, “Wonderbolts!”

“Alright, alright,” Rainbow chuckled as she picked the book from a nearby shelf, and tucked Scootaloo under the covers, watching her with a smile as the little filly nestled her head gently into her pillow, eyes wide with anticipation.

No matter what hardships and hassle the day brought, it always seemed to fall away, here, in the light of the lamp at Scootaloo’s bedside. Rainbow loved reading to her. Of course, she loved to read the stories herself, but she loved even more to see the mask of awe, intrigue, and surprise on the adorable little filly—that little face that, somehow, made the troubles of the day seem like they didn’t matter hardly at all.

A couple pages of high fantasy, sprinkled with a few explanations of the bigger words, and it was over already. Rainbow smiled as Scootaloo fought to keep her heavy eyes open. Rainbow turned off the light, carefully put the book away, and trotted over to Scootaloo’s bedside.

“I love you, Scootsie,” Rainbow said softly, then bent and kissed her gently on her little forehead.

“I love you too, Mommy.” Scootaloo said, then yawned and she nestled deeper under her covers.

The vision faded, and a tear slid down Rainbow’s cheek.


Apple Bloom thoughtfully chewed her sandwich as she watched Rumble, three or four tables away, tear through his lunch. Looked almost like he was starving… or, he would have, at least, if his face wasn’t already so sour.

Apple Bloom swallowed. “I don’t get what you see in him,” she said over her shoulder.

Scootaloo looked up. She was used to peanut butter and jelly and carrot sticks in her lunch, so Sweetie was having to show her how to eat the hummus Rarity had packed for her. “Huh?” she said, distracted.

“Rumble,” Apple Bloom said, turning to look at her. “I mean, you can be friends with whoever ya want… but why him?” she asked, jerking her head back over her shoulder.

Sweetie Belle glanced between Apple Bloom, a faint frown on her face, and Scootaloo, whose ears were already starting to drop back in hurt or anger, she couldn’t tell which.

“I think he’s nice,” Sweetie cut in abruptly. Both Apple Bloom and Scootaloo turned to look at her. “I mean, Scootaloo’s told us about how much fun she had at his place… and he was so worried that she’d get taken care of—”

“That’s what I mean,” Apple Bloom said, gesturing with what was left of her sandwich. “I mean, he’s nice and all—but he’s rude, too. Didja see how he talked to Rainbow th’ other day?”

“Of course,” Scootaloo said, “who didn’t?”

“She did kind of deserve it,” Sweetie added.

“Maybe so,” Apple Bloom said. “But still, weren’t no call for him talkin’ to her like that.”

Scootaloo dropped her pita bread, halfway to her mouth. “Weren’t no call—” she sputtered.

Sweetie Belle laid a gentle hoof on Scootaloo’s shoulder, and she fell silent. Sweetie leaned forward to look Apple Bloom in the eye.

“Can we change the subject?” she said, pointedly. “This is all still kinda… raw... for some of us.”

Apple Bloom took another bite. “Ain’t no harm in—”

“Apple Bloom,” Sweetie said, her voice pained.

Apple Bloom swallowed, stared at the two of them for a moment, then turned back to her lunch. Sweetie felt Scootaloo relax, just the slightest bit, and she forced herself to turn back to her own meal.

For a moment, all three of them were silent.

Apple Bloom swallowed another bite, then, eyes still down on her own brown-paper bag, spoke quietly. “Just sayin’,” she said, to no one in particular. “Ya gotta respect your elders. Ya gotta—even if they deserve it, bad-mouthin’ them don’t accomplish nothin’.” She took another bite. “That’s what Ma always said, at least.” She chewed for a bit—hesitated—then glanced at Scootaloo out of the corner of her eye. “And I don’t know that Rumble can be a good friend unless he’s respectful of you—you, and your Ma—”

Scootaloo slammed her hooves on the table, making both of them jump.

“What right do you have to talk?” she snarled.

Apple Bloom jerked back, surprised. “Didn’t mean nothin’--”

“Yes you did,” she snapped. “You, talkin’ all high-and-mighty, when you’re rude to Applejack all the time.”

“That’s different,” Apple Bloom sniffed. “We’re sisters.”

“Yeah--but she’s your elder, by what--like, eight years?”

“My elder sister. Sisters gotta give each other a hard time, that’s what sisters do—”

“It’s the same difference—”

Suddenly, Sweetie Belle grabbed Scootaloo by the elbow. She turned to snarl at her--but saw her smiling back.

“I forgot to ask!” Sweetie cried. “How’s your new scooter treating you?” She looked down, feigning shyness. “I hope it worked out alright… none of us have done much scoot… scooter, um, scooter-ing, so we kinda had to guess…”

Scootaloo’s eyes lit up. “Oh my gosh, you guys!” she said, the words tumbling excitedly out of her mouth. “It’s sweet! It’s light, and it’s super-smooth, and the color—!”

As Scootaloo started to babble, Sweetie Belle leaned backward slightly and shot a look at Apple Bloom behind Scootaloo’s back. Apple Bloom caught the look, rolled her eyes, then turned back to her lunch. If Scootaloo noticed the exchange, she didn’t show it.


Button and the other colts watched as Rumble ripped open his bag of chips, sending little fragments of fried potato scattering all over the table.

“Slow down,” Button said with a smirk, “No one’s gonna take it from ya.”

Rumble just shoved a messy hoof-full of chips into his food hole.

“Uh… we’re gonna go play some touch hoofball…” one of the other colts said, hesitantly . There was a moment of silence, then Featherweight, Pipsqueak, First Base, and the others slipped out of their seats, and, with nervous glances at Rumble, filed away. Button watched them go for a moment, then turned back to Rumble with a mix of fascination and curiosity.

“What’s going on, Rumble? You’ve been all quiet and… I dunno…” he gestured vaguely. “...demonic.”

Again, Rumble kept his head low, and his eyes on his lunch. He pulled out his apple and took a huge, desperate bite.

“A little dramatic, I know,” Button said into the silence, “but… well…” He shifted uncomfortably. “Not sure there’s words for it.”

Rumble remained focused on the apple.

Button watched him for another few moments, then swallowed. “Cat got your tongue or somethin’?”

Rumble shot him a glare, but did not otherwise react.

Button sighed, then hopped from his seat. “Okay then,” he said, turning to trot around the table, “if you don’t wanna talk about it, maybe Scootaloo will know what’s up—”

Rumble looked up sharply, then leapt from his seat and landed, wings flared, directly in front of Button Mash. Button skidded to a halt, his eyes wide.

“Sit down,” Rumble ordered.

Button looked him up and down, then scoffed. “Okay, seriously, Rumble?” he said, holding up his hooves defensively. “You need to take a chill pill. All I was gonna do was—”

He yelped as Rumble reared up and shoved him, hard, in the chest. Button fell back onto his flank, his cap flying off his head and spiraling into the dirt.

“Leave her alone,” Rumble snarled. With a flare of his nostrils, he turned and trotted away

“Alright, alright, calm your shit,” Button muttered as he slowly climbed back into his seat, leaving his hat where it lay. . Rumble was moving quickly, and Button watched him carefully, both curious and afraid to see what he would do next.

Rumble ran through the playground, looking for Scootaloo. He finally saw her, still sitting at her lunch table, and a broad grin bloomed across his face. He turned and ran towards her--and then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw something pink moving towards her as well. He turned to look, and his grin soured: it was Diamond Tiara, saddlebags cinched across her shoulders, making a beeline for Scootaloo. Without so much as a second thought, he turned and galloped towards her, skidding to a stop just in front of her.

Diamond Tiara pulled up short, then looked him up and down, the surprise on her face quickly turning to irritation. She cleared her throat, then looked him in the eye.

“Can I help you?” she asked, her voice full of the politest sort of venom she could muster.

“Yeah,” Rumble said, not bothering to mask his aggression, “You can tell me what you’re doing.”

“I would,” she sneered, “but it’s none of your business.”

“Does it have something to do with her?” Rumble asked, gesturing towards Scootaloo.

Diamond Tiara’s eyes flicked towards scootaloo, then back to his face. She stared at him, then gave the slightest of nods.

“Then, yes,” he said, “that is my business.” He held out his hoof. “So, why don’t you tell me what you’re planning?”

Diamond Tiara looked at his face, then down at his hoof, and back up again, astonishment clear on her face. “No,” she said, then turned to step around him.

Rumble growled a little, then stepped in front of her again, his wings flared.

“What’s your problem?” she asked, now more surprised than angry. “I just want to—”

“Spill it,” Rumble snarled.

Apple Bloom looked over her shoulder, then nudged Scootaloo in the side. Scootaloo turned to look at her, then followed her gaze to where Rumble and Tiara stood, Tiara frightened, Rumble growling.

“Looks like someone’s havin’ a little trouble,” Apple Bloom said mildly.

Scootaloo turned fully around, watched them for just a moment, then hopped off her seat and trotted up alongside Rumble.

“Is… something wrong?” Scootaloo asked, carefully.

Tiara shot another terrified look at Rumble, then turned to look at Scootaloo--who was astonished to see what looked like genuine fear in her eyes. “I-I just wanted to give this to the three of you,” she said, reaching into her saddlebags and retrieving an envelope. “A-an invitation for a party I’m having this weekend. But then Rumble—”

“She doesn’t want to go to your stupid party,” Rumble growled. “She’s gonna—”

“Why don’t you let me decide that,” Scootaloo said.

Rumble turned to stare at her, then took an involuntary step backwards as she walked towards Tiara. Scootaloo reached out and took the proffered envelope in her teeth.

“Thanksh,” she said around the envelope.

Tiara shot her another frightened glance, then turned and galloped away. Scootaloo tucked the envelope under her wing, then turned to face Rumble. He looked into her eyes for just a moment, then lowered his head. At least he had the decency to look ashamed.

She stared at him for a long moment, then swallowed. She stepped beside him, put an arm around his shoulders, and pulled him close. “What was that all about, huh?” she asked gently.

She wanted to strangle him. But that’s not what he needed at the moment.

Rumble looked up at her. “She...” he began, then looked back down, suddenly embarrassed.

“She what?” Scootaloo prompted.

He glanced up again, then shook his head.

“I appreciate what you’re trying to do,” Scootaloo said, “But please—don’t try to decide who I can and can’t talk to.” She squeezed him a little tighter. “Okay?”

Rumble looked up at her. She saw a flash of hurt, of anger, of frustration in those eyes of his--but he looked down and nodded.

“...okay,” he muttered. “Sorry.”

Scootaloo watched him carefully for a moment as he glanced back towards Button Mash, still sitting at the lunch table, watching the two of them silently. Rumble swallowed as he turned to face her again, blinking nervously.

She sighed, then forced a smile. “Come on,” she said as she lead him back to her table. Sweetie saw the two of them coming and scooted aside, opening a space for him. “Let’s see what this invite is all about,” Scootaloo said.

Apple Bloom watched Rumble warily as Scootaloo gingerly pulled the envelope from under her wing, opened it, and unfolded the invitation. She cleared her throat, then read it aloud:

The honor of your presence is requested for dinner and dancing this Saturday, at six in the evening at the Rich Family Estate. RSVP by tomorrow night.

Apple Bloom rolled her eyes, and Sweetie Belle gasped in anticipation. Scootaloo herself stared at the invitation for a long moment.

“Sounds fun…” she sighed, folding the invitation back up again. “You girls’ll have to let me know how it goes,” she said, handing the invite to Sweetie Belle.

“You’re not going?” Sweetie Belle asked, aghast.

Scootaloo frowned. “Well, even if I wanted to, I can’t.”

“Why not?” Sweetie cried.

“Probably because Casanova here wouldn’t let her.” Apple Bloom grumbled under her breath.
Scootaloo felt Rumble tense up beside her, and turned to glare at Apple Bloom.

“Leave him alone, Apple Bloom,” she growled.

“Why should I?” Apple Bloom crossed her arms. “He’s a big boy--he can stick up for himself, if he wants.

“It’s okay, Scootaloo,” Rumble said flatly. “It took her all day to come up with that dumb line, let her have it.”

Apple Bloom narrowed her eyes. “You callin’ me stupid?” she hissed.

“You sure look the part,” Rumble shot back.

“Hey!” Scootaloo barked. “Enough! Both of you!” She whipped her gaze back and forth between the two of them, and both looked away. She sighed, then turned back to Sweetie Belle. “As I was saying,” she continued, “I have that stupid visit with Rainbow Dash tomorrow night. I don’t think I’ll be in much of a partying mood after that.”

Apple Bloom looked at her quizzically. “You got a what, now?”

Scootaloo turned to her. “A visit with Rainbow,” she groaned. “She’s gonna try and win me over, see if I’ll move in with her. Fluttershy set it up late last night.” She laid her head on her forehooves. “Spoiler alert: ain’t gonna work.”

Apple Bloom frowned. “I don’t get why you’re so upset, Scootaloo,” she said. “Aren’t ya a at least a little excited? You finally know who your real mama is!”

“Ugh,” Scootaloo groaned. “No.”

“Well, if it were me and my Ma,” Apple Bloom said, “Why, I’d be the happiest little filly this side of Appleoosa!”

“You sure about that?” Rumble muttered. “Don’t think an inbred alcoholic who ate dirt and foaled stupid would be much of an improvement.”

He had meant to say it under his breath--a dark little smudge of angry smoke that would get lost in the winds of conversation. But Scootaloo had not responded as quickly as he thought she would, so his insult had come in a lull in the conversation--in a moment of silence, said loud enough, he suddenly realized, for all three of them to hear. He looked up to see all three of them staring at him: Sweetie Belle with shock on her face, Scootaloo with blank confusion, and Apple Bloom in dawning horror and boiling rage.

For a moment, all was silent.

“W… what did you say about my Ma?” Apple Bloom hissed.

Scootaloo leapt into action. “I’m sure he didn’t mean—”

“I said,” Rumble interrupted, louder, “that I’d want to be put out of my misery, too, if I dropped a foal like you.”

Part of him knew this was a bad idea. She hadn’t done anything wrong--not really--and he was hitting her where he knew it would hurt the most. But the rest of him was boiling, simmering anger. He only wanted what was best for Scootaloo--and why couldn’t her friends see that? And then there was this dumb hick, whose only crush had probably been some apple tree--what did she know what was happening between them? What could she know?

“I’m not surprised she left you,” he said, “With how dumb you are, I’m surprised she didn’t—”

With a sudden howl of rage, Apple Bloom leapt towards him. Scootaloo ducked out of the way, and Apple Bloom slammed into him, bringing him to the ground. Rumble held up his hooves to fend her off, but she swung, hard, smashing her own hooves into his face, one, two three times.

Rumble lay there, stunned, until she grabbed him around the neck and hauled him off the ground, pulling his face just inches from her own, her eyes full of fire and salt water. “Don’t you ever disrespect my Ma,” she hissed, her voice sharp and hard. “Or my family. You… you…” Her eyes flashed. “You blank flank.”

Somewhere in the distance, Rumble could hear Sweetie Belle gasp, and Scootaloo start to yell.

“Just wait until I tell my sister about this,” Apple Bloom continued, chuckling darkly. “You make fun of my Ma being dead? Well, AJ’s gonna make you wish you’d never been born.”

Rumble spat to the side. One of his teeth felt loose, and his mouth tasted of copper. “Cool,” he wheezed. “Then we’ll finally have something in common.”

Apple Bloom stared at him for a moment longer—then, with another screech of rage, raised her hoof again—

Suddenly, an orange blur slammed into Apple Bloom, knocking her off of Rumble. He rolled onto his stomach and stood shakily, then looked over to see Apple Bloom writhing in the dirt—and, on top of her, Scootaloo. She was holding Apple Bloom down in a sloppy, but effective, headlock.

“Get off me!” Apple Bloom roared. “He… he said…”

And suddenly, Apple Bloom went limp. She turned her head to look up at Rumble--and, as they made eye contact, Rumble felt the color drain from his face.

She was weeping--tears streamed openly down her face, and, though there was hatred in her eyes, it was overwhelmed by a vast, bottomless sorrow.

Scootaloo let her go, then stood up, but Apple Bloom just laid there in the dirt. “H-he said Mama was a drunk…” she said, her body starting to heave with barely suppressed sobs. “He-he said It’s m-my fault that Mama…” She squeezed her eyes shut then shook her head, scattering teardrops like rain. “No!” she howled. “Mama loved me! She was good people! AJ wouldn’t lie… o-or Big Mac, or Granny, or...She buried her head in her hooves and sobbed.

Rumble watched her weep, and took a step backwards. His face was sore, and he was going to have quite the shiner in the morning. But, even for that--he felt a little sorry for her. He had wanted to hurt her, sure, but didn’t know it would cut this deep...

A shadow fell across the four of them. Rumble looked up and quailed--Miss Cheerilee stood over them, her expression unreadable.

“Rumble,” she said, in a voice that brooked no argument. “Stay here. I’ll be back for you in a moment.” She turned and looked around the playground—and Rumble noticed, for the first time, that the entire school was watching them in a frightened, haunting silence.

“Featherweight,” Cheerilee called, and Rumble saw him try and hide behind Snails. “Please fly over to Sweet Apple Acres right away, and let Applejack know that she needs to come pick up Apple Bloom.” Featherweight tried to shrink behind Snails even further. “Now, please,” she said firmly.

Featherweight swallowed, then stood up straight, spread his wings, and took off.

Cheerilee watched him go, then turned back to the rest of the bystanders. “Please go back to playing,” she said. “Fight’s over.”

One by one, the foals turned and began to file away. As Buton left, he shot Rumble a look--but, whether he was frightened for him, or of him, Rumble couldn’t tell.

Finally, Miss Cheerilee bent down, grabbed the scruff of Apple Bloom’s neck in her teeth, and picked her up. For a sudden, horrible moment, she looked to Rumble like Scootaloo, dangling from Cheerilee’s jaws—but Apple Bloom did not resist, and hung there, already limp and broken, though there wasn’t a mark on her.

Cheerilee shot Rumble a hard look. “Thtay here,” she repeated sharply, then turned and carried her back towards the schoolhouse.

Rumble took a deep breath, then slowly let it out. He turned to Scootaloo and opened his mouth—

—and she slapped him across the face.

Rumble stared at her, wide-eyed. After the beating he had taken, her slap barely even registered--physically, at least. But the sharp, hollow smack echoed back and forth inside his brain like the ringing of some great, ominous bell.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Scootaloo spat.

Rumble closed his mouth, then opened it again. He wanted to speak—but no sound came out.

“Do you have any idea what you just did?” she hissed. “Do you know how much she cares about her mother? And you—” she jabbed him in the chest “—you just had to twist the knife, didn’t you?” She turned around then threw her forehooves in the air. “I do not need this right now!” she said, to no one in particular.

Rumble finally found his voice. “You don’t need a friend who’s just fine with handing you off to Rainb—”

Scootaloo round to face him, her expression a mask of rage. “You don’t get to decide who my friends are!” she roared, drawing stares again.

Rumble’s mouth fell open again, and he said nothing else.

Scootaloo glanced around the playground, staring down those few who dared to watch them openly. Then, she turned back to Rumble. She took a deep breath, and, when she spoke, her voice was quiet againnormal, save for the faintest simmering tremor of anger.

“I don’t know what is up your ass today,” she said, “but I’m done.” She turned away from him. “Leave me alone.”

Rumble gasped--but no air came in. He felt like he’d had the wind knocked out of him. “W—What?” he breathed, his voice barely a whisper.

“You heard me,” Scootaloo said, without looking at him.

Rumble’s rump slowly dropped to the grass. He didn’t know what to say. Didn’t know what to think. His mind was a blank white sheet, useless and afraid.

“Come on,” Scootaloo said to Sweetie Belle. “Let’s go play. On the other side of the playground.”

Wordlessly, Scootaloo trotted up beside her, and the two of them set off. “Thanks for your help back there,” Scootaloo said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

“Well, I didn’t want to make—” she muttered, before, her voice trailed off, caught and torn to pieces by the wind.

Rumble sat there, in the center of the crowded schoolyard, surrounded by ponies, but totally and completely alone.

Rumble hung his head, and suddenly realized he was tired--very tired. He hadn’t slept well since… well, since the trip to Cloudsdale. His nightmares wouldn’t let him. At first, they had been weak little things, dreams that just made him toss and turnbut now, any time he closed his eyes, he saw them. Sometimes it was Rainbow. Sometimes Soarin’. Once, it had even been Rarity. But each time, they did something awful to Scootaloosomething he was powerless to stop. And each time, they stared at him, blood on their lips, their stares cold and sharp.

Rumble squeezed his eyes shut. He hated feeling this wayall this anger, all this fear. His little body was too small to hold it all. And yet, what else could he do? No one in Ponyville gave a damn about Scootaloono one but him. And he had to keep her safe. Because, if he didn’t, who would?

But--he let out a small sob--he had ruined everything. True, he wasn’t thinking clearly--there was too much going on in his heart and soul for that--but he had tried to keep Scootaloo safe. Safe from an old enemy, who he was sure was going to hurt her again--from her friend, who had wanted to throw her to the wolves--and from his own best friend, who, he had feared, wanted to whisk her away from him.

And look how far that had gotten him.

Rumble slowly lowered himself the rest of the way into the grass. Scootaloo hated him now--and it was all his fault.

And that knowledge hurt more than Apple Bloom’s beating ever could.

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