• Published 28th Feb 2016
  • 3,248 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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18. Desire

Scootaloo shivered, then wrapped her threadbare scarf a little tighter around her neck. She tried not to look at Sweetie Belle beside her, who, in turn, was trying not to look guilty in her big, poofy parka.

“Ready?” Scootaloo asked her. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Sweetie Belle eye her scarf uneasily, then nod. Scootaloo took a deep breath, turned away from Sweetie, and, with sudden a cry of joy, leapt from the porch and into the knee-deep snow.

Winter Start-Up had been yesterday; Rainbow Dash had been busy all week planning it—too busy, in fact, for their normal visit (though Scootaloo hadn’t especially minded. And she hadn’t kept it secret, either). Most of the snow and ice was already in place, but the snow was still falling down gently all across Ponyville. Scootaloo wasn’t especially fond of snow, all things considered—but even she had to admit that, after dark, with the streetlamps lit and the big, fat flakes floating gently down, Ponyville looked like something out of a postcard.

“Show-off,” Sweetie muttered, crunching up beside her. Scootaloo stuck out her tongue, then kept walking, trying to ignore the cold seeping into her bones.

Scootaloo walked up beside her, balancing two gifts on her back—a flat cardboard box wrapped in old funny papers, and, on top of it, a navy-blue gift bag, with forest-green tissue poking out of the top. Scootaloo eyes the latter gift suspiciously.

“I told you,” she said, “you didn’t need to bring anything. You’re only coming because I invited you…”

Sweetie Belle sighed. “I know,” she said, “but Rarity would have killed me if I didn’t.”

“Besides,” Scootaloo said, with a faint grin, “That’s a little too fancy for just a plain old gift card, if you ask me.”

Sweetie Belle’s eyes flashed with irritation. “Well,” she snapped, “At least it’s better than whatever you got from the Tacky Shack…”

“Nah,” Scootaloo said brightly, “He’ll love what I got. Buncha old video games I found in the back of the store, behind the old coats. Ten bits for the box.” She flashed a grin at Sweetie Belle. “You never know what old stuff you’ll find at the Tacky Shack. Don’t knock it ‘till you’ve tried it!”

Sweetie Belle huffed, but said nothing more.

They walked in silence for a minute before Sweetie cleared her throat. “So,” she said, “Come up with any ideas for tomorrow?”

Scootaloo groaned and threw her head back. “Don’t remind me,” she said.

Rainbow had been busy last week, preparing for Winter Start-Up. But that didn’t mean she’d forgotten: their visit was still on for this week, and Rainbow had asked her, through Rarity, to come up with something she’d like to do. Scootaloo had been putting it off, but, even when she did think about it, she was drawing a complete blank. And it didn’t help that Rarity was apparently on Rainbow’s side now. That was an unpleasant change.

The two of them walked in silence until Button’s house came in sight. From a block away, they could see the flashing lights and hear the pounding music, mixed with liberal doses of electronic beeps and squawks from some video game or other. Scootaloo noticed Sweetie hesitate, but she, being the lady that she was, trotted to catch up with Scootaloo and said nothing.

Scootaloo was the first to reach the house. She hopped up the steps onto the front porch, then shook the snow from her coat, while Scootaloo primly climbed the steps behind her. Scootaloo pressed the doorbell, then walked to stand beside Sweetie. After a moment, she nudged her mischievously. “Ready?” she asked.

A moment later, the door swung open, and a tidal wave of noise washed over them—music, and video games, and dozens of happy voices, all mixed together. And there, standing in the doorway, was Button’s mom with a broad smile on her face.

“Well, hello girls!” Button’s mom said, beaming. “Party’s already started,” she added, needlessly.

True to her word, the party it seemed was in full swing. There were easily ten or fifteen colts romping about, screaming and yelling and roughhousing, and more than a few standing clustered outside of Button’s room at the back of the house, where the noise of the video games was loudest. Scootaloo stepped inside and hung her scarf on the rack by the door, then took the presents from Sweetie as she did the same. Scootaloo flashed Sweetie a nervous smile, then turned and walked deeper into the party. She felt the confused glances from the colts all around her, and actually heard one of them whisper “What are those fillies doing here?” She grinned confidently, the smile felt fake, even to her.

Scootaloo set down their presents on top of the big pile, then looked around, scanning the crowd for a particular colt. And, though she had expected to find him here—when she finally spotted him, it still felt like someone had poured a bucket of cold water on her.

There he stood, in the snack line, filling a paper plate with nachos, chatting with Snails. Scootaloo sucked in a deep breath, then slowly let it out. Rumble.

For the past week—ever since the visit to Sweet Apple Acres, that past monday—Rumble had been avoiding her. He still came to school, but he didn’t meet her eye, or respond to her whispers, and, whenever she passed him a note, he shoved it in his desk without reading it. And lunch and recess were worse: as soon as Miss Cheerilee dismissed them, Rumble would zip up onto the nearest cloud—the one spot that both of them knew Scootaloo could never reach.

She tried not to feel hurt—maybe he was just trying to stay away from Applebloom, and she, one of Applebloom’s best friends, just happened to be feeling it, too—but still, it was hard. Rumble meant more to her than she could say, and, right now, she could use all the friendship she could get—especially since Rarity, of all ponies, seemed more than happy to betray her to Rainbow now…

Scootaloo felt that familiar hitching in her chest, and she forced a smile. She wasn’t going to cry. Not tonight. Not while she was surrounded by all these colts...

Someone bumped into her. She yelped, then turned to see Button Mash standing there, with a wicked smirk on his face.

Scootaloo sighed. “Hi, Button,” she groaned.

But Button was already lunging for the gifts. “Ooh!” he cried, grabbing the box and shaking it, “What’d ya get me?”

Scootaloo rolled her eyes, then reached over and pulled it out of his grasp. “You’ll find out soon enough, birthday boy” she said.

“Oh, But-ton!” called Button’s Mom, cutting through the noise. “There’s a new friend for you to meet!”

The two of them turned and saw Button’s Mom, standing beside Sweetie Belle. Scootaloo felt Button, standing beside her, flinch, then stand still, while Scootaloo’s eyes went wide.

Button’s Mom, still beaming, glanced between the two of them. She gave Sweetie a gentle nudge—”Go on, now, he won’t bite”—and, slowly, she walked towards him.

“Hi,” she said, her voice quiet and squeaky, “I’m Sweetie Belle.”

“I know,” said Button, his voice squeaky, too.

Scootaloo glanced between them, staring at each other, then grinned and turned away. She scanned the room, then frowned.

Rumble was gone. His spot by the nachos was empty, and Snails was eagerly slurping down his punch. She stood there for just a moment—she didn’t really deserve to be surprised, after all—but turned away.

She had dropped off her gift. And now it was time for the other reason she was here.

Scootaloo wandered through the party, searching for that particular navy-blue mane. He wasn’t in the kitchen, grabbing nachos and dip; he wasn’t in the living room, chatting about boy stuff while ignoring the cartoons on the TV; he wasn’t in the dining room, arguing over a hoof of cards… so that left…

Scootaloo poked her head into Button’s bedroom. The electronic noise was loudest here, almost deafening, and the walls danced with the lights of a thousand pixels and polygons. Scootaloo had to stand on her tip-toe to peer over all the colts—and then she saw him.

He was sitting on the floor, with his back to Button’s bed. Next to him was Featherweight. Both of them were staring at the screen, but they were talking to each other. And, as Scootaloo crept forward, she began to hear their voices over the noise:

“Arrested?” Featherweight said. “Really?”

“Yep,” Rumble replied. “Right in the middle of Wonderbolt’s practice and everything. I heard they had to get a couple pegasi to snatch him right out of the air.”

“A couple?

“Uh huh. Like, six of ‘em, actually. He got angry and started fighting ‘em.”


Scootaloo was close, now. She could almost touch him. She reached out her hoof—

“What’d they arrest him for?” Featherweight asked.

“Assault and intimidation,” Rumble said with a small, triumphant smile. “Both against foals. So, y’know, big ones.”

Scootaloo was almost there—she could feel the warmth radiating from his body. But —she couldn’t do it. He was a half-inch away, and she couldn’t do it. She pulled her hoof back—and, as she did, a tiny, muted cry escaped her throat.

Somehow—Rumble heard it. Over all the screaming, the bleeping, the blatting, and the music, he heard her. His ears pricked up, and he turned to look at her. Scootaloo looked into his eyes, and watched them widen—


Scootaloo screamed and ducked as white light, and cheering exploded from the TV. After a frightened, breathless instant, she looked up and groaned. Whatever game they were playing, it appeared that Rumble was, indeed, the winnah, with the virtual fireworks and crowds to prove it. She sighed, then turned to make some harmless quip—

—but he was gone. His spot at the side of the bed was empty, and his controller lay, abandoned, on the floor.

Scootaloo stared. But, almost before she could even process what she was seeing, a familiar voice cut through the crowd:

My turn!” cried Button Mash.

Scootaloo took a step backwards and watched as he pushed his way through to his bed, dragging a grinning Sweetie Belle beside him. He shoved Featherweight out of the way (Featherweight squawked indignantly) and snatched the controller from his hooves. He plopped on the carpet, then began digging in the shoebox of games beside him.

“So,” he said, with surprising gentleness, “what do you wanna try? There’s Chicken Crossing, and Balloon Pop, and 1-2-3 Chickadee, and, um...”

Sweetie peered into the box, then fished out a cartridge. “How about this one?” she asked sweetly. “Boneslaughter II?”

The color drained from Button’s face. “B-Boneslaughter...?” he repeated, breathlessly.

“Looks fun!” Sweetie cried. She got up and trotted over to the game system, turned it off, yanked out the cartridge, and slapped in Boneslaughter II in one smooth motion. She plopped back down beside Button, who looked like he was about to faint, then turned to Scootaloo, still standing beside the bed.

“C’mon,” she said, patting the carpet beside her. “I think up to four ponies can play.”

Button swallowed. “Y-yeah,” he admitted, “but it’s more fun with two…”

He shot a significant glance at Scootaloo, who, despite herself, grinned a little.

“Nah,” she said, shaking her head. “I think I’m gonna go get some chips or something.”

“Aw,” Sweetie Belle said, “We can save you a spot!”

Meanwhile, Button Mash, behind her, was making frantic throat-slashing gestures.

Scootaloo shook her head. “Maybe some other time,” she said, then turned and walked away. As she ducked out of the room, she heard Sweetie saying, “No, I got it—I played Boneslaughter back when it was in the arcade…”

Scootaloo wormed her way through the mass of bodies, back towards the living room. There was a little more space there—space to think. As the sudden blast of electronic heavy metal behind her began to fade away, lost in the cheery voices all around, Scootaloo felt the weight settle on her heart again. No, this time it couldn’t be coincidence—Rumble was avoiding her—and—

Scootaloo squeezed between two colts in the middle of a fervent argument about buckball, and suddenly emerged into the living room. Her eyes went wide, and she scrambled backwards behind a houseplant.

There, sitting on the couch beside Truffles and Chip Mint, was Rumble. He leaned on the arm of the couch, resting his chin in one hoof, idly rubbing his stitches. Or, at least, he had been; it seemed that he had caught a flash of orange coat out of the corner of his eye.

Behind the plant, Scootaloo watched him carefully, her heart pounding out of her chest. Rumble glanced in her direction—though he never looked directly at the plant—then, slowly, climbed down from his seat. He looked around the room one more time, then, nonchalantly, turned and strolled into the hall. For just a moment, Scootaloo panicked—had she lost him again?—before she heard the front door open and close.

Scootaloo sprinted from her spot, and wove through the crowded hall. She made her way to the front door—glanced at her scarf, hanging beside it on a hook—then shook her head and put her hoof on the knob.

Scootaloo quietly pulled open the front door, glancing back one last time to ensure nopony noticed her leaving. They would soon enough, but the more time she had, the better.

As the light from inside gave way to the cover of darkness, she could only see the soft glow of the moon upon the snowy trees, the grass, the rooftops around… and him.

Rumble stood on the edge of the porch, watching the gently-falling snow. He heard the door click shut, and glanced over his shoulder. Scootaloo saw his eyes grow wide—but he just turned back to look out over the landscape.

Scootaloo stepped up beside him and stared out at the snow, too. She knew what she wanted to say, but her tongue was as twisted as her stomach; she could barely swallow past the lump in her throat. She opened her mouth, but a wave of guilt washed over her, like the chill of the winter air. She licked her lips, took a deep breath, stalled out, then tried again, her voice as quiet as the snowfall:

“Uh, about... about Monday,” she said. “I didn’t mean—I, uh… I...”

She sighed, then looked down. She knew what she wanted to say—two simple words that she’d said a thousand times. But, try as she might, she couldn’t make her lips say the words: her I’m sorry stayed stuck in her throat. She shut her eyes and took a deep breath.

“I get it it,” she said suddenly. “I wouldn’t wanna be my friend right now, either.”

The dam had burst: now that she had spoken, the words started coming easier, flowing directly from her heart to her mouth and skipping the brain entirely. “There’s always so much drama. Something always goes wrong. I hate it— I hate…” she shook her head, then fell silent again.

“I didn’t mean to get you in trouble,” she said finally. “I was stupid, and I should’ve known better and…” She trailed off, then looked away, trying to hide the tear running down her cheek.

She wasn’t going to cry. She’d done way too much of that lately. She could feel the tears welling up, and, though they threatened to overwhelm her, the feeling made her angry, not sad. She wasn’t going to cry, not today: no, she was going to screw her eyes shut, and clench her gut to keep the sobs from escaping, and not even think about the colt next to her, the colt who already meant more to her than she could say—

Then, her ears pricked up.. She had heard something, but her mind was too fogged to catch it. She listened, hard—and it came again.

“Come here.”

Scootaloo didn’t move. She couldn’t have heard that right. She shivered as a cold breeze blew past—or was it something else…?

“Come. Here,” Rumble repeated.

The fur on the back of her neck stood on end. She’d heard that voice from him before—directed at her moth—at Rainbow Dash. To hear him use it on her, though...

It took every ounce of strength she could muster to turn around. Rumble sat there, his gaze hard, his expression making it clear that it hadn’t been a request.

She gulped, and, slowly, stepped closer. As soon as she was within hooves’ distance, he reached out, put an arm around her, and pulled her close.

For just a second, she panicked, and tried to push him away—but then, he draped a wing over her. She shivered—she hadn’t realized how cold she was until she felt his warmth. But—
She looked at him. He still hated her. He had to. After all she’d done to him, after the way he’d been acting—

But, to her astonishment, Rumble smiled.

“We’re still friends,” he said finally.

There was no mistaking it—those were the words he said. She’d heard them with her ears, and felt them through his chest. Scootaloo let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding.

“I never said we weren’t,” Rumble continued.

He sighed. “I’m not supposed to talk to you anymore,” he said gloomily. “My brother, he… he doesn’t like you.” He shook his head. “I mean—” He shook his head again, and Scootaloo thought she heard him swear under her breath. Despite herself, she giggled a little; Rumble heard her laugh and flashed a little smile, but sighed again.

“What I mean is,” he began again, “he doesn’t trust you. He thinks that you’re the reason I keep getting in trouble.”

Rumble swallowed. Scootaloo could hear the gulp, feel the muscles working in his throat.

“He’s wrong.“ Rumble said, firmly. “You’re not the one who didn’t listen. You’re not the one who just shot his mouth off even though your friends told you not to. You’re not the one who got knocked around by a jerk because you wouldn’t shut up…”

Rumble suddenly hesitated, licked his lips, and sighed. He closed his eyes, but just for a moment. “If anypony is the one making trouble,” he said quietly, “it’s me. I’m the idiot who can’t keep his dumb mouth shut, and…” he gestured weakly. “...And you shouldn’t be the one saying sorry.” He paused for a moment, then turned to her and grinned. “Well, I mean, except for Monday at the clubhouse,” he said. “that was totally you.”

Scootaloo shot him a crooked grin, and Rumble chuckled darkly, then sighed again. “The only bad thing you’ve done is put up with me for so long.” He swallowed, then looked out at the snow again. “He just needs to meet you,” he said, half to himself. “Get to know you a little. You’re a nice filly, and I really like you—” his eyes went wide, and he looked over at her, panicked “A-as a friend, I mean.”

This time, it was Rumble who looked away.

“As a friend?” Scootaloo repeated, nudging him fondly.

Rumble swallowed again, but said nothing. After a moment of silence, Scootaloo looked away again.

Rumble thought, hard, about what to say, about how to bridge the sudden gap between them. He kept on thinking, until he felt Scootaloo shiver against him—a deep, hard shiver, one that shook her from the base of her hooves all the way up to the top of her scalp.

He looked at her, concerned.

“You didn’t bring a jacket or anything?” he blurted. Immediately, he winced; that wasn’t what he wanted to say.

Scootaloo grinned. “N-no,” she said, trying to project an air of confidence even through her shiver. “The c-cold doesn’t bother me.”

Bullshit, he thought to himself. “That’s not what it looks—”

“I’m fine!” Scootaloo snapped, pulling away from under his wing. She glared at him—but, as soon as he turned to look at her, her eyes softened.

Scootaloo looked down. “I mean,” she said, “I…” she stopped and shook her head. “Agh, I hate this!” she cried aloud, stamping her hoof. She turned back to the snow, and put her elbows up on the porch railing.

Rumble watched her carefully. He wasn’t so sure if this was directed at him or not. He never was very good at reading ponies, especially her.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured.

“It’s not your fault, Rumble,” Scootaloo said, still watching the snow. “If anything, I owe you— you and Sweetie Belle. You guys have stuck with me through all this—all this stupid stuff—and...” she swallowed. “...it means a lot.”

Rumble hesitated, then stepped up beside her. He wasn’t sure what to say—wasn’t sure what he could, or even should, say—and so, remained silent. As he stood there, quiet, he suddenly realized how… normal he felt. So often, he felt so confused, confused and afraid... but out here, with her, he was completely comfortable and at ease. With that realization, he smiled.

“I don’t know about you,” he said, “but I’m getting kinda chilly out here.” He shifted uncertainly. “Why don’t we go back inside, and have some pizza and cake?”

Scootaloo turned and smiled at him—and, for just a moment, his knees started to tremble—then dropped down onto all fours. “Sounds good,” she said. She turned and walked back towards the front door, and Rumble turned and followed, swaying slightly on his hooves. Scootaloo put her hoof on the doorknob, but, before she could turn it, the door swung open. There, on the other side, stood Button wearing a birthday hat and a smirk big enough to damn-near break his face.

“You two lovebirds gonna freeze to death, or what?” Button he asked, stretching his shit-eating grin even farther. “Get in here. We’re gonna sing happy birthday to me, eat cake with my name on it, and then watch me open things I get to return the next day.”

Rumble walked up beside Scootaloo and rolled his eyes, “Oh yeah, that sounds like a real blast, birthday brat,” he muttered. “And you better not return my present—I was slipping and sliding all over the place trying to get it...”

Scootaloo looked at him, her face blank. “Sliding?” she repeated. Suddenly, her face split into a wide, eager smile. “That’s it!” she cried, then leaned in, grabbed Rumble’s head in both her hooves, and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you so much!” she cried. Scootaloo shoved past Button Mash, grabbed her scarf from the peg, wrapped it around her neck, and dashed off back into the snowfall before even Button could blurt out his customary “What the hell?”

Both Rumble and Button Mash watched her go, galloping as fast as she could, through the thick snow. After a long moment, Button Mash shot a sidelong glance at Rumble. Rumble himself stood there, staring out in the darkness, with a big dopey smile on his face. Slowly, he raised a hoof, and gently caressed his cheek where she had kissed it.

“So,” Button said casually, “When’s the wedding?”

Rumble turned and shot him a glare. “No room for you to talk,” he said, turning and walking inside. “I saw those eyes you were giving Sweetie Belle.”

“Shut up,” Button snapped, closing the door. “I did not—”

And the door clicked shut.

It was past nine-thirty that night when Rumble let himself into his apartment. He shook the snow off his mane, then took off his bright-orange jacket and hung it on the coat stand that Thunderlane had scraped up from somewhere. Rumble dropped back onto all fours—then paused, and pricked up his ears.

“Dammit!” came the cry. “Not again--after all that—!”

Rumble turned and slowly followed the voice into the kitchen—or, what looked like the kitchen, at least. A fine coat of flour covered every surface, flat or no (mostly centered around a big, sloppy mixing bowl on the table), and easily a half-dozen eggs lay cracked and smashed on the floor. In the center of the floor stood Cloudchaser, floured white as a ghost, her face screwed up in a grimace of disappointment and frustration. And there, sitting on top of the stove, was a sheet of cookies, burned brown, and rapidly filling the room with the musk of charcoal.

Rumble’s mouth dropped open. “Uh—”

Cloudchaser opened her eyes—and jumped. “Aw, shoot,” she groaned. “I was hoping you wouldn’t be home for a while.”

Rumble glanced her up and down, eyes wide, and she grinned. “Here,” she said, grabbing a broom, “help me clean up a little?”

Rumble wiped up the broken eggs with a paper towel, while Cloudchaser swept with the broom. After a few minutes, Cloudchaser looked up, then laughed. Rumble glanced down at himself and started giggling, too. Neither of them were expert housekeepers--it seemed that all they had accomplished was getting flour all over Rumble, now.

Cloudchaser wiped away a tear, then walked to the table. “Here,” she said, dusting a chair with her tail. “Have a seat. Maybe Thundey will have an idea…”

Rumble sat and watched Cloudchaser as she turned to the kitchen cabinets. She pulled out two small plates, two tall glasses, and—with a guilty look around the room—a small cardboard box with the Sugarcube Corner logo stamped on the lid.

Cloudchaser plucked two chocolate chip cookies from the box, and laid one on each plate, then filled each glass near to the brim with milk. She set the glasses on the plates, then, balancing them carefully on her wings, carried them to the table. She set one in front of Rumble, and one in front of the empty chair on the other side, then sat, sending up a fresh plume of flour. Rumble smiled, and the two of them giggled again.

Rumble took a big bite of his cookie and started to chew. Cloudchaser watched him, then sighed.

“Y’know,” she said, with a wry little smile. “I’m pretty darn good at a lot of things. But one thing I’ve never managed is being domestic.

Rumble swallowed and looked up at her. “Doe-mess-tick?” he repeated. “What’s that?”

She smiled a little. “It’s like—like cooking, cleaning, baking…” she said. “You know, All that Mom stuff.” She leaned back in her chair. “Never been my thing.”

Rumble glanced up at her, and she sighed. “I mean,” she said, “I could do a loop-the-loop almost as soon as I could fly, and I can navigate gale-force winds with the best—but, ask me to set the table with Grandma’s China, and I promise you, you’ll be out at least one heirloom before I’m done.”

“And,” Rumble added, with a little giggle, “if you try and bake cookies, you’ll end up with—”

“Charcoal briquettes,” Cloudchaser finished, smiling a little wider. She glanced over her shoulder at the cookie sheet still sitting on the stove, then back at Rumble. “Hey,” she said, “at least they’re not as bad as some batches I’ve made…”

“Not as bad?” Rumble repeated, eyes wide and glittering.

Cloudchaser shrugged. “At least they’re not on fire this time…”

Rumble snorted, and both of them laughed again. After a moment, Rumble looked down at his plate again, and drew a few lines in the flour. “If you’re so bad at it,” he said, “then why try?”

“Hm?” she said, looking up.

“Why try and make cookies if all you do is burn ‘em?”

She grinned again. “Because,” she said, reaching across the table and ruffling his mane, “You two guys—you and Thundey, I mean—well, you mean so much to me that, sometimes, I wanna do something special for you, y’know? I want you to know that I care about you guys.” She reached out and took him by the hoof. “You just do that sort of thing for the ponies you love.”

Rumble stared at her for a moment, then felt a smile spread across his face—not a stupid grin, but a genuine, warm, sunshiney smile.

The ponies you love

Suddenly, Rumble blurted out a question, one he hadn’t known he wanted to ask:

“Can I have Scootaloo over?”

Cloudchaser raised an eyebrow and cocked her head.

“F-for dinner, or somethin’?” he added, awkwardly. “I know Thunderlane said no, but I think he just needs to get to know her, and he’ll change his mind, and…”

Cloudchaser smirked. “We’ll see,” she said. “She sounds nice—”

“—she is—” Rumble fervently butted in.

Cloudchaser shook her head fondly. “—but Thundey said no.”

Rumble looked up at her and opened his mouth to speak--but saw her watching him with a smile on her face.

“But…” she said, her eyes twinkling, “I know a few tricks.”

Rumble looked into her eyes—and had sudden, sickening flashback—

“Clever, manipulative, cunning, and cruel—would’ve made a great politician someday. And I—I was hers, head over hooves...”

Cloudchaser saw his expression, and her eyes went wide. “Nonono!” she cried. “Not like that! Just…” She sighed, then ran a hoof through her mane, sending up another cloud of flour.

“Thunderlane told me a little,” she said quietly. “About Sunflower, I mean. And it’s not like that. It’s more…” she gestured vaguely. “There’s a right way, and a wrong way to ask for a favor. If you can show someone else just how important something is to you--not to try and make them feel worse about themselves, but to give them an opportunity to make you feel better…” She looked up at Rumble, and he saw, to his astonishment, a faint mist of tears gathering there. “If someone is important to you,” she said, “if they really matter to you—if, all you want to do is make them happy, forever and ever—” she smiled a little. “Then, sometimes, you gotta give a little.”

Rumble seemed to catch something in her voice--something more. Something deeper. And what he heard there made him break into a big, stupid grin. Cloudchaser smiled back, then turned to her cookie.

The two of them ate their cookie and drank their milk in silence. Cloudchaser was the first to finish, and she stood.

“Alright, bud,” she said, reaching for the broom again, “I’m gonna take another crack at cleaning this up. Why don’t you go take a shower and get to bed…” her eyes sparkled again “...and I’ll see what I can do about your little filly when Thunderlane gets home, okay?”

Rumble grinned at her and chugged the rest of his milk. He hopped down from the chair with a warm, glowing feeling in his heart—a feeling that lasted until well after he had snuggled himself up in his sheets.

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