• 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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32. Dreams

Running her hoof along the inside of the door, Scootaloo ruffled her wings, her unsteady gaze falling to her hooves as they dangled over the seat of the carriage. With only the scenic sight of row houses and storefronts to look out at, her eyes had long glazed over.

She felt a familiar hoof gently caressing her back.

“You alright, Scoots?” Sweetie asked as she scooted closer.

“Yeah, I’m okay…” Scootaloo sat up in her seat with a grunt.

Sweetie chuckled. “We should be there soon, I think.”

Scootaloo fought against the grin that curled her lips, unable to meet Sweetie’s eyes as she fidgeted her hooves.

“Heh… I’m being a featherbrain right now,” she chuckled. “Why am I so nervous?”

“You’re excited,” Sweetie pat her shoulder. “I bet she’s just as nervous as you are.”

“Yeah.” Scootaloo could only smile as she rested her head on Sweetie’s shoulder, the barely audible chatter of the colt’s a seat behind slowly coming into focus.

“I don’t mind coming along. I mean, I kinda owe you anyway.”

“What did I say, already?” Button was a touch louder. “I’m not upset… anymore. I mean, it’d be cool if you can tag along, but—” He pointed to Scootaloo.”—would she be alright with it?”

“Alright with what?” Scootaloo hollered back.

“Well, I mean, I was kind of thinking I could hang out with Button for a bit while you visit your mom.”

“What?” Scootaloo pouted. “You’re just gonna bail on me like that?”

“Well,” Rumble said as he fidgeted. “I’d rather kick it with Mutton than be a third wheel. “I don’t want to get in the way of you and your mom—she wanted to see you after all.”

He braced himself for the inevitable pounce and pummelling, but then he saw Scootaloo smiling at him.

“You’d better bring me back something cool.” Scootaloo smirked.

“Oh, he will,” Button said as he nudged Rumble,

“Just make sure to grab a map.” Scootaloo could barely keep her snicker in check as Button glared at her with all the ire he could get away with.

Wheels screeched as the carriage made a sharp turn, and Scootaloo had to whip her head forward. A high-rise complex of condominiums rounded into view, a sign above the central entrance reading: Helping Hooves Retirement Centre.

“Alright, fillies, here you are!” The coachmare smiled as they pulled up to the curb.

“Thank you, ma’m!” Sweetie chirped as the pair exited the car. Sweetie’s ears twitched as she heard Scootaloo suck in a breath, glancing anxiously up at the sign overhead.

“See ya!” Button hollered as their carriage sped off.

“You sure you’re alright with Rumble going?”

“Mmhm.” Scootaloo nodded quickly as she trotted towards the door.

Scootaloo tried her darndest to press that quivering smile into a thin line as she lead Sweetie Belle inside. The lobby featured a kit of postboxes, and some simple waiting chairs.

“Good morning!” The receptionist smiled as Scootaloo trotted to the small counter at the end of the room. “So,” she said as she pushed aside a stack of post-its and papers. “Who’s the lucky pony that gets a visit by such adorable fillies?”

Scootaloo swallowed as Sweetie gently nudged her towards the counter.

“We’re here to see…. Safe Harbor,” Scootaloo said.

“She sent her a letter,” Sweetie said. Scootaloo’s letter was suddenly surrounded in mint green as it floated to the counter and unfolded before the receptionist, who nodded as her eyes neared the end.

“That certainly is her hoofwriting,” the mare chuckled to herself. “I imagine you must be Scootaloo, then?”

Scootaloo brightened as she nodded affirmatively. “The one and only!”

The receptionist giggled. “Wait just a moment, and we show you to her room.”

“Really?” Scootaloo’s wings began to buzz. “Thank you so much!”

After a couple moments, a stallion opened the door at the end of the lobby, leading to a hallway which reminded them of their hotel. They were lead to the end, and up three flights of stairs, finally arriving at the door numbered ‘Twenty-five’.

Scootaloo took a deep breath, and with one last glance back at Sweetie’s encouraging smile, she knocked once, twice, then a third time—just to be sure.

As her hoof fell from the door, she heard a click, the twist of the knob matching the hitch in her chest. She dared to glance up from her hooves, and was rewarded with the kind smile that she missed more than the sun in the sky.

Scootaloo leapt into the loving embrace of Madame Harbour, reveling in that nostalgic scent of fresh-cut grass and aged perfume.

“Scootaloo…” Her whole body trembled as she heard her name, spoken by the mare whose hooves she never wanted to leave.

“You fillies have grown so much,” Mrs. Harbour chimed as she motioned them inside, keeping one hoof over Scootaloo’s withers.

“It’s good to see you again, Miss.” Sweetie smiled as she closed the door behind her.

“I was worried you hadn’t gotten my letters,” Harbour said as she finally pulled away, stepping back to look over the two of them. “I’ve written to you quite often.”

Scootaloo blinked once or twice.

“Often?” Sweetie glanced quizzically to a slack-jawed Scoots. “As far as I know, we only received one of them… right?”

“Well, I suppose that gives us plenty to catch up on, then.” Mrs. Harbour smiled as she trotted towards the kitchenette. “I don’t suppose you two ate before you arrived?”

“Mm—” Scootaloo’s nerves loosened as her tongue tied, finally shaking her head. “N- no.”

Her attention quickly shifted to that of the living room, or at least, what the small space between the shotgun kitchen and the bedroom appeared to be.

“Well, she didn’t eat,” Sweetie corrected. “I had a little snack on the way, but she was determined to get here ASAP.”

Above the sofa, a picture of Scootaloo was hung alongside and below those of Harbour, her husband, and the other foals. Scootaloo’s picture appeared to be from several years agoenough for her not recall it being taken.

“Oh?” Harbour replied, a small clatter heard in the kitchen. “Well, I’ll put some soup on after the coffee.”

Slowly trotting in her direction, Scootaloo noticed several familiar items set against the beige and aged wallpaper. Back home, they had been neatly sorted and set just the way she liked it. Here, however, it appeared other hooves had assembled things.

“I like your place.” Scootaloo beamed.

“Yeah.” Sweetie nodded in agreement. “It’s cute.”

“It’s all I need, really,” Harbour replied as she returned to the sofa. “Once you get to be my age, one bedroom; one bath is more than plenty.”

Sweetie tutted as she watched Scootaloo snooping through the kitchen and plodding towards Harbour’s bedroom.

Harbour blinked at Sweetie’s little noise and looked in the direction of her gesture, only to wave a dismissive hoof.

“Just making herself at home.” Harbour smiled. “Nothing wrong with that, I suppose.”

“D’awww~” The two glanced towards the sound of Scootaloo’s coo. “You still have—”

Scootaloo quickly emerged with a ring binder with a paisley slipcover.

“Why under Celestia’s sun would I discard your memorabilia?”

Scootaloo playfully wiggled her rump she crept within leaping distance of the cushion beside the old mare.

She buzzed her wings furiously as she vaulted up and over the coffee table, gingerly plopping the book upon it as she sat on her haunches, gazing at Harbour like an eager puppy expecting affection.

Harbour chuckled as she ruffled Scootaloo’s mane, jolting her to attention.

“Well, it’s certainly lovely having your girls here.” Harbour smiled, glancing between them. “I do chit chat with your sister every now and then when she’s checking on Rarity For You; that’s about all of my correspondance beyond the other old bones in this place.”

“You don’t take your walks like you used to?” Sweetie asked, a tinge of concern creeping in her voice, drawing Scootaloo’s attention.

“Well, I could if I wanted to take my glucosamine and chondroitin. My doctor’s already got me on a short list of five-syllable supplements; there’s no point in adding another to the mix—gotta be careful.”

“Glue-coat-what now?” Scootaloo cocked her head.

Harbour simply giggled. “When you trot into your golden years, things don’t work like they used to. So, if you don’t wanna creak and croak like a real old pony, you have to get a good doctor—and an even better diet.” Harbour frowned. “Had I known you two were along, I would’ve asked T.C. to fetch us something that wasn’t hay and oats.”

“Honestly, we could probably use a break.” Sweetie smirked. “We’ve been eating horribly since we got here.”

“Says you.” Scootaloo frowned. “Also… T.C.?”

“Oh, right. Tender Care, dear,” Harbour answered as she slid Scootaloo’s baby book in front of her. “He’s a truly wonderful stallion. He does all the heavy lifting for us old mares. Rosedust thinks he’s her prince-in-waiting—haven’t the heart to tell her that her dentures are twice his age.”

Sweetie said something about gentlecolts and manners, but Scootaloo was much too lost in her own head to bother putting it together.

This… doesn’t feel like home.

As she mulled over the implications of her sparse pantry, a gentle hoof poked her once, twice, then a third time.

“Scootaloo?”

“Y—yeah?” Scootaloo’s face reddened as her voice cracked.

“Everything okay, dear?” Mrs. Harbour asked, concerned. “You spaced out for a moment, there.”

“I’m fine, I just…” Scootaloo yawned as she thought the words before speaking them.

“I was just telling her about when we arrived.” Sweetie smiled, giving an encouraging wink.

“Oh…” Scootaloo’s mind fumbled a moment more as she blinked and sat up. As reality reasserted itself, her eyes lit up. “You mean when your blockheaded coltfriend got us lost?”

“Yeah—no!” Sweetie shook her head furiously. “We’re not…”

“Oh, to be a filly again,” Harbour chuckled. “Speaking of colts, what about you, missy? Rumble was his name, wasn’t it?”

“Mmhm.” Scootaloo nodded, surprised by her own suredness. “We’re s-still friends.”

“I was under the impression it was way more than friends.” Sweetie took her turn to grin deviously as Scootaloo’s eyes darted away from the caring and cunning.

“I mean, that’s what everypony says, but…”

“No need to rush these things, both of you,” Harbour said, drawing their attention. “I loved Sandbar with all my heart, but I was barely a few moons older then you two when we hitched the wagon.” She shook her head. “I was a foolish filly, but that’s what you did, back then. You girls enjoy being foals. Nothing wrong with love, but there’s no need to toss down your anchor so soon.”

Her expression softened as Scootaloo’s tail swayed nervously.

“I know you know that. Sandy and I were a broken record with that bit in particular.”

A knock on the door drew their attention to it. After a second, it opened, a cream-colored mare with a nurses’ hat poking her head in.

“Mrs. Harbou—Oh! My apologies, you have company today!”

“I do.” Mrs. Harbour smiled. “But no worries. Is it time already?” She blinked as she felt Scootaloo flinch beside her.

“The mares were wondering if you were coming for Bingo, but I can tell them you have guests.”

“Oh no, no, no, honey,” Harbour waved a dismissive hoof. “I might as well ask you if these fine fillies can join me in the parlor.”

“Oh, of course they can! Have they eaten lunch? I can have Chef Maple make them some soup at least.”

“If you don’t mind.” Harbour put on a tender, warm voice.

“Not at all! We’ll start in fifteen.” With that, the mare closed the door with a gentle click, her fading hoofsteps leaving them with the ticking of a distant clock.

“Well then,” Harbour began as she attempted to stand on all fours, flinching a little as she stalled. She started again as an orange blur zipped across her vision, a trembling, but gentle hoof helping her to her hooves.

“Oh, honey, it's nothing to fret over. Just takes a couple extra steps, that all. We’ve got plenty of time.” They slowly made our way to the front door, leaving behind the photobook. “Are you all ready for the time of your lives?”

“Yeah!” Scoots and Sweetie shouted in delight.


“Boo.”

Scootaloo watched her spork slosh through the small bowl of steaming sludge.

“Aren’t you even gonna try it, Scoots?” Sweetie asked.

“Are you?” Scootaloo shuddered as she looked down. “Even you could do better. I still can’t tell what shade of gray it is.”

’N’-TWENTY SIX

Scootaloo nearly choked on air as the crackling, distorted call blasted from the rickety speakers hung from the ceiling.

“Wee-hoo!” some elderly stallion hooted, “Gimme a ‘G!’”

“You owe me a scratch ticket if you seriously sweep this round,” another hollered.

“I don’t get it,” Scootaloo deadpanned.

“It’s really not that complicated.” Sweetie just shrugged as she looked around.

“No, not the Bingo, dumbbelle.” Scootaloo shook her head. “It sounds like she does this every day. Every. Single. Day.” Scootaloo thumped a hoof on the table. “Eating this… slaw and playing this ‘game,’ it’s just… so boorriinng!”

“I don’t know, they look like they’re having a good time.” Sweetie gestured towards a table of giggling grannies. “Maybe we can join your mom and her mare friends. You never know, Scoots, you might like it.”

“Yeah, and maybe after I discover my love for Bingo, I can get back to my Wonderbolts training. Got a show in a couple of days, and I really need to get a grip on the routine.”

Sweetie Belle was not amused.

“B-FIFTEEN!”

“Yippie!” came a wavy cry from across the room. “Bingo!”

Scootaloo watched as the old pony cackled and cantered in place, very, very slowly.

“Alright, gang!” Harbour said, flanked by two mares and a stallion. “Ready to play?”

“Yeah!” Sweetie beamed as the corners of Scootaloo’s mouth hurt.

Before Scootaloo could object, a game card was placed in front of her, along with some cardboard tokens.

“Ooh.” Scootaloo shrunk back as a senior mare with a silver cap leaned a little too close. “You never said you were going to bless us with these cutie patooties, Safe.”

Scootaloo strained her toothy grin as she tried her best not to squirm in her seat.


Rumble didn’t like waiting in long lines, nor was he a fan of not having any bits before he could even blink, yet there he was: frogs aching as he and Button stood in a queue forty ponies long so his propellor-capped partner could score a signed copy of One Buck Stud.

“I don’t get why you want an autograph so bad.” Rumble sighed as he smelled food that was surely at the opposite end of the Manehattan Expo Center.

“I don’t get how you’re this much of a casual.” Button aggressively booped Rumble’s snout. “It may seem niche now, but watch One Buck Stud be the next Power Ponies. And guess who’s gonna have one of the two-hundred original signed copies of the first issue?”

“You.”

“You’re damn right, ‘me’.” Button’s propeller spun as he whipped his head back towards the line, then back to his pleb friend.

“Is this like that one stallion in the Iron Will costume we met earlier who stank of alcohol and had that complete Countess Coloratura discography and body pillow?”

Button blinked. “...No, dude. That fucker’s guaranteed behind bars in six weeks—look, you may not get it now, but we’ll find something that’ll hook ya.”

“If it involves standing in line for another five hours, forget it. Where’s the video games and stunt ponies?”

“That’s later, Fumble,” Button said as the line moved forward. “Today is mostly for the artists and merch.”

“Wait.” Rumble blinked. “There’s more than one day of this?”

“Are you colts in line for the Wanpansuta signing?”

“The... what?”

“Oh my god—” Button facehoofed. “It’s Yakanese. Sorry about my friend, he’s… slow. But hell yeah, looks like he’s got twenty pages left, so you made it just in time...”

It wasn’t hard for Rumble to phase out their babble with all the commotion and beeps and blips, the busy panorama of the convention center gave him enough to scope out. As a crowd of costumed pegasi zipped out of the aisle, he could see, off in the distance, a small pizza stand: LittleLas Pegasus.

His mouth watered.

“Um… sir?”

Rumble turned to see the freckled face of Button’s awkward acquaintance.

“You’re moving.”

“I wish—” Rumble glanced to see Button had moved several steps forward. “Oh.”

Rumble couldn’t help himself. “What exactly makes this so cool, though? Isn’t it just about some gelding who can knock out Changelings with a single buck?”

“Holy shit, it’s almost as if that’s the title or something~” Button mocked, not even bothering to look back.

“The title is just the beginning!” Freckles nerded. “Really, what it is is a deconstruction of superhero comics and the typical tropes and conventions that define the genre. Chroma being so OP is simply a ponification of the concept of monotony, a facet of modern Equestrian society. There’s a lot of deep symbolism and meaning that would take a million moons to totally unpack.”

“....please don’t.”

Rumble jumped as Button tapped his shoulder.

“Hey,” Button said. “You wanna split up for a little bit?”

“Uh… you cool with that?”

“Pfft, yeah.” Button smiled. “You look bored.”

Wow, that’s oddly considerate.

Rumble nodded, holding back a smirk.

“Yeah, you can go find us some food. I’m starving.”

There it is. Rumble shook his head. Better than standing here, I guess.

“Sure, loser. I was thinking Little Las Pegasus sounded good.” Rumble stepped out of line, the gap filled instantly. “My bro’s been to the real deal a couple times and says it’s the shit. You think you’ll be done with this before the food gets cold?”

“Maybe if this hefer ten tails up cuts her life story short,” Button muttered.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Rumble said as he quickly trotted towards the food court.

He did take one glance back at Button. The silly colt was right back to standing in line, prancing in place as his tail bobbed excitedly. At least he was having a good time.

Rumble looked around as he trotted past the cosplayers and commerce. Set back towards the far end of the hall were the marquees of some video games he knew, and beyond those, some familiar characters from his favorite movie franchise.

He sighed. Some of these costumes are pretty cool, and those game booths look pretty sweet. I guess the least I can do is get some grub in return for Button going through all this trouble.

Turning past a Daring Do fan artbooth, Rumble spotted a pegasus filly slurping a milkshake.

I wonder how she’s doing right now. Rumble shook his head.
The smell of garlic and cheese lured him through the clusters of ponies, past the decorative displays and busy booths. Finally, he found his spot in a long, winding line.

As he turned back to glance at Button’s line, something made his mouth fall open. Standing before him was a striking bat filly in an incredibly well-done Night Guard costume, including authentic-looking gauntlets on her forehooves.

Even with the getup, he could make out frays of her shadow-blue mane and cadet-gray coat. Though as their eyes met, he could’ve sworn he heard the squawks of a thousand angry chickens.

Or maybe that was an airhorn.

“Some line, huh?” The fluorescent filly turned and gave me a fanged smile. “I really hope they don’t run out of the Nightmother one.”

“Huh?”

“The shadowboxes?” She smiled, then glared. “Lemmie guess, you’re gonna get either the Sun Witch, or the Wonderbolts collage. Waste of money if you ask me.”

“N—No, I thought I was in line for Little Las Pegasus.”

“Oh, that’s the other line,” she snorted as pointed an armored hoof towards a much longer queue. “That one.”

“Right…” Rumble took his last free glance at the batty babe. “Whoops.”

His cheeks flustered as his stomach growled, cursing to himself as he dared to count how many ponies stood in the way of him, and glorious pizza.

After what seemed like an eternity, he finally made his way up to the front, only the classic cheese available. Disappointed but not deterred, he trotted away with a greasy bag of two slices and a carton of garlicy bread.

“There you are!” Button said, seemingly breathless as he galloped towards Rumble.

“What’s up?” Rumble blinked. “...and where’s your—”

“Never mind that shit,” Button cut in. “Friendly. Fighters. Tournament. Now.”

“Ooh, that's sounds neat,” Rumble said. “Want some pizza?”

No time!” Button practically shrieked as he nonetheless crammed a slice into his foodhole. “We’ll get DQ’ed if we don’t get up there now!”

“Hold up…You fucking wha—” Rumble retched as Button grabbed his hoof and flew through the crowds with speed that would impress him if he hadn’t choked on the pizza juice that shot down his windpipe.

Rumble coughed up grease as they finally stopped at the steps of the stage, which hosted several game consoles, televisions, all below one giant screen.

“How the buck do you think you are entering… me into a fighting tournament?”

“I was talking to this mare about how much I was hyped for Friendly Fighter, and a couple crossed T’s, and dotted I’s later... here we are...heh.”

Rumble’s left eye twitched.

Alright fillies and gentlecolts.” An announcer boomed from some loudspeakers. “It’s time for the fifth annual Battle of the Hay!

Somepony said something, snatched a slip from Button’s hoof, and the two were escorted onstage and to two heavily sponsored gaming chairs. A massive crowd of roaring, stomping equine blanketed the horizon.

Rumble’s right eye twitched. “No.”

Yesss.”

He could barely hear Button over the EDM that blasted out the speakers, the baseline rattling everything—nerves included.

On the screens set before them was indeed the flashy, vivid title screen of the unreleased Friendly Fighters. Crowding the space behind the title graphic were gritty depictions of the Elements of Harmony, as well as some other Equestrian beasts.

“You know the rules, right?”

“I know I hate everything about you,” Rumble muttered. “Good enough?”

Button shook his head. “Double-elimination two-player co-op.” He gestured with his hoof as he explained. “First TKO or most health at time wins the match.”

“That doesn’t help me actually play the game, idiot.”

“Eh, it’s the rookie bracket.” Button shrugged. “You’ll tough it out.”

Rumble glanced over to see the eight other teams on their side of the stage. He swallowed. They all had that same confident poise and posture, clearly they were pros, or at least looked the part.

Alright brawlers,” the announcer boomed again. “Choose your characters!”

Sure enough, the title screen made way for a claustrophobic character select screen. The top row consist of the Elements, with the remainder consisting of various Dragons, Yaks, and some familiar foes of Equestria both past and present.

Rumble blinked. He chose Fluttershy.

Button chose Pinkie Pie after several extra seconds of deliberation.

“Pinkie Pie?” Rumble tilted his head.

“Fuck yeah.” Button nodded. “She’s good stamina, agility, and a pretty balanced moveset.”

Rumble sat dumbly for a second, before giving up on getting any of it.

“Uh huh.”

“Fluttershy isn’t half bad, though I’m kinda surprised you picked her, and not—” Button shut his trap and looked away.

“...and picked who?”

They heard the announcer clear his throat, Button let out a relieved breath.

ThreeTwo…” Rumble’s hoofs began to sweat as the numbers flashed on screen in time with the announcer’s commanding voice. “OneGO!

Instantly they were thrust into a floating arena which seemed to be a rendition of Canterlot. A three-dimensional Fluttershy rig came to life as Rumble toyed with the analog stick, leaping daintily with the press of a button.

Meanwhile, Pinkie Pie seemed to be just as Button described, springy and speedy, her jumps more like hop that made the whipping of her candied tail that much more effective.

First frantically dodging attacks and evading belligerents, Fluttershy slowly began to edge her way into the fight. Quick strikes and even quicker retreats distracted them long enough for Pinkie to land a critical blow.

The Changelings didn’t stand much of a chance when the Party Cannon was blasted from behind. This was how the first opponent perished. Number Two was a little more cunning, however, able to mimic Pinkie’s agility after he got one good hit in.

Fluttershy was no slouch, though. While brisk strikes and diversion tactics were fine at first, with Pinkie on the rails, it was time to up the ante. First, she struck with a gliding kick from a high platform, then summoned Bear-y to stun him long enough for her signature move—the Flutterbeam, a powerful, concentrated cascade of butterflies that sent him offscreen and out of commission.

“Hey, not too bad.” Button smirked. “For a rookie.”

“You can fuck off—like, right now,” Rumble shot back, taking a large slurp of his complementary milkshake.

Quarter-finals saw more challenge, and less opponents. With each successful, hoof-gnawing match, the teams became fewer still, until there was only two.

Rumble shuttered his eyes as he threw his head back, hooves borderline blistering. Whatever Button had said was cut off by the sound of a now liquidy milkshake surging down his gullet.

He nearly did a spit take as, in the corner of his vision, he saw something that curled his stomach.

“Well, well, well, look what we have here, boys?” A pegasus colt sneered as they took their seats across from them. “Fillyface and his little shitstain.”

Rumble simply rolled his eyes. Ruffled Feathers.

“What’s wrong Sky Piss?” Bit Buster, his sidekick, piped. “Lose your voice after your brother dropped you again?”

“You know these ponies?” Button asked, a scowl already crossing his face.

“That’s one way to put it.” Ruffled puffed out his chest. “Your colfriend there made such an ass of himself, even the dead know he’s a little bitch.”

“Never knew the winner of every fight and race was the bitch,” Rumble countered, arching an eyebrow as Bit Buster’s eyes widened.

“You’re right, you aren’t a bitch, you’re a pussy,” Ruffled muttered as the crowd began to return. “Heard you took off with your loser brother and fucked a limp chicken. Sounds like a real winner.”

Rumble raised a hoof, only pull it back. “You can talk shit when you actually beat me for once.”

“Whatever,” Ruffle tutted. “We’ll play catch up after I put you in the ground, birdshit.”

Rumble took a deep breath as the game began to countdown to character selection.

Here we are, fillies and gentlecolts,” the announcer crackled. “Junior Semi-Finals Round Two!”

Suddenly, this game was interesting.

“You okay, Rumble?” He barely heard Button over the blood pumping through his veins.

“Shut up until we win.”

“Bwu—okay.”

Flutterbat took one last glance towards Pinkie as the Diamond Dog and his accompanying armored dragon crossed the royal court of the Crystal Empire. What wasn’t rubble was ruin, with only the greatest tower of the castle spared total destruction.

An affirmative nod sent both into action. Flutterbat took to the skies as Pinkie charged straight towards their foes. She watched for just a moment as dust plumes were born of failed impacts and thrown flames, then, she went in for a circling dive.

“Screeeeeeeeeeeeee!” she screeeeeeeeeeee’d as her descent accelerated.

Just then, she felt her ear twitch, and banked to the left as an intense flame licked her right side. She heard the equally piercing screech of the dragon as he pursued her with increasing speed.

As Flutterbat turned to take a bite of the scaly stalker, she was suddenly gripped by the dragon. Hot breath shot from above as their descent became a perilous dive, ending with a powerful impact into the crystal pavement below.

Suddenly, the dust and overcast gave way to Cloudsdale Primary.

Surrounded by a gang of delinquents, their snaggletooth grins and murderous ire set against hues born of the setting sun. It took him a moment to remember why he was here.

“So I heard your bro set my brother up, Fillyface!” Ruffled barked, taking a heavy stomp towards his target.

Rumble’s whole body trembled. There was no end to it, and the multiple bruises on his side and barrel reminded him of that. Couldn't he just go home?

“I swear I didn’t say anything to my brother!” Rumble’s voice wavered as he cowered beneath a tree. “P—Please just leave me alone. I’m really, really sorry!”

“Hey Buster,” one of the darker-coated colts shouted as he trotted towards Rumble. “I owe you three bits. Looks like this blank flank is gonna get his punching bag cutie mark after all!”

Rumble felt the recent bruises throb, his wings folded tightly against his body. As the gang closed in on him, he held his hooves in front of his face. He was going to get roughed up; tell mom and dad he fell on the way home…

“I know you’re lying, you little faggot!” Ruffled cried as he sailed a hoof into Rumble’s ribcage.

After a couple blows to the face, stomach, and side, Ruffled grabbed him by the mane, and gestured for his crony to hold him in place.

“Listen here, pigeon,” Ruffled barked. “You think you’re hot shit because you came in second during last week’s Young Fliers Comp? Think you can strut around like your bro?”

“No!” Rumble whined, “I didn’t mean to—”

“Bullshit!” Ruffled punctuated his cry with a hard, loud smack across Rumble’s face, which sent him sprawling to the cloud floor.

Before he could even begin to stand on all fours, the wind was knocked out of him, letting out a gasp as he fell on his stomach.

“My brother was in the hospital for two weeks because of you!”

A kick in the teeth.

“Then you go ahead and think you’re hot shit—a bucking show off!”

Another hoof stuck his head.

“Not feelin’ so hot now, are ya?!”

Rumble heard the shouts, and felt the blows, but the ringing in his ears began to overpower even that. He felt a chill surge through his body, and with it, the will to stand. He looked into the menacing gaze of his classmate, a former friend turned enemy.

The words of his big brother echoed above the dull ring.

Someday, somepony is going to have it out for you, and when that day comes, you gotta be ready to take ‘em on. You can’t just curl up in a ball and wish them away, the real world doesn’t work that way.”

He closed his heavy eyes, and took a deep breath as muffled shouts and jeers hit him from all sides.

Sometimes, it’s you or them.”

Raising his hoof was like moving a mountain, but once it was up, it sailed with ease, distorting that smug face that had tormented him for so long. The left shot sent Ruffled to the ground, spurring Rumble to pivot and strike his next target.

Bit Buster put his dukes up and set Rumble back with a couple shots to the snout, but a well-timed buck sent him on his flank. Grabbing the tail of a fleeing fiend, he dragged them onto all fours, and let them have it. Each impact was as satisfying as the last.

“Rumble…”

The world was nudged to the side, his vision faded and degaussed; but only for an instant.

He towered over the bully, the rest of his crew having long fled his retaliation. Looking into his humiliated eyes made Rumble feel a sense of rightness he hadn’t felt in a long time.

“You’re not gonna bully me, anymore,” Rumble growled. “Got it?”

Ruffled nodded, darting his eyes back towards the ground to hide any semblance of fear, only looking up when he saw Rumble’s hoof outstretched.

“Come on,” Rumble said, his voice hoarse and softer.

Ruffled guffawed, shakily putting his hoof in Rumble’s as he was helped up. Just as soon as he was taken aback by Rumble’s act of compassion, he burned the bridge under construction.

“I’m telling.” With a wicked smile, and an equally wicked pace, Ruffled had a running start.

His intent was to fly, but he wouldn’t get that far. First came the clamp of teeth on his tail, then a sharp tackle. Ruffled struggled and squirmed but Rumble wasn’t letting up. He didn’t barrage him this time, instead keeping him pinned as he flailed and wailed.

“Rumble!”

Lightning crashed as the look of terror on Ruffled’s face was replaced with the look of irritation on Button’s.

“Anypony home?”

“What?” Rumble blinked.

“There you are, you little shit.” Button sighed. “We did it!”

Rumble suddenly felt the joystick impressing on his hoof. “Huh?”

“You’re an idiot, you know that? A glorious fucking idiot.”

Rumble couldn’t help a smile as he triumphantly hoof-bumped a beaming Button Mash.

“I still say you cheated,” Ruffled growled with his hooves crossed.

“I still say you suck.” Rumble stuck out his tongue. “Just accept that I’m better than you, already.”

“Hmph!” Ruffled slammed the controller onto the floor as he and Bit Buster stomped offstage and into the building crowds.

“Yeah!” Rumble hollered after them, standing on his chair. “Who’s the pigeon now, Ruffles!”

“Gettin’ into this now, aren’t you?” Button giggled.

“Hell yeah.” Rumble flashed a smile as his hooves shook.

“We’re gonna win it.”

“You bet your flank we are!” Both raised hoofs to the air.

“Gonna kick their ass.”

“That’s right!”

“Let’s do this!”

“Alright!”


Sweetie Belle watched as Harbour triumphantly placed another piece of the puzzle. They were about two-hundred pieces away from a rather lavish and lush painting of the Galloping Gorge.

“Well...” Harbour pretended to wipe sweat from her brow. “Certainly is a test of our wherewithal, isn’t it?”

Glancing over, she watched as Scootaloo groaned, burying her face in her crossed hooves.

“Are you sure you’re alright, dear?” Harbour asked.

“I dunno,” Scootaloo grumbled, her eyelids drooping. “I get kinda antsy when I’ve been inside for too long.”

“Oh,” Harbour replied, searching for another piece from the box. “Why don’t you girls take a quick trot? Get some fresh air?”

Scootaloo’s eyes lit up as she suddenly sat upright.

“Why don’t we go for a trot?”

“Well…” Harbour hesitated.

“Why not?” Scootaloo said a little louder, hopping from her seat. “Can’t be good for you to just sit inside all day. Gotta get out and get movin’!”

“Scootaloo…” Sweetie raised a hoof to object.

“Come on!” Scootaloo playfully insisted as she helped Harbour to her hooves. “We’ll just canter around the block—just like our Sunday strolls back home!”

Sweetie could see conflict playing out on Mrs. Harbour’s face. As she opened her mouth to object once more, she saw that glimmer in Scootaloo’s eyes, that childlike spark of innocence that was far too rare anymore.

Come on, Scoots….

Harbour must’ve seen it as well, since next Sweetie saw her, she disappeared into the hallway, a giddy Scootaloo buzzing a couple hoofsteps behind.

Sweetie sighed as she looked out the large window at the end of the apartment, watching some ponies and coaches pass along the street below.

“Ready to go?”

Sweetie took a deep breath as she turned around to see Scootaloo’s smiling face. Her protesting stomp went limp.

Sweetie shook her head. “Yep. You sure you’re up for this, Mrs. Harbour?”

She opened her mouth so respond, but Scootaloo was quick to the draw.

“Only one way to find out!” Scootaloo chirped as she threw the door open, and lead the three downstairs and outdoors.

On paper, there was no reason to not be out an about; the sun was shining against a blue sky, what clouds did linger above were white and fluffy; the street scene was a calm, recreational one.

“Oh, well this isn’t so bad.” Harbour did her best to keep up with Scootaloo’s brisk pace out the door.

Sweetie Belle stuck by her side, looking up every now and then to look for any sign of trouble.

She flinched as Harbour noticed her.

“I know I should’ve told her no,” she huffed. “But it’d kill me to let her down. You girls came all this way to see me…” Sweetie winced as she swore she caught a wheeze. “The least I can do is stick it out for as long as my old bones are willing.”

“Ooh!” They both glanced to see Scootaloo standing at the edge of the crosswalk, looking at them with those beady purple eyes.

“Maybe we can go stop by your sisters’ shop!”

“Scoots, that’s a really long ways from here. I thought this was a leisurely trot?”

“Pfft.” Scootaloo waved a hoof as the two approached. “What are you, a foal? It’s like a mile or less. Isn’t that right, mom?”

Sweetie caught a hitch in Mrs. Harbour’s voice. “I believe it’s a little more than that, dear.”

“Let’s just take it easy, alright?” Sweetie suggested, placing a comforting hoof on Harbour’s shoulder.

“What’s with you?” Scootaloo arched an eyebrow. “No way you were fine being stuck inside all day, too.”

Scootaloo—” Sweetie blinked as she felt a gentle nudge. She glanced one more time to the entrance of the senior center. By the time she looked back, Scootaloo had helped Harbour halfway across the street.

A couple more minutes passed as they quietly trotted along the quieter streets of Manehattan. Lined with terraces and shop facades, the bright sky made it more like a canyon wall than a cityscape.

Sweetie could see Mrs. Harbour trying her best to keep up the pace, both with Scootaloo’s jaunt, and her blabbermouth. She sighed as she caught up to the two.

“...and so then she lost my scarf in the forest, and got lost herself,” Scootaloo recalled, her gaze shifting downward as Harbours careful gait began to limp. “See? This is what happens when you don’t keep up regular exercise.”

“You hush now,” Harbour chided playfully, tailed by a cough or two.

“Hey, Scootaloo…” Sweetie Belle said as she trotted between the two. “I think we should turn around once we get to this crossing.”

Mrs. Harbour bit her lip and Scootaloo stomped a hoof.

“No way! We haven’t even gotten to the park, yet!”

Sweetie felt her nerves being punched.

No,” Sweetie growled. Scootaloo shut her mouth. “It isn’t good to push it. If you wanna go ahead, fine, but we are going back!”

Scootaloo let out an indignant squawk as she looked to Mrs. Harbour for support, only to see her look away.

“But…” Scootaloo deflated, pawing the pavement.

“I wish I could, honey,” Harbour finally said. “But these hooves aren’t what they used to be. Maybe next time….”

“Whatever.” Scootaloo cut her off as she attended Harbour’s other side. At Sweetie’s nod, the two began to carefully escort her back to her apartment. Scootaloo refused to make eye contact.

Approaching the steps, Scootaloo began to lift while Sweetie tried to continue forward.

“Scootaloo, what are you doing?” Sweetie protested. “It would be much easier if—”

Suddenly, they stopped.

“Shut up.” Scootaloo muttered.

Sweetie blinked as she heard Harbour suck in a breath. “Wh… what?”

She could see Scootaloo was fighting to hold back her anger as well as tears. Her righteous fury culled as she did as Sweetie suggest, wordlessly following her lead as they brought her upstairs.

Sweetie swore she heard a couple choice words under Scootaloo’s breath, but remained silent as they finally made it to Harbour’s room.

Both watched as Mrs. Harbour staggered to her bedroom.

“I think I’m going to take a short nap, girls,” she said without looking back. “We can see about supper once I’m up.”

Sweetie watched as Scootaloo bit her lip.

“I think we’ve had quite the busy day already.” Sweetie startled as she turned to see an intimidating, soft-spoken stallion.

“Tender…” Harbour began to object.

“Mrs, I know you mean well, but remember what your doctor said? No strenuous exercise for at least three weeks. We don’t want you to have what Petal Blossom did last week, do we?”

Harbour sighed. “Sorry fillies, but I’m afraid he does make a point. Why don’t you two head home for the night. We’ll see you tomorrow?”

Scootaloo stared at this stallion with nothing short of contempt. Nonetheless, she turned around, trotted out of Mrs. Harbour’s room. Tender was not far behind.

Sweetie watched through the door as Scootaloo hugged her tight, Harbour returning with a gentle kiss on the forehead, a couple kind words, and a wave to Sweetie Belle as she lied down.

Tender passed Scootaloo as she stormed into the hallway.

“Why don’t you two come around breakfast time? We typically don’t have visitors around then, but I’m sure we can make an exception.”

Sweetie Belle heard Scootaloo open her mouth.

“Thank you, sir,” Sweetie said quickly. “We’ll definitely do that if we wake up on time.”

Looking towards where Scootaloo had been, Sweetie only saw an empty room and an open door. Rushing into the hall, and gently closing the door, she saw Scootaloo’s tail just as it disappeared into the stairwell.

Sweetie Belle struggled to keep pace with Scootaloo’s canter.

“Scootaloo,” Sweetie panted. “What’s wrong?”

Scootaloo spun around, her ears splayed to her head.

“What’s wrong?!” Scootaloo spat, pointing an incredulous hoof towards the tower. “That’s wrong! Everything about that is wrong!”

“I don’t…”

“Get it? Of course not!” Scootaloo stomped a hoof. “She doesn’t belong there, Sweetie Belle! She doesn’t get out anymore! She sits around and pops pills and plays bingo and eats…” She gagged. “...boiled oats. What even is that? Blegth!”

“Scootaloo…”

“That’s not her, Sweetie Belle; that’s not my mom! She’s… broken!”

“What are you—” Sweetie stopped and took a deep breath“That’s what old ponies do, Scoots. They want to relax and enjoy their golden years. I think she deserves it, don’t you?”

“Nopony deserves to be cooped up like that!”

“Have you ever considered that maybe she likes it?”

Sweetie flinched as Scootaloo’s expression turned from downcast to deadly.

“She can’t….” Scootaloo whimpered. “There’s no way… if they keep her there, if she keeps on like that, she won’t even be able to stand on her own and...” She shook her head furiously as tears scattered like an angry rainstorm.

Don’t.” Sweetie put her hoof up.

Scootaloo was in Sweetie’s hooves in an instant, her head buried into Sweetie’s withers as she gently stroked her mane, her whole body trembling.

“That’s still very far away, Scootaloo.” she whispered. “You know that.”

“I love her!” Scootaloo wretched through clenched teeth. “I don’t want her to fade away, Sweetie Belle, I don’t want her to be this way! This isn’t right, this isn’t my...”

Her hoarse cries were hardly heard as she clutched Sweetie tightly.


“Well shit.”

Button tried his best not to hang his head as they trotted back towards the hotel.

“We put up a good fight, buddy.” Rumble smiled as he carried himself a little quicker than usual.

“You seem awfully happy for having your ass hoofed to you by a neckbeard with a speech impediment.”

“Pretty sure that was the Countess stalker—smelled like it, anyway. And are you seriously moaning? We still got copies of Friendly Fighter, and a sixteen bit gift card to Little Las Pegasus.

“...which don’t exist in Ponyville.” Button frowned, only to turn it upside down as he peeked into his saddlebag. “But you’re right! We placed third, that’s better than nothing. Still, did you see that Collector’s Edition? That Nightmare Moon figure was unreal!”

“I can’t wait to go back, tomorrow!” Rumble practically squealed as he did a little happy prance.

“Wait, seriously? Sweet!” Button did a dance of his own. “I was worried you were gonna ditch me for the fillies after day one. I told you we’d find something you’d like.”

“Speaking of the girls.” Rumble’s ears perked. “Pretty sure Rarity gave them enough ‘shopping money’ to each get a day pass.”


Button strode in the room as Rumble threw open the door.

“Heya filli—”

“Shhh!” Sweetie shushed, her face as sour as the room was dim.

Rumble could see Scootaloo’s mane poking out from under the covers, which rose and fell with her breathing.

“She’s… asleep?” Rumble tilted his head. His smile returned. “Well, looks like you fillies had a wild day, too, huh?”

Sweetie’s face betrayed no emotion. “No.”

Rumble’s elation popped like a balloon. “Oh. Well...”

Button moved over to Sweetie’s bedside, chucking his bag onto it.

“Seems like you two had a good day, at least?” Sweetie tried for a smile, but didn’t quite make it.

Rumble opened his mouth, only to close it as he trotted a little closer.

“Good? More like awesome!” Button chirped before being shushed again. “I mean… well, we got third in the Battle of the Hay.”

“Battle of the Hay?”

“It’s a fighting game tournament,” Button explained as he emptied his bag. “You remember Diamond Force? Like that but sixty teams and three brackets.”

“Cool…” Sweetie nodded. “That does sound pretty fun.”

“Yeah, you and Scoots should come with us tomorrow!”

Sweetie’s frown returned as she looked towards the still-sleeping scooter horse. “We’ll see,” she sighed.

Rumble trotted over to his side of the bed, now watching the slumbering Scootaloo with concern. “What happened? I thought she was excited to see her—”

“I’m sure she’ll tell you later,” Sweetie Belle cut in as she pulled the covers up. “She kinda hates me at the moment, so she'd probably get grumpier if I told you before she did.”

“Seriously?” Rumble said, half irritated and half curious as he wiggled his rump in preparation to leap onto the bed.

He cringed as his landing was a little more impactful than he planned, hearing a grumpy groan as he settled down.

He watched her shift under the covers a little.

“No.”

Rumble blinked. “What?”

“No.” Scootaloo groaned again. “Go away.”

“Uh…” Rumble hesitated. “What did I do?”

Scootaloo finally turned to face him, quickly, and with a look nothing short of contempt.

“Why are you arguing with me?”

What crawled up your ass and died? Holy shit. Rumble didn’t move an inch.

“Unlike somepony, my day kinda sucked. You come in here all loud and junk, and I’m trying to sleep—”

“Come on, Scoots,” Rumble cut in. Scooting closer, he deftly pulled the covers over, resisting Scootaloo’s counter tug.

“Ugh!” Scootaloo moaned. “Get out!”

“What, and sleep on the floor?” Rumble muttered. “You’re no fun.”

Rumble looked across the room to where Button peeked through the doorway. After several moments of silence, he quietly and carefully crept across the room, and towards the bathroom. The room’s light wavered as he shut the door.

Rumble listened to the water run, the faint sound of the shower, Button washing his hooves; and after awhile, his bedroom door clicking shut. He turned over to see Scootaloo still facing the wall.

He swallowed as he pulled back his hoof, lying there as his euphoria was washed away with a creeping tide of concern and confusion.

“Scoots?”

No response as the silhouette remained still.

He slowly sent a hoof forward, poking the sleeping filly. Once, twice…

“What?” She grumbled.

“You okay?” Silent as it was, Rumble could see her mane bob side to side. “I’m sorry you had a bad day, Scootaloo.”

He swallowed as he listened to the crickets and the carriages. Rumble turned over again as he heard a slight rustle in the comforter, which then pulled back to reveal purple eyes reflecting moonlight.

Rumble closed his eyes as he rested his head, only for them to shoot back open as two hooves wrapped around him, those same purple eyes now all he could see. He fought the urge to squirm as he felt heat surge from his heart to his face.

As much as he didn’t mind the warmth, the somewhat knappy mane brushing his chin, he wasn’t a huge fan of being a sneeze short of tumbling to the floor. He sighed and settled, figuring that was preferable to getting back on her bad side.

“I’m glad you’re here.”

Rumble opened his eyes. Perhaps it all had been the tail end of a dream fading into the abyss. As Button’s bedroom light was finally extinguished, he took one last glance towards the window, the full moon bathing the room in a soft lunar glow.

Between the pony snuggled to his side, and the tire from all the excitement and expense of the day, it was nice to fall into the embrace of sweet, blissful sleep.

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