• 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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34. Dusk

Rumble awoke to near-total darkness. What sun filtered through the curtains created a little glowing mesh on the ceiling, enough of it casting upon the bed for him to realize that weight and warmth that was pressed against his side was a still-sleeping Scootaloo.

Her hoof wrapped around his barrel like the lapbar of a roller coaster train; her snoot was but an inch from his face. While the extra warmth was nice, the idea of waking her up was pure dread. But nature called, and he couldn’t find the ignore button.

Try as he might, he raised her hoof a little too high, and a sleepy noise sounded from the unhappy filly.

“Mmhmnghmngh.” Scootaloo let out a muffled groan as she flopped onto her side, turning her back to whoever dared disrupt her dreaming.

“Yeah, you too,” Rumble muttered. He rubbed his eyes as he crawled out of bed and felt his way to the bathroom.

By the time he had showered and smelled halfway decent, Scootaloo was up and at ‘em, suitcase already by the door.

“All packed up and ready to go, huh?” Rumble yawned as he trotted past her to gather his own things.

Scootaloo nodded with a smile. “At least you and I pack light; Sweetie brought enough shit to fill a city…”

“And Button got more swag and souvenirs than he knows what do do with,” Rumble finished with a snort. “Where’d they go, anyway?”

“Dunno.” Scootaloo shrugged.“Hopefully they aren’t returning the favor from yesterday,” Scootaloo frowned suddenly. “We’re getting breakfast with Mrs. Harbour by the train station.”

“Well, since we’re both ready. Why don’t we get outta here, and see what they’re up to?”

Scootaloo nodded, and with that the two trotted towards the door. They opened it and took but two steps into the hall before an unusual clank made her look back. A small wrapped bag was tied the doorknob, a note was taped to it, scrawled in ballpoint.

Hey Buzzard,

Sorry for droppin’ and dashin’, pops got me on a schedule. Anyway, I was hoping you could get this to my lil’ cousin when you get back. Was cool seein’ you guys, maybe next time you’ll let me trim that bush you call a mane. Hit me up if you’re in town again. City could always use a coat of red if you know catch my drift.

- Babs

Scootaloo blew a tuft of mane out her face as she took the bag in her mouth.

As they trotted down the gridded paths of the concrete jungle, Scootaloo found the familiar sights and sounds especially interesting today. Of particular interest was a gang of costumed colts meandering outside of the convention center.

“You have fun there?” Scootaloo pointed at the cosplayers.

“Mmhm.” Rumble nodded. “Had a blast. Maybe next year we can all go. I think you’d like it.”

“Yeah…” Scootaloo made one last glance back as they waited to cross a busy boulevard. “Next year.”

“What’s up?”

“Just a little sad, I guess.” Scootaloo shook her head. “Never thought I’d miss this smoggy, crowded, crazy place, but…” She trailed as a hoof rest on her withers, the clink of her suitcase zippers intensifying as she picked up the pace.

After what seemed like an eternity and a half, they arrived at Manehatten Center Station, the smell of their pitstop drawing their attention.

“Red said this joint has the best breakfast in town,” Rumble explained as he led them towards an retro-themed diner on the corner.

“You think they’re already here?” Scootaloo hesitated for a moment as she glanced around.

“Only one way to find out.” Rumble smiled as he held the door open.

Even with the cluttered walls and the packed counter, they saw Mrs. Harbour, Tender, Sweetie, and Button all waving at them.

“Hey, there’s a surprise,” Rumble started as Scootaloo buzzed towards the booth.

Rumble approached his chair as Scootaloo giddily took her seat beside Harbour.

“You owe me six bits,” Button deadpanned, looking at Sweetie Belle, only to flinch as he turned back around. Rumble pressed so close their snoots scrunched.

Rumble raised an eyebrow. “You took bets? Pretty sure I’m not the one who’s directionally challenged.”

“Hmph.” Button leaned back, rubbing his muzzle with a hoof. “Can’t let me have this, can you?”

“Now, now colts,” Tender waved a dismissive hoof. “Save the foal’s play for later.”

“How did you know we were going to be here?” Scootaloo chimed as she squeezed next to Mrs. Harbour. A hoof was wrapped around her, pulling them together with a little squeak.

“Well, a little birdie tipped us off on the way here- figured I’d see you off, anyway.”

“This beanie baby?” Rumble smirked, flicking Button’s propeller cap. “I wonder, if I spawned a tornado above your head, you might get some serious air with that thing.”

“Hilarious.” Button rolled his eyes.

“You excited?”

Scootaloo turned to look into Harbour’s kind old eyes, taking a second for the words to register. She nodded.

“You’ve got your sister and a stud muffin to keep you going strong.”

Scootaloo relaxed in her seat, watching the colts squabble. Their breakfast arrive on steaming platters, and almost as quickly disappear as they traded chewing and chatter. All the while she never left Mrs. Harbour’s side, even as they trotted out of the diner, up the station’s steps, and towards their platform.

She felt a pit in her stomach sink into the abyss as they stopped, the sign read: South-Central Line: Ponyville - Apple Loosa - Dodge City.

For a moment, those words were all she could see. A sense of dread slowly grew, only to be extinguished as she was brought against a warm coat.

Scootaloo couldn’t be sure how long the hug lasted, but it would never be enough. Harbour shed a tear as the pulled away, and her own sight blurred.

“I really enjoyed having you all here,” Mrs. Harbour finally said. “And Scootaloo… the next time you come visit, bring your mother with you.”

Scootaloo nodded.

Tears were shed as the train whistled to a stop. A wave of steam brushing Scootaloo’s back, eliciting a shudder. One more wistful, warm embrace with a pony that meant more to her than she could say.

“You be a good filly,” Harbour whispered. “Together you two can make this work and be worthwhile. Promise me you’ll give it your best?”

“I promise.” Scootaloo couldn’t help a toothy grin.

“All aboard!” The conductor called as the train whistled again.

“Ready to go, Ma’m?” Tender took Harbour’s hoof, smiling softly at Scootaloo.

“Sweetie Belle!” Harbour put on her best holler as Sweetie was just about to board.

“Yes?”

“Keep her out of trouble, you hear me?”

Sweetie giggled. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Scootaloo finally let go for the last time, looking up at Harbour with those same eyes that through all the turmoil they had seen, still shone as bright as they first day.

“Goodbye.” Scootaloo’s voice cracked just a little.

“Until we meet again, dear.” Harbour smiled. “Know that you are in my thoughts and prayers.”

“Ditto.” Scootaloo giggled stupidly at herself before clearing her throat. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Scootaloo.” Harbour waved. “Hurry now, don’t want to miss your train.”

Finally, as the train sounded once more, she galloped up the platform and through the door.

She continued to wave out the window as Mrs. Harbour disappeared into the bustle of the crowds, and the city itself fell below the horizon. Finally, she grew tired, scooted into the embrace of her best friend, and rested her head.


The next time her eyes would open, it would be to the sound of the locomotive as it pulled up to Ponyville. She didn’t need to see, she could smell the town’s distinct aroma: a mix of orchards, dirt roads, and crisp air.

Sunlight assaulted her eyes as the foals alighted, the feeling of the wood platform sending a chill down her spine.

She head the clacking of many hooves, little and not-so as she sight focused on Sweetie Belle, already caught in the loving hooves of her mother. Not too far off, Button was babbling to his enthusiastically about something or other.

A loud thud drew her attention as Rumble set down her luggage, visibly tired.

“Thanks,” Scootaloo said meekly.

“Don’t mention it, ba—” he shut his mouth. “Scoots.”

“Did you get the gift Bab’s left us?”

“In your bag.” Rumble smiled. “Sweetie was curious what it was. Didn’t open it though, I think.”

“Sounds like her.” Scootaloo snorted, finally turning to Rumble with earnest eyes. “Hey, Rumble.”

“Hm?”

“Thanks for coming with me.”

“No problem, Scoots. You totally owe me, though.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Scootaloo smirked. “Any ideas?”

“Oh, I got a couple, but we’re in public, so I’ll tell ya later.”

Scootaloo’s shook her head. “You’re the worst, you know that?”

“Sure do.” Rumble yawned. His eyes suddenly narrowed as he glanced around. “You uh… know where you’re going?”

Scootaloo’s smile faltered a little. “Nope.”

“Scootaloo!” Sweetie seemed not at all tired. “Sounds like Apple Bloom wants us to come over tonight. You wanna?”

“Sure, if I can find a place to pass out for a bit,” Scootaloo answered, suddenly realizing Button and his mother had disappeared, as did Sweetie’s folks. “You’re not going home?”

“I will later.” Sweetie smiled. “Just wanted to make sure you weren’t by yourself.”

“You two aren’t tired?”

“You weren’t the only one dozing off, dimwit.” Rumble dodged a hoof as he led the three into town.

“Besides,” Sweetie added as they passed Carousel Boutique, “We should probably drop that bag off to Apple Bloom before we forget.”

“Oh yeah.” Scootaloo set her bag down and retrieved the crinkly wrapped whatever-it-was.

“I wonder what’s inside?” Sweetie wondered wonderingly.

“Probably just some souvenir,” Rumble guessed. “Is Apple Bloom’s birthday coming up?”

Sweetie stalled, her face suddenly red. “Uh…” She dared a glance to Scootaloo, who smirked. “I… don’t think so?”

Scootaloo shrugged with a smile, wordlessly resuming the trot towards Sweet Apple Acres.

“You made it!”

Rumble’s ears perked and his frown upturned as Cloudchaser approached. “You want me to take those back to the house? I’m kinda on the way there.”

“Pretty please?” Rumble grinned sheepishly as he dropped his saddlebag beside him, nodding towards Scootaloo who did the same.

“Might as well take a load off.” Cloudchaser smiled as Rumble helped poise the luggage on her back. “You’re headed home before dinner, right? Thundy’s cooking for three.”

Rumble nodded.

“Awesome.” Cloudchaser turned and opened her wings. “Catch ya later, Rummy. See ya, Scoots!”

“Weird she didn’t say anything to-” Scootaloo expected to see Sweetie Belle beside her. She whirled around, wide-eyed, finally catching her friend as she emerged from Sugarcube Corner with a milkshake quartet.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m kinda parched.” Sweetie smiled. “It’s on me.”

“It better be.” Scootaloo snatched her peanut-butter perfection. “You’re the only one who’s got any bits left.”

Finally, they crest the final hill that sloped into Sweet Apple Acres. Scootaloo was the first to notice Rumble had stopped just short of the gate.

“C’mon!” Scootaloo waved towards the homestead. “You’re with us, turkey leg. It’s fine.”

“I—I’m not scared or anything,” Rumble squawked. “Just figured you’d be right in and out with it.”

Right.” Scootaloo grinned wickedly as she trotted to him, booping his snoot with a hoof. “Foal.”

“Am not!” Rumble stomped, finally following Scootaloo past the cornfields and up to the front door.

“Not a fuckin’ foal,” Rumble rumbled. Scootaloo shushed turned and shushed him with a feather between stifled giggles.

A couple knocks later, the door opened to reveal a chipper Apple Bloom.

“Heya girls… and mule.”

Rumble simply glowered as it was Scootaloo’s turn to be nervous.

“We got somethin’ for ya’.” Sweetie beamed. “Well, somepony else got you something.”

“Ooh!” Apple Bloom was just about to open the bag until her glance shot back to her friends.

“Why don’t you come on in, and we can see what’s inside!”

Rumble hesitated, eyes darting around for a pony baying for blood. An orange hoof raised his gaze from the floor to a friendly face.

Scootaloo simply smiled; it almost looked pitying.

A rush of embarrassment and… other things compelled him to hold his head up, take a quick glance through the hallway before being led into the dining area.

Even with half his mind at ease, the other recalled a past act of insubordination; trespassing and foaling around in the Cutie Mark Crusader Clubhouse. He forced a smile even as he was saddled with ominous guilt.

He was torn from his thoughts as Apple Bloom ripped off the bag’s stapled top.

After a couple wads of gift paper bounced on the dining table, Apple Bloom squealed, carefully lifting out-

“A snowglobe!”

As Apple Bloom announced it, she presented it: indeed a snowglobe, a plastic rendition of Manehattan’s skyline showered in a glittery downpour of apple-shaped snowflakes. As she turned it for the others to see, an embroidered text revealed itself.

“‘A Little Slice of the Big Apple,’” Sweetie read. “That’s really cool, Apple Bloom.”

“It’s so pretty~” Apple Bloom gingerly set it down as she looked inside the bag, fishing out a folded note under another wad of filler.

“‘Hey, cousin,’” Apple Bloom read aloud. “‘A little birdie told me you like decorations and…’” Apple Bloom stopped suddenly as she shook her head. “Babs…” She snorted, then continued. “‘Stuff. Anyways, consider this punishment for not coming to visit more often. Next time, it’ll be a train set. - Babs’”

Scootaloo’s smile faltered as she read that last line, gazing at her swinging hoofs under the table.

“Did you catch her when you were in Manehattan?” Apple Bloom finally asked as she took a slurp of her milkshake.

“...Yeah.” Sweetie answered with ears splayed. “We did…”

“Neat-o!” Apple Bloom’s smile was almost as startling as her squeak. “She seem to doing alright?”

“Mmhm,” Sweetie replied.

“Aw, cool.” Apple Bloom was transfixed by the miniature scenery inside the wintery ball. “I always tell my sis I wanna go visit them sometime. Like, a slumber party or something proper.” She sighed. “Always something to do on the farm, though.”

Scootaloo sunk a little further in her seat.

“Well, thank you, girls.” Apple Bloom set down the snowglobe and tossed the waste in the bin. “Would’ve taken Celestia-knows how long for the pony express.”

Sweetie nodded.

“I was hopin’ maybe ya’ll could help me with something.”

Scootaloo suddenly looked up.

“Yeah.” Scootaloo swallowed. “I kinda owe you anyway… for a lot…”

Apple Bloom tilted her head. “Like what?”

“Like…” Scootaloo glanced down at her trembling hooves. “Like keeping you out of Diamond’s party, or taking Rumble to Manehattan instead of you!”

Apple Bloom waved a dismissive hoof. “No hard feelings, Scoots. A lot’s been going on, and it’s not like I’ve been a princess myself.” She hopped from her seat and trotted towards the pantry. “Really glad y’all are gonna help me out, cause we need six dozen of these by the end of the week.”

Rumble’s ears flattened. “That… seems like a lot.”

“Sure is.” Apple Bloom grinned as she retrieved several bowls, whisks, and ingredients. “If we get moving, we can get half of those done by sunset.”

“Are they all apple pies?” Sweetie asked as she readied some crust.

“Well, most of them are,” Apple Bloom explained between mixing and monitoring the stove. “Granny also got a huge haul of canned fruit she said I could use for trying something new. I have no idea what some of these are, though.”

“Well then.” Sweetie wandered to the box full of cans. “Let’s take a look.”

“Hmmm.” Rumble was beside her, a sinister grin across his face as he fished out a can of Pineapple. He dangled it mischievously as Scootaloo scowled.

“Rumble, that’s not-”

“Ooh!” Apple Bloom snatched the can from Rumble’s hooves. “I’ve always wanted to try some pine apples.”

“You never have?” Sweetie asked.

“It’s not that good, Apple Bloom-” Scootaloo tried to but in.

“Yeah that’s what Big Mac said, but I’ve never tried it myself. But if they sell it, somepony's gotta like it!”

“That’s the spirit!” Rumble pumped a hoof into the air. Scootaloo rolled her eyes.

“What’d you get, Sweetie-- ooh, blueberry, pumpkin, ooh! We could make banana cream like at our Cute-ceañera!”

With that, they got to work. Apple Bloom was in charge of the oven, Rumble was tasked with preparing the crust, while Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo made the fillings for each. Soon enough it smelt like sugary dough and fresh fruit, the kitchen warming up quite nicely.

With the Pineapple Pie in the oven, the gang sat at the dining room table for a short break.

“Well I’ll say, y’all, we’re making good time! We might even be able to get them all done if we keep this up!”

“Well...” Sweetie shifted uneasily as she took a bite of her sandwich. “I’d love too, but Mother and Father want me home before too late.”

“We should probably get you home, too.” Rumble gestured to Scootaloo, who frowned.

“Yeah…” Scootaloo mumbled. “Home.”

“Aw, that’s alright.” Apple Bloom’s ears wilted a little. “Granny and I can finish them off tomorrow, no big deal.” She perked up again. “I mean, we did way more than I could have gotten done on my own, anyway. And I got y’all to thank for it.”

“No problem, Apple Bloom,” Sweetie squeaked. “I think we’ve all had fun.”

The creak of the screen door pulled their attention, heavy hooves plodding against the groaning wood floor.

Rumble choked on his food as a stetson rounded into view.

“Smells good in here Bloom, what…” Applejack trailed as her eyes met Rumble, and for a moment the warmth of the room was sucked right out. Scootaloo’s eyes locked on Rumble, whose fur stood and eyes widened.

Apple Bloom swallowed. “I hope you don’t mind I had my friends come an’ help. We…”

“N-Nope, not at all.” Applejack cleared her throat as she nervously glanced towards the pies assembled on the windowsill. “I, uh… I’ll come check on you all later. We really appreciate the help, fillies, and… colt.”

With a curtsy nod, Applejack disappeared, hooves surging upstairs. After a moment, the distant clock of a door let the warmth back in.

“Scared ya, huh?” Apple Bloom chuckled nervously.

Rumble shook his head, returning to his food as trickle of sweat hit the floor.

It wasn’t too long before the Crusaders plus Rumble were back to baking, and soon enough, they had a satisfying set of desserts on the counter. Apple Bloom beamed as she glanced towards the confections as she waited for her turn in a game of cards.

“Well, gang,” she chuckled, “ think we did some good work.”

“Sure did!” Scootaloo slapped her colt on the back, laughing as Rumble fumbled his hand from his hooves. “Easy, Fumble. Don’t wanna drop your… what’s that?”

“Nothing.” Rumble covered a face-up card with a wing. “Cheater.”

“Says the colt who faked not knowing how to play Crazy Eights.”

Rumble simply rolled his eyes, playfully shoving Scootaloo’s peering face away from him as he collected himself.

“Speaking of a loon,” came a waverly old pony. “Smells like more than two pies in here.” Granny Smith squinted as she scrutinized one of them. “You grow a horn, Bloom?”

“No, Ma’m,” Apple Bloom beamed, but raised a hoof to check just in case. “Had some friends help. We made nine!”

“Well, I’ll say you did.” Granny grinned, suddenly turning to face Rumble whose ears wilted a little.

“Now then, who do we have here?”

Rumble kept his trap shut, even as the old eyes came closer still.

“This here is Rumble, Granny.” Apple Bloom’s smile faltered slightly.

“Yeah, the name sounds familiar,” Granny smirked. “I’m going to assume you two patched things up, him being here and all.”

“Oh yeah.” Apple Bloom nodded.

“All I need to hear, then.” Granny extended a hoof. “Pleasure to meet you, Rumble.”

Somepony snorted as Rumble’s eyes buggered, then he hurriedly, carefully shook her bony hoof. With that, she turned and trotted towards the refrigerator.

“Gonna have to throw on a couple more on the stove, but that’s alright, Smith,” Granny mumbled to herself as she fished through some cans and jars.

“Oh.” Sweetie raised a hoof. “I don’t think we’re staying for…”

“Patooey.” Granny scowled. “No way are you going to do all this work, helping us out and then trotting off with an empty stomach. All of ya.” Granny winked. “Keep on with your cards and sit tight.”

Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle exchanged glances before shrugging.

“Looks like we get dinner.” Scootaloo smiled.

Rumble breathed a sigh of relief. “She a good cook?”

“Good?” Apple Bloom’s eyes brightened. “You don’t know good until you’ve had my granny’s cooking.”

“Oh yeah?” Rumble arched an eyebrow.

“I’ll eat my hat if it isn’t the best you ever had.”

Another hour of cards and conversation ended with the setting of the dining room table; Seven places were set with plates, glasses, and seasonal mats.

“Apple Bloom, if you could fetch your siblings, they’re in the cherry orchards; I can get one of them pies you foals made for dessert,” Granny huffed. “Almost ready, little ones.”

Rumble watched the two Apples roll off as he took his seat beside Scootaloo at the end of the table, suddenly noticing the summer harvest ornaments that now festooned the table.

“You alright?” she asked. “You’ve been awfully quiet.”

“I guess I just expected… something else.” Rumble rest his chin on a hoof.

“No elbows at the table.” Sweetie said as she took her seat across from Rumble. “Oh, and a fair warning…” she whispered, “A.J. and Big Mac chew with their mouths open.”

“Like cows churning grass,” Scootaloo muttered as she made a quick glance towards the entryway. “Takes ‘you are what you eat’ to another level.”

Rumble couldn’t help chuckling along with them, He cleared his throat as the front door creaked open once again, heavier hooves making his stomach turn a little. His eyes met Big Mac’s piercing glare only for a moment before Granny strode back in...

As much as you can call a hitchy hobble striding.

Scootaloo was muffling her giggles even as the eldest Apple siblings took their seats, food now set before them. For a moment, there was silence, then Granny cleared her throat.

“By the light of our sun and moon, may this family, friendships and feast be hallowed and may the earth and heavens bless your little ponies forevermore, by Faust’s will.”

Rumble didn’t hesitate digging in himself, careful to keep his eyes on the salad, and only the occasional glance to the left to ensure the orange filly separating him from Big Macintosh hadn’t gone anywhere.

“Smells good in here, Bloom,” Big Mac bellowed.

“It’d better.” Apple Bloom grinned. “My friends and I made, roun’ like, ten whole pies in a couple hours!”

“Told ya that stove I put in was good for something.” Big Mac smirked as Granny Smith rolled her eyes.

“Never made a peep about it not being useful,” she muttered.

“Sure made a peep about how much it cost, though.” Applejack snorted, smile faltering as her eyes met Rumble’s again, before quickly turning back to her dinner.

“Well I like it.” Apple Bloom puffed out her chest. “Made good use of it tonight, that’s for sure.”

“Smells like it.” Granny nodded. “Really appreciate you all staying for awhile to help. Already got enough to stress about with cider season coming up.”

“Our pleasure.” Sweetie smiled. “My parents won’t be home until later, anyway, so it beat being bored.”

“Sure means a lot to see you with your friends again.” Granny smiled, glancing between each of the foals.

“Yeah,” Apple Bloom said as she took a hearty spoonful of salad. “This evening’s been fun.”

“Pretty sure it was Bright and Pear who always got their friends together on the eve of cider season--helping us in the kitchen and getting all set up. Shoot, even before Bloom was born, they’d get their gang together and make a weekend of it.” Granny looked at the pie wistfully.

“Yeah, those foals sure knew how to hoot and holler,” she chuckled. “Not that I was any better myself, to be honest. Heck, I think us foundin’ foals were even more of a wild bunch…”

Rumble listened intently as Granny somehow segued into a story about her days with her cousins in old-timey Ponyville; She then moved onto something about races, diving, and Zap Apple jam.

Just as she was five minutes into her tangent about Winona’s great-grandmother, Cheyenne, Rumble stifled a yawn. Looking around, he only finally noticed that he was the only ones actually paying any attention. He shrugged, and took another bite of the salad.

“...and so I guess it was all brought on by some misunderstanding, but how was I supposed to know you couldn’t mix Zap Apples with that zebra gobbledygook? Only thing I learned is that it made a whole heap of a mess, took me five hours on my hooves and knees to get it outta the floors.”

“Well…” Apple Bloom blinked once or twice. “That was…. Something. You think the pie’s still warm?”

“Mother of Luna, I almost forgot: The pie!” Granny’s eyes buggered.

“No problem, Granny,” Apple Bloom smirked. “I already got the server and some plates.”

“‘Atta filly,” Granny giggled. “You all need to just let me know when I get going, we’d be here all night otherwise, shoot.”

“Smells pretty good, whatever it is.” Big Mac grinned, removing the foil, and cutting the first piece for Granny. He stopped mid-slice, eyes wide as he saw the custard in all it’s Pineapple-y glory.

Big Mac’s jaw set as Rumble’s heart stopped, both stallion and colt fixated on the tropical filling.

Silence ruled for several dreadful seconds as Rumble dared not breathe.

Finally, Granny’s eyes narrowed. “Well?” She scowled. “Unless that there filling is mud or manure, lets get a move on.”

Soon enough there was a slice of pie before her, Rumble’s blood running colder than the Crystal Mountains in wintertime. She cut a piece from her slice, stabbed it with a fork, and took a bite.

Rumble’s eyes shut.

“Well,” Granny’s quiet voice thundered in Rumble’s ears, “certainly something different, but... I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t like it.”

“Which one was that?” Apple Bloom asked.

“Tasted like peaches.”

“Pineapple,” Apple Bloom answered. Rumble opened his eyes to see she was smiling, almost beaming with pride.

“Really?” Granny arched an eyebrow.

“Mmhm!” Apple Bloom nodded. “Rumble made that one.”

Granny chuckled. “Looks like you got some competition, sugarcube.”

“That good, huh?” Big Mac eyed his slice skeptically as he took a cautious bite. “Eeyup. Pretty good.”

Rumble could’ve sworn he glanced at him; Big Mac blinked before he could be sure.

He watched as everypony passed their plate forward as their name was bellowed, each being adorned with a pleasant slice of pie. He watched as Apple Bloom topped hers with a generous helping of whipped cream, then he was nudged in the side.

“Rumble?” Hearing his name in Big Mac’s voice made him shudder. “Dessert?”

“Y—Yes… please.”

Pineapple pie plunked perfectly upon his platter; Rumble took in the pleasant scent of the fruit and crust.

“I gotta agree with the rest of them.” Apple Bloom nodded, “This one’s really yummy… which means the rest of them are great, too!” She clopped her hooves together as she bounced in her seat.

Exhaling a breath he’d been holding since Celestia-knows how long, Rumble dared to relax a little, savoring the sweetness of his creation.

There was some other conversation, but Rumble paid no mind. By the time he looked up from his plate again, the sun had set behind the high hills of the orchard, stars faintly visible high above.

Plates collected and bellies full, the Crusaders plus Rumble, had assembled in the hallway.

“Really was wonderful of you three to come help little Bloom this evening.” Granny winked, Big Mac nodding in the background. “I think we can put aside a bit of our best pressed cider for ya.”

“Are you sure you gotta go?” Apple Bloom’s lip stuck out a little, threatening to quiver as Granny and Big Mac filed into the kitchen.

“Yeah,” Scootaloo sighed, taking one last glance into the kitchen as they trotted into the mud room. “I guess…”

“It’s getting late,” Sweetie yawned. “I don’t mind helping cleanup, though; maybe we can get together after school, tomorrow/!”

Apple Bloom’s eyes lit up as her smile sprang back. “Ooh, yeah!” She squeaked. “We haven’t had a proper crusader meeting in… forever!”

“What are we gonna do, though? Nopony’s asked us for-”

Apple Bloom’s face was suddenly serious. “Scoots.”

“Uh huh?”

She gestured towards Rumble, who blinked.

“Notice anything?”

Scootaloo looked over at Rumble, who met her glance with a look of confusion. She shrugged.

“What’s mi—” Apple Bloom slid a hoof down her face. “Gah, he’s a blank flank!”

“Oh yeah!” Sweetie grew equally excited. “You don’t have your cutie mark yet!”

Rumble took a step back, glancing between the two excited fillies. “Right, and?”

He flinched as Scootaloo put a hoof over his withers, a smile finally on her face.

“You’re finally gonna get your cutie mark!”

“Yeah!” The other crusaders shooted in unison, hoofs raised high.

Rumble’s ears wilted as he ducked away from Scootaloo’s pinning hoof. “I… I think I’m good for now.”

Sweetie suddenly went full-on pout mode. “But cutie marks are what make you special!”

Apple Bloom nodded in fierce agreement.

“Cool… ” Rumble glanced around, motioning Scootaloo towards the front door. “Well, I’d love to, but we need to get going.”

Sweetie Belle frowned again. “Thanks for having us over, Apple Bloom. It was fun.”

“Awww….” Apple Bloom’s eyes teared up as she galloped towards the crusaders and wrapped them in a tight hug. “You two better come to the clubhouse real soon, promise?”

“Mmhm.” Scootaloo nodded as the grip loosened.

“Pinkie promise.” Sweetie made a crossing motion with her hoof. “Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye!”

Rumble watched as the crusaders giggled to themselves. Only now did he notice the weight that had been tying him down had finally disappeared. And, as the fillies said their goodbyes, the crisp evening air surrounded him as they wandered out of the house.

Looking up at the moon, he could’ve sworn he saw a silhouette.

Scootaloo kept a few steps behind him, waving to Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle as the front door finally closed.

“Not bad, huh?” Scootaloo said smugly as she thwaked Rumble in the withers again, soliciting the slightest eep. “Told ya it’d work out.”

“You did?” Rumble arched an eyebrow. “I don’t remember you wanting to come here.”

“W—well yeah.” Scootaloo looked away as they crossed under the entrance. “But we’re cool now, and… ”

“And?”

Scootaloo’s eyes narrowed as the fire died. “Shut up,” she muttered.

Scootaloo’s ears perked as they started up the little hill, glancing back as something caught her attention. Rumble followed her gaze, and saw Applejack approaching, what appeared to be a gift bag in her teeth.

Rumble looked as Applejack set the bag down, blinking as it crinkled a little. His eyes shot back up as Applejack simply stood there, looking everywhere but directly at them.

Finally, she sighed.

“They uh… had some of the pie you all made left, and figured you could take some home.” Applejack almost mumbled as she scrapped at the ground, swallowing a lump in her throat.

Rumble flinched as Scootaloo came a little closer to him.

“All I want is for you to be happy, Scootaloo.” Applejack sighed. “And if that means y’all bein’ friends, then you won’t hear anything from me.” She looked pointely at Rumble. “And as long as you do right by this filly and my little sister, you’re welcome here. Anyway, y’all should probably get going, I just… yeah.”

Rumble glanced down at the bag, his heartbeat drowning out the distant tadpoles and crickets. He finally looked up at Applejack, the warmth beside him now coursing through his veins.

Rumble nodded, shaking Applejack’s hoof with a firmness that would make his brother proud. He didn’t smile, however. His ears still perked. His fur stood upright, his gaze as hard as his grip.

Finally, Applejack sighed once more, a weak smile forming as her gaze turned to Scootaloo.

“Thank you for coming, tonight. Both of you. It meant the world to her. She worries about you.”

Scootaloo nodded.

Rumble cleared his throat, Scootaloo nodding as she grabbed the bag with her teeth. One last affirmative nod from Rumble and Applejack turned and trotted towards the homestead. Scootaloo followed Rumble up and over the hill, and towards Ponyville proper.

Rumble heard the snicker before he felt the light thump; he turned around to see Scootaloo giggling like the filly she was.

“What…” He tilted his head, only to spring backwards as Scootaloo playfully lunged at him. “Ack! What are you-”

“What?” Scootaloo teased. “My big, strong stallion afraid of the dark?”

Rumble fought the grin that threatened to flip his frown. “I think somepony’s tired.”

“What? No!” Scootaloo gasped with fake surprise as she wrapped her hooves around him, laughing as his cheeks burned scarlet.

“Stop!” Rumble tried his best to sound commanding. “You’re being a loon.”

“You’re kinda cute when you get all flustered like that,” She giggled stupidly.

“I swear to Celestia-” Rumble blinked as he bucked, a giggling Scootaloo holding on with a light buzz of her wings. He kicked up dust as he galloped in a circle, a determined grin forming on his face. “Fine. You wanna play?”

Scootaloo landed with a thud. Her smile never faulted, even as she dodged Rumble’s charge, her wings grazed as she trotted past him.

They kept it up for awhile, Scootaloo laughing hysterically the whole time. Rumble put as much effort into keeping a straight face as he did chasing after her. Finally, he tackled her, his prey now crying with laughter.

They finally gave in to giggles as he nuzzled her, Scootaloo’s hooves wrapped around his barrel as the two lay in the dirt.

Finally, as his eyes grew heavy, he yawned again and stood up. Scootaloo following suit. They stared up at the silhouette of Rainbow Dash’s cloud home, the sounds of chirping critters riding the cool evening breeze.

Rumble looked over as Scootaloo swallowed, glancing up at the cloud home before looking at the ground. She looked up as Rumble put a hoof around her, nuzzling her again.

“You ready to go?”

Scootaloo shook her head, her fire snuffed out by a cool gust that whipped over their coats.

“Come on.” Rumble nodded towards his backside.

Scootaloo clambered on, closing her eyes as he took to the sky.

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