• Published 16th Mar 2021
  • 33,185 Views, 2,385 Comments

What a Strange Little Colt - Lynwood



Rainbow Dash finds a maimed, unconscious young colt on the edge of Ponyville and rushes him to the hospital, but nopony knows who he is and something about him seems off...

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A Beautiful World

Thursday

Rainbow couldn't help but sigh in relief as she walked through the hospital's front doors. It was funny—before yesterday, she had only ever thought of the lobby as either boring because you were here to wait, or sad, because something had gone wrong and somepony was hurt. Now she only felt thankful, each time she entered the room, that she wasn't holding a nearly-dead foal.

Flowing Fields looked up from her desk and smiled, waving her over. "Good afternoon, Miss Dash! I'm happy to see you back here so soon!"

"Yeah," Rainbow said, trotting to the secretary. "I finished my weather shift early today, figured I'd swing by and see how the kid was doing." Her tone was as relaxed and cool as if she were talking about grabbing a bite to eat, but the truth was that Rainbow had finished her shift a little hurriedly and then flown straight to the hospital. The colt had asked her to come back after all, and Rainbow found that she didn't want to let him down. Flowing Fields didn't need to know that, though.

"That's so sweet of you!" Flowing made a big smile and clapped her hooves together a little bit. Rainbow blushed a little and looked away. "He'll be happy to see you, and healthier than last time, too! He's one sturdy little foal."

"Huh?" Rainbow tilted her head a little at that. "Whaddaya mean?"

"It's amazing how fast he's been healing. His wounds are all closing up nicely. At his rate, he won't be needing his splints much longer. Doctor Horse says that he must come from a very magically gifted earth pony family, even though he's a pegasus."

Rainbow raised an eyebrow and scratched her chin. Where have I heard of that before? "Oh... like how the Cakes' foals aren't earth ponies?"

Flowing nodded. "Exactly! Now let me see..." She gave one of the books on her table a quick scan. "Yes, I believe that you should be good to visit! It says here that Miss Sandy Hills is just finishing up with him."

"Who's that?"

"She's a foal counselor, with the Ministry," Flowing explained. "You met her as you left yesterday evening?"

The tan mare, with the saddlebags and the concerned look. "Oh, yeah, I remember her."

"She's really quite nice. Do you need me to show you to Gabe Real's room?"

Rainbow shook her head. "Nah, I got it. Thanks a bunch, Fields!" With a smile and a quick wave, she was off.

Rainbow easily retraced the path back to Gabe’s room—she doubted she’d be able to forget any part of yesterday anytime soon. The mare examined the hospital's lacing decor as she trotted. Its green walls and brown trim were not well-complemented by extremely boring-looking bulletin boards, but nothing else competed to occupy her eye. Rainbow didn't even see another pony until she rounded the final bend, and by then, it was too late.

"Oof!" A tan and brown pony bumped into Rainbow at a brisk trot, sending the two reeling. "Ah!" she said, once she had found her footing. "Miss Dash!"

"Uh, hey," said Rainbow, "sorry about that."

Sandy Hills blushed as she rebalanced her slipped-up saddlebags. "Oh, no-no! That was completely my fault, but you're just about the perfect mare for me to run into. Let me introduce myself properly.” She cleared her throat. “I'm Sandy Hills. Um, I've been assigned as Gabriel's counselor." The mare stuck out her hoof, and Rainbow shook it after a moment's hesitation.

"Nice to meet ya, Sandy," said Rainbow with a bit of an awkward smile. "I'd introduce myself, but it seems like you already know me."

Councilor Hills nodded. "Oh yes, Miss Fields told me all about how you saved Gabriel. Very admirable." Rainbow couldn't help but puff out her chest a little at that one. "I take it you're here to see him?"

"Yeah," Rainbow said, "he asked me to come by yesterday, so, uh, here I am. Why? Is something up?"

"Oh, not at all!" Sandy Hills shook her head. "No, all things considered, he's actually doing quite well. He's healing remarkably fast, physically speaking, and in a safe environment. The foal will be up and about in no time, and then there's just the matter of..." The longer Hills spoke, the less it seemed like she was talking to Rainbow at all. Her hoof came up to her mouth and she hummed into it, studying the floor in thought. Rainbow nearly asked her what she was doing but the counselor stopped and looked her straight in the eye. "Miss Dash, how much do you care about this colt?"

Whatever thoughts she'd had at that moment got ejected out of her head like a brick through a window. The pegasus blinked. "A-a-uh, whuh?”

Sandy cut her off before she managed to actually formulate a response. "I’m sorry, that was a little forward of me. Maybe I should explain a bit more. Erm, did Gabriel tell you all that much about his past?"

Rainbow’s wings unclenched a little. Thank Celestia she didn't make me answer that mushy question. "He only told me that his parents were, y'know, out of the picture. Nothing past that, really."

Sandy Hills bit her lip a little before she spoke again. "It's my job to help foals like him and, let me tell you, Miss Dash, I've never seen anything like this in all my years at the Ministry. I don't think anypony at the Ponyville branch has. When I gave my report on him this morning, they assigned me as his personal counselor for, um, the foreseeable future."

"What?" Rainbow had never heard of something like that before. "Why?"

Sandy's face darkened a little and she reached a hoof up to tuck a stray bit of hair behind her ear. Her eyes dropped to the floor. "Gabriel opened up a little during our session yesterday evening. It's... well, it doesn't look good. He's had a highly unstable life, and I’m afraid he may have been a victim of..." she hesitated with the last part, "...foal trafficking."

Rainbow's eyes widened. "What?"

She nodded solemnly. "Or a very abusive family, at the very least. Gabriel mentioned being moved around by adults with others his age and didn't deny that those adults got him hurt sometimes. He's mild-mannered, polite, unassertive. He doesn't act out and appears to be familiar with pain... and he works very hard to behave like an adult. I believe he escaped from abuse and, judging by his injuries, not without a great deal of risk."

With each detail, Rainbow felt herself getting angrier and more upset. What kind of ponies could do such a thing to foals? To produce a colt like this was nothing short of a horrendous crime. By the time Sandy had finished talking the pegasus had to actively stop herself from shaking in rage.

"What kind of monsters—" Rainbow couldn't help but make a growl. "I swear, if I ever find the freaks that did this, I'll give 'em exactly what they deserve." The venom practically dripped from her words and it made Sandy lift a hoof to her chest.

"T-the important thing, Miss Dash, is going to be moving forward," she stammered. Rainbow blinked, a little surprised to see the counselor so put off by her tone.

Whoops.

"It's clear to me that Gabriel is an intelligent foal, but he's gone through some very hard times. It's my job to help him heal, and that's going to take some time."

Geeze, this poor colt. "What's going to happen to him once he's out of the hospital?" Rainbow asked, a bit of worry seeping into her voice. "He hasn't got a place to go back to, so what then?"

"He'll need a foster home, but the problem is finding the right family." She gave Rainbow a tired look. "I've done some thinking on this. He'll need an unaggressive environment, and that excludes any situation similar to... his past. I think that rules out any larger families. In fact, I think it's best if he stays somewhere. without any other foals at all. Learning to fit in with the other foals in Ponyville will be a difficult enough road, so it shouldn't be a full-time job. A space free of other foals will help him acclimate."

Holy Celestia, thought Rainbow, a little guiltily, this is one messed-up colt.

"He'll need a lot more attention, help, and most importantly, understanding than a normal foal," Sandy continued, "which makes it uncomfortable to find willing foster homes even without considering the rest of his situation. By the necessary standards, I'm afraid none of the homes we have listed are good fits."

"So, what's gonna happen to him?" Does she look... nervous?

"That's why I hoped to run into you, actually." That didn't sound good. "Um, Miss Dash, I know this is an abrupt way to ask you, but I was wondering if you would be willing to consider becoming Gabriel's foster mother."

Rainbow was already concerned, but the way the word 'mother' derailed her train of thought so completely that her mouth slowly and soundlessly opened was the real show-stopper.

"I know this is incredibly abrupt, and you only met this colt yesterday, and it's a lot to think about, and it's a huge thing to ask, but I believe that Gabriel would heal best in your care."

Me?! Rainbow thought, A mom? This sort of thing wasn't supposed to be something she had to think about for years!

"You're both pegasi, you don't have any other ponies living with you at the moment, and he's taken a real liking to you. More importantly, you were a first-hoof witness to his, er, unfortunate arrival in Ponyville."

Her own mother hadn't even gotten on her case for grandfoals yet! Never in her life had she even considered wanting a foal and here this counselor she’d barely met was just asking her to adopt a foal that she would have to care for and provide for and everything?!

"I think the fact that you saved his life makes it much easier to trust you, and that would go a long way towards getting better, and, and..."

Sandy Hills' face fell when she saw Rainbow's face, which she realized had become a rather abstract expression of the muddle of anxiety, surprise, and guilt that churned away in her gut. "...ah."

Rainbow blinked, then rushed to find something to say. "I mean, uh, it's not that I don't like him, it's just that... y'know, I'm not even that old, and I've never taken care of a foal, and, uh, I never even thought about–"

Sandy cut off her rambling with a raised hoof and a gentle smile that twisted up Rainbow's heart. "That's okay, Miss Dash. I know it's a lot to ask. I'll make sure he'll get to a loving home, whatever it takes."

“Sorry, I...” Rainbow trailed off.

“Don’t worry too much, you’re far from the first pony to turn down fostering,” she replied, her voice already back to its normal pleasant cadence. “Any foal is a big responsibility. If you don’t feel like you’re ready, it wouldn’t be good for him either.”

Rainbow nodded even though the mare's words didn't loosen whatever was squeezing her heart so tightly. She was right, though. It was a lot to ask! It wasn't fair to expect somepony to just up and do that for a foal, even the mare who saved his life, right?

"Anyway, I'm sorry I took up so much of your time. I'm sure you were in a hurry to see him." The counselor stepped aside, letting Rainbow by. She had almost reached the door when she heard the mare's voice again. "He was talking about you earlier, you know."

"He was?" Rainbow's thoughts were pulled from what she had just turned down for a moment. "What'd he say?"

"He mentioned that he admired you," Sandy said, "and that he wished he could be more like you."

Rainbow's pride leaped in her chest, then came crashing back down once she remembered what she'd said.

"Oh, and tell the little one hi for me!" The counselor added before the coat on her face reddened a little bit. "Even though I, erm... just saw him. Heh."

Rainbow Dash nodded. "Sure thing," she said and pushed open Gabe's door. "Hey, kid, I, uh, came back."

The empty room did not respond. It only offered up an energetic noontime glow and a hospital bed with mussed-up sheets. She stepped back out into the hallway. "Hey, Sandy! Where is he?"

After a moment her tan-and-brown head poked around the corner, eyebrows furrowed. "What do you mean, 'where is he?'"

"Kid's not here."

The counselor's mouth set into a frown. "I was just in there talking with him. Maybe he went to the bathroom without telling anybody."

The two mares made their way down the hall a short distance, stopping in front of the stallions' room. Rainbow rapped a hoof on the door. "Hello? Gabe? You in there, dude?"

A muffled, noticeably adult voice came out from the door. "What kind of name is Gabe?" Rainbow felt her face get very hot.

"Uh..."

Councillor Hills came to the rescue, thank Celestia. "Sir, is there a small green colt in there with you?"

"No," came the voice, "nobody in here but me... for half an hour now."

Ew! Too much info! What the heck, dude? Rainbow screwed up her muzzle.

"Thank you, sir," said Hills, ever the professional, before turning to Rainbow with a concerned, almost scared look. "This isn't good."

"Hey, wait. That first voice sounded familiar..." And that was Rainbow's cue to leave. She took off at a brisk canter, and the councilor hurried to follow.

"Okay, so you're the, uh, medical... professional pony," said Rainbow, walking without any real destination. Anxious energy thrummed in her chest, growing stronger by the second, and she did not like it one bit. "What now?"

"We need to tell the front desk. This foal is not incapable of getting hurt, and he's already injured. We need to sweep the hospital."

"What if he's not in the hospital?"

"Then we sweep Ponyville," she responded, her voice grave, "and we don't give up until we find him. I am not abandoning that foal."

Wow, thought Rainbow, she’s got a little grit when it comes down to it.

Flowing Fields helped without a moment's hesitation. She flagged down a courier as he passed through the lobby and told him to report the news to all the orderly ponies in the hospital and to tell every available set of eyes to look for the foal.

Before she knew it, Rainbow Dash was going door to door alongside Sandy, checking every hospital room, closet, and bathroom they could find. With each room, Rainbow's heart sunk a little deeper and her thoughts grew a little darker. Why did he leave? Did somepony take him? What if I hadn't talked to Sandy so long in the hall? Would I have been fast enough to stop them?

Rainbow began to worry neurotically, searching faster and faster, letting her wings take over and carry her onward. What if it was those traffickers? Did they know about him? Did they come back to scoop him out from under their very noses? Was she never going to see Gabriel again? But I promised him! I promised him I would see him again! I can't break that promise. I won’t.

"Miss Dash!" Sandy's voice yanked her out of her reverie. She looked over her shoulder to where Sandy was huffing and puffing, trying to keep up. "Miss Dash, please slow down!"

What in Celestia's name was this mare thinking? "Slow down? Slow down?!" The pegasus pivoted on a dime, flying herself up into the counselor's face. "What if he's in trouble? What if he's hurt again? You really wanna slow down now? We need to speed up!"

Councilor Hills snorted and stamped her hoof. "What we need right now is calm, collected action. I am hurrying as fast as I can, Miss Dash, but I simply can't keep up with you when you fly ahead like that, and I bet that you're in such a rush, you aren't even aware that you missed that room." She jabbed a hoof at one of the doors behind her.

I missed that? Really? Once she thought about it, Rainbow realized that she didn't even remember what the last room she searched looked like. They all blended into one amorphous mess of spooky machines and hospital beds.

Hills closed her eyes and took a deep breath in through her nose, then blew it back out. "Listen," she said, looking Rainbow in the eye, "a traumatized colt, especially one from an abusive background, will know how to hide, potentially very well. We need to make absolutely sure that he is not in any of the rooms in this wing, or else we are doing the rest of the ponies searching a disservice." Then her tone shifted to something a little softer. "We'll find him, Rainbow. It's going to be okay."

She found that hard to believe, but nonetheless, Rainbow forced her hooves to the ground and carefully searched each room—or verified with the patients inhabiting them that a colt hadn't entered—until they reached the end of their hallway. Still nothing. The two returned to the lobby empty-hooved and heavy-hearted.

A small crowd of orderlies, nurses, and helpful volunteers mulled about in the open-spaced room, speaking to each other in concerned voices. When she saw Rainbow and Sandy enter, Flowing Fields gestured the two mares over. "No luck, I take it?" she said, keeping her voice low.

"None," said Sandy, sounding very official, "Are all the teams back?"

Flowing nodded, looking downtrodden. "Yes, the hospital is swept. He's not here. Oh, that poor dear. I hope he's alright."

"Then we'll have to notify Mayor Mare. Town-searches take time to put together, but I'm sure there won’t be a shortage of volunteers. Everypony will want to help find a missing foal. Is there a courier free?"

"I'll go. I can get there the fastest," Rainbow said.

Sandy gave her a stern look, and for a second she thought that the tan mare was on the verge of shooting her down, but after a long moment of studying her with those piercing blue eyes, she nodded. "You're probably right. Come on."

The two made their way through the group of concerned ponies and out the door. The noontime had given way to the early afternoon. The wind blew gently, providing the perfect amount of breeze to keep a pony cool underneath the brilliance of Celestia's sun, which currently bathed Ponyville in a warm, comforting brightness. Rainbow could see the whole town and then some, all the way to the Everfree and the fields, where the beginnings of a thunderstorm were beginning to take place. When she squinted, she saw tiny dots flying around the clouds, pushing them into place. What a strange time for such an amazing view.

Rainbow made to take off right away, but Sandy Hills stopped her. "Okay, remember, Miss Dash, you'll need to be concise and clear about what's happened. There'll be a protocol that needs to be followed in situations like this, and you may not like how long it takes to put a project like this together. Just keep in mind that, um–"

Something over Rainbow's shoulder caught the counselor's eye. Her face flipped from cautiously optimistic to overwhelmingly annoyed and she slapped a hoof to her face. "Oh, for Celestia's sake," she groaned, sounding like she'd just woken to the discovery that some thick-skulled teens had knocked over her mailbox for the fifth time that week.

"Huh?" Rainbow turned around. In her near overwhelming confusion, she nearly missed the sight of a little green form sans hospital gown and laying oh-so-calmly under a tree a little ways off from Ponyville General's main entrance. He looked as if nothing were wrong in the world. "Oh, you have got to be kidding me..."

Rainbow spotted Sandy’s clenched jaw and careful hoofsteps as the two made to join the little green foal. To be honest, Rainbow was having a little trouble not stomping over there herself. What kind of dimwitted, selfish foal just up and leaves a hospital? Does he even know what's going on? Is he an idiot?

The foal had set himself down on the grass and laid his head down, looking out at the world through half-lidded eyes. He kept looking out at the Ponyville afternoon even as his ear twitched ever so slightly towards them.

"Gabriel?" Sandy Hills said after taking a deep, calming breath. "What are you doing out here, dear?"

The mare's usually kind voice carried a lining of cold, sharp clarity, very clearly warning the foal that this was no time for unsatisfactory excuses. My mother would be proud.

The little colt sighed contentedly and raised his head, finally looking at the two mares standing above him. "Hi, Miss Dash, hello, Councilor Hills. I just needed to stretch my legs and relax somewhere nice." He looked out over the Equestrian landscape. "And... this place is really nice."

The answer seemed so absurd to Rainbow, who had just spent the better part of an hour helping to carefully comb a hospital, that she couldn't help but make a sound somewhere between a laugh and a snarl. "Are you messing with me? Kid, we just tore apart the entire hospital looking for you."

"Oh?" He cocked his head. "So that's what all that fuss was." Sandy produced an annoyed huff in response but laid herself down at Gabriel's side nonetheless.

"Gabriel, honey," she started with a stern but still remarkably tender voice, now void of any anger. "You can't just go off like that without telling anypony."

Wow, she's really good with foals. If it were me, I'd be chewing his head off.

"Why not?" Gabriel said with a twitch of annoyance, "It's not like anything bad was gonna happen." Rainbow groaned but Sandy only sighed. After a second's consideration, the foal spoke again. "Uh, I'm sorry I worried you, though. To be honest I kind of assumed that you'd find me out here pretty quick." He scratched his head. "I guess I don't really know how things work around here all that well."

The counselor smiled at him very gently. "Apology accepted, Gabriel, though I'd still like you to stay with an adult or in your room for now. We care about you, and we don't want you to get hurt."

The foal became silent at that, turning his head back towards Ponyville. The view from the hospital was peaceful, with the whole town stretching out before them. Rainbow watched the ponies mill around on the streets, talking with one another, going about their daily business, simply being with their families...

She turned to Gabe. He seemed so thoughtful and contemplative as he studied Ponyville, and it made Rainbow kind of screw up her muzzle. A foal was not supposed to look like that. A foal shouldn't be worried about much more than an early bedtime or a school bully. What's he thinking so hard about, huh?

"...the grass is literally greener here," he said out of nowhere, pushing at said grass with a similarly green hoof. "It's greener, it's softer, it smells nicer, it's just... better in every way. This place is amazing." Rainbow raised an eyebrow and looked to Sandy Hills, who only shrugged.

"I'm real glad I ended up here. It's so different, but it's good. Peaceful." Why did he sound so worn? What had he been worrying about?

"But," he continued, without turning to either of the mares, "I don't know what's going to happen to me now, not really. I don't have anywhere to go, do I?" His words put an ache in Rainbow's chest.

Sandy's face filled with gentle concern as she searched for the right words. "Well, ah, you see, Gabriel, you're a very special foal, and it will take a special family to take good care of you!" Her voice carried optimism, but a trail of sorrow and shame followed in her words, and both the foal and the counselor's faces fell the more she spoke. "Until then, I'm afraid that we'll have to, well–"

Rainbow Dash cleared her throat. "What she means to say, kid, is that while she's trying to find a real good, super-nice new home for you, you're gonna be staying with me!"

For the first time since meeting him, Rainbow saw a look of pure shock spread across his face. His mouth dropped open but he didn't speak, and Rainbow's confident grin became a little less confident. C'mon, think! Say something! "Ah, how does that sound, kiddo? Y'know, like a, uh, foster home or somethin'." She gave him a wink. "Two awesome pegasi, tearin' up the town. You and me. You in?"

The colt studied her with those deep brown eyes like he was looking into her soul. It was still weird as heck. "Well, kid? Whaddaya say?"

"...shit, why not?"

Dash burst into hoarse barks of laughter and rolled onto her back while Sandy stuck up her head indignantly. "Gabriel! Language!" Still, Rainbow spied a small grin on her face.

After Rainbow had gotten her giggles under control and Sandy had given the colt a short lecture on acceptable verbal behavior, the pegasus moved to slap the colt on the back, then remembered herself and gently patted him instead. It's only for a little while, she thought to herself, Sandy'll keep on top of this, she said so herself! I can take a few weeks of a weird little colt, no sweat. "We're gonna have good times, Gabe, just you wait."

He produced a silent but happy grin. Sandy gave them both a wide but still tired smile. When she met Rainbow's eyes, the smile widened even further and she made a little squealing noise, dancing on the tips of her hooves before dashing forward and pulling Rainbow into a tight hug.

"Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!"

She ran into Rainbow with enough force to make her take a step back. She blinked in surprise, looking at nothing in particular, then over Sandy's shoulder at the colt. He shrugged.

"Uh, yeah, of course," Rainbow awkwardly said, patting Sandy on the back. The hooves wrapped around her neck tightened sharply for just the barest moment before pulling away. The counselor took a quick step back, blushing and coughing into her hoof.

"Erm, yes, sorry about my, um... Ah-hem." She tucked an errant strand of earth-brown mane behind her ear. "Well, Miss Dash. You both seem to have made up your minds, and since Gabriel seems fully capable of travel,"—the foal didn't even flinch at the pointed look she sent his way—"there isn't much reason to keep him at the hospital. It shouldn't be too much paperwork to fill out, and then we'll have you two out of here." Her smile grew. "Thank you for making the right choice, Miss Dash. I’ll make sure it’s not too much trouble."

"Sandy, c'mon," she responded, giving the mare a lopsided smile of her own, "you can call me Rainbow."