• Published 7th Feb 2013
  • 1,270 Views, 42 Comments

Love, in Other Words - Mickey Dubs



A story about the varying experiences of some of Ponyville's citizens as they learn the meaning of family, friendship, and what Hearts and Hooves Day means for them and the ones they care about.

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Unrelenting

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He pawed the floor, for he knew not what he would do.
He felt their eyes linger on him, for they had nowhere else to stray.
He heard the door open, for he knew what was to come.
He opened his eyes and smiled, for he knew he’d finally made it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Unrelenting

Scootaloo had always felt an affinity for those roosters who kept the time in the farm beyond, for they always knew just when to wake her up and how best to do it. Their crowing always came lilting through the trees and fruits of the deeper parts of the orchard, soothed by the distance and the filter of foliage which separated her from their coops. Their proud voices which rang through the air as the harbingers of the dawn allowed her to pull herself from her warm dreams ever-so-slowly, and as her eyes slowly adjusted to the light and lingered on the wooden slats which comprised their clubhouse ceiling, she smiled.

It would be another glorious day, by the looks of it: the sun, in all its majesty, slowly pulled itself up from that same sleep she’d been lost in to announce another day. She watched in awe as Celestia, from far away, willed her sun upwards to awaken her subjects, her celestial sphere moving just as slowly and as sleepily as the filly herself was. Its rays, as they ran through the atmosphere, shed warm streaks of light which caused her to shiver as her body began to heat up and clash with the surrounding cold. If she felt warm now, even while the morning fog and the lingering cold rested visibly on the ground in a cloud, then today would be quite spectacular indeed.

Even if it was Hearts and Hooves Day.

She stood at the window, embracing the warmth of the sun but preparing herself for the day which she had always come to dread. They had always made such a big deal of it in the orphanage, as if they expected them not to remember that they were all alone in the world. They tried to placate her with presents and promises, but those words always died out when the next year came around. Their lies were why she couldn’t stand to live there anymore, and her audible dissension was why they had decided to abandon her.

Just like her mother had.

Rolling her sleeping bag and various blankets from the ground into a tight roll, she braced herself for the coming day and all the emotional turmoil it would bring. Although she was excited for the half-day which their teacher had promised them, and even though she was looking forward to spending time with her friends, Scootaloo knew nothing fun would happen afterwards. The day had a tendency to be boring when everyone else went about to do things with their families and loved ones. She would be working as they played in the fields, slaving away to feed herself as they cavorted with wild abandon. Still, despite the disappointment, she couldn’t help but smile as she tightened the string which held her sleeping bundle in place.

She had many ponies to whom she could show her love, even if they would be busy. She loved her fellow Crusaders, who had given their friendship to her without question, embracing her differences and her little quirks, never asking why she was unable to fly. She loved her teacher, who allowed her to have an education and was always a constant source of comfort when things got rough. She loved her friends’ sisters and their friends, the remaining Elements of Harmony, for they had always shown her kindness as if she were their own. Rarity and Applejack even gave what food they could to her when she was hungry, never once asking why she didn’t eat with her parents.

Never asking why she couldn’t eat with her parents.

Depressing the edge of one of the floorboards, she pulled up the opposing side with her hoof and slipped her bundle beneath the floor into the little storage space where she kept all of her most priceless possessions. As the sun rose higher, the light caught on the edges of her medal from when she and her friends had won the Talent Show’s Best Comedy Act, a picture of Rainbow Dash which frayed at the edges, and the long silver feather which she had always had.

She never knew just where it came from, but she had always had that feather as long as she could remember, all the way back to when she could only see the walls of her old orphanage. It had always been there for her when she would open her own little trunk at the foot of her cot, its silver lustre so very different from the rust and rotting wood in which it was encased. But it had been so long ago she had forgotten why she had it. Now, it served as a reminder for her never to give up in her attempts at flight, and was proof that eventually she would be able to fly with Rainbow Dash if only she tried her hardest.

She looked at her own wings and the diminutive nature of her own feathers, and sighed as she replaced it gently beside the other treasures. It ruffled when it caught the wind, casting little sparkles of silver in her eyes as if it were encrusted with infinitesimally small diamonds.

Maybe it wasn’t a goal which she could achieve, and perhaps it lingered there as but a reminder of what she could never be... but in her eyes that affront was a challenge she would never pass up and a condition of passivity which she would never accept.

If Rainbow Dash could fly, then so could she.

Replacing the floorboard and the little mat which rested atop it, she checked her saddlebags to make sure that all of her little notes to her friends were inside. When everything was in place, she hefted the bags on her back and proceeded out the door and down the ramp outside to make her way to the outer edges of the farm. Stepping through the mist which still lingered to the ground, Scootaloo spread her little wings to absorb the heat and add a little extra warmth to get her through the day.

She made it just in time: as she bounded over the fence which separated the orchard from the road, she could see the rising dust cloud of her fellow students as they made their way to school. Stepping onto the road to meet them, she started a little when the first thing she saw was the head-spines of Twilight’s assistant Spike, with a wagon in tow, followed by the multitudes of different mane styles of her friends and fellow students. Giving him a little grin as she joined the herd, she listened as the ponies around her talked about what they were most excited for.

They talked about the usual school festivities, of course, and they lingered on the subject of what foods and activities they were most expecting Miss Cheerilee to provide... but eventually every single one of them began to chat idly about what came afterwards. They all began to talk about their sisters, their brothers, their visiting aunts and uncles and cousins who would be in town for the holiday. They talked about their parents and what promises they had made before they had left for school, the things they could expect when they finally made their way home.

It was her cue to be silent, for she had nothing to contribute.

The voice of her friend Sweetie Belle and a reassuring pat on the back from Spike gave her some comfort, and she watched him as he broke from the herd to make his way towards the front gate of the orchard and the farmhouse beyond. Watching him go, her eyes were distracted by a flash of red and yellow as a small figure darted into the tall grass by the road. A few seconds later, the two Crusaders smiled as their earth pony friend Applebloom bounded over the fence with an agile grace and skidded to a halt next to them.

“Well howdy, you guys!” their friend beamed, panting a little as she recovered from her sprint. “Y’all ready for school today? I heard Miss Cheerilee’s got some cool stuff planned for us!”

“Well, yeah she does! She always does!” Scootaloo remarked, flashing her friend a smile. “It’s Hearts and Hooves Day! What kind of teacher doesn’t pamper their students on Heart and Hooves Day?!... Which reminds me, did you guys get Miss Cheerilee anything...big?”

“After last time? I don't think so!” Sweetie Belle quipped, levitating a little card from her saddlebags. “I just decided to keep things simple this year, and nothing says simple like rubies!”

Her card, glittering with a dozen little rubies in a oddly-shaped heart, was graced with a drawing of Miss Cheerilee and their teacher's “favorite” white unicorn filly on the inside. It was evident she had drawn everything with her magic, as the lines were a little broken and uneven. She must have been still getting used to the feel of her horn and how it worked when using a pencil and markers, but for the most part her work had been quite good.

“Does Rarity know you used her rubies? And does she know you...umm...” Scootaloo remarked, looking at the card closer. “Is... is that... glue? You glued rubies to a card?

“Well, duh! How else was I going to get them on there?” her unicorn friend beamed, looking from her card to her pegasus companion with a wide smile on her face.

“I couldn’t tell you, Sweetie Belle...” she sighed, shaking her head towards the ground with a smile on her face. “I haven’t a clue!”

Looking from her card to her two friends, Sweetie Belle couldn’t help but smile and laugh at just how ridiculous the whole thing was. As it usually was, her smile and her piercing, high-pitched, and honest laughter was terribly contagious, and before they knew it the three of them were laughing as they trotted down the road to class.

Scootaloo looked to find her friend Apple Bloom laughing along with them, but when her laughter died away her happiness and resolve appeared to dwindle away as well. Maybe it was the prospect of a long day of boring classwork which kept her down, but the weather and the fun they would be sure to have would alleviate that in a few hours.

Of that, Scootaloo was undeniably certain.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He stumbled in from his yearlong deployment to find an empty home and the remnants of her possessions scattered on the floor in a trail of clothes and broken glass. Stepping onto the cloud on which they had built their home together, he trod on the mountain of mail which had collected on the welcome mat inside, his face looking over the bills which had accumulated. Hoofing through them, they dated back as far as a month.

A month in which no one had been home.

Stumbling to his kitchen table, he looked to find that the liquor cabinet had been drained, and all that remained on their table was the molding remnants of a half-consumed glass of wine and a letter, stained with tears. Within was her apology, her admittance of failure, and one final goodbye.

Running to their room, he opened the door to find no one inside and nothing but the scattered articles of clothing and various possessions which he had bought for her. The twinkle of a single earring rested on the drawer, its partner’s whereabouts unknown.

He ran to the nursery which he himself had constructed only to find it empty. All that remained was a photograph which rested on the bottom of the crib and a little blue blanket in which she had always slept.

Falling to the floor, he lingered on his empty crib... his empty world... his empty chest...


And as he stared at the photograph, his heart shattered.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Scootaloo knew something was wrong almost immediately. To her credit, she had always been more observant than was necessary, and as she watched Apple Bloom’s head fall ever so quietly to her desk as the class continued without her awareness, she could tell that something was running around inside that mind of hers, weighing her down. She knew her friend would be too stubborn to say anything about it, for every member of her family was just as obstinate. All Scootaloo could do was be there alongside her friend through whatever was plaguing her.

Her reverie was broken by a loud snap! as a little unicorn in the middle column whipped around with a pencil clutched in her magic’s grasp to bring it down hard near the hoof of a colt who had always been mean to her. Scootaloo looked upon the spectacle not in shock, but with a modicum of pride: Dinky Doo had never been the one to stand up for herself, but now she was taking matters into her own hooves. She was finally a filly after Scootaloo's own heart, and she watched the panting, furious little unicorn even as her teacher told her students, save the three in the middle of the classroom, to leave immediately.

There could only have been one reason why Dinky Doo would have reacted the way she had. There was only one thing which people knew her for, save her timidity and her silence during the day. She had a mother who, despite her undeniably strong work-ethic and her willingness to do anything for anypony, looked different from everyone else. It was nothing she could control, and the hatred which many showed towards her was something she had never deserved. Given that those same two colts whom Dinky had attacked were the same ones who berated her for her inability to fly, or made fun of Pipsqueak and Featherweight for their size and apparent weakness, they must have been attacking Dinky’s mother.

Scootaloo beamed as she realized that, given Dinky’s example, she would have done the same. It didn’t matter that she didn’t have a mother or father to defend: she would grant herself the same comfort and defense which Dinky had given her mother, and she would be the one who would keep herself safe.

Sidling up to her unicorn friend Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo looked back at Dinky with pride, happy in the knowledge that Dinky had unknowingly given her the strength to trust herself with her own protection.

"Did you just see that?!" Scootaloo whispered, her voice cracking with excitement. "That was awesome! Dinky almost got him good!"...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

His head fell in front of his commanding officer’s desk as he stared at the large bold red letters which were stamped over his transfer papers. He had begged and pleaded to be released, only to find his commander impassive. He had shown her the photograph, shown her the letter his wife had left for him to find, cried and fell apart as he screamed for his freedom, beseeched her to allow him to be let free to scour the earth and find them.

But he couldn’t be spared, not with the threat so close by...not with his contract renewed.

She said she would do what she could to help, that she would report to her commanding officer and send a letter to the Captain of the Guard in Canterlot to see what could be done.

She said she would try...

But 'trying' would never be good enough.

He recalled what had happened as he filled his saddlebags to the brim with food, clothing, scarves... anything he would need to keep himself warm and fed. He placed his life savings on the very bottom after making sure that he had every scrap of money he could manage. He had sold everything: his heirlooms, his more expensive clothes, various medals he had never cared for for feats he had never wanted to accomplish. He zipped up his uniform and placed her photograph in the pocket by his heart, making sure to button it up lest she be lost to the wind as he flew away.

He kicked open the door and took flight, resting on the thermals to conserve energy. He had a long way to go, and a world to search. They would be looking for him, but he didn’t care that he was now a deserter. Some things would always be more important than a name on an insignia.

He hoped that he would find them and hold them again. He didn’t care that his wife drank too much, or that she had told him she was afraid that he might not make it home. He barely remembered that she had been inconsolable when he’d left, his kiss the last thing she would ever truly feel before she withered away without him.

Those thing’s didn’t matter. All that mattered was that they were safe.

Everything else could be forgiven and forgotten, but not them...

...Not his family.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Scootaloo could do nothing but be there for her friend. Whatever it was that had been stampeding around in Apple Bloom’s brain had finally broken free from its cage and was running rampant. Not even the sunshine and the chirping of the birds in the oak tree by which she rested could bring her around. The only thing keeping her from crying was her friends, Scootaloo could feel it. She had always been brave like her sister, but this was the most disconsolate she had ever seen Apple Bloom.

And it broke Scootaloo's heart because she didn’t know why.

She turned her head around as the sound of panting increased, and closed her eyes as the same little unicorn filly who had been inside just minutes prior skidded to a halt before the three of them. She gave a little smile and nod to Scootaloo before turning her attention to Apple Bloom.

“Hey Sweetie Belle, Scoots!” Dinky said, her voice chirping like the birds who, unlike Apple Bloom, were enjoying the day. “Apple Bloom, Miss Cheerilee wants to see you inside for a second.”

Apple Bloom slowly got up and, without a look or request for permission, grabbed her pegasus friend and held her tightly to her shaking chest. She would never need to have a reason to hold her, and Scootaloo didn’t mind that her friend had given her such attention. She could feel her shaking, and could only tremble in response as the little pony in her arms quivered.

“Hey,” Scootaloo whispered for the two of them alone. “Whatever it is, it’s going to be okay! You’ve got us, and we’ll always have your back...”

Her friend didn’t say a word, for the tightening of her body was all the response Scootaloo could have asked for and more. Releasing her pegasus companion, Apple Bloom turned to Sweetie Belle and held her as well, only briefly, before turning her gaze to the ground and walking slowly towards the teacher who awaited her arrival. It pained Scootaloo to watch her go, and the two remaining Crusaders could only send little thoughts to the breeze in the hopes that she would be okay.

As she turned to head inside, they both could have sworn that Apple Bloom turned to look at them, memorizing their smiling faces and what love she had at her back. It was all they could do given the distance.

After that, the day had lost all vestiges of the happiness it once had. The gifts and presents were traded in a blur, and without their friend there, what point was there in having fun? The two remaining Crusaders could do little more than watch everyone else as they played, laughed, and ate the cookies and sweets which they had given one another or received from their teacher. Sweetie Belle had even given Miss Cheerilee her little letter of admiration and thanks, but neither pony could feel what joy and love had gone into it. Miss Cheerilee didn't say much, just a smile and a brief hug before she returned to her desk.

Sweetie Belle didn't really notice, for her mind and her friend were elsewhere.

With the removal of Apple Bloom the Crusaders' integrity vanished, and when the day ended and everyone made their way home the two couldn’t help but find themselves walking together to Sweet Apple Acres in silence. They never went in, but they gave little smiles to the farmhouse as they passed just in the hopes that Apple Bloom, wherever she was, might see them and know that her friends loved her.

When they had finally made their way to town, the two shared a look of love and a small hug before they went their separate ways. Scootaloo watched her friend as she trotted towards her sister’s Boutique, waving to the dragon who carried his little wagon from the front door. He shot a little smile and waved back, but never said a word as Sweetie Belle made her way inside to enjoy some time with her sister. He didn’t even notice Scootaloo as he faced the ground and plodded towards a destination unknown, his empty wagon following close behind him.

He didn’t look like he had a plan or a place to go.


He didn’t look like he cared.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He had gotten as far as Fillydelphia before the Guards found him. He had searched town after town, always with them at his heels, but he had always been just two steps ahead and a few days out of their reach. He had ran and flown as far as he could, with his half-empty saddlebags and his empty wallet lightening his load, but the pull of magic and the speed of the Royal Guards finally won over his malnourished and sore body.

They had given him his sentence, and he had pleaded for mercy. He had begged to be given the chance to redeem himself, tried to mitigate his punishment with his story and his cause. What mercy they had had been crushed with the falling of a gavel and the slamming of a cell.

He remembered receiving his discharge. He had used it as a napkin when they gave him his meals that day.

He remembered watching the walls as the marks he’d gouged there counted out the days... weeks... months... years...

He watched as the marks spread from one corner of a wall to the far side, then upwards, cascading from one wall to the next as the days passed slowly by. They were only truly recorded as he tracked the shadows made by the bars in his windows and his Princess's sun on the floor, marking the shadows' positions with every successive day... every changing of the seasons... every solstice and equinox... every Hearth’s Warming Eve... every missed birthday...

Five years... five long years...

He remembered when he had finally been granted his freedom and saw the world outside, and in the face of the skyscrapers and buildings and various inventions he had missed, he could only cower in fear.

He had never felt so small.

And without his family, he had never felt so alone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Counting out what money she had, Scootaloo placed a few bits on the counter of her favorite cafe as the pony at the till swept them up in his hooves, watching her skeptically as he counted everything out into the machine. When he was satisfied, he rang a little bell and slipped a sheet onto a rotating drum, turning it around to face the inside of the kitchen. She knew she had about five minutes until her sandwich and shake would be ready, so she took a seat at a table in the far corner.

This had become her routine: go to school, get out, grab some food, do odd jobs for ponies around town, do some chores for Applejack or Rarity, accept what food they offered for her help, eat alone in the clubhouse, clean her mess so that nopony knew she lived there...

Fall asleep... wake up...

Rinse, wash, and repeat.

It was a routine which she never minded. She could make her own money, take care of herself, keep herself warm in the winters and cool in the summers, never once needing any more help than what she received now. She might have been a filly, and she might not have parents, but there was nothing to stand in the way of her getting what she wanted. She never stole, and she never begged. She worked for her money, and in doing so had learned how important a strong work ethic was.

It was something these other fillies and colts would never know until far too late. She watched them smile and giggle as their parents gave them presents over the table, enjoy the meals which their parents had bought for them... give thanks for the things which they hadn’t truly earned. They would learn the hard way that the world wasn’t as lenient as their parents made it seem, the way that she had learned, except now they would have to fight against their own shortcomings when all of their behaviors were set in stone.

Scootaloo nodded in appreciation as the waiter placed her food and her drink before her on the table. With a little smile and a final parting glance at the undeserving ones before her, she dug into her sandwich, enjoying the crunch with a smile on her face as she remembered the one universal fact she'd learned about finances and food:

Food which you buy yourself always tastes better.

Savoring the greens and the crispy lettuce, she looked around to see other ponies and their respective Very-Special-Someponys enjoying the beauty of the day, and each others' eyes, as they sat at their tables in pairs. She, some of her classmates, and a distracted pegasus stallion nearby were the only ones not lost in the embrace, eyes, or lips of another. She watched as her classmates on the far side of the cafe watched one particularly amorous pair as they kissed, and she giggled when they all turned away and gagged simultaneously.

Even though they reacted as they had, Scootaloo couldn’t help but smile as she watched the pair. She had seen them before: one of them was a local musician who would often play in the park for her loving partner across from her, a mare who ran a local candy store.They might have both been mares, but they loved one another far more than any other pair she had ever seen. She could see it in their eyes. Scootaloo couldn’t help but smile as she watched them play with each others' manes, finding her own hoof locked on her cheek as she leaned in.

They had found something truly special, and nothing, not the words or faces of a group of naive students or the disapproving stares of others, would distract them. She could see on their faces that the only thing to which they gave heed on that glorious afternoon was the pony which sat across from them. She watched as they became lost in the other’s eyes, barely noticing the world fade away as they dove into the deep colors and inky blackness of those infinite and beautiful portals.

Scootaloo had always hoped she’d feel that way for someone, but independence was a sobering pool in which the ponies she longed to love were unprepared to swim.

Draining the last few drops of her shake, she balanced her dishes and glass on her back and trotted to the counter, placing them there near the edge. She didn’t need to, but the waiter and buspony appreciated her help nonetheless.

Breaking from the shadows which the overhanging eaves had created, Scootaloo stepped out, fed and watered, into the glorious sunshine. She had a full day ahead of her, and many things to accomplish to earn her keep. With a little nod to herself and a sigh as the beautiful mares kissed each other again, she ran towards the closest store she could find to start her work.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He awoke slowly to don his uniform, though it was graced with different buttons and symbols from the one he was used to. It held itself close to his gaunt frame, but it had loosened slightly in the shoulders from when he had first worn it. He was losing weight. He was losing muscle.

He clocked in on the dot as usual, giving a nod to his employer before making his way to his station. Discharged soldiers, especially dishonorably discharged soldiers, had little options in post-military careers, and security was the only viable option for many. He needed a job, one which wouldn’t violate his parole. The Fillydelphia train station needed security, and could use somepony skilled in taking orders. Everything fit.

Everything but his clothes and the rearranged pieces of his heart.

He grabbed a pastry from the office in which he and his fellow guards were stationed, but the rumble of the trains masked his “thank you” and his nod to the others. They never noticed. He doubted they cared. He wasn’t even scheduled to work today, but he needed the money over his sleep and sanity.

He had to keep going. He needed a lead. He needed some food in his cupboard which wasn’t stale or molding.

He needed a chance.

He watched a filly who walked alone on the platform, trotting away from the nearby train to make her way to a bench, seemingly lost. This must not have been her home, and her short red hair shook as she looked around at the surrounding buildings, gazing in wonder when she alighted on something new. Her brown and freckled face scrunched when she squinted to read the lettering of the signs nearby, and her cape fluttered when the wind picked up.

Why she was wearing a cape he had no clue, but she looked lost and confused. She looked a little scared. She might need the comfort, and he could use the conversation.

He stepped forward to find out more about her, her travels, her destination, and the origins of her red cape emblazoned with a rearing filly patch on the side...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

She had moved the crates and their contents within as quickly as she could, zipping along the ground as she picked up what carrots she’d spilled before placing them in a little basket nearby. While she couldn’t fly, there was nothing stopping her from zooming along the ground quicker than most. It was her one advantage, and as she swooped up the basket to wash the carrots within, she smiled at the new speed she found herself capable of. She was getting faster. Soon, she might even be able to beat Rainbow Dash!

Pumping the nearby faucet, Scootaloo splashed and scrubbed what water she could on the vegetables to clean the lingering dust away before taking her basket and placing it alongside all the others. Wiping her damp hooves on her coat, she ran towards her temporary employer and gave a little nod.

“All done! Do you need anything else, Ms. Harvest?” she beamed, sweating a little from her exertions. The older mare looked from the filly to her work, beaming in satisfaction for her speed and care.

“Oh no, dear! You’ve done more than enough! Besides, you didn’t need to wash those carrots: I was just about to. Thank you for making my work a little easier!”

Reaching into her apron, her local carrot vender pulled out a handful of bits and gave them to the little pegasus.

“That’s what I’ve got, I hope it’s enough...” she stated sadly, looking to the beaming pegasus who slipped the bits she’d earned into her saddlebags.

“That’s more than enough, Ms. Harvest! I’m just happy to help.”

“You always are, kid, and it's going to make you rich one day!” her employer beamed, giving Scootaloo's hair a little tousle.

Smiling in appreciation, Scootaloo gave her a little nod and a smile of thanks before making her way towards the Boutique to do her usual chores for the mare who worked within. There was always some massive box with used clothes or broken things she’d need disposing of, and Rarity never minded when Scootaloo would rummage through and pick out what things she could repair and use again. Her food and her store were always warm, and it had become such a routine over the long months she’d been helping that Rarity almost always left the door unlocked just so she could make her way within and begin her work.

Strutting inside, she saw Rarity trotting away from a chest near her sewing machine, levitating a key in her magic before tucking it away into the pocket of her dress nearby, one which hung on a dressform until she was prepared to put it on. It was splendidly cut, and was draped with a large heart-shaped ruby which would remain there until she finally doled herself up enough to allow it to grace her breast. Apparently, she was preparing for a date of some kind, or some other high class event which Scootaloo could only dream about.

“Good evening, Rarity!” she smiled as she closed the door behind her. “Do you have anything you’d like me to do tonight?”

Rarity turned, and at once Scootaloo knew something was wrong. Those same dazzling white cheeks were tainted with a grey finish, and there were spots near the corners of her eyes which were still streaked in black. She was visibly startled, and looked from herself to her dressform in rapid succession before turning away from the filly to stare back towards the chest from where she’d come, speaking in her usual high-pitched and sonorous voice to the wall before her.

“Ohhh! Umm... Scootaloo, dear! I wasn’t expecting you so soon! Why don’t you... why don’t you just go into the kitchen, for a moment, and find something to eat. I will be right there!

She never turned, and Scootaloo watched her as she made a point to keep her back firmly placed between the filly and her face. Shaking off her odd behavior as a result of the stress of dress-making, Scootaloo trotted towards the pantry and pulled out a box of granola and oats. She jumped as she buzzed her wings, and was able to gain enough lift and altitude to swipe a little jar of honey from the shelf and catch it deftly in a hoof. Allowing herself a little smile, she applauded herself for her minor accomplishment. That had been a few inches higher than the last time she’d tried.

By the time she had collected her things and closed the pantry door, Rarity was standing before her, looking far fresher than she had seen her just a minute prior.

“Ohh, dear!" Rarity cried, stamping her hoof lightly on the floor. "Honestly, Scootaloo: you must have something more substantial for dinner! Oats and honey is no way for you to grow up big and strong! Would you like me to make you something a little... umm... healthier? A nice salad with winter greens, perhaps?”

“No, thank you!” Scootaloo said around the box in her teeth as she poured a bowl full of oats. “I just got some money, so I can get something from the market before it closes. Do you need me to do anything around the shop?”

Shuffling her hooves a little, Rarity dropped her head as she spoke to her temporary assistant.

“Unfortunately, no: I will be a little... busy... tonight, so just go ahead and eat.”

“But... if I don’t do any work, I don’t want to take your food! I can’t do that!” the filly cried, pieces of partially-eaten oats dripping from the corners of her mouth.

“No, Darling! It’s fine, just fine!" Rarity pleaded, gesturing with her hoof towards Scootaloo's bowl. "Just... just eat up and I can give you something to do tomorrow, if you’d like. I just don’t have anything I need you to do tonight, that’s all.”

Staring at the dressmaker, Scootaloo could tell she was hiding something. She might have been generous in nature, but she had a tendency to be withholding when it came to her emotions. It might have been her fear of offending anyone or just her natural lady-like graces, but either way it was something which made their encounter that evening far more uncomfortable than Scootaloo liked. Draining her bowl, Scootaloo took a look around the kitchen, which was spotless as usual.

Perhaps she wasn’t needed tonight, for the kitchen and her Boutique were looking as if she'd scrubbed them raw. In her heart, she gave a sigh of relief: Apple Bloom’s despair, the children in the cafe, Spike’s apathy, Rarity’s hesitation... everything she had seen that day was doing nothing but weighing down on her nerves, causing her to reaffirm her convictions about just how horrible this day really was. The only thing she'd enjoyed was the sunshine, but now even that was slowly fading. She was amazed at how fast the day had gone by, and as she cleaned out her bowl, she closed her eyes a little and rested.

She could use some sleep, if only to put this day behind her and move on with the month. In a couple of days, no one would remember or care what particular curiosities happened on this day. Everypony would be too wrapped up in the present and the future to give any notice to the past.

“If you say so, Rarity, ” the filly whispered, plodding to the front door after placing her bowl on a drying rack nearby. “Just don’t hesitate to tell me if you want anything done.”

“I won't, honey,” the mare smiled in reply. “I won't. You just go home and rest. I bet your friends are wondering where you are... I bet they’re waiting for you!”

Gazing at the floor, Scootaloo pushed the door open with her hoof and walked outside in a daze. She couldn’t see Rarity start after her only slightly before stopping herself from following the little filly who stared only at the dirt, listening to the faint clinking of the bits in her saddlebags.

“No, Rarity...” Scootaloo whispered to the rocks she kicked as she went to scrounge for food.

“No one’s waiting for me...”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He could do nothing but wait.

He had been waiting for weeks, wondering when the letters he had sent would finally garner some responses from those mares he’d hunted down and tried to contact, from the stallion who rested at the head of his profession with the power to release him from his duties. The guards were watching him, and he couldn’t run away from his job or his parole. He had to stay, lest he be thrown back into jail. He had to wait... he had no choice. He could only hope his letters had made it to their destination and that they would be seen with compassionate eyes.

He had been waiting there on the stoop of his rundown apartment building every day for weeks, sitting there on the steps to await the coming of the post. It had become routine, and everyday the kind mailpony who would sort the mail would give him little shakes of the head when nothing came for him.

But today... today all he saw was a smile on that mailpony's face.

A smile... and some mail.

He must have looked a sight: disheveled and scrawny, his beard unevenly shaven and his hair longer and wilder than usual. It had been a while since he’d trimmed either of them. But what was most unnerving to the ponies who walked nearby was the mad burst of laughter and tears which followed when he looked into his hooves to see that they had finally come.

The first letter came from Celestia’s student, one 'Twilight Sparkle', acknowledging his plan and his arrival. The second, from a school teacher, to verify his hopes. The third, from his highest authority, granting him an audience with the Princess herself.

He did not care what they said, the ponies who stared as he held the letters to his chest, heaving and crying out his pains and desperations as he curled in the street. They were less important to him than the three pieces of parchment which he held to his heart, and as he cried he praised the three of them for their affirmations.

In just a day, he would be on his way to Canterlot.

In another, he would be prepared to see the Princess.

And in just one day more, he would hold his world again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Scootaloo was able to buy another bag of oats and an assortment of vegetables from a local vendor with the bits she had earned that day. It would be enough to feed herself for a few more days, and as she mentally calculated what extras she had in the floorboards back home, she gave herself a little smile. She had enough to last the week, which meant she would have enough to deposit in her little growing savings box.

A few more weeks like this, and she would be able to afford something nice for herself. Perhaps a belated little Hearts and Hooves Day gift, a nice pretty skirt or another poster to add to her collection. She imagined the possibilities as she passed by Sweet Apple Acres en route to her makeshift house in the depths of the orchard.

There was a single light which was barely visible as it flickered in the upstairs window of the farmhouse. It meant someone was home, and that meant she had to be careful unless she wanted to be found. She walked slowly along the road before slipping between the fence-posts where the forest met the field. She darted and buzzed from tree to tree towards the clubhouse, keeping an eye on the balcony all the while. With a final look, she made a mad dash for their hideout, clambering up the steps and closing the door behind her. Sliding to the floor when no yells of discovery came, she allowed herself to relax.

She was finally home.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He wished he had been prepared.

His audience with the Princess had been nerve-wracking. She spoke nothing but truths, and as she did the walls which he had unknowingly created to protect himself from the horrifying possibilities of his failures began to fall apart until the hopelessness and desperation of his plan shone through.

How could he have dared to believe himself ready to find her? What kind of reckless audacity had he exhibited in his attempts to hold her again?

He had been gone for far too long, been locked away for far more time that he had imagined. She was growing up with her friends, without need of guardians. What good was he now that he had no job? No security? No home?

He could do little more than cry, and beg, and plead with his Princess to afford him this one kindness, to find some portion of her massive immortal heart to give to him to spare him from the misery of his failures.

It was a portion she found, and gave unto him with a nod and a smile.

Prostrating himself before his Princess, he barely noticed as a muscled and handsome stallion opened the door behind him and announced his presence. He could only watch his beloved Princess as she rose from her bow, allowing him to do the same. The lightness he felt in his heart now that she had confirmed that he was indeed on the eve of his redemption blinded him to all else but the large door and the blue-haired stallion who held it open.

That kind face was affording him a kindness as his Princess had, and thus he gave the armored stallion a smile and nod of thanks. Had he known it was that same Captain of the Guard to whom he had written, he would have given himself in heartfelt gratitude for the stallion's help, but all he could do in his present state was smile in elation, shed a hopeful tear, and run through the hallway to take flight through a window above. He looped through the air on his way to a town which lingered in the shadow of the mountain on which his wonderful Princesses’ palace rested.

A town by the name of Ponyville.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When she appropriated what food she needed to keep herself warm that night and what food she could save, she stored the rest away in a floorboard near her little treasure trove and leaned back in her bedroll, gazing on the face of a cyan blue pegasus whose image she had drawn on a fading poster. It was one of her few joys, and when she finally got around to finishing it she would have it laminated and would ask her mentor and idol to sign it.

After that, her collection would be complete. After she finished it, there was nothing save the passing of time, the completion of her education, and a few years of hard-earned bits which would stop her from placing her beloved idol's smiling face on the mantle of her very own home. In her eyes, that action was a confirmation that she had finally made it. In her eyes, it was one step closer to soaring in the sky without a care in the world.

Spreading out in her sleeping bag, she took one last look outside as the last traces of the sun dipped below the horizon, watching as the vibrant explosion of color slowly died out to hide itself away again. Giving a little thanks for Celestia so very far away, she rolled over in her bag to watch the opposite window where Luna had already begun to raise the moon, throwing a softer light upon the world which rested below. She imagined that she and she alone was the only one awake to watch Luna’s splendorous charge rise from its slumber.

But from the sound of wings and the creaking of a plank outside, she knew she wasn’t.

Bolting from her bag, Scootaloo looked to the door in horror. She stepped on the floorboard which housed her food, cramming what she could inside, eying the door all the while lest it open before she could make her escape. She could hear as the creaking of the planks got closer to the door, and it only made her scramble in panic as she stuffed and pushed things away to make room for her precious sleeping bag. In her distraction, she wasn’t aware that her bag had caught on a shard of wood and ripped, causing some feathers to come streaming out. But that didn’t matter, not right now!

She was going to be found! She would lose her home! She had to run!

Abandoning her mission entirely, she backed towards the edge of the clubhouse and took a deep breath, stretching out her wings. She eyed the distance between herself and the window for a brief instant before running towards the far side, the buzzing of her wings picking up in frequency and pitch as she struggled to stay aloft, fought to gain some altitude.

She would have succeeded, had she not been blindsided.

She watched as Luna’s moon was ripped from her vision by a blue streak of fur and a wild dash of hair as some form far larger than her tackled her from the side just a few feet from the window. Falling to the far wall, she tumbled with her captor as she scratched and struggled to break free, biting at what blue skin and fur she could find with her teeth. She only stopped when she realized that there was only one mare with that particular shade of blue fur.

Only one mare with a bright rainbow mane.

“What the hay, Scootaloo!” Rainbow Dash yelled, still holding Scootaloo’s little orange body in her hooves. “Why did you bite me?! And what do you think you’re doing, running at that wall? You could have hurt yourself! You know you can’t fly that high, you could have been seriously injured! What’s with the panic, and what’s with all the feathers?!”

Looking back towards her storage space Scootaloo could see that, in her sprint, she had ripped the hole of her precious sleeping bag even further, causing most of the feathers to come whisking out in a downy tempest. She watched as a few stray feathers fell to the floor, picked up only as Rainbow Dash squirmed to get back upright. Scootaloo looked in horror at what she had done.

Her only warmth through the night was gone, and in her haste to run away from the one mare she most revered, she had been found out. Every recognition of her failures and the looming dread which would come from her actions only made her heart sink into her stomach, and she could feel the tears coming despite her disinclination to release them.

She couldn’t cry. She wouldn’t cry. Rainbow Dash never cried, and therefore neither would she.

“I didn’t want you to see me here, Rainbow!” Scootaloo howled, struggling to break free from the mare’s grip. “I shouldn’t be here! I was just trying to find something I left during our last meeting, nothing more! I know Granny Smith doesn’t like people trespassing, so I was only going to be here for a second...”

“What, with a sleeping bag?!” the electric blue mare barked, looking from the mess to her little orange companion. “Do you usually carry a sleeping bag with you wherever you go? Do you think I’m that stupid?”

“No! That was just here! I didn’t put it there...”

“Don’t lie to me, Scootaloo!"

"I'm not lying!" Scootaloo grunted, pushing away the warm arms of her idol as Rainbow sat in the corner, looking at the filly in surprise. "I didn't put it there... I'm not even supposed to be here! I'm not allowed to be in the orchard after sunset, Granny Smith said so! If she knew I lived here, she'd tan my hide! I don't even know what that means, but I know I don't want that!"

She steadied her breathing and her temper lest her voice gave off more noise than she thought. Her resolutions were sound, and her reasoning was perfect: that old mare, as kind as she may be, was sometimes unreasonably strict. Glaring at the mare who prevented her escape, she stared as her idol sat on the floor, looking at her in shock.

Maybe she was right, and Rainbow knew what ‘tanning’ entailed. Maybe she was thrown off that the filly was so vehemently opposing her. Maybe it was something else entirely, something novel which she churned over in her mind as the filly stared at her in confusion.

Maybe it was the admission she hadn't realized she'd made until far too late.


"Oh no... no no no..."


She stared at her hooves, and then at her priceless sleeping bag. With the ripping of her one warmth and comfort through the cold and blustery nights, she had ruined her only solace. With her discovery in the night as she tried to sleep, she’d lost everything. There would be no home for Scootaloo, no place of comfort from the world she believed had forgotten about her.

These thoughts flashed through her mind, and in her reverie she found herself staring at the one flickering hope she had:

Her idol, who sat in the corner with her hooves held wide.

She’d known this was coming. She'd known it for far longer than Scootaloo herself had. She knew right where the filly would be tonight, right when she’d make her way home. She had already prepared for her, gotten herself ready for what she knew would come next.

Rainbow Dash could do little more than enfold the crying filly with her hooves and wings, allowing Scootaloo to slip inside her embrace to find some safe harbor for the raging flood of pain she struggled to release. She could do little more than stare and stroke the filly's mane, her own lip trembling all the while, as her surrogate sister wailed. Her hooves and wings tightened around her ward as she held the filly to her chest.

Scootaloo howled out the horrors of her loneliness into that bright blue fur she had come to love, her eyes and nose firmly placed in the breast of the mare who had given her such hope, such ambition. She had failed her idol by allowing her to see the squalor in which she lived. She had betrayed her trust in hiding the realities of her condition. She had lost everything, for how could her hero love a pony who couldn't even love her enough to tell her the truth?

How could she dare request that Rainbow be her sister and give her her world to share, when all she had to give could fit in the cracks of a floor?

Rainbow stroked her tiny friend’s mane as Scootaloo sobbed in despair, holding her closer as her sobs and wails renewed themselves with each new epiphany and realization. Every buckle and kick when she fought against some little demon or self-hatred, Rainbow took upon herself. Every time she trembled or scratched to try and burrow herself further and further into her embrace, Rainbow smiled. She sat and held her little charge, for she could do little more.

When Scootaloo finally calmed herself down enough to speak, she found Rainbow Dash more than willing to listen.

"Please don't tell Applejack... or Granny Smith. I don't want them to know," Scootaloo whispered into that mass of blue fur. “I don’t want them to make me leave...”

“Applejack already knows, dear...”

Scootaloo’s eyes shot open with fear, but Rainbow just held her a little closer.

“She knows, and she doesn’t mind. She’s just happy you’re safe, even if you do sneak into her orchard every night to do it. We’re all happy you’re safe, even me...”

Holding Scootaloo closer, Rainbow Dash closed her eyes and allowed herself one little tear.

“...especially me.”

Scootaloo renewed her grip on her loving hero, and for once she was unafraid to show any reservations. Rainbow was always there to save her, even when she didn’t need it... even when she didn’t know what she was doing or why. Her failures at flight, her adventures with the Crusaders which went awry...

...waking up in a forest in a daze, lingering on the threads of an all-but-forgotten dream as Rainbow saved her yet again.

She was always there.

But she couldn’t stay forever.

Nopony ever could.

“You could have just asked me, kiddo,” Rainbow whispered, stroking the filly’s mane as she tried in vain to stop them both from trembling. “You could have just asked to live with me, and I would have let you. I would have taken you in. You don’t have to be alone. I don’t want you to be alone...”

Rainbow’s words and the squeeze which accompanied them brought her back around to face the reality which she had trying so hard to forget. She struggled to reclaim what attention she had had on the blue pegasus who held her close, but Rainbow's offer and her feelings did not comply with her own.

“I can’t, Rainbow... I have to do this by myself.”

“Why?” Rainbow grunted, unable to keep her voice low and even. “Why do you have to do this? You don’t have to be alone every night, sleeping in a... a sleeping bag! You don’t have to hide! You could have just asked, and everyone would have helped you! I would have helped you!”

“No,” Scootaloo asserted, stomping the floor in the space which lingered between them. “If you don’t need help, then I don’t either...”

“I do need help,” Rainbow muttered, pulling the filly’s face upwards. “I need help all the time. I might not show it, but I do.”

“When?!” Scootaloo barked, glaring at her hero with rage. “Don’t lie to me! You never need help: you’re Rainbow Dash! Rainbow Dash never asks for help! You don’t need help... you can do anything!”

She glared at the mare with what little anger she had, but the face she saw staring back at her was serene, tranquil, and so blissfully calm that she herself couldn’t help but mimic it. Watching her eyes, she barely noticed when the bright blue lips below began to move.

“Have you ever wondered why I can only pull off a Sonic Rainboom going down?”

The filly pondered this for a moment. It was true: she had never seen the execution of the Rainboom conducted while going up, diagonally, or sideways. It was only when she was facing straight down that Rainbow Dash gathered the energy to pull it off. But that didn’t matter: she could do it! She had the talent! What help did she need?

“I can only do it going down,” the mare continued, “because I need to rely on gravity to give me a little boost. I can’t do it any other way. I have to have it to push me along, but that doesn’t make me a failure, Scootaloo! Taking a little help every now and then let's us to do more than our abilities allow, be able to accomplish those things we just can’t do on our own. It’s still me pulling it off, Scootaloo! It’s not a badge of failure if you need help, and I want to help you...”

“Don’t you get it?!” the filly screamed, pushing herself from the embrace of the mare on the floor and scrambling backwards towards the middle of the room. “I can’t! I can’t ask for help! If I ask for help, it means I’m weak! It means I’m worthless! If they couldn’t take care of me, why shouldn’t I be allowed? Why do you get to take care of yourself and I can’t?! I can do this! I want to do this!

“Scootaloo, please,” Rainbow pleaded, trying to crawl to the filly shouting on the floor. “Just... come with me and... and... we’ll work everything out, okay?! You can stay with me for a little while if you want, just... just... please don’t cry!”

Panting on the floor, the filly could do little more than close her eyes and scream. It was all her little heart was capable of at the moment, and she had kept everything inside for so long that now...now her heart just couldn’t hold it in any longer.

They couldn't do it, but I can! I want to take care of myself because she couldn't! She never could! She failed me, and I know I won't fail myself! They ran away from me, Rainbow! Why did they run?! I never saw him! He never wrote! He just left me alone and never came looking for me!”

“He did, honey... he is...”

“Don't lie to me, Rainbow! Sisters don't lie to one another! He never tried! He doesn't care! She only cared about drinking, and crying, and hating herself for giving birth to a crippled, worthless, flightless waste of feathers like ME!!!

Rainbow could do little more than tremble on the floor as that little filly she had come to love scrunched her face and screamed at her, her little voice punching through the darkness as all vestiges of her reserve broke down.

SHE ABANDONED ME! SHE LEFT ME BEHIND! THEY BOTH JUST LEFT ME BEHIND AND NEVER CARED! THEY JUST WENT ON LIVING WHILE I DIED, EVERY DAY, WITHOUT THEM! THEY’RE PROBABLY HAPPY, RAINBOW! THEY’RE PROBABLY CELEBRATING RIGHT NOW BECAUSE THEY DON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT HAVING A WORTHLESS, CRIPPLED, GIMP FOR A DAUGHTER!!!...”


“She killed herself, Scootaloo...”

What noise there was in the world outside died out in a flurry of quiet, and all that remained was the lingering whisper of her idol as her words slithered out and rested in her brain. Neither pony spoke, and naught but the sound of Rainbow’s tears as they smashed with concussive force on the wooden slats below came pouring into her ears. Rainbow’s words were poison, some kind of paralyzing draught which had left Scootaloo frozen on the floor. The filly found herself staring at her idol, her hero, the one paragon that kept her fighting.

She could feel nothing. She could hear nothing, and as all faded save herself and the body before her: Scootaloo found herself utterly alone. The only thing which remained was the beautiful, broken, terrified Rainbow Dash looking back at her with those foreign and profane tears in her eyes.


They scared Scootaloo far more than being alone in the dark ever could.


“She missed you, Scootaloo,” Rainbow Dash whispered, her tears racing down her cheeks as she crawled on the floor towards the filly illuminated in a moonbeam. “She missed you so much! She couldn’t get you back, no matter how hard she tried... no matter how hard she begged. They didn’t think she was able to take care of you after... after she... but she wanted to... so, so badly!”

Cradling Scootaloo's little form in her hooves, Rainbow could do little more than be there for the petrified and silent little pony who lingered there on the floor, unable to say a word. Her little body was as devoid of heat as her mouth was words, and despite her courage, it only made Rainbow Dash cry harder.

“He told us everything, Scootaloo! She couldn’t live with herself for what she did to you... what she did to him. She couldn’t do it. She needed help, Scootaloo... she needed help. She didn't have anyone to help her, and I don’t want to see you like that! I don’t want to see you in pain like she was.”

Slowly, quietly, the world regained its voice... but Scootaloo remained there, bereft of heat and words of her own, lost in the fur of her hero. None of Rainbow’s soothing truths about her mother really mattered. She felt a slight twinge of pain when she couldn’t recall her mother’s face, but she had no memory of anything from before the orphanage and the grey walls within. She had little memory of her mother save what the nurses and caretakers told her ever so long ago... what lies they whispered from their silver tongues.

Her mother never cared, she was convinced: she could only care for her own stability, her own pride or self-efficacy. She had never tried... how could she try? Scootaloo was far more expensive than a life to herself could ever be. Her mother was weak, far weaker than she, and choosing between her two loves was always an easy choice for the mare who ignored her crippled daughter, wasted away the day with her wine by her side, wishing and praying that her husband would come home and relieve her of her torment.

But one thing stood out from Rainbow’s story, for there was one lingering fact which remained which even Scootaloo couldn’t comprehend.


How did Rainbow know her mother’s life, when she herself was ignorant?


“How do you know?” she whispered, finally breaking her silence.

Rainbow could only stare into her little eyes before remembering why she had come, why she had flown away from her friends on this particular evening to find her where Twilight had said she’d be. She could only smile, unfold her wings, and gather the filly up in her arms as she prepared for their flight, whispering as Scootaloo wrapped her hooves around her neck.

“Come with me.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He found himself explaining everything: every town he searched, every hardship he’d encountered, his meeting with the filly on the train platform, his audience with the Princess...

...The image of his love, his life, hanging from the supports of a boarding house loft, her wings pinned to her sides with a length of the same rope which held her neck in place...

...Her body motionless save the little movement which fluttered around the note she held to what remained of her heart...

Everything came tumbling out, and he didn’t care whether the four mares before him were judging him for his life or his troubled partner. Nothing made sense to him anymore save the one lingering flicker of hope who was hiding somewhere in that rustic town, keeping out of sight.

A few of them cried. Another lowered her head. One of them was stock-still as she had never been, her pink hooves firmly planted on the ground where once they had been bouncing.

They left once the purple one acknowledged their plan, and they never said goodbye. They turned to leave, not once looking back. Maybe they had not understood why he had told them everything. Maybe they had other plans. Maybe the Elements couldn’t do anything for him, just as he expected.

He watched as they held their gazes to the floor and the ground outside, making sure not to tread on the tears of the one who walked before them.The purple one caught his attention, forcing him to listen as she laid out her plan.

Her idea was simple. He found himself nodding his acknowledgement as she told him what she thought would be best. She had already planned out everything, down to the last detail: who would find her, where she’d be, when to arrive and what building to be in when the time came. She had already contacted the Crystal Princess, and she would be there.The mare herself would be there. Her friends would be there.

The last remaining shard of his heart, the one who would keep him together... she would be there too.

It would have been simple for her, for it was her job to plan these things. The Personal Student of Princess Celestia was always prepared.

With their plan in motion, he walked out of her library, not even noticing as he passed by a baby dragon and his wagon. Right now, he needed food and rest, a distraction... some refuge from the storm he’d created. Lost in the haze he sat himself down where he could, the rays of the sun warming him only slightly.

He found himself staring absentmindedly as two mares kissed one another in a little cafe on a bright, sunny street.

How he wished he could feel that way again...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The ruffle of the wind in her mane and the sound of Rainbow’s hooves on the ground brought Scootaloo out of her little nap. She couldn’t resist falling to sleep just a little: the night was dark, and her hero’s chest was warmer than she’d ever thought possible. She wondered if she could keep her close, just for a little while longer, just to savor her proximity and the steady, soothing, perfect beat of her heart. But according to the whisperings into her ear as they flew, there was something which needed to be done, something which required Scootaloo's presence.

The lights were all on in the schoolhouse, and there was no explanation why they should be. Everything else was dark, and the only light outside came from the full moon above and the silently swinging lightbulb on the schoolhouse steps.There were no shadows inside which might denote the presence of anyone of importance, which only made her stare at her blue companion in worry and confusion.

“C’mon,” Rainbow whispered, giving her a little nudge from behind. “They’re waiting for you...”

Looking at the schoolhouse door, Scootaloo could do little more than stare at the door which separated her from some unimaginable pain, her lips and voice steady even as a single tear drifted lazily down her cheek.

“I don’t want to go, Rainbow. Please don’t make me go... please don’t leave me.”

“Scootaloo, look at me.”

Turning herself slowly, she found the mare at her side beaming brighter than Luna’s moon which graced the skies above. The soft light dulled the usually vibrant colors of her mane, but she was still radiant nonetheless, still perfect in every way... even if Scootaloo now knew that her hero could cry, even if her leg was still bruised from where she’d scratched and bit her in her attempts to be free.

The face she found was the warmth she’d been looking for, and she took one brief mental picture of her smile before she allowed herself to be drawn into another hug, closing her eyes as Rainbow Dash held her close.

“No matter what happens... no matter what you do or what you say: you will never be alone, not anymore. I will always be right behind you, no matter what.”

Raising her chin, Rainbow Dash held her little friend... her dearest sister... as close to her chest as she could.

“You will never be alone, and you will always... always... be loved, because that’s what sisters do.”

Then, with a kiss on the forehead and a trembling smile, Rainbow Dash allowed little Scootaloo to take the lead. The filly could see her out of the corner of her eyes. She was right behind her, just like she promised. Her rainbow mane caught the breeze and shimmered as they walked towards the schoolhouse door with their heads up high.

She would always be there, right behind her... right there to catch her if she fell.


Nothing could change that.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The glaring incandescent bulbs could do nothing but hang over him, making his shadow dance on the floor. He stood in a corner, away from the middle of the room, just like he had been instructed. He allowed Twilight to take the position at the fore alongside the teacher he’d contacted. He could see one of the three Princesses standing behind them all, her wings folded to her sides and her mane bobbing as she waited.

They had told him to stay quiet to allow them time to explain what was going on. They said Princess Cadence would be there to help if thing's got rough. They said she was a firebrand, and he couldn’t have been prouder. She was strong, like he was...

...Like he had been when he hadn't been standing in his dark corner, trembling in a horrible, terrifying excitement as he was now.

He could hear hooves on the steps, and he braced himself as they grew louder.



He pawed the floor, for he knew not what he would do...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Scootaloo opened her eyes to find herself surrounded.

She saw Twilight the librarian, and Rarity, and the other Elements save Applejack waiting right behind them. She could see the bobbing hair of her dearest Sweetie Belle poking from behind her sister, but there was no red-haired Apple Bloom in sight. She could see Spike standing beside his caretaker, looking from the filly at the door to Twilight and back. She could see the smiling face of her Princess Cadence beaming at her, her posture immaculate as always.

She could see her teacher walking towards her, sitting on the floor in front of her, holding a certificate in her mouth emblazoned with the seal of Celestia herself. It was a hunk of paper... it meant little more than a promise.

And you can never trust a promise.

“Scootaloo, honey,” her teacher began, giving a little look to Twilight nearby before looking back to her student. “I know this is confusing, and I know you don’t know why you’re here tonight. Your friends are all here and they wanted you to be happy, so they...”

“Where’s Apple Bloom?”

Her firm assertion and her raging eyes demanded an answer, and Cheerilee couldn’t think fast enough to respond. Scootaloo, on the other hand, had been more than prepared. She’d seen and counted the ponies who stood there... and there were two that were missing.

“Apple Bloom’s not here, and neither is Applejack. Where are they?” Scootaloo stated calmly, her eyes never moving from her teacher, her tone calm but unyielding.

As Cheerilee mumbled some excuse Twilight took a few steps forward, kneeling alongside the teacher as she spoke in soft tones to the orange filly near the door, the one who glared at them in contempt.

“They couldn’t be here, sweetie... but they wanted to be! They had something to do, something which required them to be at home.”

“Then you lied to me.”

The room was silent, and Scootaloo could even see her own Princess who stood on the far wall recoil from the acerbic bite of the pegasus filly’s words. The Elements, or at least the ones who actually were standing before her, all looked at one another with trepidation. Things weren’t going as they had hoped. That much was obvious.

‘Honey,” Cheerilee muttered, moving closer to the filly on the floor. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to...”

“No, you did...” the filly began, her voice piping up from where it had lingered in her throat, waiting for the chance to come out. “You meant that. Don’t try and cover it up. Don’t treat me like a child. I’m not a child anymore. I haven’t been for a long time.”

"Scootaloo, please..." came a whisper from behind her, and as she turned Rainbow's eyes pleaded with her own to show some leniency, to allow them their explanation. As much as she felt otherwise, she wouldn't deny Rainbow that one courtesy. She wouldn't deny Rainbow anything.

Cheerilee took a few steps backwards from the quiet and seething filly in the floor,looking behind her towards the Crystal Princess who waited by the desk. Cheerilee had reached the extent of her abilities, and it was time for royalty to intercede. With her sister-in-law nearby and her husband at her back, Princess Cadence took a few steps forward to approach the filly by the door, laying herself down on the ground to meet Scootaloo's quiet, tempestuous eyes.

“You are quite an honest filly, aren’t you?” Cadence said softly, her silky voice not twinged with the same attempts at sincerity that her teacher’s had been. She spoke with an easy grace, as if her tongue was lined with honey. Everything flowed. Everything was melodious and calm. It soothed Scootaloo to know that the lies had died out. It slowed her racing heart to know her Princess was listening... actually listening to her, not thinking about what lie to tell next.

She could be honest. She was allowed to show a little fear. She was allowed to speak her mind, for Rainbow had her back, literally and figuratively.

“Yes, Your Highness,” Scootaloo whispered, looking at the space between herself and the glittering hooves of royalty. She watched in wonder as the light shone off them, and her eyes went wide in shock as those same hooves came to meet her chin, pulling her face up from the floor.

“Please, Scootaloo... just call me Cadence.”

Grinning as she stared at the calm and composed royal so close to her own slightly trembling body, Scootaloo gave a little nod. Finally, a pony to whom she could talk to, one which wasn’t trying to placate her, wrangle her in, tell her to be calm. She cared, as did Rainbow. It had been a while since anypony had taken her as seriously as her actions had demanded they should. She felt her muscles loosen, and her Princesss smile grew wider as the filly relaxed.

“Scootaloo,” Cadence continued, placing her hoof on the certificate which Cheerilee had dropped just moments ago. “Do you know what this is?”

Sliding the gold-lined parchment carefully on the ground, the filly looked at it without emotion. All it had were names and dates signed in black, affirmations and promises, jumbled signatures, a hoofprint...

...her hoofprint...

She stared for a moment before looking to her own hoof, comparing its size with the one which rested in the bottom corner of the parchment. It had grown, and as she placed her limb on the inky spot on the page she couldn’t help but smile when nothing showed beneath. If what this paper said was true, then this would be the first time she’d touched that sheet with her hoof since she had been but a newborn. It had been such a long time since she’d seen it, even if she would never remember. The magic still remained though... her hoofprint still remained, immortal, forever printed on that parchment. It could never be erased, for she remained to validate its existence.

But the signatures which lingered above it, a mare's and a stallion’s... they could be replaced. They had already tried to forget her, to erase any knowledge of themselves from her life. Their names might have graced that page, but neither of the ponies who made those marks remained behind them. Those spaces may have been filled in, but they were abysmally hollow. They were empty, and that fact made sliding her own birth certificate back to her Princess that much easier.

“This is a lie, Princess. This is nothing but a lie.This is names and information on a sheet of parchment... and nothing more. They signed me into existence, and then abandoned me. They signed this just like my mother signed the papers to lock me away. This means nothing to me.”

Her words were acidic to everyone but the immortal one before her, and she watched as the courage and resolve of The Elements died away. The truth had that effect on ponies. They were finally dipping their hooves into the pool which she had lived in for so long, and they couldn’t stand the temperature.

The only one who remained steadfast was Cadence, who smiled with a soft pain at the filly on the floor, not looking into her eyes but beyond them at some miniscule point, as if looking for that one unfettered sliver of love in Scootaloo's icy heart. Then, she turned her head back towards some far corner of the room, as if expecting another Princess to arrive with a flurry of ephemeral hair and a dazzling light.

Nothing came: no fluttering of wings and no silhouettes... just her soft voice as she whispered to the crowd, bidding them to stand aside.

“It means everything to him.”

They looked, saw their Princess, and bowed their heads, moving themselves away from where she stared while Scootaloo followed her example, watching the wall beyond. What followed was the parting of a sea of ponies until only one remained:

A stallion who stood in a dark corner.

Alone, trembling, and terrified.

She couldn’t remember where she’d seen him before. He might have been the stallion in the cafe so many hours ago, but she couldn't be sure. There was something about him which she found familiar. There was something about him which told of some hidden story which she had been but a fleeting chapter in, like they had been together on some great adventure... even if only for a short while.

His entire body quivered and his knees were shaking as he moved himself just a little closer towards her. His bright blue eyes were wide in wonder, and he blinked them often as if expecting that, every time they reopened, she would disappear from sight. His greying vermillion mane was close cropped and a little unkempt, and it looked as if he himself had cut it.

His silver wings and coat glimmered in the light, his feathers shining as if they were bespeckled with thousands of tiny... little...

...diamonds.

Scootaloo paused, and the world paused with her.

She took a breath, and the room echoed.

She closed her eyes, and the world died away...

and then, as she opened them:

Scootaloo found her father.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

No one moved.

No one breathed.

No one said a word.

The filly they had seen just moments ago talking with their Princess was as silent as the room in which they found themselves, and not a sound save the clip-clop of the pegasus stallion's hooves broke through the tangible pall. They watched as he moved... quietly... breathlessly... inching himself closer to the filly who stood up proudly by the door, her lungs inflated and her chest puffed out proudly. Her breaths were even, and her face was dry. The only thing about her which flickered save the ruffling of the tips of her mane as the wind rolled in was her eyes.

Those bright eyes which stared at the stallion making his way towards her.


Those eyes which glimmered with malice.


As he moved forward, her head rose to hold his eyes. His head lowered to look upon his daughter, and his eyes twinkled as every new feather, every spiked hair, and every scar stood out. Everything about her was new even though he'd spent his life, so very long ago, kissing that face and those arms as the infant he had known giggled and sputtered with glee. Everything he saw was beyond understanding, novel and unique.

She was breathtaking. She had grown. She had bruised herself. She had felt pain, physical and emotional, which he hadn't been there for.

He hadn't been there for anything.

He hadn't been there for the birthdays, to watch her blow out her candles and wish for the things which he would always strive to find. He hadn't been there to dress her wounds or dry her eyes when she scraped herself up. He hadn't been there to hold her when her mother left her behind. He hadn't been there when she cried for her mother to come back, to stroke her mane and kiss her hair as she screamed herself to sleep on her stiff cot with only the light from the moon to keep her company.

He had only been there when she'd first opened her wings... those tiny little wings... to take her first flight, however high she could manage. It didn't matter she could never truly fly, like the obstetrician and the specialist after her told them. She always tried. She never stopped buzzing, not even when he would lay her down on her little cloud, smiling as she sucked on the edges of her favorite blue blanket.

His knees buckled a little, and in a daze he found himself falling on his tail, mere feet from his child.

But she wasn't a child... not anymore.

The other ponies watched in silence as he sat down hard on the floor across from his daughter. He looked down at her, and she looked back up at him, neither moving or breaking their eye contact. He struggled to find the words to say... but what could he say? What words of his could ever bring together the chasm his absence and the passing of time had created? There was nothing he could do, no words he could use to mend those wounds. There was nothing he could ever have done to prevent those scars from forming, hidden just below the ones she wore proudly on her flesh.


He could only smile and whisper “hello”.


She could only stare in hate before drawing back her hoof to slam it against his wet cheek.


The ponies around her jolted back into action, drawing their hooves over their mouths or starting themselves forward to try and come between the filly and her victim, but his hoof raised to hold them at bay. Held out from his side, his hoof shook just a little as he drew his face back to his daughter, his cheek red and beginning to bruise with a faint but growing outline of her hoof.

He held them back as he smiled down at her. He was unfazed. He couldn’t feel the pain.

Why wouldn’t he feel her pain?

She hit him again, this time on the other cheek, slamming her hoof harder with a little grunt of exertion to add power to her attack. Her hoof dragged across his face as she swiped, and when he turned back she noticed his lip was bleeding. The cut only grew wider and the blood only trickled down his chin faster as he smiled.

All he did was smile

Why was he smiling?

He wasn’t allowed to smile!

“Stop it!” she screamed as she swiped at him again, catching him on the chin. But still, he kept on smiling. She clocked him again on his left cheek, but he kept on smiling. She hit him on his bruising face, his neck, his shoulders, his chest... she struggled to do as much damage as she could, her eyes growing more and more damp the more she hit him.

He was still standing! Why didn’t he give up?! Why didn’t he run away?! Every smile and shimmering tear was an invitation for more abuse... but why was he taking it? Why was he just sitting there, smiling?

Why could he smile when she couldn’t?

Stop smiling! she bellowed, her eyes closed shut as she smashed her little hoof against his chest. “Why are you smiling?! How can you be smiling?! Why won't you go away?! I don't want you here!!! I don't need you!!! I didn't need Mom, and she didn't need me, so why do you care?! You're just like her!!! YOU LEFT ME JUST LIKE SHE DID!!!”

He recoiled with every hit only slightly before reaffirming himself to his punishment. It was all he could do save whisper a few words to the filly now but a foot from his chest, keeping his voice soft and even as her hoof smashed and pummeled him mercilessly.

“Scootaloo...”

NO!” she shrieked, slamming her hoof into his chest again as she beat that growing patch of skin which was slowly becoming more and more purple and blue. “You're not allowed to call me that!!! I don't have a name to you!!! You give names to things you care about, and you don't care!!! If you cared, you wouldn't have left me!!! You ran, and I never saw you! I never heard from you! You never wrote or sent me anything! You never told me you existed!!!

He allowed himself another tear, which slashed through the blood slowly trickling from the side of his mouth as he stared in wonder at his violent, angry, sobbing, heartbroken daughter.

... his daughter.

His baby.

“They locked me away, sweetie...”

“Don't lie to me! Don't lie to me again! Everything I knew, everything I loved... IT WAS A LIE!!! TELL ME THE TRUTH! TELL ME ONE THING WHICH ISN’T A LIE! ARE YOU EVEN CAPABLE OF THAT?!”

“... I love you, Scootaloo. I’ve always loved you...”

“HOW COULD YOU LEAVE ME THEN?!” Scootaloo wailed, pummeling his chest as hard as she could even though her strength was failing her, even though her aim was shaky as the lights in her eyes danced as the tears grew. The gap which separated her from her father might as well have been miles, for the silver-winged pegasus before her defied all of her dreams about her father. He wasn’t strong, he wasn’t attentive, he wasn’t brave.

He never came for her. He never came when she wanted him to.

He never came to save her from the world and the mother that threw her away.

How could you abandon me?! I waited for you to find me! I waited, Daddy, but you never showed up! Did I not matter to you?! Why didn't you save me?! I died every day you were gone, but you never came! YOU NEVER CAME FOR ME, DADDY!

“I tried, honey...” he mumbled, his lips trembling almost as much as the filly who sat before him, her hooves numb and her body quivering from her screams and cries for help. “I tried everything. I left home to find you. I broke the law, just to find you... to hold you again.”

I DON’T CARE!” Scootaloo screamed, renewing her attack on the stallion before her who, with every blow, just kept on staring at his daughter. With every hit, she moved just a fraction of an inch closer, just a few steps closer to falling apart. She couldn’t be weak like her mother. She had to be strong! She had to be tough like Rainbow Dash!


But even Rainbow cried sometimes.


She closed the gap between herself and her father, but it was not the welcome the ponies around them were expecting. It was very much unlike the reunion they had hoped. They were not expecting her to bite, and claw, and scratch, and punch, and kick. They had not expected him to remain stock still as he was, never holding his daughter in his arms, taking each attack and hit with a smile on his face. They had never imagined she had that much power and endurance in her little frame, but with every punch she screamed at his defiant chest, and every time she hit him her eyes closed just a little tighter.

Why did you leave me?! Why did you go?! Why couldn't you love me?!”

“I do love you, ”he whispered over her screams of rage. “Not a second goes by that I don’t love you with all my heart...”

“You don't have a heart! You've never had a heart! You never cared! Why would you care: I'm worthless to you! I can't fly! I CAN’T DO ANYTHING!!!

“No, sweetie... you’ve already done what I never could.”

“You never tried!!! You were never there!!! I never saw you again!!!

“I had no choice, honey...”

“YOU COULD HAVE STAYED!” Scootaloo screamed, slamming her hoof against his chest, adding to the bruise which slowly grew around his already damaged heart.

YOU COULD SAVED ME!” she cried, her voice cracking as she wailed herself hoarse.

“YOU... COULD... HAVE... LOVED... ME!!! she shrieked, every word punctuated by her little hoof beating against his chest, each strike weaker than the one before.

She capitulated as gave one final ragged scream straight at his chest, and her voice broke entirely. She couldn’t move her little head. She couldn’t move her hoof from his chest. She couldn’t stare at the purple spot she’d created on his breast or the little drips of red on the ground as his broken smiling lips released his blood on the floor. Her eyes were so firmly closed and so inundated with tears she couldn’t open them.

She couldn’t do anything.

She could only feel as his chest remained... still rising... still trembling... still there.


and then, through the silence:


Thump-thump...


Her eyes opened, but nothing came pouring out.


Thump-thump...


The blood stopped dripping on the floor, and she watched as it hardened.


Thump-thump...


She felt her hoof quiver with every beat, every pulse of that bruised and broken heart over which her little hoof rested.


Thump-thump...


She felt a warmth unlike anything she had ever felt on her hoof, holding it closer.


Thump-thump...


Her eyes moved upwards to look at the damage she had caused, her hoof so small and so dainty compared to the growing bruise on his breast. It was so much larger in comparison to her own hoof, but that was not what shocked her.

It was the fact that his own hoof was right there, holding her own, resting on hers as he kept it firmly to his chest even though he had no reason to do so. She couldn’t move it away.


She wanted to feel it there forever.


With a great effort, she finally looked into his iridescent blue eyes. She could see them memorizing the changes of the years, darting around as they looked from face, to hair, to little scars, to lingering tears, and then finally back into her own. His eyes were soft and he was unafraid to stare right back at her. It was comforting to see something so deep, so profoundly colorful and dark, and yet without any of the fear which the darkness usually brought with it. It was like she was wrapped up in some warm embrace, even though she sat apart from him.


It was almost like being wrapped in her little blue blanket, kept warm as her father blew raspberries on her belly, tickled her with his wingtips... cradled her back to sleep when the nightmares had reared their heads while she slept in peace.


It was like he was right there as she dreamed, cradled in his arms... listening as he sang a lullaby into her hair.


It was like being home.


“Daddy?” she whispered, watching his eyes for a sign, a flicker of light, some evidence that he was actually there.


He never broke eye contact. He never moved away. He didn’t run.


He only stroked her cheek, gave a little smile, and held her hoof even closer as a tear silently trickled down his face.


She listened to the lilting whisper of his heartbeat, an effervescent ribbon of sound and sensation which danced and played on the whisking air between them. She tried to listen as the world restarted itself around her, but she was so lost in the realization that below her hoof, through a mere inch of skin, lay the one thing she had been dreaming about.

It wasn’t as strong or as dutiful as she dreamed, nor as consistent... but it was there... right there...

It had always been there.

With every pulse, it pulsed to keep him moving towards her. With every beat of his wings, it had beat to keep him aloft. With every jagged and broken fragment, he’d slowly pieced it back together, and now that she was here, he had found the missing piece.

She stared in wonder as her hoof moved, for she had found what she had always been looking for:


The living heart of her father.

A heart which kept on beating just for her.




Thump-thump.

She leaped into his arms, her wings buzzing like they never had before as she dove forward to be caught by the stallion before her. He wrapped her up as best he could, his wings expanding to their impressive width to encapsulate them both in a cocoon of brilliant, dazzling silver. He held her close to his breast as the both of them shook with relief and the wrenching pound of overjoyed tears, releasing what breath they still had as they sobbed together.

He hid them both from the world as he kissed his daughter on the cheek, on her forehead, in her hair, on her neck, anywhere he could, as much as he dared, and as strongly as he was able to. She could only hug him tighter, bringing herself as close to him as she could, allowing him to squeeze her as he heaved with that wonderful pain of heartwrenching joy. His chest buckling under his cries of happiness, he trembled as the weight bearing down on his heart was lifted by her tiny wings, those wings he’d always loved, no matter what.

No matter what.

The rest of the ponies who surrounded them looked at one another, and they smiled. There was no reason for them to be here any longer. With Cadence at the front, they made their way silently out of the schoolhouse to allow the two pegasi to reunite. In a few moments, they were gone.

But the two who remained, alone in the middle of the empty room?

They never noticed anything but their own smiling faces, their bodies wrapped up in silver wings and each other’s arms, Scootaloo’s smile reignited as her father held her in his hooves again, singing to her just like he used to.

For the first time in her brief, dismal, and unbearable life without him: Scootaloo wasn’t alone in the dark. She wasn’t tumbling alone into the terrifying abyss of her loneliness, watching the world through tear-soaked eyes.

And her smile grew wider and her eyes closed tight as she listened to her father sing to her because of one little truth, one immutable fact which reaffirmed itself with every tightening of his arms and every pulse of their shared heartbeat:

Her father had finally caught her as she fell...

...and he would never let her go.

Author's Note:

Wow...I'm sorry that was so long, but I didn't have much room to split it up into multiple parts.

Thus ends Love, in Other Words, though I have an epilogue all planned out...

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